Grant partners Willamette professor with high school science teacher for summer research

The MJ Murdock Charitable Trust awarded Willamette University $15,000 through the Partners in Science Program, allowing Willamette chemistry professor Sarah Kirk to work with South Salem High School teacher Greg Whatley during the next two summers.

Kirk and Whatley will study derivations of tetracaine to regulate ion flow through cellular membranes. When chemical imbalances allow too many ions through membranes in the eye, it can damage the retina. Stronger ion blockers may be useful in treating retinal degradation.

"With Greg's prior research experience, it was an amazing overlap of interests," said Kirk, who has participated in the program previously with a teacher from Sprague High School, Megan Rivera.

The grant program is designed to connect high school science teachers with the scientific community, helping them guide students toward science careers and develop new teaching strategies. It also allows both participants to explore relationships between high school and college science education.

"The Murdock Foundation has been extremely generous to sciences in the Pacific Northwest," Kirk said.

After the research is completed, Kirk and Whatley will present their findings in January 2012 at a research conference for Partners in Science participants.