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WIU Student Presents Summer Research Results at Prestigious Conference

March 6, 2018

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MACOMB, IL -- A prestigious summer research experience for a Western Illinois University junior has resulted in a unique opportunity to present her findings at the Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy (PITTCON) in Orlando, FL.

Nicole Walker, a forensic chemistry and Spanish double major from Lake Zurich, IL, presented "Measuring Chemotherapy-Induced Dopamine Changes in Zebrafish" during the conference.

The research for the presentation was completed when Walker was part of the Research Experience for the Undergraduate (REU) program at the University of Kansas. She studied the effects of chemotherapy drugs on the brain dopamine levels of Zebrafish as a model of the chemotherapy-induced cognitive impairment, or "chemobrain," a condition often seen in cancer survivors.

Walker presented her research during the undergraduate poster session Feb. 28.

"I had a great time at PITTCON," said Walker. "I got to learn a lot about some very interesting research being done, as well as learn about and interact with some very cool new instruments. I met a lot of people who have very interesting jobs, and learned a lot about possible future jobs. I had fun too, and I am very glad I decided to attend."

PITTCON is the largest an analytical chemistry conference in the nation, hosting numerous presentations on analytical techniques and methods that can be used for drug analysis, neurological studies, pharmaceutical discoveries, nanomaterials and detection of contaminants in water, soil and produce.

While in Florida, Walker attended a number of presentations, including talks given by the others in the group she completed her summer research with. She was also given the opportunity to attend panel discussions about graduate school and careers in the industry.

The research Walker completed at the University of Kansas was funded by the National Science Foundation and is one of numerous REU programs across the nation.

"These NSF REU programs exist across the country in a variety of STEM fields and are highly competitive (usually 300-500 people apply for each and only 8-12 people are accepted to participate)," said Walker. "As such, I applied to nine different programs who had mentors and projects that especially interested me (I was looking to do research in biological chemistry this summer). Of the nine I applied to, I was only accepted to one. Usually, these programs prefer juniors so that the students have taken more of the higher-level chemistry courses."

Walker credits her mentor, Assistant Professor of Chemistry Brian Bellott, and WIU Centennial Honors College Director Richard Hardy for helping prepare her for the opportunity.

For more information about the REU program, visit

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