Terroir Research Project

This year, I worked closely with one of my professors to develop a research project centered on terroir and its connections to culture and health. I plan on first delving into the science of terroir, what exactly it is, and in what foods is it best preserved. I am starting this research by reading on the subject, mostly books like Slow: Life in a Tuscan Town and similar titles, as well as studying terroir in cheese, coffee, wine, olive oil, and meat. After that, I will extend my research to broader questions that relate to the industrialization of food, and examine the implications of an increasingly processed food industry. Specifically, I will look into how terroir has become a foreign concept to our generation and how we can regain this insight into our lives. Finally, I will examine the attempts of small farms, restaurants, schools, and the ‘slow food’ movement at revitalizing terroir in our daily lives by providing their communities with education and support.  A part of my project consists in photographing all those that I meet, the farms that I visit, and restaurants that I write about so that I can have a PowerPoint to show my school upon my return.

Road Trippin’

So I’ve done a little over three weeks of summer research, and it’s going pretty well so far. The first week mostly consisted of getting oriented and learning how to use the various (and extremely expensive it turns out) pieces of equipment that I would be using in the field. Among these are the Schmidt Hammer (to test rock strength), the Total Station (for surveying sample points), and the GPS. During week two, I set up and began running trials with the channel erosion computer model developed by Dr. Hancock last year. I am currently using the model to explore channel cross-section response to changes in baselevel lowering rate (this is effectively the rate at which the channel is cutting down through the bedrock). I do this by running trials lasting 200,000 years. For the first 100,000 years, the model operates with an annual baselevel lowering rate of .01 m/yr. Then, at year 100,000, the rate is changed by a factor of my choosing. I have run trials changing the erosion rate by factors as varied as .o1 and 100. Once these models have run, I use a MATLAB script I put together to smooth the data with a moving average method and export the data to fixed-width text files so that I can use it for further analysis. Though I am still sorting through the millions of years of erosion data I have produced, I can begin to make some preliminary observations.

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Economic Development: Sarajevo

My summer stay in Sarajevo, through the William and Mary’s Bosnia Project, has finally come.  The sights, people and history have been nearly overwhelming these first few days.  I’m happy to confirm that all I’ve heard from those who have been here before me is true.  My stay here presents a unique opportunity to further my research through in-person interviews with key business, NGO, and government workers which I intend to fully take advantage of. At the present time I have finished my background reading and some early econometric work with data I have so far collected. Through the help of local William and Mary alumni I am lining up interviews for the coming weeks.  I have also meet numerous local businessmen who have been more then happy to share their experiences dealing with bureaucratic hurdles.

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Ethics Discussion

Last Wednesday was the second of a two part series of a discussion on the ethics in science.  Everyone in the biology department was invited to the seminars, which were led by Professor Heideman.  Before the discussion, everyone read On Being a Scientist: Responsible Conduct in Research from the National Academies of Sciences Press.  The reading discussed different facets of the ethics involved in science from the perspective of a scientist responsibility to the public.  The essay argues that society and the public trust to attempt to make discoveries about the world that are both unbiased and accurate.  Breaking this trust is not only dishonest, but also could potentially have a negative effect on the relationship between society and science as a whole.  During the discussions, we discussed various scenarios that we, as undergraduates involved in research, might encounter at any point in our careers.

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Arsenic and Augers

My first summer blog comes after three weeks of laboratory analyses and hot days spent at Jamestown fort, gathering groundwater samples, bantering with tourists and befriending sunbeaten archaeologists. Roughly 65 groundwater samples have been collected from the settlement and analysed for arsenic, iron and DOC (dissolved organic carbon). Measuring iron is relatively simple but requires a few hours of preparation and then ‘doping’ samples by hand with various reagents to produce a delightful magenta-violet color. Simply put, the more purple the sample becomes, the more iron content.  When it comes to measuring arsenic, a large and admittedly intimidating machine called a VARIAN Atomic Absorption Spectrometer, is used, and must be treated gingerly, as discovered when this beast demanded a full day of troubleshooting before it would run smoothly. Once attached to a 50psi Argon tank and the inner quartz cell is heated to 950 degrees Celsius, my groundwater samples are heated and turned into a gas which contains any arsenic in the sample.  A beam of light is then sent through the gas;  the less light thats passes through, the more arsenic in the sample.

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