Wednesday, August 26, 2015


Though Chinanu and I are done for the summer, there is still much work to be done in regards to our project.  

We are able to make a few loose conclusions based on the relative peak heights from the chromatograms obtained, but are not able to make any quantitative conclusions about the concentrations of compounds found in samples because calibration curves of the standards ran have not been completed.  We are however, able to compare compounds based on the peak area of compounds on the chromatograms.  Using the peak area, we are able to compare the compounds at each site quantitatively.  For the future, we plan to organize all of the peak areas for key compounds of compound groups and compare the sites in this way, and then determine the concentration of the compounds when all calibration curves are completed.  

For now, we have results suggesting that the aromatics found in the I-91 samples are relatively the same concentration as those found in the Medical School samples.     

Outcome of Research

The first week of August brought to Chinanu and I a new objective, to compare concentrations of specific compounds between our two most promising site, the I-91 off ramp and at Yale’s Medical School.  At both sites, we sampled during “rush hour”, for the I-91 ramp we sampled during the morning when workers were coming into New Haven, and during lunch time at the Medical School.

During our meeting with Dr. Gentner, we agreed that we would focus on toluene, xylenes, and compounds with benzenes.  In our analysis, we also found a few alkanes and oxygenated alkanes we decided were significant enough to take note of.  

Surprisingly, both sites had similar compounds.  More alkanes were found from the I-91 site than from the Medical School site which is expected, because alkanes are generally from the gasoline burned in cars.  

Though specific concentration of compounds were not determined because calibration curves from standards have not been completed yet, we are able to look at the relative concentrations of compounds by comparing the relative peak heights seen on the chromatograms produced.  Generally, the concentrations of the compounds that were seen, mainly compounds that contained benzene, in both the I-91 samples and the Medical School samples were generally the same, suggesting that emissions from the tailpipes of cars are similar to that of the food carts that park at the Medical School.

What I Learned

Throughout our stay in the lab, many new ideas, concepts, and technology was introduced to us.  We had the great opportunity to learn more about organic compounds, and how they play a role in our health and in the environment.  We also learned about the different analytical tools used to understand different properties of chemicals, such as the Mass Spectrometer and the Gas Chromatogram we used in the lab.  Most of all, I enjoyed listening to and learning about the projects others in both our lab and in Dr. Plata’s lab were working on.  All of the projects were really advanced, and required Chinanu and I to go back to the office and research terms and technologies that we have not heard of before, opening our eyes to aerogels, SEM ( Scanning Electron Microscope), and Quadrupole Time of Flight to name a few.  

I think I gained the most knowledge about organic compounds this summer, which is very valuable to me because I am looking to go into a chemistry related field in college and after.  In school, we were required to learn organic chemistry, but the information did not truly resonate with me, making it difficult to remember basic concepts such as nomenclature.  I came into the lab knowing a lot about chemistry, but not a lot about organic chemistry.  I feel like I am leaving the summer having a greater understanding of not only the different compounds and how they are classified, but also how they affect our bodies.  I once thought the effect of ozone in the troposphere had a negative impact on human lungs because it forced oxygen out of the troposphere.  This is not the case however, as Dr. Gentner explained to me, but rather ozone is an irritant when in contact with our lungs.  This is just one example of one of the things he taught Chinanu and I personally about organic chemistry.  

Most Challenging/Frustrating

Besides the perks of being able to go out into the community and collect air samples while telling passing audiences of our research, Chinanu and I have the opportunity to work with cutting edge technology.  

Though versions of Gas Chromatographs and Mass Spectrometers have been around for a while, we were required to work with newer versions by Agilent Technologies.  Learning how to use the analytical software MassHunter in and out was maybe the most challenging part of our internship.  Before we used the program, basic features that we would need were demonstrated to us, and a sample that we collected was even ran through the system in order to show us how to view the compounds and what standard we should use in deciding which compounds were truly in the sample or not.  

