September 26, 2012

STUDENTS’ STORIES | Calvin Kersbergen ’14 studies mice for science research

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Calvin Kersbergen ’14 likes taking courses in bioengineering, spending weekends alpine skiing and hiking in the woods.

Oh, and cutting holes in the skulls of living mice to study the flow of blood in their brains.

“It’s basically removing part of the skull to expose the brain, and then sealing the cavity with a little glass plate so you can see down into the brain,” he said, describing the “craniotomies” he performs in his research lab. “[The mice] wake up after surgery, and then a couple of weeks later I [take brain scans] and look at … how their blood flow changes over time.”

The lab uses animal models to study brain disorders.  Kersbergen said the mice he studies are models for Alzheimer’s disease — an incurable form of dementia that affects about 26 million people worldwide, according to the American Journal of Public Health.

Kersbergen, who now hopes to go to medical school, said he did not come to Cornell expecting to perform craniotomies on rodents.

“When I first came [to Cornell] I wanted to do chemical engineering,” he said.  “I took the chemical engineering course that they have for freshmen, and it was too industrial for me, so I went toward a more medical, biological field.”

That shift in mindset led him to pursue a degree in Cornell’s biological engineering program instead.

“I wanted to take biological systems and ideas and then apply it to math and engineering,” Kersbergen said. “It was probably [Introduction to Comparative Physiology] that really got me interested in medicine and human anatomy.”

Kersbergen said that although he “didn’t have a clue” what career path he wanted to pursue before he arrived in Ithaca, the opportunity for research at the University factored into his decision to come here.

“Getting the chance to get involved with research, and working with a professor that’s actually doing real research — not like small liberal arts school research [but] real professional research — that was really exciting for me,” he said.

The opportunity to attend school far from home was also attractive, said Kersbergen, who is originally from Maine.

“I grew up in Maine, stayed in Maine, most of my family is from Maine, most of the people from my high school don’t end up leaving,” he said.

Kersbergen added that “you kind of have to amuse yourself [when you come] from a rural area” like his hometown.

“Growing up, I spent a lot of time in Acadia National Park. I did a lot of backpacking,” he said. “I mean, growing up in Maine, skiing and hiking is just about all there is.”

Kersbergen is, in fact, adept at both skiing and hiking.

A Cornell Outdoor Education leader, Kersbergen has led incoming freshmen on Outdoor Odyssey pre-orientation trips — including a six-day hike in the Adirondack Mountains — and taught a wilderness survival course in the spring.

“Basically, you just go out in the woods with nothing for a couple days and survive,” he said.

Kersbergen also began racing with Cornell’s alpine ski team last year and is now captain of the junior varsity alpine ski team for the 2012-13 season.

He said that with all of the academic and extracurricular activities he is involved with at Cornell, it is important to set aside some time to relax. He advised incoming students to strike a balance — and to “take it one day at a time.”

“As a freshman I was pretty overwhelmed. Social interaction is good, making friends is good,” Kersbergen said. “It’s also really important to get involved too. Find a community you can be involved in, something that you fit well in.”

Original Author: Duncan Yandell