Aihearkisto: Research

Three research grants for us: for nanosafety, method development and metal (eco)toxicity.

In the past few weeks, we have received many happy news in our research group. First, Kukka got funding from the Maj and Tor Nessling foundation for her Post doc project Searching nanosafety: Solutions for testing environmental effects of nanomaterials.

One of Kukka’s daphnids

Next, our group leader Jarkko got project funding (4 years) from the Kone foundation for developing biotests methods for evaluating the ecological effects of wastewater effluents.

Today, Kristiina received a mobility grant from Outi Savonlahti fund (Joensuu University Foundation) for initiating her Post doc project with the focus on metal bioavailability, toxicity and ecotoxicity. The mobility period shall be in Nanjing University, China.

Congratulations for everyone! And many thanks for all our collaborators for your help with writing grant proposals.

Text by Kristiina Väänänen, pictures by Kukka Pakarinen and Varpu Heiskanen.

Two new Phd dissertations from our research group!

Our PhD students Kaisa and Krista have been working extra hard within the past few months. There were many exciting moments with writing the dissertations and planning for the public examinations. In Finland, the dissertation is first sent to two pre-examiners. They shall give recommendations (is the thesis ready for publication or not) and comments for the final improvements. Then, it is time for final polishing and language editing. Finally, we get the book printed and get ready for the public examination and the evening party, Karonkka.

It was a great moment to finally get the book in your hands. Krista’s can be found in here (Adverse effects of metal mining on boreal lakes:metal bioavailability and ecological risk assessment) and Kaisa’s in here (Bioaccumulation and trophic transfer of polychlorinated biphenyls in boreal lake ecosystems:
predicting concentrations with models and passive samplers).

Krista’s final version of the PhD dissertation.

The most exciting moment was just before entering to the lecture hall, Kaisa is here with her opponent Dr. Kari Lehtonen and Custos Dr. Jarkko Akkanen

Kaisa is on her way to her public examination.

The public examination lasts usually from two to three hours and it is a  combination of interesting discussions and tough questions.

Exciting moments at Kaisa’s public examination.

Finally, everything is over and it is time to celebrate. Krista served some sparkling wine and snacks after the examination to celebrate the occasion.

Krista enjoying the sparkling wine after the examination (see the wide smile!), together with her opponent, Dr. Kari-Matti Vuori and Custos, Dr. Jarkko Akkanen

Congratulations to Kaisa, who already obtained her doctoral diploma! Krista’s diploma is still on the way, in the wheels of bureaucracy.

Text by Kristiina Väänänen, pictures from various sources (published with the kind permission of the photographers).


Surviving conference in record-breaking heat – even a panda falls into trance!

In August last year we wrote a blog post about the 2nd IIES work-shop that took place in Kuopio, Finland. To refresh your memory, you can click yourself to the post HERE.

This year was the 3rd year that this kind of a conference is held, and the location changed from chilly Kuopio in Finland to super-hot Shanghai in China. Yes, truly overheated…. during the conference week, we experienced the hottest day in Shanghai in its recorded history, which is 145 years.

The conference was held at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University, which everyone knows for its Shanghai list of top universities in the world. SJTU is the university that originally compiled and issued the list in 2003, which is not known as renowned Academic Ranking of World Universities, ARWU, being among the most prestigious ones globally. More than 1,200 universities from around the world are evaluated in ARWU ranking. The criteria include, among other things, Nobel and Fields prizes, articles published in Nature and Science, and citations. In the latest 2017 ARWU the University of Helsinki was ranked 56th, being the leader among the Finnish universities. The University of Eastern Finland (UEF) maintained its position and was ranked among the leading 301–400 universities in the world, thus being ranked once again as the second best Finnish university. Aalto University, the University of Oulu and the University of Turku were ranked in the rank range 401–500. Congratulations! Like in the previous years, the top of Shanghai Ranking comprises Harvard University, Stanford University, the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Cambridge, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT. Here is more information about The Shanghai Ranking.

