Research comes in many different shapes and sizes. Sometimes students find themselves drawn to fields they had never known existed. Sometimes students find their new work so interesting that they decide to pursue it over the summer. The Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF), a program within the Center for Undergraduate Excellence, provides support for students working on research or creative projects with the guidance of experienced faculty.
Biochemistry and Molecular Biology student Lauren Friend (’19) used her summer as a SURF Fellow to finish a two-year long project involving hagfish locomotive modality research.
Hagfish are deep sea scavengers that look similar to eels. They have been observed in the wild burrowing into the ocean floor and even into whale carcasses, where the fish get the benefits of shelter and food simultaneously. Hagfish are able to fit through spaces smaller than their own diameter. Two years ago, Chapman’s Dr. Fudge began his research with one question: how do they do that?
Friend met Dr. Fudge at Faculty Research & Creative Expression Expo. “At the time I was Pre-Med,” Friend says, “and I thought I had to get onto a good research team to get into a good Med school, check it off my list. I always really liked animals, but that’s not the kind of research you can do as a biochem person.” She walked by Dr. Fudge’s table, where he was playing videos of hagfish and discussing his preliminary research, and immediately thought it was the path for her. Friend was very excited to get onto this project. “It’s so cool! I love how things move and work, and I really liked the idea of doing a macro project,” where the team works hands-on with animals.
Together with a small team and guidance from Dr. Fudge, Friend runs tests with hagfish. The guiding question of the experiment is: how do hagfish navigate very tight channels? The team runs tests in a Plexiglas tank that serves as a runway for the hagfish test subjects. Researchers change the channel width to see how the fish’s movement differs depending on how much space it is given. Immediately, Friend can see a visual difference in the subject’s locomotive modality, or how it moves, depending on how much space it has to work with.
There is a particular focus on how efficient each motion is, researchers trying to figure out why hagfish chose a particular movement for each space. Friend mentions that an application of this research she hopes to see is a “soft-bodied robotic that could be used for search and rescue.”
Friend says that this research experience has not only provided her with a useful background: “it has completely changed my life after college.” Instead of wanting to be a surgeon, as she as since she was in middle school, Friend is more interested in research now. This project “has definitely opened my eyes to how creative I can be with science.” She figured out that she wants to problem solve and figure things out, that she can “always be asking questions and always coming up with different things to test.”
Though attending grad school for Mechanical or Biomedical Engineering, or maybe even Medical school, may be in Friend’s future, she says her time with SURF will continue to play a role in her career development. “I have that curiosity bug in me, so whatever I end up doing, I know I’m going to want to be problem solving and figuring things out… I figured out I don’t want to be the best at doing what there is to be done, I want to figure out what the next best thing for everyone is.”
Are you interested in pursuing a research or creative project that can make real waves in the community? Attend the Faculty Research & Creative Expression Expo, November 6th @ 4 pm in BK 404 or apply to SURF and discover where academic inquiry can take you! Learn more at the SURF Information Session held every spring semester or visit the Center for Undergraduate Excellence’s webpage.
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