Vicky Berry

A Scientific and International experience in South America

vb_001When the opportunity first became apparent to visit Colombia in February, I was sold; having never been outside Europe I knew this was an experience not to miss. Any worries prior to the trip were immediately erased upon arrival in Medellin – the city, the hotel and our hosts combined could not have made us feel more comfortable in the new surroundings. This would be the first time with our university that we would be taking part in real life scientific research, by looking into the effects of temperature and humidity on the abundance and diversity of tropical microbes. We, comprising of students and academics from Reading, UMass Dartmouth, Universidad de Antioquia and Universidad EAFIT, visited 3 field sites of varying climates, where we collected soil samples at 5 varying distances from a start point per field site, using a trowel sterilised with alcohol – the total 15 samples would soon be used for microbiological analysis in an EAFIT laboratory.

Visiting these sights confirmed what we had been taught in the seminars provided, that the tropics are not consistently hot and humid – areas can be cold or dry instead…which we certainly had to adjust to in between travelling to these areas! Using the samples, we obtained what looked like different types of bacteria from each of the 3 field sites; 15 of these different types were then tested for attributes such as preventing fungal growth, and their ability to grow in and utilise different biological conditions. We also attempted to extract total DNA from each of the 15 soil samples to confirm that they were bacterial strains, which sometimes worked and other times didn’t! From this research we saw a wide range of bacteria that exhibited various features, and that there is no consistency in microbiology between the field sites; this supported our thoughts that humidity and temperature are influential factors on microbiology. Hopefully, some of the interesting things we found will be further researched and potentially used in the environment.

vb_002Throughout the whole trip I was in a group of 4 with another Reading student and 2 UMass Dartmouth students, group F. On reflection we worked really well as a team, all bringing in different skills and attributes, and managed to pull off a successful presentation at the end of the trip. The best thing for me on the whole was getting to know new people, both from my own university and internationally. I’d also not known any Spanish at all before Colombia, but living with some Colombian students has taught me a little bit! This was a fantastic opportunity for us as students to take part in international travel, and for our Universities too having gained us as ambassadors for future international liaisons. Not only have we potentially made friends for life, but have taken part in real life current scientific research. This will definitely be an experience that I will remember, and I am extremely thankful for this fantastic opportunity.