The locations of top 100 universities in the world, by

Okay, back to the IIES annual workshop. This year the 3rd Annual IIES Science and Policy Workshop was held simultaneously with International Conference on Low Carbon Development—Responding Post-Paris Agreement on Climate Change: Energy Transmission and Innovation which was also being sponsored by the IIES, and Shanghai Jiao Tong University with the GlobalTech Alliance. The two meetings were held simultaneously and offered participants the opportunity to meet colleagues from a wider range of institutions and to participate in both meetings. The participants came from Asia (mostly China, naturally), Europe and North America. There were sessions on atmospheric pollution – health Interactions, collaborative projects – ongoing or prospective, green technology, low carbon economies – technology and policy, soil resources – contamination and remediation, water resources – contamination and remediation. The workshop lasted four days and consisted of interesting presentations, fruitful discussions, conference dinners and informal get-togethers. IIES welcomes everyone to join the workshop next year – although the location remains unknown yet. You can read more about IIES.

Kaisa giving her presentation at IIES meeting in Shanghai.

The Finnish delegation representing UEF this year at the workshop included four PhD students and three senior researchers complemented with two professors. Two researchers from the Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI) added their forces to the Finnish delegation. Our ecotox group sent two final stage PhD students, Kristiina and Kaisa, to the venue with great success! They both had interesting oral presentation regarding their own research areas: Kristiina about metals in environments, and Kaisa about PCBs in aquatic food webs. Both of them had obviously learned the lesson (HERE ) and managed to speak and discuss their topics and co-operate with others with great success. IIES is now starting a post-doc program together with Nanjing University, and who knows, maybe this would be a great possibility in the future also for our soon-to-be PhDs at ecotox research group!

Kristiina visiting the world 2nd tallest building, Shanghai Tower.

Photos and text by Kaisa Figueiredo

We tested different application methods of activated carbon for sediment remediation

This blog post is based on our recently accepted publication in Water Research (Vol. 114, p. 104-112; It is available free of charge until 15. April 2017 under this link.

Activated carbon is a sorbent with the capability of strongly binding pretty much any organic substance to its surface (a process called adsorption). Since a large share of pollution in aquatic ecosystems concerns such organic substances (for example PCB’s), it would hence be a suitable sorbent to remediate them. Once a pollutant is adsorbed to the activated carbon, it is bound so strong that it is no longer available to organisms. This includes even the case where they eat the activated carbon particles “coated” with the pollutant. The organisms would just pass it through their digestive system, pooping it out unaltered. So, long story short, the idea is to render pollutants harmless to the environment, rather than having to remove them (which additionally leaves the question where to put the removed pollutant).

Unfortunately it has been shown that activated carbon itself can actually be quite harmful to certain animals. Therefore, it is necessary to not focus solely on developing these novel remediation methods to be as effective as possible, but to ensure that they are also safe to apply in the environment. After all, what does it help us if we treat the pollution in a place, but at the same time wreck its ecosystem?

In the paper this post is based on, we mainly examined several different methods of applying activated carbon to polluted sediments (which is where the major share of pollutants in aquatic ecosystems are). You basically have two general options: the more laborious one of mixing the sorbent into the sediment actively, or the more “crude” way of thin layer capping. In the latter method you just cover the polluted sediment with the activated carbon (see picture 1). In the field that would mean all you need to do is to take a shovel and spread the carbon. So, while we did know that thin layer capping would be the easier method to execute, what we aimed to find out in our tests was how it compares in matters of effectiveness and safety.

Picture 1: The setup of our test vessels (only thin layer cap tests shown). The activated carbon is applied as a thin layer on top of PCB polluted sediment. Underneath, the burrows of the test organism (Lumbriculus variegatus – a worm living in the sediment) are visible.

