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My Research Buddy, the LI-COR 6400

Monday, June 9, 2014, by Kyle Boyd
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[The LI-COR 6400 in action]What is a LI-COR 6400? The LI-COR 6400 (LI-6400) is a machine that allows budding scientists like me (pun intended) to study the exchange of gases between leaves and their environment. This high-tech machine allows us to learn a lot about how a plant functions. For instance, because carbon dioxide is consumed during photosynthesis, measuring the rate of carbon dioxide uptake by leaves with the LI-6400 is a good measure of the rate of photosynthesis occurring in those leaves.

[The LI-6400 console]I am going to be using the LI-6400 almost every day for the rest of the summer, the LI-6400 will be my research buddy. The LI-6400 console is a computer that allows us to record all of our data; it is about the size of a breadbox. The console can be connected to many different accessories to measure different things in the environment. I attach the console to a leaf chamber which allows me to measure the changes in gas levels in leaves. All of this equipment is a little awkward to carry through the brambles in the forest, but the awkwardness is worth it because the LI-6400 allows you to record a ton of data. The data will tell us a plant’s rate of photosynthesis when it is exposed to different levels of light and carbon dioxide.

[Kyle Boyd using the LI-6400 to collect data on gases exchanged between leaves and the air.] I am working on a group project studying a section of the forest that was recently clear-cut. All of the trees within this section were cut down, in the fall of 2008. The clear-cut area covers 8 hectares, about the size of 15 football fields, and has been re-growing since the trees were cut down. Scientists have been monitoring the recovery of the forest.  Right now the plot is filled with ferns, bushes like blackberries and raspberries, and small trees. I am going to measure the rate at which individual plants photosynthesize by measuring how their leaves exchange gas with their environment. I am able to measure this by putting a leaf into my LI-6400 which then tells me a lot of information about how the plant is functioning.  By studying individual plants I can learn more about how the whole forest works.

Other students in my group project are looking at carbon uptake and emission by the site as a whole. By looking at the site from multiple research perspectives, we hope to learn more about what happens when a forest regrows from a clear-cut or natural disaster. For the rest of the summer all of the students at Harvard Forest will spend their days doing research in the lab, the office or the field. We have only been at Harvard Forest for a couple of weeks but we have all learned so much already. I have learned about the many factors that affect a plant’s rate of photosynthesis and how to use fancy field equipment to learn more about how plants interact with their environment. I am excited to learn more from my fabulous mentor Danielle Ignace. I look forward to spending my days with my new best friend the LI-6400 and learning all about these plants.

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