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In his years at Lafayette, senior biochemistry major Seth Kaufer, a Marquis Scholar, has observed and assisted sports trainers and hospital physicians to prepare for a career in medicine.

But this year, instead of dealing with injuries and illnesses, he’s focusing on how tiny, snail-dwelling parasites change the concentration of metals in their hosts’ digestive systems.

“I wanted to focus on a biological system,” says Kaufer, who completed internships with sports trainers at Lafayette and physicians at Easton Hospital and conducted two EXCEL research projects in analytical chemistry before beginning his honors thesis work.

Kaufer has learned to use atomic absorption and ion chromatography equipment to analyze concentrations of seven different metals in the digestive glands of the marine snails, which can host as many as 21 different kinds of parasites.

“The parasites pass through the food chain through the snails, then into fish, birds, and other animals,” Kaufer says, explaining that he dissected the snails and removed the digestive glands before analyzing the contents.

Bernard Fried, professor emeritus of biology and one of Kaufer’s thesis advisers, says marine laboratories often test snails to determine if their habitat is polluted, but few take into account whether those snails are infected by parasites — and whether those parasites have removed or diluted evidence of pollution.

“They may not be getting true indications,” he says, adding that so far, Kaufer’s data “looks very reputable.”

Both Fried and Joseph Sherma, Larkin Professor Emeritus of Chemistry, say Kaufer has approached his work with diligence and maturity.

“He’s had to develop new methods and work out problems with those methods,” Sherma says. “He’s done a very, very good job. He works independently and he has great interest in the research.”

Kaufer is also working with a third adviser. Michael Chejlava, instrumentation specialist for the chemistry department, trained Kaufer to work with the large, sophisticated pieces of equipment that measure atomic absorption and ion chromatography.

“He’s getting to interact with three different Ph.D.s who are supervising his work collaboratively,” Sherma says. “He’s learning a lot more than he would with just one adviser.”

Kaufer is glad for the chance to study and conduct research at Lafayette.

“I have everything I need right here,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity to be here because the professors don’t have graduate students to take up all the research. As a student, you are a number one priority and have all the resources at your disposal.”

A graduate of Wyoming Valley West High School, Kaufer is president of the Hillel Society, Theta Chi fraternity, and the campus chapter of the American Chemical Society. He is also a teaching assistant for chemistry classes.

Categorized in: Academic News