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Until she began examining them last January, Sharon Bandstra ’06 (Midland Park, N.J.), never thought much about how complex snails are, and she certainly didn’t think that conducting research on them would be particularly exciting.

Bandstra, a biochemistry major, has since changed her mind. Her research involves a comparison of three different snail-parasite relationships and analysis of the snail’s blood, shell, and body.

She attributes her newfound passion to Bernard Fried, Kreider Professor Emeritus of Biology, who guided the biological portion of her research.

Bandstra dissected parasite-infected and uninfected helisoma trivolvis, the “ramshorn” snail commonly seen in the aquarium, and biomphalaria glabrata, another type of freshwater snail, in Kunkel Hall. She then moved her work to Hugel Science Center, used thin-layer chromatography (TLC), a procedure for separating closely related compounds for analysis, to separate and analyze neutral and polar lipids under the guidance of Joseph Sherma, Larkin Professor Emeritus of Chemistry.

“One thing that I enjoy about working with them is that they don’t dictate what to do or what exactly is happening because they are learning right alongside us and also because they want us to figure it out for ourselves via intuition or other sources,” she says. “It’s very different than taking a lab class in that [Fried and Sherma] give me projects to work on which they don’t know the answer to.”

Fried, an expert in parasitology, and Sherma, an expert in TLC, have conducted joint research involving snails for nearly 25 years, mentoring hundreds of Lafayette students in that time.

Fried says Bandstra’s work is part of a “very inclusive, long-term study” that she is continuing this fall semester and possibly beyond.

“She’s doing a great job,” he says. “She can practically read my mind by now She has a great ‘stick-to-itiveness’ and good work habits.”

Already, Bandstra has co-authored two papers with Fried, Sherma, and Jessica Schneck ’04 (Walnutport, Pa.). Both have been accepted for publication in scholarly journals.

She, Fried, and Sherma are collaborating 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.

Bandstra says the experience is helping her to understand what biochemical research actually involves.

“As much as I thought I knew what was going on, it’s totally different when you’re in the laboratory,” she says, explaining that techniques she learned in the classroom, especially TLC, are much more complicated than she had realized.

Reconsidering graduate school, she says the research project definitely changed her previous plans of working in a lab.

“I enjoy my research projects and the interaction with my professors, and it’s helped me to figure out more of what I would like to pursue as a career. This also has helped to introduce me to what I might do in grad school,” she says.

Bandstra is a member of the campus chapter of the American Chemical Society and Lafayette Christian Fellowship. She is a graduate of Midland Park High School.

Included in Who’s Who in America and once featured on the Discovery Channel, Fried is one of the world’s foremost experts in the field of parasitology, with three organisms named in his honor. His research has led to important advances in the effort to conquer tropical diseases caused by parasitic flatworms.

Author of more than 550 research papers, books, and reviews, Sherma has spent much of his career advancing the fields of pesticide analysis and chromatography. A recipient of the Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institution by the American Chemical Society, Sherma has involved more than 140 different students as coauthors for over 15 papers published in peer-reviewed journals.

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.

Categorized in: Academic News