Our First Steps

We were a bundle of nerves and excitement as we took our first steps into the Museum hallways as Teen Science Scholars. For some of us this was an exploration into a general interest in science. For others, this was a dream intern position. The process to get to this point had taken months from the application and interviews to acceptance. Thankfully, we had the support of our friends and family who encouraged us to apply and who were willing to prioritize this internship even if it meant postponing a family trip.

While we each had different motivations for applying to the Zoology and Genetics internshipsome of us were more drawn to physically working on bird specimens, while others were more interested in learning about geneticswe were all excited by the prospect of working in a lab alongside actual scientists.  

Prior to starting, we were given an overview of our project: we were to identify important physical characteristics of birds to separate them into family levels and prepare their tissues for later work in the Genetics Lab.

After we checked in and received our badges, we were escorted to the Zoology Preparation Lab by Andie Carrillo, our zoology mentor.

The Prep Lab was something new to get used to. There were multiple steps and procedures to follow that we had never encountered before. However, Andie guided us with the help of a quick preparation demonstration, where she displayed and described the step-by-step of dissecting a bird and collecting tissue samples.  

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Andie Carrillo in Zoology Preparation Lab with Teen Science Scholars

One of the key parts of the day was our time in the wildlife halls, where we were instructed to pay close attention to the morphology (the form and structure) of the birds on display. At first, we paid the most attention to the coloring of birds, but we learned to notice other attributes like bill shape, wing shape and total size. This gave us a sneak peek into what we’d see with the birds we would examine this summer. After spending time in the wildlife halls, we came up with a hypothesis about which characteristics are important for separating birds by family and decided on the measurements we would take for our project. 

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Teen Science Scholars in Wildlife Halls

We Were Launched Into New Opportunities

From that first day, we were launched into new opportunities, from learning how to prep birds, to creating lasting relationships with our mentors and fellow interns. Though our nerves were buzzing the first day, with practice, repetition and assistance from Andie, we were able to learn the tricks of the trade. Soon we began to feel like we were mastering our new skills and comprehending what we were learning. With each week, we became more engrossed in the experience, cherishing the time we spent in an actual lab working with professional scientists.  

As teens, it is not very often that we are trusted to work in a lab, yet the Teen Science Scholars internship had provided us with this opportunity, and we were not going to let it go to waste! 

After three weeks of preparing birds, we started working in the Genetics Lab extracting DNA from muscle samples taken from the birds. All of us were surprised at the difference between the zoology and genetics labs. It was difficult to get used to a new lab with new procedures and techniques. We started learning how to pipette right away and spent two days practicing. Tiffany Nuessle, our genetics mentor, was very patient and kind as we got used to the new tools. Soon enough, we were working on the real DNA samples and Tiffany guided us through both extractions and amplification  making copies of the gene  until we were able to work on our own. After sending off the DNA and receiving the gene sequences, we learned how to clean up and align the sequences.

Though it turned out our attempt to group birds into family by using morphological traits didn’t always match the genetic groupings, the process was intriguing and we were thrilled to see that we were close with many of our guesses.

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Teen Science Scholars in Genetics Lab with Tiffany Nuessle, Research Manager in the Genetics Lab

As our time here at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science comes to a close, there is a feeling of sadness and longing for more time to work alongside our mentors. Beyond teaching us useful techniques, they also shared their stories. Andie, Tiffany and their colleagues shared their journeys to the work they enjoy, showing us that there is more than one path into a career. 

In addition, the staff provided workshops that included life skills, such as building a resume and college financial tips. All of this gathered information, plus the opportunity to work in research labs, has better prepared us for the future. We are left filled with inspiration and excitement to pursue the next chapter of our lives. We feel ready to take on the daunting prospect of choosing a college, picking a career path and continuing to fuel our passion in science. 

About the Teen Science Scholars

Congratulations to the 2021 class of Teen Science Scholars!

Anthropology: Andrew Macedo, Aubry Vigil, Brianny Nava, Damaris Reasby, Hannah Mraz, Negeso Ahmed

Entomology: Breymond Robinson, Dulce Flores Rojas

Zoology & Health Sciences: Quinn Monestime, Sophie Scholl, Zayra Rodriguez

Conservation: Brisa Garcia, Shannon Kim

Earth Sciences Digital Research Lab: Crystal Rojas Carbajal, Kaiden Ginther, Sierra Rothman-Haji, William Moraja, Emily Niese

Earth Sciences Collections: Jaden Olah, Emma Hoopes

Learn More about Teen Science Scholars
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