This year’s Student Research Week went very well for senior Michelle Jonika as she received two awards for her excellence in research during the student run research symposium held the week of March 19-23.
Jonika, a senior Forensic and Investigative Sciences major, received first place in the Undergraduate Agriculture and Life Sciences Category and the Sigma Xi STEM Award during the awards and closing ceremony that was held on Friday, March 23 in the Memorial Student Center.
Jonika received first place for undergraduate student in the Agriculture and Life Sciences category for her poster titled “Development of Mass Spectral Database Using Direct Analysis in Real Time.” Her poster was an end result of research she had conducted when she was a summer intern in 2017 at the Department of Homeland Security.
Her research project looks at using direct analysis in real time, or DART, mass spectrometry on collected samples of controlled substances.
Jonika said the DART process allows for faster analysis of the samples with little to no preparation, which allows for more efficiency in processing. She has taken this a step further in creating a database that was tailored for the US Customs and Border Patrol to help reduce the backlog of controlled substance samples within the agency’s laboratories.
“It felt really great seeing all my time and hard work I put into my research pay off,” Jonika said. “It was also exciting to receive the Sigma Xi STEM award for having innovative research within the field of STEM.”
She is currently working with Dr. Aaron Tarone’s lab on her thesis titled “Genes as Markers of Sex for Forensic Entomology.” Tarone said he was very proud of her accomplishments.
“Michelle has worked very hard in my lab on a project to molecularly identify male and female flies. This is important in forensic entomology as we know some insects can exhibit sexual dimorphism in the traits forensic entomologists use to estimate insect age,” Tarone said. “However, sexual dimorphism is poorly understood in forensically relevant taxa; in part because this cannot be done morphologically and there are currently few tools to do so molecularly. She has done an excellent, and self-motivated, job of developing tools that our lab and colleagues can use to determine the sexes of immature blow flies.”