Adventure, discovery and progress

Hey guys! I have loads of updates for you on my life since my last post in April!!

A major highlight was my parents visiting me in May 🙂 When I was living up north, they did a bus tour of lots of places in East Canada, with their final stop in Quebec. They did the same here; travelling first to Georgia and bussing through Montgomery, New Orleans, Memphis and Nashville. There was a big musical theme with visits to Graceland etc. and they seemed to really enjoy themselves. This was their first time in the states. It was great to hang out with them for the last week of their holiday, and see some more musical attractions in Nashy.

Just after my last post, on Earth Day I participated in the March for Science and Climate Nashville (, joining thousands to vocally remind the government that science is no joke. We started at Legislative Plaza, moved onto Deaderick Street, 5th Avenue North Church Street, Capital Boulevard, and ended back at Legislative Plaza. I was there representing the marine environment, with my poster that read  “Don’t be a plankton, stand up for science”. Although I saw another poster showing polar bears (a few about climate change), the posters and talks mostly had a medical focus. Makes sense here though, because that is the focus at Vanderbilt. Prior to marching, we listened to some inspirational speakers. One was the state director of STD prevention for the Tennessee Department of Health, and spoke about the obvious impacts of scientific advances in his field which have allowed HIV patients to live long, healthy lives (that was out of the question just decades ago). Medical advances saved his own life. His cancerous kidney was removed just a few weeks before. I think we all have stories like that. What I loved the most, is that on the same day, there were marches for science all around the world, including one in Ny Alesund, Svalbard where I am sure polar bears were a focus!

My poster at the science march. Disclaimer: I’m not hating on plankton. Arrow worm drawn by freshman student Dawit.

On April 21, our third year SSMV kids attended the Annual Tennessee Junior Academy of Science meeting at Belmont University, presenting talks on their sophomore group projects. Our students gave 5 of ~20 talks presented at the meeting by Tennessee high school students, and did awesome!! Judged by a panel of 4, Mudi and Tobias came first place for their project working on the detection of pulsars (types of stars)! Now they are heading to Austin, Texas, to give the talk again to an even bigger audience, plus getting some nice money from this! And the following students were all named runners up: Megan, Chaitu, Taylor and Casey (for their basketball metrics system), Eghosa, Kevin and Austin (for designing and implementing a prosthetic hand), Katey, Youli and Lu (for their wetlands microbial ecology project). It was very cool to attend that event, and to get a reminder of the scientific proficiency and confidence that these kids gain by going through our program.

Mudi presenting his winning talk on pulsars, with Tobias, at the TJAS Meeting

Alexis, Grayson, Lizzy talked about their carbon footprint app at the TJAS Meeting

Microbial ecology project at the TJAS Meeting

In mid-May, our class of 2017 graduated from the SSMV! The 24 graduating students are all heading off to great universities in America, including Yale, University of California, Johns Hopkins and of course Vanderbilt. The ceremony Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean delivered the keynote address. As an instructor, I also donned regalia and read the names out. I found this to be quite a surreal experience. It’s not long since I was graduating myself!

Class of 2017 with previous Nashville mayor Karl Dean 🙂

In fall, the new fresh-faced freshmen will arrive! However, we also have summer programs for the current SSMV students. During the last couple of weeks, our classes of 2019 (our “rising juniors”) and 2020 (our “rising sophomores”) returned to Vanderbilt for a combination of summer science and games. This was the coolest. Firstly, we had a symposium at Vanderbilt with like a hundred participants. Rising sophomores presented oral presentations on their group projects, looking at features of plastic found in seabird boluses from Hawaii. Alyxis et al. won the best talk for their presentation on the different types of plastic in the boluses. Then, the rising juniors presented posters on the projects they’ve been doing since January. Whilst everyone did great, Jack and Julia’s awesome poster on detecting characteristics of pulsar stars won them the first-place poster. Both winning groups get their deserved place on the SSMV “Wall of Fame”. After that, we ended the day with water games, which involved both students and instructors getting very wet!

Stream Team (Libby, Maurgea, Sean, Mina), presenting their poster

Svalbard Zooplankton App Development team (Ruby, Ana, Carlos) presenting their poster

I have ensured that my research projects with the SSMV students have been highly original and relevant. They tackled questions that I, and the students, felt were important to answer. By sampling Richland Creek from January to June, the Stream Team accrued loads of new knowledge about the populations of invertebrates that live there. For instance, they found an interesting relationship between an increase in stream depth and counts of bivalves, but not gastropods. They found that fruit flies dominated in our insect trap in January, but other flies (such as moths) dominated in June. I would really love to see the students publish that work. However, these students will enter Vanderbilt labs next January to work on what will probably be very different topics. Unfortunately, Vanderbilt doesn’t have many ecology labs, which is a shame. I do envision a situation where students interested in ecology could work with other ecology labs, not necessarily at Vanderbilt, for their third and fourth year projects. That would be cool! Either way, a single quote from Sean shows that he has already learned one of the most important lessons you can learn in science: “I learned that what’s the most important thing in science as well as life in general is not what comes your way but rather what you do about it.”

Last weekend, I traveled with Brandi to Greeter Falls in Tennessee, where we immersed ourselves in nature and really got to breathe again. I drove for the first time in a decade! 😊

At Greeter Falls, Savage Gulf, TN

Yesterday, we took our rising sophomores and juniors to Nashville Zoo, where we had a lot of fun observing cool animals like kangaroos, a red panda, a leopard, a cougar, flamingos and Canadian Geese. I enjoyed this day as much as the kids. A lot of people think zoos are a bad thing because animals are kept in conditions that are nothing like their natural environments. This is done (quote on quote) to educate people about these animals, and also to conserve species that may be endangered in the wild. Some of our students thought these reasons are valid, whilst others wondered why people in Nashville really need to see flamingos in their hometown. It is interesting that these animals are fed better than most humans. It is also interesting that Nashville Zoo is going to build an animal hospital by 2019 that will allow zoo-goers to observe operations. Their reasoning seems to be that they want people to learn about how operations work, ensuring that all interactions between staff and animals is transparent to the public. What do you think about this?

Mert meets a goat at the zoo

Stroking a kangaroo in Nashville…

The rising sophomores will continue to attend the SSMV until the end of June, during which time I will start a very cool project with them, but since they are probably reading this, no spoilers 😊

I hope you are all doing well, more later!

Cheers, Jordan xx

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