Newswise — SPOKANE, Wash. – Although school is out for summer for most Gonzaga University students, the science labs are teeming with undergraduates’ research. Sixty-four science students are working alongside 25 faculty mentors in the lab and field conducting innovative research on topics ranging from waterfowl ecology to methane production and consumption in anaerobic environments.
Of the students selected for the 10-week research projects through a competitive application process, 58 percent are new to research. Fifty-seven of the students will receive stipends funded by sources including: a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute through the Undergraduate Science Education Program; faculty grants from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust and the National Science Foundation; the Gonzaga Science Research program and Gonzaga’s chief diversity officer; research assistantships created by gifts from Anna Marie Ledgerwood and Gerard and Bronwyn Slobogean; and an anonymous donor’s support of the St. Francis Research Assistantship. Students not being paid are earning academic credit. As part of the research, all students participate in safety and ethics training, and a weekly pizza lunch where they discuss their findings.
Biology Professor Nancy Staub says the authentic research experiences help students think like scientists.
“We live in a science-based society and most of the problems that face our world will be solved with science,” she said. “We need more scientifically literate citizens to use their skills to make the world a better place, whether it involves eradicating disease, treating cancer, dealing with food shortages or dealing with climate change.”
Thanks to a $15,000 grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust’s Partners in Science Program, Kendra Moser, a chemistry teacher at Lewis and Clark High School in Spokane, began research at Gonzaga on June 19. Moser works with Betsy Bancroft, GU assistant professor of biology, to study the effects of climate change, invasive fish and nutrients on native communities in small lakes, ponds and wetlands. The two will create artificial ponds using 100-gallon cattle tanks.
Annalise Rogalsky, a biochemistry major, is working with Jeff Watson, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry and director of the Center for Undergraduate Research and Creative Inquiry, to study the structure and function of a key enzyme (known as HMG-CoA reductase) in bacteria infecting people with cystic fibrosis.
Rogalsky, who will be a senior this fall, is continuing the research of biochemistry scholar and classmate Chad Hicks who is doing research this summer at Emory University through a prestigious HHMI internship.
“Hopefully, our work right now in characterizing the protein [HMG-CoA reductase] could be used by others in the future and involved in an antibiotic for severe bacterial infections in the lungs that accompany cystic fibrosis,” Rogalsky said.
Among the other summer research, four local high school students are working for six weeks in the lab with GU chemistry and biochemistry faculty Osasere Evbuomwan, Stephen Warren and Gergely Gidofalvi. The students will be exposed to inorganic chemistry techniques and molecular modeling software.
Last summer, biology major Ben Buchalski mentored a high school student researching the mechanistic and structural analysis of rhinoceros beetles’ horns. Buchalski, who will be a senior this fall, has worked throughout his undergraduate career with biology Professor Brook Swanson to study the insect’s curious horns.
“Gonzaga’s science outreach programs are important because many high schools do not have the curriculum or funding to get students interested in these fields,” Buchalski said.
Rohan Kundargi, who coordinates Gonzaga’s science outreach program, says the initiative promotes awareness of and enthusiasm for science-based disciplines among youth in the community while reinforcing the importance of science among Gonzaga students.
“Outreach helps foster intellectual curiosity, logical thinking and well-rounded adults,” he said. “I believe our outreach efforts support the mission and values Gonzaga espouses as a Jesuit university to be a positive influence in the world through transformative engagement.”