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.