Adrienne Donaghue CE ’11 represented Villanova University at the Undergraduate Research Poster Conference at the Capitol, a statewide event held in Harrisburg on October 20. Adrienne was one of 39 college students who participated in the East Wing presentation, which was attended by legislators and their staff, event organizers, and faculty advisors. Her project was titled “Quantitative PCR to Assess Pathogens in Goose Creek.”
A 2009-2010 Villanova University Undergraduate Student Collaborative Research Fellow, Adrienne had first presented her work on campus—along with other Villanova students who had been involved in summer research—at the Undergraduate Research Poster Day on October 3. The Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the College of Engineering, and the Department of Chemistry hosted the event. It was from this distinguished pool of students that Adrienne was selected to move on to Harrisburg.
Advised by Dr. John Komlos, Visiting Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), Adrienne had focused her research on determining the animal sources of fecal bacteria that were contaminating Goose Creek, a Chester Creek Watershed tributary that has been listed as impaired because of its pathogen levels. After collecting her samples from the creek, she used a process known as microbial source tracking to match specific microbes from the polluted site to the animal source. To amplify and quantify the bacterial DNA present in her samples, she used quantitative PCR. This technique enables researchers to determine how much contamination is coming from each source, thus making mitigation of fecal pollution more cost effective.
Adrienne’s research is especially significant in that she originated the project under the direction of Dr. Komlos and was the first student in the CEE Department to use quantitative PCR. “It was a learning process for all of us,” said Adrienne, who hopes that her work will help PhD students in the College of Engineering who have begun to use quantitative PCR in their own projects.