Student Summer Science Research

Abigail Crawford ('18).

Abigail Crawford (’18) researching gold nanoparticles.

Rising juniors Abigail Crawford, Rebecca Drew, and Nicholas Fales each possess a keen, analytical mind; passion for problem-solving; and deep sense of wonder for the intricate beauty of God’s creation. These three cohort fellows spent six weeks conducting original research in Eastern’s chemistry and biochemistry laboratories as part of the Summer Science Research Program. Through their independent research projects and mentoring by Eastern’s gifted faculty, each gained a deeper understanding and appreciation for the work of research scientists, a new confidence in their own capabilities, and greater awe for microscopic wonders.

Working daily in the same laboratory, Rebecca, Abigail, and Nicholas were initially quite surprised by the independence of their research and the level of responsibility expected by their faculty mentors, Dr. Park and Dr. Lawton. Laughingly, Nicholas recalled asking Dr. Park a question and was told: “I should be asking you that question. You should know this research better than me.” Although at first daunted, each student rose to the challenge and appreciated the ownership and responsibility they were given over their research projects. Whether investigating nanoparticles or diseases affecting orchard trees, these months of research proved incredible learning experiences.

Rebecca Drew ('18) talking with her advisor, Dr. Lawton.

Rebecca Drew (’18) talking with her advisor, Dr. Lawton.

Rebecca – who is studying biochemistry with the intention of going into medicine – initially dreaded the two months of research: “I thought it would be like lab where you’re following directions and have to rush through different experiments in order to get them done in time. Instead I was able to focus on one project and work on it independently.” Rebecca researched the HsvA protein in fireblight, a disease that is highly infectious for apple and pear trees: it can take out an entire orchard in one growing season. She enjoyed her work so much she’s now considering a career in medical research: “This summer I was studying just one protein from a single bacteria — in that alone there is so much going on, it’s incredible! especially when you realize that it’s all thought out by God. I’d love to do research one day on how parts of the body interact with each other. I’m fascinated by that.”

Nicholas and Abigail are both chemistry majors whose research focused on elemental metals. Nicholas was named the 2015-2016 Quaker Chemical Scholar and spent not just the summer but also the academic year researching the properties of palladium, a catalyst used to develop pharmaceuticals. Abigail, a summer Quaker Chemical Scholar, studied nanoparticles of gold which are frequently used in medicine for drug-delivery. In June Abigail and Nicholas were given the opportunity to present their findings at the Quaker Chemical Foundation, which funded their research. Both Nicholas and Abigail greatly appreciated the opportunity to use the theoretical knowledge learned in the classroom over the past two years for something that was hands on: “In lectures you learn concepts of chemistry, but it all feels very theoretical. Then you get to lab and you see it works as it’s supposed to, but when you’re conducting your own research you really learn to understand things yourself because sometimes the experiment doesn’t work as you expected and you have to troubleshoot,” Abigail explained. For Nicholas those moments are both stressful and exciting: “In this research we’re trying to learn what’s going on really well, and then we’ll be able to build something up. In many ways, science classes are like my Templeton classes in that you learn to be analytical, to break something apart, before being able to build and create.”

Nicholas Fales, Abigail Crawford, and Dr. Joon Park present research at the Quaker Chemical Foundation.

Despite being surprised by the amount of independence given for their research, it is clear from conversations with Abigail, Rebecca, and Nicholas, that one of the things they have most appreciated about their education is the attention given by their chemistry and biochemistry faculty. Abigail recalled amazement when she realized her academic advisor, Dr. Bundens, had mapped out every chemistry student’s schedule by first name on her computer. Rebecca remembered an incident when an experiment didn’t work as anticipated. Discouraged, she approached her advisor Dr. Lawton about it and he – deeply committed to his student’s success – became equally frustrated but stopped to pray asking God to help them and show them His creation. This kind of investment from talented scientists who are also godly Christians is truly a gift. According to Nicholas one of the most valuable parts of his education has been the opportunity to work closely with “quality people who really know their business.”

Conversations with these three talented students reveals that each has benefitted enormously from the encouragement and knowledge of their gifted teachers, and each has been instilled with a greater confidence in their own understanding and ability through the high standards set for them. Templeton chemistry and biochemistry graduates have gone on to impressive careers, including medical school at UNC – Chapel Hill and Ph.D programs at Vanderbilt University. We have no doubt these three will be equally successful.

– Anneke Lujan (’13), Program Assistant

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