A Firsthand Look at My Summer Research and Laboratory Experience

By Emoni Barbour, Summer Research Intern in Dr. Edward Levin’s Lab

It was certainly an experience working as an intern in Dr. Ed Levin’s lab. This summer I’ve been able to learn about laboratory work, organic and inorganic chemicals, behavioral tests and toxicology, exposure techniques, and more. I enjoyed getting to work on new tasks and building different skills each day. I never knew what was going to happen in the lab, and I have many stories to share from this summer, but have no idea where to start.

Emoni in the lab

I dealt with dangerous substances like lead, cadmium, fluoranthene, and benzo[a]pyrene, which made me feel like a scientist. I also got to work with zebrafish – I had to collect fish eggs and then sort out at least forty embryos into 6 petri dishes. Every morning for 5 days post fertilization, I had to examine the embryos in each petri dish under the microscope to remove any that were not fertilized or have developed physical defects such as lordosis, scoliosis, or inflated heart sac. I also had to record how many eggs were removed per treatment and the reason for their removal. Once I finished that, I had to prepare my chemical solutions. I had six 100mL beakers set up that were filled with 40mL of fish system water, but each beaker had a different solution of toxicants. I had to add 40mL of each chemical solution to its own labeled beaker and for the mixtures I had to add 20mL from each component using the chemical solutions that are specifically intended for the mixtures. Once done preparing my chemical solutions I had to place the exposed water in the correct petri dish and then re-insert it in the incubator.

Readying chemical solutions for zebrafish larvae exposure experiments

The Levin lab also studies behavioral toxicity using rats as study animals. One day I asked one of my favorite mentors, Cori, if I could watch her implant a subcutaneous pump, and she surprised me by saying that I would be doing the surgery with her. I was excited, but also nervous that I might mess up, but I ended up doing fine. The rats had to get put under anesthesia first, then once they were fully unconscious we were able to start the surgery. The hair on the rats’ back had to be sufficiently removed so that I could see the skin. After that, I had to cut open the skin using forceps, straight scissors, and tweezers. Once the skin was opened, I had to use the scissors to cut out a pocket large enough to accommodate two osmotic pumps. Each rat was required to have two miniature pumps that either contained dimethyl sulfoxide, cadmium, benzo[a]pyrene, or both. Finally, I had to close the hole with a needle holder and tweezers. I never thought I’d get to feel like a surgeon during my internship.

I’m thankful that I had the chance to work as an intern for the Duke Superfund Program because it forced me to step outside of my comfort zone, taught me a variety of new skills, and most importantly helped me to form relationships with some outstanding mentors and the other four interns. I think the experience this summer will be useful in my planned career as a wildlife conservationist. I could assist animals everywhere and work to protect them from the various toxicant mixes that are found throughout our environment.