Tuesday, July 16, 2013

SRAP Student Spotlight: Danny Tran and soil water potential

SRAPer: Danny Tran

Home state: Colorado

Year in School: Junior

Plans after high school: Go to a university, possibly studying medicine

Understanding how plants receive and use water is critical for the future of forest health and development. Danny Tran is working to add to this body of knowledge.

“I’m working on soil water potential,” says Danny. “And I’m also working on the hydraulic system for the cavitation of xylems.”

The xylem is the part of a plant that moves water and nutrients from the root to the rest of the plant.

“The cavitations of xylems happen when the tissue in the xylem burst, because of air bubbles,” says Danny. “That’s not good for the plant.” 

Danny is working with Dr. Brent Ewers in the Botany department. The research that Danny is conducting is crucial to understanding the relationship between soil and water in plants.

“With the hydraulics, you spin a centrifuge and you see the pull of the water column,” says Dr. Ewers. “If you pull too much, it breaks. The soil measurements tell us how much the soil pulls on the water column, so then we could see how dry it is out at the field and how much that is causing plants to cavitate the field.”

For Danny, getting into the field to collect samples to study is one of the most interesting parts of his research project. 

“I like going into the field and collecting samples, but I think the machines we use are actually pretty interesting,” says Danny.

“We use this machine, the WP4, to see the soil water. Then, we take a lot of measurements, like temperature and the MPa.” says Danny.

“The WP4 is an instrument that measures the water potential of a porous medium like soil,” says Dr. Ewers. “The principle is that the humidity in a small chamber equilibrates with the water potential, or how hard the soil pulls on the water, in the sample. The chamber is cooled down until water condenses on a mirror inside the chamber. The point of condensation is equal to the water potential of the soil. Thus, measurements of temperature are used to calculate the suction of water in the soil in units of MPa.”

“I didn’t believe they could make a machine that could do its job like this one,” Danny says.  “And since it’s also a homemade hydraulic system, I think that’s pretty cool.”

SRAP is a six-week long intensive research program based at the University of Wyoming and sponsored by Wyoming EPSCoR.

By Robin E. Rasmussen and Kali S. McCrackin
Photo by Robin E. Rasmussen

No comments:

Post a Comment