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Guest Scientist Blog: Connections between SEES Internships and AP courses

Guest blog by SEES Virtual Intern Sweta Alla

NASA STEM Enhancement in Earth Sciences: Mosquito Mappers Virtual High School Summer Internship. It’s a mouthful to say, but that title describes exactly what I did last summer. As a virtual intern, I collaborated with NASA scientists and our intern cohort and developed a research project that I presented at a science symposium at the end of the summer.

I genuinely believe that the virtual summer internship gave me a chance to develop as a researcher: it helped me organize my thoughts and ideas to develop and complete a successful AP Capstone research project. If you are unfamiliar with AP Capstone, it is essentially two AP courses, AP Seminar, and AP Research, completed over two years. I previously completed the AP Seminar portion and was on the hunt for an AP Research topic on which to base on my yearlong research. AP Research is graded heavily (75%) on completing a research paper of between four and five thousand words. The remaining 25% of the grade is based on an end-of-the-year research presentation.

Selecting a research topic is important since I would be working on it throughout the entire school year. At the beginning of the summer, I was just starting to think of potential topics I could work on for my year-long AP Research project when I was accepted into the SEES virtual internship.

At first, I did not take the summer internship too seriously and didn’t connect it with a potential AP research project at all. It seemed like fun, and we got a microscope to hook up to our phones, which I thought was very cool. Other than the weekly assignments we had to pass in after reading something mosquito-related, it did not seem like much. First looks can be highly deceiving, though. The program soon picked up, not in intensity, but instead on content. We compared our responses with fellow student scientists, and each designed experiments conducted observations, and made connections, combining what we had learned. These activities fostered a community environment where everyone supported one another but also pushed everyone to get more involved in searching for mosquito larvae in our local communities.

What caught my interest, though, was the general data goal for each of the participants: to collect one hundred mosquito habitat observations by the end of the summer. Although it was not a hard requirement, it inspired me to set up my own research project. On top of a few local observations, I made ninety-eight soda bottle traps, filled with seven different mixtures. I placed two of each in seven different locations to see which solution would attract the most mosquitoes across the board. After two weeks, I examined all of my traps and found that traps with the homemade Amish Flying Insect bait collected the most mosquitoes. My fun and engaging experiences during this internship inspired me to continue researching homemade mosquito trap baits during the school year in my research project. Primarily, my research project explored the gap left by a lack of scholarly research into homemade mosquito traps.

My initial analysis of previous research showed that current mainstream forms of mosquito control were either a health hazard or priced well above the price point that many families were willing or able to spend. In support of my hypothesis, this further demonstrated the need to explore homemade mosquito traps. I conducted a community survey based in northeastern Massachusetts, which asked homeowners to describe their thoughts on a price point for mosquito spraying and commercially purchased mosquito traps, including their willingness to try a homemade mosquito trap. Ninety-five percent of the respondents claimed that they believed at least one of the methods was too expensive, and 100% of them said that they would consider or maybe would consider trying a homemade mosquito trap if one were to be proven effective.

In my experiment, I tested two human-based scent baits against two household product-based baits. The goal was to ultimately see which category of homemade mosquito bait, as well as which individual bait would prove the most effective. I purchased mosquito larvae and placed them in the center of the controlled environment with bait in each corner. After two weeks, I was able to conclude that the household product-based baits will outperform the human scent-based baits. The most effective individual solution, just as over the summer, was the Amish Flying Insect Bait. I never felt pressured to do more than I could during this internship, and it truly impacted my junior year. If you told me this time last year that I would be writing my research paper on mosquitoes, I would have told you that I had absolutely no intent on spending a whole year on anything Earth Science or mosquito-based! However, here I am, ready to pass in my paper in a few weeks, and delighted that I spent my school year looking into various mosquito baits.

Sweta is a high school student from Massachusetts who is worked on a research project during summer 2019 using the GLOBE Observer Mosquito Habitat Mapper. Her virtual internship is part of a collaboration between GLOBE Mission Mosquito and the NASA Texas Space Grant Consortium (TSGC) to extend the TSGC Summer Enhancement in Earth Science (SEES) internship for U.S. high school (http://www.tsgc.utexas.edu/sees-internship/). She shares her experience in this guest blog post.

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