By: Han Nguyen
My name is Han Nguyen and I am a rising junior majoring in Chemistry with a concentration in Biochemistry. This is my first summer participating in the OSCAR Summer Team Impact Project. Prior to participating in this program, I had never conducted a scientific study that is laboratory based or really gotten into the field to collect samples. Hence, what I have been doing in the past two months has been very fascinating because of the luring attraction of “not knowing what I am doing” if that makes sense. Under the supervision of both Dr. Gregory Foster and Dr. Dann Sklarew, I am currently working with another OSCAR student and a high school volunteer on the microplastics team to determine the presence and abundance of microplastics in the aquatic ecosystems of the tidal freshwater Potomac River. I specifically conduct a scientific research to determine the concentrations of microplastics within the environment (i.e., surface water, sediment, stream) and learn more about the relationship between them and population density.
We know that plastic or microplastics contaminating the oceans is one of the world’s growing concerns, but there are things about microplastics that remain understudied. This includes fate, behavior, and effects of microplastics in freshwater. This is why when OSCAR’s microplastics research theme arose, I could not wait to join this amazing team.
So far this summer my team and I have been doing a lot of field work and processing our collected samples for microplastics quantification. We were very excited to have access to the new manta net designed specifically to sample microplastics that PEREC got this year. I have mainly worked on processing rough samples and dealing with reaction-related tasks, and my teammates would handle the counting and computer work. But, of course we always look out for each other. As we are done with sampling, my team and I now spend most of our time in the lab together examining microplastics through a dissecting microscope. We could not be more excited to present our results to and interact with general and academic audiences at OSCAR Summer 2019 Celebration of Student Scholarship and Impact.
Researching microplastics in the environment is a long-term task and quite challenging, but here with OSCAR initiating this line of research at the Potomac Science Center I am very grateful to OSCAR and my mentors for the opportunities and guidance.
Written by: Alex Marchesani
I’ve always been fascinated with science from a very young age. Tearing through books on biology and trying to memorize as many facts as I could about various other natural phenomenon. As I progressed through my high school career, I found myself enamored with microbiology specifically. Discovering and learning all the various eccentricities and distinctive features of the different classes and species. I now find myself entering my second year here at Mason. I have taken several chemistry and biology courses thus far. Throughout my first two semesters, I began to feel something I had never felt before in regards to science. I felt bored. Not because classes were too easy (CERTAINLY not that). But somehow, the luster was fading. The endless facts and equations were becoming taxing, rather than energizing like years past. I began to fear: “Have I chosen wrong?” “I’ve never had passion for another subject, can I really change?” “What if science isn’t for me?”
I had two basic options for what to do over the summer, continue working at my local country club and wake up at 5:30AM every day to work the grounds of the golf course, or find an internship. Because you are reading this now, I think you can realize which choice I went with and why. As for my internship options, I went with science, the thing I was afraid I was losing passion for. I applied to several opportunities and sent my various cover letters and other requirements. As time passed, I began to think about abandoning everything and saving as much money as possible for the summer and work at the golf course. One day, I received an email inviting me down to a place I had never been before, the PEREC facility. The email stated that my potential mentors were impressed with my credentials and had invited me for an interview. Although I was still unsure what I wanted, I figured it would be good to explore all my options.
Upon getting to PEREC, I found myself taken aback and surprised. I had never visited a research center before, certainly not one as new and fresh and this. My curiosity piqued, I sat and waited for my interview and tour to begin. The tour consisted of informing me about the things we would be doing. Mainly, gathering data from sediment, water, and fish samples and processing them for analysis with a mass spectrometer. A mass spectrometer is an instrument which someone my age rarely gets the chance to work with. Afterwards, I sensed a slight shift in things. I have just recently come to realize what exactly it was. It was a fire inside me. Burning and raring to be a part of something I had never been before. The hunger to consume knowledge and the craving to understand how to make discoveries of my own had been reignited. I quickly accepted the offer to work at PEREC for the summer.
Since then, I have been able to peak behind the curtain so to speak. To see all the goings-on that culminates in publications and conventions and posters. What I observed was not quite what I had expected. The people here are not cold and calculating scientists, though they can be if the need arises, they are warm, jovial, and always willing to assist you. I am, to my knowledge, the youngest person working in my chemistry lab (I’m 19). Thus, I was quite anxious about working here with the least amount of previous experience, and the fact that I’m not a chemistry major like my colleagues (which I get teased for constantly). Despite a few awkward moments and lots of uncertainty in the beginning weeks, I have since developed friendships with my peers that I normally never would in this situation. I am a very introverted and reserved person, it takes a lot for me to engage others in conversation. However, because so much of the lab work was over my head, at least at first, it forced me to ask people for help, something I’m not very good at. In doing so, I started to feel a sense of “belongingness” that I have never felt towards a work environment before. I feel like part of a team of genuine friends here in the PEREC chemistry lab. The kinds of friend who will help each other with preparing samples of fish (which smelled awful) with no complaint, and then turn around and invite you to trivia night or to a barbecue for the weekend.
