Kwolz's Adventures in Saving the World

"Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better." -Albert Einstein

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Open Source Ecology

Posted by kevinwolz on November 8, 2011

Open Source Ecology (OSE) visionary and founder Marcin Jakubowski can articulate the basic idea much better than I can, so please take a few minutes to watch his extraordinary TED Talk. I guarantee that it will leave you speechless.

Open Source Ecology is a network of farmers, engineers, and supporters that for the last two years has been creating the Global Village Construction Set, an open source, low-cost, high performance technological platform that allows for the easy, DIY fabrication of the 50 different Industrial Machines that it takes to build a sustainable civilization with modern comforts. The GVCS lowers the barriers to entry into farmingbuilding, and manufacturing and can be seen as a life-size lego-like set of modular tools that can create entire economies, whether in rural Missouri, where the project was founded, in urban redevelopment, or in the developing world.”

-Open Source Ecology About Page

After drooling over the many videos that OSE has posted online and scouring every corner of their website, I decided that I had to get down to Missouri and check out what they were doing in person. Now, thanks to the far-reaching vision, encouragement,  and financial support of the Illinois Foundry for Innovation in Engineering Education (iFoundry), a group that I was highly active with during my first two years at U of I, that dream has finally become a reality. This past weekend, a group of seven other students and I carpooled out to Middle-of-Nowhere, Missouri to get the OSE experience first-hand. This group of students consisted of some of the most passionate and innovative students I know. The best part? Not a single one of us had the same major! Our backgrounds spanned the breadth of science and engineering:

  • Agricultural and Biological Engineering
  • Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Materials Science and Engineering
  • Theoretical and Applied Mechanics
  • Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Integrative Biology
  • Crop Sciences
  • Physics

This group could do anything it put its mind to! I think that the intellectual diversity attracted to this trip speaks for the far-reaching impact that OSE can produce.

Despite it’s TED-level fame, the OSE experience did not start out in a fancy room with slide shows and planning strategies. Instead, we got dirty. Within 15 minutes of being at the Factor E Farm, I:

  • expanded my network to include a TED Fellow
  • received a hands-on tutorial of how to structurally and practically design a support column
  • helped develop a plan to maximize construction efficiency
  • interacted with some of the most amazing machinery I’ve ever seen in my life
  • was covered in mud
Talk about an adrenaline rush. This is such a great example of how much more beneficial real-world, hands-on experiences are to learning than any problem set or lecture could ever be! And that was just the first 15 minutes! I definitely plan on keeping in touch with OSE in the future…can’t wait to see what kind of collaborations we can create. I want to build something!
Since this is such a “visual” topic, I will leave it to the videos to explain more about what we did and saw. Thanks to Ben Nelson for the fabulous video below that he put together in record time!

Posted in Community, Ecology, Engineering | Leave a Comment »

I Won The Lottery!

Posted by kevinwolz on November 1, 2011

Okay,not really…But that’s a catchy title isn’t it? I bet you feel pretty gullible now don’t you? That’s okay though because this post requires you to be pretty open/ready-minded. While the chances of winning the lottery ($245M currently in the Illinois PowerBall) are pretty small, especially if, like me, you don’t even buy tickets, it’s still really fun to think about what you would do if you actually hit the jackpot. Gadz, my ever-optimistic roommate, thinks about this all the time, and lately he has been inspiring me to do the same. If this is too much of a fantasy for you, then just think of it as me making a lot of money at some crazy future job. Either way, what follows is my fantastic dream of how I would spend $100,000,000 if I had it my back pocket today (in order of priority).

Note: All numbers are completely made up and only have a tiny amount of rationale associated with them. I’d like to hear your thoughts!

