Summer Journeys: Isabella Reyes-Famous ’24 at the New York Botanical Garden

For nearly 10 years, world-renowned scientists at the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) have welcomed summer interns from Taft to their research laboratories on the Garden’s historic 250-acre Bronx, New York, campus. The internship opportunities are part of a long-term, ongoing, and extraordinary partnership between Taft and The Garden. The internships span the full summer, and culminate in presentations to fellow interns, researchers, and Garden leadership. Last summer, Isabella Reyes-Famous ’24 was one of two Taft students to be awarded a coveted internship.

Isabella heard about the internship opportunity from her biology teacher, Michael McAloon. McAloon’s class had deepened Isabella’s understanding of biological science and lit a spark that made the summer internship feel like a natural fit, academically and personally.

“In biology I felt in touch with the class—that my questions about our ecosystems mattered and that science isn’t so linear,” Isabella says. “The complexity and diversity of plants is something I was just beginning to understand. As a Bronx resident, the name ‘New York Botanical Garden’ has always had held a place in my life, and I was excited to conduct research there.”

Isabella spent the full summer engaged in research in the science laboratories on the NYBG campus. She was mentored by Arthur J. Cronquist Curator of North American Botany, Institute of Systematic Botany Dr. Robert Naczi. Naczi is also one of the founding architects of the formal Taft-NYBG partnership; he has been a great champion of Taft’s summer interns, and has partnered with Taft faculty on research projects, as well.

“With Dr. Naczi, I studied the systematics of phytotelmata through their symbionts. In other words, we looked at the inhabitants of plants (with water-filled cavities) to discover the relationships between said plants,” Isabella explains. “Because DNA analysis has failed to show relationships between these plants, Dr. Naczi began this project by looking at the mites living in these plants to help explore these relationships.”

Isabella’s personal contribution to the research was focused on proving Dr. Naczi’s hypothesis that mites are, in fact, appropriate tools for examining these relationships.

“A typical day would start with me starting up my dissecting microscope and extracting mites from a given plant species under the lens,” Isabella explains. “I would then put the mites in a solution that would chemically clear the mites of their organs. After a couple of hours in the solution, I would use the dissecting microscope again and mount the mites on a glass slide. With the clearing solution and the glass slide I would now be able to see the physiology of the mite under a compound microscope.”

Isabella’s internship culminated in a formal presentation to fellow interns, (most of whom were college students, and doctoral and post-doc researchers), scientists, and Garden leadership, putting an exclamation point on the end of an extraordinary opportunity and experience for Isabella.

“Through my internship at the Botanical Garden I had was able to further my learning in a field I had become passionate about, and in the comfort and familiarity of my childhood surroundings.”

Isabella’s internship at the New York Botanical Garden was made possible in part through the generosity of program patrons Dwight (Trip) Stocker ’74 and Donald B. Stott ’56.