Michelle Skornicki '06 and Hilary Gamble '07 Studying Enzymes Encapsulated in Sol-Gel

The summer student-faculty collaborative research experience gives underclassmen their first opportunity to assume responsibility for a project that ultimately reflects their own hard work, good thinking and creativity. These opportunities are available to all Hamilton students, including those recently admitted to the college. Students entering this work environment are given the opportunity to exert independence and control over the scope of their research project. This has certainly been true for Michelle Skornicki '06 and Hilary Gamble '07, who are being advised by Associate Professor of Chemistry Tim Elgren.

Skornicki and Gamble both have risen to the challenge of summer research in the science labs, which differs vastly from what they might encounter in a typical lab course.  "These two are awesome in that they are new to the lab, yet extremely independent and confident as researchers," says Elgren. "He is a wonderful professor to work for because he is very hands-off," says Gamble. She likes the ability to "troubleshoot by myself, but ask questions when I come up empty-handed."

The research conducted by Skornicki and Gamble focuses on the encapsulation of various enzymes in sol-gel, a solution that gels to form a solid. The sol-gel solid is optically transparent and porous, allowing for the two enzymes being investigated, horseradish peroxidase and chloroperoxidase, to retain their catalytic properties. Skornicki and Gamble use these materials to study how the enzymes catalyze a variety of reactions. The transparent nature of sol-gel allows the students to spectroscopically characterize the embedded enzymes during its turnover.

The enzyme catalysis performed by horseradish peroxidase and chloroperoxidase is "extremely powerful," says Elgren, "but only useful in the limited context of biochemistry." The enzyme, when protected within sol-gel, can perform the native reactions, but at higher temperatures and for longer periods of time. Like most lab-based research projects, Skornicki and Gamble have encountered some difficulties. Both have been able to overcome these problems on their own or with the assistance of Professor Elgren.  He feels that these lessons associated with scientific inquiry are the underlying values of conducting summer research, and that Skornicki and Gamble have learned much from their lab experience.

Skornicki and Gamble have become skilled in the lab and have enjoyed their work. "I really enjoy being around my peers all day and getting to know the professors on a different level," says Gamble. She likes that the professors "are there with us, learning in the lab just as the students are." Skornicki takes pleasure in "interacting with so many bright, fun, friendly students and professors." She especially enjoys working with Professor Elgren, who she describes as "enthusiastic and encouraging."

Michelle Skornicki is from Woodbury, New York, and works as a resident advisor and a writing center tutor. She is considering spending the upcoming spring semester abroad in France. Hilary Gamble is from Potsdam, New York, and plays both varsity women's soccer and lacrosse. She is also president of the class of 2007.

-- by Jason Ruback '05

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