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Long days in the lab go by quickly

Week 3 June 20- June 24, 2011

The entire week was spent doing multiple trials of the control and the initial experimental conditions. The experimental conditions were exposing a plant to methyl jasmonate and looking at how the plants differ in rates of carbon fixation of COand then export of the carbon molecules formed, such as sugars, from the leaves to other tissues.  We examined these changes at different lengths of time after the initial exposure. The changes were tracked by use of a radioisotope of the carbon in the CO211C. The control plants were sampled at the same time points, but were not exposed to the methyl jasmonate. For each study, it took about four hours to do the sampling and processing for each time point per plant. In other words, one time point took the whole morning and another took the whole afternoon. We only had an hour break time for lunch and to set up for the next round of sampling. These studies were long but it still felt like it went by quickly.

On Monday and Tuesday, we did the control plants; Wednesday through Friday we did the experimental plants, those exposed to the methyl jasmonate. Next week we start analyzing data on the 11C exportation and fixation. It seems that we are getting great results so far.


Getting to work in the radioactivity hot lab

Week 2: June 13 – June 17, 2011

Monday, June 13

This was the day that I could finally work in the radioactivity hot lab. I finished all my required training and finally received my own TLD, thermoluminescent dosimeter. A TLD is the primary form of personal radiation exposure monitoring device used at BNL. In the hot lab, Doug and I got to learn how to run the instruments including the growth chamber, hot oil bath, and computers to run the programs. We got to go over the checklist of equipment for our experiment. We learned how to do the plant extraction procedure. This procedure occurs after the plant is exposed to radioactive carbon dioxide for one hour. Abbie demonstrated for us how to analyze the extracts using thin layer chromatography (TLC). This is how we can compare the sugars the plant is making under different experimental conditions. At the end of the day, we learned how to transplant Arabidopsis seedlings. I had a homework assignment that was due the next day; to draw chemical structures of the chemicals we were studying.

Tuesday, June 14

Dr. Ferrieri, Abbie, Doug, and I discussed data reduction analysis in the morning. We learned how to do data for the TLC imaging with a program called Image Reader. We also discussed the data on the amount of radioactive carbon that is fixed by photosynthesis and exportation to other locations in the plant. Later in the afternoon, Abbie demonstrated solid phase extraction for phenolics to Doug and me, as well as the computer program, Q Scritphen115 that is used in that analysis. I think the machine, Picker Counter, for this program is the same idea as using a spectrophotometer. Abbie also showed us how to use the plant imaging machine and Image Reader. The lessons took the whole day and I thought about how time always goes by fast when I am enjoying the science.

Wednesday, June 15

It was time to start our first experiment for this study which was the experimental control. For this experiment, we used three different time points after exposure to the radioactive carbon: 2 hours (10:30 am), 6 hours (2:30 pm), and 24 hours (next day 10:30 am.)  There are two parts for this experiment that need to be done in the same time. My part was to collect leaves to do plant imaging and collect roots and leaves and place them in vials for the Picker Counter. For my part, Dr. Ferrieri taught and demonstrated this procedure for time point one in the morning. He explained the procedure thoroughly so I could understand what needed to be done and take notes on all the steps in order for me to do that on my own later in the day. For the second time point, Dr. Ferrieri told me that I would do that procedure on my own while he looked over my shoulder. I kind of got nervous about doing that. I made my own checklist with all the steps for that procedure during lunchtime. When we did the second time point, I did everything well except for one mistake. I forgot to give two specific leaves to Abbie for plant extraction. I was having a nervous breakdown since that step was one of the most important parts to get data. But I always remember this quote every time I make mistakes. “Experience is that marvelous thing that enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again.” – Franklin P. Jones. It is a good thing we are doing multiple trials for the control.

