By Ben Nistor

ANU Summer Scholarship at RSES

As the mid-year holidays approach I start thinking ahead to summer.  After a hectic start to the year (despite trying to “lighten the workload”) and consecutive summers of full time employment in big cities away I intended to give myself a holiday.  This year I would head home and put my feet up. Haha, well that didn’t happen…

Sure enough as Semester 2 progressed I got curious as to what opportunities were available for the 2015/16 Summer.  Before I knew it I had applied for three opportunities for the summer including the ANU Summer Scholar programme.  What a great decision – having the opportunity to come to experience ANU and Canberra for the summer was a blast.  Now we all know Canberra’s reputation goes ahead of it. Boring, bureaucrats and built in the middle of nowhere.  But despite these reviews I had one of the most stimulating summers yet.

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At RSES I worked alongside Dr Nerilie Abram and the stable isotope research group to help construct a new palaeoclimate record for south-western Australia by analysis of a speleothem sample.  This was done by micro-milling and the determination of δ18O and δ13C ratios at each increment allowing us to better understand how recent changes in water availability appear against the millennial proxy record.  This involved a great deal of lab work, running the mass-spectrometer and constantly refilling the liquid nitrogen (sorry to others who had to wait when we filled the 200 L liquid nitrogen dewar every other day).  Results from this work indicate that δ18O levels decreased over the last 40 years to levels outside the range observed over prior 400 years suggesting a drying of the karst water store.

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Alongside the research experience was an awesome social time with approximately 75 other Summer Scholars from across Australasia staying at Burgmann College.  This included wine + cheese nights, exploring the city by bike, swimming at Murrumbidgee river, climbing Black Mountain + Mt Ainslie, a Star Wars movie marathon, learning a variety of new board games, many late night chats and participating in the 3minute thesis competition to name just a few of the activities.  A big thanks to everyone who helped make the experience so fantastic and the RSES postgrads who provided some exciting baking to try each Friday!

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