Keri Jung

The 2016 Eastern Colleges Science Conference, at which undergraduates from up to 30 colleges and universities present their research, turned out to be a pretty cool venue for Westfield State University senior biology major Keri Jung.

Not only did she present a poster on “Carbaryl Toxicity on C6 Astrocytes” at the April conference, she was one of a number of participants to win a poster award among 130 presenters.

What was so special about Jung’s research is that she took a topic and made it her own. Specifically, she is the first to characterize astrocyte cell death as a result of carbaryl exposure. For the uninformed, this is important stuff.

Her independent research project focuses on how pesticides, such as carbaryl, affect neuronal support cells called astrocytes. Jung was the one to come up with the idea to test pesticides, said Robin White, Westfield State assistant professor of biology. While carbaryl is found in a number of household products, it is also used by the food industry on fruits and vegetables.

In the lab, Jung introduced carbaryl to the astrocytes, and used a fluorescence microscope to confirm that the pesticide did indeed kill the astrocytes. The health of astrocytes is important because they play a key role in normal brain function, Jung noted.

“It is important to know how pesticides affect the brain so that proper food safety regulations can be put into place,” she said. “I have always been interested in how pesticides work, but more importantly, how can or do they affect other aspects.”

Jung, who has worked with White since the summer of 2014, has “really taken ownership of her work,” White said.

“She has learned and honed her technical skills, in addition to her ability to design experiments,” White said.

Jung presented her research at the 22nd annual Massachusetts Statewide Undergraduate Research Conference at the University of Massachusetts in April and the Westfield State University Celebration for Undergraduate Research and Creative Work in May.

After all of Jung’s classroom and research experience at Westfield, she has a couple of takeaways for future students. First, don’t feel overwhelmed or intimidated about conducting research because “all of the professors at Westfield State University are always willing to help and can tailor an independent research project based on your major and interests.”

And as important, independent research can help “make you a more competitive applicant when applying to graduate schools and other graduate programs,” Jung said.

Jung has her sights set on applying to veterinary college, all while she continues to work as an emergency/intensive care unit technician at a 24-hour animal hospital. She believes the research experience she gained in and out of the laboratory at Westfield State will give her an edge in the future.

“This experience has helped me not only gain laboratory setting experience, but also has helped me work on my public speaking skills,” Jung said. “Most importantly, it will make me a more competitive applicant when I apply to veterinary schools.”