Limestone Senior Earns Top Prize for Scientific Research
Cedric Williams '11

Limestone College senior Cedric Williams is quick to say that his goal in life is to make contributions within the medical field that will translate to scientific discovery that can save lives.

During a summertime program devoted to research involving the cream of the crop of student-researchers, Williams established himself as an accomplished intellectual and earned the program's Outstanding Undergraduate Poster Presentation Award.

Beginning in late May and lasting through the end of June, Williams and other invited students participated in the 24th Annual Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program at Winthrop University. Named for the NASA astronaut who perished during the 1986 flight of the Space Shuttle Challenger, the program is highly selective and is designed to prepare and encourage students from disadvantaged backgrounds who have demonstrated strong academic potential to enroll in graduate programs and eventually earn their Ph.D. degrees. The United States Department of Education provides full funding for the program.

Other colleges represented by attendees included the University of Texas, Vanderbilt University, the Wake Forest School of Medicine, and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

The participants were paired with a Winthrop faculty member and assigned a research topic. Working with Dr. Julian Smith II, Williams studied the replacement of epidermal cells-the outer layer of the skin covering the exterior body surface of vertebrates-of nemertea, also known as ribbon worms. These animals are usually less than seven inches long and are most commonly found in marine environments.

Why study the way "skin" is replicated by a small oceanic worm? "There really hasn't been much research at all about epidermal replacement in nemertea," explains Williams, "and this fills in the gap-so to speak-about how that specific form of epidermal skin is replaced. This is important for science because when, in this case, epidermal cells are being researched, it is of great importance to know if their replication differs in any way from organism to organism.

"In this particular project, we utilized an electron microscope to saturate the nermertea with particle beams to produce a magnified image that vividly showed all elements of the animal. Ultimately, we concluded that the epidermal cells in nemertea are replaced very much the same way as they are in humans. The epidermis in humans is hard at work; at the base of the epidermis, new skin cells are continually forming. As stem cells begin to differentiate, newly synthesized epidermal cells migrate upward through the layers of the epidermis. This trip takes about two weeks to a month. As newer cells continue to migrate upward, older cells that make up the superficial layers die and are sloughed off from the surface of your skin."

Presenting his work
Williams presented his findings during a round-robin-type setting known as a poster presentation. Unlike a typical presentation in which a solitary presenter speaks before an audience, all presenters are gathered in one room and stand beside a poster which details their topic and findings. Audience members comprised of students and faculty alike then walk freely through the room and engage the presenter of whatever topic strikes their fancy.

The setting can be daunting at first because everyone is speaking at the same time, and the presentation judges are not identified in any way. So I had to explain the project using the most basic terminology I could," explained Williams.

When the best presentations for the conference were announced, it was Williams who was presented with the Outstanding Undergraduate Poster Presentation Award.

With an eye towards graduate or medical school, Williams looks upon his time in the program as a brick-building experience. "The first part of each day was filled with preparation for the GRE (Graduate Record Examination), which is required for admission to many graduate schools in the country. I'm very confident that the GRE preparation we received and my scientific research experience will give me an advantage as I prepare to take that next step in my education."