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A picture of a field on a sunny day with a line of leafless trees in the distance

It's no secret that I'm a bit of a STEM fanboy. I'm planning on majoring in Biology, and always looking at ways I might be able to incorporate Chemistry, or Environmental Science, or whatever other flavor of the day science class into my schedule. One of my favorite things about science is really hopping in and getting your hands dirty, applying the theoretical concepts you learn in class to real life science. That's why I love labs. 

At Dartmouth, lots of science classes have lab periods, blocks that meet for a few hours once a week and allow students to conduct fun experiments, learn more about careers in the subjects they are studying, and see the real application of what they've been learning. 

In the fall, I took Chemistry 11, the accelerated general chemistry course that combines the regular Chem 5, Chem 6 sequence into one class. It was fast paced, and my absolute favorite part was the lab. Aside from working through some fun and activities, like creating galvanic cells and making visual diagrams of molecules, we spent the majority of the lab on a sequenced coordination chemistry project.

We set out with our glassware, vacuum filters, and more giant jugs of assorted chemicals than you can imagine, and began synthesizing a cobalt complex. After, we spent the next few lab sessions running different analyses on the complex, and converting it between forms. By the end, we'd learned lots of different principles of practical laboratory procedure, as well as learning just about everything there was to know about our complex. But there was more to the lab than just heating, mixing, and filtering. At the end of the experiment series, we each wrote a simple scientific paper detailing our findings. I felt like it was a very positive experience in letting us dip our toes into what research and the communication of knowledge from research is like.

Now this term, I'm enrolled in Biology 16: the foundational Ecology class. Since I'm intending on concentrating in Ecology, I've been super excited to take this class since electing it at the end of last term. Bio 16, like most of the foundational Biology courses, is a lab class, which is one of the things I'm enjoying the most in my week right now.

We've only had one set of labs so far, but it already has me thrilled for what's to come. In the first lab, we spent an hour or so in groups discussing biomes and limits to distribution of organisms, before heading out into the field at the Dartmouth Organic Farm. Just across the road is the sugar bush, the place where Dartmouth operates maple syrup farming throughout spring break. Although the maple syrup season is officially over, I still enjoyed trekking through the sugar bush, listening for bird calls, an element of our class.

After an hour or so of birding, we hunted through the foliage for goldenrod galls, small knots of wood that grow on the sides of goldenrod stems. Each gall may contain a fly larva, or maybe something that ate the fly before we were able to get there, like a wasp, or marks from a bird. We took all the galls back to the lab in the life sciences center, and cut them open to see what was inside. After rounding up all of our data, it will be submitted to a nation-wide project that is examining gall fly predation across the US. It felt really neat getting to be part of such a large-scale endeavor, and was a great way to start off the 24S lab season.

Although both of the labs I've had the chance to experience at Dartmouth have been quite different, I think that they each provide an eye-opening way to approach science. I'm ready to see where the rest of my ecology lab takes me, and looking forward to seeing what future labs in other STEM departments may look like.

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