How did science students at Redlands spend their summer? Spencer Tibbitts went swimming—in 45-degree water to collect samples. Hannah Bockenfeld went on a hike—through a field of bees and wasps. These students, and 24 of their peers, spent 10 weeks of their summer immersed in exploration and inquiry through the Student Science Research Program.
“The program is a donor-funded opportunity for students to focus on a research project while working alongside a professor,” says Eric Hill, professor of physics and co-coordinator of the program. The students conducted research in biology, biochemistry, chemistry, computer science, and physics. The students’ final research was presented to the campus community at an annual poster symposium in October.
In pursuit of pollinators
In 2016, the Redlands Conservancy reseeded portions of the San Timoteo Nature Sanctuary with native plants species in an effort to aid pollinators, such as bees and wasp. This created the perfect outdoor laboratory for Johnston Center for Integrative Studies student Hannah Bockenfeld ’18 and Biology Professor Dustin VanOverbeke. The team has been monitoring pollinators in the reseeded and invaded (non-reseeded) areas to assess the success of the Conservancy’s effort. “Wild and captive bee populations are in decline,” Bockenfeld says. “Our research will hopefully be of use in this broader conversation of how best to protect pollinator diversity and abundance.”
A human footprint on habitat?
Biology Professor James Blauth was tapped by the Redlands Conservancy to conduct baseline surveys, mapping, and monitoring of the recently established Hergnt Aki Preserve in Live Oak Canyon. Blauth and students Emily Waddell ’18, a Hunsaker Student Science Researcher, and Taylor Rano ’18, an Ifft Student Science Researcher, have documented the native plant communities and wildlife while investigating how recreational use of the land might impact ecosystems. Rano, who plans to continue the study in her senior capstone, says they have identified a concentration of mammals: “We suggested the Conservancy potentially close the existing ridge trail and not plan future trails in that habitat so as to not disturb the lush native vegetation and wildlife populations.”
Advancing understanding of addiction and mood disorders
Biochemistry majors Christina Hanson ’19 and Yuanming Song ’19 are seeking to lay the foundation for medical solutions. By studying peptides—molecules comprising amino acids—Hanson and Song aim to produce research that sheds light on addiction and/or mood disorders. “In pursuit of a compound capable of treating addiction, we hope to understand what makes a compound behave as it does pharmaceutically,” says Hanson, a Matthias Student Science Researcher. The research builds upon the previous work of their chemistry professor, Michael Ferracane, focusing on the use of peptides as tools to investigate the pharmacology of opioids—substances that act on opioid receptors to produce morphine-like effects. “We could easily use similar molecules to investigate other diseases, and analogous peptides have been investigated as anticancer and antibacterial agents,” he says.
Environment in the balance
Chemistry Professor Rebecca Lyons was happy to have chemistry major and spatial studies minor Spencer Tibbitts ’18, a Taylor Student Science Researcher, join her ongoing study to determine the impact of chemical stressors on the diminishing eelgrass in the waters around the San Juan Islands. “We’re trying to determine if there is a correlation between pesticide usage and the eelgrass decline,” Tibbitts says. Eelgrass is a critical habitat for juvenile fish, providing the base for the fishing industry, which is a major income source in the Pacific Northwest—particularly for the islands. Lyons says each student contributes a unique perspective: “Spencer is proficient in mapping and spatial analysis; he has influenced how we interpret the data and the conclusions that we are drawing.”
A lifelong fascination with statistics coupled with his role as chief investment officer for the Redlands Student Investment Fund motivated math and computer science double major Torin Bakos ’19, a Hunsaker Student Science Researcher, to develop software to study trends in stock market behavior. Guided by Pani Chakrapani, professor of computer science, Bakos’s research has led to the creation of a software package with programs for data intake, formatting, and output, as well as associated mathematical models. “The research is to find methods for predicting the movement of securities and the markets they trade on, within a known error [rate],” Bakos says, “so those managing wealth have an easy-to-use, but computationally complex, quantitative platform to use when selecting securities for actively managed portfolios.”
With the ultimate goal of securing the future of science research at Redlands, the John Stauffer Charitable Trust is currently sponsoring a $1 million matching challenge for any funds donated toward permanently endowing student science research efforts. To be among the many donors who support science research at Redlands, please contact Patience Boudreaux at 909-748-8354 or visit www.redlands.edu/givenow.