I discovered the root-washing station!

Another ecological experiment was successfully finished today. Oh well, almost. The most important harvest is behind us now.

I started my day collecting a shitload of liquid nitrogen at the nitrogen tank (silo? What are these things called?) outside our building. This was done with the purpose of flash-freezing our leaf samples in the greenhouse, after carefully clipping them from the plants and then a meticulous series of steps to wash and surface-sterilize them, following standardized protocols.

We had assembled a team of four PhD candidates from the Helmholtz center in Munich, my two favorite PhD candidates from our own department, my favorite department technician and my favorite student assistant. Then there was Stephan, the guy who ran the show over the past months. And me, but you won’t see me in the pictures, so no one will ever believe I was there. But I was. I promise.

Our plan was to sample all plants, and then harvest all aboveground biomass. All of course had to be stored safely in our department freezers. I had counted on roughly four to five hours work. Excluding a long lunch break, we managed to do it in five. Honestly I had no clue. I had never worked with a team of ten. It was all bluff, and I was lucky to guess it right. The careful prepping by Stephan and some others made it so.

Tomorrow we will have a few people less to work with, but I think we’ll have another smooth day. We’ll be sampling roots for further analysis, but only after we have first thoroughly washed them. Those who have known me for a while, know I have washed thousands of roots during my PhD (of which surprisingly little is visible in my dissertation – I tried to convince everyone that I’m an entomologist). My colleagues made a video about me for after my defense, called ‘Lord of the Roots’, which should speak for itself. Tomorrow will be the first time since my PhD that I will occupy a root-washing station. I did plenty of root washing here in Germany too (of course), but all while clumsily cleaning stuff under a lab sink. (But I still washed roots like a pro.) I only figured out a few weeks ago that they had a root washing station in this place (and that they hid it in some old shed). Now that I know this, I’m here to claim back my root washing champion belt (not sure who took it though). But trust me, I’m an entomologist!

I think this sampling procedure was the most critical part of the harvest. The roots will be easier to oversee, and don’t require running around like headless chickens in the greenhouse. It feels like quite a relief having it behind us. Whatever will come out, the sample quality is good, which means we can test our hypotheses – which we did all of this for in the first place of course :). No matter how far off we were in hypothesizing, I believe you can always publish high-quality data. I can rest easy.

9.30 am – a lot to do
The favorite PhDs, technician and student assistant
The four Helmholtz PhDs and Stephan
3.00 pm – done

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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