REPTILES AND RESEARCH, cont.

Brooke

Brooke (photo) was the primary researcher on a project that considered whether the drought impacted fertility rates among snakes. In addition to her own fieldwork, she investigated historical data to see whether the years when fewer males were captured correlated with the low water index. She actually found no clear correlation, but did find reason to wonder why female snakes had unfertilized amniotic sacs during drought years. Amanda pointed out that the project was truly groundbreaking for its use of ultrasound techniques to examine the amniotic sacs, a process that enables the researches to gather data in the field without holding snakes in a lab until they gave birth. The ultrasound was both less intrusive and gave more accurate data about embryos. As Brooke observes, the project was another study about the possible effects of climate change on reproduction.

Female garter snakes, as Stephanie told me, are larger than males, making them more visible targets for predators. Along the shoreline, then, where there is less foliage and fierce sunlight, they are more exposed—and, therefore, more likely to move faster than males do in open spaces. Her study showed how the differences in activity between females and males all but disappear in the meadow grasses, where there is greater cover. Her observations suggest how ecotypes can influence different behaviors among sexes.

I’m not sure if it was by design or not, but Stephanie’s and Brooke’s displays on snakes appeared right next to a poster on American politicians. Completed by Austin Zuidema and Hannah Early, this project attempted to discern why some amateur political candidates won races for the U.S. House of Representatives while the vast majority of newcomers lost to incumbents or established political figures. Their conclusions suggested that any amateur candidate must have deep pockets or major name recognition—notably, military or athletic success—to entertain any hope of making it to Capitol Hill. Tom Knecht and Ray Rosentrater guided them in their work.

For the past couple years Anneka Rienstra has worked with Steve Contakes on strategies for treating water contaminated during previous generations in California. They have been exploring whether a modified nanoparticle catalyst can purify an aqueous solution by photodegrading the pollutants. The work is clearly relevant to studies about how we might restore some of the tainted parts of our landscape. “It has been a joy seeing Anneka grow as a scientist and a researcher over the past four years,” Steve observes. “Research has been for her a lifeline in times of hardship. It has been a special pleasure to see her work come to flowering during the summer of her senior year and to watch her grow into a mentor and leader for the other students conducting research in my lab.”

Those students in Steve's lab, along with the others in this fall's symposium studying vaccine strategies, Bordatella bacteria, muscle fatigue in cyclists, cognition in Alzheimer's patients, and data mining of student academic performance, and other subjects gave visitors to the session a glimpse of the wide array of the interests of our students and faculty in the sciences. Another symposium in the spring will feature research from across the college. Faculty and students involved in senior research projects and major honors should watch for a call for contributions to that event.