Two Union students honored at international biology meeting in Philadelphia

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Grace Heiting ’22 and Andrew Sheahan ’22 are part of a research team interested in understanding how changes during development of an insect such as a grasshopper affect its respiratory physiology and locomotion.

Working in the “HOPPER” lab (Homeostatic Orthopteran Performance Physiology and Energetics Research) on the third floor of the Integrative Science and Engineering Center, the pair is exploring why body mass nearly doubles during the weeklong period between molts but jumping muscle mass does not increase as much. They also want to learn why the additional mass within an exoskeleton might compress the air-filled tracheal respiratory system.

Grace Heiting ’22 and Andrew Sheahan ’22 with Scott Kirkton

Grace Heiting ’22 and Andrew Sheahan ’22 with Scott Kirkton, associate professor of biological sciences, at the Experimental Biology Meeting in Philadelphia. Heiting and Sheahan were honored for their presentations at the gathering of 9,000 scientists from around the world.

Heiting, a biology and Spanish and Hispanic studies major, and Sheahan, a biology major, recently presented their research at the Experimental Biology Meeting in Philadelphia. The annual gathering of five scientific societies brings together 9,000 scientists in one interdisciplinary community.

The presentations by Heiting and Sheahan so impressed judges that each was honored with the Comparative and Evolutionary Physiology Section Travel Award. Sponsored by Novo Nordisk Foundation, the award recognizes an outstanding graduate or undergraduate student involved in comparative and evolutionary research. The only award winners, they were selected from among 15 nominees.

Both were inspired by being in the company of some of the world’s top scientists.

“The conference was an incredible opportunity to discuss my research and get feedback from scientists of various disciplines,” said Heiting, from Woodbury, Minn. “I enjoyed attending the diverse poster sessions and talks to hear about new research in all different levels of academia.”

For Sheahan, the gathering in Philadelphia reinforced the opportunities to do research as an undergraduate at a small, liberal arts college like Union.

“My favorite part of the meeting was seeing how we at Union can take on larger research projects that we might not have the opportunity to do at a larger university,” said Sheahan, from Nesconset, N.Y.

One of the top comparative physiologists in the world who is writing an Introductory Biology textbook approached Sheahan to tell him he wanted to use some of Sheahan’s images from his poster and include a summary of his research in the book.

Heiting and Sheahan work closely with Scott Kirkton, associate professor of biological sciences.

“They are two of the hardest working students that I have had,” said Kirkton. “I am so proud that their hard work was recognized and their interactions with experts in the field were so positive. I cannot tell you how many people were shocked to learn that they were undergraduates because of the quality of their research, their poise in presenting and their deep knowledge about the material and its relationship to the bigger field.”

Eight other seniors presented their research in Philadelphia. They were: Tim Coyle; Rachel Godek; Tatyana Lynn; Michela Michielli; Liana Ralli; Katherine Sadak; Dereck Wang; and Katarina Zahedi.

Brian Cohen, a senior lecturer of biology and co-director of Biochemistry, and Kristin Fox, Florence B. Sherwood Professor of Physical Sciences accompanied them.

For Heiting and Sheahan, their scientific honors add to their achievements outside the classroom.

Heiting is captain of the women’s ice hockey team and a member of the women’s lacrosse team. A multiple selection of the ECAC Hockey All-Academic Team, she was a finalist this year for the conference’s Mandi Schwartz Student-Athlete of the Year award. She was also selected for the Beckman Scholars Program, which provides mentored research experience for exceptional undergraduate students in chemistry, biological sciences, or interdisciplinary combinations.

She also serves as a campus ambassador for Gift of Life, a non-profit organization that recruits donors to join the national bone marrow registry. In her role, she holds drives and events targeted at college students.

After Union, Heiting will attend the University of Maine to pursue a certificate in Arts & Humanities in Medicine and to continue playing hockey.

A tight end on the football team, Sheahan was an All-ECAC second team selection. He has also been honored as a All-Region third-teamer and All-Liberty League first-teamer.

After Union, he will pursue a master’s of science in biotechnology at Johns Hopkins University and continue playing football.