Mehling Awarded First Place During Pitch Competition

Marina ’20 is a current senior studying biological engineering at Purdue.

The Purdue Office of Undergraduate Research was able to host the campus’s first Research Pitch Competition in March. During the event, 10 student researchers were selected to present their three-minute pitches in front of a live audience and judging panel.

Marina Mehling ’21, a current Purdue undergraduate researcher studying biological engineering, was awarded first place during the competition for her presentation. Titled “Let’s Make Plants Fat,” Marina’s research focuses on how to genetically modify plants to produce oils that are normally petroleum-derived. Working with the Dyer Lab at the U.S. Arid-Land Agricultural Research Center in Arizona, Marina aims to have plants produce high levels of these foreign oils in their leaves.

“When performing our research, we ensure that the genetic modifications do not prevent the plants from growing and recovering from stresses normally,” says Marina. “I strongly believe that using agriculture to harvest the world’s energy through biodiesels can mitigate the global dependency on fossil fuels.”

Marina performed research with Dr. John Dyer at his lab in Arizona.

Marina was able to learn the importance of undergraduate research early on in her education. After applying for the Project Puente internship program as a junior in high school, Marina was first introduced to her future research mentor, Dr. John Dyer.

“One of my science teachers, Mr. Williams, really encouraged me to apply for Project Puente, which pairs students with labs across various agriculture research facilities in Arizona,” says Marina.

The research I presented during the pitch competition was actually part of my continuing work for the Dyer Lab, where I have interned every summer and winter break since starting. I love working in this lab and have learned a lot from Dr. Dyer’s guidance and patience.”

Along with working in the Dyer Lab, Marina performs research with Dr. Cramer, a distinguished professor of biological sciences at Purdue. In the Cramer Lab, she is currently finishing up an independent project that investigates the role of lipids in the stability of photosynthetic complexes.

“I work with cyanobacteria, which is a type of bacteria more commonly known as blue-green algae,” says Marina. “I have developed methods to grow cyanobacteria anaerobically and study how growth conditions affect their lipid compositions.”

I strongly believe that using agriculture to harvest the world’s energy through biodiesels can mitigate the global dependency on fossil fuels.

Marina Mehling ’21

When deciding whether or not to participate in the Research Pitch Competition, Marina knew that it was an opportunity to challenge her presentation skills.

“Participating in the competition was definitely not something within my comfort zone,” says Marina. “I am used to presenting my research in a technical fashion and worried that I would be unable to make it relatable or exciting for an audience. Many of my friends helped me practice my pitch and this made me a lot more confident. The support from staff and friends in the audience also made the experience really special.”

Marina was awarded first place at the Research Pitch Competition.

Undergraduate research has taught Marina how to utilize her skills to make the world a more sustainable place. When asked what she has learned about herself throughout the process, Marina mentioned how much her passion for science, engineering, and plants has grown.

“I originally thought only conservation biologists could help the world’s ecosystem,” says Marina. “Conservation is truly a multi-faceted fight and getting involved in research has shown me that I can make an impact on the world.”

There is a diversity of research styles and topics at Purdue. I believe that finding a mentor who understands your availability and can supply you with the level of independence or dependence you want is just as important as finding a research topic that interests you. Get involved and be persistent!”

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