Each year, researchers travel to remote locations to better understand isolated environments. Undergraduate environmental science student Abbygail Ochs joined those ranks as she packed two weeks’ worth of food and other supplies and boarded a flight to Nome, Alaska.
Ochs was a participant in the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI) program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).
Alongside mentors Verity Salmon, Ph.D., and Colleen Iversen, Ph.D., researchers within the Environmental Sciences Division and the Climate Change Science Institute at ORNL, Ochs contributed to the lab’s Next-Generation Ecosystem Experiments- Arctic project. The project aims to improve climate model predictions by understanding various processes in the Arctic.
Ochs’ activities involved linking aboveground plant traits to belowground plant traits, specifically at the Kougarok Site, which is located several hours outside of Nome. Her research focused on the keystone species Alnus viridis subspecies fruticosa, commonly known as alder. This species is of interest because it interacts with nitrogen-fixing bacteria. The team examined alder’s ability to impact nutrient availability in the surrounding ecosystem.
Before traveling to Alaska, Ochs spent several weeks sorting and analyzing samples taken from the field and processing data in the labs at ORNL. The fieldwork in the Arctic provided practical experience and was her favorite part of the internship experience.
“The people I collaborated with—Verity Salmon and Colleen Iversen—are so driven. They have inspired me to find a career where people care wholeheartedly about what they do, ask the right questions and consistently do great science with integrity,” Ochs said.
After her internship, Ochs returned to Berry College to complete her undergraduate degree in environmental science with a geology concentration and a minor in chemistry. Eventually, she plans to pursue a graduate degree and continue her outdoor adventures with her family.
“The SULI program is such an incredible opportunity for growth as a student and a person,” Ochs said. “I have learned to always have an inquisitive attitude. Also, I have learned to surround myself with people who challenge me as a person and a future scientist.”
The SULI program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science’s Office of Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists (WDTS) and is administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE), managed by ORAU.