SCIENTIFIC WORKSHOPS AT THE FACULTY OF SCIENCES

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HYDROGEN, THE FUEL FOR THE FUTURE?

WORKING CONCEPTS

In this workshop we will see how the water molecule can be split by using electric energy. As a result we will obtain two gases: hydrogen and oxygen. When these two gases are again combined, they release energy and as a product we obtain water. For this reason this is considered a clean energy. If this combination takes place in an electrochemical cell we can obtain energy in a controlled way.

WORKSHOP DESCRIPTION

This will be a demonstrative workshop in which first we will use electricity to split the water molecule and obtain hydrogen and oxygen. This process is known as hydrolysis (from hydōr, water and lýsis, break) but the process is also an electrolysis (it uses electricity, elektron, to break). We will see that the mixt of these two gases makes an explosion when there is a flame, so we must be careful.

In the second part of the workshop we will prepare the same process but this time inside a cell which separates oxygen in one part and hydrogen in the other. These two gases are accumulated in two carboys. From this moment we do not need electricity anymore so we can continue without connection to electricity.

By using the same cell, the two gases are combined again by the inverse electrolysis. Now, water is formed and electric energy is released. Inside the cell hydrogen is split in protons and electrons. For this reason we need a catalyzer. The protons cross a membrane which place them in contact with oxygen, while electrons are forced to follow a circuit. At the end of the circuit, the electrons join again the protons and oxygen to obtain water.

The movement of electrons is in fact the electrical current. This current is capable of make the engine working.

The engine can be small, as the one we use in this demonstration, but also big, such as a car engine or an engine in an industry process.

RELATED RESEARCH LINES

Nowadays a lot of research is being developing in the field of “green chemistry” with the main objective of finding synthesis processes more respectful with the environment. One of the ways is to reduce the quantity of energy needed for any reaction and save reagents. These objectives can be reached by using catalyzers.

The research at the Group of Bioinspired Chemistry, Surpamolecular and Catalysis (QBIS-CAT) is focused on the synthesis of molecules that contain metallic ions of the first transition series and that are relevant in biology. It also focuses on the design of catalyzers that allow dividing the water molecule in oxygen and hydrogen, reproducing similar reactions to that taking place in photosynthesis.

The Group of asymetric catalysis uses noble metals for the synthesis of high added value products, such as molecules that present optical and pharmacological activities. In this synthesis CO and H2 are used to obtain aldehydes optically pure from olefines.


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SOLVING CRIMES: IDENTIFICATION USING DNA

WORKING CONCEPT

Molecular markers are one of the most used tools in genetic studies, either in forensic applications, population and medical genetics, or in the discovery of allelic variants related to illness. In this workshop DNA markers are used for individual identification from saliva, as they would be during a police investigation.

WORKSHOP DESCRIPTION

In this workshop, the typical techniques used in a molecular genetics lab are used to conduct an individual identification. These methodologies include DNA extraction, PCR amplification of the markers and visualization through agarose electrophoresis (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Agarose electrophoresis. Each lane corresponds to a different individual. Individuals 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 8 display the same pattern, and 4 and 7 too.

Comparing the profiles in the agarose electrophoresis, the identity between a sample and a suspect can be confirmed. Moreover, the allelic frequencies of the analyzed population can be used to quantify the reliability, and to calculate the likelihood of two people randomly coinciding. Additionally, this method can be compared to the one used by the FBI.

RELATED RESEARCH LINES

Molecular markers are a powerful and widely used tool. In the “Facultat de Ciències” they have provided information about the composition of bacterial populations, characterized the population structure of endangered species such as the Iberian desman, the European otter or the North African hedgehog, helped with the management of fishing resources of tuna and shrimp, and identified the genetic architecture of adaptive phenotypes in stickleback. Moreover, they are also used to diagnose cancer, describe cork synthesis pathways and even to trace human migrations leading to the distribution of the current domestic goat breeds.


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TASTING WATERS

WORKING CONCEPTS

Mineral waters. Chemical composition. Interaction water-rock. Aquifer. Subsoil geological characteristics. Hydrogeology.

The composition of comercial mineral bootling water is different depending on the source origin. Although we could think that all waters have the same taste, if we refine our perception, we will be able to identify some aspects that allow to distinct them. We will be also able to relate the chemical composition with the interactions between water and rocks that have been occurred through the subsoil or aquifer water flowing.

WORKSHOP DESCRIPTION

We will have several mineral waters selected by having different water source origin. The proposed activity is to do a “blind tasting” of these waters with a “porró” (glass wine jar with a long tapered drinking spout). The tasting will allow to discovering some differences in their taste that demonstrate contrasting chemical composition.

The workshop is complemented by different posters that describe the fundamentals of subsoil water flow and the chemical interaction between water and rocks. A specific sheet for each water is also provided which show the geological section of the spring, a table with the chemical composition and the diagrams that allow the classification of waters from the composition of main ions. Sample of the main rocks found in the geological context of each spring are also shown, the dilution of them influence on the taste of water.

