Abigayl Novak discovered her passion for plants in an introductory biology class.
“We did an experiment on photosynthesis, and it kind of got me into plant hormones,” says the third-year ecology and environmental sciences major from Hampden, Maine. “(After that class) I wanted to do something that would familiarize (me) with plants and just how to identify them in general.”
This past summer, Novak worked as a lab technician intern in the Plant Disease Diagnostic Lab of the new University of Maine Cooperative Extension Diagnostic and Research Laboratory.
“It’s my first job in a lab, so it’s been really interesting, and I’m loving it,” says Novak. “I am interested in the environment, but when I graduate I want to do something with plants, so I thought this was a really good opportunity.”
Novak’s tasks ranged from triaging and photographing plant samples, and collecting and entering the information into a database, to making media, streaking bacteria and using immunostrips. She also helped draft standard operating procedures to aid in lab director Alicyn Smart’s efforts to have the facility certified by USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to receive and test out-of-state plant samples.
Novak was surprised to learn just how many types of fungi and bacteria there are. The lab experience also has prompted her to broaden the focus of her graduate work.
“I was thinking about plant physiology,” she says, “but pathology is really interesting.”