CBS undergraduate student goes north to help research atmospheric pollution

Isobel Barlow-Busch smiles for the camera in frozen Alert, NunavutIsobel Barlow-Busch is an undergraduate student in her third year of the biochemistry program in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology. She recently moved to Alert, Nunavut, the northernmost permanently inhabited place in the world, for a co-op placement that ends in January 2020. She works as an assistant lab operator at the Dr. Neil Trivett Global Atmosphere Watch Observatory, one of 31 stations around the world that study the long-term effects of pollution on the atmospheric environment.

What are doing in Alert?

I’m helping to take measurements and conduct research for Dr. Trivett’s lab. We collect air samples which can tell us about the pollutants in the air. This will help us better understand the progression of climate change. I think the most interesting research task I do is flasking. First, you put a flask on your head, then you hold your breath and walk into the wind to collect air samples. It looks very silly, but it is a lot of fun! Aside from assisting with research, I love getting to know the people here by participating in community activities like dance parties. It is also amazing to see the wildlife in this area. I have seen arctic hares, wolves and their pups, lemmings and even polar bears! In my downtime, I write articles for my blog that I’m using to document my adventures up north.

How did you get the position as an assistant lab operator?

I initially saw this co-op posting on the Experience Guelph webpage last semester. I applied for the position and got the interview but someone else ended up getting it. I saw the position again in the summer, applied one more time and got the position! I think they were impressed by my enthusiasm for the project and by my determination.

A wolf on a sunny day in Alert, Nunavut

What have you gained from this experience? Would you recommend this position to other students?

Since coming to Alert, I have met some incredible people and learned a lot about the research process. Getting this hands-on experience has enhanced my learning and taught me skills that have helped me grow as a student and as a scientist. I really recommend that students get involved in unique co-op placements like this one. I think students should always go for the co-op positions they are passionate about. It can be intimidating, but get to know your professors by asking them questions in class, about their research and other interesting topics in their field. They may be able to help find a position that is right for you, and they may give you a reference!


Text by Samantha McReavy
Photos courtesy of Isobel Barlow-Busch