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Researching in a Pandemic

By Alisa Lewis

One of the key components of SNC’s academic programs is the unique opportunity for students to participate in supervised research. The ability to have a hand in undergraduate collaborative research is an extremely valuable experience that is available to students at St. Norbert. Two honors students volunteered to share a bit about their projects and how their research was affected by the pandemic over the past year. 

Biology major Aysiah Jaeke ‘21 has been working in Dr. Russ Feirer’s cancer lab. Her research is titled, “The Effects of High Glucose and DCA on ROS Production and Viability of Breast Cancer Cells with Disrupted Antioxidant Systems.” Aysiah explains that the lab works with breast cancer cell lines, examining the effects that DCA (a pharmaceutical compound) has on cancer cells. This research is important because it works to expand upon data from other labs showing that this drug can help to destroy cancer cells in a way that is specific to cancer cell metabolism. 

“Dr. Feier’s lab has been working on this research for years and I came in towards the end of his project, and with his retirement, we are now writing a manuscript culminating all the data we have gathered.” The pandemic has shaped the research by shifting from data collection to a focus on analysis and interpretation. During the pandemic, Aysiah explains that “we ended up focusing more on data analysis and summarizing our work. While we would have liked to gather more data, we are working with what we’ve got.” 

She says that she has learned a lot from the pandemic as it has “stressed the importance of data analysis, as although gathering data can be the fun part, analysis is the basis of research. ” This shift from collecting information to interpreting the data and discovering the various relationships proved invaluable in exploring further the research process and discovering the implications of all that raw information gathered. Next Fall, Aysiah will go on to attend a program at University of Wisconsin-Madison to continue cancer research. 

St. Norbert College Research |

Sydney Herman ‘22, conducts research entitled “Exploring the physical and chemical features of Minnesota lakes and the associated impacts on local zooplankton biomass, densities, and mean lengths trends.” Her faculty advisor is Dr. Carrie Kissman. Sydney chose this project as a continuation of other student’s research in the limnology lab. Her additional research includes examining each lake’s physical and chemical properties. Sydney describes her research, stating that she is “researching the relationship between lake surface area and depth in association with local crustacean zooplankton communities.” 

Within the limnology lab, Sydney conducts analyses on nutrient and Chlorophyll to test her hypothesis that there is a relationship between lake properties and zooplankton characteristics. She says that the pandemic had a large impact on the research, primarily due to the fact that she was unable to work with 2020 seniors and learn their techniques. It was somewhat difficult to conduct research with the guidance of those who participated in the project beforehand. Going forward, Sydney still faces restrictions; she will be unable to collect specimens at the Superior National Forest over the summer. The pandemic poses many obstacles to the typical cycle of research and the collection of data.

In the Fall semester, Sydney hopes to bring her research to a close and wrap up any loose ends. She wants to go on to present at several conferences and events. Her biggest takeaway from the semester is that the pandemic has “led [her] to appreciate all of the past lab work completed by other SNC students before me as I will be utilizing the majority of their data in my analysis. Without their hard work, this project would be difficult to significantly analyze.” 

Despite all the obstacles posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, students and faculty have found a way to work around whatever is thrown at them. These innovative and collaborative solutions help research continue to be conducted and make valuable contributions to these professional fields. The opportunities and challenges presented by these projects give these students valuable skills that will help them in graduate school as well as their future careers.

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