Friday March 30, 2007

National Science Winners

Two University of Dayton undergraduates have won competitive national science awards and scholarships from the Goldwater Foundation and the American Physiological Society.

Lori Hanna, a junior mechanical engineering major, has been named a 2007 Goldwater Scholar, an elite award for science, mathematics and engineering undergraduates. Award-winners are selected on academic merit, career objectives and potential to make a significant contribution to the field.

Hanna, from Wadsworth, Ohio, plans to pursue a doctorate in renewable energy, focusing on research and development of technologies to improve living conditions and health of people in developing areas. Her submission included a project to create solar powered, easy-to-use equipment to sterilize medical devices particularly useful in rural, developing areas.

Hanna said the project, which is the basis of her senior honors thesis, grew from a two-month internship in a rural village in Nicaragua through UD's Engineers in Technical Humanitarian Opportunities of Service-learning (ETHOS) program.

"We were working on solar cookers, which use reflected sunlight to cook food," Hanna said. "I lived with a host family and saw that when we went to the clinics, that even if they had access to electricity, it was very expensive."

Because not every clinic owned an autoclave – the equipment used to sterilize medical devices – they had to be borrowed and transported around the countryside, which is an expensive, labor-intensive process, she said.

"We were working with Grupo Fenix, which sponsors the programs to help bring renewable energy to rural Nicaragua," she said. It occurred to her that the same technology powering the solar cookers could be adapted to sterilize medical equipment.

"I asked them about it, and they said it would be really valuable," Hanna said.

Applying and perfecting the technology is just the first part of her senior thesis, she said. The second part will be working with UD's business school to develop a micro-business that can be administered by villages to foster economic development.

She is advised by mechanical engineering professor Kelly Kissock and Kevin Hallinan, the chair of UD's mechanical engineering department as well as Margaret Pinnell, the ETHOS program. Patrick Palermo mentored her Goldwater application.

The $7,500 scholarship honoring the late Arizona Sen. Barry M. Goldwater is to encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering. Hanna, who also dances with the Dayton-based Rhythm and Shoes dance company and the UD Dance Ensemble, is one of 317 scholars in the country to win a Goldwater Scholarship.

Kaitlin Moredock, a University of Dayton junior majoring in biology and psychology, is one of only 24 students in the country to receive a summer undergraduate research fellowship from the American Physiological Society.

Moredock's fellowship was awarded for a proposal that will look at the role of aquaporins in Alzheimer's disease, research that she will conduct in the lab of UD biology professor Carissa Krane, her honors thesis adviser. Krane specializes in aquaporins – water channels that form pores in the membranes of cells.

"Neurological functioning is so intricate; only a seemingly small dysfunction can cause tremendous cognitive deficiencies like those characteristic of Alzheimer's disease," Moredock said.

"Aquaporins have been shown to be crucial to water permeability, edema, astrocytic migration, glial scar progression, potassium-dependent neural signaling, intracranial pressure, and cerebrospinal fluid production," Moredock noted in her proposal. "Thus, alterations in the expression of these aquaporins would have significant implications for the neuropathology of Alzheimer's Disease."

Moredock, a Berry Scholar at UD, is from Springfield, Ill.

She crafted her research project with guidance from Krane, from UD alumnus Ben Kolber, who is pursuing a Ph. D. in neuroscience at Washington University, and from John Cirrito, a post-doctoral student at Washington University in St. Louis, and expert on Alzheimer's disease. "Through speaking with these people, I realized that by focusing on the mechanisms behind the progression of the disease, research will eventually get to the point where Alzheimer's can be diagnosed earlier, treated more effectively, and perhaps even prevented," she said.

The American Physiological Society summer research fellowships, which aim to encourage undergraduates to pursue careers as basic research scientists, are awarded based on academic merit and the quality of proposals. The fellowship provides a student with a $3,000 stipend and up to $1,000 to travel to the APS annual meeting.