The College Today

Austin Hackett

Austin Hackett and Professor Eric Jellen
Austin (LEFT) worked with Professor Eric Jellen(RIGHT) generating DNA sequences for quinoa plants
Austin Hackett, a senior from Salt Lake City, is expecting to have his second paper published this year, and his research has taken him to the Philippines and Germany. He just received a BYU Office of Research and Creative Activities ORCA grant.   He says the keys to finding internships and research opportunities are to start early and look hard. "When I got to BYU," Hackett says, "I immediately started looking for projects."

The early start paid off when Hackett and fellow undergraduate student Levi Njord set up an epidemiological survey of Filipino street children in Manila under the guidance of Professor Ray Merrill. "Our goal was to produce a publication," Hackett says. They achieved their goal. "Our survey was published last summer in the International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health."

Austin Hackett and Professor Eric Jellen
Professor Jellen helped Austin secure an internship at the Max Planck Institute Here they gather young leaves the richest source of DNA from a quinoa specimen.
After Hackett returned from the Philippines, he began searching for internships. At the time he was working as a research assistant for Professor Rick Jellen, helping generate DNA sequences from wild quinoa plants. "He knew I was looking so when he was contacted about an internship in Germany he helped me get in for the summer." Hackett worked full time for four months under Dr Ian Baldwin at the prestigious Max Planck Institute. Their project focused on characterizing biochemical signals between plants and their predatory insects and the effects of those reciprocal signals on gene expression.

Hackett was the first BYU student to work at the institute and he apparently made an impression. Last summer two more BYU students received internships and two more are scheduled for this summer according to Jellen.

Currently, Hackett is putting together his ORCA project-an online support system for women about breastfeeding and early infant health-for Utah County Public Health. He sums up the reason for his success by saying, "There are a lot of opportunities but you must be active in looking for them."

Adam Richins

Adam Richins
Adam helped implement a process developed by Dr Dunn that added a mirconutrient supplement to tortillas.
Adam Richins, a recent BYU graduate from Driggs Idaho, is currently working at Nexus Pain Care and interviewing for physician assistant school. During his time at BYU, where he majored in biology with a minor in psychology, Richins decided to look for a research project to bulk up his resume. Armed with a list from the Life Sciences Student Services office, he contacted professors about projects he might work on. After reviewing his qualifications, Dr Michael Dunn invited him to work on a tortilla project that targeted young children and expectant mothers in Mexico with iron deficiencies. "The project gave me a chance to serve the general public, one of the reasons I decided to study medicine in the first place," Richins explains.

Making Tortillas
Once the micronutrient has been mixed into the dough or mass, the mass is flattened into tortillas.
He registered for 399R, a guided research class, then set to work. His goal was to find an iron source to include in a micronutrient premix that could be added to tortillas as a supplement without affecting the taste texture flexibility or color of the food. To achieve his goal, Richins spent hours in the lab making tortillas and testing different iron sources to find the top three. "The project was the most fun I've had as an undergrad," he says.

Once he had narrowed his iron sources, Richins traveled to Mexico to conduct sensory tests where consumers evaluated the quality of the enriched tortillas. Finally, he wrote and published an article in the journal Cereal Chemistry on the results of his project. He is just beginning to realize the benefits of that success. "Each interview I go to for PA school, I stand out since very few undergraduates have been published," he reports.

Distelhorst Low

Kathryn Distelhorst, Elizabeth Nielsen Low and Professor Eric Wilson
Publish or perish. It is a familiar mantra among professors and Ph.D. candidates. But for undergraduates Kathryn Distelhorst of O'Fallon, Illinois, and Elizabeth Nielsen Low of Livermore, California, publishing a paper in an international journal is something neither fathomed would happen to them. Both women work in the Microbiology and Molecular Biology (MMBio) lab under the supervision of Dr. Eric Wilson. In November 2008, they saw their names in The Journal of Immunology on a paper they had contributed to. The paper An Indispensable Role for the Chemokine Receptor CCR in IgA Antibody Secreting Cell Accumulation, discusses the role of human gene called CCR10 in passing antibodies from lactating mothers to nursing offspring.

Elizabeth Nielsen Low, Kathryn Distelhorst and Professor Eric Wilson
BYU microbiology professor Eric Wilson led a research team that included undergraduates Elizabeth Nielsen Low(LEFT) and Kathryn Distelhorst(RIGHT) that showed how breastfeeding passes mothers immunity on to babies.
Kathryn and Elizabeth, known around school as Katie and Lizzie, bounced between projects in the MMBio lab before becoming involved with CCR. "This was the top project," Lizzie says. But labs are for more than just experiments and results. "Lizzie clogs and I was taking a tap class," Katie confesses, "so while we waited for something to incubate we danced."

The lab is also home to a wall of scientific puns, puns like "Knock it off," a reference to knocking out CCR10 from the chromosomal composition of lab mice. But no one was joking when The Journal of Immunology accepted the results of their work for publication. "I was in Tanzania as a humanitarian volunteer when I got the news The Journal called me Dr. Distelhorst," laughs Katie recalling how surprised she was when she found out her work would be published. Lizzie was equally surprised. "When you do experiments you kind of always have a story in your mind of how it works," she says. "Publishing is a distant goal but always there."

Nick Bishop

Nick Bishop
A native of Orem, Utah, Nick Bishop is majoring in physiology and developmental biology with minors in both biology and music. Almost four years with the BYU Singers, a wife, and a research project have kept him on his toes, but have not stopped him from looking for more to do. Bishop says his greatest accomplishment so far has been achieving "a well rounded and well balanced education with enriching and rewarding results."

For the last three years he has been working in Dr. Marc Hansen's lab, researching cell-cell adhesion. The project caught his attention because of its direct relation to cancer; loss of cell-cell adhesion in cancer cells is a prerequisite for cancer metastasis. "We're answering really basic but extremely important questions," Bishop explains.

Nick Bishop with Rebecca Sperry
Nick Bishop with Rebecca Sperry a Ph.D. candidate he worked with in Dr Marc Hansen's lab researching cell adhesion.
Adding a research project to his already busy schedule was not easy, but with the help of the BYU Office of Research and Creative Activities grant and a summer fellowship from the Cancer Research Center Bishop was able to make significant progress in understanding the molecular and cellular basis of how cancer cells detach from one another. His results have been submitted for publication in the Journal of Cell Biology, and he has presented his work at several national scientific meetings of the American Society for Cell Biologists.

Bishop's work relied on cutting edge microscopy techniques that only a handful of undergraduates in the world have been able to try, a major benefit for his application to post-graduate training. He will begin an MD Ph.D. combined degree this fall."