By: K. Gajewski
The LPC consists of a number of laboratories. Some procedures need to
be done in the Department labs as well. This is a list of the labs and
the work that should be done in each.
- Main lab (004): Houses the computers, reference material and collections,
and microscopes. All computer work is done here, and any microscope
work requiring the normal microscope.
- Tree-ring / macrofossil lab (0011): For tree-ring and/or varve measurements
(obviously) and macrofossil picking and identification requiring the
use of the dissecting scope.
- Refrigerator room (0012): Sample storage only.
- X-ray Lab (0013): This lab is to be used exclusively for x-ray analysis
of cores. Access is restricted.
- Core Processing lab (003A): For the subsampling, photographing and
basic description of sediment cores, including magnetic susceptibility,
weighing of samples, etc.
- For pollen processing use the Department lab (003C).
- For weight loss on ignition or procedures requiring the high-temperature
furnace, use the Department lab 003B.
- For "dirty" work such as sieving dry sediment, use Department
- The LPC is a research lab for the use of faculty and graduate students,
and occasionally undergraduate students working for faculty research
projects. It is NOT to be used for graduate course work, or for undergraduate
- I have placed many of my personal books in the lab. You are free to
use them in place, but they should never leave the lab.
- As this lab is funded by my NSERC grants, work done in this lab should
acknowledge this. In any publications, please note these grants in the
acknowledgement section. I can tell you how it should be done. It would
be nice if copies of all theses and publications are left in the lab
for future students.
- This is a dry lab. There should be no chemicals and no water in the
- There are occasional exceptions to the above, for example, when picking
macrofossils from wet sediment. In this case, the basic sieving should
be done in the wet lab, and only the final steps done in the 004 or
0011. The wet samples should be kept only on the table with the binocular
microscope. Watch out for the computers and their cables.
- Learn the proper operation of any equipment, including computers before
touching them. If you have any questions about use or operation of equipment
in this lab, or general questions, feel free to see me or J Bjornson.
- You are responsible for all of your expendables (slides, chemicals,
disks, etc). You can arrange this with your advisor.
- Contrary to the other labs, you do not need a lab coat or goggles.
I don't mind coffee, etc., but please be careful with the computers,
microscopes and specimens!
- The WHMIS rules governing laboratory safety are quite strict. J Bjornson
is in charge of the labs, and his instructions must be followed.
- The computers in room 004 were purchased with LPC grants, and work
for those projects is the priority. Other students who feel they need
access must have permission before using them. In any event, all of
the software is available on Geolan.
- In keeping with the University policy on software as well as copyright
laws, no software is to be copied (i.e. pirated) under any circumstance.
I will cooperate with the authorities to ensure that this is followed.
- Furthermore, no software, including freeware or shareware, is to be
copied to the hard disks without permission, to protect against viruses.
- Manuals are to be returned on the shelf immediately after use. Please
keep the work area neat.
- These computers are to be used for data analysis associated with research
done in the lab only. Class projects should be done in geolan upstairs,
and word processing can also be done there if the computers are in heavy
- The UNIX needs to be kept on all of the time. It is not like a PC,
which you can turn off (reboot) at any time and begin again. Never turn
the UNIX off or unplug it, as this can destroy the operating system.
- Never put wet mounts on the Leitz microscopes. If you need to look
at wet mounts, use a microscope in the teaching lab.
- Learn the procedure for properly setting up a microscope, called Koehler
illumination. This is described in one of the books in the library.
You can always ask me or Monique if you are not sure.
- The reference collections are the results of thousands of hours of
work! Thus, please be careful with the slides. Report any broken slides,
so that they can be replaced.
- Always put the slides back in their proper place immediately after
use. Don't mix the pollen research collection with the teaching collection.
The slides and specimens are not to leave the room. If you need to consult
a slide, bring a teaching microscope into the room. However, get permission
from Monique before leaving a microscope in the lab, as they may be
needed for classes.
- You are encouraged to contribute to the reference collection, and
help future students. However, all slides must be from properly identified
plants. Please see me or Monique to learn the proper procedure.
- All texts and reprints, including identification keys are not to leave
the laboratory. They may only be consulted in the laboratory, and returned
to the shelf after each use.
- Improperly identified specimens are useless and poor identifications
are a continual problem in ecological work. Identification of biological
specimens is never easy. It can take years to learn the identification
of any particular group, and many more to become an expert. And, there
is no shortcut.
- It is important to realize that proper identification means that you
have considered all of the possibilities, and the specimen can only
be the species (or genus, or family, etc) that you have named it. Putting
the name of a species on a specimen means that you have considered all
of the species in the genus, and only the species you assign fits the
characters you observe on the specimen. Similarly for a genus name,
- Be careful of a problem I have observed with many students. Frequently
students will use a picture book, find the picture that most closely
resembles the specimen, and assign that name. This is simply incorrect.
Proper identification can only be made after considerable study of the
group of organisms. It is possible that there are closely related species
that are not in the picture book. The differences may be subtle, and
indeed, not apparent except under the microscope. Sometimes, the characters
you need are not on your specimen, and you cannot identify it. Finally,
there is considerable diversity in some taxa, and closely related species
may resemble each other in many aspects. Thus, you need to consider
all of the possible taxa that your specimen could be - and not only
the most common.
