Debbie Knight

Photo of the Week: Outstanding in the (soybean) field

In observation, photo log on July 10, 2012 at 9:00 am

This photo is from my archives. Taken over 20 years ago.

This is me standing at a (then) newly-drilled ground-water well in the middle of a soybean field in West Lafayette, Indiana. The self-portrait was taken back when I first started doing scientific research as a career.

I would use the removable  attachment (and tubing) to pump out two or three knee-high glass carboys which were pretty heavy when full. I would lug them back to the lab for our experiments.

The water was used for three purposes.

One was to look for microorganisms in the water that could degrade pesticides that were applied to agricultural fields. (This was my part of the project)

Another was to look for signs of breakdown products of the pesticides as they percolated through the soil and bedrock down to the aquifer. (This was the soil agronomist’s part of the project)(Oh, if you ever want to yank an agronomist’s chain, just refer to soil as “dirt,” they LOVE that!)

The third was to slowly pump the water, with its load of pesticides, through a column of soil that we had in the lab. The soil, as all soils do, had microorganisms that flourished with very few added nutrients. By subjecting them to the pesticide-contaminated water, we hoped to select for microbes that could break the pesticides down into simpler molecules, using the energy that came from the chemical bonds to grow. We would frequently test the liquid that came out of this soil column for microbes and for breakdown products of the pesticide. (This was a graduate student’s project that I helped sometimes helped with)

It was really weird standing in the middle of a soybean field, alone, pumping out water to the crackling of the high-power lines and the buzzing of insect wings.

One of the many weird things I did for this project in our quest to find microbes that could break down pesticides. (More on these later)

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