Summer Fellows present latest research to campus community

Group photo of the four students

During the spring semester, Julie Schlanz '23 (Shadyside, Ohio) learned how to grow melanoma cells. Weeks after the semester ended, she was still on campus working with the cancerous cells - this time, trying to kill them.

Schlanz, a Biochemistry major, was one of four students to earn Summer Fellowships through the Investigative Studies Program. The fellowship is designed to support students who are working on research projects under the mentorship of a faculty member. Recipients receive a taxable stipend for up to $2,619 plus six weeks of on-campus housing, which is also taxable.

Last week, the four researchers - Schlanz, Emily Etheridge '23 (Harrisville, Rhode Island), John Gantner '22 (Centerburg, Ohio) and Shelby Millheim '22 (Bethlehem, Pennsylvania) - presented the results of their projects to campus.

Schlanz, who worked with McCoy Associate Professor of Biochemistry Dr. Suzanne Parsons, studied the effects of mononitroparaben on melanoma cell growth.

"It's really such a cool experience just to be able to have access to grow them," Schlanz said.

"I wake up every morning and I'm like, 'I need to go check on my cells.' Sometimes I stop and think, 'Wow, I am working with melanoma cancer cells!' Not everyone can say that. And when I put the paraben on them and actually saw them begin to die, it was very exciting even though I spent all this time making sure that they grow properly but then having them actually die and seeing the treatment actually working, it's really exciting."

This fall, she will continue her research on how the paraben kills the cells and what mechanism of cell death is occurring, which will lead to her Honors thesis during her senior year.

Etheridge's presentation, The Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) Mission: Investigating the composition of Phobos using neutrons, was introduced by her research advisor, Dr. Andrew Beck, Assistant Professor of Geology. Beck helped to develop a Planetary Science program at Marietta that is currently under review as a potential major by the Higher Learning Commission, one of the nation's six regional accreditors for institutions of higher education.

During her presentation, Etheridge discussed the different origin hypotheses for Mars's two moons, Phobos and Deimos, and how the 2024 MMX Mission will help determine if Phobos was a captured asteroid or if was formed from debris caused by a giant impact. The MMX Mission, led by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), will launch a probe in 2024 to the surface of Phobos, collect a sample and return to Earth in 2029.

Etheridge said the Summer Fellowship Program has provided an excellent opportunity to her and other student researchers who want to continue their research on campus during the summer.

"I'm from Rhode Island so it's not easy for me to be here, spending my time here and working on research when I could be back home working part-time," she said. "But being able to get experience in my field while also making a livable wage and being able to stay on campus for free, especially with a group of people that I can see what they're doing, being a part of that community is such an excellent experience."

She plans to attend graduate school and earn a doctorate in Planetary Science. She also hopes to continue this research next summer in the Applied Physics Lab at Johns Hopkins University.

Gantner's research, Adapting to violence: How does the U.N. respond to dynamic conflicts, was introduced by his advisor, Dr. Michael Morgan, Associate Professor of Political Science.

"I'm looking at whether or not the United Nations is following around violence and staying close to civilians it is supposed to protect," he said. "The peacekeepers are ever-present in these conflicts but are they actually close?"

Gantner studied certain countries during wartime that had U.N. peacekeeper (military-based) presence to examine if their presence had any impact on war-related death in those areas over a period of time. He created a map to illustrate his findings.

"My advisor is Dr. Morgan, and his area of research is United Nations," said Gantner, a History and Political Science major. "He introduced me to the literature on United Nations, which is gigantic. I've always been interested in geography and Dr. (Matt) Young (McCoy Professor of History) introduced me to geographic information systems, and I saw an opportunity to insert my interests in geography and peacekeeping into one project."

Gantner encourages students to pursue research opportunities such as the Summer Fellowship if they are interested in a particular subject.

"It is a lot of work," he said, "the research process is big, but if it's something you want to do, this is a good experience - especially for the social sciences like humanities and history. I think it's a really good opportunity to see what your options could be after graduating from college."

For Millheim, the Summer Fellowship Presentation would be the first of two presentations she would give on her research topic, Investigation of the proton transfer mechanism in fluorescence quenching. She will also present during the American Chemical Society Conference in Spring 2022. She was introduced by her research advisor, Professor of Chemistry Dr. Debbie Egolf. Her work actually began during her freshman year.

"That year, I was able to work with Dr. Egolf and I kind of just watched another researcher do his work, and learn all his techniques, and eventually I was able to work on my own and figure out what project I wanted to pursue, which is what led me to my project today."

She plans to do more research on the proton transfer process for her Honors thesis. She hopes to find ways that will help her and others understand the proton transfer process actually occurs and what makes it occur. "Right now, all we know is that a hydrogen atom has to be present but we don't really know what makes it happen. It's not a topic that people really understand and it isn't a very common research topic."

She appreciated the questions asked by faculty, staff and students in the audience who wanted to know more about her topic.

"I think the most challenging thing for me (during the presentation) was explaining the different terms to people, given that it was a general audience," she said. "I think at the American Chemical Society, since it's a lot of people from my background, that it becomes a lot easier because they already know those terms. It was kind of difficult but I think it's really rewarding, especially when you see a lot of people with confused looks on their faces at first but then you see them and it's like, 'Oh, now it's registering.' I think that's really awesome that I can tell a story that explains concepts that not many people are exposed to."

Millheim plans to go to graduate school and pursue a Ph.D. in Green Chemistry, also known as Sustainable Chemistry, so it focuses on ways to improve different kinds of industries and what products they are producing and how they affect the environment.