Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

Focusing on fruit flies, seeking insight

Wheaton College students Jeffrey Paer, Michaela SupersonWheaton College students Jeffrey Paer, Michaela SupersonFor most people, fruit flies are just annoying visitors in the kitchen. We don’t usually think about fruit flies learning or fighting over mates, but Michaela Superson ’13, a neuroscience major, and Jeffrey Paer ’15, a biology major, have been looking at these complex behaviors in fruit flies to study brain chemistry and memory.

Superson, who spent the past two semesters working on a senior honors thesis project, was interested in neurotransmitters, chemicals that relay messages between different cells in the brain. In particular, she worked with dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward.

“My senior thesis provided an excellent introduction to medical research I may conduct in the future,” said Superson, who plans to go to medical school. “It solidified my love of neuroscience and my desire to pursue medicine.”

Wheaton College students Jeffrey Paer, Michaela SupersonHer experimental fruit flies were mutants that produce either too little or too much dopamine. She observed the effects that changes in dopamine can have on courtship behavior, compared to the courtship behavior of “normal” flies. Then, she “rescued” the mutant flies, by adding dopamine or a dopamine inhibitor to restore their dopamine levels to normal.

Paer, who is also interested in a medical career, started out as an assistant for Superson’s thesis project and was soon inspired to start  his own research testing memory in fruit flies. [Read more...]

Dear Class of 2013:

As you leave, words of wisdom from alums

“It’s tempting to put a laser beam of focus on a particular career direction. After all, it’s a competitive job market out there. But my advice is—in the beginning—to find a job that feels like a good fit for your talents, and let your path be open to opportunities as you move through life. A natural writer (and polished by my Wheaton education), I went from being an ad writer for a real estate company to public service director at a radio station to event planner for Seattle Center to marketing director of financial institutions to real estate professional to (hired at age 64!) flight attendant. Sometimes circumstances make you feel like you are stalled or losing ground. Don’t worry about it; stay tuned to what gives you joy and the work will follow.”

—Tani Clinchard Erickson ’65  [Read more...]

Lessons from South Africa

South Africa-Botswana

Students listen to a presentation by a tour guide at Langa Township.

Having read Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Shiwei Huang ’15 knew about the “dom passes” that black South Africans were required to carry during the apartheid era. But when she visited Johannesburg’s Apartheid Museum and saw an exhibition on black South Africans’ fight for citizenship, she truly understood their plight.

South Africa-Botswana

Students visit the Old Fort Prison Complex, where political activists, including Nelson Mandela, were once detained.

“You can learn history from a book, but at the museum, you saw it, in videos, documents and pictures,” she said. “It had a big impact on me.”

That was one of many lessons that Huang and 15 other Wheaton students learned when they visited Cape Town and Johannesburg for the January course “Witnessing Contemporary African Society and Culture,” an interdisciplinary program launched in 2008.

The one-credit winter-break course, taught this year by professors James Freeman (economics) and Marcus Allen (political science), focuses on “trying to understand the culture, the sociology, the politics and the economics of post-apartheid South Africa—sort of witnessing the evolution, if you will, of a society reborn,” Allen said. [Read more...]

A minute with…Lindsay Petrenchik ’13

Lindsay Petrenchik ’13Lindsay Petrenchik, a biochemistry major, has been working with Professor of Biology Barbara Brennessel conducting research on spotted turtles on Cape Cod. The project recently won a grant from the Nantucket Biodiversity Initiative. Turtle talk: “Spotted turtles are in rapid decline because their habitats are being fragmented and altered by humans. The objective of our study is to compare the genetic differences between spotted turtle populations on Nantucket Island and on the mainland, which allows us to determine how related the island populations are to the mainland populations. Because island populations are isolated, there is a high degree of inbreeding that can make animals less adaptable or more susceptible to disease. Once we have analyzed the data, we will submit a report to the Nantucket Conservation Foundation. Foundation officials have explained that a comparison between the island and mainland populations could possibly help to determine appropriate conservation and management methods of spotted turtles that have become isolated due to habitat fragmentation.” [Read more...]