For many researchers, Researchers’ Night is a highlight of the year. When thousands of visitors start to flow to Ylistönrinne in the darkening evening, biologists Aigi Margus and Sara Calhim will be ready. Calhim’s research examines a cute social media favourite, whereas Margus is focused on a pest that is best kept away from potato fields.
The objects of Academy Researcher Sara Calhim’s research are happily crawling in a petri dish. They are real masters of survival – and they certainly look like the part.
When you watch a tardigrade through a microscope, you can see its lumpy body, eight legs and even sharp claws. This sympathetic chubby creature is also a social media favourite.
The size of tardigrades is measured in millimetres, but their fame is much greater. Tardigrades survive in extremely harsh conditions too. In dry or cold conditions, they fall into an inactive state, cryptobiosis, in order to survive through the hard times.
A spout of water revives them again.
At Researchers’ Night, the tardigrades in the dish are at full strength – and there are many kinds of them. Visitors can wonder about a life form that is usually hidden from our eyes.
“I find it important to show examples of diversity to the audience,” Calhim states. “The life of tardigrades usually raises a lot of questions.”
There are currently over 1,500 known species of tardigrades. In Finland, researchers have found just over 70 species so far. Calhim and her colleagues identified a new one for the list last year. From the sandy terrain of Rokua National Park, they found Macrobiotus naginae, which was named after a character in the Harry Potter books.
To find different tardigrades, Calhim often explores swamps, as the mosses in them can contain excellent discoveries. The moist conditions are favourable to tardigrades that thrive in laboratory conditions as well.
Calhim is presently studying the reproduction mechanisms of tardigrades and the evolution of gametes. There is still much we don’t know about different organisms’ means of survival in extreme conditions.
What is the hottest issue Calhim, as a researcher, would like to find an answer to some day?
Why is reproductive biology, throughout the biota, so diverse?”
Does the Colorado potato beetle tolerate pesticides?
At Researchers’ Night, Postdoctoral Researcher Aigi Margus will guide visitor to recognize alien species that pose a threat to Finnish fields, forests, roadsides, and fishing waters.
Over the years, nearly a thousand alien species from abroad have settled into the Finnish natural habitats, and altogether 173 of these species are considered harmful to nature or the economy.
Perhaps the most widely known of these include the lupine, Himalayan balsam, mink, wolfdog, Japanese rose, and Spanish slug.
Margus promises that visitors to Researchers’ Night will be able to expand their knowledge of alien species in a card game and fight against invasive alien species in a resource competition game.
Her own research is focused on an alien species belonging to the most harmful ones, the so-called quarantine species.
But it is the Colorado potato beetle that poses one of the most severe risks for Finnish potato farms as well. To date, efforts to prevent its spread have been successful.
It is crucial to recognise in time these beetles’ arrival along with southeastern winds.
Margus studies how the beetle tolerates the pesticides used in agriculture. How do the pesticides affect the beetle’s genome, and does the beetle develop resistance to the pesticides?
“There is evidence at least that small doses of insecticide may even have positive, so-called hormetic effects on the Colorado potato beetle,” Margus explains. “The positive effect shows also in the next generation.”
How serious a threat does the beetle pose to Finnish potato farms in the future?
“The effects are hard to predict, but I believe it would mean increased use of insecticides in Finland,” Margus says. “Consequently, it would also affect biodiversity and possibly the sales of seed potatoes as well.”
“Here you can gain knowledge without googling”
Researchers’ Night was organized at the University of Jyväskylä for the first time in 2016.
Margus and Calhim have been involved every year. For them, participation in the event is an inspiring tradition, as it is for dozens of their colleagues at the Department of Biological and Environmental Science.
“We work hard for the event with a good team spirit, and at the end of the night we feel tired but very satisfied,” they say.
The things worth seeing and experiencing are not built with a big budget; instead, there is a need for good ideas and crafting skills. Only imagination sets limits to the presentation of one’s own research.
“Year after year, we have added activities where the visitors can test or try out things themselves. In the first year, we were only prepared to give presentations,” Margus says, smiling.
Researchers’ Night also employs postgraduate students, for whom the event provides a good opportunity to learn and develop how they tell people about their own research. This aspect also belongs to a researcher’s work.
“Conversations with the audience are important to the researchers,” Sara Calhim says.
“Here the audience has a good opportunity to gain knowledge without googling.”
“Another important point is that the audience sees how varied a researcher’s work in biological and environmental science can be,” Margus points out.
This year, visitors can find out, for instance, what kind of research is conducted concerning isopods, freshwater pearl mussels, protozoans, or boreal forests. And most importantly, people can also experiment and see things for themselves: What do viruses, cells and bacteria look like when viewed through different microscopes?
Researchers’ Night will take place at the University of Jyväskylä on Friday, 29 September. In the morning, there is programme for school classes. The evening programme is available from 3 p.m. until 10 p.m. on the campuses of Seminaarinmäki, Ylistönrinne and Mattilanniemi. See the whole programme and come soak up some research knowledge!
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