Dr. Jason Kilgore, an associate professor of biology at Washington & Jefferson College, has been using top-notch research instrumentation to enhance undergraduate learning. As a member of the Ecological Research as Education Network (EREN), which is a collaborative network of schools that are primarily undergraduate institutions, Dr. Kilgore and other EREN faculty “use authentic research as a model for students to learn about biology.” He does so by incorporating an LI-6800 Portable Photosynthesis System into his coursework and student research.
How did he get the instrument? While attending the Botanical Society of America conference, he noticed a LI-6400 Portable Photosynthesis System at the LI-COR booth. Familiar with the LI-6400 from his grad school days, Dr. Kilgore demonstrated how to perform a light response curve to one of his students. Before long, a crowd had gathered to watch. After the conference, Dr. Kilgore began to pursue a LI-COR Environmental Education Fund (LEEF) grant.
And the rest is history. With institutional funds to match the LEEF grant, Dr. Kilgore had everything he needed for a new LI-6800. He has appreciated the improvements in the technology. “The response time is amazing, it’s easy to download data, and the batteries are lighter and last longer. The LI-6800 starts up and is ready to go, whether in the field or lab.”
One student in his forest ecology class, Abigail Pristas, used the LI-6800 for an independent research project related to the emerald ash borer (EAB). This invasive insect has been tearing through the eastern United States, destroying ash trees in its wake. She noticed that there were a lot of ash seedlings near the forest edge, but not in canopy openings or deep in the forest where most of the dying ash trees were located. She wondered if the light compensation points depended on whether the seedlings were exposed to light or shade during the day. Dr. Kilgore noted that this was an interesting question because “usually people classify adult trees as shade tolerant or intolerant. Rarely do they think about how shade affects seedlings.” With the LI-6800, they measured ash seedlings and found that they reach light saturation by 200 µmol m-2 s-1 of photosynthetically active radiation (PAR), which is quite shaded.
Dr. Kilgore is also using the LI-6800 for teaching photosynthesis in labs for a plant diversity class. He’s found that students understand the concepts with greater depth when they experience scientific concepts firsthand. Before getting the instrument, teaching the concepts of photosynthesis was abstract and mostly theoretical. Now, he lets students play with the LI-6800 to see how variables like CO2 concentration and light levels cause plants to react in real time. “My students were very excited that they could watch the net assimilation rate instantaneously change with these variables.” It’s also easy to show them what’s going on when demonstrating a new concept. “I can live-stream the data and graphs to the screen for the whole class to see.”
By using the LI-6800 in the classroom and the field, Dr. Kilgore’s students have a greater understanding of photosynthetic concepts. “The LEEF grant provided more opportunities for my students to understand carbon dynamics and plant responses to their conditions, and thus effects of climate change on plants.”
Photo courtesy of Dr. Jason Kilgore, Washington & Jefferson College.