Lab Field Trip

About three weeks ago Ani started her second Calvert 7 science textbook. Each book in the series Calvert 7 uses begins with an interview with a scientist. The scientist her animal book begins with is currently an assistant professor at the University of Maryland. She was given an assignment to write an article about Daphne Soares as if she had been the one to do the interview. Here is what Ani wrote:

Dr. Daphne Soares’s Discovery
by Ani

Dr. Soares was born in Brazil. She was raised on a horse farm. She says, “Living on the farm made me curious about how animals interact with their environment.” Dr. Soares received a Ph.D. in biology from the University of Maryland.

She started a investigation about the little black dots on an alligator’s face while she was still a university student. She wants to become a professor at that same university. She also wants to continue to study crocodilians.

The first things Dr. Soares actually studied were barn owls. The crocodilians are the closest living relative of barn owls and other birds. The first time Dr. Soares got close to an alligator was when she was in the bed of a truck helping hold down an 8 foot long alligator.

As soon as she could after she discovered the dots, Dr. Soares went to the library and found out that the dots had been noticed, but no one knew what they were. She decided to find out what the dots were and to study the nervous system in alligators.

The first experiment she did was put a special type of dye on each one of the dots on a few young alligators. This dye would travel through the nervous system if the dots were connected to nerves. The dye went to the brain and so Dr. Soares found out they were a part of the nervous system.

The second thing she had to do was find out what the nerves did. She set up a system where if the nerves detected something a wailing sound would go off. She brought food near the spots, to see if the dots were like taste buds. She tried light. Did they act like eyes? She even tried heat. Nothing. There was absolutely no response.

One day she accidentally dropped a tool into the tank where the alligator was resting. When she reached in to retrieve it the alarms went off. The dots might be detecting pressure! Dr. Soares still had to make sure it wasn’t something else so she tried dimming the light and plugging up the alligators ears. She repeated what happened with the same reaction.

Now Dr. Soares is working on blind cavefish. She wants to know if they are born blind or become blind as they grow up. She has a great amount of curiosity and that is the greatest trait a scientist can have and, as Dr. Soares has discovered, accidents can lead to great discoveries as well.

On a whim I googled Dr. Soares (which turned up some cool videos showing a little of her research with the alligators). It also turned up her e-mail address. So I e-mailed her what Ani had written. Within minutes I had an e-mail back from her requesting Ani call her the next day.

Ani is a bit shy and so she spent a little time getting up the courage to call. When she did Dr. Soares told her that her paper was fabulous and she invited us to come up to Maryland University and visit her lab!

We went up there a week ago Monday. We got to see (and touch) the baby alligators (about 2 years old). We looked at her fish. As Ani wrote in her paper, she is studying blind cavefish so she had a tank of those as well as some river fish. We got to look at baby (2 week old) river fish under a powerful microscope. She answered lots of questions. It was all very fascinating and totally a cool field trip!



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