Not only do I feel comfortable at PEREC, I also am extremely proud of the work we do and the things we hope to accomplish. I suppose after about two pages, I should probably inform you all what it is we actually do here. My group, as part of a program run through the OSCAR office, is focusing on processing and analyzing fish samples for the purpose of validating the mathematical model we are using to construct a food web of the Potomac River. The other two parts of our project deal with water and sediment samples. The data from these samples will be input into our mathematical model (called Kabam believe it or not) and will deliver us with estimations about what levels of chemicals may be present in many organisms. The kinds of chemicals we are interested in are called micropollutants. Specifically, we are looking into pharmaceuticals and personal-care products (PPCP’s). Many of these compounds have been found in concentrations of just a few parts-per-million. While that may not sound like much, PPCP’s include things like estrogenic compounds and antibiotics. These sorts of chemicals can have major effects on ecosystems even in such small amounts. While the exact effects of many PPCP’s, as well as the sources where they originate, are not fully understood, our work here at PEREC is helping make steps towards forming more comprehensive knowledge about the Potomac and aquatic ecosystems overall.
Written by: Sabrina Barkat
My name is Sabrina. I am a current student in OSCAR program for summer 2018. My work is about investigation and fate of emerging contaminants in Gunston Cove of Potomac river in Alexandria.
We extract micropollutants from water, sediment and fish samples and use liquid chromatography-mass spectrum (LC-MS/MS) method to analyze the extracts. We solid phase extract the micropollutants from water samples and use QuEChERS to extract them from sediments and fish and then run the extracts in the LC-Ms/MS instrument and we analyze the results.
After that, we apply the KABAM model to predict the bioaccumulation of chemicals in organisms’ tissues. More interestingly, the work is collaborative, and this gives me a good opportunity to interact with people with different background and be involved in group work.
This research is the best experience in my academic pathway because I feel that I absorb lot of information related to my field and I am surrounded by a huge, friendly and experienced team working with me in the lab. Moreover, this research involves lot of data analysis and use a lot of literature resources where I learn more about my research and related topics and I develop skills in data analysis and time management. I learn from every single step I process, and I strengthen my experience in the lab work, I interact with people with high experience and I learn to work under pressure of time which I can apply in my daily life as well. I, also, should admit that this research is a guide for me to pursuit my graduate program in the same field of study.
Have you been following last summer’s OSCAR research on micropollutants in the Potomac? Are you an undergrad who would you love a PAID summer research experience like that? There are TEN positions open!
Apply now at https://gmu-csm.symplicity.com/
Curious about the results of of the 2017 summer undergraduate research? Led by principal investigators Amy Fowler and Kim de Mutsert, the Summer Team Project looked at the effects of micropollutants on the Potomac River watershed. Watch the video to find out what the researchers found and how this experience changed the undergraduates.
Led by principal investigators Amy Fowler and Kim de Mutsert, the Summer Team Project looked at the effects of micropollutants on the Potomac River watershed. Projects were funded by the Students as Scholars at Mason as well as the Patriot Green Fund, and the videos were produced by graduate student, Chelsea Gray, thanks to the Virginia Sea Grant.
OSCAR student Heather Nortz talks about her summer 2017 research. Led by principal investigators Amy Fowler and Kim de Mutsert, the Summer Team Project looked at the effects of micropollutants on the Potomac River watershed. Projects were funded by the Students as Scholars at Mason as well as the Patriot Green Fund, and the videos were produced by graduate student, Chelsea Gray, thanks to the Virginia Sea Grant.
OSCAR student Michael Rollins talks about his summer 2017 research. Led by principal investigators Amy Fowler and Kim de Mutsert, the Summer Team Project looked at the effects of micropollutants on the Potomac River watershed. Projects were funded by the Students as Scholars at Mason as well as the Patriot Green Fund, and the videos were produced by graduate student, Chelsea Gray, thanks to the Virginia Sea Grant.
OSCAR student Sammi Alexander talks about her summer 2017 research. Led by principal investigators Amy Fowler and Kim de Mutsert, the Summer Team Project looked at the effects of micropollutants on the Potomac River watershed. Projects were funded by the Students as Scholars at Mason as well as the Patriot Green Fund, and the videos were produced by graduate student, Chelsea Gray, thanks to the Virginia Sea Grant.