students are spending their summer
conducting research that they hope will put them ahead for years to come.
Jason Turba, a rising senior from
Pleasantville, is working with Dr. Om Singh, associate professor of biology, to
examine the antibiotic resistance of bacteria found in chicken feces. While it
is not the kind of thing he expects to do in medical school, Turba hopes it’s
the kind of thing that can get him into a good medical school, which are
increasingly expecting undergraduate students to have conducted research.
“This is a fairly entry-level
research project, but this gets techniques down,” he said. Those techniques
include not only physical techniques like growing cultures, but also techniques
to keep large sets of data organized and accurate. Turba grows separate samples
at different temperatures using differing strengths and types of antibiotics. Each
variable must be carefully photographed and logged to collect the raw data that
will later be analyzed.
Knowing how important research could
be for his chances of getting into medical school, Turba said he sought out
Singh, who frequently researches with students, always with the goal of
publishing the results. Publishing a paper in a scientific journal helps a
student rise to the top of an admissions pool for medical or graduate school.
Turba said, “Having the possibility
to do undergraduate research in a one-on-one setting like this does allow for a
slight advantage for aspiring medical students like myself who are going into a
field that is so competitive that it requires students to take advantage of
every opportunity, and Pitt-Bradford does provide that opportunity.”
Junior Jonathan Josephs-Spaulding, a
biology major with an interest in environmental science from Henryville, is
sandwiching this summer’s one-on-one directed research between two larger
projects. During the 2013-14 academic year, he worked on writing an
environmental assessment using data collected by students last summer in the
area of Jake’s Rocks in the Allegheny National Forest.
His work on that project brought him
to the attention of Dr. Denise Piechnik, assistant professor of biology. Piechnik
is an ecologist who often works with insects as a measure of greater ecological
health in an area. This summer, she is mentoring Josephs-Spaulding to study the
ecology of soil insects while also using microcontrollers and sensors to
collect environmental data. The sensors measure soil conditions that can
potentially predict the number and kind of springtails in the soil. Springtails
are common tiny insects that are particularly sensitive to moisture.
Arduino microcontrollers, small
computers that can be programmed to work with almost any kind of sensor, run
“It’s required a lot of development
on Jonathan’s part,” Piechnik, said. “He’s had to use a lot of circuitry and
code.” Piechnik said she sees a great opportunity for Pitt-Bradford students
like Josephs-Spaulding to learn, use and even program this technology
themselves by working on her research projects and in her courses.
The two took soil samples from an old-growth
forest, an experimental forest and other areas to establish a baseline for
Josephs-Spaulding is clearly excited
by the hands-on opportunities. “My resume has grown so much in recent time,” he
said. His experience with the Arduino sensors will come in handy working with a
project during the 2014-2015 academic year led by a team of graduate students
from Princeton University that is measuring emissions from oil and gas well
drilling in the area.
The experiences are not only
building Josephs-Spaulding’s resume, but also helping him narrow down what he
would like to do after he graduates.
Piechnik said, “When I was an
undergraduate, I wasn’t exposed to this type of research.”
Like Josephs-Spaulding, the project
Maria Laverde is working on could benefit future students. Laverde, a senior
biology major from Bogota, Colombia, is working with Dr. David Merwine,
associate professor of biology, to establish a protocol for a future lab.
Laverde is working with ordinary clams, the
same kind purchased live with dinner in mind. Only instead of eating them,
she’s performing some basic biological experiments on these simple creatures.
Laverde prepares the clams by
cutting the muscle that allows them to close, then cutting a thin membrane
inside the clam to expose its tiny, three-chamber heart. Then she delicately
wraps a thread around the heart to measure
pressure from the beating muscle. A machine attached to the thread measures the
beats of the heart.
places a filament of silver chloride next the heart to apply electricity, and
then measures the clam’s heartbeat as she shocks it. She has found that the
more amps the electrical current contains, the slower the clam’s heart beats.
She replicates the experiment with
new clams, varying the voltage and frequency of the electrical shock. Laverde’s
work follows on that done by previous students to test the effects of various
drugs, temperature and pH level on the bivalves.
She hopes that her work in the lab
will help her in her quest to attend a graduate program in genetics.