An establishing lab on campus, the Environmental Microbial Analysis and Research Laboratory (EMARL), provides students and faculty alike opportunities to conduct research, perform analysis and learn from eachother.
“I get accused quite often of having ideas that are really, kind of, out there, but when you get twenty people together you find out that we all have ideas that are really out there, and that is the exciting part. You start looking at things, perhaps in a way that you have never looked at them, because you have other people that bring their interests, bring their knowledge base into the equation,” said Les Werner, Associate Professor of Forestry at the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point.
The Environmental Microbial Analysis and Research Laboratory (EMARL) is a collaborative research group made up of faculty members, graduate students and undergraduate students at UWSP. The lab is working to advance molecular techniques to aid in the description of relationships between organisms and their environment with impacts from management and alterations. EMARL has a good understanding of physical and chemical factors and seeks a greater understanding of biological factors that can help answer countless questions.
“The molecular techniques help us answer that question a little better. Actually, a lot better, but it helps us answer it in ways that we have not been able to historically,” Werner said.
Professors oversee and mentor some of the projects going on and a huge pool of undergraduate students are involved in various projects, performing work such as chemical, physical or biological analysis for graduate projects. Some undergraduate students work on their own projects. In October 2011, five undergraduate students and two graduate students, along with some of their advisors, presented their research at the Soil Science Society of America Annual Meetings in San Antonio, Texas.
“The undergraduate students are doing their own work, they are assisting graduate students, and in the process they get a much better exposure to working in the lab and the techniques that are used to qualify and quantify characteristics in the soil and whatever environmental sample it might be,” Werner said.
Some projects currently under exploration include investigating the impact of non-native earthworms on northern hardwood forest soils, examining the compostability of various paper products, investigating changes in microbial communities across a landscape, finding a better way to get at reactive carbon in the soil, and researching bioluminescence—fungi that produce their own light.
“It is a great opportunity to get some hands-on experience with the actual research side, instead of just coursework and learning what you think you might need to learn on your own. This way you get to devise the process and gain experience,” said Keith Turnquist, former graduate student with the EMARL and now Research Specialist with the Molecular Conservation Genetics Laboratory of the Fisheries Research Co-operative Unit.
“I think what the lab is going towards is creating good scientists, and allowing faculty to grow in their research pursuits and at the same time give students an opportunity to learn and I think that is really at the heart of what the lab is all about,” Werner said.