Wednesday, July 29, 2015


Chinanu and I are working in the Gentner Lab for the summer, and we are studying Volatile Organic Compounds and their effect on the atmosphere.

Organic chemical compounds and carbon containing chemicals, and they make up an essential portion of the earth’s atmosphere.  Certain carbon containing atoms, such as oxides of carbon and cyanides, are considered inorganic, though the majority of carbon containing atoms are organic.  These compounds undergo various chemical reactions in the atmosphere, and our lab seeks to understand the reacted compounds, as well as the processes that take place.

Our lab is particularly interested in volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are compounds that are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids.  Understanding VOCs and how they play a vital part in atmospheric chemistry is important because many of them pose serious risks to not only the environment, but to human bodies as well.  VOCs degrade in the atmosphere to form free radicals (an uncharged molecule with an unpaired valence electron) and with oxygen in the troposphere to form ozone (O3).  Free radicals are then able to degrade further by an OH (hydroxide) reaction or photolysis into smaller and more oxidized particles.  Such processes not only have negative impacts on the environment, but on human health as well.  Ozone inhibits the ability of plants to open their microscopic pores, creates haze thereby decreasing visibility, and also decreases the amount of carbon dioxide they are able to use during photosynthesis.  In the human body, ozone causes inflammation in the lungs and can trigger chest pain, coughing, and throat irritation, even in healthy people. Free radicals can also accelerate aging in the human body and may lead to diseases.  Significant amounts of carbon can also be found in the particulate form, known as particulate matter (PM or PM2.5) and this as well can lead to health risk by irritating the lungs and building up in the body.  It is also the cause of haze, for the particles are able to scatter light.  In our samples, we collect both gases and aerosols, microscopically small particles suspended in air, that contain VOCs.  

Chinanu and I pack the tubes that are used in our data collection with different adsorbents of varying “strength”: quartz wool, glass beads, and Tenax.  After packing the tubes, we “condition” them by putting them by putting them in a system that pushes nitrogen gas (N2) through the tube at a high temperature to cleanse them of any organic material they may contain.  After conditioning, they are left to cool and then finally capped.  Sampling on field requires an air pump that is attached to the tubes to draw in air at a rate of approximately .115 L/min for 30 minutes.  After samples have been collected, they are taken back to the lab and placed in a freezer to ensure the gases do not diffuse out of the tube.  Finally they are analyzed in a Gas Chromatograph/ Mass Spectrometer (GCxMS) system to identify the compounds collected.  

Four different types of sources are taken into account when choosing a sampling site.  VOCs are released by anthropogenic (human made) and natural sources.  Sites were chosen at anthropogenic, biogenic, mixed emissions, and indoor sources.  A blank and three samples will be collected at the I-91 ramp entering into New Haven, East Rock Park, the Medical School, and inside the Yale Peabody Museum.  We expect to find quite a number of compounds from the all of the sources, but the types of compounds we find at each source will be a bit different because the emission source varies.  

Ground-level Ozone Effects. Retrieved July 29, 2015, from
Hamilton, J., Webb, P., Lewis, A., Hopkins, J., Smith, S., & Davy, P. (2004). Partially oxidised organic components in urban aerosol using GCXGC-TOF/MS. Atmospheric Chemistry And Physics Discussions Atmos. Chem. Phys. Discuss., 4(2), 1393–1423.

What I've Learned From This Project

What I’ve learned the most about this project is how Mercury affects our environment. I always knew mercury was a toxic element on the periodic table but I didn’t know how harmful it can be to the ecosystems and to our air quality. I didn’t know that mercury can even get in the air! Other than  just learning about all the negative effects that mercury has. I also learned how to work with the moss and how to prepare the moss so it can absorb any of the mercury from  the air. Identifying the locations of where the moss samples were going to be located was also something new that I learned. Using transect lines and measuring the distance of residents houses from the waste incinerator, understanding the wind rose of the area we’re doing our research, and determining which sites would have duplicates was all something that I learned from this project. I think this project has taught me so much. Since I started this project I’ve been learning something new everyday, and we’re still patiently waiting for our results and once we do we’ll investigate even further and learn more information.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Most Challenging Part Of My Project

The most challenging part about the project I’m working on is trying to collect the most updated and accurate information as possible. Some of the graphs and results we’ve seen are from the early 2000’s, so we just did more research and found our information from other sources. Also, identifying our transect lines and determining how we located our sites in the first place and explaining it to people gets confusing. I am still trying to learn how to interpret the information to people without getting myself and the audience confused. This part is important, being able to tell people about our project is one of the skills that this project is helping me improve on, and over time and with the help of my mentors I managed to get a better understanding of the information which made it easier for me to interpret.

