Author: Krystian Kula, MSci Geology, University of Aberdeen

Project: Which plants were burnt? Exploring the charcoal morphologies of peat forming plants in Finland

Supervisor: Dr Dmitri Mauquoy, School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen

It is unlikely you might take part in a research project from start-to-finish during your second undergraduate year, let alone collect your own samples in the mires of Finland, the land of lakes. Though, given the chance, I would strongly advise you take it. Trudging through peatlands, losing wellies in bogs, and bathing in mosquito repellent, are a few things you might expect when visiting Finnish aapa mires – ultimately, a small price to pay for the satisfaction of seeing a project through to its end, all the while being paid for it.

Upon first hearing about the projects on offer by QUADRAT, surprised by their varied nature, I thought I’d apply to one studying charcoal fragments and the shapes different plant matter might yield after disaggregation during burial. It was not long until I was in contact with a whole new department at my university, getting involved in current research and contributing where I could. My project overseer, Dmitri Mauquoy, betrayed his eponym and ensured I was introduced and settled in then, what was, a new environment. Such excitement only escalates with the addition of a field trip, entirely covered by the budget for my project! I had an abundance to look forward too.

Landing in Finland we were first tasked with reaching the Lammi Biological Station, after which we spent our first day in the field collecting all the necessary peat cores, unhindered by bad weather and with the guiding knowledge of Heikki Seppa of Helsinki University, we made quick work of our quotas. This, however, did not last long. The subsequent localities we had in mind proved exceptionally tasking when it came to collecting cores, just the three of us squelching through Finnish bogs, kilometres from the warmth of a lab.

This not only allowed me to further develop field work skills needed for my undergraduate degree, but it also scratched an itch for research I had not realised I might have, demystifying the concept and eliciting just how contrasting it can be compared to my own preconceptions.

NERC provides such opportunities, enabling undergraduate participation between Aberdeen and Queen’s Belfast universities together under QUADRAT research projects. Personally, I found the process of applying painless and streamlined, and would advise the hesitant not to delay. Who knows, you might just spend eight odd weeks creating memories that will pay dividends when applying for further prospects.


Photo by K B on Unsplash