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Rooftop research

The quiet trickle of flowing water. The gentle creaking of a water wheel. The occasional splash of an energetic fish. The sun warming your skin.

Sounds like an idyllic pastoral scene, somewhere remote, but it is actually the Artificial Stream and Pond Research Facility located in the Quinlan Life Sciences Education and Research Center. The lab was built with the building back in 2004.

“The idea was that by having a facility that allowed for some real experimentation on site that it could kind of facilitate the research that everyone was doing in the field,” says biology professor Tim Hoellein.

The lab houses 48 oval-shaped streams and six large pond drums that look like an above ground pool with a low water level.

Hoellein, who specializes in aquatic ecology, is currently making use of the stream lab to conduct behavioral research on the Asian clam, one of the many invasive species infiltrating Chicago’s waterways.

“So I always had this sense of living in a place that had a lot of potential, but also had a lot of problems,” he says of his passion for aquatic ecology. He attributes this to growing up in Pittsburgh near Lake Erie.

“I feel really fortunate to be here,” he says.

But professors are not the only Loyolans who can make use of the stream lab; students can conduct their own research.

Ashley Cook is a graduate student working on her master’s degree in biology and is using the stream lab to facilitate research on leaf decay in urban rivers. She noticed that the academic record had a focus on streams in forest ecosystems, so she wanted to explore the process of leaf decay in an urban setting.

“It’s really nice to have an artificial stream because when you are in the field there are a lot of variables,” she says. “I’m able to isolate the different factors that I want to look at.”

Prior to her work in the stream lab, Cook conducted field experiments in the north branch of the Chicago River where she encountered frozen patches and an unknown number of isopods, organisms that help break down leaves.

Now that she can control the speed, temperature, number of isopods, and pollution level of the water, Cook will be able to pin point different variables of leaf decay, an important process in streams. When her project is in full swing, she will be experimenting with 12 of the 48 streams.

Rising junior Melaney Dunne, a biology major, has been helping Professor Hoellein with his clam research and been getting valuable lab experience since the spring of her freshman year.

“It would have been really hard to do these experiments in the Chicago River,” Dunne says. “[The lab] allowed us to really watch the clams at a level that you couldn’t have done in the field.”

Dunne has already attended a research conference in Florida for the work she has done in the stream and pond lab.

One of Hoellein’s favorite parts of being a professor is opening biology students’ minds to environmental research as a career.

“I find that they don’t always know that they can have a career that involves the environment,” Hoellein says.

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