May 12, 2022

More than 150 seniors presented research, music and artwork at Susquehanna’s Senior Scholars Day, an event that gives students the opportunity to present the culmination of their years of study while honoring the professors who acted as their mentors.

“Senior Scholars Day gives us a chance to see the amazing intellectual transformation of our students from their first year to their senior year,” said Provost Dave Ramsaran.

Identifying Pharmaceuticals in Water

Ethan Fix '22 Ethan Fix ’22
Credit: Gordon Wenzel
Ethan Fix ’22, a chemistry major from Big Cove Tannery, Pennsylvania, worked with Associate Professor Lou Ann Tom to determine if molecularly imprinted polymers can be used to detect low concentrations of certain pharmaceuticals — warfarin and oxycodone — in water.

Fix ran a small sample of water through the polymer, which was in powder form. If the pharmaceutical was present, the drug and only the drug would cling to the polymer.

“After we make the polymer, the imprinted polymer contains the template that was used, either oxycodone or warfarin, to form the specific pockets for that molecule. The goal is to remove as much of this initial template as possible to evaluate how well the pockets retain their respective template,” Fix explained. “We were able to recover 73.6% of oxycodone and 74.9% of warfarin using the molecularly imprinted polymers.

“This is not a preventative solution,” Fix said, “but it is something industry could use to make sure the waste they are discharging from their facility is clear from pharmaceutical residue.”

Fix plans to attend Clemson University in the fall to pursue his doctorate in environmental engineering.

Determining Presence of Microplastics in Coastal Birds

Cara Brennan ’22, a double major in ecology and environmental studies, set out to determine the presence of microplastics in freshwater and marine birds.

To do this, Brennan examined the stomach contents of 39 birds — egrets, gulls, herons and osprey from Mid-Atlantic states — which were provided to her from a rescue facility. She found the presence of microplastics — two to 60 pieces — in every bird but one.

Brennan, whose research was overseen by Carlos Iudica, associate professor of biology, most commonly found black fibers and bits of foam and other unidentifiable fragments.

Laughing gulls, known for their scavenging ways, had the heaviest microplastics load, Brennan said. Birds from bay areas also contained more microplastics, as opposed to birds found along the Atlantic coast.

“It’s hard to see if the birds I examined died as a result of these microplastics, but certainly birds that ingest larger pieces of plastic or have ingested enough that it forms a blockage can die from this pollution,” Brannan said.

Brennan is currently looking for a professional position in environmental consulting with plans to attend graduate school in the future.

The Impact of Voter Disenfranchisement Reform

Katie Earle ’22, a triple major in political science, legal studies and sociology, conducted research to determine if restoring voting rights to disenfranchised convicted felons would lead to an increase in voter turnout.

“The criminal justice system disproportionately negatively impacts individuals of color,” Earle said. “And as a result, federal disenfranchisement work as another way to suppress minority votes.”

Earle, whose research was overseen by Rolfe Peterson, associate professor of political science, sought to examine if individuals would regain their right to vote, would they cast their ballot. To test this, she analyzed 22 states that have enacted disenfranchisement reforms from the years 1997 to 2019 and voter turnout in these state pre- and post-reform.

Her findings indicated that, on average, voter turnout increased 4.7% in the presidential election following the passing of disenfranchisement reforms. In Virginia alone, a state on which Earle conducted a case study, voter turnout increased 12.2%.

“These findings help support the theory that once more voting rights are restored and citizens can participate in civic engagement again, voter turnout in presidential elections will increase,” she said.

Why Do Some Spiders Eject Their Waste?

Amalia Esposito ’22, a biology and ecology double major from Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, presented her research on whether the purseweb spider, a type of tarantula, projects its excretion to use it as a drift fence, or a long, continuous line to control the movement of prey or predators.

“Excretion is a necessary biological process for animals. For most, the main purpose of defecating is waste elimination,” Esposito said. “Purseweb spiders projectile defecate from the top of their burrows. We hypothesized that they may use their waste to channel or redirect prey or predators.”

Along with Professor Matt Persons, Esposito found that the spiders ejected their waste an average of 23 centimeters from their web — but some ejected as far as 43 centimeters — or about 25 body lengths. She also found that pursewebs showed strong directional bias of excretion, which led other spiders of different species to freeze, a known threat response.

“The linear patterns the purseweb spiders create are consistent with a drift fence and the patterns do appear to change the behavior of at least one possible prey species,” Esposito said.

Esposito plans to attend graduate school to pursue a career in biotechnology.