We simulated the two application methods in the laboratory in test vessels containing sediment from a PCB-polluted site (Lake Kernaalanjärvi, southern Finland). As a test organism we used Lumbriculus variegatus, small worms that burrow through the sediment. The amount of PCB’s that the worms take up from the test sediments told us how well the different treatments work for remediation, while their biological responses (things like their change in body mass) were used as parameters to measure the adverse effects of the sorbent material itself.

Picture 2: A quick graphical overview on the results of our results: Adverse effects can be comparably high, but remediation efficiency (meaning the reduction of the uptake of a pollutant (here: PCB) is best when activated carbon is mixed into the sediment.

The major results published in this paper were both promising and worrying at the same time (picture 2). We found out that both methods are effective in general. Worms living in sediment under a thin layer cap took up ~50% less PCB’s from the sediment than from the untreated, “raw” sediment. When the activated carbon was mixed into the sediment, the uptake of PCB’s was prevented almost completely. So, while thin layer capping is a method that is a lot easier to use (and hence cheaper), it is not quite as effective as mixing the sorbent into the sediment. Nevertheless, one has to also keep in mind, that animals dwelling in the sediment (and the thin layer cap) can mix the activated carbon with the underlying sediment. This process is called bioturbation and it was actually even visible in our laboratory test vessels (picture 1). It’s just a lot slower than mixing sediment and sorbent right away upon application. In addition, mixing via bioturbation of course requires animals to stay on the treated site and not to flee the site in panic when the activated carbon is applied.

And that’s exactly where our more worrying results come in: the adverse effects of the sorbent itself. With both application methods it became quite apparent that the worms did not really like our miniature-scale remediation works. They lost their appetite almost completely, stopped feeding and hence lost a lot of weight. While that may sound like a desirable achievement to some humans, for our worms that could be a serious issue.

A possible explanation for this sudden loss in appetite was found on electron microscope images that we took (picture 3). It looked like the activated carbon had quite some detrimental effect to the worms’ gut walls. Their microvilli, which are responsible for nutrient absorption from the gut content, were damaged severely in most worms exposed to sediment treated with the sorbent – no matter with what application method. The exact mechanism on how activated carbon causes this kind of damage remain obscure; one suggestion for example is mechanical abrasion (the carbon particles are quite sharp), but also the strong sorption capacity of the material might be involved.

Picture 3: Activated carbon can damage the gut walls (specifically the microvilli) of Lumbriculus variegatus. Image as seen through an electron microscope at a 6000x magnification.

One interesting thing we saw was that thin layer capping with activated carbon can have quite a devastating effect on Lumbriculus variegatus. This is not too surprising, since the organisms are exposed to a high dose of pure activated carbon at the sediment-water interface. However, when we mixed the activated carbon with clay before applying (thus creating a thin layer cap that resembles natural sediment that is enriched with the sorbent), the adverse effects were a lot less severe.  This doesn’t mean there were no more adverse effects, but rather that they were at a comparable level to our other tested application method of mixing the activated carbon into the sediment.

Picture 4: The transmission electron microscopy images (which you saw above) in the making. Photo: Inna Nybom.

From the results seen in this study we were able to draw some conclusions and implications for future field applications. To sum up, both methods are effective. What the thin layer capping method lacks in immediate effectiveness, it makes up for with its easier application and lower costs. When it comes to the adverse effects, we showed that neither one of the methods has a significant advantage over the other – if certain precautions, like avoiding to apply pure activated carbon, are made. So when deciding on a method, the important factors are mostly the available budget and equipment. Thin layer capping is a better option for sediment remediation in cases where special equipment required for other methods cannot be brought in easily (remote areas) or simply in cases where funds are limited. However, before deciding whether or not to utilize activated carbon in general (and big scale), we will have to make sure that its own adverse effects to the environment are not worse than the pollution effects!

Lastly – if you check our blog post on the first field trial of activated carbon based sediment remediation in Finland, you will probably spot some of these implications already “in action”!

