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Wittenberg Biology Student Makes Most Of Summer Internship Researching Agricultural Herbicides

December 3, 2010  
 Filed in Campus Headlines, Profiles, Science

The knee injury that forced Carl Coburn, class of 2011 from Cincinnati, Ohio, off Wittenberg University’s soccer pitch during his freshman year was a disappointment that could have been a real setback for him. Instead, Coburn decided to put all his focus into his studies, a move that continues to pay significant dividends.

“My injury closed one door, but opened up another,” he said.

Now a senior biology major, Coburn has spent his years at Wittenberg working hard and exploring every opportunity. During the summer of 2010, he jumped on a unique internship opportunity at West Virginia University (WVU) with Rakesh Chandran, a weed scientist and professor who is conducting pioneering research on how to reduce levels of herbicides on agriculture.

Coburn saw the research internship as the perfect way to expand his horizons. He was particularly attracted to this research because of his interest in its potential to reduce the environmental impact of agriculture.

During his internship at WVU, Coburn examined different methods for applying herbicides on crops and analyzed the economic and environmental benefits. He and Chandran compared “banded herbicide spraying,” which sprays crops in straight lines, with “broadcast spraying” which sprays the entire field.

Their research confirmed that banded spraying is not only more economical for farmers, it is more environmentally sustainable because it uses effectively half as much herbicide as broadcast spraying. Banded spraying also causes fewer run-offs (excess herbicide that flows into streams and/or the surrounding landscape) and the crops have less herbicide on them.

“The banded spraying provided the same level of weed control and showed no reduction in yield,” said Coburn. “And with banded spraying we can reap all these environmental benefits as well.”

While the banded spraying technique has been practiced, it has never been studied as a way to lessen herbicide use to benefit the environment. The research internship at WVU helped give Coburn the focus he was looking for in the field of biology and helped him define a path forward after graduation. Initially, he plans to pursue a master’s degree in agricultural science and possibly go on to get his doctorate.

“This internship really opened my eyes and helped me to see specifically what I want to do in the future,” said Coburn, a graduate of Anderson High School in Cincinnati who is also active in a variety of other campus activities, including a campus sustainability task force, intramurals and the Inter-Fraternity Council, representing the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. “The work showed me that there are lots of opportunities for research in this area. And that is what I am interested in.”

Coburn credits his success obtaining the internship with the Wittenberg biology department, which he says pushes all its students to pursue opportunities that broaden their academic experience.

“I know that being a Wittenberg biology student made me stand out on my application,” Coburn said. “Dr. Chandran knew what kind of programs we have, and he knew I would be a big help to him.”

Written By: Gabrielle Antoniadis and Amber Reyes
Photo By: Erin Pence

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