Environmental Science Major Receives $6,250 Grant

The fellowship grant from the Independent College Fund of New Jersey’s Merck Undergraduate Science Endeavors Program will enable Nina Joffe to continue to conduct groundbreaking research.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011

As an incoming freshman, Nina Joffe was invited to participate in Rider’s Freshman Science Honors Program, which enabled her to start independent research her first year at Rider. Since then, Joffe, now a junior Environmental Science major, has been conducting groundbreaking research with Dr. Julie Drawbridge, professor of Biology.

Their research is based on a population of salamanders that breed in vernal ponds on the Lawrenceville campus every spring. In particular, Joffe is studying the symbiotic relationship between salamander embryos and the algae located inside the developing capsules. While Joffe and Drawbridge know that the embryo provides nutrients to the algae and the algae provide oxygen to the embryo, not much is known about the algae species.

So far, Joffe, who spends two to three days per week in the lab, has collected a substantial amount of genetic information about the algae. Now, she is trying to determine if the strain is a previously described species or one new to science. So far her data suggest that they might be closely related to a strain collected in eastern Europe in the 1940s. By determining the species of the algae, the researchers will have a better indication of where these algae come from and where they go after the ponds dry up.

“No one has really studied this particular example of symbiosis. The research explores who these algae are. Where do they go? Where do they come from?” Drawbridge explained. “When the salamanders hatch in a couple of weeks in March, what do the algae do? Do they have a free-living lifestyle?”

Joffe’s time in Drawbridge’s research lab has paid off — literally. Recently, she was awarded a $6,250 fellowship grant from the Independent College Fund of New Jersey’s Merck Undergraduate Science Endeavors Program. The grant will be vital as Joffe continues her research in the lab this spring and summer, and presents her work at the Ecological Society of America’s national meeting this summer in Austin, Texas. Joffe, who plans to study Ecology in graduate school, particularly the interaction between different species, said the recent grant exhibits her dedication to research.

Drawbridge agrees. “I think the grant and Nina’s experience in the lab will really set her apart as she explores graduate schools. The grant shows that she is proactive and is willing to seek out funds, which are skills highly valued in science.”

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Nina Joffe is studying the symbiotic relationship between salamander embryos and the algae located inside the capsules.