Emma Roy collecting soil samples and taking methane measurements at a closed landfill site
Friday, November 24, 2023

Undergraduate student Emma Roy reflects on working at landfills

In the spring term of 2023, undergraduate student Emma Roy (Biology, Faculty of Science) had the opportunity to join Lead Principal Investigator Laura Hug’s research lab while pursuing her studies at the University of Waterloo. Emma was a recipient of an Undergraduate Student Research Award (USRA) from the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), an award designed to support students to undertake research work experience that complements their academic studies.

The award and experience in Laura’s lab did just that for Emma. Emma was exposed to field work at landfill sites, where she collected soil samples, that are part of the Mitigation of Methane Emission Hot-spots from Municipal Landfills project. Together with other members of the project team, Emma was able to observe first-hand methane concentration levels at each site – seeing for herself methane levels in the million parts per billion on multiple occasions. After bringing the samples back to the lab, Emma learned how to analyze methane fluxes and had the opportunity to learn new lab techniques – such as DNA extractions of soil samples, soil moisture determination and pH levels, and the steps involved in sending samples off for sequencing – all crucial activities for the project. Another important aspect that was new to Emma was the use of bioinformatics software tools to deeply analyze DNA sequences and understand the microbial community composition in landfill soils. Analyzing the DNA sequencing results allowed Emma to learn cutting-edge techniques in the field of microbiology.

A very enriching learning opportunity

Emma Roy

Emma Roy conducting field work at a closed landfill site

Emma Roy and fellow team member taking methane flux measurements at a closed landfill site in summer 2023.

Emma believes that her spring term research position greatly broadened her skillset, and just as importantly, fueled her scientific curiosity, especially in the field of microbiology. She describes her research work experience as “a very enriching learning opportunity” in her desired career path towards becoming a scientist.