News at WilmU

From Reefs to Rockets: NASA Partners With WilmU

WilmU students learning in the biology lab

When you think of colorful sea coral, what places come to mind? Australia, Belize, Fiji? Add Wilmington University to that list. In a state-of-the-art biology lab on its Brandywine campus, students are fighting the effects of ocean warming in a race to save coral reefs. 

“I absolutely love what we’re doing,” says Samantha Kidwell, a junior majoring in Biology. “Our goal in our lab is to research ways to help the coral be more resilient to these changes in the ocean and to increase the population.” 

Thanks to NASA’s National Space Grant College and Fellowship Project — which funds STEM-related research in every state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico — WilmU students experiment on a non-stony coral relative called aiptasia, using DNA sequencing to study stress genes and help improve heat tolerance. 

Dr. Milton Muldrow

Dr. Milton Muldrow

“Space Grant has supercharged students’ careers,” says Dr. Milton Muldrow, associate director of NASA Delaware Space Grant and director of the University’s Natural Sciences programs. “Last year, a student was plucked right out of the lab.” 

That student, Sarah LaTorre, joined ChristianaCare’s Gene Editing Institute as a science educator intern. After graduating from Wilmington University this spring with a bachelor’s degree in Biology, she’ll work full time at the Institute. 

“I started college undecided and unsure where the future was going to take me, but Space Grant really formed me as a scientist,” LaTorre says. “It’s been life changing.” 

Space Grant offered a chance to “do research I was passionate about and build confidence in the lab setting,” she says. “I’m extremely proud of the work.” 

“Proud” also describes Dr. Muldrow, a caring mentor who helps his students succeed. 

“We will work closely with you during your time to make sure you get where you want to go,” he says. “I have some people who really looked out for me along the way. I surely wouldn’t have been here without some of my great mentors.” 

“I started college undecided and unsure where the future was going to take me, but Space Grant really formed me as a scientist. It’s been life changing.” — Sarah LaTorre

From reefs to rockets — LaTorre and other students also enjoy NASA’s annual RockOn! workshop at Wallops Island, Virginia, where they launch a project into space. 

Through coding and engineering, “students have put together a device to measure things like radiation and temperature,” Dr. Muldrow says. “Every year, it’s been successful. We’ve gotten the payload into space.” 

Back on Earth, WilmU scientists continue to combat the negative impact of climate change on coral while offering some positive advice to fellow and prospective Wildcats. 

“Seize every opportunity that there is because you won’t know until you experience something what your heart truly wants,” says Kidwell, who calls Dr. Muldrow “a great person to have on your side.” 

“I want people to feel inspired to pursue their passions,” LaTorre says. “Like Dr. Muldrow would say, ‘Onward and upward!’” 

Wilmington University logoLearn the skills you need to start a rewarding scientific career at Wilmington University’s College of Health Professions and Natural Sciences. 

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