CFL’s Summer Science Communication Internships Give Undergrads the Chance to “See the Lake Differently.”

by Anna Mueller, 2023 Hasler Lab summer scicomm intern

This article is an abridged version of Anna Mueller’s original post of the CFL blog. Anna worked as Hasler Lab’s summer science communication intern this year, along with her fellow intern, Madelyn Gamble who was up at Trout Lake Station. To read more of both their work, visit the CFL blog.

Anna Mueller sitting in UW Rowing boat, with oar resting on her lap, looking back at the sunsrise on Lake Mendota
Anna Mueller pauses during UW Rowing team practice to enjoy the sunrise.

I have grown up in the Madison lakes – jumping into Mendota and Wingra every summer without a second thought, doing polar plunges late in the fall, fishing with my brother. And, this year, rowing competitively for the Badgers. I wanted to stay in Madison while pursuing my interests in English and Environmental Studies this summer, so I was thrilled to find a position that combined them perfectly at the CFL.

On my first day at “LimnoLaunch,” an event lasting several days that prepares new students for summer field work, I learned how to use tools to get water and sediment samples. Later, I observed zooplankton, scuds, bloodworms, snails, spirogyra, mayfly larvae, and seemingly countless other organisms found in a cup of Mendota lake water harvested off of the dock.

Postdoctoral researchers showed me Aphanizomenon, a type of cyanobacteria (or blue-green algae) that had bloomed a few weeks prior and was still present in the water. Aphanizomenon can produce both liver and kidney toxins as well as neurotoxins, which affect the nervous system. I remembered rowing with my team through an algae bloom two weeks earlier and described to the postdocs what I had seen.

“Yup, that was Aphanizomenon,” one of them told me, nodding his head. I looked back under the microscope at the algae, which resembled a microscopic bunch of grass, and considered how little I knew about the environment I was rowing – and breathing – in every day. I have accidentally drunk plenty of Mendota water while rowing, and living in Lakeshore dorms my first semester, I was immersed in the aquatic ecosystem every day. Here was a lab attempting to understand the lakes, ponds, wetlands, and rivers surrounding us, and within the first few hours, I already looked at the lake differently. In the same way that I have come to think of soil as an upside-down forest, with roots, animals, and organisms creating an even more complex ecosystem below ground, I now looked at the lake as a complex and busy frontier. I am excited to learn more. I am excited by how much more there is to learn.

When I row across the lake during early morning training with the UW rowing team, our boats send ripples through glassy water reflecting the bright colors of Memorial Union chairs. We watch the sun rise behind the Capitol. We hear flocks of American coots jump away from us as one. We get cold out there, rowing through wind and waves for hours, and the chill sets in deep, reminding us that we are alive. The lake is also alive. It is a part of this community, this town, this world.