What did you do over your summer vacation? This is a question that has been flying around campus this week. Catching up with friends at Elizabethtown College is no doubt included this question, but for some students, this summer included some on campus hands-on scientific research.
Scott Douglas and Zak Schmidt both spent the summer conducting experiments, testing hypotheses and gaining knowledge and skills that could help them acquire better jobs post-college. Douglas, a senior, tested a hypothesis that questioned the life-span of hydra (jellyfish-like creatures) and whether or not the existence of certain proteins in their DNA helped them live longer.
Two species of hydra, hydra vulgaris and hydra oligactis, have very different lifespans. Students were able to isolate one specific protein (known as HSP70), which is believed to extend the lifespan of the hydra. Using in-lab observations, DNA creation and different experiments, Douglas observed, and continues to test this hypothesis with a group of his peers in the biology department. It’s something that has been developing since his sophomore year, he said.
“I started my research in situ hyonization, which involved basically ‘tagging,’ or staining different cell layers in the hydra,” Douglas said.
He observed the existence of these life-lengthening proteins in certain layers of the invertebrate, but not others. This process has led to further questioning and observations, and has been narrowed to one specific protein that could prove correct.
Although this research is based on invertebrates, Douglas said the research could impact the science community as a whole and be applied to humans.
“This research started when Dr. Bridge, my biology advisor, was in graduate school … This all still applies to aging diseases like Alzheimer’s,” Douglas said.
Douglas hopes to attend medical school post-graduation and use the research and skills he gained in the lab.
Schmidt similarly spent his summer in the lab, but instead tested a hypothesis that involved the creation of plastic, specifically whether certain elements when brought together could create a heteroleptic complex that could aid in the process of manufacturing.
“The heteroleptic complex could be a great catalyst for the manufacturing of plastic. This discovery would reduce the cost of producing plastic and therefore making any plastic products cheaper to purchase,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt said that this idea came from his interest in chemistry and his own curiosity. “I have always loved chemistry. The specific catalyst we are trying to produce has never been looked at before. I love doing things that no one has tried before. Its exciting knowing that no one in the world knows what the results will be!”
Many individuals aided in this research, Schmidt said. “Dr. Rood, Dr. Schaeffer, Kyle Farkas and Elaina Nellis were an amazing research group to work with. We had a lot of fun and progress. Also I would have to thank Allen Oliver our crystallographer and the Corporation Cottrell College Science Award for funding.”
With the help of their professor and other peers, Schmidt was able to complete and synthesize a similar complex to the hypothesis, but not what he set out to create. Although this research and analysis is still developing, over the summer he and his colleagues gained experience in the field, a very desirable resume builder.
In the future, Schmidt wishes to pursue chemistry and use his knowledge gained in the lab for the creation of solar panels.
Through their research and time spent at Etown, students in the science department are contributing in-depth research and analysis to not only the College, but to the scientific community at large. Science professors help to train students in the quickly changing world of research and development. Through their studies at Etown, students of scientific majors are invited and encouraged to participate in the internship opportunities available to them on campus and off campus. Thanks in part to the donations of businesses and the determination of students, these programs will continue to contribute to scholarly research.
Over the summer, many students at Etown take this opportunity to conduct research. By strengthening skills and finding out what aspects of each major seem the most enjoyable, internships help students grow and develop into industry professionals. Through this program, post-graduate life becomes less threatening and students are able to meet personal goals, question and explore career options and even exceed expectations when applying for graduate school or entering their own field of study as young professionals.
For students such as Schmidt and Douglas, even if their personal research does not become published, the passion of doing a job of interest was the driving force behind their research this summer. Just like the industry itself, these students’ research will continue for many years to come as new interns question and contribute work and the hypotheses they create grow and change.