When Aaron Wibberley goes running in Chicago where he’s a fourth-year medical student at Northwestern University, he likes to look out at Lake Michigan. The view of the water reminds him of the summer he spent at Stone Lab in 2007.
“It was by far the best summer while I was an undergrad,” said Wibberley, who spent eight weeks at Stone Laboratory taking classes and conducting research as part of his biology degree from The Ohio State University. “It feels like it was yesterday.”
Wibberley had always been interested in science, especially aquatic and marine animals. Growing up in Powell, Ohio, he was able to get seasonal jobs at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium while he was in high school and earned his scuba diving certification at age 16.
In winter 2007 when he was a sophomore, he met Stone Lab Manager Matt Thomas and Education & Outreach Coordinator Kristin Stanford at an event on the Ohio State Columbus campus. Wibberley and Thomas quickly connected, talking about diving and how they might develop a research project that was suited to Wibberley’s interests.
Wibberley was accepted to the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Scholarship Program, which paid for his tuition, room and meals during his time at Stone Lab. He worked with Thomas on his project, which examined whether Lake Erie watersnake foraging behavior was related to the makeup of the lake bottom (benthic environment).
“It was a lot of fun,” Wibberley said. “I got to do a lot of scuba diving and spent a lot of time in the boat observing snake behavior.”
On the days he wasn’t following around watersnakes, Wibberley was enrolled in ecology and limnology courses, both of which served him well a few years after he graduated, when he landed a job in Ohio State’s Aquatic Ecology Lab (AEL) working on a project studying Lake Erie walleye. But science was only one of Wibberley’s passions.
“When I graduated from Ohio State, I worked for a church on campus doing student ministry,” before joining AEL, he said. “I loved the people side of things.”
Seeking a way to combine the two led him to consider medical school, and he’s now interviewing at hospitals, hoping to be placed as an emergency medicine resident in the next few months. Though medicine may not seem to have a direct connection with his Stone Lab experience, Wibberley said his time there had a lasting impact on him.
“One thing I saw Stone Lab do really well was communicate with the public about science,” he said. “It helped me glean communication skills that I can use in healthcare, talking about patient myths or misunderstandings of medical conditions.”
The other takeaway is more obvious: the importance of research. As part of his med school curriculum, Wibberley has been conducting research on the detection of aortic dissection – a tear in the large blood vessel connecting to the heart. Diagnosing the condition and providing immediate treatment can be the difference between life and death.
“Stone Lab really helped instill the value of research in my life,” Wibberley said.