CEB Committe on Evolutionary Biology

Sue Kidwell and Michael LaBarbera’s field course in the Bahamas featured on the UofC website

Sue Kidwell working with students on the beach of San Salvador Island. 

Chelsea Leu, a rising fourth-year at the University of Chicago, was one of the 16 undergraduates who accompanied CEB faculty members Sue Kidwell and Michael LaBarbera to the island of San Salvador in the Bahamas last March for their 'Field Course in Modern and Ancient Environments'. Chelsea's write-up of the group's adventures was recently featured on the University of Chicago's website. An excerpt of the article is below, and the full version can be read here.

Next to a small lake on an island in the Bahamas, Prof. Sue Kidwell directs three undergraduate students on the proper way to take a sediment core, a cylindrical section of mud and sand. This is a delicate operation and all are ankle-deep in rust-colored, gelatinous mud. This mud is colonized by microbes, which produce the acrid smell of sulfur that permeates the air around them.

The three students—Hannah Diamond-Lowe, Meg Stuckey, and Rachel Atlas—trudge with some difficulty across the lake and survey the ground for an ideal spot. “We want an undisturbed mat,” Sue advises them. The rest of our 20-odd group are ranged on the hillside, watching. They successfully locate a spot, and Hannah pushes the large plastic tube into the ground easily, prompting an “Excellent! Nice technique!” from Sue. The three measure the interior and exterior lengths of the exposed pipe, and then seal off the top of the tube with a rubber stopper.

“And now, Hannah,” Sue directs, “remember you want to do a fairly broad rotation; you want to break off the bottom of your column of mud.” Hannah complies. “Now, pull very gently and see if it looks like the inside is going to come up with it.” There is a suspenseful pause as the three women check. Meg answers in the affirmative.

“Yes!” Sue jumps and claps her hands. “Yes! Beautiful technique. But be ready to put your hand right underneath, because it won’t stay there.” Hannah pulls up on the handle, and there is a loud, flatulent report as the core squelches free from the sediment. “Beautiful! Look at that!” Sue cries. We break out into applause.

As a third-year geophysical sciences major, I was lucky enough to enroll in GEOS 29002: Field Course in Modern and Ancient Environments, this past quarter. The class met for weekly seminars before culminating in a trip to San Salvador in the Bahamas over spring break. There were 28 in our party: 16 undergraduates, nine graduate students, two faculty members and a postdoctoral scientist whose research interests mainly drew from geology, biology, and the intersection of the two.

Click here to see photos and the rest of the article.