I mainly had trouble remembering how to follow the steps that were shown in opening up the NIST Library, the library that contained known compounds saved to the computer.  It also took me a while to understand how the database “matched” a compound in its library to a compound found in our sample, which made it a bit harder for us to find good constraints in determining if a matched compound was truly in our sample and to record it.  Upon our first meeting with Dr. Gentner, he made it one of our objectives to find out what many of the constraints, such as Probability, Match, and R-Match, were defined as to make it easier.  

Near the end of August, Chinanu and I were far more acquainted with the program and knew how to do things in the program that were once a challenge, such as subtracting background noise from a samples peaks.

Maya Conference

The MAYA (Mid-Atlantic-Youth-Alliance) conference was an annual 3 day conference that happens every year. About one hundred high school students that work in various science based institutions (e.g. a museum, aquarium, or zoo) attend. Every year a different institution hosts the conference, this year we were the chosen ones! Each institution that hosts the conference also picks the theme. The theme always has something to do with the environment in some way so this year we decided on urban environment, since we are right here in New Haven. We decided to have three main focuses that all connect to urban environment which were infrastructure, food justice, and biodiversity.

  When I first found that out that the Peabody was hosting the conference I was nervous because I went to one before and I didn't know if I was ready to take on something so important. But Bay and Paul had some awesome mentors this year that made sure we stayed on track and made planning the conference pretty fun. We mostly worked with an undergraduate student from Southern Connecticut State University named Dan. He worked with us every step of the way and made sure we all knew what we needed to get done and by when.  Most of us worked at least 6 hours a week planning this conference on top of the jobs and internships we were already doing this summer.

Once the MAYA conference actually came around I couldn't believe how fast time had flew! I felt as if I wasn't ready and I was nervous throughout the entire conference just hoping nothing would go wrong. As the three days of the conference went on I stopped being so nervous and just enjoyed seeing everything we worked so hard on come to life. All in all I had a grate time at the conference and also planning it. I loved talking to everyone there, telling stories, just learning about what they do at their jobs, and figuring out what they liked about the conference. The MAYA conference of 2015 is a moment that I will always remember and cherish for the rest of my life. I'm so grateful that I got to plan that conference with the wonderful students in Bay and Paul this year and the awesome mentors that we had with us every step of the way.

~ Cora Walker

Monday, August 24, 2015

Results/Outcomes of the Project- Gentner Lab 2015

At the beginning of August, Vanessa and I were given a new objective to our research. Originally, we aimed mainly to just look at our four different sites and determine exactly which compounds are at each place. However, we eventually realized that we were getting a lot of data, but we wanted to figure out how to decipher it and figure out what is most important to all of us and residents/dwellers of New Haven. Dr. Gentner suggested then that we actually choose two of our sites to look at, the two of our sites that people visit/go to most often; the I-91 off-ramp and outside Yale Medical School. We also decided to zero in on key compounds (aromatics) which we knew were present at both sites; toluene, xylenes (p-,m-, and o-), ethylbenzene, trimethylbenzene, naphthalene, and methylnaphthalene. These are all potentially dangerous compounds, and we hoped that we could actually figure out the concentrations of them at the two sites, and thus, compare the air quality at each. However, this turned out to be a task that would be very complex and time-consuming: we would have to obtain calibration curves from chromatogram standards for these compounds. This is a task that we can hopefully take up in the near future (time-willing), but for now, we have figured out another way to compare the air at the two sites.

When a sample tube is put through the three-machine system in the lab (Thermal desorber-Gas Chromatograph-Mass Spectrometer), you eventually end up with a chromatogram, or a visual representation, of the compounds found in the sample. Along with this, you also get several factors that help in identifying/defining the specific compounds in the sample. The system can not immediately identify a compound in the sample; instead, you are given a “hit list”, or a list of possible matches to what is actually in the sample, along with what is called the retention time, retention indices, peak area, peak height, match, r-match, probability, and fragmentation factors. If we, for example, have a chromatogram from one I-91 and from one med school sample, and these two graphs are scaled the same way, we can single out a specific compound and compare the peak areas of that compound in each. If, for example, 1,2,4-trimethylbenzene has a higher peak area in the graphs of the samples from the med school than in those from the highway off-ramp, you can assume that there is more there than in the other location. This is the method we have decided to use in comparing the contents of the air in our two sites.

