Tufts in Talloires: A study in nature

This summer, two students from the Bridge to Engineering Success at Tufts (BEST) program are blogging their experiences from Tufts in Talloires, a six-week summer program that offers students a dynamic group of courses taught by Tufts faculty. In addition to coursework, a wide variety of optional outdoor activities, weekly hikes into the Alps, field trips, and organized events offer each student the opportunity to explore the unique Haute-Savoie region of France. 

By Michelle Chan

Michelle 2 - postFrom Veyrier-du-Lac, France,  I travel a distance of 5,488 miles back to Eugene, Oregon just by hearing raindrops tapping on a window. At home in the Pacific Northwest, rain held the safety of a typical day. If I took 150 milliseconds to react to the sound, the speed it took to get home was 5.9 x 10^7 m/s. The speed of light is roughly 3.00 x 10^8 m/s, about five times faster.

Clearly, light is incredibly fast. However, I really didn’t expect home to be so close. The view outside my window depicted a rich green conifer standing against a sea of fog overlapping rolling mountains. Was it Oregon? Only the Alps in the corner suggested otherwise.

This week gave me many opportunities to reacquaint myself with nature. On Saturday, I went on a hike in Chamonix with a group in the program. Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps, was within breathtaking sight. Between a couple glaciers, a vast region of barren rock remained, black in contrast to the blinding white of ice. I was reminded of the importance of cyanobacteria, lifeforms that could somehow survive the inhospitality of living on naked rock. Someday, long after my lifetime, the same region will be lush with vegetation growing in soil made possible by these microorganisms feeding off light and inorganic nutrients.

Meanwhile, their effects can be seen in the existing wildlife, of which a minuscule fraction includes the 31 flowers whose Latin names and families I have to remember this week for my other class, Flowers of the Alps. Although it may be daunting to hear that I have more than 100 total names to commit to memory, it provides a convenient excuse for taking long hikes in search of alpine flowers all day.

Michelle Chan is a rising sophomore from Eugene, Oregon, majoring in computer engineering.

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