Montana State University

For the love of science

March 22, 2010 -- Melynda Harrison, MSU News Service


MSU senior Danielle Bouchard recently completed a prestigious biotechnology internship and is involved in many university and community organizations.   High-Res Available

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Montana State University student Danielle Bouchard loves science, yet she almost didn't pursue it as a career. Now she shares her love of science with children, has completed a prestigious biotechnology internship and is applying to graduate schools.

The biotechnology (in MSU's College of Agriculture) senior from Reno, Nev., spent last summer pulling samples from Yellowstone National Park hot springs, isolating bacteria and analyzing it in at the Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory (INL) in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

"This internship is a highly selective and highly sought after program," said David Singel, head of the chemistry/biochemistry department at MSU. "It is a wonderful honor and a great tribute to Danielle that she was selected."

Along with other interns and lab staff, she worked on a project called "Genetic Engineering of a Moderately Thermophilic Acidophile" developing a system to insert DNA into bacteria from Yellowstone's hot springs. INL hopes that putting a specific gene into the bacteria will cause them to produce a chemical that can make biodegradable plastics as well as have other uses.

The internship also provided Bouchard the opportunity to compete in a Department of Energy national research competition. She was flown to Oak Ridge, Tenn. to present her research to a panel of judges and made connections with scientists from around the nation.

"The internship got me out of the academic lab and into a government lab," said Bouchard. "In addition to looking good on my resume, the experience allowed me to see how different kinds of labs work. It was the best experience I could have asked for"

Bouchard's favorite part of the internship was the fieldwork. On two trips into Yellowstone, she got off the boardwalks and into the backcountry to extract samples from hot pots. The experience was both exhilarating and a little frightening.

"It was kind of terrifying because I had to lean way over these boiling pools of acid to get the samples," Bouchard recalled. "One time we climbed up this insane hill on crusty ground and you're hoping you don't break through."

After earning her undergraduate degree at MSU, Bouchard may go to graduate school to study biochemistry for cancer research. She's also considering applying for a job at the Idaho or Oak Ridge national laboratories

Bouchard shares her love of science with kids through MSU's Science Saturdays, FrankenScience and NanoDays, put on by the Center for Bio-Inspired NanoMaterials at MSU. These programs provide elementary and middle school students hands-on science learning experiences. The programs provide an opportunity to learn about new science projects at MSU and to meet the scientists and MSU students who are shaping the future in Montana.

"This is a great way to involve kids in science before they get in a science classroom and get bored or confused," Bouchard said. "We get to show them how fun, cool and applicable to real life science is."

Bouchard loved science in elementary school, but it was an honors biology fieldtrip in high school to the nearby Truckee River that really excited her interest. With the river as a classroom, she learned about bacteria, trout and river ecology.

"It just blew my mind," Bouchard said.

She then had a "horrible" chemistry experience in high school that turned her off science. At MSU, she enrolled in architecture, in part to avoid chemistry. But Bouchard eventually did take a chemistry class with Chris Bahn, adjunct instructor of chemistry and biochemistry.

"He totally changed my mind about chemistry," said Bouchard. "And look at me now."

"Danielle does all the right things to be a good student," said Bahn. "She recognizes her weaknesses in the classroom and does her best to shore those up by doing extra reading and homework. Her strength of character makes her want to reach her full potential."

In addition to doing research since her sophomore year, Bouchard is the vice president of academic development for her sorority, Alpha Omicron Pi. She is a member of the undergraduate chemist society, the honors college and represents biotechnology students on the College of Agriculture's Associate Dean's Student Advisory Council.

"Danielle has completely thrown herself into the college experience and taken advantage of everything MSU has to offer, Bahn said. "She is a very active and involved member of her sorority, been involved in a successful undergraduate research project, performed research at a national lab, traveled with an MSU group to the Dominican Republic, and still found time to enjoy more than a few powder days at Big Sky.

"She is, without a doubt, one of the most well rounded and most pleasant students I have ever met."

Chris Bahn at 406-994-2591 or cbahn@chemistry.montana.edu