Personal Land – $5,000,000

There is quite possibly nothing that I want more than my own land where I can firmly plant the roots of my adventures in saving the world. Everything needs a home. Revolutions are no exceptions. I don’t want land so I can make money. I want land so I can create an example and use it as a tool to create change. It will start modestly of course, but eventually, it will have all the things that I dream about day and night. At its core, this land will aim to produce as much food, fuel, and fiber as possible, while sequestering tons (literally) of carbon and using practically no inputs. There will be much more on this in coming posts…after all, it’s the top priority.

Ecological Design & Consulting Firm Startup Costs – $10,000,000

What is the most effective way to make change? Government? Industry? Academia? Grassroots? I ask myself this everyday, and I have yet to find an answer. Nevertheless, some of my friends and I have been talking about starting a company together (a la Applied Ecological Services) for quite a long time. This lump sum would easily get it off the ground and to the forefront of today’s problems.

Farmer Training Program – $10,000,000

During my own daydreams about starting a farm, I have realized just how few resources are available to new (especially young) farmers… particularly the ones that want to do agriculture the right way. Aside from directly building supply (as in the allotment two below), we need to building capacity and knowledge. We need farmers!

Illini Wind Farm – $20,000,000

This is my idea of investing…insider investing.

  • The University of Illinois has committed to getting energy from renewable sources. Every time it tries to do that internally, it epically fails. Market? Check.
  • Turbines have been going up throughout central Illinois at an amazing rate lately. The wind here is clearly adequate. Location? Check.
  • Climate change is happening. Peak oil already passed. $h|! will soon hit the fan. Incentive? Check.

Commercial Farm Education Center  – $10,000,000

This would be an initial investment in a large commercial farm. Central Illinois is a food desert. There is practically no food grown in the entire state, despite the massive amounts of arable land. Unfortunately, most of it is wasted for these horrid crops we know as corn and soy beans. Demand for local, fresh, healthy, tasty food is currently much higher than the supply. This investment would be a big step towards fulfilling that and beginning to change the Ag culture of this state.

Food Hub Development and Implementation – $10,000,000

This one directly relates to the previous allocation. A Food Hub is a place where locally produced foods can be stored, sorted, processed, preserved, distributed, packed, shipped, purchased, etc. It is the core of the decentralized, sustainable agriculture model. Very few successful hubs are currently in existence. This funding would aim to get a few big ones of the ground in order to gain attention and begin a revolution.

Podcast Donations – $1,000,000

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I have learned much more from listening to podcasts than I have from practically all of my schooling combined. They are amazing, and they are the future. I may have to spend a bit of this money to go and actually meet the hosts as well. The main podcasts in line are Deconstructing Dinner, This Week in Science, and The Naked Scientists. Each of these shows runs not-for-profit and relies on donations to keep running. Deconstructing Dinner had such a profound impact on me over the last few years, and now it’s off the air due to lack of funding. I want to make sure that never happens again.

RunningAhead Donation – $500,000

RunningAhead is the online running log that I use to record and analyze all of my training. See my last post for a great adventure into its abilities. As I mentioned in the last post, I greatly admire the site owner for his leap of faith by essentially putting his life on the line in order to pursue his passion. With this money, he could really take the site to the next level and start the next great running revolution.

IXC House – $1,000,000

For those of you who don’t know, I currently live in an apartment building that has been completely taken over by runners. Every apartment in the building (and now overflowing into the one next door as well) is runners from either the club or varsity cross country/track teams. It’s great! Except for the fact that we have the worst landlord in Champaign County and the apartments are pretty darn crappy. Regardless, as the Illinois Cross Country and Track Clubs have grown, we have day dreamed on runs about how neat it would be to have a building we could call our own. Oh, and seeing as this would more or less be a fraternity/sorority, we’d have to give this place a Greek name. ΓΨΝ. Gamma Psi Nu. The letters don’t mean anything, but look at them: “I RUN”!

