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Niagara U grad’s Lake Erie research makes environmental impact

LEWISTON – Biology honors major Kimberly Alexander, a senior at Niagara University, will graduate Saturday with a grade-point average of 4.0 and a degree in biology with environmental studies and a minor in mathematics. She said she plans to pursue a master’s in education.

She wasn’t just in the classroom this past year. She and other students were out in the field conducting research as part of an honors thesis program.

“It’s one of Niagara’s claims to fame because we have so many kids involved in research at the undergraduate level,” said Alexander, who won a biology award for her efforts.

Alexander’s research on invasive zebra mussels in Lake Erie led her to build her own lake-bottom water-sampling device that she and her faculty adviser, assistant professor William Edwards, deployed from a research boat on the lake.

Her research involved looking at how mussels lead to algal blooms, also known as toxic algae growth.

She and her adviser built the device and used it to sample water in the Buffalo Outer Harbor and at an Ohio State University field station in the western basin. She and Edwards found significant concentrations of phosphorus, especially on the western end of the lake.

“The algal blooms are very, very toxic. In Toledo, Ohio, this past summer, there were 400,000 people who had no drinking water for three days,” said Alexander, a Lewiston-Porter High School graduate.

She said that she will be publishing her thesis work and that her water-sampling device will likely be used in future research to see how the mussels are related to increased phosphorous and lead to blooms so they can better manage them.

“We should be concerned in general because this is a problem worldwide,” Alexander said.

Other award-winning student projects were presented at a recent conference at Niagara University, including:

• Two research projects aimed at reducing distracted driving, “The Safe Answer” by sophomore Jonathan Sondonato and exchange student Muhammet Bakan, and “Distraction Free Driving,” by freshman Michael Crockett and Bakan. These projects received grants from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and both established mobile applications that control the use of smartphones while driving.

• Sophomore Zachary Mariani’s biochemistry research project focused on ways to chemically alter tryptamine as an affordable synthetic option to aurantioclavine, a drug used in cancer treatment.

• Senior Krista Dean, a political science major, analyzed the lawsuit filed by former National Football League players regarding brain injuries connected to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

• Alexander Carruthers, a junior economics major, conducted research in the City of Chicago and looked into the proximity of crime to a police precinct and the impact of neighborhood policing. He believes that where police are geographically based in fighting crime will help prevent it and hopes that his research will lead to new ways to lower crime rates.

• An honors thesis by senior Emily Bork was a 75-page literary analysis, written completely in Spanish, which focused on women rejecting social restrictions forced on them, by having a voice through literature. Bork will attend law school at William & Mary after graduation.

Michael D. Barnwell, associate professor of philosophy and director of the honors program, said students at Niagara have a wide variety of opportunities to conduct their own original research while working their professors. By the time they are seniors, he said, nearly half of them are engaged in such research.