Houston high school student interns with researchers

Terrence Parker shows the soil he works with as a part
of the George Washington Carver Internship Program.

As a young boy, Terence Parker wanted to be a scientist. This summer, while still in high school, he’s doing just that.

Parker, a senior at Eisenhower High School in Houston, Texas, is one of 14 students participating in the George Washington Carver Internship Program in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University.

Parker is working with Amy Kaleita, associate professor in agricultural and biosystems engineering, and graduate student Giorgi Chighladze. They are testing dielectric soil sensor probes to see how effective they are in detecting properties of soil-water solution, particularly nitrate levels.

“This could be most beneficial to the environment by giving farmers an idea of how much fertilizer they should use so there isn’t an excess on the field,” Parker said. “The goal is to detect nitrate levels in the soil water in real-time.”

The research involves testing of probes for their sensitivity to nitrate in soil water. Sensors are inserted in a medium (soil, water, or a mixture of both). The sensors measure its dielectric response -which means its ability to insulate- at different concentration of nitrate ions and send the data to a computer.

“By measuring dielectric properties at different frequencies in the same medium, they can potentially provide information on nitrate concentration and soil moisture content,” Kaleita said.

Parker is also going to work at defining an optimum frequency at which the effect of soil water nitrate concentration on dielectric response of the probe will be most prominent.

“I’ve always been interested in new technology. I like the idea that it can have an impact on the world,” said Parker. “My research is directly with nitrates, but overall, this technology can help use precision agriculture to get information in real-time sent to a computer.”

Parker decided to apply for the Carver Internship Program when his agriculture teacher, a member of Minorities in Agriculture Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS), mentioned the opportunity. Parker’s interest in agriculture also includes the sheep and goats he helps raise at his high school.

“I became interested in agriculture during my freshman year of high school. An FFA adviser was my first period teacher and he convinced me to join,” Parker said. “I loved the people and the animals and decided agriculture was the right environment for me.”

Parker said he’s enjoying his six weeks at Iowa State. “The best thing so far is that all of the people have been really nice. I’ve been lost on campus a couple of times and people always helped direct me the right way. One guy even walked me to where I needed to go,” he said.

“I like the people, it’s a beautiful campus and a great program for agriculture. I’d recommend this program for anyone trying to get into the field,” said Parker.

The George Washington Carver Internship Program is for undergraduate and high school students who will enhance diversity at Iowa State University and are interested in research in agriculture-related fields. Interns conduct research and participate in various events and seminars. The program, funded by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and other sources, has been successful in bringing in more than 300 students to Iowa State over the past 16 years. For more information, visit: http://www.ag.iastate.edu/diversity/gwc.