By Christopher Anzalone, BA History ’06
For earth science majors Stephen Elmore and Cynthia Tselepis, lab work at Mason didn’t just yield important data—it made them entrepreneurs. The two seniors have joined with assistant professor of environmental science and policy Mark Krekeler in forming Mineral Sciences LLC, a company that uses nanotechnology to produce a rapid-absorption material that will help first responders worldwide protect human life and the environment from radioactive materials. Elmore’s and Tselepis’s projects were also presented at an annual Geological Society of America meeting.
While many students have to wait until graduate school before they undertake serious research in their field of study, Mason’s Undergraduate Apprenticeship Program makes it possible for undergraduates like Elmore and Tselepis to work closely with faculty members on cutting-edge research.
“I’m a firm believer that undergraduates should have some research experience before they graduate,” says Timothy Born, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, “and I think the best way to get students excited about chemistry and biochemistry is to get them working in the lab.”
Last spring, Born worked with Minh Nguyen, a senior biochemistry major, on a research project that seeks to discover ways to reduce the growth of bacteria and search for new antibacterial medications.
“Working in a research lab has helped me gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the biochemistry field,” says Nguyen. The apprenticeship also allowed her to become familiar with working in a professional setting and the technology used in the lab.
Allison Slusser, a senior psychology and biology double major, became interested in doing directed independent research after taking Physiological Psychology with psychology professor Susan Bachus from the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study.
Bachus and Psychology Department chair Robert Smith worked with Slusser on her study of the potential long-term effects of Ritalin, a drug commonly prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Slusser sees the experience as invaluable. “In addition to gaining incredible lab experience, I was able to assist in a project that may have a real impact on the treatment of ADHD,” she says. “[Bachus and Smith] have given me a lot of responsibility in running the project, so I’ve learned so much about the methods and organization behind experimentation. The apprenticeship has really helped me on my path to medical school.”
“She’s not just working as someone’s assistant, she’s actually doing the study herself,” says Bachus of the project, adding that she and Smith are, in a way, Slusser’s assistants, providing her with the training to do this study and come up with a whole new level of interpretation of what’s going on.