Campus Profile: Jennifer Duff

Year: Senior

Hometown: Issaquah, WA

Major: Biology

Zodiac Sign: Scorpio

Favorite Food: Peanut Butter

Favorite Book: The entirety of the Harry Potter series.

Favorite Movie: My whole family and I really like Ocean's Eleven.

How did you start your research at Pepperdine? Well, I was thinking that I might want to do research for my career after I graduate from college, so I asked one of my professor's at the time what sort of research he was doing in my lab and if I could maybe see what that was like and he asked me to come in and work for him if I wanted to. So I did for a semester and a half and then the Biology department has a program specifically for bio majors that allows undergraduate students to devote an entire summer to do an intensive research program working directly with a professor in the bio department on a project of their own choice. It's an eleven-week program and it takes you through the whole research process from coming up with an idea, presenting a formal proposal, planning out experiments, doing the tests in the lab, analyzing the data, and presenting your final findings. 

Is it common for schools to allow this kind of research? Not to my understanding; this level of hands-on experience as an undergrad is not something that you can get at a lot of schools. I think Pepperdine is really unique in providing such a good opportunity for undergraduates.

Who do you present your research to? You present your findings to the students in the program at the end of the summer, and to all the professors involved and anyone else who wants to come in and hear what we've been working on. I've had the chance to continue my research through the semester, and recently I've had the opportunity to present my research at SCCUR (Southern California Conference for Undergraduate Research) which was very exciting. And I plan on presenting at a national conference in a couple of weeks with my most up to date work. 

Where is the national conference? It's in San Francisco, and it's a national cell biology conference by the American Society for Cell Biology.

What has your research been about? I've been looking at the interactions of a certain kind of air pollutant called carbon black and how it interacts with the cells that line our lungs and basically causes them to die. We're hoping that if we can understand how that interaction happens we might be able to prevent it or figure out how to mitigate it.

Is carbon black found everywhere? Yes, it is a really widespread pollutant. It's caused by processes of industrial combustion, so it's found all across the globe and makes up a really big percentage of the composition of air pollution worldwide. 

How far have you come with your research? We know that carbon black causes a lot of harmful health effects when you breathe it in, but we don't yet have a really great understanding of how that happens. So I've been looking at this mechanism for that that's been proposed but the evidence for it is thin so far; if this mechanism is what's actually happening, we would expect to see changes in the way that the mitochondria of these cells looks, and so far I've seen some pretty dramatic changes in the cells that I've poisoned with carbon black versus healthy ones. 

Is your research still ongoing? Yes, it is. I'm doing an honor's thesis that I will present at the end of spring semester. 

What do you hope to conclude from it? I am hoping that I'll be able to strengthen the findings that I already have and be able to provide some more concrete evidence in support of this theory of how carbon black is harming our cells.