During the summer, four Environmental Science students from UIC were given the opportunity to go to Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, US as part of an exchange programme. In June, Trinity students had come to UIC to for a three-week programme but now it was Trinity’s turn to host.

The UIC students that went to Trinity University were divided up and placed into mixed groups with Trinity students to participate in research projects. Below are the accounts from three of the UIC students that visited Trinity.

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Trinity University hosts four UIC students over the summer

 

Yin Qifan

This was actually my second time here in the US, it felt similar but this time around it was a lot different. Also, this was my first time studying as well as participating in an academic research programme. After this four-week research programme, I believed I have acquired a lot, not only knowledge but also extremely valuable experiences that I can implement in my life for the future.

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(from left) Lead Professor of Chinese at Trinity University Prof Stephen Field, Yin Qifan, Ou Yingying, Tang Chen, Zhou Changming, Professor and Chair of Biology at Trinity University Prof Jonathan King

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 Yin Qifan in the lab at Trinity University

I joined the lab of Trinity University Biology Professor, Dr James Shinkle, and focused on finding the mechanisms of plants to sense dangerous ultraviolet radiation and regulate their responses to changes in their light environment. At the end of the programme, our lab came up with the results that emphasize plants’ ability to sense and respond to minute changes in their light environment as a result of seasonality and microclimate. As aspects of the UV stress response are relevant to plant nutrition and palatability, these results shed light on how microclimate and seasonality affect rangeland quality.

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UIC students are invited to their Professor's home in Texas

Trinity University is an outstanding liberal arts university that has an excellent quality of education and top discipline construction degrees. One of my favourite parts of Trinity University would be the Centre of Science and Innovation (CSI building), where all the labs of science and technology are located. It is a five-story building featuring an inviting and spacious atrium, classrooms and labs outfitted with new equipment, and several comfortable study areas. The building creates an integrated 300,000 square-foot science and engineering complex, complete with a rooftop observatory, a living “green” roof and a rooftop greenhouse (which is the place that most of my lab research experiments took place), and an open-air innovation and design studio.

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Yin Qifan really enjoys his Trinity University experience as well as his stay in Texas

We spent a very happy summer vacation at Trinity University. For me, I met a few old friends from last year’s Trinity-UIC Programme when they came to China, as well as meeting lots of new friends. We spent the 4th of July together, which is a huge public holiday in the US, watching the fireworks in San Antonio. We also spent a weekend with professors in a nature reserve, as well as going for lunch at several awesome snack stands. The city of San Antonio has a lot to offer including good restaurants and museums, plus we got to travel to other places including Six Flags in Fiesta and the city of Austin.

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UIC and Trinity students visiting the San Antonio Museum of Art

Texas boasts a diverse population where many of the residents are of Hispanic origin; therefore going to the famous Tex-Mex restaurants in San Antonio was definitely on the to-do list. We did try lots of Tex-Mex food and we have been missing the famous food stand named Taco truck next to the campus since we came back to China. I spent a very meaningful, educational, and pleasant summer at Trinity University.

 

Ou Yingying

I participated in the Trinity summer programme, where students and faculty from Trinity came to UIC. It was such a wonderful programme and we learned lots of ecology conservation knowledge in the class, participated in field works and met so many nice foreign students and professors. Fortunately, I got a chance to participate in this programme in July 2019 at Trinity University in the US.

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Ou Yingying (right) with her Trinity University friend

I worked in Prof Lyons’s lab, focusing on root endophytes diversity and root colonisation among native Texas Grasses. Actually, I am not a person with lots of background knowledge of grasses. I did learn a lot from my partners. Our research focused on four native kinds of grass, Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem), Bothriochloa saccharoides (silver bluestem), Nassella leucotricha (Texas wintergrass), and Aristida purpurea (purple three awns), as well as the invasive Bothriochloa ischaemum (King Ranch bluestem).

As part of my research, root samples from each of the four species were taken from 16 sites throughout the Edwards Plateau region in west-central Texas. Fungal endophytes were cultured from the roots on MEA/antibacterial agar and isolated based on morphotype. In this study, we aimed to identify patterns in the association of fungal OTUs and compare endophyte diversity between certain grass species. Future studies and meta-analyses can be performed to determine if these endophytes confer a competitive advantage to native grasses against invasion or vice versa.

