Week 1: Toto, I’ve got a feeling we aren’t in Maryland anymore

Greetings from Tennessee!!

So yes, I have started my internship at Oak Ridge National Laboratory already and I am very behind on updates.  However, this should be exciting because that means I am having a lot of fun, so I will have cool things to write about.

We began our journey on June 1st.  My brother and my mom drove down to Oak Ridge with me.  It was certainly a challenge to get everything stuffed into the car.  When we were halfway there, I decided I had enough energy to keep driving so we ended up in Oak Ridge that night. The next day was spent moving my stuff and visiting with my aunt, my cousins, and her lovely children.

On Sunday, I attended a pre-orientation picnic at Clark Center Park for all the interns at the lab.  It was a chance to meet people, ask questions, and sign up for activity groups.  There was also free food (this is a continuation of my food tour from my last post).  I had a pulled pork sandwich.  After all, barbecue is a Tennessee specialty.  I met some cool people I still talk to, but I realized quickly that we will not be seeing each other much due to being in different divisions and on completely different sides of the campus.

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Photo booth at the picnic…PC: Manda Boisvert

Monday, June 4th was my first day!  I got to the lab early to avoid having to wait in a long line during the badging process.  Each intern had to get processed through the visitor center to get a badge and an email log in.  It did not take me long so I had some down time to mingle and eat lunch.  Orientation programming did not begin until 12pm so we actually waited for awhile.  The program was very short compared to my NOAA orientation.  We heard from some officials at the lab and from the representatives at the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education about the lab in general and about our specific appointment details.

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Representing Juniata College
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Friends at orientation

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After the presentations were over, we got to meet our mentors, finally.  They lined up to use the microphone to call out our names.  It felt like we were getting picked for the hunger games except you want your name to be called.  My name was called and my journey really began.

The first few days were full of training and reading about the project I was going to be working within.  There was online training, reading, and then in lab training to learn about specific lab hazards.  There are many interns in my division this summer and everyone is very cool.  I share my office with another intern and we have become great friends!  It is a lot of fun meeting new people from all over the place.

My mentor is Avni Malhotra, a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Environmental Sciences Division.  For her doctoral research, she studied the ecosystem structure-function links in peatlands.  She currently is studying fine root dynamics at ORNL.  You can read more about her here.  Although we have only been working with each other for a few weeks now, I feel very lucky to have her as my mentor.  She brings advice from her personal life and from her many facets of educational experiences.  I also have been enjoying getting to know the other researchers in our division and hearing about their careers.  They might not realize it, but every story they tell helps guide my future.

The project I am working on is called “Spruce and Peatland Responses Under Changing Environments (SPRUCE)”.  I encourage you to read more about it from the official website.  The project is simulating climatic changes to determine the effects of increased temperature and carbon dioxide at varying increments in peatlands.  These ecosystems are large carbon sinks.  With increased atmospheric temperatures and carbon dioxide levels, there is a threat of positive feedback onto the atmosphere and climate.  As you can imagine, there is quite a variety of researchers working on this project.  These are the beginning years of this long term project and it is very exciting to be part of this full ecosystem analysis.

What is my role in this project?  My mentor is focused on fine root dynamics in the ecosystems.  Specifically, she is interested in the branching intensity of these roots.  So that is what I will be working on this summer.  I am looking for differences between the different treatment plots and determining if branching correlates with any of the treatments.  My first week has been spent reading a lot of literature that relates to this, because fine roots and branching is an area of science I have not spent a lot of time in.  It has been engaging to learn something completely new and be able to have the curiosity and the resources to further the studies.

How am I going to do this?  The lab has ingrowth soil core samples from each plot at the site which look like this (except a longer tube because they get cut):

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They fill these with peat and place them in the ground to collect the fine roots growing at a certain time period.  They get cut to account for the depth in the ground.  In the lab, we search through these soil samples for roots using forceps, jewelers glasses, and lamps.  After you pick through the soil, the roots are then classified and ordered.  The root samples then get scanned to become an image for analysis of length, diameter, tips, etc.  The roots are later dried, ground, and sent off for nutrient testing to determine the amount of carbon in them.

At the end of the first week, I was able to spend a lot of time working with these cores. We call the process “root picking”.  It is tedious but the data is important for future studies.  I will have updates about my progress but overall I will most likely wait until the end of my project when I have a poster and a paper to share for my final results.  I am excited to see where this project takes me!

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Root Picking Views
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Jewelers glasses

As part of my internship appointment, there are required seminars and events to attend.  During the first week, I learned about the publication database, Web of Science, and it has become my best friend.  It was neat to see all of its different features, and I have definitely found it to be very useful.

I also had the opportunity to sit in on a conference call among researchers in SPRUCE.  I loved being able to hear about all the different studies going on just on this one project.  Since it is a whole ecosystem study, everything is pretty much covered!

Bring Your Child to Work Day was the first Friday of my internship so it was nice to see all the little kids running around.  Also, they had a fundraiser on campus for United Way and were selling ice cream sundaes!!  What a great end of the week.

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Rewind to the beginning of the week….

On Tuesday, it was time to say goodbye to my mom and my brother.  My aunt and I sent them off at the Knoxville airport and tearfully watched them fly off.  No worries, your favorite mother-daughter duo will be back together for a weekend in July.

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Posing in the airport
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See you later!

Weekend Fun

On Friday, I experienced Knoxville for the first time with a friend and he showed me around.  We had yummy greek food at Yassin’s Falafel House and walked around Market Square.  I was surprised how small the social area was but it was certainly cute and a nice area.  I also saw the Sunsphere at World’s Fair Park.

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Tennessee Theater in Knoxville

On Saturday, I slept in.  It was great and much needed.  I then went with some friends to the Secret City Festival in Oak Ridge!  The festival celebrates Oak Ridge’s rich history with music, vendors, and food.  We met up with some other interns and now I have a much larger friend group than before.  For lunch, I had another barbecue sandwich.  Then, some of us went to dinner afterward at a pizza parlor called The Tomato Head in Knoxville.

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Secret City Festival

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Sunday was spent getting ready for the week ahead.  I visited with my aunt and my baby cousin.  I wish I could remember more but honestly these days fly by.  I spend a majority of my time during the week at the gym and/or the lake.  Running at the lake is quite beautiful, and it’s nice to get moving after sitting all day in the lab or my office.  I also have discovered the local farmers market and it’s really nice to get fresh produce.

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Melton Hill Lake

I am going to work on writing Week 2 updates ASAP!

I look forward to sharing more of my adventures with you.  It has been a lot of fun so far.  I love what I am studying and I have really learned a lot about what I want to do with my future.  I just have to find the time to relax and reflect on this journey.  I am appreciative of everyone who has been so supportive so far.

See you next week!

P.S.  Here’s my cute little bio posted in the break room for the Climate Change Institute and surrounding offices.

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2 thoughts on “Week 1: Toto, I’ve got a feeling we aren’t in Maryland anymore

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