By Hannah James
I recently attended the Stable Isotope Biogeochemistry & Ecology short course or IsoCamp at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City. It’s a two week summer isotope camp for nerds and it was amazing. IsoCamp is run by IsoPopes, Jim Ehleringer and Thure Cerling and staffed by a whole group of amazing researchers from around the US and the world.
Our morning lectures covered a range of topics from isotopes in the water, tree rings, oceans, atmosphere, soil to animals.
Afternoons were lab time. We developed projects, collected samples, prepared and analysed them and pretended to understand what the data we received was telling us.
For me week one was project burger week. We sampled burgers from several establishments, fast and non-fast food and then analysed carbon isotopes to work out whether the cows were grass-fed or not. This project just made us look like tight-arses, we would purchase one burger between three then cut it up in thirds.
Week two was fish week. We collected fish samples from a fish market and some dead floating fish from a stocked fishing lake. We then used nitrogen isotopes to look at trophic levels and changing diets relating to the fish being released into the lake. This project just smelled really bad!
Evenings were more lectures on forensics, lab equipment, using isotopes in urban settings and NEON, the National Ecological Observatory Network.
I learnt a lot at IsoCamp and in Salt Lake City, mainly that;
- I have barely scratched the surface of isotope knowledge.
- isotopes are amazing and applicable to so many topics
- animals are way cooler than plants, rocks, and soils
- American’s are super excited about their research
- Utah, although thought of as a religious state, does great craft beer
- Salt Lake City is a very well organised and very well watered city
- The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is wonderful
- And tie dye looks great on everyone!
After the course I did some travelling around and discovered Utah is a beautiful and strange place. A German, a Texan and I headed south to Moab, a small town surrounded by the amazing geology of Utah’s high deserts. We checked out Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park, and saw some of Utah’s iconic landmarks. If you ever find yourself in that part of the US, they come highly recommended.
Also if you’re interested in IsoCamp check out http://stableisotopes.utah.edu/isocamp.html for details!