Attending science camp as a child sparked a love of biology for Amber K. Weiner ’14. Years later, even after an accomplished academic year, she still chooses to dedicate her summer to scientific study.
Instead of taking a well-deserved break before she enters her senior year this fall at Arcadia University in Glenside, Pa., Weiner is interning at the nation’s first independent institution devoted to medical research and training. Established in 1892, The Wistar Institute in Philadelphia is an international leader in biomedical research. Weiner is assisting Dr. Harold C. Riethman, associate professor in the molecular and cellular oncogenesis program at the Institute, who studies genetics as they relate to cancer and aging.
“To work and learn alongside Dr. Riethman is an honor,” says Weiner, a Bucks County native. “It brings me one step closer to becoming the principal investigator of a laboratory one day.”
So far, Weiner is making an impression with her work at the Institute.
“Amber has already made important contributions in her own right to our lab’s investigation,” says Dr. Riethman. “She is detail-oriented, thoughtful, and thorough in the lab – all critical qualities for becoming a successful scientist.”
At Arcadia, Weiner works alongside Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Sheryl Smith studying the effects of Bisphenol-A (BPA) on the growth and development of Drosophila melanogaster, known as the common fruit fly. In her research with Dr. Smith, Weiner found that BPA, an industrial chemical used to make certain plastics and resins, increased the growth rate in larvae and altered gene expression levels. While human studies suggest BPA may interfere with both childhood obesity and the onset of puberty, Smith says Weiner’s findings are significant.
“Amber’s work provides a direct link between BPA and developmental changes that affect growth and maturation in the fruit fly,” says Smith.
The Genetic Society of America (GSA) invited Weiner, along with lab partner AnnJosette Ramirez ’14 of Morrisville, Pa., to present their findings at the Drosophila Research and Pedagogy at Primarily Undergraduate Institutions workshop held at GSA’s 54th annual Drosophila Research Conference April 3-7 in Washington, D.C.
In addition to receiving national attention for her research, Weiner is a two-time recipient of the national $5,000 Carl Buchan Scholarship, awarded to just 50 students each year by home improvement retailer Lowe’s. Her recognition at Arcadia includes the President’s Prize, awarded to the junior with the highest cumulative grade point average, and her recent installation into the University’s chapter of Phi Kappa Phi national honor society.
During the school year Weiner tutors multiple subjects to fellow students through Arcadia’s Learning Resource Network, a resource for undergraduates in need of academic support, and in the fall she will work as an in-class bioinformatics tutor. Other campus involvement includes search committees for biology faculty and for the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, performing in Arcadia’s dance team, and the Knight Club.
In January, Weiner assisted Dr. Smith in organizing the Mid-Atlantic Genomics Education Partnership Bioinformatics Workshop, attended by 25 faculty members from area colleges and universities interested in promoting the integration of genomics into their curricula. From her lab work with her lab partners and Dr. Smith to the workshop, Weiner has benefited from Arcadia’s integrative learning experience and personal attention from faculty.
“Without Dr. Smith’s guidance, I would not have the skills needed to intern at Wistar,” says Weiner, “and my Arcadia experience would not be the same without her and my lab partners.”
Likewise, Dr. Smith, who is grateful for her mentee’s accomplishments in addition to her optimism and warm personality, says the lab would not be the same without Weiner.
“The signature bright flower Amber wears in her hair daily seems to signify a determination to begin each day with a positive outlook,” says Dr. Smith. “She is the one in the lab who remembers and gives a card for every birthday, she coordinates outings, and is truly the ‘glue’ for our research group.”