Arunima Kohli's Internship Spotlight

October 7, 2022 Josh Noffsinger

Arunima Kohli, a sophomore at the University of Maryland (UMD) working towards a Sustainable Agriculture certification through the Institute of Applied Agriculture and an Environmental Science and Policy degree through UMD, interned this summer at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center USDA - ARS (BARC) in Beltsville, Maryland. Throughout the summer, Kohli tracked soybean phenology, the spread of disease in the plants, measured stomatal conductance and gas exchange by conducting diurnal measurements of the plants using LICOR equipment, and analyzed multiple roots under a microscope.

The study determined two genotypes of soybeans with similar morphologies; S-81 from South Korea, and Virginia, from Virginia, USA. There were 12 environmental growth chambers used, each sustaining 12 pots of the two genotypes. Six chambers held one genotype and six chambers held the other. In these six chambers, there were different irrigation practices - three chambers were droughted and the others were well watered. Over the course of around three months, Kohli collected data on the soybean phenology by randomly selecting five pots from each chamber and tracking their height and growth stages twice a week, and compiling the data into a spreadsheet displaying the differences in genotypes and treatment. She also used and is now familiar with, the Licor LI-6800 Portable Photosynthesis System for diurnal and midday gas exchange measurements and chlorophyll fluorescence and the Licor LI-600 Porometer/Fluorometer to measure stomatal conductance in the diseased plants.

Kohli chose this internship as she is interested in agriculture and enjoys hands-on experiences. Sustainable agriculture engages Kohli because it is an important growing practice that includes managing and maintaining our soil and water, reducing waste and pollution, and overall keeping healthy land for our future. Kohli began her internship in June and finished in August with a plan to return in October. When she returns, she will continue her work in the lab, staining and analyzing root samples to search for arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi under a microscope.

In conclusion, Kohli’s supervisor explained that she “learned to track soybean and rice phenology and a variety of techniques used to track plant status including photosynthesis gas exchange, chlorophyll fluorescence, and leaf water potential and leaf reflectance”. Kohli stated that her internship “has positively influenced my career plans”. She says that she has always wanted a career in the environmental science field, possibly focusing on marine ecosystems. However, her experience at the BARC this summer made her realize she has an interest in plant biology and physiology. Kohli says that she would like to explore this field more and end up in a related career. This internship was extremely valuable to her as she learned a multitude of skills that she can now take on to future internships and later a career.