Two WWU students present research at Missouri Academy of Science

Joanie Ryan
Joanie Ryan

Scientific research has the ability to save lives and change the future. Students at William Woods University value the opportunities they have to conduct research and possibly make a difference.

Two outstanding students of the WWU science department recently presented their research at the Missouri Academy of Science. The 51st annual conference was held at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Missouri.

Joanie Ryan, a junior from Longmont, Colorado, and

Rachael Ostrem
Rachael OstremRachael Ostrem, a junior from Radcliffe, Iowa, represented William Woods at the conference. Ryan gave an oral presentation, and Ostrem presented a paper.

Rachael Ostrem, a junior from Radcliffe, Iowa, represented William Woods at the conference. Ryan gave an oral presentation, and Ostrem presented a paper.

In addition, two WWU faculty members were appointed to positions within the academy. Dr. Vern Hart, assistant professor of physics, was appointed webmaster, and Dr. Nick Pullen, assistant professor of biology, was appointed chair of the biological sciences section, which is the largest section of the academy.

The Missouri Academy of Science is a nonprofit academic organization designed to promote the increase and diffusion of scientific interests in Missouri. The academy hosts annual events and publishes a peer-reviewed journal in an effort to provide students with an avenue for presenting and disseminating scholarly activities and original research.

Supporting scientific research in Missouri, both financially and by representing the industry at the state government level, is one of the primary goals.

Research topics at the annual spring conference vary, and presentations are given in a wide variety of fields, including the life sciences, physical sciences, engineering, medicine and computer science.

Ostrem has been doing her research in an independent study research course as part of her physical science minor at WWU.

“I chose to complete my research with Hart and was able to select from several potential projects. I chose my topic because it was of interest to me. I have been researching and working all semester, and the Missouri Academy of Science presented me with an opportunity to share my research with my peers.”

Ryan has been working with Pullen as part of the Cox Scholar program. The presentation was a culmination of Ryan’s work this year. She presented an abstract titled “Trefoil Factor and Matrix Metalloproteinase Detection among Divergent Cancer Cell Profiles.”

“I have been working with Dr. Pullen on determining whether certain proteins are expressed across different human cancer types and also whether nitric oxide affects expression levels,” said Ryan.

“We use eukaryotic cell culture of different cell lines and treat them with nitric oxide. Then we isolate the protein and analyze the results with a technique called western blotting.”

Ostrem presented “Analysis of Edge Detection Algorithms Applied to Image Segmentation of Cross-Sectional CT Images During Adaptive Radiotherapy.”

Describing her work, Ostrem said, “When a patient is diagnosed with cancer, a treatment plan is developed using CT or MRI images acquired at the time of diagnosis. When the patient begins initial treatment a few weeks later, their internal anatomy often differs significantly from the initial images, due to tumor growth, weight gain, weight loss, etc. A new set of images is acquired at the time of treatment, which do not match the original treatment plan.”

The research by Ostrem and Hart went even further.

“As a result, the treatment plan must be quickly modified to agree with the new anatomy. This is a time-consuming and error-prone process, which often leads to delays in treatment and sub-optimal dose delivery,” Ostrem said.

“My research has involved the development of better algorithms to automatically detect and quantify these changes in anatomy. If a computer can accurately identify the organ of interest, the plan can be modified quickly and precisely, without any human intervention. This may lead to reduced treatment times and improved treatment outcomes.”

Presenting at the Missouri Academy of Science is extremely prestigious. Abstracts must be written, peer-reviewed and approved for presentation. It is a professional setting, but also a learning environment.

Before leaving for St. Joseph, both students shared their excitement about the conference.

“This environment will allow me to interact with faculty and other students who are conducting research around the state,” Ostrem said.

“Presenting an original scientific research project in front of an audience that understands my interests and shares my love of science is what excites me. I have presented several times in class, but never at this level of academia.”

Ryan agreed, “This is a great opportunity to gain exposure to scientific conferences and presentations. I’m excited to present a project I’ve worked on for a full year and also to meet other students and scientists from around Missouri.”