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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Summer Research Opportunities
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Attention high school and college students! The Northern Plains Area has the following research opportunities for the summer of 2014 in the following locations: 

These internships provide hands-on learning experiences in lab and field research with the Agricultural Research Service, an agency with the US Department of Agriculture. Interns work side by side with a mentor scientist and a research team. Internships require some sort of presentation to the research unit noting the research findings, and the mentoring scientist and technical staff assist the intern in preparing that presentation (discussion, poster, power point). Starting and ending dates are determined by the mentor scientist in consultation with the selected intern, and each appointment is eight weeks of full time work, generally starting in mid-late May or early June.

Where: Manhattan, Kansas – Arthropod-Borne Animal Diseases Research

Mentor Scientists:
Dr. Lee Cohnstaedt

Project Description:
The Arthropod-Borne Animal Diseases Research Unit (ABADRU) is seeking a high school student to conduct a diapause induction experiment with biting midges (Culicoides). Diapause is hibernation for insects and it allows them to survive the harsh winter months, however how they determine when to start or induce diapaus remains unknown. The student will use ABADRU’s twelve specially designed rearing shelves to alter the midge’s exposure to various day lengths and temperatures to determine the exact parameters for each midge colony and wild caught Kansas midges. The student is expected to run the diapause experiment which consists of laboratory work rearing midges independently and field work (collecting midges) as a team member. Research presentations at lab meetings are required and as is a final 30 minute group presentation to the research unit. This research project will identify diapause triggers (using the wild caught Kansas midges) and the genetic conservation of diapause (the three colonies have been without diapause conditions for approximately 40, 20, and 10 years since their establishment). If diapause is found in each colony, then the triggers will vary for of each colony location (California, Idaho, Wyoming, and Kansas) based on the onset of winter in collection location. This project addresses an important knowledge gap in midge research and the final written report is expected to be the basis for a peer reviewed manuscript.

Preferred/Required Experience:
The project is designed to be flexible to accommodate all experience levels and no coursework is required. However experience working with insects and particularly insect rearing is preferred.

Pay Grade/Hourly Salary:
GS 1 $9.84/hour; high school students (at least 16 years of age), including 2014 graduates.

Application Instructions:
Email for specific instructions.

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Where: Miles City, Montana – Range and Livestock Research

Mentor Scientists:
Dr. Tom Geary

Project Description: The selected student will be part of a team of scientists and other students to evaluate differences between eggs collected from the ovaries of cows just before ovulation. The student will assist with handling cows and collection of tissue using ultrasound-guided needle biopsies. Each intern will participate in experimental design, collection, microscopic evaluation of eggs and embryo development. From these experiences, students will work with the mentoring scientist, laboratory technician and graduate students in preparation and delivery of a formal PowerPoint presentation to location staff. Techniques and guidance will be provided at every step of the way. The intern will also receive hands on experience with several other laboratory and field research projects related to animal reproduction including assistance with biological sample preparation, hormone assays, media preparation, cattle handling, ultrasound evaluation of ovarian structures and pregnancy, blood collection, and sperm evaluation with a microscope. Individual objectives will include:

  1. Development and microscopic assessment of embryos from in vitro fertilization of eggs collected from large and small follicles.
  2. Hormone production from granulosa cells cultured from large and small follicles.
  3. Development and microscopic assessment of embryos derived from in vitro fertilization using semen with specific biochemical abnormalities
  4. Pregnancy establishment and maintenance in cattle following artificial insemination using semen with known biochemical deficiencies. 

Completion of these projects in 8 weeks is feasible but it is possible that funding may be possible for an additional 4 weeks of work. Students will give an oral presentation to the staff at the end of the apprenticeship-internship. Students will be expected to assist with occasional animal handlings on some weekends, but will not be expected to work more than 40 hours per week. 

Preferred/Required Experience: No prior experience or coursework is required, but we would prefer to hire students interested in pursuing a career in agriculture, science, or medicine.

Pay Grade/Hourly Salary: GS 3 $12.07/hour; typically requires one year of college and 6 semester hours of math/science courses.

Application Instructions: Email for specific instructions. 

