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Environmental Factor

Environmental Factor

Your Online Source for NIEHS News

September 2022

NIEHS trainees build knowledge, win big at virtual poster competitions

Scholars Connect Program trainees, summer interns present research projects in series of virtual poster showcases.

Undergraduate and graduate trainees and interns from across NIEHS presented their summer research projects July 28. Top presenters were recognized for their poster design and ability to communicate their projects to those in attendance.

Shivani Ayyagari (left) and Thusna Gardiyehewa (right) “Presenting at the 2022 NSCP summer poster session was an excellent networking opportunity with NIEHS researchers,” said Shivani Ayyagari (left), who tied with Thusna Gardiyehewa (right) for first place in the annual NSCP poster presentation held in July. (Photos courtesy of Steve McCaw / NIEHS)

This year’s showcase was a little different than usual. Each trainee hosted a separate Zoom breakout room where they displayed their virtual poster while describing the research they conducted. Judges and attendees could go from room to room to listen in and ask questions.

NSCP poster winners announced

The NIEHS Scholars Connect Program (NSCP) is a three-semester paid internship for STEM-focused undergraduate students from North Carolina universities. Twelve NSCP scholars presented their research projects. Awards were announced after the judges’ scores were calculated, and two presenters tied for Best NSCP Poster Presentation.

One of the winners, Shivani Ayyagari, is a junior at North Carolina State University and is mentored by Sue Fenton, Ph.D., staff scientist in the Mechanistic Toxicology Branch. They worked on a project that explored the causal relationship between PFAS, a group of manufactured chemicals, and lactation impairment, titled “Evaluation of the Causal Relationship Between PFAS and Lactation Impairment.”

“Being part of NSCP is extremely rewarding and exhilarating,” said Ayyagari. “In a short amount of time, I gained exposure to a plethora of resources and knowledge, and I am excited to continue this journey.”

Thusna Gardiyehewa, a sophomore at North Carolina State University who tied with Ayyagari, presented “Investigation Into the Effect of Hyaluronan on Ozone-induced Injury of Bronchial Epithelial Cells.” Gardiyehewa is mentored by Stavros Garantziotis, M.D., medical director of  the NIEHS Clinical Research Unit.

Thusna Gardiyehewa and her presentation “I was pleasantly surprised and honored to receive a best poster award,” said Gardiyehewa about her virtual poster presentation recognition. “I am very grateful to my mentors, who played a large part in this achievement.” (Photo courtesy of OCPL / NIEHS)

“NSCP is a unique year-long program, which has allowed me to get deeply involved in the research and gain a strong understanding of my project within the lab,” Gardiyehewa said. “Being at NIEHS has presented amazing opportunities to connect with and learn from distinguished scientists in a breadth of fields, as well as engage in workshops and seminars to become better prepared for my academic and career path ahead. This poster symposium was one such event.”

Honorable mention was awarded to Charles Coleman, a junior at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University. Coleman, who presented “Mechanism of Incoming dNTP Binding to the Active Site of DNA Polymerase Mu,” is mentored by Lalith Perera, Ph.D., director of the Computational Chemistry and Molecular Modeling Support Group.

According to Suchandra Bhattacharjee, Ph.D., undergraduate research training program manager in the Office of Science Education and Diversity, NSCP trainees will participate in an upcoming Fall Connection Elevator Pitch, Nov. 18.

Summer interns shine

The Summer Internship Program (SIP), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Summer Internship Program in Biomedical Research, offers summertime training for biomedical sciences or biological sciences majors from undergraduate and graduate programs across the U.S.

The 2022 NIEHS Summer Internship Program Poster Session featured 38 undergraduate and graduate students vying for top honors (see sidebar for list of winners).

“The summer intern poster session is a wonderful culmination of our summer internship program,” said Katy Hamilton, summer internship program coordinator and postbac program manager. “The event gives students the opportunity to see the big picture of their work and to compile all of the pieces into a story. The poster session also gives students a chance to practice their science communication skills, which is so important. After leaving NIEHS, many of the students will get asked about their internship experience, and the poster session gives them great practice to answer that question.”

SIP trainees also presented at the 2022 Virtual NIH-wide Summer Poster Day, held Aug. 4.

(Jennifer Harker, Ph.D., is a technical writer-editor in the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)

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