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Summer Research

Many WISE RP students are interested in doing research as an undergraduate student, and summer is a great time to do that! WISE RP encourages and supports students in connecting with faculty doing research and finding ways to get involved with some of the amazing research happening on the U of M campus. Below are just a few examples of students who have participated in some of those opportunities!

Laima Augustaitis

Hello! My name is Laima and I’m a second year student studying human movement science with additional concentration in surgical neuromonitoring (IONM program). How the body functions at the cellular level, as well neurophysiological movement articulation, fascinates me. I know that my future is in healthcare, although I have not yet decided in what capacity that place is.  

This generous fellowship contribution from the WISE RP alumni captures an essence of what makes WISE RP the program it is. I am going to spend the summer working in the Stem Cell Core on a project observing potential mitochondrial functional differences in patients with Bipolar Disorder compared to individuals without the disease.  Although we mimic research methods in laboratory courses, we don’t experience the fun part of getting interesting results and I’m really excited to finally have that opportunity.

I have been a work-study student in the lab this semester, doing office work and cleaning lab supplies. Through this, I’ve been able to see the important research being done and asked my lab manager if there were any possibilities of staying over the summer to gain research experience. I learned that there are so many potential facets of Bipolar Disorder to tackle, and the lab manager mentioned using the glial cell astrocytes. The cool thing about the research done in the lab is the stem cells we are using to create astrocytes are non-embryonic (iPSC cells). They are undifferentiated and then re-differentiated somatic cells from skin biopsies. The connection of the project to my courses in neurophysiology make this not only an introduction to investigative design, but also a practice of my course material in a real-life setting.

The only remaining hurdle after that conversation was to find funding to be able to stay in Ann Arbor. This fellowship provides me that, and I’m so grateful.

Christina Pu

This summer, I worked with Dr. John Wolfe on the synthesis of tropanes, which are a class of organic compounds with biological activity. This biological activity is what makes tropanes important and interesting to organic chemists: tropanes have been used in antitumor, glucose disposal, and anticonvulsant drugs and have the potential to be used in many more. My project was based on the work of Danielle Schultz, a former graduate student in Dr. Wolfe's lab. She published an article about the tropanes that she made using starting materials containing aldehydes, and the goal of my project was to expand on the database of tropanes that are available to be used in pharmaceuticals. Another goal was to optimize reaction conditions to best suit the compounds I was using in order to produce the highest yield of product possible.

In general, my research process consisted of measuring out starting materials, combining them in a flask, and stirring them for several hours until the reaction was complete. Next, I purified the product using column chromatography, and analyzed the purity of the product using nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR). NMR allowed me to see which chemical I was getting by showing peaks at different places on a grid for each chemical. Finally, I weighed the pure product that I had obtained and calculated the percent yield. For me, I was able to make tropanes from both compounds that I started with, although the yields were relatively low, at seventeen to thirty percent. Therefore, one of my future steps is to continue optimization of reaction conditions. I also plan on starting the synthesis of more tropanes, with different starting materials, once I return to the Wolfe lab in the fall.

Doing research this summer was a great experience, and I felt much more connected to my project and the lab than during the school year, because in the summer I could just focus on research and not have to worry about classes and other activities. I became much more independent and did not have to ask my graduate student for help around the lab all the time. I was also able to analyze my own data and give my own input about why an experiment worked or did not work. I could not have asked for a better way to spend the summer after my freshman year, and I am very grateful to the Women in Science and Engineering Residence Program for giving me this opportunity.