Weight Watchers
[04./05.05.07]

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So maybe you don't always want to look at pictures, yes? No problem, I can try to teach you something about how Science is done! To begin I'll show you what we do with the leaf litter we want to study before we dunk it in a stream in the forest. So pay attention: I may ask questions later...

Friday and Saturday we have been busy: we prepared 356 litter samples, which means we weighted 615 individual leaf batches (as some samples had several species of leaves included, which all had to be weighted separately).


But first - just to start - some more pics of the institute: on the weekend it's completely empty and we triggered the motion detectors     
several times. The security guards were very relaxed about this however and let the strange Swiss people work...                                    

But back to work! First we have to prepare the dried leaf litter. As we work with 5g of leaves per sample, but want to utilise a homogenous and representative amount of litter, we cut the bigger leaves in two. Like this we got not only one, or two leaves per sample per species, but material from several different leaves per species, which reflects the average of the species much better, we hope.
Then we weight the leaves, making portions of 5 grams.So if we have a litter mixture of 4 species in a sample, we take of course 1.25g of each species. Sounds simple, but is quite tricky as it's difficult to guess then weight of a leaf.


On the left pic Stephan is cutting leaves (apparently enjoying it), whereas on the right Andy is weighting the leaves. I then distribute the
weighted leaves to the appropriate containers for storage and later packing.                                                                                         

  
…and this is how the leaves look close-up.

  
After the experiment we will need to be able to identify each sample of course, so we need to label each portion of leaves. We use a     
simple code to do that: if you take for example the topmost label on the left, you see it's for sample number 101, contains leaf species  
A and C, and is a coarse mesh bag (that's what the second C stands for). The number 2 at the end indicates this sample will go into the 
second of five blocks. Blocks represent groups of samples which are replicated for statistical reasons: it would be silly to determine       
leaf mass los from one sample per treatment only, so we replicate five times and thus take the average of all five replicate samples for
each treatment. And to the right you see the leaf portions and accompanying label ready for package in small alu-containers.                 

 

 
Just to be very clear about everything: it has nothing to do with holidays, and also the rainy weather   
should help me get this message through to everybody. Of course also I myself help with cutting          
leaves - no sense sitting by the poolside getting wet in this weather...                                               


…and I cut small leaves into even smaller leaves!    

 
Finally we pack leaves and labels into small plastic bags for storage
until we will wet them and pack them into the real litter bags for     
experiments. This will be explained in detail in a later entry.           


Working people are hungry people, and even the most frugal (*ahem*) biologist have to be fed! On       
Friday it was Stephan's turn to cook and he created a wonderful menu with fish, eggplant and              
potatoes. Apparently the "Hey, look at that!"-trick works still well. Oh, and sorry, I'm not allowed to     
comment on the shot to the right...                                                                                                  


…and this shot I don't want to comment. Ah well, if you insist! Here  
I enjoy a ti'Punch (that's the local drink consisting of 1/5 sugar cane  
syrup, 4/5 rum and some pieces of limes) and the pool after two      
hard days at work. Oh and the awfull(y) white tummy is just a relic   
from the winter in Switzerland...                                                     


Eating outside is in, especially with the pleasant temperatures here! Add some cool beer, sweet and sticky chicken wings Schindi-style     
and rice! Yummy!!!                                                                                                                                                                              
 

Sadly the Gendarmerie of Kourou wasn't correct when they notified us that the postponed launch would be tried again on Friday at 19:49h, so when the Ariane 5 lifted off from the Space Center at 19:30h we were still in the middle of the second course, not at the beach watching the launch! We could still see her from the backyard however as she climbed over Kourou and jettisoned the booster rockets over the sea. Quite an impressing sight and sound - but near impossible to capture with just a feeble digicam like mine. My appologies, folks!

To finish the evening I swam a few rounds, watched big ants run along a little highway they built around the pool and relaxed. Ah, very good, life here in French Guiana - as long as you're not an ant!
For Sunday we have planned another excursion to the jungle: will we find th optimal river for our experiments? Or will we not be able to see the trees because of all the forest? Will we meet some of those mean vipers? How wet is it going to be this time? And are my trousers already dry again?!?

 

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