My Davidson | A Student Blog Not Just for Graduate Students: Summer Research on Hookah Smoking with Davidson College’s RISE Program

a table covered with glass beakers in a lab

Jacquelline Nyakunu ’26 discusses her chemistry and biology research as part of RISE, an undergraduate research opportunity for Davidson College students. 

About the Author

Jacquelline Nyakunu ’26 (she/her) is a bioinformatics major with a theatre minor on the premedicine track from Mutare, Zimbabwe. She serves as co-president of the Davidson African Students Association (DASA), Student Campus and Religious Life representative with Student Government (SGA), Davidson College Football Office Assistant, and a member of the Black Student Coalition (BSC). 

RISE is a four- to six-week, intensive summer research fellowship program in the sciences that introduces rising sophomores to undergraduate research. While any student is welcome to participate, the RISE program is intended for students of low income or minority backgrounds, including first generation students. After completing your first year at Davidson interacting with professors from various academic departments, you will start to develop an idea of each professors’ lab specialties. If you do not know what kind of research they are focusing on, you can always pop into their labs or offices to ask. Davidson professors love talking about their work with students. RISE Fellowship applications open in mid-March and as part of the application, you’ll choose a Davidson professor you want to work with. 

I was fortunate to spend my summer working with Prof. Hauser in her hookah lab, where we studied the smoking of shisha everyday through the EEPS machine as we tried to identify and quantify the pyrazines in smoked and unsmoked shisha. Under the guidance of Prof. Hauser and in collaboration with my five peers in the lab, I spent four weeks researching the chemical composition of the flavorings in shisha. We also partnered with Prof. Bernd’s group from the Biology Department, who were carrying out an additional investigation on the bio toxicity of those flavorings. While there are many deaths related to vaping and water pipe smoking caused by a range of illnesses from lung disease to cancer, not much more is known. Under the mentorship of Prof. Hauser and Prof. Bernd, with funding from the National Institute of Health (NIH), we are privileged to study this issue as undergraduate students. 

During my four weeks, I realized how much I love chemistry. I learned many important research skills including the use of Excel to analyze data, the use of GSC machines and how to run an EEPS program. Undergraduate research is completely different from high school experiments, and participating in RISE opened my eyes and revolutionized my understanding of undergraduate research. Davidson students, I highly recommend participating in RISE at the end of your first year so you can have the same opportunity to learn to design your own methods, make mistakes, correct yourself and start again, because science is all about the process of discovery and trying new ideas. 

What’s next for me? My colleagues and I made an academic poster that we will present during the Verner Miller Case Symposium, a showcase that happens each spring where Davidson students from every academic discipline present their research findings to the greater Davidson community. More personally, my participation in RISE felt like a stepping stone in my journey as a pre-medicine student. Having gained significant research skills, I feel prepared to start participating in clinical research.

Learn More

Learn more about the research Karen Bernd and Cindy Hauser are conducting on hookahs and e-cigarettes. 

Researchers Warn of Vaping Dangers