Job/Volunteer position: Citizen Scientist of the Genetics of Taste Lab in the Denver Museum of Nature and Science
What do you do there: Enroll museum guests into a double-blind study that focuses on taste and genetics. In the most recent study, participants tasted diluted acid solutions in similar concentrations that would be found in food. They are asked how strongly they rate the sour solutions, and then give a cheek DNA sample. We extract the DNA from the cheek swab and send it to a lab that analyzes the 5 "sour genes". We then take that data and examine it against their answers on how sour the solutions are. The data is double-blinded, so once participants enroll, their name is not used and they are assigned a number. Therefore, we are not able to give participants the results from the DNA extraction.
How did you get it: I couldn't get enough of the museum, so I was there frequently. During my NUT 2040 class Dr. Rengers mentioned that the museum had a lab where you could enroll and be a part of a real study! I was intrigued and went to scope it out. Once at the museum, someone told me that since the study was done, they were not taking enrollees at the moment. After talking to the person for a while, I found that they were a volunteer who worked in the lab collecting data and enrolling museum visitors. As soon as I got home I completed the volunteer application which began my year-long journey volunteering with the museum.
What do you like about it: Being able to get my feet wet with research, collecting data, and processing data as an undergrad is such a great opportunity that not many people have. Volunteers range greatly in age and experiences, so being a part of that team provides me with insight and support that I did not originally plan to have. Also, I am able to work in one of the few labs in the country that run off of volunteer citizen scientists.
What's challenging/not the greatest about about it: I love absolutely every aspect of the museum. To the museum guests that won't let me go on break because they want to pick my brain some more, to the kids that are so excited to be there that you can't get a sentence out. It's tiring, fulfilling, educational...it's one of my favorite decisions I've ever made!