FPDCC Palos Forest Preserves Restoration – $5,000,000

Volunteering withe Palos Restoration Project during high school was probably the core reason that I ultimately decided to choose biology as one of my college majors. I also ran through these preserves nearly everyday while in high school. They are very near and dear to my heart. But they need help. Invasives are spreading faster than volunteers can restore the land. This money could finally put us ahead in the war against invasives.

Open Source Ecology Donation – $1,000,000

I will soon have an entire post dedicated to Open Source Ecology, but for now just watch this video. These guys ARE the synthesis of engineering, agriculture, sustainability, technology, peak everything, innovation, creativity, and everything that I am interested in. They are doing some amazing things and need the support to expand.

Tesla Roadster & Model S – $500,000

Tesla not only produces the fastest, badest electric cars in the world, but it also has more swag than any other car company. I don’t like cars, but these things are just too sweet to pass up. And yes, I would get both, with all the extras. Gotta save a little room for splurging in this budget…

Endowed Professorships – $5,000,000

Through my experiences on campus, I know that professors can have a major influence with what gets done at a school. And frankly, I’d like to get some professors here at U of I that think like I do! Supposedly it currently costs about $1M to endow a professor at U of I, so $5M should get me five, one in each of the following areas:

  • Local & regional food systems
  • Engineering/Science education
  • Endurance Training (1/2 time appointment, with the other half being the head coach of the Illinois Cross and Track Clubs)
  • Atmosphere-Biosphere Interactions
  • Savanna Agriculture/Permaculture

Stock Market – $1,000,000

I’m listing only a measly $1m for the stock market, because I really don’t like the stock market. As you can probably tell from everything else listed here, I am much more of a micro-finance/venture capital kind of guy. I guess I would just put this in there anyway to keep up with how it’s going and play around.

Personal Savings – $10,000,000

The engineering economics class that I’m currently in has taught me well the “time value of money”, so I guess that some of this money should be saved for future use. I’m not sure if I would put this wad of cash under a floorboard or actually somewhere productive, but if I did it right, this should cover anything personal in my family for quite a while, no?

Chicago Urban Agriculture Project – $5,000,000

While I don’t think that Urban Agriculture is the solution, it definitely an important part of it. Currently, Will Allen at Growing Power is blowing everyone away in this arena. I’d like to become a partner in his revolution and start a similar large-scale project in Chicago.

Direct Action Against Fossil Fuels – $5,000,000

I’m not sure exactly what this would consist of, but I know it would be epic and I know that it would help prevent any new coal power plants from being built and towards making the lives of oil executives extremely miserable (a la The Yes Men?). I know that this is not the most effective way to make things happen, but there’s still a place for it, and it can definitely be fun!


Posted in Climate Change, Community, Education, Energy, Food, Habitat Restoration, Politics, Social, Sustainable Ag | 2 Comments »

My Running Life…In Graphs

Posted by kevinwolz on September 22, 2011

I have been waiting a long time to do this, but I just never had enough data to make it possible. Now, the time has come. The following post will give you intense insights on my life, training, and even the world in general. Get ready for your new love of graphs.

 

Let’s start with some basic graphs just to make sure my data is accurate.

I Run Faster When I Try Harder…Duh

X-axis: Subjective Effort

Y-axis: Average Pace

Insight Classification: Intuitive

Explanation: Okay, so this one tells us something pretty intuitive: As my effort increases, my average pace drops (smaller bars mean faster pace, ignore colors). Obvious, but nonetheless rewarding. Note: the effort scale is subjectively entered after each run and ranges from 1-10.

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Oops…You Might Not Be Able To Trust That First Graph!

X-axis: Subjective Effort

Y-axis: Cumulative Duration of Runs

Insight Classification: Statistical Limitation

Explanation: Before we make any dramatic conclusions from that first graph, we need to know if the data set is large enough and unbiased. That’s where this graph comes in. It shows the cumulative duration of runs that I have logged at particular effort levels. What it tells us is that the first graph may not be a fair comparison for two reasons: 1) The data sets for higher efforts are much smaller and may therefore not be enough for statistical analysis.2) See how the color switches from blue to yellowish to red as the effort gets harder? Well that’s telling you that I race at a higher effort than I run workouts, which are furthermore run at higher efforts than easy runs. Therefore, the conclusion from the first graph that I run faster when I try harder may not be completely unbiased by circumstance. Perhaps we could try to separate out races, workouts, recovery runs, etc.?