Final results are still pending, as Vanessa and I are still working on compiling our data and using the method described above to compare the air outside Yale Med School to that at the I-91 off-ramp. We are also hoping to find the specific sources of the compounds we find in the air samples at these places, whether they be from the food being cooked or from the fuel being used to cook it. For now, we CAN say that there are a number of similar compounds (specifically aromatics) at our two sites, and we hope to go further with our data so that eventually, we can make actual conclusions.

Daily Procedure

The bulk of our lab work is in the sampling portion of our project.  Ensuring that we are taking the same steps each time when collecting samples is crucial in eliminating careless errors.  

  1. (To ensure that the pump is set for low flow), make sure that cap over regulator valve is removed, and valve is turned 4-5 times counterclockwise
  2. (Once per “sampling day”) Equilibrate  while connected to flow meter for five minutes at .115 L/min
  3. Make sure that the LCD screen (on pump) says “Hold”, then when sampling site is reached, press Start/Hold button to begin pulling air through pump (“Sample Running” should display) at the same flow rate for 30 min.
  4. Record start time
  5. When sampling time has finished, press Start/Hold button again to record stop time. Take note of Temp., Forecast, Flow Rate, Humidity, Wind Pattern, and other notes.
  6. Put samples in lab freezer
  1. Put samples in lab freezer

What I Have Learned- Gentner Lab 2015

In my internship this summer, I have learned most about how science is exactly done. Every day you hear different statistics and trends on the news and online, but you never see the “behind the scenes” of those numbers. You don’t hear about how those conclusions were made, how scientists know these things to be true. This summer, I had the opportunity to be behind the scenes myself, working with all the different technologies and devices, and going out into the field. It has been really fun and interesting to actually be the one to go out and collect data, then come back to the lab to analyze the data and eventually figure out how to communicate it to the public. When scientists release their findings to the public, the common perception is that they are these far-away, distant beings working on computers all day and coming up with findings that seem separate from our everyday lives. Some people even think that these findings are perfect, or obtained easily and quickly by these infallible researchers. My internship this summer had me go out into New Haven, into our everyday environment, and collect data at an “up close and personal level”, which certainly took much time and effort. It taught me that scientific research really is close to and drawn from our everyday lives.

MAYA 2015

This years MAYA 2015 conference was, in my eyes, a huge success.  Though I do not have a previous experience to compare it to, the response by all of the guests I’ve spoken to have agreed that it was the best conference to date!  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but running the conference was really fun with the group of bright hardworking ladies (and Dan) I was working with.  The first few months of planning were a bit of a struggle for me, as I have never planned something so important for a large number of people.  The conference was not just a one day event, but a three day event that required forethought as to how the visitors will travel to and from the Peabody.  I am grateful for having the pleasure of being apart of this conference, for I have definitely developed skills in networking, presenting, and overall confidence.  
In planning the workshops for the event, we tried to choose presentations that centered around the theme of urban health and wellness, and how where one lives can play a role in the type of environment they live in.  I believe I gained the most of Domingo’s Composting workshop, in which he talked about how important composting is for not only the environment but for communities as a whole, but that very few of the population compost.  Each American household wastes about 8 pounds of compostable food each week, though he stressed, composting isn’t a very daunting task.  He opened a very important question to us at the end of his presentation: What is needed to make composting a norm for communities?  This made me think about reasons why people may not compost, whether it is not convenient for them, whether infrastructure needs to be set up where compost is picked up from homes, whether separate bins of compost should be available to people who live in the city.  Maybe people are not educated on the ease of composting, or how unhealthy living near an incinerator truly is. Whatever the reason, the message was clear: composting is not only healthy for the environment, but it could be healthy for the community as well.  

