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Ohio Wesleyan Professor Earns National Research Award

April 10, 2007

Sarah M. Leupen, Ph.D., an assistant zoology professor at Ohio Wesleyan University, is one of six researchers nationwide and the first Ohio Wesleyan faculty member selected to receive a grant from the “Support of Mentors and their Students in the Neurosciences” (SOMAS) program.

SOMAS is designed to help junior college faculty launch research projects involving student collaborators and also provide those students with opportunities to conduct original research. The 3-year-old program is supported by the National Science Foundation and Davidson College in North Carolina. More than 50 applicants sought 2007 SOMAS grants.

Leupen will use the non-renewable $9,026 grant to expand her research into how pesticides and other chemicals in groundwater are affecting the reproductive development of male and female salamanders. Scientists already know that some of these chemicals act like the female sex hormone estrogen once they get inside the body. Exposure to these chemicals has even caused some male frogs to become female.

But how are other amphibians affected? And what do their experiences tell us about the potential dangers of groundwater pollution to other species?

“We don’t know how dangerous some of these chemicals are,” says Leupen, who will focus much of her summer research on the pesticide atrazine. “But if problems are going to exist, we will see them first in aquatic species. They are the ‘canary in the coal mine’ when it comes to water contamination.”

Leupen is especially concerned about atrazine because it is the most common pesticide used throughout the world and the most common chemical found in groundwater. “We probably will never have a world without pesticides,” she acknowledges, “so we need to understand them. Once we understand how they act in the body, we can try to make them safer.”

For her 10-week SOMAS-funded project, Leupen will work with Ohio Wesleyan student Sara Nienaber, a junior, from Cincinnati. After the summer, they will prepare a presentation to give in November at the combined annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience. A second student also will be chosen to participate in Leupen’s research through Ohio Wesleyan’s annual Summer Science Research Program, which is funded by the university.

Founded in 1842, Ohio Wesleyan University is one of the nation’s leading liberal arts colleges, dedicated to preparing students for a lifetime of learning, service, and leadership. Located in Delaware, Ohio, 20 miles north of the state capital, Ohio Wesleyan is a coeducational, residential, privately supported undergraduate institution. The university is ranked consistently by U.S. News & World Report as one of the nation’s top 100 liberal arts colleges and is featured in the book “Colleges That Change Lives.” The faculty includes more than 135 educators, all of whom actively teach and hold either doctoral degrees or the highest recognized professional degrees in their fields. Approximately 1,850 students representing 44 states and 45 countries attend Ohio Wesleyan. More information is available at www.owu.edu.