August 3, 2015 at 9:30am

Research Experience

Each summer, Millikin University's Leighty Science Scholarship Program provides opportunities for students in the natural sciences to work on graduate-level research projects. This summer, five Millikin Leighty Scholars are working with faculty members on research initiatives in the fields of chemistry and biology.

The Effects of Metal Nanoparticles on the Hydration of Carbon Dioxide

Alexander Cardascio, a junior biology (pre-veterinarian emphasis) major from Decatur, Ill., is working with chemistry faculty members Dr. Paris Barnes and Dr. Timothy Guasco on understanding the catalytic nature of late transition metal nanoparticles on the hydration of carbon dioxide (CO2).

"There is still an issue of carbon dioxide gas getting into the atmosphere that is leading to global warming, and researchers are still trying to find other energy sources that aren't going to produce CO2,” said Dr. Guasco. "Researchers are trying to store CO2 gas, which is very hard to do. You want to convert carbon dioxide into something else, either a liquid that can be used as fuel, or a solid that can be stored underground."

One way behind the reduction of the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is through mineralization - the process of trapping carbon dioxide as part of the structure in rocks. An important step in trapping the gas includes hydration of the carbon dioxide and forming carbonic acid.

Cardascio is examining how metal nanoparticles affect the hydration of carbon dioxide using three different types of nanoparticles: nickel, copper and zinc.

"Not many undergraduates get this opportunity and it's an opportunity of a lifetime," said Cardascio. "It's great hands-on work and I'm grateful to have this experience."

In terms of the Leighty Scholars Program, Dr. Paris Barnes noted, "It's an outstanding avenue for Millikin students to start their undergraduate research. The Leighty Scholars Program allows students to complete two full years of scientific research before graduating."

Tadpole Development and Research

Students Mackenzie Peck, a junior biology (molecular cell track) major from Livermore, Calif., and Nicole Koch, a junior biology (pre-physical therapy track) major from Morton, Ill., are working with Dr. Travis Wilcoxen, assistant professor of biology, on tadpole development and research.

Peck is studying the effects of water acidification on tadpole development and disease resistance. She is interested in how environmental change impacts animals in their natural environments.

One of the known threats to freshwater and marine habitats is acidification, largely from increased atmospheric carbon and sulfur entering the water sources. Peck is specifically studying how acidification of water impacts growth, development and immune defenses in tadpoles.

Nicole Koch is studying the effects of tail damage during the tadpole stage on the ability of tadpoles to swim as tadpoles as well as their ability to swim and leap as adults.

Koch is interested in how early life injury or altered development influences movement later in life, specifically in humans, but comparatively with tadpoles.

"Animal care is a big part of these types of studies and we have to make sure all the conditions are right," said Dr. Wilcoxen. "Tadpoles have a free-living early life environment, and tadpoles could tell us a lot about some of the patterns that we see with adult development in other species."

Wilcoxen added, "In terms of their research, every single thing the students will do involves the scientific method – taking the evidence that they have, analyzing it, coming up with an educated guess and testing it."

A Look Inside the Immune System

Students Francesca Rios, a junior biology major from Paris, Ill., and Katie Stromsland, a junior biology major from Gillespie, Ill., are researching the immune systems of amphibians and reptiles alongside Dr. Laura Zimmerman, assistant professor of biology.

Rios is researching how the immune system and the nervous system interact, and studying the effects of an insecticide on the immune and nervous systems of tadpoles. Rios is measuring the ability of tadpoles to respond to immunization as a measure of their immune function.

"Studies such as these are important because amphibian populations are declining rapidly worldwide," said Dr. Zimmerman. "Amphibians may act as indicator species for the overall health of the environment."

Katie Stromsland is studying the effect of intestinal parasites on the immune system of the red-eared slider turtle. Interested in comparative immunology and how it can translate to understanding human health, Stromsland's studies will help understand the role of antibodies in turtles, and may provide insights into aging of the immune system in other vertebrates like humans.

"Aside from lab work conducted during the academic year, this research experience provides one-on-one collaborations with faculty," said Rios. "We also have the opportunity to learn how to use specific types of instruments."

In terms of her research project, Katie Stromsland noted, "The immune system is something you can compare across all vertebrates and this project ties in well with that subject. There's not a whole lot known so far about reptile immune systems, so hopefully this project will help contribute to the overall understanding."

Leighty Scholarships are awarded to first-year science majors and include a $3,000 stipend for science research conducted between their sophomore and junior years.

The John and Ula Leighty Science Scholarship honors Dr. John Leighty, a 1931 Millikin graduate, for his contributions to science. Leighty is best known for his achievements while working at the Eli Lilly Company, where he collaborated with the research team that first produced penicillin.