Thursday, December 13, 2012

Q&A with Melissa Beck, Associate Director of Neurosciences and Head of Juvenile Toxicology at WIL Research

Dr. Melissa Beck
Describe your experiences while a student of the science program here at Ashland University.
At Ashland, I had the opportunity to work on equipment and projects that many other undergraduate students at small private universities don’t get.  In fact, many undergraduate students at large universities don’t get these same opportunities either.  I worked on a study using live animals that was eventually published, and we did everything from caring for the rats, dosing them, testing them in a functional observational battery and collecting tissues for analysis.  In chemistry, I had the opportunity to work with a lot of equipment most of my colleagues only read about during their undergraduate experience.  I consider myself very fortunate for the opportunities afforded to me at Ashland.

What is your present occupation? What types of things do you do in your work? What interesting projects or significant achievements have you been part of?
Currently, I am the Associate Director of Neurosciences and Head of Juvenile Toxicology at  WIL Research in Ashland.  WIL Research is a Contract Research Organization that performs safety assessment studies for drugs and chemicals.  The studies we perform help to ensure the safety of these drugs before they are given to humans.  I don’t do a lot of bench work now, but I participate in the design of these studies and am involved in data interpretation and reporting the study results.  I find this very fulfilling as I see the drugs I have worked with reaching the market and being used by adults and children.  I have also been able to participate in the development of guidances used by regulatory agencies to establish the safety of drugs and chemicals, and I have been able to co-author 3 book chapters on safety assessment for pediatric drugs.

What role did your education at AU play in your seeking out your current occupation?
At Ashland, I studied Toxicology, a program that is only offered at a handful of undergraduate institutions.  While in this program, I had the opportunity to work with live animals on an independent research study.  I learned that I have a love for research, which prompted me to earn a PhD in Toxicology from the University of Michigan.  After that, I joined WIL Research, which gives me the opportunity to put my education in Toxicology to use daily.

What advice do you have for current AU science majors?
I think it is very easy for an undergraduate science major to believe that the only opportunities for them are to be a doctor or science teacher.  Both of these occupations are very worthy, but they are just a drop in the bucket as to what you can do with a science education.  When I started at Ashland, I was in the Biology program and assumed I would end up becoming a doctor.  A friend encouraged me to take a Toxicology elective with her and the rest is history.  So, I would encourage current AU science majors to take electives and look outside the box for potential careers. 

What career advice can you give to future graduates of the AU science program?
There are many different things one can do with a degree in science.  I would suggest that they speak with their advisors and ask them for advice.  Also, look through the list of graduates and contact them to see what they are doing.  Get involved in an internship or shadow someone in a field you might have interest in.  Look through the research interests of faculty at grad schools you may want to attend.  If you have an interest, there is likely a way to apply your degree to that interest and there is probably someone who can assist you in reaching your goal.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ashland Toxicology and Environmental Science major receives national grant

Cassie Nix, a senior dual-majoring in Toxicology and Environmental Science, recently received a $350 research grant from the Tri-Beta National Biological Honors Society. Under the supervision of Dr. Andrew Trimble, Cassie is examining the toxicity of Jimsonweed (Datura stramonium), a highly poisonous invasive plant in Ohio that can become incorporated into hay and other livestock feed as well as compost piles. This plant contains very potent toxins that could potentially poison livestock, pets, or anyone handling contaminated compost.

“This species thrives in warm weather and is invading ditches, pastures and lawns,” Trimble said. “They are spreading more every year and, with that, there is increased potential for them to be harvested with hay or mixed with compost.” “Cassie is growing these plants in the greenhouse and developing new ways to extract and analyze the toxins they contain.”

 Trimble said this research will help determine how concerned farmers and homeowners should be with these invasive poisonous plants. “She is taking samples from dried and composted material and analyzing them to see how much of the toxin remains,” he said. Cassie has presented her current findings at an Ohio Valley Chapter meeting of the Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry at Miami University in Oxford and was recently selected to receive a national scholarship from the American Chemistry Society.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Get paid to conduct research this summer

Whether it is Chapel Hill, Baltimore, Boston, Berkeley or here in Ashland, many of our science majors take part in internships to conduct research during the summers. These positions will pay you and provide room and board to conduct research at locations all around the country, offering important experiences for future job searching, or admission to graduate school and professional schools like medical and physical therapy school. Last summer five AU students conducted research and other science-based internships off-campus, with another ten working in Kettering Science Center labs.

