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Chilean High School Interns Say Goodbye (For Now!)

Editor’s note: This is Part II. You can read Part I here.


Hello, I am Danae Madariaga, a senior at Alberto Blest Gana high school. I have participated in a data collection project with Etienne, Tim, and Derek for three months. Throughout this time, I have learned many things such as the use of Google Colab to analyze my data that I uploaded to the cloud. This makes it easier for scientists from around the world to analyze my data as well.

Really though, the most important thing that I have learned is that being a scientist is not easy! It is a very hard job that requires perseverance and patience. I have also learned how to optimize my time to perform my experiments in a consistent manner. Working with Backyard Brains was my very first job and a very pleasant experience, especially with all the new tools and plants I have now!

chilean high school seniors say goodbye
My Home Experimental Setup with Basil Plants and Venus Fly Traps

As for the issue of Google Colab, I learned how to organize Google Drive folders for each plant species I studied. This included storing all experimental details about stimuli and recordings in their respective folders. Etienne and I worked very hard to make the whole process automatic, such that with a single click the results could be displayed quickly. This was taught via scheduled meetings, WhatsApp texts, or asynchronous work, where I would send the experiments and then Etienne would supervise and analyze them.

plant electrical signaling data collection

As you may know, in Chile summer falls between December and February. So for a vacation, I traveled to the countryside together with my family. During the summer, I also took a course at the University of Chile on engineering and biology. A funny and embarrassing thing happened to me on the first day of classes. When I started looking for the classroom, I got lost and couldn’t find it. So when I finally found it, I discovered that I had arrived super late, and as a finishing touch, I fell down when I entered. Some students laughed, but others were good companions and helped me get up, so I started a conversation and became friends with them.


xylem and phloem in a stem
An Example of Xylem and Phloem Location in a Stem

Hello, I’m Derek Arro, a high school student in my final year along with Danae. For the last three months, I have been working as an intern at Backyard Brains with Tim, Etienne, and Danae on the preparation of a formal manuscript on our plant electrophysiological data.

My work consisted of reading and learning a lot more about plants. I learned how to navigate PubMed, do some research using ChatGPT-3, and verify the validity of science blogs. I have also learned how to read manuscripts and upgrade my English writing to be more organized and easier to read.

One of the questions we have had is, “How is an electrical signal traveling in a plant?” I have been investigating more about the anatomy of plants and how they work when they have an electrical signal. In the systems that plants have, the clue seems be with the xylem and phloem. The xylem only transports water up from the roots, while the phloem transports nutrients and minerals bidirectionally, up and down.

Tim and I also discussed the controversial topic “Are plants intelligent?” They are certainly capable of processing information and have electrical signaling. But even bacteria have electrical signaling and are able to process information. (Kikuchi K, Galera-Laporta L, Weatherwax C, Lam JY, Moon EC, Theodorakis EA, Garcia-Ojalvo J, Süel GM. Electrochemical potential enables dormant spores to integrate environmental signals. Science. 2022 Oct 7;378(6615):43-49.) So I am not sure.

My Painting Workshop

Plants do use chemicals that animal brains also use (like GABA), but that may not necessarily mean anything. They also use glucose and oxygen, for example.

Comprehending scientific literature requires a lot of reading, patience and concentration. Tim and Etienne told me that even though they are professional scientists, it’s still hard for them as well, so that made me feel less frustrated.

My summer vacation was great, even though I couldn’t go out that much. But fortunately, I live in the countryside outside of Santiago, where I enjoy watching the famous Chilean night sky with the little telescope I have in my room.

I also have fun spending time in nature and running around. I started painting some things that I need to finish (I like to paint human faces), and I also read books. I really enjoyed The Song of Achilles, which made me cry at the end.

I also spent some time with my boyfriend in a park, where we ran a little and got tired immediately. Mostly I have been thinking about the future, planning things, and figuring out how I am going to achieve them. Studying a little every day and doing things that I like seems to be a good strategy. Ciao for now!

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