Research: Chemistry and Biochemistry

When Allison McEldowney dreams of the future, she sees herself as a doctor combating some of humanity’s most dangerous diseases, or perhaps in a foreign land as a medical missionary.

Allison McEldowney, second from left in the front row, has made the most of her time at State, including spending the past two years conducting research. She is pictured  with other Schultz-Werth award winners in the physical/biological sciences, mathematics and engineering areas at the 2014 Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity Day held in the University Student Union’s Volstorff Ballroom.

Allison McEldowney, second from left in the front row, has made the most of her time at State, including spending the past two years conducting research. She is pictured with other Schultz-Werth award winners in the physical/biological sciences, mathematics and engineering areas at the 2014 Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity Day held in the University Student Union’s Volstorff Ballroom.

And she’s getting a meaningful jump on that future as a senior biochemistry and premedicine major thanks to a research-based program at State.

McEldowney and her classmates in the chemistry and biochemistry departments all participate in a capstone project designed to give students real-world experience and opportunities to do active research. Students craft their research projects from the
ground up:
•    A hypothesis is formed;
•    Tests are planned; and
•    Students rely on the observed outcomes to draw their conclusions and identify what they have learned.

“For chemistry and biochemistry majors, our capstone project is the independent undergraduate research project,” said David P. Cartrette, an associate professor in the chemistry and biochemistry department. “This project gives students a chance to put the theory they’ve learned during their coursework into practice in a laboratory setting.”

The importance of hands-on learning experience in college cannot be overstated. And the process of taking students out of the classroom and into real-world settings, known as experiential learning, ties perfectly into the philosophy of the College of Arts and Sciences.

“Incorporation of experiential, applied learning is an emerging trend in higher education across the country, and our research projects fit very well into the College of Arts and Science’s goals in this regard,” Cartrette said. “The involvement of undergraduate chemistry and biochemistry majors in authentic research activities while in school prepares them for the next step of their lives, whether that be graduate study or industrial careers.

“Put more simply, learning in class is more meaningful and useful when applied to doing something; our majors are career-ready when they can use their knowledge to effectively manage a laboratory project.”

For McEldowney, a native of Castlewood, her capstone project has spanned two years. During summer 2013, her research was a full-time job. McEldowney’s research has transitioned into a 15-hours-a-week commitment through the school year.

Her research was rooted in biochemistry. Specifically, she examined macrophages and their relationship to the body’s immune system. McEldowney created fluorescent proteins along with actually cloning DNA and purifying protein.

Matt Richardson

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