Make The Connection

September 14, 2023 | By Cole Hatcher

Finding Direction

Ohio Wesleyan Students Continue NASA-Funded Research into Plant Gravity

Chloe Sullivan ’24

Name: Chloe Sullivan ’24
Hometown: Plain City, Ohio
High School: Jonathan Alder High School
Major: Genetics
Minor: Environmental Science
OWU Connection Experience: Participating in Ohio Wesleyan’s 10-week Summer Science Research Program.

Sullivan and OWU students Phoenix Ball ’24 of Westerville, Ohio; Chandler Carr ’24 of Washington Court House, Ohio; Maddie Coleman ’24 of Avon Lake, Ohio; and Jasmyn Zimmerman ’25 of Vermilion, Ohio, spent the summer working to complete NASA-funded research in the laboratory of Chris Wolverton, Ph.D., OWU professor of Biological Sciences. Wolverton earned the space agency grant and previously sent research to be conducted on the International Space Station.

Professor Chris Wolverton (far left) stands with the Ohio Wesleyan students who worked over the summer on NASA-funded plant research. From left, the students are Chloe Sullivan ’24, Jasmyn Zimmerman ’25, Chandler Carr ’24, and Maddie Coleman ’24. All are wearing T-shirts of the plant they worked with – Arabidopsis thaliana, a member of the mustard family. (Photo by Paul Vernon)

What We’re Researching?

“The lab as a whole is studying how plants respond to gravity and how they are impacted when certain genes are mutated. By studying these gravity responses, we can predict and utilize these genes so the plants can survive more extreme conditions, like those of space or created by climate change.

“I am independently researching the usage of 2′,7′-Dichlorodihydrofluorescein (DCF), a molecule that glows when it reacts with certain types of oxygen, in order to predict if these mutants will have a response to gravity. This will help the lab prioritize certain genes that are highly likely to have an unusual response in comparison to those that are much less likely while also providing further evidence of this phenomena at a cellular level.”

The full name of Sullivan’s project is “Utilizing 2′,7′-Dichlorodihydrofluorescein to Predict Gravity Responses in Arabidopsis thaliana,” a small plant that is a member of the mustard family. She and 43 other students who conducted summer research both on- and off-campus will share their results Sept. 28 during OWU’s annual Patricia Belt Conrades ’63 Summer Science Research Symposium.

Why This Experience?

“I took Plant Physiology with Dr. Wolverton in the spring and enjoyed the course and the work we did in the lab. This SSRP allowed me to continue that experience in a familiar environment and further develop my lab and research skills. …

“While my goal isn’t necessarily to work with plants, working with him offered the opportunity for me to learn about a plethora of skills for research, including those related to lab work, researching, and problem-solving.”

My Favorite Moment

“I enjoyed presenting my research considering it’s an opportunity to show everyone what I’ve learned and been working toward for the past few months. I put in a lot of effort into the work I’ve done and it gave me a chance to get others excited about what I was doing.” (In addition to the annual symposium, students participating in OWU’s Summer Science Research Symposium also share their work with each other during weekly lunch-and-learn presentations.)

My ultimate goal is to work in a research environment, so getting that opportunity now has allowed me to get a look inside to see how that may work. I’ve learned about all the preparation that goes into the project before even reaching the lab work stage.

Chloe Sullivan ’24

Lessons Learned

“This experience has definitely helped me prepare for my upcoming honors independent study. With the opportunity to develop my own project while also remaining within the realm of an overarching one, it has prepared me to develop my own study and how I should approach it. It’s given me a head start in the process that’s going to help me in the long run.

“My ultimate goal is to work in a research environment, so getting that opportunity now has allowed me to get a look inside to see how that may work. I’ve learned about all the preparation that goes into the project before even reaching the lab work stage; it’s not all running experiments.”

My Campus Involvement

“I am a member of Kappa Alpha Theta and the Honors Board, as well as co-president of both Women in Science Club (WinS) and Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL).”

Why I Chose Ohio Wesleyan?

“I live close to Delaware and I’ve been actively involved in the community through sports, so I was familiar with the area and the people who live here, but I didn’t decide to go to Ohio Wesleyan until halfway through my senior year. A close high school teacher attended here and I decided to go on a campus tour, where I fell in love with the university and knew that this was the ideal place for me to further my education.”

My Plans After Graduation

“I intend to go to graduate school and eventually research genetic disorders. OWU has definitely encouraged me to pursue communities in places where I take up space and give back, and this is my way of doing that. I’m incredibly grateful to OWU for all opportunities to seek out mentorship from faculty and staff, which ultimately is allowing me to continue to foster this passion for helping others and my future.”