Michelle Kovarik, assistant professor of chemistry at Trinity College, has been designated a Cottrell Scholar by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement. This prestigious award, with an acceptance rate of 14 percent, recognizes the accomplishments of early-career faculty in chemistry, physics, and astronomy by providing them with support for research and curriculum development initiatives. In addition, scholars become members of the Cottrell Scholar Collaborative, a community of leaders from research universities and undergraduate colleges, with opportunities for networking, collaboration, and additional funding.
The research element of Kovarik’s award explores the concept of biological noise, an observable phenomenon whereby cells that are genetically identical respond to situations differently. The reason behind this, she explained, has to do with the cell’s internal processes. With the help of this grant, Kovarik and her students hope to answer the question, “What is the chemical mechanism behind the fact that these cells might be genetically identical but respond to a stimulus or stress in different ways?” A portion of the funds will support stipends for students working in her lab over the summer.
As for the curriculum portion of her project, Kovarik will develop curriculum materials to help students read primary-source scientific literature directed at the scientific community. Furthermore, she will incorporate the use of those materials into her own classes and disseminate the curriculum to teachers of analytical chemistry at other institutions across the country.
This is the second grant that Kovarik has received during her time at Trinity. Last summer she was awarded a National Science Foundation grant and has worked in collaboration with Trinity students at various points in their college careers, ranging from first-year students involved with the Interdisciplinary Science Program (ISP) to seniors working on theses in her lab.
“One of the reasons that I wanted to work at Trinity was because the support for undergraduate research is so strong,” Kovarik said. This experience, she said, “gives students a critical opportunity to develop as scientists while they are here so that when they leave, they are very productive.” Kovarik is currently working on this grant project with Kathy Rodogiannis ’17, a biology major, and Jessica Duong ’19, a chemistry major. Over the summer she will oversee four students in her lab.
Written by Sophia Gourley ’19