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Friday, September 1, 2006
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Honors tutorial students become research apprentices to faculty

ATHENS, Ohio (Sept. 1, 2006) -- Summertime for college sophomores usually means working to earn money for next year's tuition. For Molly Semones, a sophomore Honors Tutorial College chemistry and biology major from Kettering, Ohio, this summer was no different. Except that she won a research apprenticeship from HTC, which allowed her a rare opportunity for an undergraduate: paid research work in a plant biology lab on the Ohio University campus. 

Allan Showalter and Molly Semones"It's pretty fun," Semones said, "It's probably not going to be the field I end up in, but that's part of the reason I took it." Although she is heading back to the residence hall this fall, Semones was able to pay for an apartment and food this summer with the $3,000 grant. "I might have been able to do this (without the money), but it would have been a lot harder." 

The HTC Research Apprenticeships, awarded to 11 faculty/student teams this year, are designed to reward faculty tutors for their work with students by providing them with research assistance while also helping HTC students expand their research skills.

"Honors Tutorial College students are engaged in the process of earning an undergraduate research degree; consequently, the opportunity to work closely with a faculty member on a project aids in the development of the type of research skills they must acquire," said Ann Fidler, dean of Honors Tutorial College. "The chance to witness the complexities involved in trying to bring knowledge to bear on issues and ideas is invaluable as they develop their own thesis research projects."

Semones was an assistant to Allan Showalter, professor in the molecular and cellular biology program within the Department of Environmental and Plant Biology. She worked in the lab growing and examining mutant Arabidopsis thaliana plants (a small plant in the mustard family that has become the model system of choice for research in plant biology). She also allowed these plants to reproduce and examined the offspring to identify specimens with double mutations that would be used for research. 

Specifically, Showalter and the students in his lab have been working with mutant plants that lack a certain protein, called arabinogalactan-protein, that generally exists in all plants at the surfaces of all their cells. By studying these mutants, the researchers can learn the function of the arabinogalactin-protein. For example, mutant plants show different form and color, and are less hearty in reproduction, so the protein seems to be involved in these functions. 

Showalter for his part is glad to provide the uncommon opportunity to an undergraduate researcher. "I tell my advisees, 'Get your hands dirty in the lab and see if you like it,'" he said. "(scientific research) is not all clear-cut and set out for you. There's a lot more frustration, but a lot more opportunity to think." 

This experience for Semones includes another rare opportunity for an undergraduate: contributing to a conference presentation or even to a paper in a peer-reviewed journal. "We (in the lab) are going to continue to pursue this," Showalter said, "so when we publish it, her name will be on the report."

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Media Contact: HTC Dean Ann Fidler, (740) 593-2723 or fidler@ohio.edu

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