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Elizabeth Westgate, a chemistry major from Maynard, Mass., is researching nutrients in groundwater in a distinctive 10-week summer internship at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Mass.

“I’ll be analyzing nitrogen as it flows from sewers through test wells to an estuary,” she explains. “I’ll be analyzing for different compounds in the water, and trying to determine what effect the nitrogen may have on the plants.”

In applying for her internship Westgate, a graduate of Maynard High School, was assisted by Dru Germanoski, associate professor of geology and environmental geosciences at Lafayette, which is among about 10 colleges and universities that are members of the Woods Hole Marine Science Consortium. She picked her research topic with Ivan Valiela, a professor of biology in the Boston University Marine Program at the MBL.

“I haven’t had the chance to take geology or environmental courses,” Westgate says. “I thought it would be a good chance to study what I haven’t studied in school. It’s exciting to work both outdoors and in the lab and to see how chemistry is used in other fields.”

Last summer, Andrea Cubbage, a Class of 2000 biology major from Lansdale, Pa., interned at MBL. Her studies centered on the estuaries of Waquoit Bay, Mass. Cubbage made a presentation on her research at the General Scientific Meeting of the MBL last August, and a report was included in the MBL’s publication The Biological Bulletin.

Westgate’s interest in chemistry began in high school, she says, when a particular a woman chemistry teacher “really pushed her.” When she arrived at Lafayette, “nothing sparked my interest as much as chemistry.”

Last summer and fall Westfall did research with Joseph A. Sherma, Lafayette’s John and Frances Larkin Professor of Chemistry, using high-performance thin-layer chromatography (HPTLC) to analyze tanning lotion for the sunscreen octyl salicylate. She began the research as a summer EXCEL scholar and continued it in an independent study during the fall semester.

“Professor Sherma helped me decide what to test. I did all of the lab work myself, then went to him with my results,” Westgate says. “He helped me decide whether my results were good enough and what to test next. He was very patient, more than willing to explain things as many times as necessary to make sure I was not only making the right steps, but understanding them.”

Westgate’s work may have repercussions for industry. HPTLC is not the typical method used to analyze compounds of this nature. The goal of the project was to prove it is a more efficient, precise, and cost-effective testing method.

“Before any company can sell a product, they have to analyze it, whether it’s a food, pesticide, or cosmetic. We want to show this method will be simpler, faster, and less expensive,” Sherma says.

Another Side of Elizabeth

She tutors prisoners at Northampton County Prison in one of the many sustained programs of voluntary service that Lafayette students conduct each year under the auspices of the College’s Landis Community Outreach Center. She is also treasurer of the Lafayette Crew Club.

Categorized in: Academic News