Saturday, August 22, 2015


Another great and informative summer has come to an end. I am so pleased with my work and collaboration this summer with fellow interns. I made a lot of connections, and learned so much more about ecological careers, and museum collections. My favorite part of my internship was going in the field and collecting frogs with a doctoral student, and masters student, who will be using the frogs for their research. It made me realize that this is actually something that I would like to pursue in the near future as a college student.

Besides the science portion of my internship I really enjoyed filming and working on videos. I went into this project with no video skills, now I can do some basic editing. I hope in the future I can get better at video production.

Although my internship is over, I will never forget my experience. I am grateful and thankful to have participated in this internship this summer and last. In the future I would love to help younger students and mentor them through their internships.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

What Has Been Most Challenging- Gentner Lab 2015

I would say that the most challenging part of my project this summer has been acquainting myself with more of the background to the research. Everyone has heard the term “VOCs”, but through my work in the lab, I have been introduced to even more advanced chemistry terms and concepts, which have been both exciting and difficult to grasp. This, of course, is all part of the experience; learning. In our project, especially when it came to actually analyzing the air samples collected, Vanessa and I have encountered things that you wouldn’t EXPECT the average person to know about. I have been introduced to terms such as “aldehydes”, “ketones”, and “aromatics”. I have been able to learn more about the structures, compositions, and the significance of a number of different compounds in the air we breathe everyday. This is, of course, the key to the project; we are going out and collecting air samples to later analyze for compounds, so we have to understand what we are seeing, so that later on, we can communicate OUR new knowledge to others. While a little challenging, the in-depth chemistry knowledge my work in the lab has introduced me to is nevertheless interesting and exciting (not to mention, I will be a little more than ready to take AP Chemistry this coming school year!).

Gentner Lab- First Impressions

I was definitely nervous before starting my internship, because this was my first ever experience doing research in a lab. At the same time though, I was even more excited! The first week there, Vanessa and I were handed the box containing the new air sampler (which we would later use in collecting our air samples) and basically given the directions, “YOU become the experts”. Our project this summer would be all about experiential learning; instead of simply giving us answers or simply telling us how to use the device, our PI and others in the lab wanted us to delve into the task ourselves, and this was something that was especially exciting and surprising to me. It showed me that our project was truly OURS, and one that would contribute to the lab as a whole, and knowing this made it all the more fun, as did being able to get to know all the great people we would be working with.

2015 MAYA Conference

The MAYA Conference, from the planning of it to the actual running of it, was needless to say a lot of work; but work that certainly payed off in the end. My experience this year was much different from my experience with last year's conference, because this year, we all played such a major part in it. It was a rewarding experience for me because this was the first time I have ever helped plan such an important event. Planning just about every detail, from the transportation from location to location, to the actual activities that would be done there; activities that we had to reach out to different organizations and figures in the community to organize, required good communication skills,  thorough thinking and creativity on our part. All the while, we each also had our own things we were in charge of, which I  think instilled a strong sense of responsibility, because we were all aware that we all had to play our own parts in making the conference productive and enjoyable for everyone there. Overall, the entire experience of the conference required that we develop and use valuable skills that I think benefited us all in more ways than one.
        A valuable message that I, and I think everyone there, took away from the conference is that human activity and environmental health go hand in hand. We all play important roles in our environment everyday, and it is our decision whether this is a positive or a negative role. Also, everything we learned about, from food justice in Kate Walton's workshop, to climate change in Chris Schweitzer's, applies directly to us and the other MAYA participants as people who all live in urban environments. One thing that MAYA especially opened my eyes about is food justice. Before we began planning the conference, I couldn't have told you what a "food desert" was, but I have seen now that I am basically surrounded by one, and that was definitely an eye-opening realization.
        The biggest highlight of the conference for me was presenting my summer research and running the environmental engineering workshop. I learned a lot in my lab this summer (to say the least), and I think that the most important step after doing so myself is actually spreading this information, because we breathe the air in everyday, and it is definitely important to know that our everyday activities contribute directly to its quality, which in turn can have either a negative or positive impacts on our OWN health. Putting together presentations about this and communicating this valuable information to others was a fun and rewarding experience for me.
         Overall, the MAYA Conference this year was a huge success, and I am very happy to have taken part in and learned from it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Summary of MAYA conference

