A Microscopic Internship of Macro Proportions: Emily Rhea Reports on Her SUST Internship Experience this Semester

This guest post is by RU junior Emily Rhea, a SUST major who is working as a science research intern on Prof. Michele Hoffman Trotter’s Microcosm film project this year. During the Spring 2015 semester, Emily reports on her experiences conducting experiments designed to simulate the acidification of the ocean, one of the profoundly worrisome impacts of global climate change on sea chemistry and, therefore, marine biodiversity. 

I began interning for the Microcosm film project with Michele Hoffman-Trotter in late November of last year. From the start it was decided that I would assist in scientific research pertaining to the study of the effects of ocean acidification on marine life and do occasional other research for the film. Now, we’re not even half way into spring semester, and I can hardly believe the advancements we’ve made.

Achievements in the experiment

RU student and SUST major Emily Rhea works in the chemistry lab at Columbia College on a Microcosm ocean acidification experiment, Nov. 2014 (photo: M. Hoffman)

RU student and SUST major Emily Rhea works in the chemistry lab at Columbia College on a Microcosm ocean acidification experiment, Nov. 2014 (photo: M. Hoffman)

We began with a basic acid-base titration experiment with a solution having a pH close to that of ocean water in order to gain some insight into the expected properties of the ocean water as well as to become comfortable with the experimental set up and run through. This initial “practice” run-through proved to be very important as there were factors causing the pH meter to jump and produce inconsistent results. It took us about three sessions to test for the possible causes and become comfortable with the accuracy of the pH meter.

Now, finally, we have compiled all of our data from the trials with the ocean-like substance (sodium bicarbonate) and are moving on to testing lab-made ocean water. This is very exciting for us as we now have a formal experimental protocol and are finally ready to really get started collecting the important data.

Another very exciting aspect of the experiment is that the wonderful Dr. Beatrix Budy, Associate Professor of Science at Columbia College Chicago, who helped to design this experiment and has been our guide along the way, is submitting a paper about the experiment to a scientific conference on education. In a very funny twist, the researchers, or “three undergrad interns” as the paper says, have become the study subject. If accepted, Michele and possibly Dr. Budy will travel to Hawai’i to present our findings in hopes that a version of the experiment can be used as a lab unit in classrooms around the country or possibly the world.

Achievements in new connections

Through the Microcosm film project I have made many new and exciting connections. As a result of partnership with the Shedd Aquarium, we were able to use advanced tools and technology for filming and capitalize on their incredible expertise to aid with our research. This has been a fantastic experience and has allowed us, especially the wide-eyed undergrad interns, to see and experience things that likely we would not have otherwise.

Sea TurtleMichele also shared the internship opportunity with Hawai’i Wildlife Fund on Maui with myself and Jenny Paddack, which we have both applied and been accepted for. We are very excited to be traveling to Maui this summer to work on Hawksbill Sea Turtle conservation.

Last weekend I attended and volunteered at the Our World Underwater conference with Michele and the Microcosm team. This was a great opportunity to meet others working in the field of oceanography and get further insight into what those who dive regularly are seeing happen to our ocean.

One of the biggest things I’ve learned since I began taking classes at Roosevelt, thanks to my wonderful teachers like Prof. Hoffman, is that following your dreams is a real and achievable option. Once you start working on something that you truly feel passionate about, connections are made and while there will be a few hang-ups, they do not compare to the number of events that just perfectly fall into place. I can’t wait to see where the rest of the semester and my internship with Microcosm take me and can’t imagine where my dreams might lead during the remainder of my time at Roosevelt.

Emily Rhea, submitted 27 Feb 2015

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