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Budding UNH Scientist Heads to Washington, D.C., to Share Research with Members of Congress

Release Date:
4/22/2013 12:00 AM
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marine sciences, seawater sample collector, features A seawater sample collector used at UNH

WEST HAVEN, CONN. --- Derrick Chelikowsky grew up hundreds of miles from the ocean, yet he felt its pull. He always loved water, swimming in his grandparents’ pool and exploring the lakes around upstate New York. He decided he would study sea life.

Chelikowsky’s undergraduate research project was one of just 50 across the nation chosen from among 800 to be shared with members of Congress on April 23 and 24 in Washington, D.C. He is a marine biology major at the University of New Haven.

The title of his project, “The influence of Pavlova, a microalgae, on the development of the Bay Scallop (Argopecten irradiens irradiens),” may be tricky to pronounce but could one day be of great interest to the billion-dollar seafood industry.

Chelikowsky has found that when larval bay scallops ingest an alga called Pavlova, the scallops move on more quickly to the next stage of their life cycle. If spinach, broccoli and blueberries have been called superfoods for people, Pavlova may turn out to be just the thing for scallops.

“If a hatchery can send its product to market faster than its competitors (without damaging the quality of the product), that hatchery has an advantage,” he said. “As for the scallop industry as a whole, addition of Pavlova to the diets of shellfish allows for a better scallop in a shorter period of time.”

Chelikowsky and his professor, Carmela Cuomo, UNH associate professor of biology and environmental science, will be in Washington, D.C., on April 23 and 24 to share his findings with legislators as part of the Council on Undergraduate Research’s 17th Annual Posters on the Hill. The council brings undergraduate researchers together with legislators to apprise them of the best of the cutting-edge research happening on the undergraduate level at universities across the country.

Cuomo said it is no surprise that his work was chosen. “It’s a fantastic opportunity for Derrick personally and as a budding scientist,” she said. “We’ve always expected him to become a scientist. It’s been fun to watch as he fulfills his dream and important to all of us in the department. The university community should be very proud of Derrick.”

She said it is vitally important students share their research and insights with Congress so funding for research continues and research moves ever forward. “Investing in undergraduate research is investing in the future of our country and our planet,” Cuomo said.

Chelikowsky, a senior from North Tonawanda, N.Y., dove into research as soon as he arrived at UNH, working with Cuomo in her lab. He later took part in a UNH Student Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF), working at the National Marine Fisheries Service Lab in Milford, Conn., under the direction of Gary Wikfors. “This program has given me the confidence that I can do research, not just lab work,” Chelikowsky said.

He will continue his research, working to prove what it is within the alga that causes the early metamorphosis in scallops. After graduation, he plans to work for a year before pursuing his master’s degree and, eventually, his Ph.D.

But first, there is Washington. He said he cannot wait to share his findings. “I am grateful to everyone who helped me,” he said. “It is an honor for me, as well as the support system I have here at UNH and at the lab in Milford.”

The University of New Haven is a private, top-tier comprehensive institution recognized as a national leader in experiential education. Founded in 1920 on the campus of Yale University in cooperation with Northeastern University, UNH moved to its current West Haven campus in 1960. The University operates a satellite campus in Tuscany, Italy, and offers programs at several locations throughout Connecticut and in New Mexico and California. UNH provides its students with a unique combination of a solid liberal arts education and real-world, hands-on career and research opportunities. The University enrolls approximately 6,400 students, including nearly 1,800 graduate students and more than 4,600 undergraduates – the majority of whom reside in University housing. Through its College of Arts and Sciences, College of Business, Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences, Tagliatela College of Engineering, and College of Lifelong & eLearning, UNH offers 75 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. UNH students have access to more than 50 study abroad programs worldwide and its student-athletes compete in 16 varsity sports in the NCAA Division II’s highly competitive Northeast-10 Conference.