Mariela Ruacho - Dynamic Undergrad Researcher
The samples start as leaves, soil, or other organic samples that can easily be seen. By the time they reach Mariela Ruacho’s lab bench, the samples are tiny – refined powder. Mariela’s role in the lab is to prepare these organic samples for more the analysis of their radiocarbon (14C) content on UCI’s Accelerator Mass Spectrometer. 14C is a radioactive isotope of carbon that is mostly studied to determine the age of things. Mariela is involved in everything that goes on in the lab, including making glass tubing, weighing reagents and samples and managing and discussing data. Mariela doesn’t get lost in the details though. She understands the importance of carbon to the environment – she knows she has an important role to play in the cutting-edge research that will eventually make a difference, e.g. in predicting the effects of climate change in the Arctic.
Working in a lab is very different. In the Chem Lab, they give you instructions, whereas in research, you have to figure it out yourself. You have to do a lot of research, to make sure you have the right way to prepare your sample.
As a high school student, Mariela was involved in a variety of environmental projects. Whether she was working on recycling projects, improving the habitat of native plant species, or helping with the creation of a community park, Mariela enjoyed working in the environment. This inspired her to attend UC Irvine, where she started her undergraduate career as an undecided/undeclared major. It didn’t take long for her love of environmental issues to steer her toward Earth System Science. As part of her coursework, Mariela has taken Chemistry, Physics, Earth System Science, and even Shakespearean Drama. When Mariela expressed an interest in research, one of her Earth System Science professors (Ellen Druffel) suggested she talk to Claudia Czimczik and Xiaomei Xu. The rest, as they say, is history.
UC Irvine was the perfect place for Mariela – she could take interesting Earth System Science courses (some of them even have fieldtrips…), and actually gain experience in research. Mariela has learned a lot about the science of the Earth as a system. For example, she has come to understand the major role that carbon plays in the environment. We all hear about the negative effects of burning fossil fuels, but through her studies and work in a research lab, Mariela has gained a better understanding of what that really means.
|Favorite Piece of Equipment:||Blow Torch!|
A Typical Day in the Lab Includes:
|Creating and filling reaction tubes, Inputting data into the computer, and reading published articles about the work underway|
|Piece of Advice:||If you’re going to do research (and you should), be sure you can devote enough time to the work!|