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Undergraduate Research at Juniata

Maggie Peck
-Maggie Peck ’21, Biology POE, Pre-Dentistry

At Juniata, there are many opportunities to conduct research. Almost every department has opportunities for students to explore their passions. I have been doing research at Juniata since the summer after my freshman year. I was eager to learn more about biology in an in-depth manor, so I applied to work in Dr. Jason Chan’s lab. I have since been working on an in-depth study related to the extension of health in our aging population and the prevention of age-related disease.

This experience had been an integral part of my development as a scholar and an individual. When I started conducting research, I was unfamiliar with the fundamental biology that the research projects were rooted in. Topics such as genetics and DNA genotyping were intimidating and new to me. At that point, I had only taken one biology course at Juniata. I was overwhelmed and unsure if I would be able to handle this position. In order to learn and grow, I asked as many questions as I could and read scientific papers to become familiar with the material. I then started to become more comfortable in the lab. Through the summer, Dr. Chan helped me to understand the complex concepts that I was struggling with. This was proactive in the long-term, as I developed a strong foundational understanding of concepts that were pertinent in my future courses.

My research project studies the effects of cadmium–a heavy metal stressor –on aging and stress regulation. This research is conducted using the model organism, C. elegans, which are microscopic roundworms. The organisms are great for research because they have a relatively short lifespan and their genes can be easily manipulated. I study the function of a gene called hyl-2, which produces ceramides. Ceramides are essential fats in our cell membranes that serve to protect our cells from stress. The experiments have been analyzing how specific traits such as survival, reproduction, and locomotion are affected by the presence of cadmium and ceramides.

Through research, I have had opportunities to present my findings to others. I have presented at the Landmark Conference Symposium, which is a chance for researchers around the state to present on their summer projects. Similarly, I have presented at the Liberal Arts Symposium, which is an opportunity for Juniata students to present their research on campus at the end of each spring term. Additionally, in April of this year I will be travelling to San Diego to present at a national conference. These amazing opportunities have allowed me to share my work and passions with others, which has been wonderful!  I have fallen deeper in love with biology through my research experience. Researching at Juniata has taught me that with hard work and determination, anything is possible. If you get the opportunity to research, go for it! Juniata is a wonderful environment to foster new interests, so take chances and try your best!