Experiential learning encompasses any activity in which a student is actively engaged in their education inside or outside of the classroom. At Trinity, experiential learning includes undergraduate research opportunities inside and outside of the classroom, volunteer experiences, internships, study abroad opportunities, and more.

By Mariah Wahl

Working in Dr. Kimberley Phillips’ lab this semester, Lindsey Ulin is researching the effects of exercise on demyelinating disease, such as Multiple Sclerosis, or MS. Her research is a continuation of a summer’s work in Phillip’s lab.

The nervous system relies primarily on the function of neurons in the brain. Humans typically have between 100 billion to 1 trillion that are responsible for communication in our nervous system. Normally, neurons are covered in a myelin sheath, that protects the neuron and facilitates the sending of messages throughout the nervous system.

Demyelinating diseases destroy the myelin and the propagation of signals in the nervous system is slowed or stopped. MS presents a variety of physical as well as cognitive deficits, including issues with motor coordination and balance as well as memory loss and trouble focusing.

Ulin's senior research focuses on demyelinating disease such as MS.
“Multiple Sclerosis affects 6 million people in the US, and many more worldwide, so there is a significant need for therapeutic intervention,” Ulin explains of her research’s significance.

Previous research has shown that exercise is beneficial for overall brain function, so Phillips’ lab has chosen to examine its effects on demyelinating disease. In order to do this, they must model the disease in their subjects using the Cuprizone Model, which mimics the effects of demyelinating disease through the mouse’s diet.

This summer, Ulin and other students completed a behavioural analysis of the mice, testing their brain function with physical tasks. Now, they’ll begin analyzing the brain tissue of the mice by staining them and examining them under the microscope. They hypothesize that the mice experiencing the effects of demyelinating disease will show less demyelination if they have been exercising.

Ulin uses advanced lab equipment to thinly slice tissues for analysis. 
First, the tissue will undergo the process of histological staining, or IHC (Immuno-Histo Chemical Staining). The brain of the mouse is sliced into very thin sections, then stained to show the neurons. Under a microscope, Ulin and the other members of the lab are able to quantify differences in myelination in certain areas of the brain.

The next analysis will be a Western Blot, used to quantify the amount of myelin basic protein (MBP), as well as Proteolipid Protein (PLP) in the brain tissue. These are the main structural proteins in myelin, so the lab expects that mice who are exercising should have higher amounts of these proteins.

Ulin’s research is a pilot study, meaning that her work requires the creation of a new experimental protocol. This process is not without its obstacles:

“I’d done research before, but never from the very beginning of the process. It’s been a hard task to develop procedure and technique from scratch, seeing what worked and what didn’t and having to go back to the drawing board. But it’s a good lesson, because research isn’t always straightforward. The techniques that we develop here will continue to be used in this research after I graduate, which is an exciting and humbling thought.”

Ultimately, Ulin hopes to become a physician specializing in neuroscience and neurosurgery. 
“I’m also lucky to have great labmates, Cole Evans and Alyssa Izquierdo. This research takes all three of us, and we couldn’t do it without Dr. Phillips’ advisorship.”

Ulin is grateful to have been awarded the Mach fellowship for senior student research, which will allow her to attend the Society for Neuroscience Conference in Chicago in October, and has funded the lab’s acquisition of advanced laboratory equipment.

In addition to her research, Ulin serves as a captain of Trinity University’s Women’s varsity swim team. She intends to begin medical school in the Fall of 2016. Ulin is a native of Leander, TX.
By Mariah Wahl

This summer, a team of Trinity University students is doing research under the guidance of entrepreneurship professor Luis Martinez. Cole Evans ‘18, Thayer Selleck ‘18, Camillo Gonzalez ‘18, and Vik Patel ‘18 are working together to develop and market an innovative chewing gum, called Plova.

The gum contains a whitening agent and an ingredient with anti bacterial and anti-plaque properties. It's intended for people on the go who care about their oral hygiene. The name Plova comes from the Plover bird, known for cleaning a crocodile’s mouth.

The team came together through their Greek life connection at Trinity. 
The focus of the team’s work this summer was on developing a prototype of their gum and acquiring two separate data sets to validate their market for potential investors. The first set was from social media, where the group received positive feedback. Still, they needed to vary their survey responses, considering they were mostly friends with those providing these initial results.

The group turned to the public for more data. The second set came from surveys given to strangers at the Riverwalk, North Star Mall, and La Cantera. The team found this experience more challenging than they had expected.

“At first, it was hard. People don’t really want to give their opinion to strangers on the sidewalk,” Selleck says, “They thought we were selling something, and that made it harder to get a hundred surveys than we thought it would be.”

Selleck explains the process of gathering survey data. 
The group was successful, however. The information they gathered is the key to showing potential investors that they have evidence backing up their product. Like traditional STEM or humanities research, the Plova start-up has to accumulate data and use it to argue for their product in a presentation. Demonstrating a market fit, they’ve had successful meetings with hotel managers to place their gum on their properties. By the fall they hope to have established themselves in hotels to demonstrate their place in the market.

A favorite moment of the group's this summer was receiving the prototype from their manufacturer, after a long wait and lots of research into which manufacturer would best serve their needs.

The group appreciated the success as well as the challenges of a start-up.
“To finally have the product in hand made was satisfying,” Patel recalls, “we had something concrete to show for our work.”

In April, the team competed in the first round of the Stumberg competition, and won $5,000 in seed money for their start-up. This summer, their research in the market and ability to demonstrate an interest in their product will be crucial as they prepare to compete in the final November round of the competition. They will compete against four other teams for a final prize of $25,000.

Learn more about Entrepreneurship opportunities at Trinity here
By Mariah Wahl

Nicolas Dwarica ‘17 spent this summer researching metal nanoparticle synthesis and characterization, which are used as catalysts in a variety of chemical reactions. His research focused on preparing gold catalysts and finding quicker, more efficient, and reproducible methods for synthesizing gold nanoparticles.

These catalysts have several practical uses in our day-today lives. For example, they’re used commercially for hydrogenating molecules to make precursors for plastics and in removing impurities in gases in large-scale industrial applications.

Dwarica's summer research continues into the fall semester.
On a daily basis, Dwarica typically makes a list of what he needs to synthesize, and designs experiments to produce the most active catalysts. He sets up synthesis reactions and orchestrates multiple reactions in order to determine at what range the catalysts produce the highest activity.

“I carry out my reactions, I make a catalyst, and then other members or my lab use that catalyst in other reactions,” Dwarica explains, “their work depends on me to make the best catalysts that will produce the most activity-- that’s typically a particle of about three nanometers.”

Dwarica is tasked with creating incredibly small nanoparticles. 
Previous methods for preparing gold catalysts have been expensive and challenging. Dwarica researched these previous methods extensively, informing his own search for the most reproducible way to make the catalyst while trying to understand how different synthesis methods change catalyst activity and selectivity.

Dwarica enjoyed the hands-on aspect of his research, and found the experience to be a rewarding challenge.

Dwarica is a junior at Trinity University
“Ultimately, the success of our lab’s research comes down to the quality of catalysts I produce,” Dwarica explains, “that’s why my favorite part of research is producing these nanoparticles and then seeing my lab partners successfully implement them in their reactions.”

Dwarica’s research in professor of chemistry Bert Chandler’s lab will continue throughout the fall. Dwarica, a native of San Antonio, intends to pursue graduate study in the field of chemistry.

Learn more about undergraduate research at Trinity here