Blog: At the tail end of my research project

Blog: At the tail end of my research project
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Last week, I finished my Laidlaw research project entitled “How does Ocean Acidification affect the Coral Biomineralisation process”. I had the privilege of working in a lab at the Scottish Oceans Institute in St Andrews, which is a world-leading research site in ocean science, and has a great view of the sea during lunch! Despite studying chemistry, I have always had a particular interest in ocean science, and last semester I was lucky enough to learn about ocean acidification in my Inorganic Chemistry module. Learning about what could happen to the ocean’s ecosystem in the future from ocean acidification motivated me to do my research project about coral’s mineral skeleton. I walked into the project eager to gain some research skills and to see the effects of ocean acidification on the precipitation rate of aragonite – the mineral skeleton in coral with formula CaCO3. I learnt that coral reefs are extremely important to the ocean, as they provide habitats for marine species, protect the land from strong waves and also promote tourism. I worked with two different biomolecules which are known as lipids. These were palmitic acid and phosphatidylcholine, which are both fatty acids that are known to be prevalent in the coral skeleton 1, and, under ocean acidification, become bigger in size. Therefore, I was precipitating aragonite and adding a variety of concentrations of both lipids, and to see if the different concentrations had any effect on the precipitation rate. I additionally precipitated aragonite under ocean acidification conditions to find out whether that affected the precipitation rate. These precipitates were the culmination of my 6 week project, and it was fascinating to be able to have something that I had made.

My 25 samples of aragonite!

I also used an Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) in York to see if the morphologies of aragonite are different when under different ocean conditions. In summary, my results concluded that Palmitic Acid accelerates aragonite precipitation, Phospatidylcholine has no effect on aragonite precipitation, & ocean acidification decreases aragonite precipitation, but does not affect the role of phosphatidylcholine. 

An image of the aragonite morphology taken with an SEM- aragonite precipitated with 40 uM phosphatidylcholine under ocean acidification.

Some reflections after finishing my research project:

What I realised over the course of the 6 week project, was that research takes a very long time. I could only really do about 2 or 3 experiments a day due to the preparation being quite laborious and time consuming, as well as the experiments themselves ranging from 1-3 hours long. There were times where I felt that I wasn’t getting far in my research, but as the weeks went by, I was confident that I would get enough data to discover if there are any trends in my results. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, especially learning new techniques such as using the DIC analyser, titrating under specific ocean conditions in the aquarium, using the SEM to take images and obtaining Raman spectroscopic data. It was particularly cool to see how my aragonite samples looked like at microscopic levels! I am now in the process of identifying any trends or differences in my data, as well as analysing my SEM images of 6 different samples!

References:

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