I headed to Akureyri, Iceland for two weeks as part of a group made up of students from my university, the University of Reading as well as students from Belgium and Germany and those at the our host institution the University of Akureyri. This was for a field course searching for microbes living in the extreme environments Iceland has to offer, such as the geothermal pools with painfully high temperatures and soil at high altitudes.
This meant we went out and did some exploring of northern Iceland; I was part of a group that looked into the environment soil provides for various microbes. We hiked and climbed the highest mountains in the name of microbiology and took soil samples at different altitudes and of different conditions.
We did three field trips; the first consisted of hiking up a mountain to get soil samples from the top at about a 5cm depth using a bulb planter tool and falcon tubes to put the sample in. On the hike we encountered some fascinating iron oxidising bacteria which left an orange residue on the soil by a water source, which I sampled using a spoon and alcohol to sterilise it. For the second field trip I took soil samples by a waterfall using a spade to dig to a 5cm depth and then taking a sample of that soil. For the third field trip we went to the seashore and sampled at the beach, which was very different from a typical beach, with its black sand, very cold sea and picturesque snow topped mountains surrounding it.
Our group for the field trip was multinational with students coming from all over to study environmental microbiology as well as students studying different areas of science at different levels. There was a wide range of specialties from geologists to microbiologists. This was of huge benefit as it enables you to see the differences in lab work and technique between students from different countries and to also have different viewpoints for the same course. For example looking at where we obtained a microbial sample from geological point of view and how the rocks can affect the sample. This is a refreshing view because as a microbiologist I wouldn’t have looked at it in that way.
For the duration of the course we were paired with students from different universities than our own, I was paired with a PhD student from Belgium, Pauline. I learnt a lot from her, including different techniques and methods in the lab to new presenting skills as well as the fact that she was a better hiker.
The fact that this course was multinational really makes it very special as it brings together lots of people from all over to study and learn from each other while ultimately having fun doing something everyone loves.
Watch Leila & Pauline’s video: