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Undergrad researcher takes top national prize

Amanda Peters, a UD senior, one of four UD undergraduates who presented research posters at the national conference, also was chosen to deliver a talk on her work in a symposium on cholesterol homeostasis.
3:59 p.m., June 28, 2004--Amanda Peters, a UD senior, won a first prize in the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Undergraduate Poster Competition in Boston June 14 for her work on cholesterol efflux and adipocyte differentiation. She was one of four UD undergraduates who presented research posters at the meeting. In addition, Peters was chosen to deliver a talk on her work in a conference symposium on cholesterol homeostasis.

Peters’ research shows that cholesterol plays an important role in maintaining fat cells and may be important in determining fat cell size. She is working in the lab with David C. Usher, associate professor of biological sciences and assistant director of UD’s Howard Hughes Medical Institute Undergraduate Education Program.

“Amanda’s work became very exciting when she found that fat cells depleted of cholesterol could not accumulate fatty acids,’’ Usher said. He said Peters’ work will be publishable once she determines how cholesterol controls the accumulation.

Chosen as a University of Delaware-Howard Hughes Medical Institute Undergraduate Research Scholar both this summer and last, Peters said she plans to attend graduate school in molecular biology or biochemistry. She said attending the international meeting in Boston was a very important experience that allowed her to share her research with people who were just as excited about her area of science as she is. She said she was “amazed” how seriously people in the scientific community took her undergraduate work and how comfortable she felt talking to them about her work.

Peters, who presented three times at the Boston meeting, said
UD’s Undergraduate Research Program has helped prepare her for graduate school.

“The Undergraduate Research Program in general is a great experience, and I think it really prepares undergraduate students for what they’ll have to do when they’re graduate students, so the program helps you understand whether you want to go on to graduate school.’’

Peters’ trip to the Boston meeting was funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which supports undergraduate science education and pays to send students with exemplary undergraduate research to national science meetings. This is the fourth consecutive year that UD students have won prizes at the meeting. “

“The University of Delaware has received top awards in this competition more than any other school over the past four years,’’ Hal White, administrator of the program on campus and professor of chemistry and biochemistry, said. “In the sciences, very few undergraduates go to national meetings, and that’s one of the things we’re trying to encourage here.’’

Last year, Usher said, UD sent 13 students to San Diego where they won four prizes—half of all the prizes awarded.

White said the Hughes Institute funding paid for the students’ housing at the meeting and their transportation. The institute also funds the summer research program and provides a housing allowance to students who assist faculty members on projects or who research an independent project supervised by a faculty member.

Other HHMI-funded undergraduates who presented posters in Boston were Daniel Oristian and David Nation, who work in Cindy Farach-Carson’s laboratory in biology, and Sarah Redding, who works in Colin Thorpe’s laboratory in chemistry and biochemistry.

By Kathryn Canavan

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