Though many students have ventured off for the summer to long-awaited vacations and the lure of relaxation, the chemistry and biology labs on PLNU’s campus are still bustling with activity.
The summer research program at PLNU allows science majors selected through an application process to take part in various projects spearheaded by faculty in the biology and chemistry departments. As part of this program, students receive funding to stay on campus, as well as a stipend for their work. But the real benefit comes in the form of 10 weeks of hands-on experience and the hope of publishable data by each project’s end.
Students apply their sophomore year, and if selected, are asked to make a two-year commitment to the research. While two summers may seem like a lot to ask, Dr. Marc Perry, assistant professor of chemistry, says it’s well worth the time.
“Our students coming out after two years of research have the same skill set in terms of lab techniques as someone who has been in grad school for a year,” said Perry. “They go in really well equipped to do research if that’s what they want to do. And it’s looked favorably upon for those applying to medical or dental school as well. It shows their dedication to the field of science and their ability to see things through.”
In addition to conducting research, students are given numerous opportunities to present their work, helping them develop important communication skills and allowing their peers to give valuable input. Students can also strengthen logical thinking skills through experiencing daily challenges that can’t be replicated in the classroom. And these aren’t the only aspects that set summer research apart.
“The different thing between this work and school life is that when their eight hour days are done, they don’t have obligations. There is a lot of downtime for social cohesion. There is a lot of community building stuff that goes on. It helps build deep long-lasting relationships,” said Perry.
While the take-away for students is paramount, Dr. Dawne Page, professor and chair of the biology department, admits there is a lot to gain as a faculty member as well, both professionally and personally.
“We are trying to add new knowledge to our field with the goal of publishing it, but we wouldn’t be doing this with undergraduate students if we didn’t enjoy teaching them,” said Page. “We think it’s important for undergrads to participate in this process because if you just go to class, that’s really not how you learn science; you learn science by doing it.”
This summer, there are five chemistry-based research projects involving students:
- Dr. Matthieu Rouffet is leading a team in the area of treating anthrax infections by designing small molecule inhibitors of a metaloenzyme called anthrax lethal factor.
- Dr. Katherine Maloney is working with students to understand how certain organisms, including soft corals and fungi, use chemistry to defend themselves.
- Dr. Dale Shellhamer, emeritus faculty member for the chemistry department, is managing four students making compounds that have antibiotic properties.
- Dr. Ken Martin, professor and chair of the chemistry department, is working off-campus with one student at Westmont College looking at the behavior of molecules that are only several layers thick.
- Dr. Marc Perry is working with students to develop iron-catalyzed systems to replace the use of palladium, a more expensive and toxic metal.
Biology has seven faculty-led projects and two affiliated projects led by alumni:
- Dr. Dave Cummings is working with students to look at antibiotic resistance genes in coastal wetlands, specifically in the Tijuana estuary.
- Dr. Dawne Page and her students are trying to better understand the immune system of zebrafish as it closely models some human diseases.
- Dr. Mike Dorrell’s research is focused on the development of tumors and how to keep them from growing through inhibiting their blood supplies.
- Dr. Rob Elson’s team is looking at insect models, specifically agricultural pests, in an effort to dissect and understand the function and mapping of their brains.
- Dr. Michael McConnell’s students are studying the relationship between viruses and bacteria, with special focus on what happens when a virus infects bacteria.
- Dr. Mike Mooring is working with students in a Costa Rican cloud forest to observe mammalian diversity.
- Dr. Walter Cho is leading a project that looks at various marine communities in the deep sea, which includes taking samples of certain organisms and analyzing their DNA to find similarities.
- Alum Brad Carter (year) is working with one student in Washington D.C. conducting cancer research.
- Alum Bob Weise (year), chief life sciences officer at the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Safari Park, is overseeing five students as they conduct individual on-site projects.