Text: Sebastian Abel

Pictures: Sebastian Abel, Inna Nybom

Riding the emotional rollercoaster of publishing scientific articles

Publishing scientific articles is an important part of researcher’s life. The process is full of ups and downs, especially for a young researcher. Planning and writing the manuscript is another story, but there is lot to expect after you think you have finished your manuscript.

The emotional rollecoaster of publishing scientific articles.

The final polishing takes a surprisingly long time. Is everything according to the journal’s requirements? Fonts, figures, colors, spacing? Do you need separate files for everything or do you build a single file including figures? What kind of reference formatting is required? For me, this is the happy phase. I feel that my hard work pays off and I am actually finishing a part of my work. I can’t wait to get that manuscript for the reviewers!

Submitting the manuscript

With my first manuscript, this was the phase where I started to have doubts. You need a cover letter for the editor. What on earth am I supposed to write in there? And how do I find the most suitable referees? So many forms to fill and the figures do not show as I planned. Can I be sure that everything is ready to be submitted? Did I make all the last corrections to the text after the proofreading? Since I am not a native English speaker, there is a bit more stress in that part.

Review process

Relieved to get the manuscript out of your hand. Expectations are high and the process seems to take way too much time. Unless you get a quick response from editor saying that your manuscript doesn’t fit to the scope of the journal, or that they have recently published a similar paper. Then it’s just waiting. When I finally get the response, my feelings go up and down. Well, of course, if it’s not a blunt rejection. Major of minor changes – Yay, there is light at the end of this tunnel! On the other hand, the comments from the reviewers prove that there is still a lot of work to be done before the article is published.

Finishing line

In the end, you will have the paper in your hand, with your name on it and everything. Should I send it to my family to read (didn’t, I guess they wouldn’t appreciate it that much). Maybe I could bring some sparkling wine or a cake to colleagues? Part of my PhD thesis is now completed and it’s time to move on to the next part!

Celebrate the good work you have done!


Text by Kristiina Väänänen, photo by Kaisa Figueiredo

Microplastics and ecotoxicology

Science is partly about trends and what is currently in fashion. Don’t get me wrong, this does not mean that the hot topics are somehow unnecessary to study. It is just something for which you find funding at certain time. As an example from the field of ecotoxicology nanoparticles are a perfect example. If you went to international ecotoxicology congress ten years ago there was hardly any presentations about nanomaterials. The evolution was pretty quick and soon one could catch several sessions on nanoecotoxicology in those same congresses. Nowadays it is blended in, which means that nanoparticle presentations are part of “normal” sessions.

Studies about the microplastics in the environment are currently going through the same progress. The hype has not peaked yet, but getting there. And no doubt plastics are a huge problem in the environment. While ecologists seem to take main responsible about bigger plastic litter the smaller pieces called microplastics draws the attention of us ecotoxicologists. This is probably because we have learned to study the fate and effects of tiny particles (=nanoparticles) during the past decade. The differences is that in the case of nanomaterials we have done something that can be called predictive ecotoxicology i.e. for the most parts we have been trying to figure out the potential effects of nanomaterials if or when they reach the environment. There are still many open questions connected to this. For example the fundamental question if the tools and dose metrics developed for chemicals are doing the job in the case of nanomaterials. They are particles by the definition and they don’t behave like chemicals.

In the case of microplastics the things are maybe even trickier. In most cases we don’t know what to test. Primary microplastics are in micro-sized already in the applications they are used (e.g. cosmetics) whereas secondary microplastics are formed in breakdown of bigger plastic litter due to various environmental processes. Currently we don’t know the ultimate fate or the degradation rates of different plastic types in variable environments. But we do know that at least at certain sites the average particle size is shrinking. This means that we don’t necessarily add more plastic to these systems but the plastic that is already there is breaking down into smaller particles.

