Wildlife of Your Dorm

After meeting a couple of times, our group has begun to formulate a plan as how to gain a better understanding of the interior microbial life across UVA’s Grounds. Despite constantly being in the places we hope to collect samples from, few, if any, people at UVA have knowledge of the microbial life that is around us throughout our days. Our inquiry into the indoor microscopic life of UVA was partially motivated by a project conducted by Professor Robert Dunn of North Carolina State University called The Wild Life of Our Homes. The main premise behind his project is that there is an invisible ecosystem within our homes. While Professor Dunn’s project used around 1,000 samples sent in from homes across North America, a project on this scale may not be feasible in the time we have with the resources we have.

One idea that we have come up with as a group is to collect samples from various living situations, both on-Grounds dorms and off-Grounds apartments and houses. Ideally, the dorm room samples would be collected in male and female rooms from both new dorms and old dorms. Comparing the microbiology of school maintained dorms with the student maintained apartments and houses could prove to be fairly interesting (Can college students really clean their living space?). One of the problems that may arise, however, is accessing all of the buildings and rooms in which we would want to take samples. It can be done but would most likely require coordination with resident staff and students living in those rooms.

Another idea that was actually brought up by Professor Timothy Beatley was that our team could collect samples in the libraries on Grounds. He was fairly open ended about the idea, but after thinking about it, the amount and types of people that study on each floor of each of the main libraries varies quite a bit. This plan takes less pre-planning than going to dorms and apartments. The drawbacks to this idea include the possibility that because a high volume of people frequent all the libraries that there would not be much variance in the microbiology.

Moving forward, we hope to meet and speak with Rob Dunn during his visit to UVA. We hope that he will be able to provide insight into which of our ideas he prefers or whether he has a different idea entirely. Our current goal is to get started with the sampling shortly after meeting with Professor Dunn. And as stated in the beginning, hopefully we shed light on the indoor wildlife of our university.

Post by Gregory Waldrip, Second-Year, Systems and Information Engineering