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A Noble Experiment in Uganda: The Soil is Alive

By Ryan Danker, Field of Hope Intern

Posted Aug. 17, 2018

The Ugandan students aren’t sure what to think when I walk to the front of class and start pulling random items out of my backpack: a heat lamp, plastic funnels, little see-through jars, a wad of plastic sacks and wire circles. I only assume in their mind it’s like a game of “Which of these do not belong?” and I know the more obvious answer is probably the new teacher.

Ryan teaching the class at Restoration GatewayWorking with the Secondary 1 agriculture class at Restoration Gateway.

You see, these Secondary 1 students (high school freshmen) tend to be talkative – at least until I’m at the front of the classroom asking questions. It is all blank stares for the first few minutes until I finish my introductory spiel and get down to the meaning behind the assortment of items from my backpack.

The Noble Research Institute has equipped me with agricultural science experiments to use in the Ugandan classroom. This experiment involves discovering the microscopic organisms or microbes that live in the soil. For these students in northern Uganda, microbes in soil are something they hear about but never get to see for themselves. To them, microscopic organisms rank right up there with the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot.

As I explained the experiment, it didn’t take long to capture the students’ attention. Then I sent them into the garden to gather our soil samples.

Students collecting soil samplesCollecting the soil samples for the experiment.

The students collect soil samples in a small funnel. The soil sits on top of a small, circular piece of chicken wire that serves as a strainer and keeps the soil from falling out but still lets the microbes pass through. The funnels are placed under a heat lamp overnight, and the microbes attempt to escape the heat by going deeper into the soil. Then they are caught in our plastic jars at the end of the funnel.

Soil experiments set up under lampThe experiment is all set up and ready to go.

The experiment worked well and in a way begged a new game of “Which of these does not belong?”: the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot or soil microbes. Regarding what the students spotted in northern Uganda, the easy answer is our soil’s microscopic organisms.

Students observes test results in jarThe results are in.

exampleTaking a closer look at our new results.

About the Author

Ryan Danker is a 2018 Field of Hope intern working out of Lira, Uganda, where he helps manage irrigation systems for Field of Hope’s partners this summer. Danker is a Master in International Agriculture student at Oklahoma State University. He is originally from Wellston, Oklahoma.

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