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Mulcahy Scholar examines how reptiles reveal the effects of climate change on humans

Mulcahy Scholar examines how reptiles reveal the effects of climate change on humans

Judy Kyrkos, an anthropology and biology major, studies in the Donovan Reading Room in the Cudahy Library. Kyrkos' research explores how heat stress on lizards can reveal the effects of climate change on humans. (photo by Natalie Battaglia)

By Gabrielle Barnes | Student Reporter

Senior Judy Kyrkos is at home in a laboratory and passionate about dead reptiles in jars. The reptiles are part of her research on climate change and its effect on lizards. Kyrkos, an anthropology major and biology minor, recently researched whether heat stress led to more defects in lizard embryos. She found that her hypothesis was correct and is now evaluating the results. Kyrkos, who is also a Mulcahy Scholar, had the honor of presenting this research at the annual Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology meeting, an opportunity most undergraduate students can only dream about.

What was it like presenting your research at the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology meeting? 
The experience was interesting and I definitely learned a lot. There were over 2,000 people there and it was interesting to see how the meetings work in an academic setting and how people from diverse backgrounds come together for a common interest. I was assigned to a two-hour poster session where I explained my research to a wide range of people. I discussed my research with some fellow undergraduates but also experts with PhDs in the field. So, I had to be prepared to field different questions. It was a great way to collaborate with people doing similar work. 

How has your experience as a student at Loyola inspired your research? 
I think the research project presence is really strong here, with incentives given by LUROP and other research opportunities. When I entered as a pre-med student, the school suggested I get involved in research because medical schools look for students with research experience. After I decided not to pursue medical school, I knew that the research-track would be my way of entering the spectrum. There are a lot of professors here doing really cool projects. It’s a totally different experience being able to work with them outside of the classroom. 

Why do you think your specific research is important?
With climate change being such a real thing, looking at how thermal stress affects this one specific species of lizards is necessary because affecting one species can cause a spiraling cascade on others. For me, I’m always trying to connect it back to humans because I’m passionate about social justice issues. I like the overlap between science and figuring out how humans work on a biological level. I wonder, “If these embryos are sensitive to heat stress, how will human embryos react to heat stress in the future?” These are the bigger questions, but they cannot be neglected.

What are your plans for the future? 
I am applying to the John Felice Rome Center as a student life assistant and to Teach for America to teach S.T.E.M. to high schoolers in underserved populations. However, these are temporary paths--I’m not done learning, I want to narrow down my passions and ultimately enroll in a graduate program in the future.