Teambuilding in Tallahassee: Where do our samples go?

Hey there, it’s been awhile.

Many of you know how summer field seasons go – in the blink of an eye, that’s how! It feels like just yesterday we were planning for the upcoming summer of our own monitoring as well as assisting visiting scientists conducting their research at the Reserve. Alas, time flew and we were very busy.

Although we did not get the chance to share our stories on the blog during the summer, we have a few to tell. Earlier this summer, us NERRds made the trek from St. Augustine, FL over to Tallahassee, FL to meet up with several of our colleagues from around the state. This trip has been on many of our wish lists for a long time because we had the opportunity to meet with staff and tour the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration (DEAR) Central Laboratory.

So, grab your cup of coffee/tea and settle in for a recap of one of our NERRd-iest trips, yet…

By Katie Petrinec

Every month research staff and volunteers collect water quality samples for our System-Wide Monitoring Program’s (SWMP) nutrient component. After collecting the samples, we package them up into coolers and ship them off to the Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration (DEAR) Central Laboratory in Tallahassee and would often ponder what happens next? On a quest to answer the mind-boggling question; “Where do our nutrient samples go?”, we scheduled a ROAD-TRIP! Research and CTP staff from the Reserve piled into vehicles and headed west to the state capital. Tally bound!

Upon arriving, we checked-in to a new laid-back hotel, a Hilton Tru which was fun and hip, and would totally recommend staying there. Shannon was our very own personal tour guide to the sights in Tallahassee and we even had the opportunity to visit the Florida State University campus; the undergraduate alma mater for both Shannon and Nikki. I was surprised to learn that there is even a Circus program at FSU, I had no idea that people actually went to school for that! We went to dinner and met with some of our colleagues from the Florida Coastal Office and were excited to finally put faces to the people that we’ve been working with over the years.

Us with our Florida Coastal Office colleagues

Day Two of our trip was the day I had been waiting for; I was on the edge of my seat pondering and imagining what was behind all those laboratory doors. With our safety glasses on, we finally got to see what happens next. Turns out our samples go through a rigorous and standardized process. Ok, well that may not be surprising, but it was still exciting. They first arrive via a mail carrier to the Receiving department.  In receiving, samples are logged-in using barcodes and our sample data sheets are entered into a database. Our samples are then sorted based on the type of analysis we are requesting and then delivered to either the Chemistry or Biology laboratory sections.

The Chemistry section is responsible for analyzing our nutrient samples. We visited the lab where our nitrogen and phosphorus samples were analyzed, and we even toured the Chemical Agent Laboratory. Whoa, sounds important…because it is! This laboratory was set-up with funds from Homeland Security and is part of a national network of laboratories established to respond to national emergencies or terrorist attacks. It is the only state laboratory to receive funding for equipment to process samples for chemicals like Anthrax. That lab is actually processing our sucralose and acetaminophen samples.  Kinda Cool.

Our next stop on the tour was the Biology section. We toured rooms full of microscopes where identification and taxonomy are performed, and we toured a room where they use fish for determining levels of toxicity in water.  We then got to see how our Fecal coliforms samples were analyzed and a cool bug collection used for identification.

Overall, I have to say the trip was packed with valuable information. I now understand the entire nutrient process, from collecting to analyzing.  Kudos to everyone at the lab for all of their hard work. Everyone was super nice and accommodating. What a great opportunity!

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