Science majors’ summer research aimed at pollution

March 23, 2009

Seniors Kevin Bowman and Teresa Tilyou had an opportunity last summer to work with Chemistry Professor Peter Craig conducting research that may lead to treatments for certain poisons in people and the planet.

Under Craig’s watchful eye, Bowman and Tilyou synthesized and tested chelating agents that potentially bind to the toxic heavy metals that pollute the environment and are not easily removed from any biological system, including the human body.

“(I’ve been) studying ways to contain the environmental spread of heavy metals and treat poisoning of contaminated people and animals,” Craig wrote from McDaniel’s Budapest campus, where he is teaching during spring semester. The heavy metals get into the environment – and people – through the burning or improper disposal of cigarettes, computers, TVs, cell phones, coal and compact fluorescent light bulbs, he said.

Bowman and Tilyou, whose summer work was supported by the Jean and Donald Richards Student Research Fund, are part of Craig’s research group of undergraduate students.

“Receiving the research fund made me aware of the importance of grants and funds in any research,” said Tilyou, a Chemistry major who has been accepted at Duke and Vanderbilt universities to pursue her Ph.D. in either inorganic or physical chemistry. “The generosity of organizations and individual patrons is crucial to … scientific advancement, since research can be very costly.”

Bowman, an Environmental Science major with a Chemistry concentration who plans to continue with graduate studies, enjoyed the opportunity to immerse in research without the distraction of classes or a job. The fund, established in 2003 by alumna Jean Andrews Richards ’45 and her husband Donald Richards, supports one or two students during the summer with a stipend, room and board, and partial research expenses.

The fund is helpful to Craig, assistant professor of Chemistry, in several ways. The support gives these research students the opportunity to work in his lab full time during the summer – and that way they make significant progress on projects. They often present their work at conferences, which helps them with graduate school acceptance and employment, and over the course of several summers can lead to publication in scientific journals. This, Craig said, helps bring in external funding “to expand the scope of the projects, student involvement and equipment.”

“I think that the students actually start to really understand science through doing research,” Craig said, explaining that he has involved students in his research in this way since 2001.

The research was a first for Bowman, a runner on the cross country and track teams. But he’s determined to make it the first of many research projects.

“It was the first time I did real independent research,” said Bowman, who worked in the lab last summer from 9:30 a.m. until 6 or 7 p.m. every evening. “I liked going at my own pace – setting goals for myself and having a sense of purpose. I’m looking for a research assistantship for graduate school.”