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Calvin Honored by Merck-AAAS
February 22 , 2007

Calvin College has landed a three-year, $60,000 grant from Merck-AAAS to fund faculty-student research partnerships.

This is the second time Calvin has been chosen for the grant program funded by pharmaceutical company Merck and the American Association for the Advancement of Science or AAAS (the publisher of Science magazine).

The first grant, which ran from 2003 through 2006, also focused on research where biology and chemistry intersect.

Beakers“This is how science is done these days, crossing the disciplines,” says chemistry professor Eric Arnoys of the collaboration. “You still have people who are experts in their areas, but they’re working together.”

They’re also working with students, which is the point of the Merck-AAAS program.

“It’s good for our students,” says Arnoys of the faculty-student partnerships. “It gives them a broad exposure to research. At this point, most of them don’t know what they’ll be doing, and this gives them an opportunity to see a vast variety of things.”

Four projects, each pairing two professors with two student researchers, will be funded through the Merck-AAAS program.

Chemistry professors Darla McCarthy and Chad Tatko and their student researchers will be studying the methods by which some unique bacteria protect themselves from the toxic effects of pentachlorophenol, a potent biocide that effectively kills most bacteria.

Arnoys and biologist Steve Matheson and two students will be researching protein transport in brain cells.

“We’re finding,” says Arnoys, “that a number of proteins have their functions controlled by where they are in the brain.”

Chemistry professor Doug Vander Griend and biology professor Arlene Hoogewerf, along with student researchers, will be studying the effects of heavy metals, such as cadmium, on the bacterial formation of biofilms -- the communities of bacteria that adhere to surfaces, such as catheters and teeth, and often cause serious infections.

Chemistry professor Larry Louters and biology professor David DeHeer will be investigating the effects of cholesterol on two important cellular functions: phagocytosis (the process by which cells in the immune system ingest foreign particles, including bacteria) and the transport of glucose into cells.

“Our goal is to win the Nobel Prize,” Louters says with a smile.

The Merck-AAAS program not only fosters collaboration within the research groups but among them.

“The big thing that came about from this program is that it put us all, in a sense, in a much larger research group,” says Arnoys. “We get a better sense of what these groups are working on. We see not just the final results but the day-to-day problems. We all come from similar enough backgrounds that, with a little bit of work, we will understand the techniques and focus of the projects.”

This expansive research community has major benefits for the students.

“It’s good for them to know where all the results come from,” Arnoys says. “A lot of the analytical skills and the patience and perseverance that they learn in the lab will serve them well whatever they do.”

And one student will benefit by an even broader exposure to the scientific community. Each year, the faculty involved in the Merck-AAAS program nominates a student to present his or her research at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference. In the three successive years of the first Merck-AAAS grant, Calvin’s students were chosen as presenters.

“I haven’t been at all surprised that our students have been accepted,” Arnoys says. “It reflects well for Calvin, but we should be three for three. We’re putting the best of Calvin out there.”

Faculty are also big winners through the Merck-AAAS program, Arnoys says: “It does give us fresh ideas, and we enjoy working with the students. It’s one of the reasons many of us came to Calvin.”

Calvin was one of 15 institutions that earned 2007 Merck-AAAS grants. The others are Augustana College, Davidson College, Lawrence University, Pomona College, Rhodes College, St. Lawrence University, College of New Jersey, Truman State University, University of Dayton, University of Evansville, University of Richmond, University of St. Thomas, the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and Wellesley College.

~written by Calvin staff writer Myrna Anderson

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