Grounded

By Danniel Arriaga

What’s in the ground we stand upon? Maybe you thought about it while playing in the mud when you were younger. Maybe you thought about what was involved in making the soil before you showed up. What if you were offered the opportunity to play in the dirt, but are now in your adulthood?

I spoke with Llewin Froome, a recently graduated student in environmental science from the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and summer intern in the George Washington Carver (GWC) Internship Program. Froome is working under the mentorship of professor Michael Thompson in the agronomy department, who is researching soil samples and testing their carbon concentration.

 

The GWC is a program that allows students, who are at least 16 years old, to experience life on campus at Iowa State University, as well as work in the laboratories. Students are assigned a project to research that their mentors are working on or give the students a brand new project. The students stay in the dorms and practically live on campus for eight weeks.

“I’m looking at the soil composition and seeing how effective the minerals are at storing organic carbon. We’re using that as a key indicator of climate change,” said Froome.

He explained that first they collect the soil and then grind it up very finely. Grinding allows the researchers to better differentiate between silt, sand, clay, and organic components. Once the clay is separated from the silt and sand, it is analyzed using X-rays to determine the type of clay and composition.

Froome will continue with the X-ray diffraction and examination of the clay and soils. He explained that the use for X-rays in this project is to identify the different clay particles in each sample. Since the particles are so small this type of analysis can’t be done with a microscope.

This research is mainly for a better understanding of soil composition. But with a better understanding of the soil we stand, live and thrive upon, we can learn more and understand about past climates in the Midwest. And Froome is one person who is beginning to understand a lot more about soil composition and its effect on the environment.

 

Froome lived in Jamaica until he was 17, and then moved to the U.S. during his senior year of high school. His interest in science was sparked when he took an environmental science class.

“At first I was like, okay, this is kind of cool, an alright class. Then I started to learn about the impacts on the world, and I really got interested,” Froome said.

Froome eventually enrolled at the University of Massachusetts, majoring in environmental science. He no longer considered science an interest, but a passion.

When Froome first began as a GWC intern, he expected he might be out on farms taking soil samples, then going back to the lab to sit at a bench to analyze them. He thought that would be the daily routine for eight weeks once he heard agriculture being mentioned. But now after being a part of the program, he says that there was a lot more to agriculture than he thought and a lot that he didn’t know. Like how agriculture is more than just the work done out in farm fields, but it comprises the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields to various aspects of agriculture.

The GWC has been bringing in students from all over the country and introducing them to new skills and exposing them to day-to-day laboratory research for the past decade. For more information about the GWC and applying, visit http://www.ag.iastate.edu/diversity/gwc/.

Danniel Arriaga, a student at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, is spending the summer as part of the George Washington Carver Internship and is also part of the program, Science Bound. Danniel is an intern in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Communications Office, writing news stories about the other GWC interns.