Miranda Sowder has spent some long hours in the lab, doing two- or three-day long time series analyses of cell cultures, but she doesn’t seem to mind. “I really like how research gets me more interested in my class work, because it’s more of a real-life situation,” she says. “Having your courses and your research come together is really exciting. You learn a lot, especially in a small lab, and pretty much all of the labs here are small so I’ve learned a lot about experimental design, maintaining a lab, and training people.”

Miranda has spent four semesters and one summer working in Dr Marta Bechtel’s lab on a project trying to artificially engineer a cornea (the clear covering on the front of the eye). The lab has been looking at the effect of culturing cells from two different layers of the cornea, the epithelium and the stroma, together, instead of separately. They have found that “co-cultured” cells are slower to adopt the wound healing phenotype that can cause corneal scarring and blurred vision. 

This could give scientists more time to work with them outside the tissue to create an artificial cornea. If they can figure out the signaling that happens between the cell layers, then it might be possible to minimize the scarring and hazing that occurs with damage to the cornea. While Miranda was working on this project, she noticed that many of the cultured cells were dying. Her project shifted to studying apoptosis and necrosis in the cells over time using fluorescence microscopy, and trying to find a protocol that will keep them alive. Finally, in her final semester, she has started to grow happy, healthy cells in culture, and she is happy knowing that her efforts will allow the project to keep going after she graduates.

Miranda has applied to and been accepted by several PhD programs. She says that doing undergraduate research really helped her grad school applications. “I think that really being able to explain my research helped a lot in the interviews,” she says.

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