What I've Learned the Most

Throughout this internship I've learned a lot. When I first started I didn't know anything about Mercury or how much of a threat it is to us. I was shocked when I learned all the things Mercury could cause. I knew the basics, like it could be found in theometers and in old houses/buildings but what I didn't know is that it had such an effect on our health and daily lives. Mercury can cause health effects from muscle weakness all the way to kidney failure! I learned mostly about how mercury effects us and how it actually gets into our system. Overall mercury is just bad for us and we need to limit the amount that's actually being emitted into the air. It has sparked my interest in really getting this information out to the public so that they can change their habits and make the change for cleaner air. This whole internship has been a great learning experience but what I take from it the most is all my knowledge on mercury,what it does and where it comes from.

Most Challeging Part of my Internship

The most challenging thing about this internship was really figuring out what the articles were saying and being able to put it into simplier terms. Lots of scientist aren't able to make it easy for everyone to understand. Being able to simplify it so we can understand and effective communicate it was a challenge. It's so hard to really understand what some scientist are talking about because of all the complicated words they use for things that are really easy. Though it was hard and frustrating it's a good skill to have and I'm glad I learned it at my internship. We are now able to translate these really complicated paragraphs so that all age groups can understand it.

Friday, July 24, 2015

July 24, 2015- Challenges

Since I have already had previous training on how to prep the specimens, it has not been too challenging. However, it has been difficult to skin the specimen because the skin is very hard to remove. I am not sure why it is difficult.

It has been very challenging to edit videos because I have never done it before, and I have no training. I hope to learn more about editing and adding special effects to the videos. Additionally, I have learned more about different frames and ways to capture footage. I want my video skills to be better than they currently are.

Working with Amber has been great, and I have learned a lot about ecology and related fields. It is sad that our last meeting was earlier this week.

Monday, July 20, 2015

American Cities With DIrty Air

In this article I read about American cities with the dirtiest air. 44% percent of americans are living in areas that have particle pollution. Fortunately, compared to last years results, there has been an improvement, since last year 3% of the population moved out of the area. However, cities that have high level of particle pollution in the air have solid and liquid particles found in the air, breathing in this polluted air can lead to serious health issues. Due to the heat, short-term particle pollution is mainly an issue in the West, Los Angeles has the worst ozone pollution. Air pollutants are responsible for many health issues. For example, 3.7 million premature deaths worldwide, causing lung cancer, chronic obstructive lung disease, and heart disease. Also, low-income communities where most minorities live are mostly exposed to these harmful air pollutants. The main source of these air pollutants come from power plants, wild fires, factories and more. I found this article very interesting because it is involved with air quality and why is it important to us and why we should keep improving our air. Also what I found interesting was, people with lower income are more exposed to these pollutants.

The 10 American Cities With the Dirtiest Air

Like the title says this article talked about the top 10 most polluted cities. Not surprisingly LA making the list at number 5. Over half of the cities being in California, 7 out of 10 to be exact. Air pollution is a huge problem over there. Most of the states on this list are actually located out west, according to the article cities on the East Coast are doing their best to improve the quality of air. Most areas were there is a problem are low income and mostly affect people of color/minorities. Unfortunately this is a huge problem because bad air quality causes millions of deaths all over the world and needs to be fixed as soon as possible. If each city does there best to make a change this can be stopped.

Read the article here:

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Procedures for Vertebrate Zoology- Week 3

The first step we take is to thaw all the specimen that we are going to prepare from the freezer. It takes approximately 20-30 minutes depending on the specimen and size. Then we bleach the table, tray, and tools we use (scissors, scalpel, tweezers). The specimen are in bag so I take them out of that. We measure the specimen in millimeters from the snout to venter. We get tissue samples so we need to prepare a vial with a tissue number on it, and we get the number from the roll. Then we cut from the venter to the snout with scissors, and make cuts on the arms, legs, and tail for lizards, for snakes you cut cut straight up from the venter. Then, we remove the skin, preferably in one piece, and lay it flat on a clothe, and roll it up, and put it in a jar full of 70% of ethanol. We sex the specimen as well, and you have to check the anatomy to determine if it is a male or female. We also take the tissue sample. If the specimen is too small we can take a liver sample in place of the tissue sample. We keep the lizards tongue and eyes usually, and that is also preserved in ethanol. Once all the skin is removed we place the skeleton in a box lined with wax paper, and let it dry out under a fume hood for a few days. When the specimen is dry we put it in the "bug room" and the beetles eat the tissue and extra skin.

