What makes a scientist? Certainly, academic skills play a large role, but curiosity and an ever-questioning mind may be the most important determinants. This natural curiosity led a recent grad to take a path that hadn’t been traveled before by a UF biology student.
Justin Hendershot ’17 is a ‘triple threat’ where science majors are concerned. Majoring in biology, forensic biology and forensic chemistry, Hendershot hopes to attend an osteopathic medical college and study pathology. Since pathologists “solve” medical mysteries, curiosity will be an asset in his chosen profession.
“Last fall, Justin was in my microbiology class and also Dr. Ben Dolan’s ecology class,” said Robert Charvat, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology. “He was at the Olive Street Nature Preserve setting up cameras to catch deer activity, when he noticed a creek. The creek had a pungent smell of sulfur and appeared filamentous, so he decided to take some water samples.”
Justin performed some initial analyses, and complimentary analysis of the samples provided by Compu-Net Laboratories in Dayton, Ohio, revealed several types of bacteria, including one that has the potential to eat and degrade plastic.
“We would need further genetic sequencing to determine more,” added Charvat, “but this could lead to developing microorganisms that could eat the huge islands of plastic that are polluting our oceans.” Charvat researched bioremediation and oil degrading bacteria while an undergraduate.
Since most of Charvat’s students are in either the animal science or pharmacy programs, he doesn’t see many water studies and thinks it would be great if the biology program could continue this water research. “Unfortunately, I caught Justin in his senior year,” he laughed.
A self-proclaimed “science nerd,” Hendershot is a graduate of Shawnee High School, Lima, Ohio. Inspired by his grandfather, who was Lima’s chief of police, he started out majoring in forensic science at UF and interned with the Lucas County Coroner’s Office during his sophomore year.
“When I started in forensics, I had heard the program was ranked very high in the nation,” he said. “Of all the colleges I visited, the University of Findlay had the best labs. I have really loved it here.”
His decision to become a physician caused Hendershot to “diversify” his major, although he continued to serve as president of the Criminal Justice/Forensic Science Club during spring semester 2017. He’s also taking a gap year, starting work this summer as an analytical chemist at Charles River Labs in Spencerville, Ohio, which is near his home. He’ll use the year to polish his skills and save money toward living expenses at medical school.
The creek continues to run through UF’s Olive Street Preserve and both Charvat and Hendershot have visited the site this summer. It’s hoped that Hendershot’s curiosity is contagious and other students will continue with the water study. Meanwhile, UF’s triple threat will continue to explore his professional and academic options. His curiosity has opened doors.