my capstone experience

Noah Richard '09, a Biology major from Templeton, Mass., discusses his Capstone project, which focused on the effects of sediment type on the predator-prey interactions between Atlantic salmon and net-spinning caddisfly larva.

While at Colby-Sawyer, Richard served as president of the Biology Club, Vice President of the CSC Players, ambassador for the Wesson Honors Student Advisory Council, representative for the Wesson Honors Advisory Council, and was a member of the Campus Activities Board. He was also involved in several intramural sports, the Campus Activities Board and the student-run newspaper, the Courier. At Commencement, Richard was recognized with the Senior Achievement Award. He plans work in his field of study for a year before going to graduate school to earn his Ph.D. in Biology in order to teach at a college level.

Describe the subject of your Capstone project and why you chose to focus on this subject.

My Capstone focused on the effects of sediment type (fine or coarse) on the predator-prey interactions between Atlantic salmon and net-spinning caddisfly larva. I really wanted to study animal behavior in some way, as well as do something that hadn't been studied before, and so I chose this topic since these two organisms were readily available and able to be maintained in the laboratory environment.

What research did you conduct for this project?

I did a lot of research on predator-prey studies involving aquatic macroinvertebrates in order to learn what I might expect from the unstudied net-spinning caddisfly. I also did research focusing on how to organize the study, especially on taking care of the salmon. I also did a lot of research on how changes in sediment affect the organisms that live in them. I am now writing a laboratory manual on how to care for sensitive fish in a small laboratory setting, as this kind of information was not available to me and would have been very helpful.

What did you learn through your Capstone project, and in what ways is it a culmination of your learning experience at Colby-Sawyer?

This project taught me how sediment differences can affect the behavior of prey in a stream environment. Humans actually shift sediment types in a negative way, impacting the vulnerability of invertebrates to predation. I had to bring in all the skills I had learned over the four years here in order to create a useful study that actually brought in results. Without all the things I had learned in my classes, I would not have been able to finish this project considering how difficult the methodology became.

What was most fun and rewarding for you in the process of creating your Capstone?

The most rewarding part of my project was not only seeing significant results, but finally being able to collect and analyze those results. It was a good feeling to get results, and the final combination of those results was an absolutely fantastic conclusion to my years at Colby-Sawyer.

What did you find most challenging and difficult about the project?

The most challenging thing about this project was maintaining the salmon. I had no experience caring for such sensitive fish, and it was difficult because I was trying to keep 30 of them really healthy. A lot of my fish died in the process, which is why I'm writing the laboratory manual.

What do you hope will be the lasting value of your Capstone project, both for you and others?

I hope to have the manual available to anyone who needs it, and I definitely have gained a lot of skills about running a study. This will certainly be something I can apply both to grad school and wherever I may work. I also wouldn't mind trying to publish my work in a scientific journal, although I am a long way from that right now.