After digging through my sea of emails, I remember the thrill I felt when I received my acceptance into the NASA SEES Internship Earth Explorers- Mosquito Mappers. Realizing this would be the first time I experienced a program remotely, my mind raced with questions. What will it be like, being part of a research team? What if I mess up the registration process? What would research look like? Although I wasn’t sure what to expect of the program, I was eager to discover what experiences and challenges await.
The first task was to collect mosquito samples. Never did I expect such a hassle simply trying to set up my fieldwork site. I organized 5 black buckets and determined the best places to set up the traps without getting swarmed by bugs in the summer heat. The variable that I wanted to test was the impact of different environmental locations on numbers and types of trapped mosquitoes. After filling the buckets with water and setting up some sticks (for egg-laying) and fish food, (for bait), I placed my traps in the following regions: in a brick circle under a small tree; next to some dead logs; underneath a bush; next to a tree stump shaded, and next to another tree stump with more light.
Collecting data started off slowly since the first two weeks were mainly dry and sunny and nonoptimal conditions for mosquitoes. However, after a number of more humid days, I found hundreds of squirming little mosquito larvae in all of my traps. After disposing of my traps and starting over, they started to fill up much more frequently, often taking only a few days to have the same army of larvae. I would have the occasional surprise in my traps such as a red parasite-like worm that mimicked the larvae’s movement. One time I found a spider the size of my palm calmly sitting on the surface of the water (I honestly was more shocked than I should have been).
I equally loved my time working with my teammates on the MM group projects. Coming into the SEES group with no experience in biosensing (the process of detecting biological molecules) and waveguides (devices that guide the movement of an energy wave), I joined a team that was, you guessed it, exploring biosensing and waveguides. Like collecting data with the larvae, it took me a bit of time to understand the science and background information regarding waveguides; yet, my group was very supportive of each other, sharing notes from readings and meeting together with experts in the field.
My role in the project was to analyze the GLOBE SEES data. I was able to obtain a new skill in Python coding to perform data analyses and made a fascinating discovery the majority of U.S. mosquito sightings in the database were found in areas of high human population density.
The SEES experience taught me that science and research is not just doing repetitive tests in a highly advanced laboratory, but rather a broader opportunity to explore and connect ideas from experiences in a broader context. For example, I never expected that my group and I would be able to merge coding and the science of biosensing in the development of a waveguide. I love that the trajectory of the research we started was truly unpredictable because each new finding leads to several potential new directions of inquiry. Each accomplishment along the way was a reminder of our hard work and the challenges we overcome, as well as a strong motivation to keep moving forwards to see what else can be discovered.
Left: dead mosquito found in trap, Culex, ssp. mosquito
Right: mosquito egg raft, estimated around 100-200 eggs.
Andrew is a high school student at the Montclair Kimberley Academy in New Jersey.. His virtual internship is part of a collaboration between the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) and the NASA Texas Space Grant Consortium (TSGC) to extend the TSGC Summer Enhancement in Earth Science (SEES) internship for US high school (http://www.tsgc.utexas.edu/sees-internship/). He shares his experience this summer in this guest blog post.