Millikin University students and faculty are spending the summer working on specific research projects as part of Millikin's Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program. The program teams a student with a faculty member to perform in-depth research over the summer months. The research is part of the "graduate level" opportunities undergraduates experience at Millikin.
The 2013 SURF program features several Millikin students and faculty across multiple disciplines conducting research and collaboratively building new academic ground. This summer, four SURF fellowships were granted.
Dr. Dan Monroe, associate professor of history, and Julia Hesse, a senior history major from Tinley Park, Ill., are professionally organizing and preserving political career letters, photographs, audio cassettes, awards, and other items from former United States Congressman and Millikin graduate Thomas W. Ewing '57. The intention of the project is to use the Ewing papers as an archival project for history students, giving them a unique, hands-on opportunity to work with real documents from an actual political figure who had an eventful and substantive career. Hesse has spent the summer creating short descriptions of each item as well as a master catalogue of the collection. Once the papers have been properly organized for scholarly research, they will be used as a basis for creating a memoir of Ewing's political life.
"At most schools, I would not have the chance to work on a project such as this one," said Hesse. "Many professors would not want to hand over this amount of control to an undergraduate student. Instead, at Millikin, and through the history department, I am able to create an archive with assistance from Dr. Monroe and after I am done, I will feel a sense of accomplishment that most undergraduate students will not experience until they are graduate students."
Dr. Kenneth Laundra, assistant professor of sociology, Keyria Rodgers, Millikin adjunct instructor, and Maizee Lamb, a sophomore sociology major from Greenfield, Ill., have been working on an ongoing research project between Millikin's sociology program and the State's Attorney's Office/Macon County Juvenile Justice Council (MCJJC) in Decatur, Ill. The project is an assessment of the local Teen Court program to determine its effectiveness among delinquent teens who voluntarily commit to the diversionary program instead of formal processing in the Macon County Juvenile Court system.
This summer, Lamb's responsibilities include learning how juvenile cases are filed with the court, updating existing databases with new information, creating a new database that combines information for several different current databases across local juvenile agencies, and developing a written report on the new database that summarizes the data. Her responsibilities are also part of a more thorough study on repetition rates among delinquents in Macon County as well as a more in-depth examination of youth programming in Macon County.
"I want to become a social worker, so I've really enjoyed this type of work," said Lamb. "I think the SURF program is great because I go into work every day and I learn something new. It's definitely a learning experience that I would recommend to anyone."
Dr. Paris Barnes, associate professor of chemistry, Dr. Anne Rammelsberg, associate professor of chemistry, and Lindsey Baxter, a senior biology major from Rockton, Ill., are working on a project based around cantharidin, a toxin that causes cell death and using liposomes as potential transport containers for the cantharidin. The goal of the project is to make cantharidin-containing PEGylated liposomes bond to gold nanoparticles and to test their effects on cancer cell viability.
"A couple of years ago we became interested in nanoscience and how nanoscience can be used to destroy cancer," said Barnes. "Lindsay has been working on this project for about three years and we are using gold nanoparticles that are hooked up to biological nanoparticles called liposomes. Inside of these particular balloons is a natural drug that we have chosen called cantharidin. The canthardin is a secretion from a blister beetle. This process would be our drug delivery mechanism to destroy cancer cells. We are trying to do a non-invasive treatment of cancer cells."
"The experience has been absolutely wonderful," said Baxter. "I've been working with Dr. Barnes since my freshman year and to be able to see how much this project has grown is great. The SURF program has allowed us to make so many advancements. I worked on this project last summer as part of my Leighty-Tabor Scholarship research, and this summer, we've had so much more progress, especially with being able to collaborate with all the professors."
Dr. Jennifer Schultz-Norton, assistant professor of physiology, and Travis Mansur, a junior biology major from Decatur, Ill., are developing a cost-effective enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) to test for atrazine contamination in ground and tap water samples. Since the start of 2013, Dr. Schultz-Norton has obtained weekly water samples from seven areas including Friends Creek in Friends Creek County Park, Big Creek in Mt. Zion, Lake Decatur, and the Sangamon River. The overall goal of the project is to examine the levels of contaminating atrazine in the samples and to examine the levels of other pesticides as well as other contaminants.
"I feel that I've become more confident in my work," said Mansur. "I'm more confident in my abilities to do things right since performing the research. This type of work definitely helps you get ready for the next step which for me is medical school. Undergraduates at larger schools don't often get the opportunity to do undergraduate research, but at Millikin you get to perform a lot of research."
The key aspect of the summer project for Mansur is to develop an ELISA protocol and to synthesize ELISA plates.
Mansur has also been working with Dr. Paris Barnes and Lindsay Baxter on the biological aspect of the nanoparticle project by testing the toxicity of each component and to see if the components are harmful to regular cells and cancerous cells.
Baxter added, "Millikin is amazing in the aspect of being able to do research as an undergrad. Being able to start research freshman year is unheard of at other schools and I think this will definitely help me stand out in my applications for medical school."