SIOUX CITY | Why not? That’s the question that led Morningside College senior and Sioux City native Mallory Sea to Japan to study synthetic organic chemistry this summer.
Sea, a biology and chemistry major, applied, and was accepted, to be an Amgen Scholar to conduct research in a chemistry lab at the University of Tokyo in June.
The scholar program is funded by the Amgen Foundation to provide students around the world an opportunity to participate in cutting-edge research.
Seeking internships to add hands-on work to her resume, Sea applied to chemistry and biology programs at the University of Wisconsin, the University of Nebraska and Virginia Tech. But one stood out.
“I was looking at the Amgen website and found they had one in Japan,” she said. “Since I had all the materials together already, I thought, ‘Why not just apply?’”
A pretty big leap for someone who had never been out of the country, she admitted, but one that would provide invaluable insight to a possible career choice.
Morningside President John Reynders said her adventurous ambition reflects the student Sea is in the classroom.
"She welcomes adventures that take her out of her comfort zone, gaining exposure to new ideas from people around the world," he said."
From June 8 to July 31, Sea said she often worked 12-hour days with her mentor, professor Eiichi Nakamura. Her end project, she said, was to get a better picture of the surface of proteins. Her work allowed her to create a brand new molecular compound.
Sea said the work was not necessarily a new experience, as she’s experimented and researched synthetic chemistry before. Being in Japan, however, required a learning curve to operate equipment and read manuals. She mainly learned to use equipment through prior experience with similar tools and watching her teacher.
“Since half of it was Japanese, I had to watch a mentor do it and learn how to click what at what time,” she said. “It took a while but once you got in the swing of it, you had it memorized.”
The work itself, Sea described as intense. Arriving at 8 a.m. and leaving at 8 p.m., she noted some workers in the lab were there before her in the morning and were still there at night. She said it wasn’t uncommon to see a professor brush his teeth in the hallway fountain.
“Intense is definitely the right word,” she said. “It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
One of Sea’s chemistry professors at Morningside, Brian McFarland, said he was not surprised she obtained and succeeded at the internship. He said in the two years he’s known her, Sea has shown the ability and determination to work through tough tasks.
“Not only has she shown intelligence, but has shown initiative and enthusiasm the rare times she has struggled with something,” he said. “I’ve seen a strong work ethic, persistence and intellectual curiosity.”
The experience allowed her to build off her previous knowledge of chemistry but also opened her eyes to new research techniques, scientific knowledge and even world experiences.
Touring Japan, she said she noticed some differences between the United States and Tokyo that, to her, seemed a little unusual, such as an Easter celebration in July at Tokyo Disney, the use of five different trash cans or the Japanese perspective of Americans.
“I got asked multiple times if I own a gun or a pickup truck,” she said, with a laugh. “They even ordered me corn tea once.”
The experiences, she said, created unforgettable memories. In a foreign country with fellow students from around the world, including Australia, China, Korea and Georgia, Sea became ambitious to explore the world.
“Every time I stepped out there and tried something new (in Japan), I didn’t regret it and it made my experience that much more amazing,” she said.
Sea will get an opportunity to expand on that newly founded travel bug, as she will begin a study abroad program in Panama starting Sept. 4. She will have the opportunity to study marine ecosystems -- a chance to build on her other major, biology.
The 18 credit program will vastly differ from her summer trip to Tokyo. The first half of the program, she said, will be class work. Then, she said, she’ll hit the field six days a week for research, which required the purchase of a wetsuit.
Her forays in Panama may include snorkeling to get an up close look of underwater ecosystems.
Sea said the ability to gain hands-on experience in both biology and chemistry is invaluable. Not only has she increased her knowledge educationally, but Sea said she's also gained insight to a desired career path.
"It's unreal," she said. "The real world experiences have been super helpful and they've helped me learn more about myself than anything."