Literary Scientist Digs WC
One of the first Hodson Science Fellows at Washington College, Emily Aiken ‘10 spent her summer collecting and analyzing soil samples. The environmental studies/English major was looking for evidence that light disking is as effective—and less problematic—than prescribed burning as a potential habitat management method. Both methods are intended to help the soil hold nutrients and support species diversity.
Emily’s soil chemistry work, conducted in collaboration with chemistry professor Leslie Sherman, is part of larger project underway at the Chester River Field Research Center at Chino Farms to restore former agricultural land to grassland habitat for endangered birds.
“The fields of switchgrass slated for prescribed burnings are separated by fire buffers, which are disked,” explains Emily. “The scientists observed that these buffers had good species diversity, so they decided to try it in a control field, and then compare the results with those from the burned fields. The grasshopper sparrows seem to like the disked fields—we saw lots of nests there.”
Emily considers her summer fieldwork a prelude to other environmental opportunities that abound on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. With the environment as “the big issue” in American society, the literary-minded scientist may find her niche writing about the environment.
“When I visited Washington College, the atmosphere was amazing,” she recalls. “Everyone was so friendly and accepting. I thought to myself, yeah, I could live here for four years. WC has this really good English program and it also has the Chester River. The professors have connections to all these great places. It seemed like the perfect school for me.”
Emily’s campus activities reflected her dual interests in science and literature as an active member of the Student Environmental Alliance, as well as the Writers Union and the Writing Center.