Senior projects can be stressful, but it helps to have a friend by your side. Haley Brashears, from Harrisburg, Illinois, and Miranda Jackson, from Jerseyville, Illinois, are both environmental science majors and best friends who collaborated on their URCA projects.

For their projects, they studied the effects of environmental pollutants on a small aquatic flatworm, also known as a planarian. Jackson’s project focuses on the effects caused by glyphosate, whereas Brashears’ was focused on the effects of microplastics.

Associate Professor of Environmental Science Kyong Yoon served as the pair’s primary mentor on their projects.

“They’re using a freshwater invertebrate animal called planarians. Planarians are actually a useful model organism for studying tissue regeneration and aging issues,” Yoon said. “We were particularly interested in using this model organism for testing the effects of environmental pollutants such as glyphosate, which is a widely used herbicide, and plastic waste that ends up in our stream systems, that through the weathering process are ground up and broken down.”

Glyphosate is commonly used in herbicide, but often leeches into the environment around it.

Jackson said, “Glyphosate is the active ingredient in an herbicide called Roundup that I’m sure everyone knows and uses. It’s also ubiquitous in the environment and has been known to cause some adverse health effects.” 

Brashears expressed the benefit of living together while working on their projects.

“We get to come home and talk about our projects together, and get to talk about our ideas with one another pretty much whenever we want. I’ll just be sitting in my room and go over to her and be like, ‘I have this really cool idea, what do you think?’ and then we can give each other constructive criticism and actually figure out what’s best and what’s most relevant to do next with our projects,” Brashears said.

Jackson emphasized how their friendship and living situation prevented challenges in communication.

“We live together and we met at SIUE, so working hand-in-hand with my best friend was kind of awesome,” Jackson said. “We got to talk about it at school, at home, in our classes, while we were just sitting at home, so there were really no challenges as far as communication, which I think was a really big benefit to the project.”

Collaboration between departments is common for SIUE’s various science faculty, and research will often overlap within multiple fields. Brashears’ and Jackson’s projects were overseen by both Yoon and Associate Professor of Biology Amy Hubert.

“Our department has faculty members with a very wide range of backgrounds, and then everyone has a different research focus. It’s pretty common to collaborate with other faculty members from different departments,” Yoon said.

Jackson initially started her studies as a biology major, but shifted to environmental science due to her passion for how the environment impacts biology.

“I’ve always been really passionate about the health of the environment. When I started, I was originally a biology major, and I took the introductory courses, but I started learning more about toxicants in the environment that are man-made and I just got more passionate about why this was happening, the fate of these chemicals, how it affects us and other organisms,”Jackson said.

Brashears said it’s impossible to do research like this alone. 

“This is all about teamwork. Collaboration is so important to the scientific process, and for mental stability and sanity. I just think everyone should really not be afraid to reach out and ask for help, and to tell people when you need someone,” Brashears said.

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