In the Lab with CC&E

April 21, 2023

Undergraduate student lab workers work in hard in faculty research labs across CC&E, contributing to the knowledge of coastal and environmental issues while reaping the benefits of participating in world class research.

A woman smiles and holds up a tray of sample tubes

CES Major Maile Braden

BATON ROUGE - When Coastal Environmental Science, or CES, student Maile Braden first began working in Crystal Johnson’s Molecular Microbiology Lab, she was surprised to hear that, instead of washing lab dishes and straightening up, Johnson, an associate professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences, wanted her to work on a project for NASA.

“I was like, okay, I’m up for the challenge,” Braden said.

The College of the Coast & Environment boasts more than 30 faculty research labs, performing everything from computer modeling to plankton research. This work is powered in no small part by teams of undergraduate and graduate lab workers, who reap the benefits of participating in world-class research while contributing to the knowledge of many coastal and environmental issues.

According to Giulio Mariotti, an associate professor in the Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences and CC&E’s Internships Coordinator, working in a lab as an undergraduate can provide a lot of benefits. “Working in a lab gives you the opportunity to perform real-world research, thus exposing you to a variety of challenges that you normally don’t encounter during normal coursework. In addition to discipline specific skills, you will gain general skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, time management, data management, written and oral communication,” he said.

Braden, a senior, has been working in Johnson’s lab for almost a year now, on the personal research project Johnson assigned to her—developing a protocol to extract RNA from norovirus, a highly contagious virus,  and then use it to detect the virus’s presence in raw oysters. This project is part of Johnson’s larger project of better understanding the conditions in which norovirus, as well as vibrios—a pathenogenic bacterium—thrive in oysters harvested around Louisiana.

Braden’s eventual goal is to work in public health, as an epidemiologist. However, out of all she’s gotten from her lab experience, she values most the connections she’s making with others. “My favorite part of working in a lab is the people I get to work with. I love meeting like-minded people,” she said. “This lab is really special. We have a really great team.”

"Maile loves research with her whole heart. Once she commits to a component of the norovirus and vibrio project, she gives it 100%, and she runs with it,” said Johnson. “In fact, she loves science so much, it makes her clench her fists and her jaw when you ask her about her project! I am ecstatic and proud to have Maile Braden represent my lab, the CES major, and Louisiana State University. I can't wait to see what else she contributes to the world of science and to the world in general."

A young woman stands behind a desk holding a part of a camera

CES - Biology Major Olivia LaRochelle

Some undergraduate lab workers find new places for skills they’ve already honed. Olivia LaRochelle, a junior CES – Biological Sciences double major, has been volunteering in Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences Professor Mark Benfield’s Zooplankton Lab for the past semester, building a special underwater camera known as a Planktoscope. “I like building things,” she said, “and I’m able to tie in my robotics background.”  The Planktoscope comes from an open source kit, and once assembled, will be used to take pictures of phytoplankton.

"I've enjoyed Dr. Benfield's lab for building my interdisciplinary skills as a developing scientist,” Olivia said. "I'm looking forward to exploring opportunities that combine environmental science and the use of some small scale engineering."

“Undergraduate students in my lab bring new skills and experiences with them. It’s great to see them become invested in a project,” Benfield said. “In the case of the Planktoscope, Olivia has a lot more recent experience working on electronics than I do. She gets a chance to work on a new system and I get the help I need in constructing it.”

Coastal Environmental Sciences students who are interested in gaining laboratory experience can reach out directly to faculty whose research they are interested in, said Mariotti. They should provide a short description of their interests. Students can also contact Mariotti for help, at