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Natalie Saenz, 2015, Chemistry

Shedding Light on Plant Respiration
Princeton Environmental Institute, Princeton, NJ
Michael Bender, Emeritus Professor, Geosciences; Paul Gauthier, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Geosciences

How do we know that we have accurate estimates for incorporating plant respiration when calculating carbon dioxide fluxes in the atmosphere? For my project this summer, I aimed to understand the influence of light intensity on plant metabolism. More specifically, I used stable carbon isotopes to uncover the metabolic origins of the Kok effect—a phenomenon not fully understood and that is seen in plants at low light intensities. As part of the Bender lab, under the supervision of Dr. Paul Gauthier, I had the opportunity to build my own gas-exchange chamber and to learn how to use various laboratory instruments such as the mass spectrometer in depth. I was able to apply my chemical background to illuminate a biological process that has kept scientists in the dark for more than half a century. Over the course of this school year, I will be continuing these experiments in greater depth for my senior thesis.