November 26, 2018
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The snow and cold of January bore little resemblance to the hot days that Daniel Akuma ’14 spent in a lab at Kenyon dissecting mosquitos last summer. But the hard work on his summer science project, under the direction of Professor of Biology Chris Gillen, led to his trip last month to the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB) conference in Austin.
“Daniel’s work is really remarkable,” said Gillen, describing the process by which Akuma removed the malpighian tubules, or “kidneys,” of mosquitos to study the transfer of salt and water across cell layers. To obtain a big enough sample to conduct the experiments, Akuma had to dissect hundreds of mosquitos using very fine forceps and a microscope.
“It was a lot of technically challenging work,” said Gillen. It also was work in which those at the conference were particularly interested. Akuma’s poster, Gillen said, drew a constant stream of attendees at the conference, including researchers whose work Akuma has been studying.
The experience of interacting with other scientists may have been what Akuma, a neuroscience major from Abakaliki, Nigeria, liked best about attending the conference. “I had people come to me and introduce themselves, people who were cited in my papers that I’m writing here at Kenyon. I thought, ‘You are a hot shot in this field and you really want to hear my poster?’”
Akuma was one of four students prepared to present their posters at the SICB conference, an international meeting of professionals to which Kenyon regularly sends students, including Audrey White ’14, Katie Goulder ’16, and Andrew Parmelee ’14. When Parmelee was unable to travel from his home in Connecticut because of the inclement weather in January, Goulder stepped in.
“I got a little crash course,” said Goulder, a biology major from Montclair, New Jersey. She presented both her own and Parmelee’s work on how growth affects the mid-gut of caterpillars. “It made sense conceptually [for me to present] but the actual process he developed is an improved method for knocking out genes which is amazing. It was essentially his project, and mine was a subset of it.”
“I hope I did it justice,” she added.
As a sophomore, Goulder was one of the youngest attendees at the conference, which is primarily attended by doctoral students and researchers. But Gillen said that’s one of the reasons for taking Kenyon students as undergrads.
“The whole other part of it for them is to be in that professional setting and to see the way people interact at a meeting like that, to get a chance to make connections,” Gillen said.