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Ou Yingying's poster presentation              

The most amazing thing about Trinity is the CSI building. Its design and layout are environmentally friendly and even won the LEEDS award. Talking to my lab mates, I learned that every qualified science student in Trinity can apply for the lab jobs starting their freshman year. This is a brilliant idea as a person can increase their knowledge about different fields from different kinds of laboratories, which can definitely help them figure out their interests for their future careers.

In the US, the 4th of July is a huge event for American people because it represents the unity and strength of the country. Most people decorate their homes celebrate this important day with their families, having dinner and watching fireworks. Our friends drove us to a neighbourhood to watch the parade on the 4th of July.

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 UIC students spend the 4th of July with the Plante Family

During the month of July, we had the opportunity to camp at Bamberger Ranch Conservation area, which was interesting to me as it related to my major. It was my first time camping. I was able to spend some quality time with my friends, spending a whole day and night without our phones, just enjoying nature and food. We went to see the bat cave, the dinosaur track site as well as the aboriginal site, which are all preserved with Mr Bambergur’s help and funding. From this trip, I learned that we should really get in touch with wildlife and nature if we want to preserve them.

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Bamberger Ranch

During this summer programme, I made many friends and gained a lot of knowledge about how life in the US is, which could definitely help in my future study in other countries. Finally, I would like to thank my friends, my lab mates, my advisor, Dr David Ribble and Prof Stephen Field in the Biology Department at Trinity University who helped me improve my experimental skills and taught me a lot of biological and chemical knowledge.

 

Tang Chen

This summer has been so meaningful for me. After taking courses with students from Trinity at UIC in June, I went to Trinity University to continue attending the second part of the scientific research summer programme.

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(from Left) Tang Chen, Zhou Changming, Yin Qifan

In the second part of the programme at Trinity, I became a member of Professor Johnson’s Lizard lab in the Biology Department. My project’s topic focused on the artificial lights at night, and we used Green Anole lizards as the model for this research. During the 3 weeks of intensive work, I and my lab partner Laura Taylor, who is a Trinity University student, collected data related to lizard behaviours in four different trials. We analyzed it and then ran t-tests in order to demonstrate the differences between lizards under regular day and night cycle and lizards under artificial lights. Then we also dissected all the lizards to try to discover if there were some internal differences.

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Tang Chen with Trinity University students

Living and studying in the US has definitely been a brand-new experience for me since it was my first time to attend a scientific research programme in a foreign country. At first, I thought it might be an adventure to adjust and get used to a new culture but, surprisingly, I got used to my new life pretty quick. People here were kind and have a great sense of hospitality, they treated us so well and were always willing to help, which made me feel like I am part of a big family.

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Tang Chen with Trinity University students in the lab

Working with my lab members also deeply impressed me. Students in the US clearly know how to manage their study lives, and are good at balancing their appointments and lab work. Moreover, our lab meetings were always intensive and incredibly efficient, and all the lab members shared their own opinions and thought critically. I hope I can utilize these experiences during the rest of my career as a student.

One of my favourite parts during this journey was the one-day trip in Bamberger Ranch, as it was my first time sleeping in a tent for a whole night. I was thinking that it would be scary at the beginning, but I found the feeling of sleeping with nature to be really incredible. We also went swimming in a lake at Bamberger Ranch, which actually refreshed me and made me feel a kind of relief. Furthermore, Dr Ribble and Dr Field took us to a bat cave and showed us how amazing the bats’ foraging is.

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Bamberger Ranch

After spending a whole month in the US, I found that my English speaking skills and presentation skills have improved. In addition, I learned how to dissect lizards. To be honest, it was very tough at the beginning, I couldn’t help but think that I was killing a creature; to me, it felt gruesome. However, after finishing the first day’s dissection, I started to change my way of thinking. Firstly, the development of science needs sacrifice. Secondly, after the experiment, the lizards under the artificial light treatment must have caused something strange to happen inside their bodies, so if we kept them alive and released them, maybe the ecosystem in Trinity campus would be destroyed.

Overall, I made lots of friends and experienced so many new things in this one-month programme. My advisor, my friends and my lab members helped me significantly during this period of time. I would like to thank all of them for giving me many unforgettable memories. For now, all I want is to keep working hard and hope I can see them all in Texas in the near future.

Editors: Samuel Burgess, Deen He, Lauren Richardson (MPRO)
(with thanks to the ELC)