Natural Science Students Share Findings from Summer Research

Undergraduate Researchers Present Projects

Biology major Elliot Blue ’16 from Sioux Falls presents his project, “The role of PD-1 checkpoint blockade in head and neck cancer."

This summer, more than 60 Augustana students conducted research on- and off-campus in the natural sciences. They shared their findings with fellow students and faculty members at the undergraduate summer research poster session Wednesday afternoon.

Biology major Kirby Rickel ‘15 from Sioux Falls traveled to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for her summer research. There, she worked with a graduate student and a professor to study a bacteria that can infect nearly every tissue in the body. The project, titled “Elucidation of mechanisms by which Staphylococcus aureuscontrols virulence factor production in response to nutrient limitation,” was a good experience for Rickel, who hopes to go to medical school after graduation.

“One of the highlights for me as a faculty member here is working with students on authentic research," said Dr. Seasson Vitiello, assistant professor of genetics and molecular biology. "It’s so rewarding, to me, to see the discovery that happens over the summer and how a student takes ownership of the project in even a small amount of time.”

Chemistry and physics double major, Kevin Dolge ’17 from Brandon, South Dakota, took ownership of his project, “Anthracene-based, non-porphyrin dyes for solar cells.” He says he loved his summer at Augustana researching solar cells and could see himself sticking with the topic in the future.

Similarly, biology major Elliot Blue ’16 from Sioux Falls didn’t expect to fall in love with his research topic, but may have found a new path after his time at Sanford Research in Sioux Falls. His project, “The role of PD-1 checkpoint blockade in head and neck cancer,” focused on helping to shrink cancerous tumors.

“It was nice to see what goes on in the lab and how that translates over to patient care,” said Blue. “Since I worked at Sanford you know their goal is ‘how can we get better outcomes for our patients.’ I think that was really great to see how many people are applying their skills in that setting to care for those patients.”

“In addition to being something that is really great training for their future careers, it helps students to think outside the box and to critically evaluate a problem and to design experiments according to a hypothesis, or a question, that they’re asking," Vitiello said. "I think students in the summer develop skills that are almost intangible because they learn how to do things like read the literature, perform experiments, but also gain confidence and independence in the laboratory and they start to see themselves as a scientist."