August 23, 2017

Kishwaukee College student Haley Tadd, DeKalb, spent her summer in an unusual way: she assisted with research on the biochemical basis of age-related eye diseases. It was all part of her internship at Northern Illinois University under Dr. Elizabeth Gaillard, Research Biochemist, assisted by Dr. Laura Murdaugh, Chemistry instructor at Kish, and the National Science Foundation (NSF) undergraduate research grant program.

Dr. Murdaugh became aware of the NSF grant program and knew that NIU wanted to increase collaboration with community colleges. Her dissertation research advisor, Dr. Gaillard, was one of several professors at NIU who were opening up their research to community college students under the NSF grant program. The program was looking for eight student interns and four student-faculty teams to participate in the summer research program. Murdaugh and her Kish chem colleague, Dr. Nicole Potts, pitched the program to their chemistry students in the early spring.

“It was a great opportunity for students to gain experience in wet chemistry or the hands-on lab research,” she explained. “The students would have one year of chem completed and they would be going into a lab performing research under a full professor at the university level, with grad students and upper division undergrads.”

NIU received over 200 applications from across the U.S. for the research positions. Haley Tadd was selected along with Murdaugh as one of the student-faculty teams. Dr. Murdaugh stated, “Haley was the best qualified from the Kish apps we received. She had General Chemistry with Nicole [Potts] and had also had Anatomy and Physiology I and II. She was an excellent lab student in all those classes, took direction well, and had a clear understanding of the material. She was a good fit.”

Haley was excited to be selected to participate in the 10-week research internship. “It was about 40-hours a week for ten weeks,” Haley explained. “I used some lab techniques I learned in class at Kish but a lot of new techniques too, like using more specialized instruments and doing extrusion and vesicle bursting.”  Dr. Murdaugh oversaw Haley’s results and assisted with reviews of literature. Haley primarily worked with a graduate student assistant of Dr. Gaillard in the lab every day.

Dr. Gaillard’s research focuses on the biochemical basis of age-related eye diseases, such as Diabetic Retinopathy and Macular Degeneration, to gain a clearer understanding of chemical reactions that lead to tissue damage. The results may be used to aid in the development of drugs to slow, stop or possibly reverse the tissue damage. Haley’s work was concentrated on making liposomes that can possibly be used as drug-delivery vesicles to treat eye diseases.

Haley graduated from Kishwaukee College this summer and has transferred to the University of Illinois at Chicago to continue her studies in bio-chemistry as a pre-dentistry student. The importance of the skills she gained in her ten-week internship are not lost on her.  “This was such a great experience,” she said. “I was surprised at the amount of work that was required outside the lab – reading academic articles, examining other research findings, and even the prep required outside the lab. The most challenging part was keeping up with the graduate students – they work quickly and know so much. The biggest thing I learned though was patience!”

In addition to the academic and research skills that Haley gained, she received a $5,000 stipend as part of the NSF grant for her work this summer. She also discovered a bonus: the University of Illinois at Chicago offers a scholarship for transfer students who have research experience. She has been awarded that scholarship because of her NIU – NSF internship. “Between the stipend and the scholarship, my tuition for next year at UIC is pretty much covered,” she said.

Dr. Murdaugh enjoyed teaming up with Haley and appreciated the impact the research experience had on the Kish student. Next spring, she and Dr. Potts will be encouraging other chemistry students at Kish to apply for this research opportunity that’s in their own backyard.

Photos: At top - Haley Todd (left) with Dr. Laura Murdaugh;

Bottom - Haley is pictured in the chemistry lab at NIU this summer, performing a technique called lipid film hydration and ethanol injection to make liposomes in the lab to develop treatment for age-related eye diseases such as Diabetic Retinopathy and Macular Degeneration.