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Future Scientists Get Their First Field Work Experience at Penn State DuBois

10/3/2008 —

DuBois – Students in Biology 110 at Penn State DuBois, a required course for students enrolled in Penn State’s life sciences curricula, are getting a glimpse into their future careers.  The course stresses the fundamentals of biology and gives the students a taste of what real-world research is like in the field research lab. 

“Part of the learning students do is to become skilled at applying the scientific method,” said Professor Robert Loeb.  “They create a hypothesis and an alternative hypothesis and test them.” 

During one of their first scientific exercises, students were faced with a question which had to be answered using the scientific method.  The question: Does soil temperature affect the presence of plants in a given area?  Many of them developed their own hypothesis.  Some said yes, and some said no.  Science, however, would yield the answer.

“We have 10 different plots and we’re comparing the plants that are growing in each plot,” said student, Allison Nussbann.  “Then we’ll see if varying soil temperatures relate to the different plants, which grow in the different plots.”

Students found that soil temperatures in the plots ranged from 58 to 62 degrees Fahrenheit.  However, the same types of plants were found in each plot. Those included several types of grass, clover and dandelions.  

This was no surprise to Loeb, “Of course, they will find no connection between soil temperature and the plants that grow there.  The fact is that the plants have all adapted to the climate of DuBois.”

Loeb also explained that humans have the greatest affect on plant growth.  Things like mowing and planting directly affect the lawns and other campus environments, and have a profound impact on what plants are present in the environments.  

But Loeb explains this exercise was not meant to bring about a revolution in scientific discovery.  It was meant to be the first step in molding students into the rigorous work of scientists and that experimental results help investigators to gain a greater understanding of the phenomena they study. The students analyze the data, validate or reject each hypothesis and come up with new explanations concerning their observations.

“This will be their first introduction to applying the scientific method in field work and critically analyzing data, which many of them will do for the rest of their professional lives,” said Loeb.

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