Summer REUs: Six science students get research internships

Summer REUs: Six science students get research internships

F or years, Georgia College students have been selected for valuable REUs (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) that help broaden their skills and enhance future opportunities. They’re chosen for their knowledge, lab experience, ability to work in teams and experience with undergraduate research.

This summer is no different.

Six students—four biology majors, a physics major and chemistry major—have accepted REUs at a variety of schools in the United States and abroad. They’ll work with laser optics, synthetic and molecular biology, cell signaling pathways and biomedical techniques.

Georgia College’s long-standing and strong track record of student acceptance into extremely competitive REU programs speaks to our students’ high level of research preparedness and outstanding faculty mentorship.
– Dr. Chavonda Mills, chair of Chemistry, Physics and Astronomy

“These experiences provide an excellent opportunity for our students to further explore their research interests while broadening their professional network. In our department,” Mills said “we’ve had several students gain acceptance to graduate school with an invitation to join their REU mentor’s research group. And, we’ve had a few students publish their REU projects in peer-reviewed publications, bringing national recognition to our department and Georgia College.”

This year, the lab experiences will mostly be virtual, but two are in person.

Most REUs are sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and generally last eight to 12 weeks, beginning in late May and early June. They give students the opportunity to learn laboratory work ethics and research techniques, while using state-of-the-art equipment at other universities. They work alongside graduate students, as well as other undergraduates, and post-doctoral researchers. REUs help deepen a love for learning and exploration. Students often leave internships with a career network that includes professional scientists.  

“REU’s increases the chances of our students getting accepted to graduate programs and winning highly-competitive scholarships and awards which, in turn, helps us to maintain our status as a leader in undergraduate research and provider of high-quality undergraduate education,” said Dr. Hasitha Mahabaduge, assistant professor of physics.

Students participating in 2021 REUs are:

Evan Dunnam
Evan Dunnam
Evan Dunnam of Acworth, Georgia. Dunnam’s a sophomore majoring in physics. He’ll be doing a virtual REU with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) in the area of theoretical physics and materials research. He’ll team up with Mahabaduge to look at magnetic and electrical properties of certain materials, using advanced equipment like electromagnets and laser optics.

Mahabaduge teamed up with other students over the years to conduct summer research at UNL. This created a connection between the two schools. Maintaining that connection helps secure continuing spots for Georgia College students, Mahabaduge said.

“It is important for us to develop the necessary infrastructure here at Georgia College, so our students can make the best use of these opportunities,” Mahabaduge said. “Evan will be completing his research work from Georgia College. Over the years, we built our lab to include such research capabilities.”

The team’s goal is to observe various materials and characterize them, so the materials can be applied in real-world systems. Dunnam looks forward to getting this practical experience and working with lab equipment.

Being able to work and become familiar with the equipment that I’ll use for years to come will give me an amazing head start on my future.
– Evan Dunnam
“This is my first research, but I am excited and eager to begin,” Dunnam said. “The general field of materials research interests me greatly, due to the abundant applications that can come from it.”

“Being able to work and become familiar with the equipment that I’ll use for years to come will give me an amazing head start on my future,” he added. “By getting hands-on experience early-on, I hope it’ll help me grow to be a successful researcher.”

After graduation, Dunnam would like to get to an engineering degree at Georgia Tech, then conduct research in physics as a career.

“So far at Georgia College, I feel as though I’ve been given amazing research opportunities,” he said. “Under Dr. Mahabaduge’s mentorship, I’ve been able to start working with the same equipment that the summer research will require, giving me the much-needed confidence to thrive in this experience.”

Nicholas Campbell
Nicholas Campbell
Nicholas Campbell of Snellville, Georgia. Campbell’s a senior majoring in chemistry. His REU is in-person at the University of Kansas and mixes biochemistry with chemistry. Campbell is doubly excited to begin his REU, since the one he obtained last year fell through, due to COVID-19.

Campbell will be working on the protective layer around brain nerves in mice and how they form and degrade. He’ll conduct tests to see what can be done to delay degradation of nerve cells. He’ll also try to discover the element that leaves brain nerves unprotected and find ways to prevent that from occurring.

This work can be applied to neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Multiple Sclerosis.

“An REU seemed like an excellent way to gain experiences in my field’s differing subsets and get experience in research not being done at our university and gain experience with machines that our university does not have,” Campbell said.

“I am most looking forward to working with a topic I have very little to no experience with and learning new techniques the lab,” he said. “I’m hoping, when I come back from my REU, I have gained knowledge of techniques and practices I can then apply to research I’m doing here.”

Dr. Wathsala Medawala, assistant professor of chemistry, said extended exposure in a research university lab will enhance Campbell’s experience as a chemist. She hopes he’ll bring back and share his newfound knowledge with classmates and incorporate them into his own research at Georgia College.

