April 20, 2012 | Myrna Anderson

Senior Lauren Manck will research seagrasses in Spain via a Fulbright Scholarship.

Last summer, Lauren Manck was at the University of Cadiz in Cadiz, Spain, doing environmental research, touring the Alhambra, visiting traditional Spanish towns and hanging out at the beach. After she graduates Calvin in May, Manck will head back to Cadiz through a Fulbright Scholarship from the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

“It’s still hard to believe,” said the 22-year-old chemistry major from Fort Wayne, Indiana, who learned of the honor last week through an e-mail. Currently a Goldwater Scholar, Manck also recently won a National Science Foundation Research Grant, which would pay her expenses for three years at the graduate school of her choice. She will defer her grad studies for nine months to fulfill her Fulbright.

Many investigations

Manck will be studying seagrasses, looking at how their production of natural products and metabolytes varies with different environmental conditions. “Seagrasses are really important in the coastal environment. They play a large role in the carbon cycle …,” she said. They’re also important in the protection of the shoreline and in breeding environments for a lot of different species.”

Manck will work through the institution’s seagrass monitoring system. “The more we know about how they cope with environmental stress, the more we will be able to protect and keep them happy,” she said. Her former research at the University of Cadiz—funded through the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates Program—was the chemical-defense system of marine diatoms.

Manck hopes one day to teach chemistry at the university level. Her love of research, she confessed, has been fueled by four years of studying “molecular tinkertoys”—molecules that form structures—with chemistry professor Doug Vander Griend. “He’s just been an awesome teacher and advisor to work for,” she said, “and he’s the one who got me involved in chemical research. I can’t thank him enough for everything he’s done for me.”

Vander Griend is likewise a fan of his student assistant, who distinguished herself in his section of Chemistry 103 by earning the highest percentage ever achieved in that class. “She only got 3.5 points off all semester!” Vander Griend said.  In her first summer of researching in his lab, Manck used mathematical modeling to characterize how a nano-size machine called a molecular muscle operated. (She collaborated on this project with researchers at the University of Indiana.)

Setting the bar

“After her second year, she had not only completed some of the most difficult experiments in my lab to date, launching the lab into our exciting and complicated experiments with nanocontainers and nanomachines, but her characterization of the 10-piece system is one of the most complicated analyses to date in the literature,” Vander Griend said. “I am so proud of Lauren. I am also indebted to her for her excellent and diligent work on the research challenges in our lab. I am excited to see how she grows and how God uses her in her next stage of life.”

After Spain, Manck will study chemical oceanography at the Scripp’s Institute of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. “I knew I wanted to go a more environmental route with my chemistry degree,” she said.

She’s ready to move on and grateful to the institution she’s leaving: “I feel incredibly blessed to be at Calvin,” Manck said. “I think the faculty have been amazing to get to know, and I don’t think any of this would have been possible without them.”

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