Students From Across United States Gain Research Experience at Rutgers University–Camden

By Jeanne Leong

Nicholas Thayer is getting an early start on his goal for a career in the sciences, as one of a select group of ten college students from across the United States participating in the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Program at Rutgers University–Camden this summer.

Thayer, a rising junior at Reed College in Portland, is conducting research for ten weeks in the lab of Nir Yakoby, a Rutgers–Camden associate professor of biology and director of the Center for Computational and Integrative Biology (CCIB).

Nicholas Thayer

Nicholas Thayer

Thayer is researching a process in the ovaries of flies by which certain cells have more than one nucleus.

“We look very closely at fly ovaries and determine over a short period of time what cell nuclei are going where, and where they are coming from, and that allows us to get a picture of how a system of cells evolves over time,” says Thayer, of San Francisco. “It is of interest for a variety of cell biological reasons, and genetic reasons and developmental reasons.”

The research is important in not only in understanding flies, but other species as well.

The NSF grant establishes Rutgers–Camden’s CCIB as an REU site, in which a group of undergraduates work within the established research programs of a host institution. The students live and work on campus during the ten-week program, and receive room, board, and a $5,000 stipend, which allows students that would not normally have the opportunity, the ability to gain critical experience in the process of scientific research.

The Computational Biology Summer Program introduces participants to an integrated approach of conducting research, incorporating the biological sciences, mathematics, computer science, chemistry, and physics.

“The students really get quite a bit out of it,” says Joseph Martin, associate dean for science, mathematics, technology, and health sciences, and a professor in the biology department. “They are able to get their names on a publication sometimes, learn how research works, and learn the ins and outs of research.”

Tess Konnovitch

Tess Konnovitch

Based in the state-of-the-art labs at the Governor James J. Florio Center for Public Service, located at the Camden Waterfront, the students collaborate with graduate students including Katrina DeWitt, a Rutgers–Camden graduate biology student who is serving as the REU student mentor. DeWitt participated in the REU program as a Rutgers–Camden undergrad, so she understands what the students are experiencing and can offer helpful advice and guidance.

“I can definitely talk to pretty much anyone here about what they are doing, and be able to help them if they have issues or questions,” says DeWitt, a 2018 Rutgers–Camden alumna from Elk Township.

Tess Konnovitch, a rising junior at La Salle University, is excited to be working on a project in the lab of Angélica González, an assistant professor of biology, conducting a meta-analysis studying the responses of invertebrates to nutrient deposition

“During my time here, I am hoping to collect as much data as possible so we can begin to understand the general responses of invertebrate communities to nutrient deposition,” says Konnovitch, “This will help in predicting the ecological consequences of changes in the biogeochemistry of our world.”

“In the end,” says Konnovitch, “we hope to extract a lot of data and make big statistical graphs and analyses about it.”

The program helps students build confidence and gives them an opportunity to participate in major scientific research work, and helps direct them toward a STEM career.

Casey Chloe conducting research

Chloe Casey

Chloe Casey, a rising junior at Avila University in Kansas City, Mo., is conducting her first field research project working with Amy Savage, an assistant professor of biology, in the streets of Camden to study the effects of an urban environment on ants and how the high-fat, high-sugar food discarded by humans and consumed by ants can change ant behavior and their predation.

“I got to come out here for the summer, get a totally new experience,” says Casey. “It really solidifies what I want to do because I’m enjoying it so much.”

The principal investigator of the grant, Benedetto Piccoli, is the Joseph and Loretta Lopez Chair in Mathematics at Rutgers University–Camden, where he also serves as associate provost for research. Joseph Martin, associate dean for science, mathematics, technology, and health sciences, and a professor in the biology department, is the co-principal investigator.


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