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Photo captions: 1) Jeff Hamilton (’15) won a competitive REU internship [credit Jeff Hamilton]. 2) Invasive sea lampreys each chew on and kill up to 40 pounds of Great Lakes fish in their 6-year lives [courtesy of Michigan State University]. 

Jeff HamiltonHamilton studies lampreys in NSF integrative biology of social behaviors internship

BILLINGS, May 10, 2014 –Jeff Hamilton (’15) is spending the summer researching sea lampreys, sucking jawless eels, in a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). 

Hamilton, a biology major from Salt Lake City, Utah, began 10 weeks of hands-on research experience May 18th in labs at Michigan State University to examine an array of lamprey social behaviors (parenting, mating, aggression, social preference) and associated processes from a broad range of perspectives in neuroscience, endocrinology, evolution, and ecology.

Invasive sea lampreys first decimated Great Lakes fisheries in the 1960s, and governments spend more than $10 million each year to limit their populations. REU scholarships offer free room, board, travel, and a $5,000 stipend. At the end of his internship, Hamilton presents at an all-MSU undergraduate research symposium.

“Back in fall semester, I hadn't put any thoughts to internships; I'm used to just taking more classes,” Hamilton said. “My adviser Dr. [Cristi] Hunnes [professor of chemistry] suggested that I start looking for some internship opportunities to strengthen my résumé to get into graduate school. … Dr. [Dan] Albrecht [professor of biology] then sent me a link to apply for this internship and it was right up my alley.”

“Good professors are great teachers, but great professors are excellent teachers and also great mentors that interact with you outside of their classes. They are experts in their fields and it’s great when they are willing to take the time to talk with you about literally anything,” he said.

Lamprey Bite

“Rocky has been a great place for me. [It’s] been the place that has really focused my goals and [helped] me prepare for continuing my education past my B.A.,” Hamilton noted. “Back in Salt Lake I was going to a community college. I've had amazing professors at both schools, but the professors here at Rocky are the direct link I will use to truly start my career in the biological sciences.”

“I always tell people that my curiosity is my biggest strength. I simply love to learn. The general classes that I took actually shaped my perception of life more so than anything else I've ever done,” he said. “I think that I chose biology as a major so I can take that a step further, since the natural world around me is the most amazing thing that has ever existed.”

Hamilton will bring back to RMC his summer experience with professors who discovered and synthesized lamprey pheromones found in their bile salts and who decoded the complete DNA sequence of the 500-million-year-old jawless fish. “The interactions that take place around us are mind-boggling in complexity and they exist independent of us humans. To learn about those processes is what really motivates me to become a biologist. I just find it fascinating!” Hamilton said.