Presidential Fellows

Lauren Boone and Jen Lassen

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NATASHA BASSETT ’16

Right after Natasha Bassett ’16 completed the whirlwind week that is First-Year Orientation, she was thrown full-force into her Presidential Fellowship. Initially, she had no idea what she wanted to research. But after speaking with the director of the Presidential Fellows Program, Sally Koutsoliotas, she quickly found a project that fit her interests. Paired with mentor Dr. Charlie Clapp of the chemistry department, Bassett explored protein engineering.

“To us, protein engineering means we mutate the DNA until we get a protein that works the way we want it to,” Bassett said. “We mostly study how that protein binds and the implications that it could have.”

Bassett’s research centers on an enzyme called soybean lipoxygenase.

“It is really helpful for studying enzymes in humans,” Bassett said. “The human version of lipoxygenase causes inflammatory diseases and is linked to several heart defects and even cancer. If we can figure out how the lipoxygenase works for soybeans, that serves as a good indication for how it will work for humans.”

The Presidential Fellows Program has provided Bassett with a wealth of knowledge, experiences, and opportunities. She gets to work closely with graduate students and prestigious professors. It also serves as a way for her to explore her career interests.

“I want to do research for my career, so this is a nice way to see if this is what I really want. And I think the answer to that is yes,” Bassett said.

She looks forward to further exploring her scientific project this summer and throughout her remaining years at the University, with the final goal of publication.

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CHRISTOPHER DUNNE ’15

When picturing your college career, who thinks that they will study, research, and perform experiments on the brains of fruit flies? Christopher Dunne ’15 didn’t either, until his Presidential Fellowship placed him with this research project.

“My project is neurodevelopmental research investigating what causes changes in the formation of different brain cells in fruit flies,” Dunne said.

Dunne works with Assistant Professor of Biology Elizabeth Marin, who is also his mentor, as well as a team of student researchers.

“We are trying to determine what causes fruit flies to make different types of brain cells in different periods of their lives,” Dunne said.

When the flies are in the egg and larvae stages, they have one kind of brain cell. As fruit flies grow older, they kill off their old brain cells and grow new ones.

“The interesting factor is what allows them to make a whole bunch of new brain cells,” Dunne said. “[This research] could be interesting for humans who have strokes or Alzheimer’s. If we can find out what allows flies to make new brain cells, then we can maybe, down the road, figure out how humans can make new brain cells.”

To achieve this goal, Dunne screened a variety of genetic strains of flies during the first two years of his fellowship. He crossed different genetic strains of the flies and then used antibodies and various chemicals to label their brains. To do this, Dunne placed the flies under a microscope, dissected them, and then placed their brains in a chemical bath. Then Dunne took pictures of each of the brains with a confocal microscope and analyzed the differences between them.

What Dunne found was fascinating. He discovered a few strains of flies with interesting differences in their brains. He conducted polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to find out the cause of the genetic change in the flies.

“Ideally, we will find ones that will be useful for over-expressing a certain gene. If they over-express a certain gene, they are hypothetically smart flies,” Dunne said.

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KATE ALBERTINI ’14

Kate Albertini ’14 first started research for her Presidential Fellowship in the lab ofWarran Abrahamson, former professor of biology who has since retired.

“I had stayed my first summer doing research in his lab, but my other friends who stayed were doing work in Professor Jennie Stevenson’s lab. So when it came time to look for a new lab, her research sounded really interesting and I wanted to get involved,” Albertini said.

In Stevenson’s lab, Albertini looks at the effects of estrogen on stress response and oxytocin on prairie voles, a type of rodent, for her honors thesis. She also helps out with other projects in the lab and assists other researchers with their work, which focuses on the effects of alcohol on oxytocin and on prairie voles’ pleasure centers.

“I really enjoy the people in my lab. I think the people who you work with can really make or break research,” Albertini said.

Albertini, who is the current house leader for the Fran’s House Affinity Program, is also also heavily involved in Common Ground and the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA). Yet, Albertini’s research through her Fellowship has become a main passion of hers, completely transforming her University experience.

“My Fellowship has been instrumental because I’ve spent all three of my summers doing research, which has created a whole second Bucknell experience [for me]. There’s a great sense of community in the summer,” Albertini said.

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BEN BARRETT ’16

Ben Barrett ’16 works with mentor and Assistant Professor of Sociology Elizabeth Durden studying Mexican migration. Barrett’s research explores the wealth gap between Mexicans who migrate to America to seek employment and send money back to their families and those who can’t or don’t. To accomplish this, Barrett performs background research, collects data to run tests, and analyzes the results.

Barrett’s fellowship has provided him with several opportunities. At the end of his first year, Barrett was chosen to attend the Eastern Sociological Society conference held in Boston, where he prepared and presented a paper and presentation to prominent researchers in the field of sociology. Recently, Barrett submitted a paper about his research to the National Conference of Sociology. The program has given him a unique college experience.

“The opportunities this has given me have been incredible. There is no way I would be doing this kind of research at any other college,” Barrett said.

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