Monday, August 15, 2011

Farewell to South Africa

I hate the word "Goodbye". I truly do! I have a memory attached to that word which causes me to wonder, every time I hear someone say it, if it is the last time I will see that person. I prefer ANY other way of saying "Farewell".

-"Hasta luego"
-"See ya later"
- "Till the next time"
- "Here's looking at you, kid"
- "Catch ya later"
- "Adios"
even, - "Bye"

See! Aren't those much better choices? Yes, I agree. They are!

I laid awake for hours last night. I cannot believe that the time has past this quickly. There is something uniquely special about this place! Its the scenery, the ocean, the people, the atmosphere. Everything! I never thought that I would feel so at home in a place so far from my heartland. Isn't it remarkable that a person can travel to the other side of the world, completely away from everything familiar, and find a place of which it feels so natural to be a part.

I miss my family and am excited to see all my friends again. But now I have two families and I will always be missing one of them. Now I have two homes and my heart will always wonder when I will return.

All the sappy "goodbye-thetimeispassingtooquickly-iwillalwaysloveyou-wherehaveyougone" songs playing on the radio definitely do not help!! I suppose feeling too much is better than not feeling anything at all.

To all the wonderful people I have met on my travels this summer: I love you and will miss you more than I can express. Each and everyone of you has made an impression on my life and I could never forget you. Thank you for making me feel welcome, helping me to enjoy the good times, and for being there during the difficult moments. I only wish that one day I will be able to be as good a friend to someone as ya'll have been to me!

To my family and friends back home: Thank you for always being excited for my adventures during this trip! The support from all ya'll has been phenomenal. I truly love you and look forward to seeing you again soon!

Watch out Texas - Lis is heading home!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Z-Fields, Lorentz Force, and Maxwell's Equations (the other Maxwell)

When I came to South Africa the last thing I expected to be studying was the Earth's magnetic field! Not only am I designing my very first research project, and conducting it on sharks, but I am altering the geomagnetic field! "Nope, I don't want North to be on this side of the tank. Let's put it over there instead." How cool is that?!

Here is the really interesting part: it has been proven that pelagic sharks, such as scalloped hammerheads, utilize the earths magnetic field and magnetic anomalies, such as sea mounts, to navigate across oceans. Much in the same way that whales, sea turtles, and pigeons migrate. But we do not yet understand the biological process by which sharks have this "internal magnetic compass". Sharks have a sense organ called the Ampullae of Lorenzini which allows them to perceive electrical currents in their environment. This is utilized in detecting prey and some believe that it is linked to magnetoreception as well. I would be extremely interested in finding out exactly how these amazing animals detect the geomagnetic field, but that is a little beyond my current ability. So, we decided to answer a slightly simpler question. Do demersal sharks, such as the species found here in Walker Bay, have the ability to detect changes in magnetic fields and do they respond to these changes in a way that can be observed in behavior.

The first step was to do some research into previous studies of magnetoreception and design an experiment that we could conduct here in the SASC Lab. After gathering all the background information, we consulted with the South African National Space Agency Magnetic Observatory here in Hermanus. We met with two of their best engineers, Elda and Dannie, several times to discuss coil placement, voltage amounts, field homogeneity, and structural design. Along the way, we discussed the physics of magnetic fields and how to apply mathematical equations to understand them. Most of this flew over us poor shark biologist's heads! A favorite moment came when Dannie said: "Its okay - this isn't rocket science." To which we cried out: "But you ARE rocket scientists!!"
Despite feeling that a degree in mathematics would be a requirement for this adventure, we continued to push on. As with everything in Africa, it has taken a LOT of time. We were fortunate to receive the copper wire as a donation from the Copper Development Association of Africa, but had to wait a while for it to be delivered to us.
Once Danie and Elda had applied the tank measurements to a simulation computer program, we could look at the graph to see the distribution of the field throughout the tank. Another meeting, and more tweaking of the experimental design took place to make sure that we get the field as close to "perfect" as possible.
Then it was time to start building the frames for the coils, so us interns were off to the hardware store! YAY!!!
Over this weekend we were able to assemble the frames, thanks to the wonderful SASC connections, at one of the local Abalone farms that had a full workshop. Complete with power tools :)
This morning, Cindy, Edna, and myself have been dancing with copper wires trying to braid them into a manageable coil that we can thread through plastic tubing. Talk about a team-building exercise!
And now we are patiently waiting on the final coil dimensions for our friends at SANSA and hoping for a nice day of shark catching. 

Finding magnetic North

Ahh, the lovely hum of a table saw!

Trying to look like I actually know what I'm doing.
Braiding copper wire isn't as easy as it sounds!

Determining the best method for building

Waiting for the wood glue to dry.

A very special thank you to:
Danie Gouws and Elda Saunderson at the South African National Space Agency for all their wonderful help, endless encouragement, and fabulous advice.
Cindy Zuluaga and Edna Santana, SASC Interns/evil scientists, for being beautiful. AND for helping me fulfill my crazy whims.
Rowan Yearsley (and the Aquafarm workshop) for selflessly donating his valuable time and intellect, all for a few pieces of wood.
Meaghen McCord and Tamzyn Zweig for allowing me to explore my ideas, guiding me when I needed it most, and for being fabulous every single day!
The two coolest ladies in South Africa!!!