Why are these MBL students wading into the murky dankness of Cedar Swamp in Woods Hole, Monday at dusk ?

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Hmmm, now they have circled up around teaching fellow Alexa Price-Whalen, who is pushing the mouth of a plastic funnel down through the water, into the muck at the bottom of the swamp.

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With the flick of a butane lighter, a great ball of fire ignites above the funnel’s spout!

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Still wondering what’s going on? These are Microbial Diversity (MD) course participants witnessing the power of the mighty microbes that release methane, a flammable gas, as they decompose the detritus in the swamp-bottom mud. This year’s MD co-directors, Steve Zinder and Dan Buckley of Cornell University, are keeping a 30-year course tradition alive by leading students on this Cedar Swamp adventure, which they call “The Volta Experiment” after Alessandro Volta, the Italian physicist who published the first paper on methane in the late 1700s. Thanks to course assistant Killian Sitler for taking the photos, and course coordinator Heather Fullerton for passing them on!