The final objective of the activity is to correlate the “unknown waters” with the different sheets that describe the hydrochemical and hydrogeological characteristics of each spring.

RELATED RESEARCH LINES

The exploitation and commercialization of mineral waters is a relevant activity in the Girona area linked to social, economic and environmental aspects. From a scientific point of view is fundamental to know the hydrogeological medium and to monitor the chemical and microbiological quality. These aspects are linked to the degrees of Environmental Sciences, Chemistry or Biology given by the Faculty of Sciences.

The researchers at the Geodynamic Area in the Department of Environmental Sciences and the GEOCAM center (http://geocamb.udg.edu/) work from long time ago in the evaluation of surface and subsurface hydrogeological resources. The group develops research focusing on the characterization of aquifers by hydrochemical and isotopical analyses. They also work in the determination of dynamics of subsoil flows and the geometric delimitation of aquifer formation form geological cartography and geophysical prospection.


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ANTS IN THE CAMPUS

MAIN OBJECTIVE

If we want to know the biodiversity of any ecosystem we need to find, eventually capture, and identify the different species we found. The ants are present in all terrestrial ecosystems and are considered as ecosystem engineers. To know the ecosystem biodiversity requires the identification of all present species in the ecosystem. In this workshop, the ants will be the focus of the observations and activities.

WORKSHOP DESCRIPTION

It is an interactive workshop in which the student manipulates with the appropriate tools small arthropods to make dry samples and their identification.

First, the different techniques of catching small terrestrial arthropods are considered. Then, we will try to catch some individuals of the ant species that are typically found at the university campus. We will also offer to the student individuals already captured and fixed in alcohol.

The student will have two worker ants of two different species and of different size. It is explained how to prepare the dry samples of these individuals with the help of soft forceps, entomological needles, minutiae of cardboard, arabic gum and stereoscopic microscope.

Once the dry sample is ready, the student identifies the species with the help of a specific key of the most common ant species of the city of Girona and the Montilivi campus. They detect and identify the anatomical characters of these insects to advance along the key. Upon identification, the student makes the catch and identification tags that will be added to the samples.

RELATED RESEARCH ACTIVITIES

Those developed by the Research Group on Ecological Disturbances and Terrestrial Animal Communities (GR-PECAT):

Study of the impact of various disturbances (climate change, land use change, wildfires, biological invasions, …) in terrestrial ecosystems focusing the observations on ants and birds.


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THE RIVER BEAT

WORKING CONCEPTS

The river is a live ecosystem that has its own metabolism determined by photosynthetic and respiration processes that take place. In a river with low discharge and shallow waters (as many Mediterranean rivers and headwater streams) the main responsible for the fluvial metabolism are the microbial organisms that life adhered to the different riverbed surfaces such as rocks, cobbles, leaf litter, sediment. These microorganisms are aggregated forming a structure named biofilm, and are embedded by a matrix basically formed by polysaccharides.

Diagram of the main compounds of a fluvial biofilm.

The microbial communities (algae, bacteria, fungi and protozoa) that live adhered to the river cobbled are responsible, in a large proportion, for the water quality changes. When there is an excess of inorganic nutrient concentration (such as nitrates and phosphates) and high incident light, the algal metabolism is accelerated and this results in great fluctuations of oxygen from day to night as well as in an increase in algal biomass. When, in contrast, there is an increase in organic material for example originated as residuals from a waste water treatment plant or industrial activities that produce organic compound residuals, decomposition reactions are accelerated and the growth of heterotrophic organisms is enhanced.

Example of the daily dissolved oxygen concentration evolution in an experiment with artificial streams.

WORKSHOP DESCRIPTION

In this workshop three aquariums are shown. In each aquarium there are cobbles at the bottom which has been collected from the river and are colonized by microbial communities forming a biofilm. In the first aquarium the water has low nutrient concentrations simulating a headwater and/or mountain stream with clean waters. The second aquarium has very high inorganic nutrient concentrations simulating a river receiving nutrients (for example from agriculture or urban activity). In the third aquarium there are high concentrations of organic matter.

One oxymeter and one pHmeter are available to measure oxygen and pH in the aquariums. A figure with three examples of daily evolution of oxygen and pH that could correspond to the three aquariums is shown. During the workshop the students have to identify which graph corresponds to which aquarium and the punctual measurements of oxygen and pH can help on this identification. Examples of real data of daily dissolved oxygen evolution in different aquatic ecosystems are shown.

RELATED RESEARCH LINES

The study of metabolism in aquatic ecosystem allow the understanding of nutrient cycling (mainly C, N, and P) and the processes of transformation and recycling that take place. At the “Institut d’Ecologia Aquàtica (IEA)” research is focused on the effects of climate change (warm, drought) and pollution on the metabolism of aquatic ecosystems (rivers, lagoons) with emphasis on the relationship with diversity and structure of the communities responsible for this metabolism (biofilm microorganisms, plankton communities, benthic invertebrates).(http://www.udg.edu/iea).

