August 06, 2018

Kristina Fenner Kristina FennerA summer at Johns Hopkins University and the National Center for Toxicological Research are giving two rising seniors a glimpse into life after Susquehanna.

“I am surrounded by many students working toward their master’s and Ph.D. degrees,” says Alex Cocolas, who plans to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry. “This internship gives me a direct representation of what my life will be for the next five years.”

Interning in the chemical engineering lab at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Md., Cocolas conducts reactions that create nanoparticles used in military research.

“I am assisting in research that can potentially save lives one day. Although I will only be on this research for a summer, I feel that my contribution will assist them,” says the chemistry major.

“The most rewarding feeling is when I have a successful reaction that lines up perfectly with what we predicted. There are a lot of potential errors that can, and do, arise every day; after a 100% successful reaction, I go home with a great deal of satisfaction.”

Cocolas also characterizes and analyzes his results using Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM), X-ray Diffraction (XRD) and Energy Dispersive spectroscopy (EDAX).

“These state-of-the-art instruments allow precise analysis of the nanoparticles,” Cocolas explains.

Studying gene editing with the FDA

Meanwhile in Jefferson, Ark., biochemistry major Kristina Fenner is getting her foot in the door in the government with an internship affiliated with the Food and Drug Administration.

“I’ve always liked the idea of working for the government and things being top secret. Although we are not doing topic secret research, I still want to pursue a career within the government,” Fenner says. “The work impacts not only people in America but around the world.”

Working with a primary investigator (P.I.), Fenner is researching unintended effects of the gene-editing technique CRISPR.

“CRISPR is a very hot topic in the biological sciences because of its ability to accurately cut out pieces of your DNA. My P.I. wants to know if CRISPR will cut sections of DNA it is not supposed to, which could be detrimental to the organism,” Fenner explains.

This work has given Fenner a chance to hone the lab skills she learned at Susquehanna and develop new techniques, such as next-generation sequencing, flow cytometry and electroporation.

“This has been really interesting and is good experience to broaden my education, especially since I am still unsure what field I enjoy doing research in. My P.I. has let me try a little bit of everything so I start to figure out what I like and dislike,” Fenner says.