Friday, September 8, 2017

Student Spotlight

Michele Costantino is a senior biochemistry major who has returned to school after obtaining a BA in graphic design from our partner campus in Bloomington. Like many of our students, she works part-time, but she does so teaching courses in graphic design as an adjunct instructor at Ivy Tech Community College! Her prior academic experience and maturity has surely given her an advantage in pursuing her second degree, but there can be  no doubt that raw ability is also powering her excellent performance. 
In the spring semester, Costantino earned an honorable mention at the IU South Bend Undergraduate Research Performance for her oral presentation Reversible Self-Assembly Using Protein Conformational Changes on her research last summer with Professor Rizk that was supported by an IU South Bend SMART grant.  Also last spring, she was awarded an honorable mention in the national Barry Goldwater Scholarship Program. She is the second student at IU South Bend to have won such an honor. By the end of the spring semester she had also acquired two more honors: the Bender Scholarship Award and an undergraduate summer research fellowship. The Bender Scholarship Award honors students who have demonstrated multidisciplinary activities, community involvement, and leadership - in addition to high academic performance. Her summer research at IUPUI's Integrated Nanosystems Development Institute (INDI) was sponsored by the National Science Foundation.
At IUPUI, Costantino worked with Dr. Horia Petrache in the biophysics department. Dr. Petrache’s work focuses on the effects of organic molecules on lipid membranes. Over the ten weeks of research, Costantino calculated the polarizability (the susceptibility to change of a molecule's dipole moment) by measuring the density, refractive index, and concentration of analyte solutions. In addition to these calculations, she used dynamic light scattering to measure the size of lipid vesicles and the surface charge of the vesicles in solution. While the program spanned only ten weeks, Costantino’s research was part of a larger project studying the relationship between organic molecules, such as adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and lipid membranes. Dr. Petrache’s lab continues to study these interactions using 2D NMR and x-ray diffraction and plans to present these findings at the 62nd Annual Meeting of the Biophysical Society in San Francisco this February. Outside of her research, Costantino was also able to speak to researchers working the Big G project studying gravity and work with students in the program who intend to patent their work.
This fall, Costantino will apply to graduate schools to study protein engineering. Her summer research will help her stand out from the crowd by showing her ability to work on interdisciplinary projects. In addition, it will further her graduate studies, giving her experience in biophysics that could not otherwise be obtained in a standard undergraduate curriculum. Costantino gained not only experience and education, but she maintains contact with the other REU students and will see them again at this year’s Louis Stokes Midwest Center of Excellence 2017 Annual Conference in October where she will present her summer's work. 
If you are interested in a PAID summer research program like this one please contact a faculty member as soon as possible to identify suitable programs and to prepare a competitive application.