Experts in the Field – Magdalena Sowa

Thanks to the generosity of the Bergami Family and the UNH Division of Student Affairs, eight UNH undergraduate students received a stipend to cover expenses related to their unpaid internship experience.  The eight recipients will be reflecting on their internship experience over the course of the summer. This entry is from Magdalena Sowa, Forensic Science Major, who is interning with  the Central Forensic Laboratory of the Police in Warsaw, Poland 

Working with new testing methods while they are still in developmental stages is a tedious task. You have to ensure that every component of the machine functions well and that all the pieces fit properly. If one thing goes wrong, the whole process is stopped and you have to redo the process. While working with two experts, we were setting up the Ion Chef, which is a machine that takes nucleotides from DNA bases and breaks them down into smaller individual components. The hope is that these nucleotides can help us identify how a person looks by 2indicating what their eye color, hair color, skin color, and region of nationality is. This gives the forensic science and criminal justice community a better way of finding who was present at the scene.

I have been working with these experts for two weeks now, and they have allowed me to set up runs on the computer, input data, change cartridges on the system, and change all the pieces to the machine, all while being supervised. This past week, while I loaded the two chips into the machine, they were not properly connecting or being read by the machine and the computer software. The chip is the most important component of the entire program, as it is the piece that has all of the nucleotides spooled into its two wells. Typically, all that is required for the chip to be read and recorded, is to rewrite the serial number that is located on the front of it. I ended up writing the serial numbers into the computer program and I triple checked it to make sure I did not make a mistake. It was written properly along with everything else on the program – the runs, the sample numbers, and the codes for the internal components. I clicked the start run button, in the hopes that the Ion Chef would start its run, but nothing happened. The screen on the machine said that it could not read the serial codes for the chips. This was the first time something like this happened on the machine, so the experts I worked with had no idea what could be wrong. We tried to call the technician for the machine in the hopes that he could come and see what was wrong with it, but unfortunately he was unavailable so we were left alone to solve the problem. For about 30 minutes, we went back and forth with ideas on what we could do in order for the program to work and to not damage the chips in the process. I had an idea, but I was nervous to tell them as I thought it could be a stupid idea and that it would not work. After about five minutes I finally brought myself to say, “Maybe we need to write the letter that’s in the serial number for the chip”. The experts tried it and it actually worked! What I learned from this is that I should never be afraid to say what I am thinking. There is never such a thing as a stupid/wrong idea. I can utilize this in the future, as sometimes I am afraid to share my own ideas or ask questions as I think they are not good enough. This will help me be more active in the classroom, as I will not be so afraid to ask a question or share my ideas with other students, because it could turn out that someone else may have the same question and like me, they were afraid of asking it. Like one of my high school teachers said, the only stupid question (or idea) that you can have is not asking the question in the first place.

Communication is the fundamental key to working in a laboratory. Without it, mistakes can be made. By having laboratory settings in my classrooms, I had to work with groups and partners to get tasks accomplished. The communication I have built in the classroom has allowed me to work well in a laboratory and has allowed me to do an easy transition while working with professional experts. My forensic science, biology, and chemistry laboratory classes have given me enough preparation to interpret readings, data and reports, how procedures work in laboratory settings, and how to think critically and problem solve (as in my challenge earlier in the week). Lectures from my professors on the equipment that is used in the laboratory and what its purpose is has also given me the familiarity that I needed while working at the Central Forensic Laboratory of the Police. This familiarity gave me a basic structure of what I should expect while interning. Having this knowledge was further developed by the experts showing me in full detail how the machines for PCR, electrophoresis, real-time PCR, Ion Chef, and Illumina work.





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