Playing in the Dirt

Stage One of making a fuse bead on the fusion machine – Heating

I rarely paid much attention to the concrete in my everyday life, except to determine whether or not it would be there to catch me if gravity decided to work. I knew that it came from a mixture of what I thought was dirt and water, and that it was used to build things like skyscrapers, bridges, and sidewalks. Little did I know that this “dirt” was actually cement, and that people’s lives depend on how well it was made.

One of the days I was particularly dirty from mixing cement samples for testing.

This summer, I had the incredible opportunity to work for a cement plant as a quality control intern, learning the chemical and physical components that goes into making cement. This internship was designed to further my knowledge in my degree program, forensic biology. Though the two seem unrelated, the education I received in my courses, both in the lab and in the classroom, proved invaluable to learning and utilizing the chemistry used to make cement. In return, working at a cement plant provided important lessons that I can apply for the rest of my life.

My first few weeks at the cement plant consisted of training and obtaining my miner’s certification through MSHA, the Mine Safety and Health Administration. I learned the layout of the plant, safety procedures, and how cement was made. This process has many steps, and each of these steps are tested and adjusted to ensure that the cement will be of good quality, as determined by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).

Stage Two – Mixing

Stage Three – Setting Into Molds

The Final Product

There is physical testing, which requires making and testing concrete made from the cement, and chemical testing, which is done to check the actual composition of the cement. I mainly focused on the chemical testing. I learned how to manipulate various reactions to gather information, something I did in my chemistry courses at ERAU. These results were actually recorded and used, so I learned how important thoroughness and accuracy is in real-world applications.

The materials necessary throughout the cement making process

The heating tower viewed from the cement silo

I learned how to work in a professional environment, and how important it is to be able to critically think and solve problems. It was an experience I enjoyed!

My Internship at the Endophyte Service Lab at Oregon State University

My summer at the Endophyte Service Lab at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon has been an enlightening and very knowledgeable experience. This opportunity has provided me with the experience to greatly increase my knowledge and understanding of skills in the areas of chemistry, toxicology, and teamwork, as well as closely relate to my future aspirations of becoming a forensic biologist.

Working with these professionals as well as other students who have common interests with me in achieving their goals has been extremely knowledgeable and eye-opening as to what my future career entails. I have learned many helpful lab skills and techniques that would relate to an actual forensic analyst’s career as well as how to use machines such as Mass Spectrometry and High-Performance Liquid Chromatography and Fluorescence, as well as extraction techniques and finally how to analyze the data they generate.

My job was to perform extractions of lolitrem B, ergovaline, and ergotamine mycotoxins from various grasses used for feeding livestock. The process for one extraction typically took about 3 hours and involved a lot of micropipetting, centrifugation, and drying of solvents on an N-Vap instrument. Measurements had to be extremely precise to obtain accurate results since it was on a microliter level. One tiny little air bubble could ruin the rest of the process and generate inaccurate results!

If it weren’t for the practice and knowledge I obtained from my courses at Embry-Riddle, such as Foundations of Biology 1 and 2, General Chemistry 1 and 2, Organic Chemistry 1 and 2, Microbiology, and Genetics, I would have never been prepared for the massive amounts of micropipetting I had to perform as well as any of the terminology or basic skills needed to achieve good results at my job. My courses gave me the confidence to be successful at the Endophyte Service Lab, and my experience in the lab gave me the confidence and knowledge to further pursue a forensic biology degree.

Girls in Tech Catalyst Conference – First Impressions and Lessons

by student and guest blogger Sophia Schwalbe, Space Physics

It’s day two of the Girls in Tech conference in Phoenix, AZ, an all – or mostly all – female conference for women in the technology field. It is heavily populated by women from Silicon Valley and low-down start-ups trying to make it big. It’s awesome to see so many women in the workforce that are trying to start a business or become a part of a business that is mostly dominated by men. But as I say that, it is interesting to note how the emphasis at the beginning of the conference was on standing up for oneself and on gender bias. I say interesting because I know I have encountered it, but I have never been outright hindered by it like many of our speakers have. GIT SophiaThat being said, that is not the only topic; there are a lot of talks that are trying to give inspiration to women. One that particularly spoke to me was by one of the top lawyers in the U.S. who is actually the President of one of the largest law firms in San Francisco. She began by talking about being the good girl, always striving to reach those “As” until she made partner, and then she hit a wall, because she had gotten that last “A” as a lawyer and now she did not know what to do. So she had to ask herself what she wanted in life. And that really spoke to me: anyone that knows me knows I am a good girl, doing what I am supposed to, not pushing boundaries or standing up for my own wants and desires. It was a relief to know that I am not alone, and that it is possible – nigh, encouraged – for me to ask for what I want in life and not have to settle or strive for what is expected of me. This also ties in to a talk given this morning by a VP at Intel: finding the sweet spot.  The sweet spot is where your skills, interests, and organization’s needs all overlap. The speaker said that everyone should find their sweet spot, or where they are to find that sweet spot. Thus, we need to analyze where our skill set is and how our interests correspond, and then find where in the world they fit. I always instinctively knew this, knew both of these things, but I had never heard them articulated. And suddenly it clicked — what I wanted was to find that sweet spot and enjoy my work, wherever I am and whatever I am doing.