In high school, Dierdre Kelly ’11 studied toxic algae in the Delaware Bay. After her first year at Franklin & Marshall College, she spent her summer in the astrobiology lab at Penn State University researching methane production on other planets.
“I’m just 19 and research is already in my blood,” Kelly said.
The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program wants to make sure it stays that way. It has offered Kelly a two-year, $15,000 scholarship to continue her education in molecular biology.
“I am humbled by this and the potential they see in me,” Kelly said. “Looking at the list of scholars, there are students from prominent colleges and research universities who received honorable mention.”
The Goldwater Foundation encourages outstanding students to pursue careers in natural sciences, mathematics and engineering. Congress established the scholarship in 1986 to honor Senator Barry M. Goldwater, who served his country for 56 years as a soldier and statesman, including 30 years in the U.S. Senate.
Kelly is majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology. She plans to continue her studies after college to become a biomedical scientist.
She won the Goldwater for the research she participated in during high school and her Penn State internship last summer.
During her junior and senior years in high school, Kelly interned at the University of Delaware Graduate College of Marine Sciences, researching toxic algae blooms in the Delaware Bay. The algae blooms consume all the oxygen in the water, killing marine life. Kelly’s research suggested that increasing the temperature of the water, a process that occurs through global warming, would have no affect on the algae.
“In retrospect, that’s high school stuff,” she said. “Yet it taught me research techniques that I’m using now.”
Kelly spent last summer at Penn State University in the astrobiology lab researching whether methane on other planets could be produced by archaebacteria, organisms that produce methane here on earth.
“The idea was that they could be the basis of life on other planets,” Kelly explained.
This summer, Kelly will intern in the cancer center at the Gerstner Sloan-Kettering Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in New York City, where she will study immunology.
“I’m excited and terrified,” she said.
Her teacher has faith in her. Carl S. Pike, the Harry W. & Mary B. Huffnagle Professor of Botany, called Kelly “remarkably inquisitive and able to ask insightful questions.”
This semester Pike asked Kelly to expand protocols for a bioinformatics lab in a second-level biology course. Kelly is developing a lab project in which students will investigate gene expression in animals and plants.
Bioinformatics uses computers to store and analyze vast amounts of information, such as DNA sequences and patterns of gene expression in relation to developmental and physiological changes.