How can ecosystems become more fertile? By the process of nitrogen fixation. Nitrogen fixation is a way by which atmospheric nitrogen (about 78% of the atmosphere is nitrogen) is converted into fertilizer by microbes! We humans figured out how to do that also, but chemically and under very high pressure - we call it the Haber-Bosch process.
Meet Shuai. He is a PhD student at Duke University. He is studying nitrogen fixation in seawater (see photo below where is sampling).
Why is this important? The Southern ocean is quite productive already. But how much is this due to nitrogen fixation? This has not been studied before!
To quantify rates of nitrogen fixation one can measure ethylene production. Shuai has a really neat setup where seawater is guided through tubing towards an analyzer that measures ethylene (see left photo below). Water and air are mixed. The water level should not get too high and needs checking very often. To check the water level, there is a cylinder where air bubbles through and there is a special light that increases the visibility of the water level (see green light in cylinder on right photo).
The measurements can last over a day, with near-constant checking. Hence, Shuai has not had much sleep! However, his discoveries could be groundbreaking!