Hope College has named sophomore Brooke Van Wyk of Jenison a 2019-20 Beckman Scholar through the college’s Beckman Scholars Program award from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation.
The award will support Van Wyk, who is dual majoring in biology and music, as she conducts collaborative research with Dr. Gregory Fraley, professor of biology. She will work full-time with Fraley for 10 weeks during each of the next two summers and part-time during the academic year in between.
Hope has held an active Beckman Scholars Program grant since the initiative began in 1998, and with a total of eight has received more than any other college or university in the country. The current grant will support a total of four students: two starting last year, Van Wyk starting this coming summer and one beginning in the summer of 2020.
Van Wyk and Fraley will be focusing on the research project “Neurobiology of Light Perception in Poultry to Improve Housing Design and Bird Welfare.” Van Wyk began conducting research with Fraley during the spring semester of her freshman year, and plans to continue to work with him through her senior year.
“We’re grateful for the opportunity that the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation has provided for more than two decades for us to recognize and support outstanding student scientists at Hope,” said Dr. David Van Wylen, dean for natural and applied sciences at Hope. “Brooke has already had great success in the Fraley lab, and as a mentored Beckman Scholar will continue to gain valuable experience and contribute to the understanding of avian biology.”
The research being conducted by Van Wyk and Fraley has been prompted by the poultry industry’s practice of simulating the longer day lengths of spring and summer to extend the seasonal breeding of chickens and ducks, which the project abstract notes will become increasingly necessary as global demand for greater food production increases.
“The World Health Organization and the U.S. National Institute of Food and Agriculture have determined that in order to feed the Earth’s growing population, world-wide food production will need to double by 2050,” the project abstract explains. “The fastest-growing food animal and the world’s most popular source of protein is poultry, including chickens and ducks.”
The birds respond to the light via photoreceptors in their brains, but how the photoreceptors work is unknown. That’s the question that Fraley and Van Wyk are seeking to answer.
“We will assess the biological mechanisms by which these photoreceptors function by studying the birds’ behaviors, hormones and molecular biology,” the abstract continues. The hope, it notes, is that “once we understand the neurobiology of these photoreceptors we can help the poultry industry design better housing for birds to improve food production and the welfare and wellbeing of poultry.”
The Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation provides grants to researchers and non-profit research institutions in chemistry and life sciences to promote scientific discoveries, and particularly to foster the invention of methods, instruments and materials that will open up new avenues of research. The Beckman Scholars Program provides support for stipends and supplies for select students at recipient institutions to engage in in-depth research with designated faculty members in biomedically relevant science disciplines.
Since the program began, the college has named 29 students Beckman Scholars, including Van Wyk. The other current Beckman Scholars, selected last spring, are juniors Alicia Bostwick of Zionsville, Indiana, and Skylar Sundquist of Paris, Michigan. In addition, the two most recent past recipients, supported from the summer of 2017 through the summer of 2018, are seniors this year: Brandon Derstine of Beaverton, Michigan, and Grace Kunkel of Rochester, New York.
The college’s Beckman Scholars are among hundreds of students who conduct mentored collaborative research campus-wide at Hope each year. Approximately 200 engage in research full-time during the summer, and about 300 part-time during the school year. Hope has been honored multiple times through the years for its emphasis on undergraduate-faculty collaborative scholarship, including with prestigious AURA (Award for Undergraduate Research Accomplishment) recognition from the Council on Undergraduate Research in the fall of 2017.