Heidi Standke

As climate change accelerates, senior Chapman student Heidi Standke is conducting research that may help in mitigating it. Standke is researching the regulation of the bacterial enzyme nitrogenase by the protein NifA in hopes that this can one day act as a biofertilizer. If it can, this will reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

“We supply plants with fertilizer, which contains usable nitrogen in the form of ammonia,” Standke explained. “However, fertilizers are difficult to make and are bad for the environment because they contribute to the emission of greenhouse gases.”

The process of making fertilizer also leads to “soil acidification and pollution of local groundwater.” Alternative fertilizers are therefore being examined to find a better way to supply plants with ammonia.

Last summer, Standke was able to carry out this research further through her participation in SURF – the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship – which is overseen by the Center for Undergraduate Excellence.

Heidi conducting research in lab

A highly competitive program, the SURF program awards funding to students who present themselves as promising research candidates to conduct research over an eight week period in the summer.

“I thought it would be a good way to continue my research over the summer months,” said Standke.

Standke also received the Undergraduate Student Scholarly Research/Creative Grant from the Center for Undergraduate Excellence, and used the funding to buy research materials—such as fluorescently labeled DNA—to assist with her project.

With the goal of understanding the conditions in which the protein NifA is able to bind to DNA and promote nitrogen fixation, Standke expressed that her greatest success during SURF was being able to get good results using “fluorescence anisotropy” which is a quantitative way to study NifA binding to DNA.

Heidi conducting research in lab

“It was with these results that I was able to start making conclusions about NifA and its binding to DNA,” Standke said.

Standke plans to continue her research career, and is currently applying to Ph.D. programs in Biochemistry, Microbiology, and/or Pathology.

“This experience over the summer cemented in my mind the path of my future to conduct research and pursue a career in academia, and I am grateful for this opportunity,” said Standke.

Are you interested in becoming a SURF fellow, or applying for scholarship and grant opportunities? Stop by the Center for Undergraduate Excellence and talk to one of our staff members for more information, or email us at cue@chapman.edu!