DelVal student participates in Smithsonian research internship

Jul 19, 2013

Abree Murch stands next to a whale skull at the Smithsonian

Abree Murch '14, a DelVal biology major, in front of the skull of a blue whale during a tour of the Smithsonian’s whale warehouse. Murch is completing a Natural History Research Experience with the Smithsonian this summer.

Delaware Valley College student Abree Murch ’14, is participating in the Smithsonian’s highly competitive Natural History Research Experiences (NHRE) program at the National Museum of Natural History this summer. The program, which runs from May through August, selected just 18 students out of more than 550 applicants. Murch is a biology major from Middletown, N.J., who is specializing in zoology at the College. 

Dr. Elizabeth Cottrell, who helps direct the internship program, said the selection committee looks for “a strong record of achievement and the potential to go on to be a leader in the natural sciences.”

“We look for students who show great promise,” said Dr. Cottrell.  “We’re looking really at the student’s drive and motivation, interest in the natural sciences and people for whom this experience might be a career-defining or life-changing event.”

Each student is assigned a staff member as a mentor and works under a curator or researcher on a specific research project. The outcome is then a professional poster, which students present at the end of the internship. Interns receive a stipend and housing while participating.

Murch is doing research under the curator of Dinosauria, Dr. Matthew Carrano, in Washington, D.C., in the paleobiology department. She is looking at specimens of a particular salamander-like amphibian from the Cretaceous period and using a scanning electron microscope to image them to see if they have a new species and to determine relationships to other amphibians.

Through the program, she also had the opportunity to accompany her mentor to Montana for ten days. She worked with a team there collecting sediment samples, surface fossils, and looking for potential new dig sites.


Murch in Montana looking for potential sites

Murch in Montana on a trip she took with her mentor to collect sediment samples and surface fossils and look for potential sites.

“I found what might be a hadrosaur femur, which was pretty cool,” said Murch.

She said she is honored to be working with the program.

“The Smithsonian is a place I’ve always admired and the National Museum of Natural History is a pretty spectacular place,” said Murch. “I applied to be able to access the researchers and scientists, see the collection and to be able to work on this scientific level. I’m so grateful to have the chance to experience something at an institution that is known internationally.”


Murch applying plaster to a specimen
Steve Jabo (NMNH Fossil Lab) oversees as Murch applies a plaster cast to a specimen to prepare it for transport (Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, MT).

After DelVal, Murch plans to go on to graduate school and wants to have a career in research.

She chose DelVal because of its small size and the emphasis on hands-on application of knowledge.

“Having that small school interaction with professors has really been a bonus for me,” said Murch. “I don’t think I would have chosen anywhere else.”

NHRE is a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Site and is funded by the National Science Foundation (EAR-1062692).