Alumni News – Brittney Payton

Brittney paytonIt’s been over six years since I graduated from dear old Trinity, and I’ve been lucky enough to find some pretty interesting work.  I spent a year teaching Biology, Earth and Environmental Science, and Physical Science at John A. Holmes High School (where more often than not I was mistaken for a student) and really enjoyed helping others explore science and technology.  I remember pulling up photos from Geology field trips with Trinity’s Environmental Science Program, as well as using some of my old textbooks to create material for my classes.

After teaching for that year, I realized that I wanted to get back into a more hands-on type profession and applied for and accepted a position as a Laboratory Assessor I at AASHTO re:source (formerly AASHTO Materials Reference Laboratory).  As a Laboratory Assessor I, I was able to travel throughout the US to evaluate the compliance of construction materials testing laboratories against national standards of testing.  Scopes of testing covered include soil, aggregate, hot mix asphalt, iron and steel, and plastic pipe.  I finally got to see Shelby tubes again!  I was essentially a laboratory inspector (fear my wrath! But not really) and inspecting was the name of the game.

I got to visit some pretty cool places as an Assessor with my favorite being Phoenix, Arizona and my least favorite being Lubbock, Texas.  Some of my work trips were exciting and others about as exciting as watching tumbleweeds blow across the road (which I did see).  Once, I was confined to my hotel in Dallas, Texas when they got a little snow (and subsequently shut everything down), and another time, I drove through flooded areas in Denver, CO (after pulling over and freaking out in the car) when they got a ton of rain.

I met a lot of interesting people as an Assessor and learned a lot more about soil (and aggregate and etc) than I ever imagined.  I also got to say that I watched people wash dirt for a living and when has that ever been something you could legitimately say and mean?

Just last January, I applied for and accepted a position as a Quality Analyst I at AASHTO re:source and I have traded in my traveling shoes for comfy desk slippers.  Now, instead of traveling to the laboratories and assessing them for conformance, I work with laboratories to resolve any issues that were noted during their assessments.  My customer service skills are on Level 3000 J.  I am constantly learning and adapting in my field as standards for testing and our understanding of those standards change.

I am grateful for all of the experiences I had at Trinity with such an awesome department.  I truly believe that the wonderful guidance and instruction (and the BBQs) really have helped me to succeed in my endeavors.  I hope to be able to visit soon!

Brittney Payton 2

Study “Abroad”: Semester in Environmental Science at Woods Hole

ses_2_smtext and images by Sarah Messenger ’18

I am spending this semester at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, MA doing a program called Semester in Environmental Science. Being the first Trinity student to do SES I had no idea what to expect. The answer is SES is amazing. So far I’ve had the chance to learn from scientists who are doing some amazing research on climate change, do some awesome field work, hang out with other science geeks, live on the beach, and eat obscene amount of lobster at the dining hall.

SES_1_smThat’s not to say the program isn’t intense. We’ve done more field, lab, and data work up in the last fifteen days than I’ve done in a full semester. We collect data in both terrestrial and aquatic systems meaning I’ve had the chance to try my hand at some cool data collection techniques and equipment. Already I feel like I have a better understanding of how to design experiments and collect meaningful data in order to answer research questions. Even more important, we spend a lot of time working with our data in excel. As a result I not only know how to collect data but I know what to do with it afterwards. I 100% recommend SES to any environmental science (or biology or chemistry) majors who are interested in pursuing research in the future. If you’re interested in applying or just want to learn more please shoot me an email. I’m having the time of my life and would love to see more Trinity students take advantage of this opportunity.

Four weeks at Woods Hole and already a Nobel Prize!

Four weeks at Woods Hole and already a Nobel Prize!

Cameron goes to D.C.

Cameron-transformationAfter three years at Trinity it’s time for Cameron to move on. We were all very happy to learn that Cameron has been offered a position with the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs in the Environmental Fate and Effects Division. In his new job he will evaluate  environmental fate and ecological effects data and develop ecological risk assessments and drinking water exposure assessments for pesticides.

Agent Douglass reported to duty two weeks ago. Cameron, it was great having you as a post-doc for three years and we all wish you the best of luck in your new job. Enjoy the hot and humid summers in DC!

Krista Ehlert Will Continue Weed (oops – invasive species) Research at Trinity

IMG_5728_SMKrista Ehlert, who is currently finishing her PhD at Montana State University will join our program later this year in August. She will replace Cameron who has been our McKenna Meredith (’48) postdoctoral fellow for the past three years and will move on t – oops I am not allowed to tell you quite yet.

After reading through over 50 amazing applications it turned out that we settled for another weed scientist, which means we don’t even have to change the sign on Krista’s lab (Krista, you haven’t seen it yet, but it’s awesome).

IMG_0752_smIMG_3663_smKrista’s research includes both field (see above) and laboratory (see below) experiments as she works on management plans for areas affected by invasive plants. So, if you ever wanted to know what garlic mustard (Allaria petiolata) or  hairy jointgrass (Arthraxon hispidus) look like then you might want to consider doing research with Krista. If you have already graduated or are already doing plenty of research you can just come back for a visit, or simply google it :-).

I have to warn you though: here is what she had to say about the picture below (after I asked why she sent me pictures of dead bugs):

“They are SO cool!!!! Those are seeds infected with Pyrenophora semeniperda, (the “black fingers of death” or “BFOD” for short) a fungal pathogen that I’m using to control cheatgrass, an invasive annual grass. It kills the seeds, so you have the potential to limit propagule pressure from the seedbank. So you can see the black fingers poking out of the seeds in that one picture, and the picture of the petri dishes is the BFOD growing on agar. – I then harvest it off of the plates to make an inoculum to infect the seeds with.”


