Ever wonder what happens to the environment when you flush or throw away prescriptions? Rachel Davis is finding out, courtesy of a grant rarely given to undergraduate students.
Davis, 21, of Galatia, Illinois, is a senior chemistry major at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. She is currently conducting environmental analytical chemistry research into the impact of pharmaceutical and personal care products on the environment, and her work has netted a $1,000 grant from the Sigma Xi Grants-in-Aid of Research program.
The grant is considered highly competitive; only 15 percent of applications are approved. Of the 150 projects approved this year, only 18 were submitted by undergraduate students — Davis among them, and for more funds than the average of $650.
“The project I’m doing is modeling the uptake of endocrine disruptor compounds in fathead minnows,” Davis said. Translated: examining the impact of those prescription medications that people throw away or flush down the toilet, many of which end up in groundwater without being removed by sewer treatment. The environmental impact is significant, Davis said; her current research looked at antibiotics and their impact on invertebrates like planaria.
“We have seen a lot of accumulation with invertebrates,” she said. Now her grant will help her study it in vertebrates like the fathead minnow.
The impact goes beyond hurting wildlife, however. Davis said the antibiotics, for example, can make bacteria in the wild become resistant to antibiotics, becoming a danger to humans.
“Chemistry is the central science of the world, and daily I am capable of not only studying, but also applying everything I’ve learned into my research and in my future career,” Davis said.
Davis has been working in the undergraduate research and creative activities program under her mentor, Dr. Kevin Tucker. She has co-authored two presentations with Tucker at scientific conferences as well as her lab work.
“It is amazing what can happen when students are given the opportunity to grow,” Tucker said in a release from the university. “I have supported Rachel just as I have supported the other students in my research lab. I’ve offered her the opportunity to become an independent, self-motivated, self-managed scientist. Students thrive when given the opportunity to see how much they are capable of, and I have certainly seen this happen with Rachel.”
Tucker said it is especially important to support undergraduate research, because students need to practice independent research once they have absorbed concepts and principles from faculty in the classroom.
“A student who learns to have new ideas and evaluate or test those ideas for themselves will be a more highly-sought job applicant or graduate-professional school student when they matriculate,” he said.
In addition to her lab work, Davis has served as treasurer and president of the SIUE Biology Club, secretary for the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and a member of the National Society of Leadership and Success. A recipient of the Cougar Pride scholarship, she carries a 3.95 GPA, and is currently studying for the MCAT, an entrance exam for graduate school.
After graduation, there will be more school: Davis plans to go to medical school. “I’m really interested in studying obstetrics and fertility,” she said.
For incoming students who may be daunted by college level work, Davis said she would advise them to have confidence.
“In my freshman year, I never thought I could come up with my own project and lead it,” she said. “Don’t think that anything is impossible for you.”
- Age: 21
- School: Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
- Grade: Senior, graduating May 2018
- Hometown: Galatia, Illinois
- Parents: Regina and Shannon Davis
- Siblings: Megan Davis, 18, an incoming freshman at SIUE
- Major: Chemistry
- GPA: 3.95
- Honors: Cougar Pride Scholarship, Sigma XI GIAR grant
- Clubs/activities: Biology Club, National Society of Collegiate Scholars, National Society of Leadership and Success
- Favorite class: “Any of the chemistry classes I’ve enjoyed.”
- Hobbies: Watching movies, reading books. “I’m from southeast Illinois, so sometimes I go hunting on the weekends.”
- Future plans: Graduate/medical school to become a physician
- Advice for other students: “Don’t think that anything is impossible for you.”