Oct. 20, 2017
Jennifer M. Haseleu, a senior biochemistry major at Saint Vincent College, recently completed a three-month internship as a research assistant at Oklahoma State University’s Chemistry Department in Stillwater, Oklahoma where she was honored with an OSU award for Best Poster Presentation in Undergraduate Research.
During her internship, she participated in a Research Experience for Undergrad (REU) program. “I was a research assistant under Dr. Chris Fennell who is a computational chemist at OSU,” she explained. “While most chemistry experiments happen in a lab with lots of chemicals, a computational experiment happens completely on computers. Under my professor’s direction, I was able to learn how to utilize programming and a super computer to model biomolecular systems.”
“Our research involved modeling a common biomolecular system: proteins,” she added. “Proteins are constantly moving or diffusing through your body. If researchers are developing a medicine, they need to know how the proteins associated with it diffuse through the body. The problem is the accepted way of estimating this diffusion can have a large error associated with it. So we set out to reduce this error. The accepted way simply looks at the molecular weight of the protein, but we decided to look at the surface residues that are actually interacting with their environment. By using different simulations, we were able to build a diffusivity hydropathy scale. In other words, we built a scale that could tell us how fast or slow amino acids move around. From this, we wrote a program that only requires the protein data bank (PDB) code found online, but is able to spit out a protein diffusion coefficient. We compared our prediction program to experimental values and were able to get a 25 percent error down to a five percent error.”
“I also was able to work with 3D printing and modeling,” she added. “So, there are close to 17 or 18 different types of ice that scientists have found. I was able to model these systems on computers and convert them to files that could be 3D printed easily. I made all the systems with the same amount of water molecules, so people could look at the models and see how ice changes as a function of pressure and temperature. Because I made the files in a printable format, anyone with access to a 3D printer could cheaply and easily print a physical form of these models. In other words, students could look at a phase diagram and hold the corresponding ice structure in their hand.”
What did she want to achieve with this internship? “Ultimately, we aim to publish the program we developed on a website or app. This way, all experimentalists would have to do is input structure information and then our program would output a more accurate estimation of the protein diffusion coefficient. If these scientists have easy access to a more accurate prediction, they can save time and money costs in their experimentation.”
“For the ice crystal project, we hope to publish an article (and the models for printing) that would be available for chemistry teachers and professors,” she continued. “Things in physical chemistry can be tough to visualize and to understand. By providing examples that students can hold and look at, tough concepts become real things become concepts that they can literally and mentally grasp.”
How will this help her with her future work or education? “This experience has already helped me grow as a student and opened many doors,” she concluded. “From a student’s perspective, being able to do hands-on and intensive research has taught me lessons on being able to persist. Most breakthroughs don’t have a big ‘aha’ moment. It’s a consistent battle of accepting little failures and using them to make even bigger triumphs.”
“From this REU, I could potentially have my name on multiple papers. In terms of future work, having research experience on your resume or applications really sets you apart from others. To have these things on your resume means you had to use critical thinking and team work to achieve a project for the common good of people or academia.”
“Aside from that, my research experience has already opened so many doors for me. I made so many invaluable connections with professors and professionals because of this and I am beyond thankful for these opportunities.”
At Saint Vincent she has been active as a Fred Rogers scholar, Habitat for Humanity (president), Maple Syrup Club (president), Campus Ministry, The Company, The Players and Chemistry Club.
She has been honored with a Fred Rogers Scholarship, membership in Gamma Sigma Epsilon (chemistry honor society) and the Tri-Beta (biological honor society). She is a student member of the American Chemical Society.
She has also served as a volunteer for Jamie’s Dream Team, participated in Rogers Center Neighborhood Music Visits and as a volunteer for Simple Interactions with the Rogers Center.
She serves as a teaching assistant with Saint Vincent College Chemistry Department, as a chemistry prep lab assistant and as a chemistry tutor.
Haseleu said she chose to study at Saint Vincent College because she knew she wanted a college that had a wholesome balance between all the things she valued. “I was drawn in by the beauty of the campus, but had to stay because of the family atmosphere,” she explained. “That’s why SVC was my first and only college visit. People at Saint Vincent care about you as a whole person. You’re always passing a familiar Bearcat face that is eager to ask about your day and how you’re doing. Whether it’s a Benedictine monk, a student, a professor or a staff worker, people know and care about you.”
After doing this REU, she said that she really found a love for research. “After graduation, I want to possibly get my master’s degree and continue to do more research. But ultimately, my goal has always been to work with kids. So I plan to attend a medical school to become a pediatrician.”
A 2014 graduate of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (OLSH) High School, she is the daughter of Donnye and Dave Haseleu of Robinson. She is a member of Holy Trinity Church in Robinson.
Photo: Jennifer Haseleu with her award-winning research poster
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