Women in science present summer research progress

There was no summer break from science for some of the College’s science students. On Oct. 1, six students presented their summer experiences as part of the College’s Women in Science initiative.

This past summer, Michelle Cornacchia, senior biology major, began an eight-week program at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey researching possible causes for the well-known psychological disorder schizophrenia. Although during this time no specific cause was identified, her research did lead to the important discovery that a certain allele on a chromosome increased susceptibility to the disorder.

After completing her research program, Cornacchia worked as a volunteer helping Mercer County women earn their GEDs. She then flew to Peru on scholarship, volunteering at a community center and helping at a clinic.

Cornacchia encouraged younger science majors not to be afraid of applying to summer programs.

“You’re never too young to start having a research position,” Cornacchia said.

She recognized several students who attained outside research positions their freshman year and advised students to start looking online for summer programs by December.

Julie Ann Howlett, senior biology major, spent her summer in Hawaii, but not for the grass skirts or surfing. She did, however, go scuba diving and snorkeling while taking underwater photos of coral reefs and marine life. Howlett conducted research through a summer program focusing on ecology and marine biology at the University of Hawaii. One of her main studies was on sharks, rays and skates, doing everything from studying them in their habitats to dissecting them.

So why Hawaii? Howlett explained she wanted to “go somewhere ecologically diverse,” different from New Jersey but still in the United States. She said the trip was also surprisingly affordable, with University of Hawaii’s “island summer package” – an offer with more affordable rates because most students must also pay airfare.

Rachel Sherman, senior physics major, went with three other students to Houston, Texas, as part of a NASA program to conduct an experiment in zero gravity. She wowed the audience with a video of her team floating weightlessly in a special NASA aircraft.

Autumn Breese, junior computer science major, conducted research at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark this summer, studying the fragility of routers. Breese studied how easily the Internet can be hacked.

She explained that in today’s computerized world hackers have done it all; everything from holding websites hostage for ransom, editing content, to just hacking because “it’s funny.”

Kate Davis and Erica Tabakin, senior chemistry majors, participated in the Mentored Undergraduate Summer Experience program at the College. They each conducted individual chemistry projects.

Both women agreed the program enabled them to see what graduate research will be like and each came out of the program feeling a lot more confident with their research and lab techniques.