On September 13th and 14th BEMP partnered with the Center for Stable Isotopes (CSI) at the University of New Mexico (UNM) to put on a two-day workshop to introduce high school students to stable isotope research. Stable isotopes are atoms found in nature that have a different number of neutrons in their nucleus, making them heavier or lighter than usual.
During the workshop students from 5 different high schools learned how to use stable isotopes to study the ecology of the bosque. The workshop was led by Dr. Seth Newsome (an associate professor at UNM) and his lab of isotope researchers (John Whiteman, Emma Elliott Smith, Alexi Besser, Christy Mancuso, and Laura Pages). The first day of the workshop was hosted at Bosque School where the students learned basic concepts about stable isotopes as well as how to manipulate and interpret data. The afternoon was spent in the bosque collecting various environmental samples to analyze. These included water, soil, plant, and insect samples.
Day two was held at UNM where students learned about the technology used to detect stale isotopes and prepared samples for analysis. Samples must be cut to a specific weight, cleaned, placed in a capsule, and burned before being sent to the mass spectrometer. Students were also able to see what their own stable isotope ratios looked like from nail samples. The data showed how their diets varied (who ate the most corn products and who ate the most meat!). All of the students who participated in the workshop have the opportunity now to do their own, cutting-edge isotope research at the CSI at UNM.
We would like to say a huge thank you to Dr. Seth Newsome and his lab for creating this wonderful opportunity We would also like to thank the 11 students from Albuquerque Institute for Math and Science (AIMS), Amy Biehl High School, Bosque School, La Academia de Esperanza, and Rio Grande High School for participating!
Workshop coordinated by BEMP staff members:
Katie Elder and Laura Pages
BEMP Educators and Biologist