Thursday, June 16

That day was the experimental study. Abbie demonstrated how to add in the MeJA (methyl jasmonate) to the leaves. It is the same procedure as the control experiment; however, the plants were exposed to MeJA as the experimental value. We did time point 1 and time point 2. There were no mistakes in time point 1 as Dr. Ferrieri was with me. For time point 2, Dr. Ferrieri was there in the lab, but did not look over my shoulder. So I did the experiment by myself for time point 2 and did everything well. I did learn from my mistake.

Friday, June 17

We did time point 3 for the experimental study. Abbie and Dr. Ferrieri had to leave early for errands so I did some things around the lab, like transplanting more Arabidopsi, working on some thin layer chromatography, and developing two sugar plates.

First-day nerves give way to excitement

Week 1 June 6 – June 10, 2011

The first day of my internship was really exciting. However, I was nervous because I felt that I was not yet experienced enough for this opportunity. The project involves working with plants, which I’m familiar with, but this time it includes using intense machines for plant imaging in radioactivity. I thought I would be slow to keep up with the instructions for the procedure and the experiment. Then I told myself, “Why am I worrying so much? I love doing researching on plants and this is what I wanted to do for a long time. I can do this. I am the type of person who loves to learn new ideas.”

The first day was on orientation and meeting our mentors. The orientation was pretty long because we have to follow the safety instructions and details on the Brookhaven National Laboratory site. Other than orientation, I met with Dr. Ferrieri at lunch; this was my first time meeting with him since I had met him at ESF during the spring semester. At lunch we discussed the study I will be working on with his daughter, Abbie Ferrieri, a graduate student at the University of Missouri. I also met Dr. Benjamin Babst along with his student intern, Doug Kenny. Dr. Babst works along with Dr. Ferrieri. Then we all explored the medical building and Dr. Ferrieri showed me where I will be working. He also showed me the hot lab where I will be working with radioactivity. Last, he showed me the office that I can use where I have my own desk. This is where I get to be with my new friends: Doug, Abbie, and another student named Guy Jackson. Overall, the first day of my internship was great since I got to meet new friends during orientation and see the building where I am going to work.

The rest of the week was spent taking radioactivity-training courses. Doug and I had to take two training courses, one Monday afternoon and one Thursday morning. Each course is about four hours long including taking a multiple choice test. We must pass the test or we cannot continue working in the radioactivity lab. For the rest of this week, Dr. Ferrieri, Abbie and I gathered together to discuss the project and data reduction analysis. I understand the whole project, however, I was nervous about following the procedure for this study. I was kind of confused when we were discussing the different procedures for this particular study, like doing sugar assays, plant extraction, plant imaging, TLC plates, etc. Then later on I felt calm when Dr. Ferrieri told me not to worry if I am confused and nervous at that point since this will be my first time doing these procedures. Also he told me that he will take it slow and demonstrate the procedure for me first.  I also learned new techniques for how to plant corn and sorghum. I got to read Dr. Ferrieri’s published articles that relate to my study. Finally, the whole day Friday, we attended a positron emission tomography (PET) group workshop. In this workshop, the people who are part of the PET group lectured us on their studies so we can be more aware of what they do in the lab.

I work at BNL from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  weekdays and I am taking a summer class, Western Civilization, from 6 to 9 p.m. It is a lot of work and I am still adjusting but I can do it. My nervousness is gone from the first day which I am glad about. Moreover, I am excited to do this internship.

A summer at Brookhaven National Laboratory

Beverly Jose Agtuca, a freshman biotechnology major at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, is spending the summer of 2011 as an intern at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island.

Through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Summer Undergraduate Science Internship program, she is working with Dr. Richard Ferrieri, a chemist known for his work in applying radiotracer techniques, originally developed for the study of the human brain, to the study of plants. Beverly is learning lab techniques this summer and will return to  Brookhaven next summer to put those skills to use on a research project of her own.

She will blog regularly through the summer, sharing her experiences as an undergraduate at one of the nations’s most prestigious scientific centers.