Biology students gain experience presenting research

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St. Thomas biology students are gaining experience most only see at the graduate level, and according to St. Thomas Biology Chair Tim Lewis, their hard work is starting to pay off.

Biology students presented their research Thursday afternoon in Owens Science Hall. The researchers showed posters displaying their work in the halls of the first floor and also gave presentations in the 3M Auditorium.

Senior Jane Lucas presented two projects she worked on at the symposium. One focused on research she conducted in Panama with ants, and the other showed the effects of grass and fertilizer on decomposition rates in shallow lakes.

“I think it is really important for scientists to present their work because all too often they find really interesting things and they don’t really do a good job of communicating it to people,” Lucas said. “I am glad I had the opportunity to do it.”

Lewis said St. Thomas students are presenting papers and publishing their work in both national and international journals and conferences.

“Our students have been at poster sessions at major conferences and other faculty walk up and say ‘What school are you a grad student in?’ or ‘Is this your masters or Ph.D. project?’” Lewis said. “And our students reply with, ‘Uh, undergraduate project.’ It is really kind of cool to see.”

Junior Tyler Firkus was recognized at the symposium for winning a regional event that took place at St. Thomas’ Minneapolis campus, beating out Ph.D. candidates and graduate students with his project on the effects of Ibuprofen on fish reproduction.

“When I presented this, it was my first time presenting in front of a whole bunch of people,” Firkus said. “It was kind of intimidating, actually.”

Senior Courtney Fenske and her group presented their research on estrogen’s effects in algae growth. The group found that the presence of these synthetic chemicals, which are frequently found in contraceptive pills, can induce increased productivity in algae growth in an aquatic system.

“They went out a little bit on a limb, and they tested an organism that shouldn’t necessarily have had a strong response to these chemicals,” biology professor Dalma Martinović said.

The St. Thomas biology symposium has been taking place for about 15 years, but Lewis said the commitment to research gained traction about 30 years ago.

“St. Thomas is really committed to being a place that does first-rate research that happens to use undergraduates, as opposed to undergraduate research, which is ‘I did this cool project and presented it at a conference geared towards undergraduates,’” Lewis said.

Patrick Roche can be reached at