More about counting pollen and charcoal . . .
Pine trees and flowering plants, including grasses and sage brush, etc., all produce pollen grains as part of their reproductive process. The tiny grains contain sperm cells. Researchers can tell which plant a pollen grain came from because each plant's pollen has a unique appearance. RIGHT: Virginia Iglesias, a doctoral candidate (Ph.D.candidate) from Argentina, uses a reference book as she counts pollen through a microscope. Although both pollen (stained pink) and charcoal (black) are shown in the photo below, the two are counted separately. Charcoal fragments, which are much larger than pollen grains, are counted through a stereomicroscope after the samples have been washed through sieves that let pollen and clay particles drain through.

More about the researchers . . .
Dr. Whitlock and the scientist in the photo are part of the MSU Paleoecology research group. The size of the group varies, but typically includes 5-10 scientists who usually have an undergraduate degree in some area of Earth Science (geology, etc) or biology. Currently (July 2011) there are 3 doctoral candidates, 2 graduate students working toward master's degrees, and 2 professors doing various studies on lake-sediments. Individual research projects may take 3-5 years to complete and are sometimes done in collaboration with researchers at other universities. A lab manager and a lab technician support the group by keeping the lab organized, preparing samples, as well as doing some counting and background research.

Funding for the projects, which often involve travel to other continents, comes from grants provided by the National Science Foundation and other sources. Dr. Whitlock devotes a significant amount of time writing grants in order to secure funding. She also teaches classes at MSU, supervises the research projects, and does research of her own. To learn more about the scientists and their research, CLICK HERE.

Below: This short video shows a team removing a core from Crevice Lake in Yellowstone Park. The expedition took place several years ago, before Dr. Whilock came to Montana State University.


Web Site Created by Rod Benson
Earth Science Teacher at Helena High School

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