Most summer research programs have application deadlines in February. That makes the holiday break a good time to complete and submit applications before the spring semester begins. You will typically need one or two letters of recommendation, so talk with professors to line those up before the holiday break. Check back with this blog for updates and check out the listing of National Science Foundation funded programs across the country.  Another place to search for opportunities is on the Ohio Means Internships webpage, or by using the "summer research internships" tag on this site.

And as always, talk to your faculty advisor if you need help or have questions.

Some recent opportunities we have heard about:

Chemistry Alum Publishes Research

David Wilcox (Chemistry '08)
David Wilcox (Chemistry ’08) is completing his Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry in Professor Dor Ben-Amotz’s Resarch Group at Purdue University.  David and coworkers recently published an article in the journal Analytica Chimica Acta.  The title of this paper, his 7th while in graduate school, is “Photon level chemical classification using digital compressive detection.”  David wrote the following about his work.  

A key bottleneck to high-speed chemical analysis, including hyperspectral imaging and monitoring of dynamic chemical processes, is the time required to collect and analyze hyperspectral data.  In this work, we have built a new Raman spectrometer which utilizes a digital micromirror device (DMD)—the same technology present in everyday projectors—as an optical filter for rapid detection of chemical species.  In collaboration with mathematicians at Purdue University, we developed a new algorithm for designing optimal DMD filters that minimize the error in the measured component concentrations.  We have found that we can distinguish between two chemical compounds in 30 μs (with only ~10 photons ), which is significantly faster (by orders of magnitude) than possible with conventional Raman spectroscopy.

While a student at Ashland, David conducted research with Dr. Jeff Weidenhamer that helped to develop new methods of analysis for root exudates in soil.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Geology Alumna Nears Completion of Graduate Degree

Jennifer Tully ('11) with the TEM at Miami University
 Jennifer (Miller) Tully graduated from Ashland in 2011 with a B.S. in Geology and a B.S.Ed. in Integrated Science Education.  Her undergraduate research with Dr. Jeff Weidenhamer focused on the detection of toxic metals in consumer products.  Jennifer wrote the following about her current experience in graduate school at Miami University.

My second to last semester is coming to a close, as I am getting closer to finishing up my Masters degree in geology.  I spent this past summer collecting and analyzing river sediment samples for my thesis, which has involved examining heavy metal contamination in a stretch of the Great Miami River that flows through Hamilton, Ohio.  After obtaining the bulk chemical data I identified samples of interest and further characterized those samples using scanning electron microscopy (SEM) to determine how heavy metals were manifesting themselves in the river sediment.  I was able to identify coal spherules (from coal combustion) and particles of barium, lead and lead chromate (pigment in yellow road paint).  The lead chromate was of particular interest because the Cr in this compound is Cr+6 (carcinogenic) and we found potential evidence for dissolution.  I was then able to present my findings at the Annual Geological Society of America meeting held in Charlotte, NC and chair the session in which I presented.

There is still more work to be completed on this project as ICP-MS data indicated there are large amounts of Cu and Zn present in my samples; however I was unable to find any evidence via SEM.  So, over winter break I will be working with the transmission electron microscope (TEM) and learning how to do scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM), which is a technique, I will use to “map” elements on clay particles within my samples.  This may help determine where Cu and Zn are in our samples and we will be able to determine if any other heavy metals are sorbing onto clay particles. 

The first micrograph depicts lead chromate (bright white crystals) embedded in a Si/Ca/organics matrix (darker material), and the second micrograph is of a coal spherule.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Ashland biology senior conducts summer research at UC-Berkeley

Lindsey Knapp spent this past summer in California conducting research at UC Berkeley as part of a National Science Foundation funded research program.  Many of our students gain valuable experience in these REU programs, which typically accept applications starting in January or February of each year.  You can search these programs and learn more about applying here.  Lindsey wrote the following about her experience and provides some tips for a successful application:

My summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at University of California-Berkeley was a great experience that provided me with professional development skills, gave me a preview of my future career, and allowed me to network with a variety of biology students and professionals. I worked in David Weisblat’s Lab in the Molecular and Cellular Biology Department funded by a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant. My project focused on the gene piezo and its role in development and mechanotransduction in the leech Helobdella.

