Forensic Science: Cross-country internship develops student's lab skills

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b2ap3_thumbnail_LeCain_Elizabeth_7.JPGWaynesburg University compels many students to step outside of their comfort zones when applying to internship positions. But for Elizabeth LeCain, a senior forensic science major from Andover, Mass., a cross-country road trip to her research internship in Golden, Colo., didn’t scare her at all.

“Being able to drive across the country was great,” LeCain said. “I managed to see half of the states and many of the National Parks, which was just incredible.”

LeCain spent the summer of 2013 as an Undergraduate Research Associate with the Colorado School of Mines as a part of a national Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF). She synthesized one of several different monomers to create a polymer, working toward the overall goal of improving solar cell efficiency.

The senior, who is actively involved in University student chapters and activities including the American Chemical Society Student Affiliates, Gamma Sigma Epsilon Chemistry Honorary Society, Kamma Mu Epsilon Mathematics Honorary Society and serves as a lab assistant in the department of chemistry, believes that her extra-curricular studies helped secure the internship.

“Most of my time at the internship was spent trying to purify different products so that they would be of high enough quality to use in a future reaction,” LeCain said. “My favorite part was when we finally formed the polymer and were able to see it precipitate, indicating that the polymer had in fact formed.”

The process of forming the polymer required much trial and error, as well as patience, practical application and laboratory experience. Mostly, LeCain said that her classes at Waynesburg University aided immensely in her internship success.

“I learned several laboratory techniques in my labs at Waynesburg that I was able to utilize in Colorado,” LeCain said. “Also, the skills I have acquired in keeping a lab notebook and writing lab reports at Waynesburg were helpful in doing those same tasks at my internship.”

Though she expected to work in the Colorado School of Mines’ laboratories most of the summer, LeCain said she didn’t anticipate to be granted such autonomy in her research.

“I wasn't expecting to be on my own as much as I was, but that forced me to solve a lot of problems,” she said. “This reminded me that there is a reason for everything and helped me to keep an open mind toward all the changes I had to make. I was there to learn, and I was able to do that. There was a lot of new information I had to absorb and it was a challenge, but Waynesburg University prepared me for that.”