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The Importance of the Scientific Process!

I have been working in NCSU’s Crop & Soil Science Department for over and year and a half now. My research group is lead by Owen Duckworth, and focuses its efforts on understanding microbial-mineral transformations at the soil-water interface and their impacts on the fate of common groundwater contaminants. My work specifically involved characterizing the chemical properties of highly reactive mineral phases produced by common soil fungi. These minerals play a huge role in soil chemical properties, and may largely control the fate of many hazardous groundwater contaminants in both natural and modified soil-water systems. The many facets of this experience have helped me form a valuable skill set, and taught me even more valuable lessons.

This project involved the help of several lab mates. But, I was fortunate enough to be allowed to take charge of the majority of lab work, as well as the writing of a methodology manuscript on this project. The opportunity to experience the scientific writing process with the aid of my mentor and supervisor has taught me several valuable skills. Other than developing a competency in efficient, clear, and interesting illustration of research, the ability to quickly and completely understand other’s work in this field was also a great gain. In order to make the context, importance, and impacts of the research we have done clear, dozens of scientific articles illustrating related work had to be read, understood, and referenced. This made me very familiar with the structure of scientific articles. I became efficient at comprehending the work presented, and understanding what relevance it may have to my own. Through forming the context of our work, I also became very knowledgeable in the field of soil chemistry. While our project only represents a small section of this field, the terminology used is almost universal within soil chemistry literature. I can now read the majority of soil chemistry literature, and understand the implications of what is presented. While the lab work and analysis involved in this project was often very frustrating, it represented the most valuable portion of the entire experience. Through these struggles, I now know just how valuable structure is in the scientific process. When first presented with heaps of work, and the need for resolution, I became stressed, and rushed into lab to knock out everything I could. I soon learned that this was an absolutely horrible approach. I would often get a confusing result from my analysis, and then be left to rationalize what I was finding, without the proper documentation to reflect upon. Forming a thorough, yet flexible plan before even attempting to start working is crucial! If for some reason things do not go as expected, you must have a structured reaction to stop, reflect, form a new plan, and then act. Also, if you do not properly record every little detail, you will likely be missing that last puzzle piece.

I hope to apply everyone of these lessons to achieve my future goal of graduate school in a geochemistry related field, and one day developing remediation technologies! It was through the CNR Enrichment Fund that I was able to better focus my efforts and time on my research and still survive!

Soil Biogeochemistry – Read more about Josh’s research here.