After being exposed to several anatomy and physiology courses at the University of South Dakota, Hartwig developed an interest in the various physiological mechanisms of amphibians. Fueled by a strong connection with Jacob Kerby, Ph.D., chair and professor in the biology department, and her inquisitive nature, Hartwig began her undergraduate research journey.

“I would say my most impactful professor I have had thus far is Dr. Jacob Kerby," said Hartwig. "I began this project by discussing my desire to further my research abilities with him.”

Hartwig performed her research alongside fourth-year Sanford School of Medicine student, Daniella Galvin, with the specific aim of assessing the effects of selenium bioaccumulation on the Boreal chorus frogs overwinter physiology.

Hartwig chose to research the Boreal chorus frog due to its prevalence in South Dakota and its ability to undergo freeze tolerance. A specific emphasis was put on the survival of the Boreal chorus frog at varying exposures to selenium. Selenium is a vital mineral, essential for maintaining healthy cells and ensuring proper thyroid function.

Due to water contamination issues, Hartwig and Galvin were unable to collect the necessary data to conduct their intended analysis.

“Instead, we simulated values we would have expected if our hypothesis were correct and analyzed the accuracy of the project based on survival time," said Hartwig. "Therefore as selenium exposure concentrations increase, a decrease in cryoprotectant synthesis and overall survival was seen.”

Hartwig presented her projected research results at USD’s IdeaFest in April of 2023.

“By performing my research, we could have gained insight into the effects of selenium bioaccumulation not only on our environment but also on various amphibian species," said Hartwig. "These results also could have led to conservation efforts that need to be made to prevent accumulation in our aqueous environments.”

Although Hartwig's research may not have gone as planned, her project resulted in an unexpected opportunity. Due to her dedication to this research project, Professor Jacob Kerby has since hired Hartwig as a lab assistant where she performs qPCR and DNA extraction for various projects.

Hartwig is currently working toward her master's degree in biology with a specialization in neuroscience, while completing her undergraduate degree. After graduation, Hartwig plans on pursuing a professional degree in health care, with an emphasis on rural health care.

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