The first day kicked off the arrival of the MAYA attendees from various Science-Technology Centers, Aquariums, Zoos and Museums. Some Bay & Paul Leaders went to check them in as they arrived and let them get settled in. I, along with Kristy, Cora and Chinanu were charged with checking them in, giving them swag and snacks after the long journey here. Then I along with two other Yalies walked the groups over to the Peabody while giving them a quick tour of Yale’s campus. I was able to show my group some of the major Yale landmarks including Sterling Memorial Library and Old Campus. Along the way I answered questions about applying to college and the feeling of being done with the craziness that is senior year. Finally once all of the groups arrived at the Peabody the MAYA conference began!

Planning this conference allowed all members of the Bay & Paul Fellowship to learn different skills which they could use later on in life for multiple purposes. In my experience group-projects usually end disastrously but I am very proud to say that each member of the Bay & Paul cohort worked really hard to put this event together. We supported one another and worked together to bring this conference to fruition. Running the conference was stressful but it was really awesome to see all of the planning unfold in real life. 

One event I really enjoyed was watching my peers from the Peabody present on their internships for the attendees, it was amazing to see them break down the really complex science to the larger community. The MAYA conference made me far more confident in leading people and also learning about difference aspects of a shared interest from a wide variety of people. Not only did I learn about planning conferences, I also was able to listen to different presenters on a wide variety of environmental issues and courses of action. I am incredibly grateful that the Peabody Museum and MAYA gave the Bay & Paul fellows the opportunity to put together this conference.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Maya Conference

I was so nervous while planning the Maya Conference because I have never planned such a large event with over 50 people. However, I really enjoyed the planning process because of everything I learned about the science concepts, but also the logistics that go along with planning a 3 day conference. From making the schedule to planning the dinner I gained so much knowledge and experience. I am happy to know that in the future I have this experience. Besides the logistics, I was able to meet such great, and inspiring people that share similar interests. The presenters in the morning were also great. My favorite workshop was the water quality one with a Doctoral student at Yale University because I never realized how much water we use in one day, and the amount of water that goes into a pair of jeans. I was able to learn in so many different ways. Overall, the conference was very successful, attendees did not even want to leave because of the fun they were having! Besides science workshops we had a recycled art workshop, which seemed to be the favorite workshop. It was great to see everyone work together, have fun, while still incorporating a science concept, recycling. Also, it was great to be able to be a leader at the conference. Something that I have been working on is my leadership skills because I want other people to see me as a leader. 

MAYA Conference

I learned a lot from the MAYA Conference and it’s planning. I’ve never planned anything like this with this amount of people before. You had to know how to communicate effectively what the plan was and how you expect to go through with these plans. Planning this conference there was a lot of different personalities and people you had to deal with. However we still got a lot of work done and the planning process was pretty easy. Everything seemed to flow nicely as we planned it. Teaming up and working with someone isn’t always easy but for this conference it worked nicely. Everyone did their fair share of work and it showed. Making the schedule was the most complicated but useful to know. It gave everyone a chance to play around with Google Sheets and learn the program. While I was actually at MAYA Conference I learned a lot from the groups who attended and presenters. When we were planning this conference I really didn’t think I would learn a lot from actually attending it. I thought that since I was involved in the planning there wasn’t much more information for me to know.This conference also allowed me to explain my internship that I did over the summer to a younger age group. Doing a project is cool but knowing how exactly to communicate it simply and break it down for people of all ages is when you can really say you understand what you did and accomplished. MAYA was a great experience, I got to teach people about the stuff that I knew, learn a few more things about planning a big event, and communicate to more people than I usually would about science topics that affect us all the time. The workshops were okay, they were kind of speechy and didn't have much for us to do besides listen. The only one that was really fun was Amanda's with the factory simulation. The recycling art workshop with Jane and Brigitte was really fun too. Everyone made different things and showed off their artistic sides. It was great getting to meet everyone from different institutions and learn all the cool things they do.Overall it was a great learning experience and I’m glad I got to help and be apart of it. 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Outcomes of my project (Vertebrate Zoology and film)

