Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Xiaoying Pu '17 writes about the possibility of using freshwater mussels to monitor water contamination related to gas shale

Xiaoying Pu ’17 (right) and Sean Reese, Aquatic Biologist with Bucknell’s Environmental Center, collecting freshwater mussels.  Advised by Prof. Carl Kirby, Xiaoying examined freshwater mussels as possible biomonitors for barium and strontium associated with flowback water from hydraulic fracturing.  

What writing project are you working on right now?

This summer I have been doing research in the Geology Department with Professor Carl Kirby. It is a feasibility study on using freshwater mussels to monitor possible contamination by barium and strontium. These elements have very high concentrations in flowback water, one of the many environmental concerns from Marcellus Shale gas development in the area. I analyzed for barium and strontium concentrations in mussels’ annual shell layers. The report that I am working on is a summary of the field and lab work; I am also trying to discuss whether the chemistry in mussel shells could be interpreted as a temporal record of water chemistry, thus the bio-monitoring aspect.

What do you love about it?

I was very excited to be part of this project right after my freshman year, and learned everything about mussels and much more from scratch. Using freshwater mussels for flowback monitoring would be a novel approach, and I have been curious to see how it would work out. Only after I looked into the records did I realize how little we actually know about river water quality and these benthic animals. Also, this report has been something very different for me, because part of the materials includes my own observations and data.

What about it (if anything) is driving you nuts?

Since I was trying to correlate elemental concentrations in mussel shells to water chemistry records through time, I hoped to be able to determine which growth ring in the shell layers corresponds to which year. After digging around in the literature, it occurred to me that it is not conflicting opinions that were frustrating, but  confident claims that a certain method would work, while the specimens that I had suggested otherwise. Ultimately I decided that the best thing to do was to simply write down my observations and avoid over-interpretation.

How would you describe your writing process?

Though a ten-week research project seemed to be long, I was advised to begin writing from day one. I had an outline at an early stage, and then I made the figures and tables as I gathered data. These preparations were very functional in planning to write and in the actual writing. When I was not dissecting mussels or doing something else, I wrote the body of the report section by section.

What kind of feedback on your writing do you find most helpful?
Besides the report I also did a poster presentation. When talking to people outside the project, I was constantly surprised at how to-the-point some of their questions were. The interest in shale gas and mussels also confirmed the significance and promise of my project.

What would you like students to know about you as a writer?

As a true novice in scientific writing, I feel so lucky to find it rewarding and meaningful, and I look forward to future challenges.

Bio: Xiaoying Pu '17 majors in Computer Science and Engineering. Her hometown is Shanghai, China.