After graduation, Campbell plans to get a master’s and Ph.D. in chemistry or biochemistry.

“Georgia College has done an excellent job preparing me for my REU,” Campbell said, “by allowing me to do undergraduate research and giving me the chance to go into this new research group with an excellent foundation in research.”

Chase Lueder
Chase Lueder
Chase Lueder of Johns Creek, Georgia. Lueder’s a senior majoring in biology with a minor in chemistry. He’ll attend an in-person biomedical REU at Augusta University, called the Star Program.

Lueder applied to many REUs nationwide, spanning multiple disciplines, to find one that paralleled medicine. He’s interested in attending medical school after graduation. His REU’s particular goal is to foster biomedical research techniques in undergraduates. Lueder’s waiting to be assigned to a professor. He will work closely with this mentor and study whatever topic that professor’s researching.

“I hope to gain valuable experience in the biomedical sciences that’ll help me achieve a medical degree in the future. I have taken many lab classes at Georgia College, so I feel confident in a lab environment,” Lueder said.

Dr. Ellen France, professor of biology, helped all four biology majors extensively with their applications. France was there “every step of the way,” Lueder said. Her mentorship enabled him to “hone in my applications and greatly increase my chance of acceptance. The amount of work Dr. France is willing to put in for her students is a marvel,” he said, “and I am truly grateful.”

Peter Opara-Nadi
Peter Opara-Nadi
Peter Opara-Nadi of Woodstock, Georgia. Opara-Nadi’s a senior majoring in biology with a minor in chemistry. This summer, he’ll participate virtually in synthetic biological research program at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. Opara-Nadi’s tasks will include performing computational techniques to solve complex problems related to cell signaling pathways.

The goal of this REU is “to design and develop chemically inducible kinase variants, along with designing genetically encodable biosensors using fluorescent proteins,” he said.

Opara-Nadi’s said France provided him with the research tools to be successful in this program and work well with others in a collaborative lab environment. After graduating in December 2021, Opara-Nadi plans to go to graduate school and gain more research experience.

“With this REU, I look forward to working with like-minded undergraduates and knowledgeable scientists, who can provide me with advice and information that’ll help me in my future endeavors,” he said.

Molly Bullington
Molly Bullington
Molly Bullington of Cordele, Georgia. Bullington’s a senior biology major with minors in chemistry and environmental science.

Her REU in molecular biology will be virtual with the University of Saskatchewan-Saskatoon in Canada.

This REU scholarship gives Bullington the chance to experience research opportunities outside Georgia College. She’ll be doing data analysis of experiments done in the lab by colleagues. She’ll scrutinize genetic manipulations of the fruit fly and study specific genes responsible for courtship behavior in the male.

“Genetic crosses and behavioral studies will be set up that I will analyze to ultimately better understand the development of the neural circuit responsible for courtship behavior,” Bullington said. “We are trying to clarify what portion of the fruit fly’s genome is responsible for male courtship behavior. The next step would be to find out where these genes are expressed in the fly’s body and, ultimately, to understand how location in the body plays a role in courtship behavior.”

I believe the liberal arts education I’ve received at Georgia College has prepared me...
– Molly Bullington
Bullington’s looking forward to forming professional relationships with other researchers. After graduation, she plans to get a degree in veterinary medicine. It’s an ambitious goal, she said, but one Georgia College has prepared her for. She has worked in France’s lab since freshman year.

“Throughout the application process, I had the opportunity to reflect on the experiences I’ve had at Georgia College and formulate them into a narrative that showcases my academic and professional capabilities,” Bullington said. “I believe the liberal arts education I’ve received at Georgia College has prepared me to competently understand problems presented to me, as well as prepare solutions from a unique perspective of a well-rounded and educated student.”

Lucy Beck
Lucy Beck
Lucy Beck of Tucker, Georgia. Beck is a senior biology major with a minor in chemistry. This summer, she’ll do a virtual internship at Liang Lab at the Emory University School of Medicine. Emory just established its cryo-electron microscopy core facility. The structural cell biology lab uses technology that garnered them the 2017 Nobel Prize in chemistry.

“As soon as I read through the details,” Beck said, “I knew this was the perfect opportunity for me, because I genuinely enjoy studying and learning at the molecular level. I’m most looking forward to everything I’m going to learn and all the connections I will make.”

Beck will research an assigned topic and write a literature-review paper. Although her job doesn’t have the same hands-on experience as working in the lab, she’s looking forward to collaborating with scientists who share her passion for molecular biology.

After graduation, Beck plans to get more research experience before seeking a master’s in cellular biology.

“Dr. France has played a big part in getting me out of my comfort zone," she said. “I’ve grown to be more confident in applying to opportunities like this.”

“Georgia College has prepared me to be successful in so many ways. The professors have really made an impact on my life and helped me discover what it is I want to do.
– Lucy Beck