So, we don’t yet know what we have there and which kind of problem they are. This applies especially to freshwater environments. At the moment we are mostly testing different types of commercial round shaped particles of certain precise size. Looking at environmental samples the reality is different. We have a mixture of odd shaped particles and different types of fibers. This already suggests that banning the use of microbeads does not necessarily do the trick, although all reductions of plastic input into the environments is good. The previous is underlined with the fact that there are indications that in fish for example we do not find beads but for example fibers, whereas in the surrounding environment we have the beads. Plus we have the emerging secondary microplastics with various types and shapes. To overcome this shortage we need to develop sampling and analytical methods and do more research overall. After that we know which particles/plastic types we should be worried about.

microfiberPotential sources for microfibers (left) and polyester fibers found in water fleas after laboratory exposure (right). Photos by Dr. Napaporn Leadprathom.

Also, I don’t think that the degradation processes stop at micro it continues to nano. Then the properties, environmental fate and effects of plastics may change as we know from the nanomaterials research. We should look into that as well starting with development of methodology for sampling and analyses.

P.S. During this increasing interest in microplastics it is sad to see news like below:

I don’t see a good result for this. Either the authors heavily violated the good scientific conduct or they have been falsely accused. In both cases it is bad news. Anyway, I hope that the truth finds its way.

Akvaattisen ekotoksikologian käytännön töitä laboranttiharjoittelijan silmin

Kun aloitin harjoittelun, oli käynnissä matokoe. Kokeessa tutkittiin, miten erilaiset pohjasedimenttien fullereenipitoisuudet vaikuttavat harvasukasmatoihin. Kokeeseen liittyi työtehtävinä mm. veden pH-mittausta ja happipitoisuuden mittausta. Myös näytteiden pohjasedimentin pH:ta mitattiin. Jos veden pH oli matopurkeissa liian alhainen, niiden vesi piti vaihtaa.

Harvasukasmatokoe eri fullereenipitoisuuksilla.
Harvasukasmatokoe eri fullereenipitoisuuksilla.

Ennen kuin aloitettiin uusi matokoe, leikattiin harvasukasmatoja kahtia. Hännät säästettiin seuraavaan kokeeseen. Ennen kuin fullereenisuspensio oli lisätty pohjasedimenttiin, suspension pitoisuus oli tarkistettu UV/Vis-spektrometrilla. Matokokeeseen tehtiin myös keinotekoista makeaa vettä. Siihen tarvittiin magnesiumsulfaatti-, kalsiumkloridi-, kaliumkloridi-ja natriumkarbonaattiliuoksia sekä milliQ –vettä. Näitä kaikkia lisättiin suureen pulloon ja sekoitetaan magneettisekoittajalla. Liuoksen pH mitattiin ja säädettiin.

Matokokeessa madot laitettiin purkkeihin, jossa on pohjalla sedimenttiä ja kvartsihiekkaa ja niiden yläpuolella keinotekoista makeaa vettä. Purkkien sedimentteihin on lisätty kolmea eri fullereenipitoisuutta. Sedimentti oli otettu järven pohjalta. Purkkeja oli hapetettu yön yli. Kaikkiin purkkeihin lisättiin 10 matoa. Madot saivat olla purkeissa kaksi viikkoa, eikä niitä hapetettu. Matopurkkien pH-arvoja ja happipitoisuuksia mitattiin kokeen aikana. Näytepurkeista kerättiin myös pellettiä useaan kertaan. Pelletit suodatettiin ja niiden paino mitattiin. Kun kaksi viikkoa oli kulunut, seuloimme matopurkkien madot. Mittasimme iltapäivällä kaikkien matopurkkien matojen painon ja laitoimme ne koeputkiin suolaliuokseen. Koeputket laitettiin pakastimeen.

Pellettien suodattaminen.
Pellettien suodattaminen.

