Undergrad research presentations

Dec 08, 2011


When Ellen Robinson, a DelVal student, found out that in the egg laying industry a large amount of males were being destroyed the day they hatched, she decided to see if she could change the male:female ratio by altering the pH of  a solution used in the artificial insemination of the birds.

Warren Petrillo, a conservation and wildlife management student, spent his semester in local vineyards observing the kestrel, a small bird of prey that is declining in population, to try to gain information that could help with conservation efforts.

Kimberly Knower, a chemistry student, spent her semester trying to discover new alternatives to food dyes when she found out that some artificial dyes may be linked to disorders such as ADHD.

Delaware Valley College undergraduate students are taking an interest in problems and looking for ways to contribute to solving them through individual scientific research projects.

On Dec. 6 in the Mandell Science Building, 11 students from DelVal’s student research course presented their projects.

In the course, juniors and seniors spend a semester exploring topics of their choosing under the guidance of a faculty mentor. They form and test hypotheses and present their results to the college community. This year, students worked in groups of 1-2 students.

The presentations lasted about 10 minutes each and were followed by questions from faculty and other students.

A representative from Bristol-Myers Squibb, a global BioPharma company, was in the audience to hear the students present. The company generously awarded a grant to DelVal to fund the student research course and two scholarships for students taking the course in the 2011-2012 academic year.

Robinson, under the guidance of Dr. Frederick Hofsaess, an animal science professor, worked with birds that were donated by Hybrid Turkeys in Canada. She raised her research group at DelVal and provided all of their care and vaccinations. She added aspartic acid to the turkey extender, a solution used to dilute and preserve turkey semen, to lower the pH from 6.5 to 6.

Robinson said that acidic conditions may be more favorable to X sperm while basic conditions may be more favorable to Y in mammals which are comparable to Z and W in turkeys. By lowering the pH, she hoped to produce more females and cut down on the amount of birds that are destroyed in the industry.

She is still waiting for her eggs to hatch and said it will be at least a month before she has her data.
Petrillo studied Kestrels because their population has been in decline due to loss of habitat and an increase in predators. Dr. Gregory George from the biology department was his mentor for the semester.

“A better understanding could potentially be of use for conservation efforts,” said Petrillo.

He observed them feeding their young at three locations and recorded the food type, sex of the parent doing the feeding and the length of time of the feeding.

Petrillo did his field research in two local vineyards and a residential site on Dark Hollow Road.

He found that females provided 84 percent of the feedings he observed and that almost every feeding was very fast, under a minute.

He also made a chart showing the prey selection of the birds.

Chemistry major Karlena Brown worked under the guidance of faculty mentor Dr. Melissa Langston with soil samples from Costa Rica.

Brown wanted to enhance the amount of calcium in the soil to help coffee farmers there.

She analyzed the sample using atomic absorption and found that the sample had about 125 parts per million of calcium originally.

She tried three methods including using a rain buffer, adding dry leaf ashes, and dissolving dry leaf ashes in acid. The first two tries actually lowered the amount of calcium. The third method worked and the calcium jumped to about 180 parts per million.

“My research did come out very well and I did come up with a recommendation,” said Brown, who will share her findings with Café Cristina in Costa Rica.

Other topics included: “The Spooky Horse; an Investigation of Physiological and Behavioral Causes” presented by Marina Wong and Alyssa Giulianelli; “Characterization of a Probable Novel Bacterial Species,” presented by Courtney Wolfe; “Identifying Bacteria that Produce the Phytohormone Auxin,” presented by Michelle Ocasio; “Aquaponics: Effects of Fish and the Study of Plants,” presented by Mark McDevitt and Joseph Mandara; “The Affect of Plant Growth Promoting Bacteria on Spinach Grown in Various Salt Concentrations,” presented by Courtney Dickinson.

The course is one more opportunity for students at DelVal to learn through experience.

“The Student Research Course provides the opportunity for students to explore a research topic in more depth through creative problem solving using the scientific method,” said Dr. Cynthia Keler, a faculty member in the biology department. “In addition, this course provides the student with professional development opportunities.”

Students gain experience from the course that is valuable for graduate school, professional school or a career in academic or industry research.