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I Run Faster When I Feel Better

X-axis: Subjective Run Quality

Y-axis: Average Pace

Insight Classification: Intuitive

Explanation: This graph is fairly similar to the first one. An important part of my log entry after each run is a quality rating of how I felt on that run. Just because you feel good doesn’t mean you should run fast, but clearly it helps.

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It Takes Me Longer To Run Farther

X-axis: Distance

Y-axis: Duration

Insight Classification: Intuitive

Explanation: Sure, another intuitive relationship, but nonetheless interesting to see that the trend is so strong and with relatively little variation. Anyone want to bet that the slop of that trend is about 7.5?? Also, notice how the different bar colors group together in this graph. This is no coincidence. See the legend to make sense of  it. A question for my fellow runners: Could there be any better proof that “Badger Miles” are in fact accurate over the long-term? However, if I had implemented badger Miles over the last three years, we wouldn’t be able to analyze all these amazing graphs now would we?

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Now let’s move on to some interesting graphs that reveal some things about our climate.

My Running Log Is A Weather Station

X-axis: Temperature

Y-axis: Cumulative Duration of Runs

Insight Classification: Climate

Explanation: Okay, this one’s a bit more complicated. On the x-axis we have the temperature that I recorded for a run, and on the y-axis we have the cumulative duration of runs (in hours) that took place at certain temperatures. Individual chunks within each bar represent individual runs. So what does this graph say? Well, assuming that I ran almost everyday in the last three years, this curve tells us that annual temperature in the midwest falls into a bell curve or “normal” distribution. Intuitive, once you understand the data. It will be interesting to see how this curve shifts in the coming years…

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By Far The Coolest Graph My Data Can Make

X-axis: Date

Y-axis: Temperature

Insight Classification: Climate

Explanation: This is an amazing documentation of the annual temperature variation in the Midwest. You think I could generate climate models solely based on my running log?? Makes you think about the power of crowd-sourcing data sets. Check out that ONE run below zero…Gadz, remember that fartlek? You took the bus home.

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And finally, let’s move on to the real analysis: My Training

For this portion, almost all graphs will compare pace with some variable. While pace is not the only measure of fitness, it is a pretty good general proxy in this context. Keep in mind that a lower pace is faster (i.e. smaller bars/values are better).

My Running Life

X-axis: Date

Y-axis: Daily Distance

Insight Classification: Life & Training.

Explanation: What a masterpiece. Some interesting questions to ask:

1) What was I DOING on the day of that huge spike?! Well, that would be when I raced my own half-marathon and then went back to run the last bit of Mom’s with her as well…and then cooled down.

2)Why does a cyclic pattern emerge? Each cycle represents on training season, of which there are two per year: cross country and track. Each cycle starts with low mileage to recover after the previous season, steadily ramps up mileage as fitness increases, peaks mid-season, and finally tapers off at the end of the season for top race performance.

3) Why is there a weird dip in the last big cycle (last spring)? That would be what happens when you have tendonitis in your IT band.

4) Why the heck is there a huge gap at the end of the gap? This one has two answers: Costa Rica and Panama.

5) Why can I so easily find and explain the variations in my training? Because RunningAhead is AWESOME!

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I Love Long Runs!

