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Lehigh Carbon Community College

Chemistry Collaboration: Honors Scholars Conduct Ph.D. Research

By Daniel Melin

Many students at Lehigh Carbon Community College have had the opportunity to connect with former students to exchange knowledge, experiences and more. Emma Miller and Dane Santa are taking it a step further. Miller, a biology major set to graduate in May 2024, has joined an ongoing research project led by Santa, a 2019 biology graduate, as a part of his Ph.D. studies in chemistry at Lehigh University. Each week, they meet at Lehigh University to research lipid membranes.

“We study interactions between different components in cell membranes, especially lipids that are linked to disease and immune response,” Santa says, “like how damaged molecules affect the physical properties of the lipid bilayer membranes. If a membrane contains damaged components, effectively, good things leak out of the cell, bad things can enter the cell, and that causes internal damage and cell death.”

Miller, who receives course credit for participating in the research, says she’s not only gaining great experience through this opportunity, but also putting her knowledge from the classroom into a practical setting. “[Santa’s] portion is looking at interactions between oxidized lipids associated with cardiovascular disease and immune cell proteins in lipid bilayers,” she says, “but what I’m looking at is how platelet-activating lipids affect bilayer formation.”

The collaborative element of Santa’s research comes as a result of the grant he received from the National Science Foundation through the Graduate Research Fellowship Program, which stresses the importance of community-building. Since community college STEM students are not always given the means to conduct their own research, Santa uses his grant to help resolve that. “My simple goal for the project is to give community college students opportunities to have experiences that they normally wouldn’t have,” he says. “Using advanced research methods and going through the process of doing experiments multiple times” are just a few of the ways this program can benefit LCCC’s STEM students.

The opportunity to conduct professional research at the community college level is one of the reasons Miller expressed interest in the project when Santa visited her class. “I’ve been exposed to different equipment that I wouldn’t be able to use otherwise,” she says. “Going through the research process, learning that not everything goes your way and being able to learn from that has been important.”

Not only have Miller and Santa been able to professionally collaborate, but they’ve also been able to connect via their shared experiences as LCCC Honors students. The Honors Scholars Program, which provides students with a rigorous two years of study at no tuition cost, laid the foundation for their success. They both found the cohort-based structure of the program, along with the many cultural events and activities to be beneficial in fostering their academic curiosity.

With Santa five years out from graduation and Miller approaching it steadily, they reflect fondly on their time at LCCC. For Santa, his microbiology lab course at LCCC was the moment he realized he wanted to pursue biological research. Miller recalls her biology II lab, where her class would venture to the Trexler Nature Preserve for field research on sunny days.

Santa hopes that the program expands into other STEM fields and that more LCCC students will be able to gain research experience before graduation. For more information about the Honors Scholars Program, visit, email or email