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Summer Research Opportunities
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Attention high school and college students! The Plains Area has the following research opportunities for the summer of 2017 in the following locations: 


These internships provide hands-on learning experiences in lab and field research with the Agricultural Research Service, an agency with the US Department of Agriculture.  Interns work side by side with a mentor scientist and a research team.  Starting and ending dates are determined by the mentor scientist in consultation with the selected intern. The duration of each appointment is eight weeks of full time work, generally starting in mid-late May or early June.  Interns will have the opportunity to present their research results to the research unit at the conclusion of the internship.

How to Apply:

Email the mentor scientist listed in the job description and state your interest in the position. NOTE: Your email address will be the first thing potential employers will notice about you - it is best to use an email address that includes your name or initials and not one that is provocative or "cute" or may have a double meaning


The locations, research units, name and contact information for mentor scientists (PhD research scientists) and a brief description of the internship can be found below


Location: Manhattan Kansas,  SPIERU (Stored Product Insect & Eng Res Unit)

Pay: $13.15/ hour

Mentor Scientist: Dr. Daniel Brabec

Preferred experience and/or coursework

An interest in UAS or robotics and image analysis is preferred. The person needs to be a diligent and meticulous worker with an interest in learning. Some computer experience is useful, especially the use of word processing and spreadsheet programs.

Description of Proposed Project:

This project will provide the summer intern an opportunity to conduct research into imaging systems and their potential use with grain storage and semi-truck trailer inspections. A targeted research project would be developed and include literature review, experimental design, data collection and analysis, and a final presentation. The candidate would be involved in searching literature for topics in remote sensing and drone-related research and summarizing the findings.   Depending on the candidate’s interests and background, they can develop and conduct research involving different aspects of this project.

In many instances in grain handling, structures, bins, and transports are large and have limited access or are considered confined space. A candidate with unmanned aerial systems (UAS) background could work on evaluation of drones to perform aerial inspections inside large buildings and grain storage bins. The image data from the test flights would be analyzed and summarized.  Another occasional grain handling issue is potential carry over or contamination in bins or semi-truck trailers from prior loads of materials and products. The affect of various camera filters, lighting situations and image processing techniques on detection of residues of grain and feed products on walls and bin surfaces will be evaluated. The candidate will have an opportunity to develop their own targeted project and report the results at the end of the summer.  They will also have opportunities to participate in the broader research programs evaluating UAS technologies and interact with other researchers. 


Location: Woodward, Oklahoma,  Southern Plains Range Research Station

Pay: $13.15/ hour

Mentor Scientist: Dr. Stacey Gunter

Preferred experience and/or coursework

The above project requires considerable knowledge of chemistry and mathematics; hence, the intern would need to have completed much of their science classes in college. I would prefer a junior or senior level intern that has had chemistry and algebra classes.

Description of Proposed Project:

During this project, the intern will learn the skills necessary to measure methane and carbon dioxide emission, and oxygen consumption, by beef cattle and how to use those measurements to predict forage intake. The objective of this experiment is to evaluate the efficacy of using indirect calorimetry to calculate the energy intake by forage-fed cattle. The methods and procedures outlined in this proposal will be approved by the Southern Plains Range Research Station Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.

The intern will prepare a presentation with the help of the support scientist and myself then present their finding to the Southern Plains Range Research Station staff at break time near the end of their tenure (oral presentation). After practicing their presentation with the Southern Plains Range Research Station staff, the intern will make the same presentation to the Woodward Industrial Foundation at their monthly board meeting, which is held on the second Wednesday of each month (stakeholder group).


Location:   Woodward, Oklahoma,  Southern Plains Range Research Station

Pay: $10.05/ hour

Mentor Scientist: Dr. Corey Moffet

Preferred experience and/or coursework

The above project requires considerable knowledge of biology, physics and mathematics; hence, the intern would need to have completed most of their science and math classes in high school. I would prefer a junior or senior level student that has had biology, physics and algebra classes.

Description of Proposed Project:

The objective of this experiment is to determine the effect of patch burning on forage quality. The experiment will compare three burn/grazing conditions.  The first treatment will be from a broadcast burn system where entire pastures are burned every 4 years with the last burn being more than 3 years ago.  The next two treatments will be from patch burned systems where one quarter of the pasture is burned each year, the first being most recently burned and the other being last burned more than 3 years ago.  Grazing will differ among treatments in that patch burned pastures will have variation in forage quality due to variation in time since the last burn and cattle will concentrate on the recently burned patches and avoid the greater than 3 yr since burn patches; whereas, the broadcast burn pasture are predicted to be more homogeneous and cattle should graze the pasture more uniformly. Forage quality attributes such as crude protein, fiber, and digestible nutrients will be measured in forage sampled from several quadrats in each pasture that were also scanned with a multispectral radiometer.  Bi-weekly throughout the experiment, the incumbent, with the help of a technician and I, will scan standing forage in each of the treatment areas using a multispectral radiometer and collect forage samples for quality analysis.  The incumbent, with help from a technician, will learn how to dry, weigh, prepare samples for analysis and perform forage quality analysis.  The measurements will be used to calibrate spectral data for estimating forage quality.  The incumbent, with my help, will learn how to convert the raw multispectral radiometer data to reflectance data and how to calibrate the reflectance data to forage quality attributes.  The incumbent will prepare a presentation, with my help, and then present their finding to the Southern Plains Range Research Station staff at break time near the end of their tenure (oral presentation).  After practicing their presentation with the Southern Plains Range Research Station staff, the intern will make the same presentation to the Woodward Industrial Foundation at their monthly board meeting which is held on the second Wednesday of each month (stakeholder group).


