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C of I students pursue advanced research over summer

July 20, 2017

From Boone Hall’s basement to the biology labs on its top floor, the summertime has not put a stop to student academic pursuits. From cutting-edge biomedical research to the study of galactic formation, summer time at the C of I has served as a season of scientific opportunity for undergraduate researchers.

Since the start of the summer, dozens of students have participated in a wide variety of research projects in multiple scientific disciplines with the help of the College’s faculty members. For many, coming to the labs at Boone Hall is a steady summer job, conducting experiments and gathering data five days a week. For others, it is a unique chance to participate in original research, an opportunity some undergraduates do not have until entering graduate school.

“When I first got here, I never thought about being able to do any research like this,” C of I senior health sciences major Troy Carr said. “Here, we have such a good program that it was actually easy to get involved. We’re getting graduate level thinking as undergrads and developing the thought process that will help us out in our careers.”

Since last summer, Carr has worked in the lab of biology professor Dr. Thomas Pirtle researching the cardiovascular system of the Daphnia magna, a small, underwater flea. Carr records the reactions of the Daphnia’s heart rate to drugs meant for vertebrates, researching if the Daphnia’s invertebrate heart has the same reactions, which can allow for it to be used as a substitute in vertebrate heart research.

“When you put it under the microscope and you see that tiny heart beating well, it’s fascinating,” Carr said.

Fleas aren’t the only species being researched, as biology and art senior Quin McLaughlin and biology senior Hailey Boyd are using crayfish to determine the toxicity of its surrounding ecosystem. Continuing with the research led by biology professor Dr. Mark Gunderson, McLaughlin and Boyd are isolating specific enzymes and proteins present in crayfish species when they are exposed to specific heavy metals, analyzing tissue samples and preparing them for further study.

“It’s incredible to have these kinds of opportunities,” McLaughlin said. “I’m the kind of person that’s interested in everything, but environmental toxicology is something that I’m really excited to learn more about.”

Across the hall, chemistry senior Jason Byce and his lab partner, senior health science major Hunter Temple, are researching the medicinal values of sagebrush in the lab of chemistry professor Dr. Carolyn Dadabay, biomedical research funded by Idaho INBRE. Temple and Byce work together to isolate chemicals found within common sagebrush plants that can help keep active medicines within the body for longer periods of time. The two have collaborated with other researchers at Boise State University, but now do most of their work at Boone Hall.

“We come in around the same time and make a plan for the day,” Byce said. “We’re doing multiple plates and multiple forms of extraction. Between planning and getting everything ready, we have a lot going on at all times.”

Around the corner in biology professor Dr. Sara Heggland’s lab, chemistry senior Claire Otero and biology junior Flo Wavreil are continuing to craft experiments on how electronic cigarettes affect bone health, a topic Heggland’s lab has been researching for years. Otero and Wavreil look into specific flavors of e-liquids, determining how each affects cell viability.

“The flavor is what makes the difference,” Otero said. “The brands are very different and they all have different effects. It’s a new generation of products, and not much is known about their long term effects yet.”

Meanwhile, in the basement of Boone Hall, senior mathematics-physics major Leo Trujillo is looking to the stars. He is part of a group of other physics students working on a paper about star formation. Remotely controlling high-powered telescopes located in West Virginia, Trujillo is focusing on how stars form in galactic bubbles, gathering data and observations.

“I work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. focusing on just one thing at a time,” Trujillo said. “It’s really intense research, but it’s something I enjoy.”

Much of the research is funded through Idaho INBRE, which sponsors research and educational opportunities at a network of undergraduate institutions and community colleges, which includes the C of I. For many of the student researchers, INBRE is helping to prepare them for a future career.

“I know that this kind of research is what I want to do with my life,” Wavreil said. “Doing this kind of research helps to determine what it is that I want to focus on.”

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