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Tuesday, February 5, 2008

UNCP student awarded ACS grant for research

A UNC Pembroke student has been awarded a research scholarship from the American Chemical Society (ACS) for the study of human immune systems in zero gravity.

Lisa WaltersLisa Walters, a junior chemistry and biology major from Polkton, N.C., won a $1,900 scholarship that will be used to further her research as part of UNCP’s microgravity research team that is participating in NASA’s Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program in April.

“We’re looking to see how gravity affects the human immune system,” she said. “We’ll see how immunoglobulin and anti-immunoglobulin mix in both microgravity and hypergravity environments.

“I am really enjoying this project,” Walters said. “Humans are spending a long time in space today, and it is believed to have an effect on their immune systems.”

Walters will present her research, titled “Gravitational Effects on Human Immune Complexes and Flame Dynamics,” at the National Conferences on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) conference to be held in Salisbury, Md., this spring. She said the community outreach aspect of the project is also very important.

“We hope to gain useful knowledge through our research, but I really like talking to students too,” Walters said. “It is important for me to give back to the community because I received a lot of help along the way.

“I want kids to know that this is something they could do too,” she said.

Walters is an outstanding student and engaged in a variety of campus organizations, including the Student Ambassadors who give campus tours to prospective students among other duties. She is president of the Health Careers Club, secretary of Tri-Beta biology honor society, communications coordinator for the Baptist Student Union and a member of Gamma Sigma Epsilon chemistry and physics honor society, Alpha Chi honor society and the Chemistry/Physics Club.

Her goal is to go to medical school to become an obstetrician/gynecologist in a rural community. She recently interned at the Robeson County Health Department and Southeastern Regional Medical Center and is currently job-shadowing Dr. Janet Harris-Hicks, a Scotland County OB/GYN.

The grant will pay for conference travel and research equipment to participate in the NASA program. UNCP’s last ACS grant was awarded in 1999, said Dr. Tim Ritter, a physics professor and faculty advisor for the program. 

“This scholarship is unique because the recipient is not allowed to use it for the standard items such as tuition, books, and living expenses,” Dr. Ritter said. “Rather, it is targeted specifically at students who are performing research, in order to further their own science investigations and the dissemination of their results.

“It is a joy to have Lisa as a student,” he continued. “She is hardworking and intelligent.”

The Weightless Lumbee’s experiment will be set up at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, aboard NASA’s “Weightless Wonder,” a C-9 aircraft that can produce periods of weightlessness lasting up to 25 seconds at a time. By flying a series of roller coaster-like climbs and dips, the plane is able to simulate weightlessness and gravitational forces similar to that of the moon and Mars.

Other Weightless Lumbees are Tala Smith, Clinton Haywood, Samantha Schrock and Bryan Howington. For questions about the program, please contact Dr. Ritter at 910.521.6230 or email tim.ritter@uncp.edu.

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