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Elizabeth K. Medlock '11 & Kathleen F. Mittendorf '10

July 22, 2010

This fall, Elizabeth K. Medlock '11 enters her final year at DePauw as Kathleen F. Mittendorf '10 begins a new journey in graduate school. The two students may be at different points in their academic careers, but both are enjoying the benefits of nationally competitive scholarships they earned as members of DePauw's Science Research Fellows (SRF) program.

As part of her Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Greater Research Opportunity Fellowship, Medlock, a biochemistry major from Guilford, Ind., is currently on a summer internship at an EPA laboratory in Duluth, Minn. Her research there deals with pharmaceuticals that have entered water supplies and how they might affect freshwater fish.

srf_medlock_lab.jpg"Several pharmaceuticals are reported as being present in surface water such as Lake Superior," Medlock, pictured left, explains. "Their presence is due to the recent increase in prescribed drugs and the inability for most sewage treatment plants to filter them, so some of the pharmaceuticals we put down the drain end up in our freshwater sources. I began my internship by exposing flathead minnows to one of the known pharmaceuticals called dexamethasone, a common anti-inflammatory drug used most often for cats, dogs and cattle. We hope to determine the level of toxicity of this drug to the minnows and whether or not dexamethasone should be a concern to humans who use contaminated water sources for cleaning and drinking."

"As far as the experience as a whole goes, I am learning a ton," Medlock says.

srf_mittendorf.jpgMittendorf, a biology and biochemistry double major from Metropolis, Ill., received a prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship, providing a $30,000 stipend for up to three years of graduate study. This fall, she enters Vanderbilt University's Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in the Biomedical Sciences, where her award will open doors to research opportunities that might otherwise have lacked funding.

Mittendorf's NSF fellowship isn't the first national recognition she received while at DePauw. As a sophomore in 2008, she was one of three DePauw students to win a Goldwater Award, another highly competitive award given to students in mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering. She says that research experience during the summer of her freshman year -- a component of the SRF program -- gave momentum to the success she found during her four years at DePauw.

"Getting research experience before our senior year really helps to set us apart from some other schools," Mittendorf says. "There's no way I could have won a Goldwater as a sophomore if it wasn't for that, and the Goldwater application process then made it a lot easier to pursue [the NSF fellowship]."

Both students began their adventures in science at an early age. Medlock credits her fifth grade teacher, whose hands-on science experiments produced a colored water and vegetable oil lava lamp that sat on display in the Medlock home "for months." Mittendorf's first foray into research was as a child, when she combed through The New York Times science section for information about treatments for multiple sclerosis, which affects a member of her family.

"Back then, I thought if you were interested in science you either became a doctor or a veterinarian, but I was already doing the most basic kind of research." Mittendorf says.

Their scientific interests only increased over time -- a course that's likely to continue for the rest of their lives.

"Fifty years ago, a lot of the techniques we use didn't even exist," Mittendorf says. "When my mother was in school, she would have just started to hear about the things we now do in introductory classes. Through the course of your career, you'll never stop learning."

"Every time you answer one question, it will bring up a dozen new questions," Medlock adds. "That's the exciting part."

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