Eight Penn State Berks students receive 2017 Erickson Discovery Grants

Berks has highest number of student awards other than University Park

READING, Pa. — This year, eight students at Penn State Berks received the University’s prestigious Erickson Discovery Grant for summer 2017 through the Office of Undergraduate Education. Penn State Berks had the highest number of student recipients of any Penn State campus other than University Park.

At Penn State, an increasing number of students are forgoing their usual summer routines and are participating in research in the field lab, or studio. For some, this means staying close to campus while others travel thousands of miles away to research topics in the sciences, engineering, social sciences, humanities and arts fields.

Among the 219 students who applied, 83 from across Penn State’s campuses will each be awarded a $3,500 Erickson Discovery Grant. This is a record number of both applicants and awardees. The students will use the funds to immerse themselves in original research, scholarship and creative work under the direct supervision of a faculty member. 

“The Erickson Discovery Grant program allows students to fully engage with a research question over the summer and direct their own hands-on discovery process in a subject that interests them,” said Alan Rieck, assistant vice president and assistant dean for undergraduate education, who administers the program. “This type of inquiry is extremely beneficial to students, allowing them to develop critical-thinking skills, explore career choices, and be a part of the process of discovery."

The Penn State Berks student awardees include:

— Austin Fruin, "The Role of Chmp1 in Polyamine Transport and Metabolism"
Fruin, a junior majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology, will study the functions of polyamines — small molecules that are important for many cellular processes. Since elevated levels of polyamines have been associated with a number of cancers, understanding the metabolism and transport of these molecules may help in understanding cancer pathogenesis. He and his adviser are taking a genetic approach where they will alter genes they predict will be important for polyamine function using the common fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, as their model system.

— Cadie Dunlap, "Effects of Ethanol and its Response on MCF-7 Cells in Relation to Estrogenic Effects"
Dunlap, a senior majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology, will examine the mechanisms by which alcohol may lead to an increase in breast cancer in women. She will be treating several breast cancer cell lines with alcohol and estrogen and performing several in vitro assays, including cellular invasion and proliferation to determine the effect of alcohol on these processes. In addition, she will observe the changes in gene expression in these cells in response to estrogen.

Nicole Hessler, "Using Technology To Tell a Story: Learning about Literacy through STEAM Engagement"
Hessler, a senior majoring in elementary and early childhood education, will conduct research during a week-long middle school camp aimed at a STEAM project combining literacy and technology. Camp participants will be learning about the different story elements and the process of how to construct a well-written story. The purpose of the research is to investigate whether creating iMovies can enhance literacy skills within a classroom.

 — Jason Lehrer, "The Development of a Sustainable Technology for 3D Printing"
Lehrer, a senior mechanical engineering major, will conduct research in the development of a more sustainable method for 3D printing through the use of recyclable plastic containers. The goal will be to develop a process in order to turn plastic water bottles into the source material for 3D printing, and to evaluate the properties of the printed parts. If proven successful, this research may support future studies in the conversion of other recyclable containers into 3D printer filament.

— Sarah Lorish, "Under Fire"
Lorish, a junior majoring in professional writing, will be working to complete a memoir that she has been writing since 2012. Set in the Outer Banks, North Carolina, where she and her family vacationed every year until she was 17 years old, the memoir discusses what she learned about the roles of love, loss and relationships as she ultimately came to realize the parallel between her family's mission to own a home in the vacation area and her own fruitless search for fulfillment through gymnastics and boy-chasing. 

— Jonathan Mercier, "Examining Parathyroid Hormone Related Protein as a Negative Regulator of Alcohol’s Effects in the MCF-7 Cancer Cell Line"
Mercier, a junior kinesiology major, will study the link between alcohol, estrogen and breast cancer in women. More specifically, he and his faculty adviser will perform experiments that are aimed at elucidating how alcohol and estrogen effect the growth of mammary gland cells in culture.

— Kale Odhner, "Research and Design of a Class 3 Rocket"
Odhner, a senior mechanical engineering major, will conduct research in sounding rocket engine design. His study will involve technologies and processes required to produce an efficient rocket engine using sugar as the fuel source. A test stand and instrumentation will be developed to allow comparative performance testing of various fuel compositions and engine nozzle designs. This work will provide the basis for entry into the “Sugar Shot to Space” competition in which rockets are put into sub-orbital space using only sugar as fuel. 

 — Zachary Weagly, "Comparative Analysis of the Chemical Composition and Microbial Population in the Tulpehocken Creek"
Weagly, a sophomore biology major, plans to analyze water samples from the Tulpehocken Creek to determine the concentration of microbial organisms residing at different depths, as well as the chemical profile to gauge the overall health of the waterway. The main focus will be on possible pathogenic organisms that could impact the fish taken legally from the creek and consumed. 

The Research Opportunities for Undergraduates program is part of Penn State Undergraduate Education, the academic administrative unit that provides leadership and coordination for University-wide programs and initiatives in support of undergraduate teaching and learning at Penn State. Learn more at undergrad.psu.edu.