OPAL Air Centre perspectives

To give you an idea about how the OPAL Air Centre project has worked so far and what it has been like for the students and researchers working on it, three of our summer placement students have blogged about their experience.

Jake Simpson, biology undergraduate at Imperial College

Instead of spending my summer trying desperately to get rich quick, I thought it better to put some of the science I've been learning about into practice. After finding that I could work on the OPAL Air Centre research project at Silwood and get paid for the experience I immediately applied. In terms of gaining valuable research experience, vastly improving my future prospects and having a thoroughly enjoyable time, it was a decision well made!

Jake Simpson1. The research experience side: I've learnt a huge amount about data collection and the methods employed in studying plants. This includes soil microbe population estimation using chemical analysis, the use of scientific equipment (IRGAs), open-air laboratory construction and maintenance, leaf area index and biomass measurements, as well as a variety of fieldwork. I was the given the responsibility of running a pilot survey for NERC into the effects of ozone on two strains of bean plant. I also understand more about the science of grassland plant physiology, biochemistry and ecology (all with reference to the effects of ozone). I got a real insight into what PhD and post-doctorate work involves and how an efficient and professional research project operates. I got a UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme) bursary too, which paid my living costs at Silwood and weekend dive trips.

2. The prospects: given what I've learnt this summer, I can make an informed decision about the direction in which my future studies and career will move. I now know that I'm interested in plant biology. For those who just aren't sure if science is for them, gaining UROP experience is an essential way of finding out. In terms of getting a third-year placement that I really want, my CV is much shinier now (see point 1).

3. Enjoyable science..?: I met and worked with a variety of academics, taking part in a variety of tasks in different places. The working hours were flexible and I was given independence in my working day. It was great fun to work in a team of like-minded people with more experience in the field. I'm looking forward to the next academic year, and feel relaxed about facing more academic challenges.


Rachel Harris, biology undergraduate of Imperial College

Rachel HarrisI have always had a love for the natural world, so spending my summer working on an OPAL project allowed me to be outside, and learn even more about the world we live in. Studying biology at Imperial College meant I was well educated in the theory of climate change, pollution and ecosystems but had little real life experience of it. Since participating on the OPAL project, I have observed, explored and gained first-hand knowledge of the effects and changes we are having on the environment.

In particular I have seen and examined the damage that predicted future ozone levels have on plants, and their associated soil bacteria. Having taught me how to use new scientific machinery, lab and field techniques, and to work as part of a dynamic research team, the OPAL experience has provided me with valuable work experience. This has increased my employment prospects and will help me to excel in a science related career in the future.

Now that I have seen for myself the research into climate change in action, I feel even more determined to help reduce the negative impacts, and educate others to do the same.


Matthew Wyles, work experience placement

During August 2008, I participated in a two-week, hands-on research experience at the OPAL Air Centre located in Silwood Park. I worked within a team of UROP students, PhD students and the community scientists dedicated to the project who were involved in an experiment to find out the effects of ozone on grassland species; I will never look at grass in the same way again!

I helped collect involved phonological and physiological data from the mesocosms being studied. I enjoyed being part of the team and feeling that I was doing some good for the environment. I gained skills such as organisation and teamwork.