Researchers must find new ways to collect data

Researchers must find new ways to collect data

© Provided by The Canadian Press

Aaron Fairweather has to tend to 27 ant colonies … in his living room.

For this doctoral student in entomology at the University of Guelph, this was the only way to continue collecting data. COVID-19 has held back research and labs cannot be used.

Like many other scientists, Fairweather tries to make the most of summer, a time of year when researchers spend long hours outdoors collecting data in the field.

“It’s a pretty dark year for research,” he says. There will be a knowledge gap. ”

Mr. Fairweather had planned a major ant research project last fall, but lack of resources could delay his schedule by a year.

“I have to wait until next year, probably, so that I can come back to the lab and do the experiments I wanted to do.”

Many other scientists are not fortunate enough to bring their research home. As a result, data could be skewed or years of work could be abandoned, Mr Fairweather fears.

Professor Arthur Fredeen of the University of Northern British Columbia expresses concern about teaching in the field.

His ecology course requires working with students taking measurements and observations in the field, he says.

“I had to struggle with technological means that could help me deliver the course online, although it will be quite difficult to do it adequately.”

For his part, Pascal Lee will not be studying the rocks of the High Arctic this month, probably for the first time in nearly 25 years.

The president of the Mars Institute is researching Devon Island because its surface looks like the “red planet”. This year his team planned to test a new spacesuit and a “smart astronaut glove”.

The group are still hoping to make it to the island in September, but if that fails, their equipment may need to be tested in the United States.

“To miss a summer for us means a delay of a year”, laments Mr. Lee.

Sea trip

The choice for some researchers is to adapt to quarantine by studying on a boat for a month.

The director of the University of British Columbia’s Marine Mammal Research Unit will be doing this exercise with eight researchers. They will continue a study undertaken last year to determine if there is a chinook salmon shortage for Southern Resident Killer Whales.

According to Andrew Trites, researchers will create their own bubble on the boat, starting with a two-week quarantine period before boarding in mid-August.

Everyone is “a little paranoid,” admits Mr. Trites.

“In the end, if the pandemic doesn’t kill us, maybe being confined together will do us that fate,” he jokes. It will be quite a challenge. ”

Scientists got off the ship last year after docking and visited towns and villages, but that won’t happen this year.

Only one person, masked and gloved, will be authorized to leave the Gikumi to go and get supplies for the ship.

“We’re going to be packed a bit like sardines, but everyone has a job to do on the boat,” he adds.

Mr. Trites fears that the ability to find new solutions, to propose ideas, to think in groups may suffer from the absence of real interactions between researchers.

“So we’ll greet other researchers we know from afar, hoping that there will be an opportunity in six months, a year, a year and a half, to sit down together and have more fruitful conversations.”

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press

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