Gabrielle Widjaja: Getting Hand-on with Biochemistry in the Temple Ambler Field Station
Temple Ambler Field Station Student Research Intern recently graduated from Temple with a degree in Biochemistry.
James F. Duffy

Temple University recent graduate Gabrielle Widjaja never expected to be involved in the type of research she has undertaken with the Temple Ambler Field Station.

"Certainly, no one expected a tornado to hit the Ambler Campus. I think what is amazing is that the Field Station has taken this extremely difficult circumstance and opened up entirely new research opportunities," said Widjaja, who graduated from Temple with a degree in Biochemistry, a major offer by Temple's College of Science and Technology. "You have to adapt to what you are given. Even in the lab, most experiments don't initially go as planned. We keep on trying and finding new methods that work, which can lead to greater efficiency and better research results."

Widjaja arrived at Temple Ambler and joined the Field Station as a student research intern, "because after COVID, I wanted to get into a research group."

"I saw that the Temple Ambler Field Station offered field work, which would give me the opportunity to work with other students outside in nature," she said. "During the fall semester I really enjoyed the teamwork that was involved in all of our research — it was very satisfying completing the survey of a quadrant of the forest. This semester I've been working closely with (Field Station Research Assistant Dr.) Mariana Bonfim, continuing the hands-on research we had started in the fall."

Interns with the Temple Ambler Field Station gain advanced training by engaging in hands-on research that bring alive the excitement of science through an inquiry-based experience. Student interns work alongside researchers in the field to support ongoing projects and can develop investigations of their own.

During the fall 2021 semester, "we undertook a standing woods survey to document which trees survived after the tornado that struck campus," said Widjaja.

"This semester, we've been focusing on a deadwood survey, which involves trying to reconstruct what the area that we are studying looked like when the tornado hit. It was very interesting post-tornado seeing what had dramatically changed — what the forest floor looked like, how the local animals responded to these changes."

While Widjaja has been assisting with the Field Station's overarching disturbance ecology research in the old growth forest, she has also undertaken independent research projects that build off of those important studies.

"Disturbance ecology is any event — and it can be a major event like a natural disaster — that effects an area and changes it significantly. We have the opportunity to study how the forest recovers from the disturbance in addition to studying how it effects other communities that rely on the forest — birds, deer, fox," she said. "My independent research is focused on how the wind disturbance has affected the diversity of the old growth forest. In the fall, using a variety of research methods, we discovered that the overall diversity of the plot had decreased from the summer to the fall — that was expected due to the severity of the disturbance."

During the spring semester, Widjaja has been researching beta diversity, quantifying the number of different communities in a region).

"Studying beta diversity allows us to assess the difference in composition between sections of the forest. We found that the beta diversity between the summer and fall are significantly different. These hands-on experiences have definitely been a huge benefit to my studies," she said. "As an ecologist, as a scientist, you have to learn how to be flexible. You have to learn how to be able to work around unexpected difficulties. Even something as simple as getting around a large, downed tree — you have to figure out how to work around that obstacle to complete your research."

Widjaja hopes that her research "can provide people with new information related to disturbance ecology and climate change."

"I hope it also gives future interns a base to build from," she said. "I know the work of previous interns was very useful to me.

Degree in hand, Widjaja is seeking a job in the biochemistry field "and seeing where that takes me."

"I'm particularly interested in a career with the Environmental Protection Agency. They have a recent graduate position that I'm definitely exploring," she said. "I think I'd also like to continue my education as well. I love learning, so I know I'm not done yet."

Widjaja's advice to student researchers just starting out is simple — "don't be afraid."

"It can be a little intimidating at first but take the opportunities that come to you. Talk to and connect with your professors," she said. "Students should also come to Temple Ambler for the unique research experiences here!"

The Temple Ambler Field Station accepts undergraduate interns through Temple University College of Science and Technology's Undergraduate Research Program,  Science Scholars Program, and Frances Velay Fellowship Program, and Temple University's Diamond Research Scholars Program, among other programs. 

Undergraduates are also welcome to apply for credit-bearing internships experiences and should contact the Field Station for more information.

Learn more about the Temple Ambler Field Station at https://ambler.temple.edu/fieldstation.