Standout biology senior receives research award

When biology major Maggie Brown was a freshman at The College of Idaho, she was approached by Biology Professor Dr. Sara Heggland with a proposal—the chance to become involved in cutting edge research as an undergraduate on the largely unexplored topic of electronic cigarettes.

“I was shocked I could have a research opportunity like that,” Brown said. “I knew when I was looking at colleges, having the opportunity to do research was a high priority for me. The College of Idaho gave me that opportunity.”

Brown became one of the first students to work with Heggland researching the effects of electronic cigarettes on bone health, spending more than three years performing experiments and gathering data. Now a senior with a completed honors thesis for her undergraduate research, Brown recently won Best Oral Presentation in Cell and Developmental Biology at the 42nd annual West Coast Biological Sciences Undergraduate Research Conference.

“It’s great to see Maggie recognized,” Heggland said. “She was my first student on this e-cig project, and she’s done a lot of foundational work that new students will be able to build upon. She has a great project with a compelling story, and she presents it with such passion, she draws you in completely.”

The WCBSURC is one of the largest biology undergraduate research conferences in the west. Brown was one of three C of I students participating at this year’s conference—classmates Liz Trenkel and Dylan Kieffer presented their research on the effect of summer stream drying on water quality and redband trout populations in Dry Creek north of Boise.

As she prepares to graduate, Brown is pleased with the progress her research has made since she and Heggland began the project.

“When we first started, we weren’t even sure how to set up our experiments,” Brown said. “E-cigarettes hit the U.S. markets only ten years ago, and there’s barely been any research done on how they affect human health. We’re kind of on the cutting edge right now, which is an exciting opportunity for a small liberal arts school.”

Next, Brown is looking to publish her honors thesis as she enrolls in medical school at the University of Washington. Meanwhile, Heggland will continue researching e-cigarettes and bone health with the help of student researchers and financial support from the Idaho INBRE program.

“I’m really thankful I’ve had this research experience and to have had Dr. Heggland’s help in guiding me,” Brown said. “It’s been rewarding being able to problem solve and really think through issues by research and experimenting, and without Idaho INBRE and C of I, none of it could have happened.”

The College of Idaho has a 125-year-old legacy of excellence. The C of I is known for its outstanding academic programs, winning athletics tradition and history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three governors, four NFL players and countless business leaders and innovators. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell, where its proximity both to Boise and to the world-class outdoor activities of southwest Idaho’s mountains and rivers offers unique opportunities for learning beyond the classroom.  For more information, visit