X-axis: Distance

Y-axis: Pace

Insight Classification: Training

Explanation: The colors really come into play on this graph. Most importantly, green represents longruns, which is a technical term that applies to the one run per week that accounts for about 20% of your weekly mileage and aims at increasing aerobic capacity. Yes, to runners, longrun is one word. Contrary to what you might think, this graph shows that I like to run my longest runs the fastest (except of course for those yellow ones which represent interval workouts, but those are kind of their own category). I firmly believe in the idiom that “long, slow runs produce long, slow runners.” Not all runners feel this way, and I would be VERY interested to compare this graph with some of my fellow runners (ahem…Sean).

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Things Don’t Always Stay The Same

X-axis: Date of Longruns

Y-axis: Pace

Insight Classification: Training

Explanation: This graph singles out longruns that I have run over the last three years and charts their pace. During my senior year of high school (first year on the left), you can see that the vast majority of my longruns were at a sub-7-minute pace. Those were the days! I had more runner’s highs on those longruns at Argonne than I ever have in my life. However, once college hit, you can see a pretty clear shift in average pace, with many more slower longruns. Why is this? There are many reasons that have caused this switch, including crappy places to run (i.e. C-U), coaching philosophy, and teammate philosophy. Unfortunately, none of those variables are quantitative, and therefore we can’t graph them. :.[

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There’s Always The Confusing One

X-axis: Week

Y-axis: Average Weekly Pace

Insight Classification: Training

Explanation: This graph kind of confuses me. I think there are so many different forces at work here that individual patterns are hard to make out, especially since this graph averages together all the workout categories. Nevertheless, you can still see the transition from high school to college almost exactly, as in the previous graph. Also, there seems to be a cyclic pattern similar to the first graph in this section, with the only difference that the cycles are exactly opposite. This means that, just as mileage increases with fitness, average pace decreases. Interesting. Jake, I bet you never thought that the effect you had on my training could be so distinctly characterized by the simple intersection of a graph and the x-axis…

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Usually How My Biology Lab Reports Look…With Insignificant Data

X-axis: Temperature

Y-axis: Pace

Insight Classification: Training

Explanation: This was the graph that I have been most excited to  make. I was certain that temperature would have a strong (negative) influence on pace, but this graph shows that there is really nothing going on between these two variables. However, all hope is not lost. My temperature data set is only about one year old because I had previously (naïvely) ignored this input in my logs. Therefore, I think there is just insignificant data to draw any conclusions on this relationship yet. So, stay tuned…

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Runner’s Highs Are Rare

X-axis: Subjective Run Quality

Y-axis: Cumulative Duration of Runs

Insight Classification: Life

Explanation: WOW, what a beautiful bell curve! Gaussian distributions don’t just occur in textbooks! This graph basically shows the frequency at which I assign particular quality values to my runs. You can see that those 10/10 runs where I get intense runner’s highs are pretty rare. Fortunately, those really crappy 1/10 and 2/10 runs are also rare!

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I LOVE GRAPHS. And I bet you now do too…

 

The previous graphs are based on self-documented training data of long-distance running over the last three years. All credit for data storage, manipulation, analysis, and graph creation goes to the amazing Eric at RunningAhead.com, the BEST online running log ever made. Any success I have experienced in my training over the last few years is in no small part due to the amazing analysis and documentation I can do using the ever-improving and free website that he as created. The running community is truly indebted to his kindness and genius. Thanks Eric, this one’s for you.

Posted in Running | Leave a Comment »

Costa Rica Update #11: Otro Verano Increíble

Posted by kevinwolz on August 14, 2011

Well, here I am three months later at the end of yet another incredible summer. It is truly difficult to put my feelings about this summer into words, yet I know I will be talking about it for the rest of my life. While I learned a lot about Spanish, biology, and agriculture, none of these areas tops how much I have grown as a person. This summer was more than just an educational experience…it was a life experience. What follows is my best attempt to summarize the most important things I gained out of this summer. It doesn’t include verb conjugations nor species names, but rather things that will undoubtedly impact me for the rest of my life.

