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Science students gain in-depth experience during summer internships

October 20, 2015
By Nathan Ramsier
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Over the summer, nine science students from Gallaudet University interned away from campus while the University continued to upgrade the Hall Memorial Building laboratories. This gave them an opportunity immerse themselves in fascinating, in depth research within various learning environments.

Giovanna Vazquez, Jeronimo Ocampos, and Brandon Call traveled to Minnesota with Dr. Daniel Lundberg, associate professor of chemistry, where they studied the watershed of various lakes; Christopher Mbochwa and Amelework Habtemichael interned in Cambridge, Massachusetts where they worked on nanotechnology projects at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); Mandy Houghton and Brandt Marceaux conducted similar research at Howard University in Washington, D.C.; and Amberlin Hines spent the summer in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, analyzing mussels and snails.

Vazquez, Ocampos, and Call’s summer in Minnesota as part of a partnership between Central Lakes College (CLC) and Gallaudet. This collaboration, now in its second year, began when Lundberg met Kent Montgomery, a natural resources instructor at CLC. “We both shared a vision for our students- from both Central Lakes College and Gallaudet University- to work together on limnology-related projects,” said Lundberg.

Limnology is the study of inland waters and is the division of environmental science on which the Gallaudet interns focused. Accompanied by Lundberg, the students spent 10 weeks in the Brainerd Lakes area, working with Montgomery and CLC students in analyzing eight different lakes; their research will help guide lake officials to develop a watershed management plan. They presented their studies to the Agate Lake and Crow Wing Lake associations, the two lakes on which the students did the most research. Additionally, the three will share their findings at the University of Maryland- Baltimore County Undergraduate Research Symposium in the Chemical and Biological Sciences in October and also at Gallaudet this fall.

Montgomery was pleased with the exposure that his students experienced through the partnership with Gallaudet. “It’s cool to get hearing and deaf students together,” Montgomery said. “That access to a new group of people helps CLC students understand Deaf Culture better, all while learning more about watershed.”

Lundberg and his students were recognized for their work in a July 30 article in The Westbank Journal, an online publication of CLC. The team also led a weekend summer camp for youths who are deaf or hard of hearing, or children of deaf adults.

A vast departure from the natural backdrop of Minnesota, Mbochwa and Habtemichael spent their summer in Cambridge, Massachusetts, home to Harvard and MIT. It was on the grounds of these two universities that they worked as undergraduate interns for the Science and Technology Center for Integrated Quantum Materials (CIQM). The center, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), is led by Harvard and operated in collaboration with MIT.

Dr. Paul Sabila, associate professor of chemistry at Gallaudet, explained Mbochwa and Habtemichael’s work: “The internship was on nanotechnology, where they worked on a new technique for exfoliation of graphene in Professor Pablo Jarillo-Herrero’s lab at MIT.”

Their research was a continuation of their work last summer when they teamed up with Sabila on the “Growth of Molybdenum Disulfide Films on Silicon Wafers” project. Mbochwa and Habtemichael had studied molybdenum disulfide nanomaterials with the hopes of being able to find a replacement for silicon when designing transistors and semiconductors. “The goal is to create the new generation of electronic devices using nanomaterials, which will make phones and computers more efficient,” said Habtemichael.   

Mbochwa and Habtemichael were able to share their experience with middle school students from Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Both fielded questions about and gave advice on how to prepare for college. The Horace Mann students toured the grounds where Mbochwa and Habtemichael interned and attended a presentation by Dr. Bill Wilson, executive director of the Center for Nanosystems, where they learned about the research of nanofabrication and nanoscale technology.

Also working on nanotechnology projects this summer were Houghton and Marceaux, who worked on projects with Sabila and Dr. Henry Snyder, a professor of chemistry and physics at Gallaudet. Houghton, supported by a Partnership in Reduced Dimensional Materials (PRDM) grant, focused on the chemical exfoliation of molybdenum disulfide and gave a poster presentation of her research at Cornell and Harvard universities in August. Marceaux, supported by a Center for Quantum Materials (CIQM) grant, aimed to synthesize bismuth telluride by chemical exfoliation. This material has potential to be used for constructing devices that generate electricity from heat.

Houghton and Marceaux also gave three well-received presentations, “Introduction to American Sign Language and Deaf Culture,” to members of the Howard University community.  

Interning in Canada with Dr. Linda Campbell, environmental science professor at St. Mary’s University (SMU) in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Hines and her research group focused on the water quality and algal blooms of the lakes in Halifax, Nova Scotia. While originally planning to study the nitrogen cycles n freshwater mussels during this study, a discovery altered their research.

“Amberlin and I were scouting out locations for mussels which we could collect for her laboratory experiment.  We had a book on mussels of Nova Scotia which suggested a certain lake might have a large mussel population, so we went there to see if we could find those mussels.  Instead, we found a very high number of large snails,” said Campbell. “I knew those to be an invasive species from my other sampling trips in Nova Scotia, but I had never seen that many snails in a lake before.  So Amberlin and I decided to modify the experiment to incorporate those invasive snails in addition to the mussels to see what their impact would be.”

In her study, Hines compared the nitrogen and phosphorus excretion rates between native freshwater mussels and the invasive Chinese mystery snails through experiments conducted in the SMU laboratory. Campbell explained that Hines’s work, with the support of SMU faculty, students, and staff, has revealed interesting laboratory data.

“The data emerging from the laboratory are interesting, as it seems to indicate that snails may be influencing the nitrogen cycle in lakes differently than mussels due to their different feeding habits.  This may have implications for algae blooms and nitrogen cycling in lakes so we will be exploring those in more detail,” said Campbell. Water samples gathered during Hines’s internship were brought to Gallaudet to be analyzed in the laboratory of Dr. Caroline Solomon, biology professor with the Biology department.

Campbell, herself a deaf scientist, highly complimented Hines’s internship work, and enjoyed the opportunity to discuss science in ASL.

“I’ve observed that deaf scientists do bring a valuable perspective to scientific inquiry through many ways, including the ability to creatively solve problems and use a visual/spatial way of thinking.  The importance of diversity in thinking and problem solving for tackling difficult scientific problems cannot be overstated.”

The newly renovated chemistry laboratories in Hall Memorial Building (HMB) were opened for the start of fall 2015 semester.  The renovated biology laboratories in HMB are expected to open in the spring of 2016 where many of these interns will continue their research.

As a follow-up to the spring 2015 Harvard MIT internship recruitment presentation, Dr. Kathryn Hollar, who is collaborating with Sabila on an NSF project, will visit Gallaudet in the spring to recruit student interns to Harvard and MIT for 2016 internships.  This workshop/information session will be open to chemistry, biology, physics, math, information technology and computer science students at Gallaudet University and anyone interested should contact Sabila at paul.sabila@gallaudet.edu

20 October 2015
By Nathan Ramsier

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Nathan Ramsier

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