April 28, 2017

Astronaut time.

By Margaret Chu

As this externship comes to a close, I am amazed by what I have been able to learn in four weeks. It is not quite what I expected in that meeting with executive offices has comprised a much bigger part of the experience than I would have guessed coming in. However, I have learned so much about the various agencies and departments, and I am very appreciative that we have been able to do that.

On the last day of the externship I was able to drive up to Fort Detrick in Frederick, MD to tour USAMRIID. It is an Army medical research facility that studies infectious diseases, particularly for medical biological defense. While there, I got to meet with multiple individuals in the Veterinary Corps and learn about what it meant to be a veterinarian in the Army. They helped me understand the typical career timeline of a veterinarian and how we can use our profession to serve our nation.

Additionally, I got to tour the facility, which was really amazing because I just love science. Many of the agents on their research list require work to be done in Biosafety Level 4 (BSL 4) facilities, so I was only able to peer in through windows at what was happening inside. However, after the tour, I was taken to the BSL 4 training area, and I was shown some of the equipment and the process for entering and exiting. Then, I got to get all suited up in BSL 4 attire, which basically consists of one full body (including the head) suit. The suit is made of an opaque plastic material except for the head, which is a clear material attached to the suit, and hands, which has removal gloves that are taped on and changed weekly (or more frequently if needed). Traditional suits are blue with PJ onesie feet, and a newer, lighter-weight suit is white with boots already attached. I tried on a blue one, and it was even more difficult than I expected to get into. First I had to place my left leg in from a zipper opening on the right side of the suit. Next, the other leg and then left arm are dressed. Finally, you slip your head into the suit and your right arm last. The zipper is closed (not so easy), and you have to attach yourself to an air line (it’s airtight!). I felt like a super awesome astronaut-scientist in 20 lb XXL onesie that was slowly suffocating me, but I was so excited. It was quite the experience, and definitely will be memorable for many moons to come.