Undergraduate Research Flourishes

Story posted July 06, 2005

Bowdoin College has received a highly selective Beckman Scholars grant from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation to support undergraduate research and faculty mentoring for select students in chemistry, biochemistry, and the biological sciences. Announcement of the grant—which is awarded annually to only 14 colleges and universities nationwide—came just days after Bowdoin received notice that the College had been awarded a grant from the Merck/AAAS Undergraduate Science Research Program in support of interdisciplinary faculty-student research in biochemistry, neuroscience, and environmental science.

These grants signal growing recognition at the national level of the strength of our undergraduate research opportunities.

The Beckman Scholars program will support research fellowships for four Bowdoin students in the biosciences, selected on the basis of a competitive application process that includes a research proposal. The $75,000 grant supports students participating in full-time research over two summers, and part-time during one academic year. The $60,000 grant from the Merck/AAAS Undergraduate Science Research Program will fund two collaborative faculty research projects, as well as student research and special programming.

One project—co-directed by Professor Patsy Dickinson, director of Bowdoin's neuroscience program, and Elizabeth Stemmler, associate professor of chemistry—continues their work on lobster neuropeptides, small transmitter molecules that play an important role in virtually all biological nervous systems.

"They're incredibly common, as it turns out, yet not always well understood," noted Dickinson. "If we can understand the basic methods by which they function in one species, it can help us understand how they may influence neurological activity across species."

The other research project, an interdisciplinary examination of microbes in soils and sediments found in Merrymeeting Bay, is led by John Lichter, assistant professor of biology/environmental studies; biology/biochemistry professor Bruce Kohorn; and Associate Professor of Chemistry/Environmental Studies Dharni Vasudevan.

"There hasn’t been a lot of work on freshwater tidal systems, such as Merrymeeting Bay, so this research will provide important environmental information,” said Lichter. The Merck grant will allow groups of student researchers to conduct field studies during the summer to explore microbial diversity and function and extract DNA samples from soils.

“Both of these grants signal growing recognition at the national level of the strength of our undergraduate research opportunities, and the high level of faculty-student interaction at Bowdoin," said Dean for Academic Affairs Craig McEwen. "Our faculty are being recognized for their interdisciplinary research initiatives, which help our students stay at the center of innovations in science and prepare them for advanced studies."

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