Archeology and parasite research will take Searcey to Chile on Fulbright

Released on 04/25/2012, at 2:00 AM
Office of University Communications
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Lincoln, Neb., April 25th, 2012 —
Nicole Searcey
Nicole Searcey

            Nicole Searcey will spend 2013 far away from Nebraska on a Fulbright fellowship, analyzing ancient human remains and their intestinal remains on an archeological research site in Chile.

            After graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in December with a degree in biological sciences and a minor in English, Searcey will use a Fulbright fellowship to travel to Chile for 10 months to research the parasitology of ancient civilizations. A native of Tecumseh, she is the seventh Fulbright student announced at UNL this spring.

            Searcey is experienced in high-intensity research in parasitology. In 2011, she received scholarships to attend the World Congress on Mummy Studies, part of the annual American Association of the Advancement of Science meeting. She traveled to San Diego, where she met distinguished scientists from around the world. At that meeting, Searcey presented a poster on her parasitology research of the Zweeloo Woman bog body, which later received the award for best student poster presentation. (A bog body is a naturally preserved human corpse found in a sphagnum bog. The Zweelo Woman was discovered in 1951 in the Netherlands.)

            "Nicole is really open to faculty suggestions about ways to make her University of Nebraska experience a rewarding one intellectually," said John Janovy Jr., biological sciences professor emeritus.

            Searcey has worked on two different Undergraduate Creative Activities and Research Experiences projects. In her first year of UCARE, she studied gill parasite ecology in small fish of Nebraska under the guidance of Janovy, her UCARE faculty mentor.

            "She used three-dimensional nearest neighbor software, designed in our lab, to address the question of whether closely related parasite species sorted themselves out by species into separate micro-environments as predicted by ecological theory," Janovy said.

            After winning student paper competitions at two different regional scientific meetings, that part of her research came to a close. The following year, Searcey decided to focus on archaeoparasitology, a combination of archaeology and parasitology. Now, Searcey is taking images of lice and nit eggs on the hair of 1,800-year-old mummies from southern Peru, with the assistance of Karl Reinhard, a professor in the UNL School of Natural Resources.

            "Understanding the species of lice on these mummies may reveal indications of ancient human migrations," Searcey said.

            In Chile, Searcey will study and do research at the El Centro de Investigaciones del Hombre en el Desierto, a part of the Universidad de Tarapaca. She will analyze archaeological sites, mummies and coprolites -- dehydrated intestinal remains either inside or passed from a body.

            "By linking evidence of infection with other archaeological data, the variation of infection between ancient cultural sites can be linked to a variety of social and ecological changes, such as status, community size, food habits, environmental change and seasonality," Searcey said.

            Searcey has been a teaching assistant in the UNL School of Biological Sciences, a mentor in the William H. Thompson Scholars Program, a member of the Dean's Scholars Society and a volunteer for science days and fairs in Lincoln.

            The Fulbright Program, established in 1946 and funded by the U.S. Department of State, is designed to foster understanding between the United States and other countries. The U.S. Student Fulbright program gives recent graduates, graduate students and young professionals the opportunity to conduct research, study or teach in one of the 155 countries that the program operates. The Fulbright program is the flagship international education program sponsored by the U.S. government. About 8,000 grants are awarded annually, and about 1,600 of those grants are awarded to U.S. students.

Writer: Haley Whisennand, Honors Program


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