Three Maryville College students land competitive summer research grants

March 13, 2014

Three Maryville College students have been awarded grants for diverse scientific research projects this summer. They will conduct research on topics ranging from bioluminescent bacteria to English Ivy and the American marten.

The students were required to secure support from a faculty member agreeing to serve as mentor throughout the project.

The grants, which are awarded by the Lee B. Ledford Student Research Endowment of the Appalachian College Association (ACA), provide stipends for students and an allotment for equipment and travel.

The students must be enrolled on a full-time basis at an ACA institution, have graduated from an Appalachian high school and have maintained a 2.0 GPA or better.

Winode Handagama ‘15 will research the effect of temperature on the bioluminescent bacteria (Vibrio fischeri) that inhabit the luminescent organ of the bobtail squid.

The bacteria glow because they produce an enzyme called luciferase. Vibrio fischeri glow at lower temperatures than many other bioluminescent bacteria.

Handagama is testing whether molecules called chaperones can help luciferase restore its functionality at higher temperatures.

“Winode is an exceptional student. He is curious and dedicated,” said MC Associate Professor of Chemistry Dr. Angelia Gibson, who endorsed Handagama for the scholarship. “He is so dependable, responsible and capable in the lab that I feel like I have a graduate student working for me.”

Gibson went on to say that Handagama’s research proposal stood out because of “his advanced lab skills and exceptional writing ability.” He spent last summer in a lab at Johns Hopkins University.

Handagama is a 2011 graduate of Bearden High School and the son of Nareshkumar and Lilitha Handagama. He will conduct his research at Maryville College.

Ravyn Thompson ‘15 is studying the biological activity of compounds found in English Ivy, which has been used for centuries as a remedy for respiratory ailments. She will be doing her research at Maryville College using specimens from the College woods.

Although English Ivy is believed to be somewhat effective as a medicine, the reasons remain unknown. Thompson’s research will test whether the plant’s medicinal properties can be validated. It will also look for new uses of the plant’s extract.

Her professor, Dr. Nathan Duncan, says there are already “some promising preliminary results.”

“Ravyn is an excellent student. She is one of the hardest working students I have ever had the pleasure to work with,” said Duncan, MC visiting assistant professor of chemistry. “She is extremely well organized, and she is an intellectually curious individual who is very highly motivated and isn’t afraid to accept a challenge.”

According to Duncan, a primary reason Thompson received the Ledford Award is her “motivation and work ethic.” She participated in a competitive summer internship last summer at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla.

Thompson is a 2011 graduate of Halls High School and the daughter of Allen and Shasta Thompson.

Mary Feely ‘15, will do her research on the American marten in Michigan’s Manistee National Forest.

She will investigate the marten's prey, differentiating between larger animals such as squirrels or chipmunks, and species that are smaller and more difficult to catch, such as moles.

Feely's professor, Dr. Dave Unger, describes his student is a “go-getter” who came to him with “absolute enthusiasm and determination.”

“She is extremely strong academically and clearly wants to learn, not just get a good grade,” said Unger, MC assistant professor of biology. “Her personality, humor, independent work ethic and easy-going way make her the perfect student for both the joys and stresses of wildlife fieldwork.”

Feely's research will involve extended periods of time outdoors under open skies. Unger is confident she will “not only handle the situation well,” but that she will undoubtedly produce solid data.

She is a 2011 graduate of the Chattanooga High School Center for Creative Arts and the daughter of Mike Feely and Maria Hurt.

The students will receive $8.50 per hour with a possible allotment of $1,000 for equipment and travel.

By Gerhard Schneibel, News and New Media Writer