Ekotoksikologian kasvatushuoneessa kasvatetaan kirppuja, harvasukasmatoja ja surviaissääskiä. Niitä ruokitaan kolmesti viikossa. Kirppualtaiden vedet vaihdetaan kerran viikossa. Myös muiden eläinten altaiden vedet vaihdetaan kerran viikossa.

Harvasukasmatojen kasvatusallas.
Harvasukasmatojen kasvatusallas.

Vesikirpuilla tehtiin toksisuuskokeita. Ensin tehtiin akuutteja toksisuuskokeita. Fullereenisuspensio suodatettiin ja sen pitoisuus mitattiin UV/Vis-spektrometrilla. Sitten tehtiin akuutti toksisuuskoe, jossa käytettiin toisena altistavana aineena fullereenia. Sitten aloitettiin kemikaalien yhteisvaikutuksia tutkiva pitkäaikainen toksisuuskoe vesikirpuilla. Kyseessä on lisääntymiskoe. Kokeessa voidaan tutkia useita vesikirppusukupolvia ja niiden jälkeläistuotantoa, sukupuolijakaumaa ja emokirppujen kokoa. Vesikirppujen sukupuolta tutkitaan mikroskoopilla. Pitkäaikainen toksisuuskoe on vielä kesken. Vesikirppujen toksisuuskokeet liittyvät erään opiskelijan pro gradu -tutkimukseen.

Vesikirppuja käytetään kemikaalien toksisuuden arvioinnissa, tässä tutkitaan vaikutuksia lisääntymiseen.
Vesikirppuja kemikaalien toksisuuden arvioinnissa.

Tein harjoittelun lopuksi kaksi näyttöä:

  1. Fullereenisuspension pitoisuusmääritys UV-Vis-spektrometrillä
  2. Vesikirppujen sukupuolijakauman ja emojen pituuden määritys kemikaalien yhteisvaikutuksia tutkivassa pitkäaikaiskokeessa

Teksti ja kuvat Päivi Hämäläinen

Onnittelut myös Päiville hyvin suoritetuista tutkinnonosista!

Ällömadot ja ihanat kirput – laboranttiharjoittelijan kokemuksia

Yksi vakiotehtäviä harjoittelun aikana oli vesikirppujen huoltaminen. Kirppuja pidetään yllä odottamassa mm. kemikaalien myrkyllisyyden kokeita. Kirpuille annetaan ruoaksi levää, jota myös kasvatetaan samassa kasvatushuoneessa, kasvatushuoneesta löytyy myös ällömatoja (harvasukamatoja) ja chironomus sääskiä.

Harjoittelun mukavimpiin kuuluva asia on ollu kirppujen huolto, ja tykästyin niihin jo alkuvaiheessa. Monet sanovat etteivät ne näytä erityisen mukavilta otuksilta, mutta livenä niiden katselu on todella rauhoittavaa, ja niistä löytyy paljon mielenkiintoista mikroskoopin alla, tai paljain silmin katsellessa.


Näissä kuvissa näkyy vesikirpun poikasten kasvaminen, koko tämä tapahtuma on vain muutaman päivän sisällä, ja poikaset saattavat hyvissä tapauksissa tehdä oman poikueensa jo noin viikon ikäisinä. Emot kasvattavat munat selässään, ja poikaset kuoriutuvat emon kuoren sisässä. Kun poikaset ovat valmiita, emo avaa kuortaan ja ne syntyvät aikuisen vesikirpun näköisinä, ja kasvavat nopeasti syntymänsä jälkeen.


Viimeisessä kuvista poikaset ovat jo valmiita syntymään, ja edellisessäkin poikanen on jo melkein aikuisen muotoinen. Näissä molemmissa kuvissa poikaset ovat alle vuorokauden sisällä valmiita syntymään.


Vesikirput lisääntyvät normaaleissa olosuhteissa suvuttomasti, naaras tuottaa jälkeläisiä ilman koiraiden asiaan puuttumista. Näkyvänä erona koirailla on suussaan pidempi tuntoelin ”sikari”. Tässä kuvassa erottuu naaraan lyhyempi suukappale.