I found this REU on the NSF website along with other NSF funded programs. After applying to many programs, I was accepted into four great programs and chose Berkeley. I was in the Berkeley REU program with 10 other students from around the country and the world. My responsibilities were the same as a graduate student. I was given a project and a mentor who was familiar with the project and techniques needed to pursue it. I implemented experiments independently throughout the summer. At the end of the summer my cohort and I gave presentations on our projects including an introduction to the topic of research, the experiments we ran, and our results 

Throughout the summer there were a variety of professional development workshops on several topics including graduate school applications, science careers, scientific ethics, and public speaking. We also got to meet, interact with, and attend lectures from amazing scientists such as Tyrone Hayes, a world expert on fertilizers’ affect on the endocrine system, and Robert Full, a biophysicist who helped make movies such as “A Bug’s Life” and “Kung Fu Panda”. In addition, we were able to learn about hyenas at the Berkeley field station and go whale watching in the Pacific Ocean. 

This REU prepared me immensely for my future education and career. I am going to pursue a Ph.D. in Developmental Biology and go on to work in an industry or government lab. The experience of implementing my own experiments and troubleshooting for my own research project is invaluable. In graduate school I will essentially be working on a project of the same caliber, but with more freedom and independence. The skills I learned this summer will help me succeed in graduate school. Success in graduate school will ultimately help me procure a research focused job. 

During the application process, I would suggest that science majors apply for many different programs. There are hundreds to thousands of qualified applicants applying for each program. Make your application stand out by writing essays with personality and get good letters of recommendation from professors or professionals you have worked with. Be thorough but precise in your application, and do your best.
Lindsey presenting her summer research

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Internship Opportunity for Chemistry Majors

Julie Arko
Following graduation last spring, Julie Arko (ACS Chemistry ’12) began working as a Research Chemist at The Lubrizol Corporation in Wickliffe, Ohio.  She is currently looking for chemistry majors to fill summer intern positions.  Interested students should go to and follow the link to Internships and Co-ops.  Julie's own summer internship experience contributed significantly to securing full-time employment.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Science scholarship students attend technology entrepreneurship event

On September 29th, members of Ashland University's Choose Ohio First (COF) scholarship program attended the Northeast Ohio Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) Commercialization and Entrepreneurship Forum at Hudson High School. Our students and the scholarship program's faculty director, Dr. Steven Fenster, were on hand to represent Ashland University and heard presentations by academic and industry leaders. Speakers included: Dr. Luis Prorenza, the president of Akron University; Dr. Vinny Gupta, a member of the Ohio Board of Regents; Dr. Brian Davis, Department Chair of Biomedical Engineering at Akron University, and Dr. Katrina Cornish, Endowed Chair in Bio-based Emergent Material at Ohio State University. The goal of the Forum is to educate students about the importance of entrepreneurial thinking, and to engage them with the State's growing science and technology industry.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Microbiology professor edits a new book on bacteriophages

Dr. Paul Hyman, Assistant Professor of Biology/Toxicology, has edited Bacteriophages in Health and Disease with Dr. Stephen T. Abedon of the Ohio State University.  This book has just been published by CAB International.  The various chapters, including two chapters co-authored by Dr. Hyman, review the state-of-the-art in the role of bacteriophages in disease development and development of new therapies.

Bacteriophages, a type of virus that only infects bacterial cells, are typically thought to have no effect on human health since they cannot infect human cells. But they do have important roles in the evolution of new pathogens by carrying genetic material between bacterial cells.  There is also growing evidence that some bacteriophages have evolved mechanisms to avoid the human immune system so that they can attack bacteria that are part of the normal human microbiome – the collection of microbes that are found on and in a healthy person – thus altering the composition of the microbiome in ways that can also affect a person’s health.

