SCIENCE RESEARCH TEAM VISITS CANADIAN LIGHT SOURCE
By Irina, Grade 12
In late January, Bonnie Luo, Alyssa Wang, Alice Xu, Dr. Mitchler, Mr. Gelley, and I visited Saskatoon, Sask. to use the synchrotron at Canadian Light Source (CLS). With Munroop Bhandal, the five of us have been researching and testing for the bioaccumulation of various elements in flax plants over the past two years as a part of the Students on the Beamline projects. In September 2018, toxic amounts of lead and zinc had been detected in soils in St. Boniface. As our community is very close St. Boniface, we decided to investigate phytoremediation, which is the ability of plants to take toxins out of their surrounding environment using flax as it is both a primary crop and can absorb high amounts of lead and zinc. After years of Skyping, we finally met our CLS contact, Amanda Pfeiffer, and our mentors Cassy Appelt and Sue Koziel in real life!
Friday, Jan. 31, our first day at CLS, began with a tour of the synchrotron so we could see all the complex machinery needed to accelerate electrons to produce different beamlines. Then, we started our experimental work by preparing 96 samples of the roots, stem, leaves, soil, and leachate from the flax plants we had been growing at Balmoral Hall earlier this school year. After three long hours of grinding plant parts and cleaning equipment, we were excited to finally test our samples the next day.
On Saturday, we tested each of our samples using X-Ray Fluorescence Spectroscopy (XRF) on the Industry Development Education Application Student (IDEAS) beamline. XRF refers to the process of using X-Rays to detect the relative intensity of elements present in a sample. Initially, we were testing for the relative intensity of zinc and iron in each of our samples. With the help of our mentors, along with Joel Reid, a CLS beamline scientist, we immersed ourselves in collecting data from each of our samples. We learned how to create and analyze the XRF spectra graphs, which showed the relative concentrations of the elements present in the sample. After a long 10-hour day of data-taking, we were ecstatic that we had been able to detect the presence of various elements, including zinc, selenium, calcium, potassium, and iron. We looked forward to beginning the lengthy process of data analysis the next day. That evening, we had the opportunity to go out for dinner as a team and reflect on the day. We mentioned how we were grateful for the opportunity to explore what lab work is like on a larger scale than our science classes and we had already learned so much about how to organize and conduct effective research.
Come Sunday, we were tired from our testing but nonetheless excited to see the story that our data would tell. We arrived at CLS at 9 a.m. and immediately started comparing XRF graphs to determine trends in our data. We quickly discovered that we would be unable to answer our initial research question as the beamline was not configured to detect lead that day. After an entire morning of constructing graphs and reading various papers on zinc uptake, we decided to investigate how zinc affects lead and calcium uptake in flax plants. We worked throughout the afternoon with the help of our team at CLS to finish our analysis and prepare our presentation, only to realize how much still needed to be done. Stressed is an understatement of how we were feeling at this point, but our determination to share our passion for this project allowed us to persevere. We connected with Munroop and Cassy, who helped us finalize our presentation, and Dr. Mitchler helped us practice our presentation even though it was already a very late night — or, more fittingly, a rather early morning. At this point, we were extremely grateful for the support of our team as we could not have finished without them.
Finally, on Monday morning, it was time to present our seminar. After having one more rehearsal for our team, we felt confident and ready to share our story. We explained how we found that high zinc concentrations help with calcium and lead uptake in various parts of the plant. We were then faced with some very difficult questions from our audience about our experimental procedure and our analysis, from which we learned that we have so much more testing to do upon our return to Winnipeg! Finally, to conclude our time at CLS, we had a tour of the storage ring – the inside of the synchrotron – which was incredible!
We have learned so much not only about flax, but about different careers in science and different techniques for data analysis. We extend our thanks to our wonderful team; we have loved working with you over the past two years and had an incredible time in Saskatoon. Finally, we strongly encourage students to pursue opportunities like Students on the Beamline. This experience truly introduced us to the endless potential of science and taught us so many transferrable skills in the process. We all agree that this experience was one of the most informative and fun times we have had in Senior School, and we would love to hear about another student group travelling to CLS in the coming years. The trip would definitely be a highlight for everyone who participated in the project.