This weekend we took a road trip up the 101 (yes, that’s the highway quoted in the song California by Phantom Planet) to the San Francisco Bay Area where the Redwood trees grow. We found ourselves walking through Muir Woods, gazing up at these 200 foot trees the writer and conservationist John Muir wrote poems about a hundred years ago. He’s the one who said,”When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” How right he is!
Fun fact: some of these redwoods have been standing for a thousand years and are pretty fire resistant thanks to their moist bark.
We also came across a sign indicating that the surrounding space is a “First Amendment Area”. This must be where groups can stand to petition for their cause. From my previous experience as a petitioner for the Food & Water Watch, I can say it would be nice if parks everywhere set aside a place like this for petitioners and speakers! California and especially the Bay Area seem to be very forward-thinking compared to the rest of the United States, so I wasn’t too surprised to see a cool sign like this.
Our drive home on Highway 1 was breathtaking, both because of the beautiful scenery and the fact that our car could fall off a cliff if the driver tried to appreciate the view with the rest of us.
The picture on the right is a similar view off of California Highway 1 after the clouds rolled in. You literally cannot tell how high up you are and feel like you’re floating in the sky.
Back on the ground, there have been some discoveries made with the phytoremediation plants. The three native California plants I have been working with–Coyote Brush, Mulefat, and Purple Needlegrass–were tested to see which chemicals they were emitting and if these chemicals happened to be the organic contaminants from the soil they were planted in or not. It turns out, my method of capturing volatilized chemicals worked, because the gas chromatogram showed peaks for molecules that plants are known to emit! Of these are stearic and oleic acid, which are fatty acids, and D-Limonine, an essential oil. This is what one of my chromatograms looked like. Each peak indicates a chemical that was essentially volatilized by the plant.
And this is what the computer tells you when you click on a peak:
To me, it’s so exciting to be able to determine what chemicals an unknown sample consists of. All you have to do is run it through the GC-MS and voila, the database lists all of the possibilities of what the chemical could be. The crazy looking molecule pictured above is Stigmastan-3,5-diene, an antimicrobial compound found in tree roots and emitted by the plants I was testing!
Though none of the organic contaminants were captured, establishing a working system for determining what the plants give off was a necessary step. Next, some independent variables will be changed in order to increase the likelihood of capturing a contaminant from the soil that the plants are potentially phytovolatilizing.