Chemistry

Under the mentorship of David Collins, a faculty member in the Department of Chemistry; Serena Michalsky, Ashley Tolzmann Thornock, and Ramon Soto Alvarez delved into extensive research that centered on testing certain methods of drug extraction and analysis.

November 27, 2017
Writer: Noelle Helm

In the scientific community, publishing research as an undergraduate is rare—three BYU-Idaho chemistry students defied these odds with their research published in July of this year.

Under the mentorship of David Collins, a faculty member in the Department of Chemistry; Serena Michalsky, Ashley Tolzmann Thornock, and Ramon Soto Alvarez delved into extensive research that centered on testing certain methods of drug extraction and analysis.

The objective of the project was facilitated by PerkinElmer, Inc., a biotechnology company. Collins had reached out to the company two years ago to see how he could provide his students valuable experience via a collaboration.

"I proposed an internship program that would train students on the use of their laboratory protocol and their instruments here at BYU-Idaho, so that the students would be better prepared to conduct internships with them and potentially become more productive for the company," Collins said. "They gave us one of their instruments, a signature instrument that carries out various types of analyses of compounds."

As a means of marketing the instrument, PerkinElmer was interested in testing it through various applications. These completed test results, or "application notes," illustrate how the instrument can be used and what it can do.

The students conducted research and testing that led to an application note of this instrument, describing its use for the analysis of drugs. PerkinElmer published the completed application note within the company.

"After they published it internally, they felt that the quality was good enough to publish it externally," Collins said.

After researching and submitting to various publications that would be interested in the findings, the students' application note was published in "The Column," a digital magazine for separation scientists.

"It was exciting to see our work in a magazine for others to learn from and perhaps inspire the current research they may be working on," Michalsky said.

Each student recognized the value in the process, which was carried out over four semesters and has since opened up further opportunities.

"Through my research, I was able to get an internship with Perkin Elmer, Inc.," Michalsky said. "They funded the research I did, so I was familiar with their instrument and was able to go into the internship with experience in the software they use."

For Michalsky, not only did their research enable the internship opportunity that Collins had hoped for his students, but the benefits have also extended to further educational pursuits.

"I've had multiple interviews at medical schools and they always seem to ask about the research I've done. I know that my research experience has helped me to stand out in the pool of thousands of medical school applicants," Michalsky said.

The experience gained during mentored student research is invaluable, and the process allowed these students to hone in on a variety of skills that have better prepared them in their chosen fields.

"A unique opportunity that I gained from mentored student research was the ability to participate in poster presentations in research conferences, both on and off campus," said Tolzmann. "The conferences outside of BYU-Idaho helped me see what other students are working on and how clear I am when presenting my data to other chemists."

According to Alvarez, this research endeavor also challenged the students to think critically.

"I have learned how to think outside the box. Having already tried many different ideas, I reached a point where the results were not necessarily what I had hoped. This helped me understand that looking for different ideas and ways of doing things is imperative to be successful in research," Alvarez said.

The research process that the students went through not only provided future opportunities and a publication to include on their resumes, but enabled an understanding of important life lessons.

"Doing research helped me to understand how concepts taught in the classroom can be applied to real life situations and questions," Michalsky said. "I also learned that most things don't go as planned. What is important is what you learn from those experiences and how you handle it. You just have to keep trying even if you fail a million times. Failure is the key to success because it teaches us how to do and be better."