Amy Northrop '15: "SURF has given me a taste of what it's like to be a research
This summer, Randolph-Macon College student Amy Northrop ’15 is
spending most of her time in a lab. And that’s just fine with her.
Northrop, a biology major from Henrico, Virginia,
is participating in the Schapiro Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF)
program. SURF offers students the opportunity to conduct 10 weeks of full-time,
original research during the summer months, under the guidance of a faculty mentor.
Northrop’s research is titled “Evaluation of a Sperm G-Protein-Coupled Receptor
(GPR56) in C. porcellus Spermatogenic Cells.”
“I am attempting to characterize the development of a surface protein, GPR56, in
mammalian sperm using fertile male guinea pigs,” she explains. “Prior experiments
have shown the presence of GPR56 in guinea pig sperm, but its role in fertilization,
if any, is still unknown. The absence of GPR56 in mammalian sperm, if shown to play
a crucial role in fertilization, could explain one of the reasons for infertility.”
Northrop is working under the guidance of Biology Professor James Foster.
“Professor Foster presented this research idea to me, and I found it extremely interesting,”
she says. “There are numerous proteins in sperm, and I was really hopeful that exploring
this particular protein would lead to significant findings.” A typical day of research
includes experiments using common biomedical research techniques such as Gel Electrophoresis,
Western Analysis, and Immunofluorescence Microscopy. Northrop then records and analyzes
the results with Foster.
“Professor Foster’s mentorship is very important,” says Northrop. “He answers my
questions, teaches me research terms and procedures, and helps me develop strong
problem-solving skills. He has also opened my eyes to future possibilities such
as graduate school, doctoral programs and research careers. SURF has given me a
taste of what it’s like to be a research biologist. As a sophomore, I have taken
just two semesters of biology, but I feel far more prepared for the more difficult
courses that lie ahead after participating in this program.”
“Amy has learned a lot in a short time and has done a fantastic job, especially
considering that she started her research project only a few weeks after finishing
her freshman year,” says Foster. “As with any research project, things started slowly
but her hard work and persistence paid off, and her experiments produced interesting
results. It’s very exciting to see students react when they see and understand the
meaning of a dark band on a film or a bright fluorescent area on a cell. Amy now
understands the hard work it takes to do research but she has also experienced the
excitement of discovery and being the first to uncover interesting new information.
The next step is to present her work at a scientific conference.”
Northrop is an active member of
Kappa Alpha Theta. She is also the recipient of the William F. Goggin and
Robert Allen Thomas Scholarship, which was established
through a bequest of William F. Goggin and Robert Allen Thomas ’48 to support a
qualified and financially deserving student with a major in the humanities or sciences.
For Northrop, SURF is the beginning of a lifetime of discovery.
“After I graduate from R-MC, I plan to earn my Ph.D. and begin a research career
in the field of biology,” she says.
SURF was introduced in 1995 as an endowment to
support scholarly undergraduate research by students in all disciplines. Students
conduct 10 weeks of full-time, original research during the summer months, under
the guidance of a faculty mentor. The initial gift for the program was made by Benjamin
Schapiro ’64 and his wife Peggy.