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I now know what it feels like to be the minority. I have been shouted at in the streets, discriminated against in a store, almost beaten up over a cultural misunderstanding, been given “the look” more times than I’d like to say, and, worst of all, been the target of many assumptions that I highly resent.

I have acquired a new perspective on my values and priorities in my life. When your mind doesn’t have to think about anything in particular, it’s allowed to think about whatever its wants. Over my three months in Costa Rica and Panama (especially in the many long bus rides) my mind has been allowed to wander wherever it pleases.  Looking back, it’s very enlightening to realize what things I hardly thought about all summer that had previously occupied large portions of my mind just weeks before. On the other hand, it was fascinating to see my mind revisiting things that I had never really given enough of a chance before. These topics, that dominate my mind when the strong filter of what I “think” I need when I get entrenched in certain ideas or lost in the routine of everyday life, are the things that must be truly important to me. As I move into this new semester, I think I have the best perspective on my priorities than I ever have before. Can’t wait to see to what new places that perspective can take me…

I’ve learned how to travel cheap and still stay within my comfort zone/feel safe. This will undoubtedly prove extremely useful for the many future travels that I am already planning.

I have experienced and actually been a part of a different culture for an extended period of time for the first time in my life. A deep understanding of another culture is so important for more than just the sake of understanding that culture, however…I think that I now actually have a better perspective of my own culture. Nothing beats a perspective from the outside looking in.

I can be pura vida. Basically, I slowed down quite a bit this summer (may be hard to believe for those who met me for the first time over the summer) and learned to live without technology every second of my life. While this doesn’t mean that I won’t return right back to a crazy-fast, technology-filled life once I return to campus (heck, as I look at my Post-Summer To Do List, I can already see that it seems highly unlikely), but at least I know it’s possible and feels great.

Biodiversity is more diverse, ecology is more complex, and evolution more inspiring than I ever thought before. That’s saying something.

I formed some really great relationships with my host-family and other friends that I met over the summer. The fact that I will be leaving all of them behind tomorrow is only just beginning to set it. That said, I have no doubt that I will return to see them all again.

I really missed running. The last three months of abstinence has been the longest inactive period I’ve ever endured since becoming a runner over 8 years ago. Core and lunges just don’t cut it. I need some endorphins.

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Photos from the past month that I haven’t been able to post until now:

Villas Mastatal (First Farm)

Finca Amrta (Last Farm)

Panama Border, City, and Canal

Fortuna and Bocas del Toro

Posted in Costa Rica | 2 Comments »

Costa Rica Update #11: Biología

Posted by kevinwolz on August 8, 2011

I arrived at the Fortuna Forest Reserve Smithsonian Biological Station full of energy and ready to really get to know the tropical forest. This, after all, was the main goal of the third and final Phase of my summer. The Fortuna Reserve is located in the highlands of western Panama and is home to a spectacular range of very different types of forests within a relatively small area. You can literally cross the street and feel like you’re in a different country just through the change in forest type. My stay in Fortuna was split into two very different sections: 1) Research and 2) Field Biology Course.

Research

My first five days in Fortuna were spent primarily out in the field collecting data on the size and growth rate of a certain palm species in a particularly interesting chunk of Fortuna’s forest. The data I collected is just a small part of a much larger project to quantify the standing biomass and carbon flux of a much larger portion of Fortuna, which is currently the doctoral work of a grad student at UofI. My work on this project primarily served to give me some real hands-on research experience in the field while contributing towards a ongoing project that I’m very interested in. That said, I still might get the chance to use the data I collected in my own senior thesis project in the future.