In addition, the book contains chapters describing how bacteriophages are used in a variety of technologies for the discovery of new drugs and vaccines as well as the detection and identification of pathogenic bacteria.  Some of these are being marketed today including two anti-inflammatory drugs.  The final chapters review the long history and current study of bacteriophages as antibacterial drugs.  In some countries bacteriophage have been used for over 80 years to treat intestinal infections and wound infections among others.  This use of bacteriophages is designated phage therapy.  With the increasing levels of antibiotic resistant bacteria being seen around the world, phage therapy is seeing a resurgence in interest with dozens of treatments undergoing clinical trial.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

New COF Students Welcomed to Campus

On September 9th, members of Ashland University's Choose Ohio First (COF) scholarship program and other students and faculty gathered to hear talks from fellow Ashland students about their summer research and internship experiences.  Students talked about research conducted as far away as Berkeley, California (Lindsey Knapp), research performed right here in Ashland (Jared Baisden, Carly Young, Mary Brown, and Zack Haley), an internship experience at MetroHealth in Akron (Daiva Gerbec), or volunteer service at health clinics in Tanzania (Gina Laginya).  This year we welcomed 7 new students to the COF program including Maria Bon, Krista Lewis, Winifred Johnson, Tricia Martin, Kayla Prokopakis, Kylee Ziegler, and Dane Zunich.  Currently, we have 24 COF scholars (pictured above) majoring in Biochemistry, Biology, Environmental Science, or Toxicology.   The COF scholarships support students planning to pursue careers in the medical, agricultural, environmental, or related fields, either through continued education in graduate schools, health related professional schools or through direct employment in industry after completion of their degree.  The COF program at Ashland University is funded by the Ohio Board of Regents and directed by Dr. Steven Fenster.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Students and Faculty First to Use Newly Renovated Field Station at Dayspring Preserve

New-and-improved field station
Over the weekend, TriBeta, biology honorary, hosted the annual faculty/student camping trip to Dayspring Environmental Preserve.

This was the first use of the newly renovated field station and access bridge, both of which have been enormously improved over 2011-2012 due to a generous grant from the Schooler Family Foundation.  Additional improvements were funded by Ashland University and LG Electronics.

In 2004, Dr. Lewis Smith (AU'50) and his wife Ardeth (Kline, AU'52) donated 50 acres of land in Coshocton County for use as an Ashland University environmental preserve.

This property is located in an unglaciated area of Ohio, and thus contains different habitats and geological formations than are found in the other Ashland University preserves. Features include mature deciduous forest and a deep ravine with a healthy stream that flows across much of the property.  For additional pictures of the renovation, see the Ashland University Sciences facebook page (Camping at Dayspring photo album).

The view into the kitchen from the dining/meeting room.
Looking out toward the renovated bridge from the dining/meeting room.

Research Experience for Undergraduates in Warm-Water Ecology

The National Science Foundation's Research Experiences for Undergraduates program has allowed many of our students to participate in great experiences doing real research jobs (for real $$) and getting professional development training.  There is a huge variety of programs offered all over the U.S. and at international sites. For those inclined toward field biology, this one run by groups at Auburn University interested in warm-water ecology might be of interest.  This group also hosts a Facebook page.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Environmental Lecture Series on The Ecology of Urban Living

The 21st Ashland University Environmental Lecture Series kicked off on Sept. 20 with a discussion of urban streams by Dr. Anne Jefferson, Assistant Professor of Geology, Kent State University. Our theme this year is "The Ecology of Urban Living."  

Dr. Jefferson's presentation was titled "The Science of Streams in the City" and can be viewed here.

This year's series continues Thursday, Oct. 11 with a presentation by by Dr. Parwinder Grewal, Director of the Center for Urban Development and the Environment at OSU-OARDC. He will be discussing "Urban Agriculture, Food Security, and Ecological Footprint of Cities."  [7:30 pm, HCSC Auditorium] 

Dr. Grewal will focus on the potential value and hurdles in developing sustainable urban agricultural enterprises. Daily needs of cities for food, water, energy, and other materials are met almost exclusively through importation of goods from distant places, often across continents. Urban agriculture offers a comprehensive framework for local self-reliance and resilience and a means to reducing the ecological footprint of cities. Interest in urban agriculture has escalated recently due to the accumulation of vacant land particularly in post-industrial U.S. cities and motivation to address food insecurity and childhood obesity issues in disadvantaged urban neighborhoods. Urban agriculture can revitalize affected neighborhoods and cities by generating new employment opportunities, increasing access to healthy food and sustaining cities by  forming closed-loop ecological systems with vacant spaces, waste water and solid waste as potential resources. 

