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Fall 2012

A Formula that Matters
by Patricia J. Thomas (pthomas@marywood.edu)

An optimist, it’s said, sees a glass half full; a pessimist sees the glass half empty. To a chemist, however, that glass is completely full—half liquid; half vapor. H2O becomes H and O. That pretty much sums up how a scientist looks at the world: i.e. there’s a whole lot more to it than meets the eye.

There is truth in a glass of water at mid-level, as there was truth in the apple that dropped on Isaac Newton’s head. A scientist sees truth about the marvelous interactions of the universe in the simplest of objects—and then goes off looking for the whys and wherefores. At Marywood, searching for whys and wherefores, insights and understanding that can lead to enormous benefits for humanity in many science disciplines is being undertaken by a new generation of scientists-in-the-making. And they are doing it through a formula that Marywood has long employed: Excellence of Education—plus faithfulness to Marywood’s Core Values—doubled by Commitment to Service.  E=MC2.   

The University’s excellent education has been greatly enhanced by the newly renovated organic chemistry laboratory that allows the University to expand its instrumentation and further its research efforts. Not only will Marywood be able to offer new courses, but will also be able to offer students a variety of new, meaningful research projects. The lab will also be environmentally friendly, with such features as ductless hoods that don’t vent out into the surrounding area, special filters that absorb chemicals, and procedures that cut down the amount of chemicals students use.

Marywood’s educational excellence is also enhanced by outstanding faculty, who not only pursue research themselves, but mentor students, conducting their own research. 

Dr. Deanne Dulik Garver’s research seeks to provide an interface between organic chemistry and the biological systems in which chemicals work. In conjunction with this, she has studied the effect on metabolism of common anti-inflammatory drugs such as Naproxen, known popularly as Aleve—the purpose of which is to document whether a subject’s metabolism changes over time.

Her heart also lies, however, in training tomorrow’s researchers and scientists. An Assistant Professor of Chemistry, she takes special satisfaction in helping students find credible scientific information to back marketing claims of nutritional supplements. Three of Dr. Garver’s honors organic chemistry students have studied the pharmacology of caffeine, the pharmacology of penicillin drugs, and HIV drug treatment options for patients in Kenya—and she sponsored another honors thesis student who studied recent advances in lead toxicity in children’s drinking water.

Dr. Lisa Antoniacci’s research attempts to identify the molecular mechanisms involved in several processes related to the contents of a cell’s nucleus. The discoveries she made can be used to better understand the process of genetic disease in humans. 

In recent years, many of her former advisees are pursuing graduate degrees at institutions around the United States. An Assistant Professor of Biology, she has made presentations at national science conferences, notably at the American Society for Cell Biology National Meeting in San Francisco, California, in 2008—and has collaborated with several colleagues on the publication of a scientific paper involving budding yeast and protein. 

Dr. Debora Hokien, Professor of Chemistry, has recently seen a pair of her students go off the graduate and professional schools, as well. As chair of the Science Department (2006–2012), she was involved in the promotion of the department’s research facilities that led to student internships with several regional businesses, including Sanofi Pasteur, inc., Quantum Analytical and Environmental Laboratories, Inc., Vital Probes, Inc., the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and The Commonwealth Medical College. In fact, she has collaborated with Dr. Jun Ling at TCMC and serves as the co-principle Investigator on a National Institute of Environmental Sciences/National Institutes of Health research grant to study environmental toxins on the regulation of gene expression.

Additionally, she is involved in an ongoing collaboration with Dr. Joe Vinson, Chemistry Professor at the University of Scranton. In 2008 and 2010, they were awarded two competitive Marywood University/University of Scranton cooperative research grants to study polyphenols, a class of organic chemicals found in foods such as wine, beer, and juice.

 That research project proved so fascinating that she requested and was granted a one-year sabbatical to implement a new collaborative project at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science in the Department of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California, Davis. The goal of this research is to determine the molecular mechanism in red wine that acts as anti-cancer agents in cells....which one might well toast as a glass completely full of life-saving potential. 

In line with her research—and on the theory that it sometimes helps to go right to the source—Dr. Hokien supervised a group of science students on a trip to Northern France to study wine chemistry during Spring Break. Her class, Special Topics: Chemistry of Wine and Cuisine and Culture of Northern France, introduces students to the chemistry of wine making and the practical applications of chemistry.


And What Do Students Think?

“It really opens you up to new experiences,” says Micheline Orlowsky, a Nutrition and Dietetics major, who participated in the trip. “[Going on the trip] also makes you realize that science is everywhere. After seeing the work that goes into making something like wine, I take fewer things for granted.”

Reactions such as this have prompted Dr. Hokien to pursue creating a new, intensified chemistry program at Marywood—an option that will certainly magnify professional opportunities for graduates—no small consideration in today’s economy.

This past spring about 1.78 million college students graduated and are now entering the job market in the United States.  According to Census and National Science Foundation data, students who majored in science- and technology-related fields are “the second-fastest growing occupational group in the United States, after health care.” Dr. Hokien says that by investing in the science program and keeping its standards strong, Marywood is producing competitive, marketable students with strong skill sets...and a sense of commitment to a world as interdependent as the hydrogen and oxygen atoms that completely fill a water glass.

Jessica Silker ’14 is one of those students. Silker, a junior biology major, hopes to use her science education to enter into either occupational therapy or osteopathy. To that end, she has landed an internship for next summer. Working for an ostepathologist, Silker hopes to gain the experience she will need to be competitive in the job market and learn more about this potential career path.

“It has taken me a while to figure out what I want to do, but I know I love science,” she says.

Marywood has been fortunate in having a milieu in which students who “love science” can thrive and explore their options. Regional businesses, professionals, and corporations have helped the University extend internships, mentoring, and real-world experiences to future scientists.

Equally vital has been the community financial support. One of the most consistent supporters of the Science Department at Marywood has been Sanofi Pasteur. Their significant philanthropic contributions have impacted the Science Department greatly. Their gifts for laboratory equipment have provided Marywood students with the opportunity to learn on key pieces of instrumentation, providing experience that gives them an employment leg up. “When a student goes on an interview, companies want to know how much they will need to be trained. Having familiarity with key equipment gives our students an edge,” says Dr. Hokien.

Thanks to Sanofi Pasteur’s involvement, science enrollment has grown 82 percent over the past five years. The University has added three new professorships. Incoming students have shown heightened interest in the areas of biotechnology and biochemistry. Additionally, Sanofi Pasteur has been instrumental in the creation of the B.S. and M.S. degree programs in Biotechnology.

Indeed, with their support, Biotechnology has become the flagship program of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Marywood has secured funding for unique research opportunities for its students, due in large part to corporate participation from Sanofi Pasteur.

Those very research—and educational—opportunities can fill a glass—completely full—with potential for discoveries that will ultimately enrich, protect, serve, improve our world. And they may be found by scientists defined in E=MC2

These are formulas that matter.

Kenneth J. Luck and Luciana Herman contributed to this article.

Science Department Faculty
Front row: Deborah Wardach, M.S.; Deborah Hokien, Ph.D.; Deanne Garver, Ph.D.; and Dorina Amendola, M.S. Back row: Robin Ertl, Ph.D. and Michael Kiel, Ph.D.



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