Despite how much I enjoy talking about ecosystem dynamics and tree physiology, I think I’ll spare this post the many fascinating details and motivations behind this project and just provide a quick summary of what actually I did in the field:

  1. Find young Colpothrinax aphanopetala (a large palm tree with fan-shaped leaves) individuals of approximately 5 meters in height: This basically involved wandering aimlessly through the forest until I came upon healthy individuals of the correct size. Luckily, I never encountered a single snake, which I was told is a rare privilege.
  2. Measure height of tree & count number of fully expanded leaves: Seeing as I was in the middle of nowhere and without a ladder, this had to be done with a tape measure and some basic trigonometry that I had to dig out of my brain’s archives. Leaf-counting isn’t that bad when the tree you’re studying typically has between only 10-13 leaves and they’re all at eye level.  
  3. Tag youngest fully expanded leaf: In order to insure that we can identify this leaf a year from now, this was done using several strategies: numbered metal tags, spray paint, and reflective plastic flagging tape. The idea is to come back in a year and see home many new leaves have emerged after the tagged leaf. That will give us an idea of the growth rate of this important species.
  4. Take hemispherical photos of canopy above each tree: A hemispherical photo is exactly what its name implies and is taken using a really cool (and expensive) lens. These images of the canopy above each tree show how much light actually passes through the forest canopy and makes it to the measured tree. This is also important to determine growth rate.

Field Biology Course

I had already known that my professor was going to teach a field biology course to 15 Panamanian undergraduate biology students during my time in Fortuna, but what I didn’t know was that my professor wanted me to actually take the course with them! I had been under the assumption that I would just be helping out with odds and ends as needed. Once the initial nervous wave passed, I immediately got excited…I had been meaning to take a field biology class one of these semesters anyway. And so, before I knew it, 15 new students were occupying the small house were there had previously just been two of us, and I was the only gringo, non-native Spanish speaker in a highly technical biology class — taught in Spanish.

Although a bit daunting at first, the class turned out to be absolutely amazing. First of all, I made really good friends with all of the Panamanian students, especially while spending many hours teaching each other about our respective cultures and languages. It was really great to experience this new culture/language with people my own age…something that I had only barely been able to do while in Costa Rica. I think my Spanish comfort sky-rocketed even more, especially with the many slang words I learned from the students. Not to mention, we all had to write several papers and give several presentations on experiments that we did throughout the week. Before this course, I knew that I could write scientifically in English. I also knew that I could write in Spanish (probably better than my speaking). However, writing scientifically in Spanish, is a completely different beast, and one that I think I may have finally slayed by the end of the 10-day course.

As far as the biology part of the course goes, I learned a ton as well. For the first time in my life, I finally experienced real ecological research first hand. Sure, I have had a 5-hour biology lab every week during school for the past year, but that isn’t quite ecology and is really kind of “fake”. It usually goes like this: “Hi students, here are some instructions and fancy equipment. We know what results you should get, so try not to screw up and hopefully you can get the same results.” Working in the field, with your own, untested hypothesis, means operating on a completely new (higher) level and is something that is very difficult to achieve in the classroom. To some biology students, field work is scary, but after this past week I am now even more drawn to the science.

Another goal of my time in Fortuna was to focus in a bit on possible/plausible ideas for my senior thesis research project (something I have to do in order to get my biology degree). While I still definitely haven’t figured out what I want to do, I’m surely at least a bit closer. Specific topics may still be a long way off, but that’s okay. More than anything now, after actually doing some real field biology, I have a better perspective on what is feasible, interesting, and how I would actually go about doing it. That is, I’ve learned that science is more powerful and research more available that I ever thought before. This new perspective will undoubtedly lead me down some wonderful paths in the next year, and I’m sure that specific project possibilities will come along in due time.

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Yesterday, the field course ended and all the students left Fortuna, leaving only two of us here, once again, to enjoy the beauty of the cloud forest. In my last few days here, I will be helping the other student here collect root specimens for her (fascinating) doctoral research and may also swing over to Bocas del Toro, probably the most famous beach/coastal area in Panama,  for a day to enjoy the sun and salty breeze one last time before I head home. On Thursday I’ll head back to San Joaquin in Costa Rica to spend some last-minute time with my host family and friends there before heading home on Monday. My how fast 3 months can go…

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