Extension. Dr. Grewal’s basic research has  made important contributions to the mitigation of insect pests in both agricultural and urban settings.  Grewal created the interdisciplinary Urban Landscape Ecology Program,  which brings together scientists from a wide range of disciplines to address challenges to urban landscapes and ecosystems.

The Environmental Lecture Series is supported by the Ashland University Environmental Science Program and a grant from the Lubrizol Foundation.  All lectures are free and open to the public.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Two AU Students Receive National ACS Scholarships

Senior Biochemistry and Biology major Jared Baisden and Junior Toxicology and Environmental Science/Biology major Cassie Nix, have been awarded scholarships this year through the American Chemical Society Scholars Program.  Both Jared and Cassie are actively involved in undergraduate research this year.  Jared’s honors thesis is focused on the isolation of compounds produced by wilting red maple leaves, which may be associated with toxicity to horses that eat these leaves.  He is working under the supervision of Dr. Jeff Weidenhamer.  Cassie is working with Dr. Andrew Trimble on the analysis of estrogens and DDT in environmental samples, and on the analysis of toxic alkaloids in jimsonweed plants.
Jared Baisden

This American Chemical Society program awards renewable scholarships of up to $5,000 to underrepresented students who want to enter the fields of chemistry or chemistry-related fields, such as environmental science, toxicology and chemical technology.  High school seniors and college freshmen, sophomores, or juniors are eligible to apply. 

Cassie Nix
The ACS Scholars Program was established in 1994 to attract African American, Hispanic, and American Indian students considered underrepresented in the chemical sciences by the National Science Foundation to pursue careers in the field.  The program also aims to build awareness of the value and rewards associated with careers in chemistry and to assist students in acquiring skills and credentials needed for success.  AU aluma Marie Southerland (Biochemistry ’12) was a previous recipient of this award. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Toxicology graduate works for Ohio Department of Health

Tricia Matz (Toxicology ’11) recently received her Master’s degree in Public Health from Ohio State University with a dual specialization in Epidemiology as well as Health Behavior, Health Promotion.  Following graduation, she was hired to serve as the Adolescent Health Epidemiologist for the Ohio Department of Health, Department of Maternal and Child Health.  At ODH, she is working with data from the Youth Risk Behavioral Survey along with some surveys conducted in the state.  Her primary role is to use the data to assess the health of adolescents in Ohio to determine if any trends exist for particular behaviors (seat belt use, tobacco use, alcohol use, etc.).  Tricia will also use the data collected to compare Ohio adolescents to those in the nation to see how Ohio adolescents are doing overall, as well as some areas where more programming and policies are needed. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Full-time research internship with the U.S. EPA

Brenda Parris (Toxicology/EVS ’03) is an environmental scientist at the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water of the U.S. EPA in Cincinnati.  She is looking for recent college graduates to fill two paid intern positions.  Start dates may be in January or possibly June of 2013.  Applications must be postmarked by September 30, 2012.  

Contact Dr. Rebecca Corbin, Associate Professor of Chemistry, for additional information about this opportunity.  Ashland science alumni and graduating seniors are encouraged to apply.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Biology major volunteers as HIV/AIDS prevention educator in Tanzania

Gina Laginya, a senior Biology major from Youngstown, Ohio, spent this summer helping educate local Tanzanians about HIV/AIDS prevention with the Global Service Corps.  Gina writes that:
"I had the best time in Tanzania. Words cannot describe the amount of growth and realization I experienced from being outside of my comfort zone. East African views and culture is tremendously different than ours. Being submerged into the Tanzanian way of life has allowed me to truly understand world problems with a new perspective. I am more than grateful for the knowledge and experience that I gained while in Tanzania. I would suggest fellow students to consider an international volunteer opportunity, as I found my experience to be life altering."

Gina is interested in pursuing a career in health care in the area of community medicine.  This volunteer opportunity in international health arose through conversations with Ashland University's Global Education Office Director, Rebecca Parillo.  If you are interested in investigating possible international internship, course, or volunteer options check out our new study abroad for science students wiki page, or the Global Education Office webpage.