DSCN1699_smbWhich might also explain what these guys are…

02_8_12 001_smWelcome Krista – we can’t wait to have you in Hartford!

P.S. Happy Earth Day! Originally I wanted to celebrate by posting a picture of our students out on the main quad where they gathered signatures for a petition to end the sale of bottled water on campus. Yesterday, in bright sunshine, they were eager to stay until Sunday – and then the forecast changed to “chance of showers” and off they went. No pics, no post, no glory. :-(

Signs of Spring

Lucian and Myles having way too much fun describing floodplain soils

Lucian and Myles having way too much fun describing floodplain soils

Our measly winter has been coming to an early end this year. Even before the first spring flowers appeared, Christoph took his soils class out of the classroom and into the field. Digging was a bit limited a few weeks ago when he and his students visited Zion Cemetery, where soils are characterized by a thin deposit of eolian sediment. Here we described our first soil profile, measured infiltration rates and tried not to look too suspicious.

Doing a bit of sampling in the local cemetery.

Doing a bit of sampling in the local cemetery.

This week we went to Wethersfield Cove, where we studied floodplains and floodplain soils. The river was still high, but none of us got too muddy, and we had a good view of the partially flooded floodplain and immature floodplain soils. Next week we’ll be digging up the hydric soils of Wintergreen Woods and, maybe, the Wilkus Farm.

Lauren determining soil color.

Lauren determining soil color.

Oysters behind McCook

Ryan telling us about the oyster harvest

Ryan telling us about the oyster harvest…

The topic of Jon’s senior seminar sounds pretty grim: For several weeks now, our senior have learned about “our dying oceans”. A few weeks ago, on a beautiful, sunny March afternoon, Ryan Birch (’98) who is working as assistant conservation office in Brewster, MA paid us a visit and taught us all about oysters, how to grow them, how to harvest them, and – most importantly – how to shuck and eat them. :-)

... selling us on smoked Tabasco sauce ...

… selling us on smoked Tabasco sauce (with David looking a bit skeptically) …

... and after showing us the tool of the trade ...

… and after showing us the tool of the trade …

... the first oyster is almost ready to be eaten.

… the first oyster is almost ready to be eaten.

Scott is an old pro with the oyster knife...

Scott is an old pro with the oyster knife…

... and Lauren figures it out pretty quickly too.

… and Lauren figures it out pretty quickly too.

Needless to say, there were no leftovers. Thank you Ryan!

bonus video

Dr. Amber Pitt joins ENVS Program

Amber Pitt

Amber Pitt

One thing that kept us all busy during the first weeks of the semester was the search for a new conservation biologist. After reading many, many applications, coming up with short-lists, checking them once, checking them twice, meeting lots of candidates via Skype and in person, we made our decision and offered the position to Amber who gladly accepted.Just in case you wondered what a "hellbender" looks like.

Just in case you wondered what a “hellbender” looks like.

Amber is currently an assistant professor of biology at Bloomsburg State University in Pennsylvania, where she studies amphibians, especially hellbender salamanders. This Fall she will teach a non majors course on conservation biology and co-teach our methods with Joan Morrison.

As many of you may know, Joan Morrison is on phased retirement and will only teach a few more courses for us. So, if you ever wanted to take conservation biology with Joan: Don’t delay, sign up today (OK, once course registration opens).

Waist-deep in mud and other recent happenings


Earthquake !

Earthquake !

To say that not much has happened since my last post is an understatement. To say that the transition from a sabbatical back to teaching was no big deal might be even a bigger one. I could get used to showing up in the lab each morning, doing a few measurements and thinking a few deep thoughts in my office… Needless to say, the last few weeks were a bit busy: we hired two new faculty members (more on that in an upcoming post), I am teaching three courses, and my research students keep me busy too.

Nevertheless, I was in for a (very nerdy) treat this Saturday. For years I have been walking past our seismograph, checked the screen and saw nothing, or noticed an earthquake that had happened some place on earth.  “Nice“, I usually thought, “that was a big one, better check out where it happened…“. This Saturday, however, while packing the car for a quick sampling trip to Hammonasset State Park I saw the waves arrive while I stared at the screen. It was cool to think that for a few minutes the biggest vibrations in the building came from a place a few thousand miles away. I stared for a while, returned to packing the car (T.J. was supposed to show up in half an hour, so I didn’t want to be late), and snapped a picture of the screen a bit later. The earthquake, it turned out occurred at 11:26 UTC in the Caribbean, and you can read all about it here.

Looks dry to me ... how tricky can it be to get a core from here?

Looks dry to me … how tricky can it be to get a core from here?

The sampling trip was exciting as well. T.J. and I headed down to Long Island Sound to core a salt marsh in Hammonasset State park. We’ve been there before in the winter of 2014 when everything was frozen. This time it was different: the marsh was one soupy mess. On our first walk out to the coring site, T.J. went in to his knees. On our second trip out I  went in to my chest. That’s when I decided that the camera would stay on dry land. After a few more trial and errors we had it pretty much figured out and stayed dry – until we cut corners – and in we went again. Nevertheless, we got eight meters of hideously smelly core with no bottom in sight. So, we might find ourselves some football players, hope for a colder winter next year, and return in January for a third try. In the meantime, T.J. will analyze what we have, and the cores will stink up the fridge, lending that particular aroma to McCookout stuff.

Psychedelic cores ...

Psychedelic core … HAM 16A – drive 1 – the first of eight beautifully smelly salt marsh cores.