From left to right: Larissa Saarel, Mitchell Gorton, Cooper Mann, Alicia Schettler, Rocky Mountain College in Vancouver, Washington for the 30th annual Murdock College Science Research Conference. 


Of the many opportunities that Rocky Mountain College (RMC) presents to its students, undergraduate scientific research is among the most rewarding and unique opportunities. This November, four exceptional senior science students had the privilege to present their research, conducted with outstanding science faculty at RMC, at the 30th annual Murdock College Science Research Conference (MCSR) in Vancouver, Washington. This year’s conference theme was “Resilience in Research: Undergraduate Scientific Research and COVID-19.”

Last year, Cooper and Alicia were able to attend the MCSR conference virtually through the use of a unique online platform. This year, all four students were able to attend the annual conference in person with funding assistance from the Associated Students of Rocky Mountain College. 

Larissa Saarel, an environmental science major at RMC where she works in collaboration with Dr. Kayhan Ostovar, Dr. Lucas Ward, and Matt Prinkki of RMC. Alongside Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks they have been using unmanned aerial systems to identify nesting habitats of spiny softshell turtles along the Yellowstone and Bighorn Rivers to compare nesting habitats between a dammed and undammed river systems. 

Mitchell Gorton, an environmental science major at RMC, has been working with Dr. Ward to map Russian Olive trees along the Bighorn River using remote sensing. 

Cooper Mann, a biology major at RMC, has been collaborating with Dr. Holly Basta of RMC, and 2021 alumnus Brayden Crowley. Cooper has been using biochemical techniques to attempt to characterize a novel viral protein predicted to be a retroviral phosphodiesterase. 

Alicia Schettler, a biology major at RMC, has also been collaborating with Dr. Basta, and has taken a cellular approach to identify the novel retroviral protein. This protein is expected to allow the retrovirus to escape the innate immune system by deactivating one of the major immune system pathways. 

Larissa was given the opportunity to give an oral presentation at the MCSR conference this past weekend, while Gorton, Mann, and Schettler were provided opportunities to present their research posters. 

A major highlight of the conference included a keynote lecture from the esteemed Dr. Helen Y. Chu, an Associate Professor at the University of Washington Schools of Medicine and Public Health. She is an expert in respiratory viruses and she and her team are responsible for identifying the first known case of COVID-19 in the United States, thanks, in part, to her pandemic preparedness steps with the Seattle Flu Project. 

It is not without the support of our friends, family, and RMC faculty that we were given this amazing opportunity. As such, we would like to thank our many professors who supported and encouraged us throughout this entire process. These outstanding professors include Dr. Kayhan Ostovar, Dr. Lucas Ward, and Dr. Holly Basta. In addition, we would like to extend our gratitude to the students who make up the Associated Students of Rocky Mountain College, whose financial support enabled us to attend this conference.

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