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Richter Scholar Program team evaluates volume regulation in alligator blood cells

Rahul Thakuri ’16, Kayla Huber ’16, and Rachel Granberg ’16 are three of 25 first-year students taking advantage of the College’s new three and a half-week version of the Richter Scholar Program for summer research. Their research with Laurence R. Lee Family Professor of Biology Doug Light ends on Tuesday, June 4 with poster presentations.

For Thakuri, an international student from Nepal, the appeal of the shorter program was the ability both to conduct research side-by-side with a professor and to spend a few weeks of his summer vacation back home. He needs a little break, he said; after all, he put in a lot of work during the academic year to ensure his grade point average made him a competitive candidate for the Richter program in the first place.

“Richter is one of the most prestigious opportunities you can get right off the bat,” said Thakuri, who first learned about the program by talking to senior Foresters last year. “I knew I had to do it. I knew I had to land a Richter spot.”

This year, the Richter Scholar Committee received a record number of applicants and selected 41 scholars. The remaining scholars are participating in the 10-week version.

Thakuri is part of a team working with Laurence R. Lee Family Professor of Biology Doug Light on a project titled, “Regulation of Cell Volume in Red Blood Cells.”

To begin the experience, Light gave Thakuri, Granberg, and Huber papers to read about cell volume regulation and regulated volume decrease for background information. They also went over safety procedures and how to use the lab equipment. 

Then, the team prepared solutions with various pharmaceutical drugs. When the alligator blood cells arrived, they took readings to see each solution’s affect on the volume of the blood cells. They also looked at how to help a cell decrease its volume when it swells.

Walking into the lab, you will see the trio at work as they listen to the Gotye or Maroon 5 station on Pandora. Light bounces from the computer to the lab area, monitoring their progress and answering their questions.

“Doing research as a first-year student is a great opportunity. It’s one reason I wanted to attend a small liberal arts college,” Thakuri said.

Thakuri added that the application process to become a Richter Scholar also was a practical experience. In addition to writing essays and answering a questionnaire, he appreciated the chance to interview five professors about their research before determining which area most suited him for the summer.

“I love doing what I’m doing now, and I’m becoming surer that I want to pursue biology,” he said.