Michael Elder-Waters – 2018 winner of the Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award
When Michael Elder-Waters came to the University of Idaho as a new Biology major in 2014, he was impressed by his biology and chemistry labs. “My high school didn’t really have anything like that,” he says, “so those lab courses were really cool to me.” So later, when his advisor mentioned the possibility of getting involved in an undergraduate research project… “I thought that sounded awesome!”
Michael started work in the summer of 2016 in the lab of Professor Onesmo Balemba. He took that next fall semester to study in Hawaii as part of National Student Exchange, but resumed his project immediately afterwards and has continued all the way to graduation this May. The project is investigating the potential of stem bark extracts from Africa to regulate reactions of the enteric nervous system – the so-called “brain in the gut” that controls muscle contractions in the intestine and colon. Those muscle contractions are part of the process of peristalsis by which the body moves material through the gut. A method of regulating that process could ultimately lead to pharmaceutical products for patients suffering from diarrhea, a significant cause of death in underdeveloped counties.
Michael has been working to investigate the regulation of the periodic relaxations of muscle tissue harvested from the colons of slaughtered pigs. When a new batch of cells are acquired, a regimen of experiments is scheduled that can run all day. “It pretty much goes as long as you let it go”, he says. “Sometimes we start at 8:00 in the morning and will still be working at midnight.”
Michael participated on this project as an INBRE Fellow last summer, and his work earned the first place Faculty Choice Award at the INBRE conference. His work has earned another major recognition now as he has been named the winner of the 2018 Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award from the College of Science at 2018 Commencement.
Asked what the best parts of his Idaho experience have been, Michael speaks very highly of several courses, especially Dr. Mitchell’s Immunology course he is taking this semester. “But honestly”, he adds, “being able to work one-on-one with Dr. Balemba has been the best.”
Michael has been admitted to the WWAMI medical education program and will begin studies in the fall. While he was also accepted to another medical school, he was excited by both the reputation of the WWAMI program and the opportunity to study with many of the faculty members he already knows, including Dr. Balemba.