Alumni project set to be tested

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Jeff Neukom, Managing Editor

 

After pioneering a new method to create polyurethane casts of internal spaces in bird eggshells, the work of recent Illinois Wesleyan University graduates Jason Murphy ‘14 and Mark Swanson ‘14 will move into the testing stage.

While their work itself is not new, it is not yet known what knowledge can be gained from their design. The polyurethane casts they designed allow for highly detailed models of the eggshells. This increased detail could prove crucial in further studies.

As part of their earlier experiments, Murphy and Swanson filled the pores of eggshells of the domestic chicken, the house sparrow and the ostrich with a polyurethane resin. It occurred to them that this would be a great way to create better research models.

“Our understanding how eggshells influence gas fluxes has been largely dictated by our abilities to count and measure the outer diameter of the pores,” their co-advisor Professor Jaeckle said.

Previous to this new method, options were limited in visualizing the three-dimensional shape of internal egg spaces. Two of the most prevalent techniques are microscopic analysis of thin sections and the scanning electron microscopy to render a three-dimensional image.

Polyurethane casts could prove even more effective as they provide an exact replica of the eggshells’ textures. The frequency and distribution of eggshell pores is interesting to ornithologists because the rates of gas movements can affect the development rate of embryos. These pores control movement of gases and water vapor between the embryo and its environment.

Using this technique will allow researchers to obtain more accurate information regarding the evolutionary history of certain bird species. By creating three-dimensional models of the interior spaces of various eggs, researchers are enabled to more accurately evaluate the morphology of the various eggshell pores.

Designing the casts was not an easy process. “It took about two weeks to produce a round of casts, and initially they did not turn out too well,” Swanson said. The project itself spanned over two years, dating back to when both Swanson and Murphy were IWU students.

Inevitably, the two caught the attention of The Auk: Ornithological Advances, one of the top ornithological journals in the world. and their work was featured in the January ‘15 edition of the journal.

Now that their work has been published, it will be put to the ultimate test by future researchers. “It gives me a great sense of pride knowing that my research will be read by professional scientists,” Murphy said.

Exposure in The Auk means that scientists across the nation will be reading and testing the work of Murphy and Swanson. Only time will tell the true impact of their design.

Currently, Murphy is a technician at the University of Chicago, and he is working on a project involving nanoparticle-based therapeutics for the treatment of glioblastomas, which are highly malignant tumors. In glioblastomas, the cells reproduce quickly and they are supported by a large network of blood vessels.

Swanson is a Ph.D. student at the Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science.

Murphy and Swanson’s work so far is a testament to the potential students have for innovation in their field of study, as they have been extremely influential in the field of ornithology.