Past YES! Internship Project Descriptions

Please take a look at some of the past YES! intern project descriptions. Please note that these are intern project descriptions from past years; they do not reflect what is available for the current year of YES! programming.

Anthropology

Anthropology is the study of humans and their societies in the past and present. Through the lens of cultural anthropology, YES! interns explored the way humans interact with objects both historically and in the present. 

Humans communicate directly and indirectly through a range of media: shell adornments, drums, telegraph, even smartphones. Working with anthropology collections from around the world, YES! interns mapped the properties of different objects (what objects are made out of, who made them, etc.), and thought critically about how these objects worked in their own contexts to communicate a range of values and meanings. Investigating this broad span of technology, interns also helped research how they and their peers use smartphones. This work helped to tease out the cultural particularities of our present media moment, and shed light on the diverse ways humans have communicated in the past.

Botany

Botanical collections give glimpses of the past, offer knowledge of the present, and help make predictions about a species’ future well-being. Historically, botanical collections were used mainly for identifying new species, and to provide an inventory of species in specific environments. With improved technological advances, botanists can identify plant species using DNA and determine plant family trees.

YES! interns worked with lichens, unique composite organisms that are the result of symbiotic relationships between fungi and algae. Interns handled pressed lichen specimens and dried tissue samples, learned techniques to identify lichens, utilized curatorial practices, extracted lichen DNA, and performed various molecular analyses.

Collections

The Smithsonian Institution holds the largest collection of natural history specimens in the world, with approximately 155 million items, 145 million of which are at the National Museum of Natural History. 

YES! interns assisted with the Collections Program in the conservation of some of these specimens. Interns developed an understanding of: preventive conservation approaches for the care of museum collections; the ethics and guidelines of practice for the conservation profession; and ways to safely handle specimens. Interns assisted staff from the conservation department as they documented the condition of museum objects and conducted minor treatments. Interns assisted with research into paleontological fossil preparation techniques and fluid preserved specimen preservation techniques.

Entomology 

With over 35 million specimens housed at the National Museum of Natural History, the National Insect Collection is one of the largest entomological collections in the world. 

YES! interns learned how to care for luna moths (Actias luna) and polyphemus moths (Antheraea polyphemus), from hatching to the adult stage of development, and received a hands-on understanding of the complete metamorphosis these insects undergo. Interns obtained fresh leaves, took measurements, and recorded changes throughout the life cycle in order to fully understand the development of these moths. In addition to mastering concepts of basic biology, interns took part in preservation and dissection of specimens, and assisted with engaging visitors at the museum’s Butterfly Pavilion.

Invertebrate Zoology

The Smithsonian Institution holds the largest collection of natural history specimens in the world. These collections are used by researchers, educators, and policy makers worldwide. 

YES! interns worked with the Echinoderm Collection. Echinoderms are a phylum of marine invertebrates that include sea stars, sea urchins, sand dollars, and sea cucumbers. These unique organisms are a fascinating group of creatures with important ecological roles. This echinoderm collection contains a variety of preserved specimens. Many of our echinoderm specimens are millions of years old and provide a unique window into the past. By assisting with organizing and maintaining this collection, interns learned what goes on behind-the-scenes at a natural history museum and made a lasting contribution for future research.

National Zoo

The National Zoo has a long history of innovation and leadership in the care and exhibition of wild animals. Today, the exhibits are more than just places within the Zoo, they include educational and scientific programs both on-site and around the world. Interns were Animal Keeper Aides at the National Zoological Park. This included learning about the Zoo’s conservation efforts, and helping with public engagement. 

YES! interns assisted with husbandry, including food preparation and upkeep of enclosures at Amazonia, and with the Lions and Cheetahs. They also helped zoo staff with enrichment preparation and behavior watches, and with various other projects around the exhibits.

Paleobiology

The shells of microscopic fossils have accumulated on the world’s seafloor for many millions of years. Different microfossil species can be identified using characteristics of their shells and species identifications can help determine the age of the sediment they occur in. Abrupt shifts in species composition may indicate major changes in the ocean environment. 

Working with a collection of microfossils called foraminifera that were obtained from beneath the ocean floor in sediments that are more than 94 million years old, YES! interns used microscopes to measure how their shape changed across millions of years of their evolution. Because interns worked with microfossils they had to pay close attention to detail and practice patience when handling the specimens. Research that was collected over the summer helped to better characterize the timing and rate of evolutionary change of the species studied.

Vertebrate Zoology

Vertebrate Zoology includes the study of fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. This department at the museum holds the largest collection of vertebrate specimens in the world. 

YES! interns studied the genetic DNA of caecilians, limbless amphibians from the island of São Tomé in the Gulf of Guinea, Africa. Caecilians are generally very hard to find, so this project was one of the first to study the population genetic structure of these animals on an island. Interns learned how to sequence mitochondrial DNA for a population of caecilians not previously studied. Following sequencing, interns learned basic DNA sequence alignment and phylogenetic tree building in order to uncover how this population of caecilians is related to previously studied populations. These data were then combined with a larger project to study how these animals disperse throughout the island.