Introduction- Vertebrate Zoology (week 2)

Vertebrate zoology focused on Herpetology preparation for scientific research

The Yale Vertebrate Zoology lab houses the Herpetology department where graduate students, interns, and professors prepare reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and bird specimens for various collections. Researchers who prepare the specimens soak the skin, the eyes, and the tongue in ethanol. They also separately prepare the skeleton by drying the skeletal structure under a fume hood and then place the specimen in a beetles eat the excess tissue and skin off of the bones. Additionally, a tissue sample is collected and frozen to be studied later for scientific research.

To show others the behind-the-scenes work with collections museums, we have been constructing and creating videos covering lab safety, lab tours, field work where we go out and see how scientists study and collect specimens to prepare. We also are filming Herpetology specimen prep with reptiles, and Ornithology specimen prep with birds.

First Impressions-Internship Week 1

This is my second year as an intern in the Yale Peabody Museum Vertebrate Zoology Lab. Last year I had a very informative and inspiring summer so I wanted to experience it again because of my passion. Last year I did a lot of prep work with the specimen. This year we will still be doing some prep work, but we will also be producing videos about the specimen and why we prep. 

Additionally, I have been able to watch other people do prep work, which is helpful for me because I love seeing new methods and continue to learn more about prep work with other types of animals besides reptiles. In the lab people prep mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles. 

Although what I am doing this year is a little different than last, I still am very passionate about the lab, and I am still interested in learning more about why museums have collections and the types of research researchers are using the specimen for. 

So far, I have prepared about 10 specimen, which includes: turtles, snakes, and lizards. Since I already have experience it won't be hard to prepare the specimen. However, producing the videos will be new for me because I have never done it before. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Putting the ‘Justice’ in GIS: Supporting Communities using EPA Citizen Science Tools

This article gave a basic understanding of what environmental justice is then went into how we can accomplish environmental justice using some science tools such as GIS Mapping tools. GIS stands for Geographic Information System,  they plan on using GIS as a screening and risk assessment device. This tool will allow people to input there zip codes and see a map of their area showing them all the environmental risks. This is really cool because many people are unaware of environmental issues that effect their towns. For example when I started my internship on Mercury, I had no idea that it could potentially be a problem in East Haven somewhere close to where I live. This article really made me think about communities where people might not even know about the environmental issues they face and how we could change that.

Steps Of Mercury Moss Project

The first steps taken into this project was collecting all of our materials and rinse them with ivory soap and distilled water. Once we got the moss we washed its container with the ivory soap and it soaked in distilled water for 24 hours. Next, we drained the distilled water and rinsed it again and soaked it again in distilled water for 5 more hours. Then, we washed the hairnets with ivory soap and rinsed them and they were left to dry outside along with the moss also being dried outdoors, making sure it doesn’t get near any metals or old buildings. We screwed the pipes together and attached the strings to them where the moss is going to be hanging. Later on, we measured the moss and we stuffed them into the hairnets making sure each sample was three grams, we used an elastic band to tie the hair net. We went off to the sites and placed the poles first, and attached the moss samples the next day because we wanted the moss samples to be outside on the same day. We placed the samples in peoples yard, we even had the opportunity to place one at a park with a sign next to it explaining why these poles are being placed around the area. Our next step is to check on our samples and collect them once the three weeks are up.

Summary Of Mercury Moss Project

Sphagnum moss is being used to determine to amount of airborne mercury is being released. We're using moss mainly because it can absorb the mercury in the air effeciently, its inexpensive and it doesn't consume any type of energy. The main source of the mercury can potentially be coming from a waste incinerator. PVC pipes are going to placed in peoples yard with the moss attached to them to collect any mercury found in the air. A shorter pipe will be attached to the longer pipe horizontally and have strings on each side so the hairnets with the moss inside can be tied with the strings with an elastic band. While placing the pipes we kept in mind that where we’re suppose to place the pipes has to be a place where there aren’t any trees, metals nearby, and good exposure to wind. The samples are going to be on sites for about three weeks and we’re going to collect the samples and send them to Dr.Carpi’s lab in John Jay College in New York. The moss will be tested in the lab and we will wait to get our results back.

First Impression: Mercury Moss Project

My first impression of this project was that this project is one of the most important research I’ve ever done. My project ties in with a lot of important topics, from public health, ecosystems, and to improving air quality. Collecting background information and using it for this project to elaborate on how this experiment is important to our environment was a little challenging. Once Rachel and I started to make phone calls to ask permission to use peoples yard to place our moss samples and explaining our project to them, it made talking about the project easier. This project is so relevant to us because it can affect our surroundings and ourselves. It affects the living organisims in the water and us consumers as well, which can lead to major health issues. By doing this project we’re going to determine the amount of airborne mercury that is actually being released from the waste incinerator, which I think is pretty mind blowing because we’re going to get these results back so we'll be informed how much mercury we are being exposed too. I'm really confident about this project now, and when I was first assigned to this project I was nervous, yet excited. I think this project is going to be a success.