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Where: Sidney, Montana – Pest Management Research

Mentor Scientists: Dr. Stefan Jaronski

Project Description: In 2013 we discovered presence of the insect pathogenic fungus Beauveria bassiana among post-diapause wheat-stem sawfly larvae being reared for another purpose, and isolated 12 strains of the fungus. This discovery is a first record of such infections in North America and is remarkable because the entire larval and pupal phases are spent entirely within the stem of the wheat plant. In a preliminary survey in fall 2013, 40 Beauveria isolations were made. There are numerous reports of Beauveria endophytism in other plants. Thus, it is possible that the discovered isolates of Beauveria are endophytic in wheat and can therefore infect copresent wheat stem sawfly larvae, which are otherwise isolated from exposure to environmental Beauveria. Based on published literature with other plants it is possible to establish Beauveria endophytic presence in plants by seed treatment or foliar application, thus providing an opportunity to reduce the impact of this insect in wheat if the same methods work in this plant. Endophytic potential of the USDA wheat-stem-sawfly-derived Beauveria isolates will be determined by three methods, based on published studies with other plants. (Because there may be variation among strains of Beauveria and among varieties of wheat, we will test at least three of the wheat-stem-sawfly-derived isolates and several varieties of wheat with each approach). These methods are treating seeds with spore suspensions; foliar application of spore suspensions; and microinjection of blastospores into the wheat stems. The subsequent establishment of Beauveria in wheat stems can be determined from fungus outgrowth from explanted surface sterilized plant tissue on a Beauveria-selective medium.

Preferred/Required Experience: Enrollment in college biological sciences program with coursework in at least general biology and some indication of an interest in biological research.

Pay Grade/Hourly Salary: GS 3 $12.07/hour; typically requires one year of college and 6 semester hours of math/science courses.

Application Instructions: Email: Stefan.jaronski@ars.usda.govfor specific instructions.

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Where: Fargo, North Dakota – Animal Metabolism-Agricultural Chemicals Research

Mentor Scientists: Dr. Sara Lupton and Dr. Heldur Hakk

Project Description: Perfluorinated octanoic acid (PFOA) is an industrial chemical and is the key precursor to other perfluorinated compounds used in many household products. In 2009 this compound was placed on the persistent organic pollutants (POP) list by the Stockholm Convention. It is thought that the main route of human exposure is through contaminated foodstuffs. We hypothesize that an important source of these contaminants into food animals is through their feed. Feeds such as alfalfa are grown on agricultural lands that have been amended with biosolids laden with PFOA from municipal wastewater treatment plants. Therefore, it is important to determine if PFOA can be taken up by plants used to feed production animals, and measure their fate and transport in soil to determine if they move into the root zone. During this internship we propose to utilize PFOA-contaminated topsoil with greenhouse alfalfa plants to simulate field growing conditions. The alfalfa will be evaluated for uptake by radiochemical and mass spectral detection methods. Transport of PFOA from topsoil to root zone will be evaluated across time in the depth profile. The proposed intern will help conduct weekly soil extractions, and prepare plant and soil samples for radiochemical, chromatographic, and mass spectral analyses. The candidate will be mentored in proper record keeping, data analysis, data handling, and experimental design and setup.

Preferred or Required Experience: The ideal intern will have a strong interest in biology or agronomy, and environmental and analytical chemistry. The candidate will have completed courses in general and organic chemistry, as well as biology. Additional consideration will be given to candidates who have completed coursework in agronomy, plant sciences, environmental chemistry, analytical chemistry and/or soil science. This project will include hands-on experimental setup, use of radioactive chemicals, analytical instrumentation and sample preparation. There will be opportunities for data interpretation (e.g. mass spectrometry, chromatography, liquid scintillation counting, and statistical analysis) by the intern depending on their experience.

Pay Grade/Hourly Salary:  GS 3 $12.07/hour; typically requires one year of college and 6 semester hours of math/science courses.

Application Instructions: Email and for specific instructions.

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Where: Fargo, North Dakota – Cereal Crops Research

Mentor Scientists: Dr. Lynn Dahleen

Project Description: The Barley Genetics laboratory conducts research to improve barley resistance to the fungal disease Fusarium Head Blight (FHB) by inserting genes that slow or prevent growth of the Fusarium fungus or prevent the fungus from producing mycotoxins that contaminate the barley grain. The selected student intern will conduct evaluations of gene inheritance and segregation in these transgenic barley lines in the laboratory, greenhouse, and field. Responsibilities will include planting seed, extracting DNA from leaf tissue, and polymerase chain reactions to test for the presence of the introduced genes. In addition, the student will participate in ongoing tissue culture projects to generate new transgenic barley lines, and observe the plants in field trials for FHB resistance. The intern will participate in biweekly lab meetings, updating the group on progress, and learning about other ongoing projects in the lab. The intern will help prepare a joint presentation on the barley transformation project for the RRVARC, and will present part of the talk covering the intern’s work.

Preferred or Required Experience: We prefer that the intern has had an introduction to genetics, either as a stand-alone class or as part of a basic biology class. Other reading materials and training will be provided.

Pay Grade/Hourly Salary: GS 3 $12.07/hour; typically requires one year of college and 6 semester hours of math/science courses.

Application Instructions: Email for specific instructions. 

