Washburn made a big impression at a recent scientific conference, bringing home three of its Top 10 student awards and the only one presented to a faculty member.
In all, about 90 students from 10 universities displayed posters and explained their research at the conference of the Kansas-IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (K-INBRE) in Manhattan late last month. Among the participants were nine Washburn students.
Three of them, Bonnie McKee, Matt Rush and Corey Suelter, received awards of excellence for their research. McKee and Rush work with faculty mentor Sam Leung, professor of chemistry. Suelter works with Andrew Herbig, assistant professor of biology.
McKee, a junior from Abilene who is majoring in chemistry and biology, worked full time for eight weeks during the summer studying whether manipulating the structure of a porphyrin could advance treatment of skin disorders, including skin cancer.
“The long-term goal is to create a better molecule to be used in photodynamic therapy,” Mckee said. “I made an important piece of the puzzle. That piece has a very important bond to something. That something is the thing we can change.”
Rush, a senior chemistry major from Topeka, works on oxophlorins, a family of compounds also related to treatment of skin conditions.
“The currently used (drugs) are only effective on the very surface of the skin,” Rush said. “If we can create a compound that is affected deeper it will be more effective in treatment.”
Suelter, a senior biology major from Topeka, is studying a bacterium called Bacillus subtilis and how it transports magnesium throughout the body.
“We’re studying a cousin to a couple of really bad human pathogens,” Suelter said. “We can work with the safe one while still learning about the harmful ones.”
Washburn’s Janice Barton, professor emeritus of Chemistry, received the Joan S. Hunt Distinguished Mentor award at the conference in recognition of her work “fostering the intellectual, creative, scholarly and professional grown of mentees,” sustained commitment to those mentees.
In addition to McKee, Rush and Suelter, participating Washburn students were Teresa Chui, Jenna Frick, Christian Gomez, Clair Hopps, Corole Jontra and Kyle Schmidt. The other mentors involved were mentored by Seid Adem, Matt Arterburn, Janice Barton, Susan Bjerke and Shaun Schmidt.
Rush and Suelter presented at the same conference last year. McKee presented her work for the first time. All three said they were surprised they received awards and said they plan to participate in future conferences, including Washburn’s Apeiron.
“It’s unusual that undergraduates get to do so much research,” Rush said. “We spend 100s of hours working in the field, doing hands-on work to grow the body of knowledge in our field.”