20 September 2021

Forams in the lab

In the olden days in South Wales, I would take the student into the field in the morning, have them sieve their samples and put them in the oven after coming back from the field, and then count the samples in the afternoon. And when I say afternoon, I often mean afternoon plus evening. And under the increasing financial pressure of the University, the field trip got shorter and shorter as that is cheaper, and that meant that I didn't have time for all of that. To be entirely honest, the last two years I had to provide a bit of weak extract of foraminifera analysis to the students. But when I suddenly was faced with an entirely blank slate of this year's field trip, which in effect was longer as we didn't have to spend any time on travelling all the way to South Wales, I saw my chance. I booked a day in the lab! I looked forward to doing some proper analysis again.

When the students arrived in the lab I first had them sieve some samples. It turned out we only had four sieves with the correct mesh size! That is not much if you have 30 students. But we made do. Luckily, these small samples I had made them take are quite quick to sieve. And the sand flat samples are even quick at much larger size. So we made it work!

When all the samples were in the oven I took the opportunity of doing a bit of a lecture about what we were about to do. I could even show them a foram live as we had a microscope with a camera attached in the lab! I needed the lab technician to make that all connect, but he was happy to help. And then it was already lunchtime. That was good; that meant the samples had a bit more time to dry.

After lunch, not all samples were dry, but that was okay; we had sample splitters so I just split all dry samples twice, and that meant I had enough subsamples to make everyone have something to look at. And when people were done with the material they had, then they could just take another sample, that had dried in the meantime, out of the oven and process that. I think it worked!

Back in the days, I would never have more than six students to help with their foram identifications. They would never have done anything like this before! And I wanted to check all their identifications. The first time around, it is easy to get a lot wrong. So it was just me, and Katrien who is not a micropalaeontologist but has in the past stood in for James, so she had to quickly reacquaint herself with the material, and that was the crew that had to help these 30 students. That is quite hectic!

Once they were properly counting, things got exciting. There were some amazing forams in there, and some were quite unexpected. And there was one species I had literally never seen before. I have done saltmarsh research for years! I also had never seen documentation of it. I will need to find out what it is.

We didn't manage to pick every sample. But that is okay! We only had one day. And I think we have enough for a provisional training set. And next year, this training set will get bigger. If it takes a few years to have one at proper strength then so be it!

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