Written By: Sarah Michel, PhD, Associate Professor in PSC
On March 4, I hosted my annual “Spring into Maryland Science” (SIMSI) event, which brings chemistry and biology majors from the Undergraduate Women’s College at Notre Dame of Maryland University to the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences (PSC) at the School of Pharmacy for a first-hand look at graduate-level science research. This year marked the ninth year that I have hosted this program — which began as part of a National Science Foundation CAREER Award that I received in 2007 — to provide undergraduate students with an opportunity to “taste” graduate research, as well as introduce them to career opportunities, teach them skills to strengthen their academic performance, and provide mentors and roles models in the program’s current graduate students.
Testing the Waters (Literally)
The students began their day testing tap water for metal content using an instrument known as an Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer, or ICP-MS for short. The ICP-MS is one of a number of cutting-edge instruments available in the School’s state-of-the-art Mass Spectrometry Center. When the news broke about the toxic levels of lead found in the water in Flint, Michigan, it led us to wonder what metals might exist in the water in Baltimore, so we designed an experiment to test our local water. The undergraduate students collected water from taps in their dorms and laboratories, while several of their professors collected water from their homes in both Baltimore City and Baltimore County. When the students arrived, we used the ICP-MS to measure both beneficial (e.g., iron and zinc) and toxic (e.g., lead and arsenic) metal ions.
Almost all of the water samples showed little — if any — toxic metal ions, with the exception of the water from an older laboratory building in the city.
Gaining Exposure to Real World Research
After our morning experiment was complete, undergraduate students had an opportunity to interact with graduate students in the PhD in PSC program over lunch. They were then paired with graduate students and postdoctoral fellows from various PSC laboratories who taught them how to do experiments related to the research being conducted in the labs. After whetting the students’ appetites for research, I ended the day by providing information about the program’s summer research opportunities, and I’ve since heard from their advisor, Angela Sherman, PhD, associate professor in chemistry at Notre Dame of Maryland University, that many of the students are planning on applying for summer science research opportunities because of their experience with us!
I cannot conclude this post without expressing my thanks to the many graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in the PhD in PSC program who took time out of their busy days to mentor the students from Notre Dame of Maryland University, Dr. Sherman who partnered with us to facilitate this opportunity, and the National Science Foundation for supporting this wonderful outreach event.