What’s a Seminar?

Last semester, I signed up for a class called Junior seminar. To be perfectly honest, I knew it was required for my major, but I had no clue what it was.  I was certainly in for a surprise, a good one that is.

On the very first day of class, there were just as many professors in our class as there were students. Obviously this confused me and I quickly stepped out to see if I was in the correct classroom. The professors in charge of the class quickly explained that the purpose of Junior seminar is to partner with a professor of your choice to choose a research topic, write a proposal paper discussing it, and present your palnned project in front of a group of professors and other students.

Each of the professors present in our class introduced themselves and gave my classmates and me a brief overview of their prior research projects, as well as thier specific areas of interest. It was really facinating to learn more about the professors at LMU, especially since I had never previously met some of them.

Some Slime Molds

I chose to work with Dr. Rollins, a biology professor. His work has typically centered around organisms called slime molds. Don’t feel bad if you have no idea what those are, because when I first heard about them I was completely unaware of their existence. Basically, these little guys are the Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde of the animal kingdom. They aquired this nickname as a result of thier odd life cycles. These small organims live on forest floors and pretty much any other area on earth with soil. They spend half of their life as mobile amoebe, and the other half as a plant-like fruiting structure (that looks kind of like a mushroom) containing hundreds of spores that they use to reproduce.

The above description of slime molds is how Dr. Rollins introduced his area of study, and I was immediately interested in working with them. So I began meeting with him to discuss the specific project I wanted to work on, and since I’m a wildlife major, I wanted to look at interactions between slime molds and animals. He mentioned to me that he had actually been wanting to work on a project like that for some time now.

He explained to me that there had never been a study looking at the interactions between the common land snails and slime molds. Since they both live in the same types of habitats, it is very probable that they do interact with one another, but how? Thus, my seminar proposal was born!

DSC07094

Dr. Caldwell and me doing field work

I then began the process of researching other similar projects, and began to write up my proposal. As I wrote, I fine-tuned my project and eventually ended up with a research question of whether or not certain slime molds, with thick calcium shells, intentionally attract snails in order to spread their spores. This particular question really interested me because I knew that snails relied on a calcium-rich diet in order to build their shells, so it is likely that they could be feeding on these particular slime molds!

So now I had to determine a way to test this hypothesis, but how do you test what a snail eats? Luckily for me, we have our own snail expert on campus, Dr. Caldwell. So I actually ended up having two professor mentors, which is pretty incredible. Dr. Caldwell and Dr. Rollins suggested that the best way to test if the snails would eat the slime molds was to set up a feeding experiment where we place the snails in an “arena” and give them options of either calcium-rich slime molds or slime molds without calcium. Unfortunately, we haven’t gotten to this part of the experiment yet, but I was able to go out and collect some snails with my two mentors.

At the end of the semester, I was able to present my proposed project to the other professors as well as my mentors. It was so much fun to get to work with them and start a bit of my research. I went from clueless about what seminar was to being so eager to be in senior seminar that I just can’t stand it! In fact, they even have my research featured on the LMU website, click here to see it!!

As always, I hope you guys will follow my blog and stay tuned for more updates on my wildlife!! If you have any questions or comments about my research, please feel free to comment below!!

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