Biology major Tyler Imfeld, of Mason, Ohio, completed a 10-week internship this summer in a lab of the Department of Mineral Sciences at the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. He is the first Xavier student to have an internship at the Smithsonian.
"It ended up being the best experience I’ve had ever,” Imfeld said. “You don’t learn anything better than by being tossed head-first into it and expected to pick up as you go.”
Imfeld, a senior with minors in environmental studies and German, applied for the internship at the suggestion of a professor who encouraged him to find a summer research experience in his field. He was one of four interns in the Department of Mineral Sciences and one of 18 interns in different areas of the museum as part of the Natural History Research Experience. Interns in the program come from all over the world.
“I wanted paleontology but I was accepted into mineral sciences even though I’ve had no courses in geology,” Imfeld said. “It was because of my background in chemistry which set me apart from other biology students. The researcher needed someone who was able to prepare a lot of solutions. We were seeding different species of fungi with different concentrations of nutrients and looking at how they grow and become manganese oxide.”
Imfeld’s research focuses on microbial organisms, specifically fungi and bacteria, found in areas plagued by acid mine drainage. Manganese is a heavy metal and a harmful pollutant of water and soil in areas associated with heavy mining. The organisms he has been studying are able to take this harmful metal out of the water system by converting it to nontoxic manganese oxide minerals. Imfeld studied whether the availability and type of nutritional resources affect the fungi and bacteria’s growth and ability to produce manganese oxides.
During his internship, Imfeld lived in an on-campus apartment at George Washington University. He and the other interns attended lectures by researchers in each of the museum’s research departments. They toured the collections and saw many rare, exciting specimens and artifacts not on public display. At the end of the summer, they presented the results of their research to the public and to the Smithsonian’s scientific community.