This summer I worked on an environmental research project with professors from Old Dominion University and Inner Mongolia Agricultural University (IMAU). I spent nearly three months in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region in China – first in the capital city Hohhot on the IMAU campus, and then in the city of West Ujimqin near the project field site. I worked and lived with a group of four other graduate and undergraduate students from different American universities, and with multiple graduate students from IMAU. Although we all worked very closely, each of us had different individual projects to complete. The goal of these projects was to protect the grasslands in Inner Mongolia. The professors who helped oversee the beginning of the overall project, including the principal investigator, Dr. Wang, all departed Inner Mongolia by early June. We essentially had complete control over the remainder of our own research, only contacting the professors once a month via video call. This absence of supervision and guidance really forced us to develop our own experiments and our own solutions to any problems we encountered. This was challenging, but it allowed me to develop my creative, critical, and conceptual thinking skills. I improved my ability to problem solve in a real research environment.
For my project, I designed and helped oversee the construction of a portable wind tunnel (PWT), using the master’s thesis of Dr. Wang’s previous student as a reference. The thesis was a study of wind erosion on non-vegetated soils in the grassland, so I was tasked with studying wind erosion on vegetated soils. I reviewed the grassland region, environmental policies, portable wind tunnel construction criteria, aerodynamics, and biocrust in order to assess the efficacy of the wind tunnel in the field. Ultimately, I wrote a long report for the American Geophysical Union titled “Development and Testing of a Micro Wind Tunnel for Wind Erosion Simulations on Vegetated Soils in a Typical Steppe Grassland in China”. This detailed report of my experiments and suggestions for future development allowed me to concisely recount most of the work I had done over the summer; I was proud of how the report turned out.
This project also afforded me the opportunity to experience the culture and language of China – specifically, the culture and language of Inner Mongolia, which is closely related to that of Mongolia. I also learned a great deal about the history of Inner Mongolia, an autonomous region nearly the size of Mongolia that I had never heard of. The cultural experiences were intrinsically entwined with living in China for nearly three months; the historical lessons occurred during my personal literature research. I learned an immense amount about the culture and participated in too many cultural activities to name. For example, although I lived in an apartment in the city of West Ujimqin, we travelled to areas in the Xilingol grassland where we rode bactrian camels, rode Mongolian horses, ate with local farmers, and stayed in Inner Mongolian yurts. This was incredibly fun and educational. During the project I was also able to travel to other cities in Inner Mongolia, such as Xilinhot, and to Beijing. I spent a week in Beijing at the end of the trip, and learned more about Chinese culture, as separate and distinct from Inner Mongolian culture. The entire trip was an incredible experience professionally and personally and I learned an unimaginable amount of science, history, language, and culture that I will never forget. I will always remember my time in China, and plan on returning to visit more areas in the country and in Inner Mongolia.