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This past summer, through the KC Donnelly Externship Award Supplement, I conducted a collaborative research project at the University of North Carolina (UNC) in Chapel-Hill with Dr. Mike Aitken and Dr. Jun Nakamura.
The objective of my time at UNC was to learn the DT40 bioassay based on chicken cell lines and use it asses the toxicity of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon (PAH)-contaminated soil after bioremediation. Though I was quite excited about the opportunity, I was initially intimidated about leaving the familiarity of the chemistry lab at Oregon State University (OSU) and flying cross country to immerse myself in the unfamiliar (and very sterile!) world of cells and assays. It was a definite humbling learning experience; working with living cells taught me just how much of a virtue patience is –something that has helped me develop personally and as a researcher.
The KC Donnelly Externship created a platform on which we were able to combine analytical chemistry, biological and environmental engineering, and toxicology to address a shared concern. I was really inspired by the integration of the different ideas and mindsets from the various fields as we developed this project.
Before the externship, I was analyzing PAHs in remediated soil samples. At UNC, I learned about the DT40 assay and actually got to see how a lab-scale bioreactor (meant to simulate ex situ bioremediation) operated. I feel I now have a better understanding of how bioremediation works and the toxicity concerns often associated with PAHs. The experience has really added more depth to my research at OSU.
The externship was a very intense three months, but I really believe it was a pivotal moment in my development as an environmental health scientist; and has made me more appreciative of my research project. I also just had a great time interacting with everyone at the UNC Superfund Research Program (SRP).