Toinen ympyröity osa on kirpun sydän, joka mielenkiintoisesti sijaitsee niskassa, muutenkin vesikirppujen elinten ja osien sijainnit poikkeavat hyvin paljon ihmisille totutusta, suoli on osin päässä yms.


Pintamikroskoopin alla kirput erottuvat aivan eri tavalla. Näistä erottuu paremmin muodon pyöreys, mutta mikroskoopin alla katsoessa on silti vaikea nähdä, miten kuori on muodostunut, kuori on kaksiosainen, ja kokonaisuudessaan kirppu muistuttaa lähinnä simpukkaan pukeutunutta merihevosta. Sisäosat ovat suurelta osin erilliset kuoreen nähden, ja kirput kasvaessaan vaihtavat kuorta.

Tein harjoittelun aikana myös oman kokeilun. ->toksisuuskokeissa käytetään myös harvasukamatoja, joiden kokeen onnistumisen takia täytyy aloittaa syömään sedimenttiä samoihin aikoihin. Se onnistuu leikkaamalla mato puoliksi pari viikkoa ennen kokeen aloittamista, jolloin madot kasvattavat uuden pään. Jakautuminen on harvasukamadoille luonnollinen tapa lisääntyä, ja leikkaaminen käynnistää tapahtuman samalla tavalla kuin luonnollinen katkeaminen. Joten, halusin tietää selviääkö mato jos sen leikkaa useampaan osaan, kokeissa on käytetty vain joko pää- tai häntäpuolta.


Leikkasin kymmenen matoa siis viiteen osaan. Madon palat elivät muutaman viikon samanlaisissa olosuhteissa kuin muutkin kasvatushuoneen madot. Lopulta kun laskin elävien matojen määrän, olin kieltämättä vähän yllättynyt. Vaikkeivat madot olleet lisääntyneet, niitä ei myöskään ollut kuollut. Kaikista purkeista oli kuollut vain kaksi matoa. Keskimmäisestä osasta kasvaneet olivat kaikkein terveimmän oloisia, ja hännänpään palat olivat vain juuri ja juuri kasvattaneet uuden pään.

Ällömadot on jänniä mut silti ällöjä. Mut kirput on jänniä ja hitsin ihanoita.

Teksti ja kuvat: Risto Pöhö

Schooling lab assistants – a new perspective to lab work

This fall we have two lab trainees, Risto and Päivi, working in our group. They are studying in North Karelia Adult Education Centre to become laboratory technicians. The education includes both lessons in the college and practical training in work places. Students have to pass altogether six working exams; in laboratory field this means exams in basic lab work, organic chemistry, analytical chemistry, and bioanalytics, and two optional exams among own interests and possibilities in workplace. Our lab offers training in basic lab work, analytical and environmental chemistry, and biotechnical applications as well.

During their training period, students are working as a part of our group doing everyday lab works learning new methods and deepen their occupational skills. On the other side, they bring new sights and ideas enriching the workplace. Another benefit is that supervising forces you to think your work thoroughly: how and why different stages in the work are done. It is observing your own manages by another’s eyes. In the best case, interaction with students produce new and practical methods. I hope that those moments are great for students, too.

Our old, rather shaky and bulky experiment system (left), and new, compact setup (right) developed by Risto.
Our old, rather shaky and bulky experiment system (left), and new, compact setup (right) developed by Risto.

An important goal for students is to pass work exams during the practical training. Thus, we need to plan “work-packages” for chosen exams. This is a bit difficult part, because many criteria set by the college must be fulfilled for each exam, and the work must be included in the everyday lab work at the same time. In the best situation in exam, students just do their daily work under appraisers’ observing, and then their performance is evaluated.

In the exam, there are three appraisers representing both college and workplace. They observe student’s work and ask questions, and finally have a meeting to decide the grade; exciting and interesting event overall.

