Wednesday, November 16, 2016

URSP Student Allison O'Neill Studies and Isolates Aquatic Humid Substances

My name is Allison O’Neill and I am a sophomore Biochemistry major. This semester, Fall of 2016, I am doing research under Dr. Foster to isolate aquatic humic substances and study their chemical structure as well as numerous physical properties. When I was first introduced to this project, I was originally interested in working as an assistant to one of his graduate students in the lab. However, I talked with Dr. Foster more and we decided on a project that I would be best suited to work on. As of now, I have had many opportunities to gain experience working with other researchers in my field of study, as well as working in a chemistry lab and contributing knowledge to my field. Having this experience will help me prepare for my later goals of going to medical school and studying to become a doctor.

My project took a while to get off of the ground. There is not a concrete method to extract humic substances from an aquatic source, but Dr. Foster and a previous undergraduate student of his, Zohair Khan, had developed a technique after reading many articles on the subject. They came up with a glass column packed with the resin DAX-8 that the water samples would be filtered through. However, our first attempt at working with the column resulted in it breaking and we had to go back to the drawing board. After a month of reconfiguring and waiting patiently for parts to come in, I was finally able to start my research.

A typical week for me consists of collecting water samples from various water sources in the Potomac watershed. Then I take them back to the lab and perform a simple distillation of the water, place the filtered sample in the cooler, and have the samples filtered through the resin within 48 hours. Then the resin will be backwashed and deionized. Finally, the samples will be ready to be further analyzed. This can become very overwhelming and time consuming, but I get a lot of support from Dr. Foster and he has helped me understand how hard, yet rewarding, research can be. Ultimately, the biggest thing that I have learned from this experience is to be patient. Since I was unable to start my research right away because of the broken equipment, I had to learn to be patient and prepare for other aspects of my research in the mean time. Furthermore, I plan on continuing this research into next semester, since I will not have enough time to finish everything I planned on this semester.