While this may sound like a bad idea for most people, for me it is one of the best things about this KOSMOS project. I’m not a fan of the cold and dark winter days of northern Germany. Luckily for me though, being able to participate in this study has proven to be a pretty sweet combination of work and fun. Not only do I get to immerse myself in ocean sciences, which I’ve been wanting to do since I was a kid. I get to do so in a place where the temperature hardly drops below 22° during the day!
I have to admit I was a bit nervous about working with radioactive material before this trip. But wait … radioactive material in ocean science? Don’t worry, it has nothing to do with radioactivity being in the ocean. It turns out that a special radioactive carbon isotope (called 14C) can be used to determine the production of organic material by organisms that rely on photosynthesis. And radioactivity can be measured very precisely at extremely low levels! So if we add very small amounts of radioactive carbon to our samples in the lab, the organisms will partly use this instead of “regular” CO2 to produce organic material. And this way we are able to calculate how much they are actually producing in total. Which in turn is very important for the whole food web, since all other higher organisms depend on it directly or indirectly. You obviously have to be very careful with this stuff and we process all the samples in a special isotope-lab. But it is also fascinating to use it as a valuable tool for research.
So when your job not only includes learning interesting new methods in the lab, but also driving out on boats on sunny mornings to get new samples for the whole team and then working on your data with a lemonade on the terrace … well this is hard to beat. And I’m actually sitting in the sun as I write down these words. Talk about work-life-balance.