Seeing Science Through a New Lens: Meet Maddie, Trout Lake Station’s Summer Science Communication Intern

by Madelyn Gamble – As a rising senior majoring in Journalism and Environmental studies, I was extremely excited to come across the science communication intern opportunity here at Trout Lake. I am passionate about environmental journalism as well as all things water, so the opportunity to combine these two passions this summer is a dream come true. I couldn’t be more excited for what the summer holds! 

My passions came from two things I loved to do as a kid—writing and being outdoors. I spent my childhood dedicated to splitting my time between the two, choosing between writing my next great story and heading outside to explore. What I didn’t understand at the time is that they didn’t have to be separate. 

My love for the outdoors was fostered by growing up in Taylors Falls, a small river town in eastern Minnesota, which made the opportunities to explore endless. I spent my summers as a kid camping, hiking, fishing, and four-wheeling. I spent the ever-so-chilly Minnesota winters skiing, snowmobiling, ice skating, and building snowmen. Getting outside was part of my daily routine. 

The ability to provide an empowering voice for subjects fostered my love for storytelling. My childhood hobby turned into a powerful tool for change as I grew into an adult. Storytelling through writing, photography, and videography became the main ambition of my career–with our environment at its core. 

A young women lowers a scientific instrument over the side of a boat on a lake.
Maddie learns to use a Secchi disk during LimnoLaunch. 

I recently took a course called “Documentary Photography for the Sciences,” which became one of my all-time favorite classes at UW-Madison. The class opened my eyes to the power photography can provide to science. Photos hold the ability to communicate research with one simple image, reaching a broader audience. In this class, we frequently referenced a quote by photographer, Bruno Barney, that reads, “Photography is the only language that can be understood anywhere in the world.” 

This quote inspired me to put photography at the center of my work this summer. It provides everyone an equal opportunity to learn about the wonders of our waters in Wisconsin. 

Already, I’ve been busy putting this all into practice. Our first week at Trout Lake consisted of the second annual LimnoLaunch, a station-wide training event. LimnoLaunch provides everyone on the station with a base knowledge of equipment and methods used by various research groups. This allows us to better understand our peers’ work and even allows us to join other crews on their research. LimnoLaunch exposed me to the research equipment our students and scientists will be using all year. Things like Secchi disks to measure water depth and zooplankton nets to collect tiny aquatic organisms for research. 

The event provided a well-rounded research experience by bringing us to the labs as well. For me, one of the highlights was getting to look at zooplankton samples under the microscopes. Zooplankton are tiny animals that float with the current of the water, making them hard to appreciate with the naked eye. The lab consists of a microscope that gives researchers the capability to view samples on a screen and take photos and videos of them in real time. Our station director, Gretchen Gerrish, showed me how to clearly capture photos and explained how she is working on capturing images to use when presenting research. I will definitely be spending some of my time this summer in the lab with this microscope!  

Fishy Friday provided a fun day on the water to close off the event. The day consisted of – you guessed it – all things fish! We learned about using different kinds of nets and other methods for catching fish to study. We learned how to gather data from fish once we caught them and we learned more about our peers’ research. The day provided an opportunity for everyone to handle and work with fish, something many individuals will not be actively doing this summer. It was amazing to see the passion and enthusiasm people had to teach everyone on the station about their work. 

Ananda collects data from a fish caught using a fyke net at LimnoLaunch Photo: M. Gamble

My goal for the summer is to exude this same passion and with it, reach as many people as possible. Trout Lake is doing immense amounts of amazing research that scientists and universities around the country praise. While that is important in itself, the bigger challenge is communicating to the public what we do and why they should care. To accomplish this goal, I plan to get as much hands-on experience with the research at the station as possible. I’ll go out with crews multiple times a week, actively involving myself in their projects, and reporting that to the public through various multimedia projects. Outreach and education are something that I am extremely passionate about and also plan to focus on during my time at Trout Lake. 

My short time on the station has already provided me with an amazing community. Living and working with my peers is an aspect of this internship that makes it so unique. Relationships are formed throughout the workday out in the field or in the lab and after hours at bonfires or on the dock. Everyone on the station is filled with passion for what they do, making the atmosphere full of positivity and love for the outdoors. 

I’m extremely excited for what the rest of the summer holds, not only with my work but also with the people alongside me making it possible.