Something is rotten in the State of Tennessee, and it just so happens to be right here in our outdoor classroom! Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), the chance to see this first class example of rot will only be available for another few days.
Scientists will study anything. And when I say anything, I mean ANYTHING! Scientists know that even the strangest research topics can lead to useful discoveries. For example, the discovery of new rainforest organisms can help lead to the development of new medicines, a protein discovered in jellyfish helps to grow better crop plants, and learning about the internal structures of spinach can help us build better solar panels. The strangest details in nature can help humans change the world, so scientists study nature. All of it. Even when studying nature involves looking at dead organisms. And that is why high school science students have left pieces of rotting meat in our outdoor classroom.
|High school students studying rotting meat.|
|High school student documenting the decomposition process.|
|Animal-proof cage for decomposing meat, allowing decomposition to occur.|
|Two tiny black ants summitted this mountain of meat, and beige-colored blowfly eggs coat the cut bone.|
If you wanted to investigate nature's recycling system for yourself, you could collect leaves or dead insects and monitor their decomposition in paper cups over a few weeks. See what conditions are good for decomposition. Is moist or dry better for rotting? Will a dead insect decompose faster if it is sitting on moist soil or if it is alone in a dry cup? Will dead leaves break down faster if they are open to the air or sealed into a cup with plastic wrap? What about a leaf left whole versus a leaf torn into bits? What leaves have decomposed more in our outdoor classroom - the ones in the pond or the ones laying around on the ground? (See the leaf skeleton post for more on leaf decomposition.)