The A. Wilbert’s Sons Research Internship at LSU offers high-achieving students the opportunity to intern up to a full year, pursue a research project, and benefit from mentorship by LSU faculty advisors and A. Wilbert’s Sons managers. We are proud to highlight the recent work of two outstanding students.
Ms. Sarah Catherine LeBlanc, a senior studying natural resource ecology and management, spent two semesters observing water quality parameters in bottomland hardwood forests owned by AWSLLC. Ms. LeBlanc’s research focused on the effect of streamside management zones (SMZs) — areas adjacent to waterways that are managed to protect the stream from forestry operations – and the effect these zones have on aquatic ecology. Dr. William Kelso, professor in the LSU School of Renewable Natural Resources, served as Ms. LeBlanc’s faculty advisor and said the project was a great opportunity to prepare her for scientific research later in her career. Under Kelso’s guidance, she set out to determine if SMZs are effective in the preservation of water quality. She focused on four sites near Ramah, Louisiana. Two of the sites were SMZs and two were used as controls. She worked in the side channels of the area until decreased water levels forced her to move to the main channel. In four to five week intervals, Ms. LeBlanc collected her data using instruments that measured basic water parameters such as pH and dissolved oxygen levels, the light available to reach the surface of the stream and the canopy density over the stream. Ms. Leblanc concluded that the water quality parameters observed in the SMZs do not differ significantly from the controlled sites, indicating that AWS is doing an effective job of forest management.
Ms. Aleena Kazmi graduated in May 2018 from LSU with a major in Biological Sciences and a double minor in Spanish and Psychology. Through this internship and under the mentoring of Dr. Giovanna M. Aita, Associate Professor at the LSU AgCenter Audubon Sugar Institute, Ms. Kazmi conducted research in the biological conversion of sorghum bagasse – the fibrous material that remains after the juice has been extracted from the stalk – to bio-ethanol and fumaric acid using non-genetically modified microorganisms. Bagasse is rich in sugars that are not readily accessible. Ms. Kazmi was able to access these sugars with the combined use of chemical and enzymatic processes.
Bio-ethanol, a green transportation fuel, was fermented from glucose with the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Fumaric acid, currently produced by a petroleum-based method, has been identified by the U.S. Department of Energy as one of the top twelve chemical building blocks that can potentially be produced from materials such as bagasse. Fumaric acid can be used to acidify food products, applied as a mold inhibitor, and utilized in the medical treatment for psoriasis. Ms. Kazmi improved the fermentation conditions for the fungus Rhizopus oryzae, thus allowing this organism to efficiently convert both glucose and xylose to fumaric acid.
Ms. Kazmi will be attending Louisiana State University School of Medicine in New Orleans this Fall.