U.S. Rep. Susan Wild visits Iacocca Hall at Lehigh University

U.S. Rep. Susan Wild learns about how Daniel Babcock, assistant professor of neuroscience, and his students are using fruit flies to study neurodegenerative diseases.

U.S. Rep. Susan Wild Visits Iacocca Hall Labs

The freshman Congresswoman received an overview of the biological sciences department and diversity programs at Lehigh, and also toured four different labs.

Story by

Stephen Gross

Photography by

Christa Neu

On a day that was a departure from the norm of working on legislation or voting on bills in Washington D.C., U.S. Rep. Susan Wild Thursday morning visited Lehigh, donned a white lab coat and peered into microscopes as she toured four different labs in Iacocca Hall.

With Congress away from Capitol Hill on recess this week and next, the freshman Congresswoman, a Democrat, is back home in Pennsylvania’s 7th congressional district and spent a little over an hour on campus meeting with faculty and student researchers.

Wild’s visit began with a brief meeting with Kristin Anderson, a Ph.D. candidate in neuroscience who was instrumental in arranging Thursday’s visit, and a few other faculty members, who shared with Wild information about the biological sciences department and diversity programs. They also discussed the significance of government funding in regard to the Lehigh research that Wild was about to see firsthand.

Susan Wild is briefed upon her arrival at Lehigh.

U.S. Rep. Susan Wild is given an overview of the biological sciences department upon her arrival at Lehigh.

Anderson, who said she learned from Julie Miwa, assistant professor of neuroscience, about the importance of communicating her scientific research, has been trained on science communication and advocacy through the Society for Neuroscience. Inviting Wild to Lehigh and explaining some of the work that’s being done here is not only important when it comes to federal grants, Anderson said, but it’s also about relationship building. Anderson worked with Lehigh’s Office of Government Relations to ensure a successful visit.

“Because we’re dependent on NIH and NSF—these are federally funded programs—we should be communicating what we’re doing and why it’s so important,” Anderson said. “Medical science is not controversial... Nobody is going to say they don’t support it, but unless you’re there all the time and saying, ‘This is why it’s important,’ unless you show up every year, you’re not going to get the funding.

“And that hurts everyone at Lehigh from the PI’s [principal investigators] to the undergraduates that are interested in something. So I think forming this working relationship with your congressional leaders is very important.”

Starting with the Burger Lab, Wild learned from R. Michael Burger, associate professor of neuroscience, how the brain processes information about its sensory environment. She moved on to the Lowe-Krentz Lab where Linda Lowe-Krentz, professor of biochemistry, and her students are focusing on an improved understanding of the mechanisms by which heparin—an anticoagulant—alters the physiology of endothelial and vascular smooth muscle cells. Next up was a quick stop in the Miwa Lab, which investigates complex neurobiological process such as learning and anxiety responses.

Susan Wild peers through a microscope.

Congresswoman Susan Wild peers into a microscope during her visit to Iacocca Hall labs.

Wild said she was impressed by the research she saw and enjoyed learning about some of the work being done within her district.

“I love knowing this is here,” she said, walking out of the Miwa Lab.

As Wild was given overviews of the work taking place in each of the labs she visited, she recognized that while it’s likely easy to communicate among scientists, it must be tough trying to explain their work to others.

Anderson, who spends time in Washington, D.C. with the Society for Neuroscience for the purpose of science communication, said that’s something that needs to be a part of the job, especially since they are using taxpayer money.

“That’s always the challenge,” Wild said. “There’s always requests for funding of all kinds of things but the more people can understand the end result without having to be scientists is really important.”

Wild wrapped up her visit watching the students of Daniel Babcock, assistant professor of neuroscience, dissect fruit flies and use them to study neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer ’s disease in the Babcock Lab.

Following the visit, Wild submitted formal funding requests for several federal programs that support university research programs, including those that fund research at Lehigh. The House passed most of the annual appropriations bills that fund university research in June.

Story by

Stephen Gross

Photography by

Christa Neu