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Where: Grand Forks, North Dakota – Healthy Body Weight Research

Mentor Scientists: Dr. James Roemmmmich

Project Description: The purpose of this study is to compare visitation, amenity use, and physical activity intensity between urban parks and rural parks matched for size and presence of amenities. Parks and playgrounds help many Americans lead a more active lifestyle by motivating youth and adults to participate in physical activity. In order for parks to promote activity, people must make the choice to visit a park and to be active. This research will help to understand how people living in rural northern plains communities utilize parks and will inform effective design or renovation of parks in rural communities so that they best promote healthy physical activity behaviors. Intern will be trained to perform observational measures and the student will assess selected parks for factors that may promote or hinder visitation, amenity use, and physical activity including its amenities and their condition. The student will then use a validated observational method to measure the number of people of specified demographics engaged in physical activities, enter data into an Excel spreadsheet and check it for accuracy. These observations occur at 3 times (morning, afternoon, evening) each day for 3 weekdays and 1 weekend day. The student will attend weekly lab group meetings and will develop a PowerPoint presentation discussing the findings of the study for the Nutrition Center.

Preferred or Required Experience: No specific prior experience and/or coursework are required. Coursework in exercise science, psychology, or nutrition would be advantageous. Students should have an interest in studying physical activity. Experience with Excel is preferred. Student will need to be able to travel locally and to rural communities driving a United States Government automobile.

Pay Grade/Hourly Salary: GS 3 $12.07/hour; typically requires one year of college and 6 semester hours of math/science courses.

Application Instructions: Email for specific instructions.

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Where: Mandan, North Dakota – Natural Resource Management Research

Mentor Scientists: Dr. Jonathan Halvorson

Project Description: This project has three specific goals; a) determine the appropriate conditions (temperature and time) needed to maximize extraction of C and N from soil with water; b) compare extraction efficiencies from fresh and dried soil; and c) quantify patterns of soluble C and N as a function of depth. Soil samples needed for the project will be collected from ongoing long-term experimental plots or archived samples located at the Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory (NGPRL). Sample processing and analyses will be conducted using existing facilities, instrumentation, and technical assistance at NGPRL. These activities will offer both field and laboratory experience and should also offer the intern a chance to interact with other location scientists and technicians. The intern would be expected to develop a scientific presentation for location staff and others and compile the information in tables and graphs for use in scientific publications and grant proposals.

Preferred/Required Experience: Coursework in chemistry, soils, ecology or environmental science would be preferred. Previous experience in laboratory or field environments is preferred. Experience with Excel, PowerPoint, and Word is preferred.

Pay Grade/Hourly Salary: GS 3 $12.07/hour; typically requires one year of college and 6 semester hours of math/science courses.

Application Instructions: Email for specific instructions.

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Where: Logan, Utah - Poisonous Plant Research

Mentor Scientists: Dr. Daniel Cook

Project Description: Diagnosis of plant poisonings is often difficult as there may be a lack of direct evidence that a specific plant was consumed. Furthermore, plant material in the rumen is macerated and difficult to visually identify. A PCR-based method will be developed to detect an acutely toxic poisonous plant, Delphinium (Larkspur), in the gastrointestinal contents of poisoned ruminants. First, genus-specific primers will be designed that target a house keeping gene. Primers will be verified to be genus-specific by testing the primers against closely related plant genera and by sequence analysis. Genus-specific primers will be tested to determine their sensitivity in plant mixtures (grass hay plus target genus) with decreasing amounts of the target genus (10 fold dilution series from only the target genus to 1 part target genus to 1 million parts grass hay). The target genus and the plant mixtures will also be incubated in a ruminally-cannulated cow over a time course. DNA will be extracted from plant material filtered from the culture, and PCR performed using the extracted DNA template. Experiments will be deemed successful if the methods detect the presence of a sequence-verified PCR product of the target genus. All parts of the project will be carried out with the supervision of the mentoring scientist and other research personnel in the lab. Results will be recorded, discussed and future experiment modified based upon the results. Additionally, the intern will participate in general laboratory housekeeping including care and cleaning of glassware and maintaining a clutter-free and safe work area. A chemical and laboratory safety course will be provided before any work is performed in the laboratory.

Preferred/Required Experience: A desire to participate in scientific research and an enthusiasm for learning is required. The intern will need at least some basic laboratory experience provided in most advanced science courses in high school or general classes at the college level. All other training and experience will be provided during the project by the mentoring scientist and other research personnel in the lab.

Pay Grade/Hourly Salary: GS 3 $12.07/hour; typically requires one year of college and 6 semester hours of math/science courses.

Application Instructions: Email for specific instructions.

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Additional questions can be directed to:

Barbara King -
NPA Outreach, Diversity, and Equal Opportunity Program Manager
2150 Centre Ave, Bldg D
Fort Collins, CO 80526

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Last Modified: 2/12/2014