The Smithsonian's Museum Conservation Institute (MCI) is the center for specialized technical collections research and conservation for the Smithsonian museums and collections. MCI hosts a suite of analytical laboratories focused on technical study of various organic and inorganic materials. The MCI Stable Isotope Mass Spectrometry Laboratory routinely analyzes paleontological, archaeological, historic, and modern bones and teeth to better understand animal ecology and human demography and movements. Stable isotopes are also used to understand the post-mortem degradation of bones and teeth both during burial and storage in collections.

MCI is looking for a summer intern (late May / early June to August) to engage in a learning opportunity focused on stable isotope study of archaeological animal remains and the effects of applied glues and consolidants on stable isotope values in bones. This internship will primarily be onsite at MCI, located at the SI Museum Support Center in Suitland, MD (Metro and SI Shuttle accessible).

Projects will include assisting with:
1. Organization of incoming samples for analysis
2. Setting up experimental designs
3. Mechanical preparation of bones and teeth for isotope analysis
4. Chemical extraction of bone and tooth components
5. Running stable isotope mass spectrometers
6. Data analysis including quality control and statistical analysis of results
7. Organization and interpretation of data for publication

Required Skills:
1. General chemistry (college intro level) knowledge
2. Introductory level chemistry lab skills
3. General history or archaeology (college intro level) knowledge
4. Organization and ability to keep meticulous notes
5. Basic understanding of simple descriptive statistics

Additional Beneficial Skills (not required):
1. Organic chemistry knowledge
2. Prior experience handling museum collections, specifically bones or teeth
3. Experience with mass spectrometry
4. Experience with spectroscopy techniques
5. Experience with statistical hypothesis testing

Learning Objectives:
The intern will learn how to use stable isotopes as tracers for two distinct projects. In Project 1 (P!), the intern will study how glues and consolidants applied by curators can affect original stable isotope values in bones. The intern will learn to identify samples that are well-preserved and unaltered by the glues or any secondary degradation. In Project 2 (P2), the intern will work with a set of archaeological animal remains from the Feathered Serpent Pyramid at Teotihuacan, Mexico (ca. 150-200 CE). The intern will put into practice the skills acquired in P1 to identify well-preserved remains. They will apply stable isotopes as tracers to determine the animal's diets and origins.

As part of P1 and P2, the intern will learn a full suite of chemical extraction techniques required to isolate bone/tooth collagen, carbonates, and phosphates. They will also become familiar with operating a stable isotope mass spectrometer for carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen isotopes. The intern will gain experience with data analysis to identify alteration in bones and teeth using isotopes as tracers. They will also learn to apply various ecological concepts to help determine the diets and origins of animals using stable isotopes. Lastly, the intern will gain experience using spectroscopy techniques, specifically Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, to examine the alteration of bones and potential presence of contaminants. A critical aspect of their learning will be the important tasks of quality control and verifying the efficacy of techniques.

The intern will receive direct mentorship from MCI Research Scientist Christine France, and secondary mentorship from collaborator Nawa Sugiyama (UC Riverside). The intern will gain experience working with various individuals on a multi-institution collaborative project. The mentors will help the intern put all the data into a larger framework. They will work with the intern to address important questions about conservation of museum samples and how the treatment of remains can affect the quality and ability of researchers to perform subsequent analyses. They will also work with the intern to understand how to interpret stable isotope data from well-preserved remains to understanding the ecology of past animals as it relates to nearby human populations. Skills learned in P1 and P2 will help the intern prepare for future analytical research in the archaeological or paleontological sciences.

Interested candidates should send the following to Christine France ( (1) CV or resume, and (2) a one-page essay (approx. 500 words) that addresses what they hope to accomplish through this internship and how it would relate to their academic and career goals. Please write "Summer 2024 Internship" in the subject line.

Deadline for applications: March 12, 2024

Stipend: $9000 (400 hours)

This is a 10-week full-time (40 hours per week) internship. Start date between May13 and June 17 (exact start date is negotiable depending on the intern's academic schedule).