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Ever since she took her first toddler steps, Marquis Scholar Meredith White ’06 (Andover, Mass.) has been fascinated with the plants and animals that dwell in and around the tide pools near her family’s vacation home in Maine. For years, she has dreamed of a career as a marine biologist.

This summer, she’s taking a few more steps toward realizing her dream as she conducts research on tiny freshwater snails.

White, a biochemistry major who plans to study marine biology in graduate school, is seeking to determine whether helisoma trivolvis snails infected with parasites have shells that contain more calcium carbonate than those not infected. She is working with Bernard Fried, Kreider Professor Emeritus of Biology; Joseph Sherma, Larkin Professor Emeritus of Chemistry; and Michael Chejlava, the chemistry department’s instrumentation specialist.

They are working together through Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, in which students conduct research with faculty while earning a stipend. The program has helped to make Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. Many of the more than 160 students who participate each year share their work through articles in academic journals and/or conference presentations.

Fried, an expert in parasitology, and Sherma, an expert in chromatography, a procedure for separating closely related compounds for analysis, have conducted joint research involving snails for nearly 25 years, mentoring hundreds of Lafayette students in that time.

For White, who splits her research days between Fried’s laboratory in Kunkel Hall and Sherma’s lab in Hugel Science Center, the research is providing a wealth of experience in techniques she hopes to use in graduate school and beyond.

“I love the way this research combines aspects of chemistry and biology,” she says. “And it’s really fun to be in the lab all day.”

White says her work involves selecting about two dozen snails each day from a tank, placing them in separate wells on a plate, isolating them under a lamp for an hour, then examining the wells for signs of parasites. After that, she divides the snails into “infected” and “uninfected” groups, dissects them, dries their shells overnight in an oven, then grinds them into a fine powder.

Next, she carefully weighs powder samples from each shell, places them in nitric acid, and dissolves them in water.

“I make three solutions with the same shell sample, ” White says, explaining that she then tests for calcium content using three different methods — flame atomic absorption spectrophotometry, ion exchange chromatography, and titration.

“So far, we’re finding that 95 to 98 percent of most uninfected shells are calcium carbonate,” she says, pointing out that there’s little room for infected shells to calcify further.

Fried says that it appears likely that White’s research will disprove two academic papers published in Poland and Brazil that claim infected snails absorb calcium more easily into their bloodstreams and, eventually, into their shells than their uninfected counterparts.

“It may be a fact for certain other host-parasite associations,” he says.

Fried adds that within only a few weeks of beginning her research, White developed a methodology for analyzing her work and will likely co-author a piece by the end of the summer to be published in an academic journal.

“She’s very determined,” he says.

White says that while she’s fascinated by the research, she’s also taking advantage of the many cultural opportunities Lafayette offers.

“I picked Lafayette because I love science, but I also enjoy the liberal arts,” she says.

This fall, she’ll be studying in a new Lafayette study abroad program at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana, taking courses in chemistry, African culture, and African art history.

A graduate of Andover High School, White is a member of Questioning Established Sexual Taboos and the National Residence Hall Honorary Society.This spring, she participated in a performance art production, Undesirable Elements Lafayette: Community in Marginalization. In her first year at Lafayette, she tutored children during an Alternative School Break service project at the Navajo Reservation in Tuba City, Ariz. She has worked in Skillman Library and as a peer tutor and chemistry laboratory teaching assistant. She also has participated in CHILL (Creating a Healthy, Interesting, Livable Lafayette).

As a national leader in undergraduate research, Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Forty-two students were accepted to present their work at the last annual conference in April.

Chosen from among Lafayette’s most promising applicants, Marquis Scholars like White receive special financial aid and distinctive educational experiences and benefits, including a three-week, Lafayette-funded study-abroad course during January’s interim session between regular semesters. Marquis Scholars also participate in cultural activities in major cities and on campus, and mentoring programs with Lafayette faculty.

Categorized in: Academic News