My First Science Project

A TV show, a yard sale, and a birthday present - Carolina professors and students share the moment they discovered their love of science.

Thomas Freeman

Teaching Associate Professor,
Department of Chemistry

Maria Servedio

Professor, Department of Biology

Lamis Hammouda

Biomedical Engineering Major,
Chemistry and Pre-Business Minor

Muki Kunnmann

Biology Major,
Chemistry and Medical Anthropology Minor

Terrique J. Morris

Psychology Major,
Cognitive Science Minor

Dain Ruiz

Biology Major

Thomas Freeman

Executive Director,
Chancellor’s Science Scholars Program

Teaching Associate Professor,
Department of Chemistry

When he discovered science was magic

“As the eldest child – and only child for a while – I had to find ways to entertain myself. In the mornings there was a show called Mr. Wizard featuring an old man who would do what seemed like magic tricks, but it was even better because he would explain what was going on. It made me wonder ‘why’ about everything and at about 4 years-old I knew that I loved science because it was the best kind of magic.”

When he chose chemistry

“One day I accidentally held a magnet in front of a CRT (cathode ray tube) television screen. It completely distorted the image and changed the colors on the screen. I didn’t learn why the magnet distorted the image until I explored electromagnetic properties using a cathode ray tube in my high school chemistry class.

Chemistry also helped explain so many other mysteries of the natural world that I wondered about for years so I was hooked.”

His research now

“My current research focuses on STEM education and understanding the best ways to help students learn about and make connections between abstract concepts in chemistry and biochemistry. I am also interested in helping students improve their scientific communication skills, form successful collaborations with their peers, find their own passions for science, as well as promoting better science through inclusive and equitable diversity.”

 

Maria Servedio

Professor, Department of Biology

First science project

“The first serious science project I did was on recombinant DNA and cloning genes as part of a summer program at the University of the Pacific, between my sophomore and junior years of high school. I enjoyed it, but when I took courses in organismal biology and behavioral ecology, I realized that that was a better match for my interests.”

Research now

“I develop mathematical models of evolution, which are geared at answering basic questions in evolutionary biology – how did evolution and mate choice generate the over 8.5 million species that we see today? I think it’s fascinating to discover the mechanisms whereby biodiversity has evolved and believe that we are responsible for preserving what evolution has produced. I don’t want to live in a world with just humans, cockroaches, and rats.”

 

Lamis Hammouda

Sophomore from Holly Springs, NC

Biomedical Engineering Major,
Chemistry and Pre-Business Minor

First science project

“In elementary school, I found a book filled with hundreds of science experiment ideas at a yard sale. Every day, I would flip through that book and as my mind filled with new ideas, I excitedly started experimenting. My experimentation did not stop there. From taking apart remote-control cars to prototyping parachutes for my toys, I’ve always loved the way science brings out your creativity and curiosity.”

Research now

“Before UNC, I didn’t know anything about research or what scientists really did. Now, I’m interested in regenerative medicine, which can aid in wound healing, and medical microdevices, which can be useful in testing how drugs interact with organs. I hope to spend my next two years at Carolina exploring all the research possibilities in biomedical engineering and learn how I could use my knowledge to advance technology and improve someone’s life!”

 

Muki Kunnmann

Junior from Hopkinsville, Kentucky

Biology Major, Chemistry and Medical Anthropology Minor

First science project

“I first discovered my love for science in elementary school. For my 10th birthday, I asked for only one thing – a microscope. I spent months from then on trying to look at everything I could under the small portable microscope. I don’t think I knew that what I was doing was a form of scientific research, but I have always been a very hands-on learner and was very excited to learn more about the world around me.”

Research now

“I work in a microbiology lab in the Gillings School of Global Public Health conducting well water research with team of graduate students and undergraduates. We recruit landowners across North Carolina who have private wells on their land so that our lab can test the water for bacteria resistance and recommend changes. Private wells are not regulated by the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the presence of bacteria in drinking water such as antimicrobial resistant E.Coli can have major repercussions for public health. I’m excited about this work because I can make an impact in people’s lives around North Carolina.”

Terrique J. Morris

Senior from Charlotte, NC

Psychology Major & Cognitive Science Minor

First Science Project

“I wanted to figure out if a pond near my school – which did not look like it had the ability to support life – had biodiversity. I had to collect a sample of water from the pond and place it in a petri dish and observe it over time. This project helped me discover my love for science. It wasn’t until later in high school, while doing another school project, that I would discover my love for the human brain. Our high school project was focused on reverse engineering the brain where we actually made a 3D printed prototype of the brain. It was pretty cool.”

Research now

“I am a member of both the Peer Relations lab and the Anxiety and Depression lab led by Dr. Mitch Prinstein and Jon Abramowitz, respectively. In the Peer Relations lab, we observe the relation between depression and suicidality in newly menstruating teen girls and how this affects their peer relations. In the Anxiety lab, we are observing the psychological effects that the ongoing global pandemic has had on women at different trimesters of their pregnancy and how that may affect the health of their babies. This work has strengthened my interest in research on the general mental health of adolescents who belong to underrepresented communities in the U.S.”

Dain Ruiz

Sophomore from Cary, NC

Biology Major

when he fell for science

“At age 9, I vividly remember learning about little jumping genes known as transposons. I was intrigued by this biological entity that could hop from cell to cell transferring ‘healthy’ DNA to places where ‘bad’ DNA existed. I imagined all the cures that could be created from this simple biological process. From that point on, I knew I wanted to be a scientist.”

Research now

“I have discovered through my time as a researcher that my passion in biology lies in rare disease research. Currently, I work in the lab of Dr. Frank Conlon here at UNC, where I study the mutation of a gene called c-Kit and its relationship with the developing heart in mice. I hope to learn more about this mutation and discover if it has any connections to congenital heart disease.”

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