Consider the three-spined stickleback, (Gasterosteus aculeatus), a small fish measuring about four to six centimeters, that is widely found throughout the northern hemisphere. This summer, Rachel Bowes ’11, one of several OWU students who is part of zoology professor Shala Hankison’s animal behavior laboratory, is conducting research on “Repeatability and Consistency in the Three-spined Stickelback.” These fish were chosen for this research because, as Bowes explains, they exhibit relatively easily quantified behaviors, and are easy to keep in captivity.
“And they are really awesome creatures,” she adds. Bowes and her lab mates are looking at the behavioral variation between the fish as well as how consistent each one is in different settings. Bowes and many other Ohio Wesleyan students are working side-by-side with their professors as part of the 10-week Summer Science Research Program (SSRP). Now into its 18th year, SSRP offers students the opportunity to conduct cutting-edge research with faculty mentors. This research culminates in the mid September presentation of research results at the Patricia Belt Conrades Summer Science Research Symposium—a poster-format “gala event” held in the atrium of OWU’s Schimmel/Conrades Science Center .
As SSRP coordinator Professor Laura Tuhela-Reuning explains, this year’s program includes 11 OWU faculty members, 17 students, and seven students (including a high school science teacher from Tulsa) from universities across the country, who are funded by the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates/Teachers program. Besides coordinating SSRP and the later symposium, Tuhela-Reuning also is co-leading a research group with botany-microbiology professor Jerry Goldstein and three students.
“We’re looking at the occurrence of specific bacteria in soil samples from the entire world,” says Tuhela-Reuning. These bacteria are involved in the ongoing research on bird feather degradation being conducted by OWU professors and students. Soil samples are being sent to her and Goldstein from the homes of many international students as the research team looks at bacteria in the soil and possible sources, and ultimately, at the bacteria picked up from the soil and distributed. This project began in Goldstein’s Bacteria Physiology laboratory as a class project and as Tuhela-Reuning says, it continued to grow. Also growing in interest and importance is the world’s water supply. SSRP students in chemistry professor Kim Lance’s summer science research group are conducting research to, as Lance explains, “create a catalyst that will allow us to purify fresh water without the use of chlorine.” Lance and his four student researchers know well that the chlorination process works, but there are side effects from certain chemicals that are not good for us.
“My dream is to take a cup of water from the Ganges River, sprinkle a compound on it, and bubble air through it, thereby removing all pathogens, bacteria, and microbes that cause problems,” says Lance, envisioning further expansion to municipal water plants. Two of his student researchers, Bennett Thompson ’12 and Marina Metzler ’12 exude excitement about their research, and the opportunity to gain valuable experience in their professor’s lab.
“SSRP offers students the opportunity to do research. If I decide later on to pursue my interest in synthetic organic chemistry, we are actually doing that this summer,” says Thompson, a chemistry major. For Metzler, a biochemistry major, SSRP experience will hopefully open doors to summer research opportunities at other universities. She segued into her current summer project after writing about the research topic for an OWU science writing course last fall. Metzler is contemplating a career either in medicine or in some area of chemistry.
“I really enjoy working with the students,” says Tuhela-Reuning. “They learn to think and speak like scientists as they take these projects and make them their own.”