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Chemistry Majors Delving Into Research for the USDA

June 22, 2017

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While it was always a goal of hers, senior Madison Berger ’18 never thought she’d be working at a USDA lab until after graduate school. The chemistry major is currently part of two separate research projects at the Animal Metabolism unit of the USDA in Fargo, North Dakota.

For the first project, Berger is analyzing trace levels of zilpaterol—a growth promoter—in the urine and tissues of sheep. She’s been part of the care, maintenance, and sampling of the sheep since the end of May.

“Zilpaterol is potentially harmful to humans if ingested,” she said. “To test this, we’ve contaminated food with certain concentrations of the chemical that designated sheep will be allowed to eat. It will be interesting to see how much of the zilpaterol leaves the sheep in their urine or whether it remains inside the tissues.”

Her second project utilizes the ELISA assay technique to analyze an antibody's ability to detect a specific antigen. The assay takes a full eight-hour day to run and Berger admits it can be quite tedious.

“I’d be lying if I said I don’t do them in my sleep sometimes,” she joked. “The whole concept of this project is still a little foreign to me but I hope to have a better understanding of it soon. Everything I’m doing is learning experience, just like being in class at TLU. I owe this all to Dr. Alison Bray, my research advisor. She's guided me through my whole undergraduate career and helped spark the scientist I am today. It’s an honor to be able to represent TLU and the chemistry department this way.”

“Science is truly a mystery. It’s always changing and surrounds us in every aspect of our lives. It’s impossible for one person to know all that there is and I’ve come to appreciate what learning one subject really well does for my complete understanding of science. My degree is in chemistry, but chemistry makes up everything. I may not know it all, but having a basic understanding of the functional features gives me a pretty good idea about what it’s all about. That is why I truly love science. There’s no limit to it and a whole lot of mystery surrounds it. I thoroughly enjoy putting in the work to try and understand these unknowns.” –Madison Berger ’18

Senior chemistry major Carly Miller ’18 is also interning with the USDA, representing TLU at their lab in Beltsville, Maryland. Currently, she’s studying the uptake of toxic elements like cadmium and arsenic in rice with various moisture contents of the soil. The research is in the beginning stages of soil preparation and the team is making sure the soil is a consistent pH so they can begin planting soon.

“It’s been very interesting to see how a government research facility is operated and all the procedures that have to take place on a daily basis,” Miller said. “I feel honored I was chosen to be an intern. This has given me an invaluable educational experience I can apply to my future education and career. It's also opened up opportunities and professional networks. I hope to one day obtain a Ph.D. and start a career that will benefit humanity to make the world a little bit better then how I found it.”

“I have always been curious about life and the way things work. I would question everything and I would seek out knowledge wherever I could when I was a child. My high school chemistry teacher inspired me to want to know about chemistry which is the building blocks of everything in the world which is why I am currently studying it. To this day, I constantly ask myself ‘why’ about my observations in the world and make a list to research on later. Science is so important and we wouldn’t be successful without it, which is why I love it and will continue to support research and science education.” –Carly Miller ’18

Editor's note: Both internships are funded by USDA NIFA 2015-38422-24073.