Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

Pop-Up science

Students share research with wider community

Ben Cutler ’17

Ben Cutler ’17, a physics major, is investigating the ice-water boundary of Europa (a moon of Jupiter) to better understand the dynamics of its ocean.

How do you regrow a heart, design limb prosthetics or calculate mercury levels in vernal pools?

Wheaton students explained how to do all these things and more at Pop-Up Labs, an event held in the Mars Center for Science and Technology on Nov. 11, 2016, during Fall Visiting Day when hundreds of prospective students, parents and high school counselors were on campus.

“Communicating [scientific information] to the general public is important, and that is what Pop-Up Labs is all about,” said Professor of Biology Betsey Dyer, who organized the event. “Being able to put complicated subjects into plain language and to demonstrate something interesting and relevant in the lab are good skills to have.”

Here are the students who participated:

Madison Borrelli ’18, a physics major, mapped thousands of craters on Enceladus and Dione—moons of Saturn—and used a technique called the buffered crater counting method to determine how they interact with nearby fractures. Borrelli is attempting to establish whether the craters on both moons are the same age, which would indicate a past catastrophic event. “This project appealed to me because Enceladus is such an active moon, and I think mapping it can lead to some interesting research in the future,” she said.

Ben Cutler ’17, a physics major, is investigating the ice-water boundary of Europa (a moon of Jupiter) to better understand the dynamics of its ocean. “Motion along the top boundary of the ocean is an important parameter for modeling the entire ocean,” he said. Cutler said he enjoys this project, which involves the practical applications of physics as well as computer modeling.

Amanda Herzog ’17, an environmental science major, is studying vernal pools and how changes in climate—which may alter precipitation patterns and affect the flooding and drying cycles of pools—could lead to potential changes in mercury methylation rates. “When most people think of mercury contamination, mercury in fish comes to mind, but the bioaccumulation of mercury in forest organisms is also a significant problem. I wanted to tie in an aspect of climate change because it is an important research area moving forward in science,” she said.

Claudine Humure ’17, a biology major, is designing an above-knee prosthetic socket that is cost effective and adjusts to comfortably distribute load across an amputee's residual limb regardless of the limb shape, size and volume fluctuation. “I chose this project for two reasons: One, because I am an amputee and I would like to see more high quality prosthetic limbs on the market; and two, because I want these prosthetic limbs to be available to amputees in developing countries regardless of their income,” she said.

Stephanie Langlois ’17, a biology major, is researching symbionts, which are two organisms that rely on one another to survive. She is studying trichomycetes—symbionts of insects, spiders and crustaceans—to better understand their evolution. “I have an interest in infectious diseases. Symbiotic relationships can be an epilogue to the evolutionary story of many infectious diseases,” she said.

Zhao “Nancy” Li ’17, an environmental science major concentrating on geology, is analyzing the levels of methanesulfonic acid and other elements, including potassium and calcium, in the ice sheet. “There are lots of things stored in the ice sheet, including harmful gases. With global warming, the  temperature is increasing, and these harmful gases may release into the air,” she said.

Kimberly Nestor ’17

Kimberly Nestor ’17, a neuroscience major, is examining neuroanatomical and working memory deficits of male and female rodents exposed to teratogen methylazoxymethanol acetate. The findings can be used to improve the psychological and pharmacological treatment of male and female schizophrenics.

Kimberly Nestor ’17, a neuroscience major, is examining neuroanatomical and working memory deficits of male and female rodents exposed to teratogen methylazoxymethanol acetate. The findings can be used to improve the psychological and pharmacological treatment of male and female schizophrenics. “I hope to study the neuropathology of mental health disorders as a career in the future. I think it’s important for the research community to better acknowledge female participants in research studies, particularly when treatment methods are being considered,” she said.

Ao “Nancy” Shi ’17, a biochemistry major, is studying heart disease and, in particular, heart attacks, which are the leading cause of death in the United States. In her study, she uses zebrafish to study cardiac regeneration. “Understanding the mechanisms of cardiac tissue regeneration in zebrafish may lead to practical prevention and cures for cardiac injury in humans,” she said.

Samuel Zarfos ’17, who is majoring in environmental science with a chemistry concentration, is studying methane sulfonic acid (MSA) in ice core samples. MSA is a product of the decomposition of the waste product of phytoplankton; phytoplankton productivity is directly associated with temperature and sea ice presence. “As the ice melts and the globe warms, MSA levels rise. Analyzing ice core samples for MSA can give an accurate depiction of climate change and provide valuable knowledge on our changing climate,” he said.

Raymond Zhang ’17, a biochemistry major, is investigating how methyl mercury (MeHg)—which mimics estrogen and is commonly found in most seafood—impacts breast cancer cells. Using zebrafish, he is determining whether MeHg causes breast cancer cells to grow and spread faster. “My research interests lie within the mechanisms of cancer formation, progression and metastasis, as well as possible treatments and therapies for cancer. Breast cancer is a common form of cancer, which kills over half a million women worldwide each year. Increased research into the prevention and treatment of this disease is crucial,” he said.

Keith Nordstrom photos