Undergrad researchers win APS fellowships

  • Summer research fellowsJulia Crowley '13 (left) and Stephanie Mutchler '12, were recently awarded summer research fellowships from the American Physiological Society. Both are neuroscience and kinesiology & health sciences double majors and will spend the summer doing mentored research on campus.

    Photo by Isshin Teshima '11

    Summer research fellows

Two William & Mary undergraduates, Julia Crowley ’13 and Stephanie Mutchler ’12, were recently awarded summer research fellowships from the American Physiological Society (APS).

The fellowship is a highly selective process that awards winners with a $4,000 research stipend to conduct experimental research over the summer along with a $300 grant for the faculty advisor/instructor to guide the fellow’s research. Only 24 recipients are selected every year as APS fellows

Fellows are also given a $1,300 travel stipend and are guaranteed an opportunity to present their summer research during the national scientific meeting Experimental Biology, which often draws over 12,000 scientists and researchers in related physiology fields.

Mutchler, a neuroscience and kinesiology & health sciences double major at the College, said that for her, the fact that not one, but two William & Mary students were able to receive the honor really reflects the value of the faculty that aids the students in their research.

“I was shocked when I got the award,” she said. “It really reflects the hard work of the faculty of the kinesiology department—they are the ones who give us such great opportunities, and I’m really thankful for all the support I’ve received from them.”

This summer, Mutchler will be working with Robin Looft-Wilson, associate professor of kinesiology and health sciences. In Looft-Wilson’s lab, she will research epigenetic changes in the cardiovascular system due to exercise training. Epigenetics refers to the study of how organisms make small changes to their genome over their lifetimes due to certain outside factors such as diet, exercise, exposure to toxins and similar variables. Through her research, Mutchler hopes to show a mechanism by which exercise could protect a person from developing atherosclerosis.

Crowley, who will be working in conjunction with Brennan Harris, associate professor of kinesiology & health sciences at William & Mary, said that she was excited and eager to start her work.

“Excitement is the most appropriate word to explain how I feel about receiving the APS fellowship,” Crowley, also a neuroscience and kinesiology double major, said. “I am excited and grateful that I have this opportunity.”

Crowley’s research will center around the study of cardiovascular disease and its relationship to an enzyme known as endothelial nitric oxide (eNOS). It is generally thought that eNOS expression helps to prevent hypertension and atherosclerosis (thickening of artery walls due to the buildup of cholesterol) and thus reduce the likelihood of cardiovascular disease. However, she will be specifically looking at its relationship with protein SIRT1— or rather the absence of the protein—as SIRT1 levels are said to directly correlate to eNOS levels and thus affect the probability of whether an individual gets cardiovascular disease.

“My view of science has changed dramatically since I started research at the College,” said Crowley. “Research is a more challenging approach to science, but it is so rewarding to be participating in the actual process.”

In the end, Crowley said that this grant will help her to see science and her confidence, in a new light.

“Since I try to keep my outlook on everything in life fresh and evolving, I know that this grant will inevitably change my view of science even more,” said Crowley. “The most intriguing thing to me about science is that it is imperfect, so it’s hard to say exactly how my views on science will change. I probably will develop more confidence in the lab as I take on my own project.”