Welcome back to @MBL! Here to help launch the 2012 edition of the MBL’s blog are the Logan Science Journalism Fellows, 11 sharp journalists who were selected to come to Woods Hole and undertake hands-on scientific research guided by MBL investigators.

The Biomedical Fellows have already met one of their model systems, the sea urchin, and mastered pipetting techniques; today they’ll collect the urchin’s sperm, fertilize its eggs, and watch the fascinating process of cell division unfold. They are in the lab with longtime MBL Whitman investigators David Burgess of Boston College and Charles “Brad” Schuster of New Mexico State University.

The Environmental Fellows left yesterday for Harvard Forest, a Harvard University-run environmental research station in Petersham, Massachusetts, that is one of the best-studied forests in the world. Under the leadership of MBL Ecosystems Center scientist Chris Neill, the fellows will “hook in” to four ongoing research studies at the forest, and will choose one to focus on for their final research presentation to their peers.

Below, Environmental Fellow Kathiann Kowalski gives her impressions of the first day of the program.

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Welcome from Woods Hole! After orientation on Thursday morning, MBL Communications Director Andrea Early led us jolly good science journalism fellows on a walking tour of the MBL campus and the village of Woods Hole. The view of MBL from across Eel Pond on School Street was gorgeous.

The MBL as seen across Eel Pond. Photo by K. Kowalski

For me, the MBL’s Stony Beach was a major highlight of the tour. The quiet beach on Buzzards Bay is just two blocks from campus and offers a place to read, relax, and enjoy the views. I should have time to walk to the beach on at least a few mornings. (This time of the year, the sun comes up well before 6 AM in Massachusetts, and lab work in Woods Hole generally won’t start until 9.)

The MBL's hangout, Stony Beach. Photo by K. Kowalski

On Thursday afternoon, the Environmental Fellows piled into the MBL van, and our fearless leader Chris Neill drove us to Harvard Forest in the wilds of central Massachusetts. Piling out, we grabbed our gear and got ourselves settled into the lovely old farmhouse that will serve as our “dormitory” for the next few days.

Harvard Forest farmhouse. Photo by K Kowalski

During dinner, Chris, MBL Ecosystems Center scientist Rich McHorney, and Clarisse Hart, Harvard Forest’s outreach manager, gave us an overview of the history and ongoing studies at the forest. The area was originally primary forest, but by 1830 it was almost all cleared for farmland. Starting in 1850, however, people began to abandon the farms—partly because the Erie Canal, steam power, and development of the Midwest made it easier to ship food in, and partly because the Civil War took many men away from their homes. Now the area is back to dense forest with hemlocks, white pine, red oak, and more.

After dinner, we did the first step in our scientific work—selecting sites to sample for two projects. One will look at the impacts of moose and deer, which are recolonizing the forest area. The other will examine effects of the hemlock wooly adelgid, an invasive pest.

Rich attached double-sided, random-number charts to a dartboard, and we started pitching. Wherever a dart struck determined the x and y axis values for where we’d start taking measurements in the field. Of course, our aims are all awful, so the results were indeed totally random. Random sampling is important in scientific studies to avoid researcher bias.

Random sampling by dart throwing. Photo by K. Kowalski

On Friday morning, we head out into the field. Let’s hope the DEET does its job and keeps the biting bugs at bay.