Location: Manhattan Kansas, Center for Grain and Animal Health Research:

Stored Product Insect and Engineering Research Unit

Pay: $13.15/ hour

Mentor Scientist: Dr. William Morrison III

Preferred experience and/or coursework

No prior experience in entomology is required. However, basic coursework and/or interest in science is expected. The ideal intern candidate will also have good attention to detail, be a self-starter, and be willing to learn new protocols, techniques, and information.

Description of Proposed Project:

The purpose of the internship will be for the intern to gain an extensive working familiarity with the behavioral ecology of stored product pests, and specifically with one of the main stored product pests, the red flour beetle. In particular, with extensive guidance from the mentor, the intern will learn how to conduct flight chamber experiments as well as make behavioral observations using video tracking software with the red flour beetle as a model. There are currently outstanding questions about how red flour beetles respond to volatile compounds emitted by dead individuals of the same species when found in a trap. The primary questions for this project include whether the time elapsed since the death of a conspecific and whether the number of conspecifics that died affect the attraction of the red flour beetle. In addition to helping with these main questions, the intern will lead a side project looking at attraction to traps with or without distiller’s grain in the presence or absence of dead conspecifics in an attempt to evaluate other potential grain-related volatiles that may be useful for trapping. With the mentor’s help, the intern will gain experience in developing hypotheses, designing experiments to test those hypotheses, and subsequently analyzing the data for their project with appropriate statistical procedures. Knowledge about response to attractive volatile blends by the red flour beetle have the possibility of being incorporated into an improved lure for the species.


In addition, the intern will gain experience in other standard laboratory procedures, including the proper use of a lab notebook, recording and entering data, maintaining insect colonies, washing labware, maintaining a tidy lab, and standardizing protocols. There will be consistent and reliable feedback throughout the internship, including daily meetings to discuss any problems that crop up with experiments and to provide direction or suggest solutions. The intern will be integrated into the social life of the Center Grain Animal Health Research (CGAHR), and be invited to all-unit meetings of the Stored Product Insect Engineering Research Unit (SPIERU) as well as social functions at CGAHR. Finally, a small part of the time for the intern will be dedicated to learning what others at CGAHR do, what projects they are working on, and why that work is important.


A timeline will be created with major milestones during the internship and given to the intern so that they know what to expect. At the beginning of the internship, the mentor will also provide some key literature to the intern for them to read and digest in the evenings over the course of the work period. In the last 2-3 weeks of the internship, the mentor will work with the intern on writing up a final report of the results for their project in standard scientific format. In the last 1-2 weeks, the mentor will work with the intern on preparing a 20-min presentation of the research to give to scientists and staff in the facility. Depending on interest and ability, there may be the possibility for the intern to be a co-author on the manuscript with any of the data collected.


Location: Lubbock Texas  Plant Stress and Germ Plasm Development Research Unit

Pay: $13.15/ hour

Mentor Scientist: Dr. Yves Emendack

Preferred experience and/or coursework

While no prior experience is required, the ability to follow guidance, willingness to learn and to independently execute assigned tasks with little supervision, and a positive work attitude will be highly recommended. Student majoring in Biology, Plant Science, or related fields are preferred.

Description of Proposed Project:

The United States is the world’s leading producer and exporter of sorghum. While most of its uses have been geared towards bioenergy and animal feed, grain sorghum is gaining marketshare in human nutrition in the United States due to its gluten free, anti-oxidant, and epidemiological characteristics.

Sorghum is suited for cultivation in many parts of the United States and can be grown in water-limited environments. In the U.S. Southwest, drought stress is the major limiting factor to yield, particularly when the stress occurs after flowering when grain is developing. Some sorghum lines have the ability to stay green (rather than senesce or die-off) under post-flowering drought stress, leading to higher and more stable yields. However, the stay-green trait is difficult to reliably evaluate and quantify because of seasonal and environmental variability. More so, the stay-green trait can only be visually assessed from mature plants at the end of the growing season, making it time consuming and inefficient to be use by sorghum breeders. Recently, our group in the USDA-ARS Plant Stress and Germplasm Development research unit developed a screening tool to identify stay-green sorghum lines at the seedling stage in greenhouse conditions.