So far I have skinned/prepared 30 specimens, which included a turtle, and multiple lizard and snake species. I have also learned more about the specific research scientists are exploring when they look at the prepared specimens, and the skin, tissue, tongue, and eyes. Furthermore, I have learned so much about ecology because of the work I have done with Amber Roman. Lastly, we have been producing videos, and thus far we have completed the lab safety and ecology/field work interview. My partner and I are working on the bird prep and herpetology prep videos, which we should have done by next week. I look forward to completing all of the videos and to start showing them to others.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

First Impressions

For starters, the lab was very cold.  Typical, and very important of any lab to have this environment, especially when working with volatile gases!  Everyone in the lab was very welcoming and had great research to ask many questions of.  The project that Chinanu and I would be working on was introduced, and it was exciting to think that we’d be working on our own research project, rather than doing a menial task on a larger research project, but the research project still benefits the lab as a whole.  The large amounts of analytical equipment that just casually rests on the benches caught my attention, and it became important for me to understand what the devices do, how they worked, and what kind of engineer/scientist built it.  I was really excited to know my PI more, and to learn that he is just as relaxing as everyone else in the lab.  I really enjoyed lunchtime conversation, and meeting lab members of another lab that’d we would be working closely.  Overall, I was very excited to not only be working on the project, but to be working with a group of researchers who are nice and personable!

Gentner Lab- Procedures & Steps to the Project

For our internship, Vanessa and I chose 4 main locations at which we collected air samples. As our source for anthropogenic (human-caused) emissions, we chose the I-91 off-ramp entering New Haven, as our biogenic (natural) source, East Rock Park, as our indoor emissions source, the Peabody Discovery Room, and as our “mixed emissions” source,  outside Yale Medical School.
The collection of the air samples for our lab involves first packing glass “TD” (thermal desorption tubes) with three main absorbent materials. These are quartz wool, glass beads, and tenax, in order from “least aggressive” in capturing compounds  as air is pumped through the tube, to “most aggressive”. The quartz wool captures the more dense compounds, the tenax the lighter compounds, and the glass beads, the ones with middle density.
Once every “sampling day”, we connect our pump (which is used to actually pull air through the TD tubes, which are attached to it) to a device called a “flowmeter”, which sets the pump to a constant air flow rate (.115 liters/minute). After equilibrating the pump’s flow rate, we  then proceed to one of our sampling sites, where we would then pump air through a “blank” tube (30-second sample, used for comparison) and 3 other tubes (one at a time) for half an hour each. Each day, we also take note of factors such as the temperature, humidity, wind pattern, and time of day we sampled, which are all factors that can affect the quality or even the contents of our samples.
Upon finishing sampling for the day, we then have to bring the samples back to the lab and put them in a freezer set to -30ยบ C, to prevent compounds from the air samples from diffusing. For the actual analyzing part of our project, we utilize a three-part system, called a TD (thermal desorber)-GC (gas chromatograph)-MS (mass spectrometer), into which we place the tubes, and the compounds caught in them are heated up and eventually ionized so that we can obtain a mass-to-charge ratio for each one, which we can later use to actually IDENTIFY the compounds.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Things I have learned the most about

I have learned so much about the specific research scientists are conducting with the specimens I prep. Additionally, I have learned the importance of having collections, and why they are necessary. Types of research that is being conducted with the specimens are in the fields in: systematics, biogeography, ecology, morphology, and many other fields in biology, such as genetics.

I have also learned a lot about ecology after working with Amber Roman. I have learned about the different types of ecology and the different job opportunities in the field. We got to look at some projects in ecology that are going on.

Furthermore, I still wish I knew more about putting together the videos and editing.