- Another mistake students frequently make is a shortcut that makes
for poor science. Say you want to work with pollen, and your site is
in the Yukon. It is not enough to learn the pollen from the Yukon, and
then identify the grains on your sediment slides. Rather, you should
learn pollen identification first, then the local flora, and then begin
to work on your slides. Of course, you need to be reasonable. You cannot
learn the world pollen flora. No one knows it. But, you need to be a
competent palynologist, not a palynologist of the Yukon pollen flora.
Organism identification is made by the characters of the specimen, not
by range maps or habitat descriptions.
- To properly identify specimens, you need to use the proper literature
- floras, keys, etc. Sometimes, the original literature needs to be
consulted. Biological identification comes with experience. The more
time you put into it, the better you will be. When you start, plan on
spending several hours a day - every day - to learn the group of organisms
you will be working with. This is very important, and taxonomy must
be taken seriously. You may be called upon to justify your identifications,
by experts of the particular group. If this is not clear, please discuss
this with me.
- Putting a name on a specimen is only the first step. Next you need
to understand what the organism is: its ecology, its physiology. Read,
- Many aspects of science are done using standard lab procedures. The
reason for this is to make data comparable between studies. For example,
in grain size analysis, the samples are sieved through standard sized
screens, using a standardized shaking (the ro-tap) for standard amounts
of time. If you deviate from these, you have just introduced another
source of variation that you need to consider in your interpretation.
Usually, standard procedures are designed to optimize data precision
and accuracy within a reasonable time and cost.
- In other cases, the standard procedure is simple necessary. Water
samples need to be kept cool and analyzed immediately to prevent diffusion
of gases and biological activity from perhaps changing the chemistry
of your water. Pollen grains must be treated by acetolysis, since all
the reference books are based on acetolysis-treated material. So, read
to find out what are the standard procedures for your analyses.
- We are preparing sheets explaining standard lab techniques commonly
used in physical geography investigations. Ask if these are available
for your project. We can also point you to texts which contain descriptions
of the methods.
- On the other hand, part of research is finding methods and techniques
for doing work more efficiently, or finding new information in your
data. You should always be alert to new ways of analyzing your data.
Frequently, new methods come when people read outside of their own field
of expertise. But you need to determine how the novelty affects the
comparison of your data with the old data.
- Use of a good sampling scheme ensures you have a representative sample
of your population. A good experimental design can help you efficiently
find interactions as well as main effects. Exploratory data analysis
can help you separate signal from noise, and many statistical methods
will suggest relationships in your data. (Of course, it takes a physical
understanding to interpret these results.). All of these can be misused
but a knowledge of statistics is an essential part of a scientist's
- We have a lot of software available for statistical analysis of your
data. Many simple graphical methods can be quite effective, and we are
well equipped for sophisticated analyses as well. However, your whole
project should be planned with the statistical approach in mind.
- This section is very important, so please read carefully. Data is
the basis of science, and there is a strict protocol.
- Students working on theses, or working on a research project, must
maintain laboratory notebooks. All observations and data should be recorded
in these notebooks, as these are permanent records of how the data was
collected. These should be kept in ink, all pages dated and numbered.
Number the pages immediately after buying it, if it is not already numbered.
Lack of information in the notebooks is considered to mean the work
was not done.
- Under some circumstances, data can be collected in loose-leaf form.
For example, by tradition, pollen data are noted on count sheets which
are kept in 3-ring notebooks.
- Lab notebooks are kept in the lab, or in your office. Note that while
lab notebooks are your property, you are obliged to produce them when
requested. This is one of the bases of scientific practice. Thus, they
should be neat. When you leave after finishing your thesis, I ask that
you leave a photocopy of your notebook in the lab.
- Practically, you are doing yourself a favor by keeping good notes.
You will refer to old notebooks years after the work was done.
- I don't want to overdramitise it, but these notebooks are important
documents. In one recent case from the States, a scientist accused of
fabricating data had her notebook taken by the FBI, who analyzed the
ink and writing to determine if it was written on the date stated and
if the work claimed to have been done really was. Discrepancies between
published results and the notebooks were discussed in court. The poor
condition of her notebooks contributed to her losing her job. (By the
way, her supervisor, who has a Nobel Prize, didn't lose his job, although
he was co-author of the paper in question.)
- Obviously, if you don't have a notebook, or if it is incomplete, this
puts doubt on your work. Notes should be written directly into the notebook,
and not copied from scraps of paper later. If you are not sure how to
keep a notebook, ask!
- All of the above is true of fieldbooks as well. Standard field books,
especially the "write in the rain" variety are the best. Use
a waterproof ink. Pencil can be too easily smeared. Some people use
drawing pens - that you have from your cartography class - but these
are hard to keep clean. The advantage is that the drawings are sharp
and clear, and the ink is waterproof.
- Documentation of computer projects is different, since you will have
intermediate files and programs which you don't need to keep. But it
is important that you have documentation, of data and programs for anything
that you publish.
- The tendency today is to contribute all data to databanks upon publication
of the results. This is, after all, the basis of the scientific method.
This data is then available to the scientific community for comparison
with new data, etc. This lab is committed to this international effort,
and all data collected here must be contributed to the NAPD or appropriate
group upon completion of your thesis.
- The converse is true. You have access to a lot of data that may be
of interest. We have many databanks of environmental data available
for research projects in the lab, and much more is available on the
internet. Use it!
- Photocopies (or the originals, if your prefer) of all count sheets
will be left in the lab upon the termination of the study. Photocopies
of the lab notebooks or field books may also be requested. Finally,
digital copies of all data should be left in the lab.