This 8-week project will be aimed at screening 40 grain sorghum lines from the Germplasm Resource Information Network (GRIN) for the stay-green trait using our screening method. The project leader, with the student’s assistance, will design the experiment and set guidance for its execution. The student will be tasked with sowing seeds, arranging trays in control chambers as per experimental design, monitoring plant seed germination and seedling growth, tissue collection, and calculating growth and biomass parameters. Student will be trained on experimental design, basic plant growth analysis, data analysis and interpretation, statistical analysis, and guided on writing a scientific report of our findings. The student will report these findings in a formal seminar to the research unit at the end of the internship.

Stay-green lines identified in this study will be used in subsequent field experiments that will be executed by project leader in relation to Component 1: Crop Genetic Improvement; Problem Statement 1A: Trait discovery, analysis, and superior breeding methods in the National Program 301: Plant Genetic Resources, Genomics, and Genetic Improvement Action Plan for 2018-2022.


Location: Fargo North Dakota,  RRVARC Insect Genetics and Biochemistry Unit

Pay: $13.15/ hour

Mentor Scientist: Dr. Joe Rinehart

Preferred experience and/or coursework

A successful candidate should be at least a college sophomore in good standing, and have completed core courses in the biological sciences (such as introductory biology). Additional coursework, such as general physiology is preferred

Description of Proposed Project:

The intern would conduct activities in direct support of the Unit’s mission to enhance the quality of pollinating insects through improved storage protocols, as detailed in the Unit’s project plan. This work would also contribute to priorities set forth in the national Pollinator Research Action Plan, and would directly address concerns of the Unit’s stakeholders. 


Specifically, the intern would conduct a series of experiments assessing the post-storage quality of the alfalfa leafcutting bee, an alternative pollinator essential to the production of alfalfa seed and other agricultural products throughout North America. The ARS Insects Unit in Fargo, North Dakota has developed enhanced protocols that greatly improves the survival of these insects during cold storage.  However, lingering questions concerning the quality of stored insects have hindered widespread commercial use of these protocols.  The intern will address one key component of bee quality after storage: how storage during development affects the field performance of the resultant adults.  Bees will be stored for 1-4 weeks under traditional and enhanced cold storage protocols, with unstored bees used as controls.  Once bees have been returned to normal temperatures and adult bees have emerged, they will be released in large cages erected in an alfalfa field, where key parameters of their performance (including longevity, nest building activity, number of floral visits, and fecundity rates) will be monitored throughout the summer.  Unit staff will initiate the storage protocols prior to the intern’s arrival, but the remainder of the experiment will be the responsibility of the intern (with appropriate supervision).  The entire experiment will therefore be conducted during the summer, resulting in a tangible, standalone dataset by the end of the internship.      


In addition to regular mentoring by Dr. Rinehart, the intern will be paired with a graduate student or postdoctoral researcher for day-to-day guidance. The intern will also be a member of the North Dakota State University (NDSU) Biological Sciences annual Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, entitled “Pollination Nation”.  Members of this program will attend weekly professional development workshops, participate in weekly lab group meetings, and will be invited to participate in cohort building activities.  The intern will also be expected to give a midterm “chalk talk” presentation of their research to the group, and the REU program culminates in a campus-wide poster symposium held in conjunction with other REU programs on campus.


Location: Fargo North Dakota,  RRVARC Red River Valley Agricultural Research Center, Sunflower and Plant Biology Research Unit

Pay: $13.15/ hour

Mentor Scientist: Dr. Brent Hulke

Preferred experience and/or coursework

A successful candidate should be at least a college sophomore, junior or seniore in good standing, and pursuing degree in the biological sciences.

Description of Proposed Project:

The purpose of this position is to study the effects of flood stress on sunflowers. We are hoping to identify flood tolerance traits and the genes responsible for them. Responsibilities will include organizing and collecting plant trait data from project field locations maintained under flooding or control conditions. Plant trait data includes: emergence rate, survival rate after flooding, morphology of roots, leaf nutrient and structure traits, and greenness of leaves. All of these measures can be made within 4-5 weeks of planting. The intern will also help with planting and plot maintenance. Some of the field work requires an understanding of university level biology, and we wish to work with students with career interests in plant breeding or genetics. For this reason, we want to recruit at the GS-3 level.


This work is part of a much larger project with grant funding support, which means that we have the 50% matching funds and that the intern will have access to tools already developed for this study. These include computer software that can identify genes or genetic regions responsible for a trait. At the end of the 8 weeks, the intern will prepare a scientific poster or group presentation highlighting differences between the flood and control field locations, with some detail on genes responsible for differences in plant traits between the fields. This work will directly contribute to a larger peer reviewed manuscript on flood tolerance.


The student will have the opportunity to take part in our weekly lab meetings, where they will interact with other interns, graduate students, and postdocs on their projects in genetics and breeding of sunflower. This will allow them to learn about collaboration in scientific culture.