 


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LABORATORY OF SMELLS

CONCEPT TO BE STUDIED

This workshop shows the use of steam distillation to extract essential oils. Moreover, the compounds responsible for the medicinal and olfactory properties of several medicinal plants are represented by means of molecular models. These models allow the identification of the functional groups present in these compounds. In addition, the concept of stereoisomerism is introduced. In particular, enantiomers are studied through the representation of two molecules that are the mirror image of each other.

WORKSHOP DESCRIPTION

The Laboratory of Smells consists, on the one hand, of a practical workshop which will show the procedure of extracting the essential oil of cinnamon, cinnalmaldehyde. This process consists of a steam distillation and a liquid-liquid extraction. On the other hand, plants, flowers and fruits will be displayed, and the main molecule responsible for the most important features of each of these plants, flowers and fruits will be represented using molecular models. This will be useful to identify the functional groups present in these molecules and also to explain the relationship between the structure and the properties of these compounds. For example, the molecules responsible for the smell of mint and caraway, which have the peculiarity of being the mirror image of each other, will be represented. This will allow the introduction of the concept of stereoisomerism and, more specifically, of enantioisomerism.

RELATED RESEARCH LINES

This workshop is related to the research focused on the development of new bioactive compounds. The biological properties of a compound can be related to the functional groups that it contains and to how they are oriented in space. These two features are involved in the interaction of this compound with its biological target. For instance, this target can be the lipid bilayer of a cell membrane or a receptor expressed on the surface of a cell. The LIPPSO group is one of the UdG groups that focus its research in this field. Specifically, the research of LIPPSO is mainly centered on the design and synthesis of compounds with antimicrobial activity that may be useful to control plant diseases of economic importance. In particular, LIPPSO studies the use of antimicrobial peptides as novel pesticides. These peptides contain a combination of cationic and hydrophobic amino acids that is suitable for their interaction with the bacterial membrane. To date, peptides with high activity have been identified and can be considered good candidates as new pesticides.


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MICROORGANISMS FROM OUR SURROUNDINGS

WORKING CONCEPTS

The workshop allows a first contact with the microorganisms that can be grown by collecting samples from our environment. In order to be able to experience several basic concepts in microbiology, the following aspects will be address: the abundance and ubiquity of microorganisms, the diversity of morphologies, their microscopic size and the ability to modify the chemical and physical conditions of their environment through metabolic activity.

Figure 1. Colonies of microorganisms (bacteria and filamentous fungi – colonies presenting a filamentous margin) obtained after incubation process (3 days to 30ºC) in Nutritive Agar media. This result was obtained after an air dynamic sampling at indoors.

RELATED RESEARCH LINES

Different concepts and/or operations (manipulations) related to microorganisms are studied in the workshop. Specifically, the concepts of diversity and ubiquity are pillars of knowledge and often objects of study in the area of knowledge of microbial ecology. This is the general line of research that is carried out by the Microbiology lab from the Faculty of Sciences, Molecular Microbial Ecology Group (gEMM) from the Institute of Aquatic Ecology. The group develops research in the framework of basic science, and sometimes other applied aspects, where the diversity and the abundance of groups of microorganisms present in microbial communities is a key concept to understanding aspects of dynamics, and impact of these activities on biogeochemical cycles.

 
 


 

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WHAT FISH AGE CAN TELL US?

WORKING CONCEPTS

The determination of fish age is one of the most relevant parameter for the study of fish population dynamics. It is the bases to do the calculations and know the growth, mortality, recruitment and other fundamental parameters of fish populations. From reading the fish age from squamas, this workshop introduces the student to the main concepts of population ecology and its application in conservation and management.

WORKSHOP DESCRIPTION

Interactive workshop where the students have to read the age of a fish by using the squamas and, from this information, answer different questions about population characteristics of the fish origin population.

First a theoretical presentation is performed about how to determine the fish age from skeleton structures such as squamas and otholites. It is demonstrated how to obtain these structures, which shapes can they present, and how we perform the age reading.

The, the students visualize different samples of the two structures already prepared under the estereomicroscope or a squama lector. The students compare the readings and determine the fish age. In the workshop they see different types of squamas and the drawbacks of the method, such as the finding of regenerating squamas that do not allow the reading.

The last step consists on, by means of a simulation program, determine the survival curve and the age structure of the population and their use in management and conservation of species.

– Ecology and conservation of continental fish in rivers, lakes, reservoirs and humid areas.

– Biological invasions in continental waters: paths and introductory vectors, life cycles and biological impacts.

– Freshwater organisms as biological indicators: algae, invertebrates, fish.

– Conservation and management of aquatic ecosystems.

– Statistical ecology.

Research groups at the UdG: “Grup de recerca en biologia animal: ictiología”, “Grup de recerca en biologia animal: ictiologia.”


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