Ayra Hussain

Major(s): Biological Sciences, Environmental Science
Minor: Arabic

A three quarter portrait of Ayra

Title: Spiderwebs for Long-Term Air Quality Monitoring

Describe your project: Our team’s research focuses on determining whether spatial differences in heavy metal air pollution can be detected at small scales by collecting and analyzing the webs of Agelenidae spiders.

Who is your mentor(s) for your project? I work under graduate student, Nava Rastegar in GES. I found my mentor through Dr. Hawn; Nava reached out to me to explain the ropes behind working in the Hawn research lab, and she has been a great support to me since we met. This is one of the reasons why I asked her to be my mentor, in addition to her patience and guidance through everything pertaining to this research.

How did you become interested in this project? I became interested in this project after attending a talk by Dr. Hawn for Honors College students. I found the line of research that Dr. Hawn was focused on to be very intriguing and relevant, and so I reached out to them expressing my interest in becoming a part of it.

What has been the hardest part about your research/what was the most unexpected thing about being a researcher? The onset of COVID-19 has definitely delayed the plans we initially had for this research, especially since our work includes going out into the field and collecting webs. Since not all our work can be done remotely it has slowed the progress of our timeline. However, later in the summer we are planning on returning to campus so hopefully we will be able to resume progress soon!

What has been the most rewarding part? The most rewarding part is knowing that this work can have real-world positive implications to individual’s health. More importantly than this, however, is that it can be of greater benefit to lower-income or homeless people who do not have the technology that many of us have easily available to be able to easily be informed of the air quality in places they reside.

How will you disseminate your research I will present our team’s research at the URCAD in April, and also share it through the Hawn lab website, present to the GES Major department, and eventually, hopefully, publish this work in the UMBC Review.

What is your advice to other students about getting involved in research? I started working in the Hawn Lab a few months ago at the beginning of my Freshman year. I really did not have any prior research experience or qualifications except my interest in the topic, willingness to learn, and time to dedicate towards the research. Be open and reach out to mentors or professors who’s research you might be interested in. There are so many labs that could use the help, and even if you don’t have much experience but possess an innate interest and are willing to put in time, then you already have so much to offer.

What are your career goals? Currently I am on the Pre-Med track at UMBC. I am hoping to attend medical school after graduating from UMBC, but I conflicted as am also interested in pursuing an MD-PhD program; becoming involved in research has interested me in seeing what lies ahead if I continue on the research path. Time will tell…


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