Ryan Millikin is spending his summer interning with Dr. Mark Licht on campus in the Department of Agronomy. Ryan will be a senior this fall and is a transfer student from Hawkeye Community College.
Ryan explains that Mark has many projects for him to work on during this summer and there are also several graduate students working alongside him as well.
"Earlier this spring we focused on rye biomass. We would take biomass samples, put them in the dryer for 5-7 days, and then record biomass weights. After that, we out the samples through a grinder to later be sent away for nitrate analysis," said Ryan.
Recently they began collecting corn biomass samples and will be doing that periodically throughout the summer at multiple locations throughout Iowa.
Ryan's internship includes a wide range of duties and responsibilities that vary from day-to-day.
"Taking stand counts, recording plant spacing, recording plant height, collecting biomass samples, weighing, grinding, and packaging samples, soil sampling, and data entry into CyBox are just a few of the activities that I have been involved in this summer," said Ryan.
Mark has plots all across the state of Iowa so sometimes Ryan and other undergraduates get the opportunity to travel with Mark's research assistant, Fernando Mauri Marcos, to record data.
Due to COVID-19, Ryan has experienced some different protocols while working on campus that he normally wouldn't have to take part in if it weren't for this year's unprecedented circumstances.
"In the lab, we are expected to wear masks and gloves. Frequent hand washing is also expected. When traveling, everyone is expected to wear masks, sit apart from each other, and windows are cracked to improve air flow," said Ryan. "It can be difficult because there are some projects that require many people, but we can only have two or three people per vehicle. This can lead to longer days in the field."
Despite dealing with some unusual circumstances this summer, Ryan has loved learning about the research process. Although his job mainly includes data collection, Ryan enjoys learning about what they are actually drying to find with the data.
"Much of our research involves trying to find relationships between cover crops and the amount of usable nitrogen in the soil for corn. Plot variables include cover crop planting technique (strip, drilled, broadcast), time of planting for corn, and amount of nitrogen applied," said Ryan.
Despite the havoc that COVID-19 has caused in the past few months, Ryan considers this summer a big success in his college career as he is both learning and enjoying what he is doing everyday.