We have already organized Risto’s exams. Everything went great! Let pictures tell more:

1) Artificial freshwater for Kristiina’s experiment is under preparing, 2) Risto was asked to calculate some concentrations, 3-4) Doing toxicity test is painstaking job, 5) Centrifuging and telling about the equipment, 6) Observations are booked through the exam day, 7) Going to the evaluation meeting, 8) Finally it’s over!
1) Artificial freshwater for Kristiina’s experiment is under preparing, 2) Risto was asked to calculate some concentrations, 3-4) Doing toxicity test is painstaking job, 5) Centrifuging and telling about the equipment, 6) Observations are booked through the exam day, 7) Going to the evaluation meeting, 8) Finally it’s over!

Congratulations for Risto for his great work!

Text and pictures by Kukka Pakarinen

Work outside the lab – field work in lakes

It was time for a field trip, once again. In my project, I have been sampling lake waters, sediments and benthic organisms for several times. I’ll go to the field either during late winter (April) or in autumn (October). Surprisingly enough, it is easier to work in winter, when you have a solid ground – meaning half a meter of ice. In winter, you just saw a hole and start working. It is much easier to get to the lake with a snowmobile than with a large boat trailer.

No rain, barely any wind... is this even possible? Perfect autumn weather in Lake Parkkimanjärvi.
No rain, barely any wind… is this even possible? Perfect autumn weather in Lake Parkkimanjärvi.

For a researcher working mostly in office or lab, it is always fun to go outside. In lab, it often takes months and months to get any results. In field, it’s easier to feel you have accomplished something. It is also a good reminder that our lab conditions are far away from ”real life” in nature. Each time in field, we face surprises: the weather is impossible, benthic organisms have disappeared, fisher’s nets are exactly in the planned sampling point or the equipment break in the middle of nothing. A perfect opportunity to develop your problem-solving skills!

The lakes are mostly located 200-300 km from our university, meaning that you have to prepare everything carefully. If you leave something behind, too bad! This time we got everything we needed. Our goal was to collect chironomids (larvae stage of a non-biting midge) from lake bottoms. We are happy to have a technician with creative mind: He has built us a pump to collect the bottom sediment.  The sediment is taken to a boat (120 l at the time) and sieved in buckets on board. This is repeated as long as we have enough chironomids – most often meaning 1200-1500 l of sediment going through our hands. The work is hard and muddy, the daylight hours are short.

Left: the little red one is our catch, right: Researchers are warm and happy with their seven layers of clothing.
Left: the little red one is our catch, right: Researchers are warm and happy with their seven layers of clothing.

Happily enough, the weather was great. No rain, no ice cover. In picture below, you see the nice surprise we had one autumn: We arrived to the lakes and they were frozen. It is not an easy task to break even a thin ice layer for several hundred meters.

Surprise, it is winter! Good luck with getting the boat to the lake.
Surprise, it is winter! Good luck with getting the boat to the lake.

First three lakes were rather easy. We had a larger boat and there were lots of chironomids to be collected. For the last two lakes, the situation was getting trickier: the lakes were small and shallow, so we needed to change to a smaller boat. Firstly, the roads to the lakes were almost non-existent. And secondly, it was almost impossible to get the boat to our final lake. Yup, the picture below is from a lake. We wore wading boots, because we sunk to our knees in the mud. And since the water was really low, we had to push the boat for more than hundred meters. It is also much more difficult to work in such a small boat.

Left side: hard work with shallow waters and muddy bottom, right side: a Finnish road and our equipment.
Left side: hard work with shallow waters and muddy bottom, right side: a Finnish road and our equipment.

Thank you Kari, Jenny and Nina for your hard work! Without you, I would still be standing next to our first lake, probably crying.

Text by Kristiina Väänänen, photos by Kristiina Väänänen, Jenny Makkonen and Jarkko Akkanen.