Blinking in the early morning sunshine, I make my way to the front of The Science block to be greeted by Aidan, a very jovial, despite the hour, Ph.D. Candidate. Intros sorted we get to talking about our first proper research day. We know we’re collecting leaves but happily defer to Aidan’s more detailed explanation of his work. On day one, we were told it was all about stomata. Even those who didn’t appear to be working on stomata were working on stomata. My brief intro to stomata way back in undergraduate years had clearly left just a little bit of the backstory out.
Aidan fills in the gaps, dazzling us with technical terms like ‘conductance’ and ‘boundary layer effects’. We’re not sure if we’re discussing plants or time-travelling spacecraft!
Arriving at Johnstown castle, we are handed a colour coded map and after initial confusion, we scope out our specimens of choice. The biggest debacle surprisingly is not the issue of finding leaves of good quality but distinguishing red and white clover. You’d think colour alone should do it, but you’d be wrong!
We store away our leaves, and move on to the next lesson. Aidan hooks up a machine, the name of which I can’t recall. However it is weirdly reminiscent of tubes of popping candy. This little piece of Frankenstein technology alters the Carbon dioxide level in plants,(just for kicks)to see How they respond. A few expletives later, Aidan asks us to watch out for a baseline normal reading, something to compare to. He doesn’t tell us for a while that this can take up to an hour. Still, all very new to us, we watch the graph descend. We have an ‘interesting’ discussion on how we might scale down the experiment for school labs. Eamon, another Ph.D. Student pipes in with a suggestion of adding soda stream to our plants. Looking at his homemade glass house rain shelter, I’m struck by two thoughts. Firstly, he’s probably serious! And secondly, scientists must be the most resourceful people on the planet. The mercury reading 39 degrees, Aidan decides we’ve been physically and mentally cooked enough for one day. We head back to UCD, a quick ice pop break dividing up the journey and mentally prepare ourselves for the next days adventure.