Richmond provides one-of-a-kind learning environments for our student-athletes. All of our opportunities for faculty research are incredible, but we wouldn’t blame you for getting a tiny bit jealous about this particular story.

This summer, Gershom Ejoni, ’20, a redshirt sophomore on the football team, and Melanie Lippert, ’19, a rising junior on the women’s soccer team, are working in biology professor Malcolm Hill’s lab. They are among Richmond’s many student-athletes who excel in the lab and on the field.

Hill’s student researchers spent two weeks collecting samples in the Florida Keys on the flats or from coral reefs, where he has been researching for about 10 years. The students brought back tissue samples from sponges and algae specimens to analyze and study in the Gottwald labs.

“It’s a lot of work,” Ejoni said. “It was hot and tiring, but I saw things a lot of people don’t get to see. I got to snorkel in a coral reef, and I swam with sharks. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and a really humbling experience to see how beautiful the world actually is.”

Back in the lab, each of them runs experiments, formulating and testing hypotheses about the symbiotic relationships between life around the reef. For their group, they use sponges as a model organism for understanding the symbiotic relationships and carry out a variety of tests as they gain valuable research experience.

“This is my third summer doing research and my second summer working with Malcolm,” said Lippert. Her work in the lab was aimed at seeing how disrupting algae’s ability to photosynthesize might affect the health of sponges. After the experiment, she counts the number of algae cells in sponges to see how well her hypothesis holds up.

 “The work they do here is different than what they would do in a classroom,” Hill said, “because they get to apply the knowledge they’ve been learning in a theoretical context in a class to real-world problems and contribute to some really important research.”

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