It takes guts

HOUGHTON – Michigan Technological University is an obvious point of interest for the many alumni returning this weekend. But how to hold the attention of their children?

Much like algae or insects, the answer can be found in fish stomachs.

For two hours at the Great Lakes Research Center Friday morning, children got to learn about the food web in the Great Lakes, ending with a real-life look inside the stomachs of lake trout and whitefish.

Phytoplankton live on the surface of a body of water, where they convert sunlight into oxygen; zooplankton, the next step up, feed on the phytoplankton and are eaten by bigger organisms.

Individual phytoplankton and most zooplankton are too small to be seen by the naked eye. Environmental engineering Ph.D. candidate Anita Kuczynski showed the children the plankton in a microscope.

“They were pretty excited, because they were getting to identify them themselves,” she said.

Environmental engineering student Nicole Wehner helped students cut open the stomach, and talked with them about the contents.

Evelyn Weber, 5, of Sault Ste. Marie, hacked her ichthyoid with gusto. The stomach’s contents included torn-up strands of algae as well as various insects.

The haul included ladybugs, which Wehner hadn’t seen before in a fish’s stomach.

“This guy’s been eating a ton of bugs,” she told Weber. “So he must have been hanging around on top of the water.”

It was a good combination of a broader principle and hands-on learning, Wehner said.

“I really liked how the last group wanted to know what was going on,” she said. “The ladybugs were a surprise.”

It was a fun morning with scissors and a scalpel for Weber.

“I liked all the algae, and the bugs in there, and poking the eyeball,” she said. “And I tried to cut the fin.”

Weber showed off her discoveries to her mother, Emily Weber, who graduated in 2006 with a degree in applied ecology and environmental science.

“It’s a good experience,” she said of Friday’s activity. “Very hands-on learning.”

She was also motivated by curiosity about the Great Lakes Research Center, a new addition since her time at Tech.

“It’s quite a facility,” she said.