First Impressions

When I first started this internship I thought it was going to be a lot of work. There was so many words that were complicated and hard to understand. There was a lot of reading which is something I normally don’t enjoy. But I knew that I was going to learn a lot from this project and be able to do something really cool.I knew that it was a really interesting topic but thought that I wouldn’t be able to handle the work that went along with it.The project seemed like a lot overall, there was going to be phone calls,emails, field work, etc., some of the things being harder than others. I was dreading the field work the most. I was worried that it was going to be extremely hot when we went out to plant the moss and I didn’t want to do it. But then when time actually came to doing it, it wasn't so bad and I actually enjoyed it. My views on the internship were somewhat right at the start, it was going to be a lot of work but I’m enjoying it more than I thought would. We are doing a lot of communicating. We explain our project to people often and seem to be getting better at it as we go along. Overall my initial views on the internship weren't all correct because I am having much more fun than I thought I would!

Mercury Moss Procedure

The procedure for our internship is pretty simple. The first step was to make sure that everything was clean. We washed the buckets, hairnets, and containers with ivory soap, rinsed with tap water, and then rinsed them again with distilled water. After making sure everything was clean we washed the moss with distilled water  and placed it in the cleaned container. We then filled the container up half way with distilled water and submerged the moss in it. We soaked the moss  for 24 hours, rinsed it and soaked again for 5 hours. We let the moss dry completely and then placed 3g of moss into the each hairnet with 35 in total. Before we could go out and hang the moss bags to the poles, we had to actually assemble them. We made poles in a T formation and attached strings to the sides for the moss to hang down. We also made a mark 10 inches from the bottom of the pole to know how deep to place it into the ground. Once the poles were made and the moss was ready to be hanged we went to our locations in East Haven and planted them. The poles will stay up for 3 weeks and then we gather the moss and send it to be analyzed.

Mercury Internship Summary

So far in my internship we have made tons of progress. We have planted our poles with the moss bags attached to them at each of our locations in East Haven. We are leaving them moss bags out for 3 weeks, letting them absorb mercury that is in the air. The goal of the project is to determine how much airborne mercury is being released around this location. We have placed our poles within a 2 kilometer range of the waste incinerator in East Haven. The moss we used is Sphagnum moss, it is really porous which makes it great for absorbing pollutants in the air. Mercury can affect humans in many ways. It can cause neurological damage especially to children (fetuses and infants). Mercury is known to cause impaired motor skills, muscle atrophy, and at high exposures kidney failure. Overall the effects of mercury are not a good thing and can really affect our way of life which is why we are doing this project. We want to make sure that mercury is not being released so that people do not have to go through these things. We have learned a lot of mercury and really see that it does affect us and isn't some imaginary thing.  Getting everything done for our project has been a long process. From washing and cleaning our supplies to making phone calls and sending out emails. We even are getting a chance to work with Dr. Carpi. Like I mentioned before in my other blog post, he is a professor at John Jay College in New York who was super nice and agreed to do the analysis for us. He originally did this project and we are replicating it. We will be visiting him in August and seeing his lab. Earlier in June he even came down and taught us about the project and mercury in general. He has done a lot of work with mercury so for him to be doing this with us is really big!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Gentner Lab- Summer 2015

        This summer, Vanessa and I are interning at Mason Laboratory, in the lab of Dr. Drew Gentner. We are focusing on air quality, especially in respect to the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in the atmosphere, which are organic compounds that evaporate easily at normal temperatures. Scientists care about these substances in the air because they can have negative implications for both human and environmental health.  With the former, exposure, whether short-term or long-term, to these compounds can increase people's risk of certain health issues, and with the latter, these compounds, if combined with nitrogen oxides, react to form ozone in the troposphere, contributing to climate change, and thus, acting as dangerous air pollutants. These substances can be emitted from a number of different sources, and the main ones we are exploring and testing this summer are anthropogenic (human-caused, e.g. vehicle emissions) sources, biogenic (natural, e.g. from trees) sources, mixed emissions, and indoor environments. In the lab this summer, we will be assisting in collecting air samples from 1-2 of each type of source here in New Haven, in hopes that, after analyzing these  samples along with others working in the lab, we can get a better idea of the contents of the air we breathe everyday.
          The first part of our work in the lab, which we started with this week, is actually constructing the devices used to collect the air samples. This involves strategically "packing" glass thermal desorption tubes with three main types of absorbent materials, which will actually trap the different compounds as we pump air through them at our 4 or 5 chosen locations around the area, and after we collect enough samples from these locations, we will learn how to actually analyze them. Overall, these next few weeks in Dr. Gentner's lab will be very fun and enlightening, and I look forward to the work we will be doing.