Grad student identified algae in North Carolina waters for summer internship
A t her North Carolina internship this summer, Anna Agi was able to introduce the water-quality company to a few things about diatoms—a form of microscopic, single-celled algae with glass cell walls that converts light into energy.
Diatoms generate up to 25% of the earth’s oxygen and are found in almost every aquatic environment from freshwater to the ocean.
“It’s important to get involved in research if you’re in a science background, because it opens your mind and doors to so many opportunities,” Agi said. “I didn't learn about diatoms until I volunteered in the phycology lab and did undergraduate research.”
“Because I learned so much about diatoms through Dr. Kalina Manoylov's mentoring,” she said, “I was able to make one of my internship projects about diatoms, in order to help the algae team with their own identification after I left.”
Agi graduated from Georgia College & State University in May with a degree in biology. She was a cross-country runner and two-time All-Peach Belt Conference record-breaker. In addition to sports, she was in Tri-Beta Biological Honor Society, the Order of Omega honor sorority and fraternity, Delta Gamma Sorority, Botany Club and the GCSU Orchestra.
"Anna has a rare talent of precise visual memory,” Manoylov said, “and I see great potential for her in phycological research. She loves observing algae and using the microscopes in my lab. She is also amazed of the applications of her discoveries to microbial community structure and function, biodiversity and their use in water quality management. Those are topics with current meaning and potential for the future."
Agi was delighted when she was accepted at SePRO Corp., a company in Whitakers, North Carolina that works to restore water, plants and the environment. She found out about the internship from one of her mother’s former co-workers. After a few phone calls and a Zoom interview, Agi was selected because of her research background with algae.
“When I found out I was chosen, I was a little bit nervous but also excited,” Agi said. “I'd be leaving Georgia just three days after graduation and moving to a new state for the summer without my family or friends.”
“I was excited too,” she said, “because I've always been the one who wanted to leave and go out on my own and be independent. So, I knew this opportunity was going to be new and fun.”
The three-month internship, like her research at Georgia College, was a challenging way to “learn more and more each day,” Agi said. At SePRO, she worked mostly with water quality issues identifying green algae, cyanobacteria and various diatoms in client waters. Based on samples, Agi would confer with scientists at SePRO to determine which products would be useful for treatment—like using an algicide to treat harmful algal blooms.
Now Agi’s bringing what she learned from the internship as a project to phycology class as a first-year master’s student at Georgia College this fall.
“Dr. Manoylov prepared me very well with diatom identification, before I was thrown into real-world experience,” Agi said. “That knowledge helped me to assist the algae team in better identifying their samples of diatoms.”
“But my internship also helped me discover various groups of algae I didn't know before,” she said. “That’ll be helpful going into my master's program. I learned a lot about water chemistry too from their product-development representatives.”
“This work is important because few people know what to do with bodies of water when there are harmful algal blooms or algae taking over,” Agi said. “Being able to identify what's in a customer's water, giving them a report and explaining what needs to be done can mitigate further problems that could arise if water’s left untreated.”
Agi hopes to follow her master’s with a Ph.D., then work in aquatic ecology. She can’t imagine being where she is today without the help of Manoylov, “who pushes me more than anyone and, without her, I wouldn’t have found my passion for algae and diatoms.”
“This summer, I grew in discipline and motivation and just overall as a person,” Agi said. “I feel like I’m coming back to Milledgeville prepared to learn more and ready to dive into my master’s with even more drive and determination.”