|Bree Aguinaldo '12 (biology, math); Sarah Carratt '13 (biology, chemistry); and Sophie Crinion '14 (biology).|
Bree Aguinaldo, Sarah Carratt, and Sophie Crinion, have been hard at work in the biology lab all summer as part of the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP). Each of these promising young scientists received both on-campus housing and funding to pursue their research under the guidance of Dr. Martin Ramirez. What has kept them so busy all summer long? Spiders.
Aguinaldo spent her summer studying the influence of genetic variation on natural selection in the green lynx spider, Peucetia viridans, looking for a correlation between genotype and reproductive output. For her, “working with spiders is neat because not many people consider them to be important in general ecosystems. Sometimes the smallest things in the food chain are often the most important. It's like we do research on the underdog," she says.
Though Crinion is currently working on a new project that assesses insect and arachnid recovery from a fire on Santa Catalina Island, she is no stranger to the green lynx spider. In fact, she began her work in the spider lab last year as a freshman investigating asymmetry and fitness in that species. Both Crinion and Aguinaldo presented their findings at the 2011 TriBeta Biological Honor Society Local District Meeting and won awards for excellence in student research. Their awards include a trip to the national TriBeta conference in Puerto Rico this coming May.
Carratt is also researching spiders on Santa Catalina Island and took a trip to the island this summer with Sophie to collect specimens. After her spiders fully mature in the lab, Sarah plans to examine their chromosome count to determine if they are the same species as other spiders in the Lutica genus living in coastal areas of the southern California mainland. One of the challenges Sarah faced this summer was the development of a protocol for dissecting the spiders. After devoting much of her time in the lab to researching and modifying existing methodologies, Carratt hopes to publish her protocol in the Journal of Visualized Experiments, an online, peer-reviewed journal dedicated to utilizing digital video technology to publish research in the sciences.
For all three of these students, the actual research in the lab is only one portion of what they learned by participating in SURP this year. “SURP was the first step in a research experience that will hopefully continue across many years and many different labs and schools," says Crinion. "SURP taught me how to apply for research programs of this type … The ability to write a cohesive application and develop a CV are skills that I probably would not have been able to learn/practice without SURP.”
Aguinaldo found the faculty mentorship to be a major benefit of doing research in the summer since “often times throughout the year we barely get to touch base because of varying schedules.”
These three young scientists aren’t the only students who were on campus engaged in research this summer. Thirty-one undergraduates from across the university participated in the Summer Undergraduate Research Program’s community of scholars, living together on campus, engaging in research, and exploring Los Angeles.