Presbyterian College Graduate Studying the Novel Coronavirus

I chose infectious disease because I really like how involved you can be in the research and how much of an impact you can make. There are so many gray areas within infectious disease which allows you to become a well-encompassed scientist instead of only focusing in one area or one disease.” - Sydney Ronzulli

On the Front Lines of Research & virtual honors.




Presbyterian College graduate Sydney Ronzulli has been working on experiments with the novel coronavirus that could serve as evidence for opening businesses and states.

I am specifically focusing on developing experiments to detect human antibodies toward the novel SARS-CoV-2,” she said. According to Ronzulli, several methods for detecting the novel coronavirus have already been established and used in a clinical setting. However, they allow detection for only a short period of time.

“Serological experiments (experiments using serum) allow a person to understand the antibody response that is mounted in response to the virus, determine the real infection and infection fatality rates, and can identify individuals who are potentially immune after reinfection,” she said.


Learning about the Coronavirus 

Since COVID-19 emerged so fast, there haven’t been enough substances that can be used in experiments that can bind to the coronavirus to know if the virus is actually there.

“It could be, but if our substance is not correct, we could never truly know,” Ronzulli said. 

That’s where Ronzulli and fellow researchers at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine come in. They’ve been collaborating with Dr. Florian Krammer, a  renowned virologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai. Krammer developed the experiments and substances to bind to the coronavirus.

“Dr. Krammer sent us reagants (the substances that bind to the coronavirus) that went through multiple rounds of testing with SARS-CoV-2 to prove they are reliable for binding and detecting the virus as well,” Ronzulli said. 


Can someone get the coronavirus more than once?  

Ronzulli is helping to troubleshoot and optimize the experiments to make sure the results can be reproduced and are consistent. Once they are, they can be used in research studies and for testing in clinical laboratories.

“These studies are very important because several researchers have shown that reinfection does not occur once antibody responses have been mounted,” Ronzulli said.

“What this means for us is that individuals who have mounted an immune response to SARS-CoV-2 are likely now immune and are unlikely to transmit the virus to others. 

“That would mean healthcare workers who are immune can take care of COVID-19 patients with minimal risk to themselves, their coworkers or other patients.”


A Passion for Research 

Ronzulli originally decided to pursue a doctor of veterinary medicine after earning her biology degree from PC in 2017. She says her professors at PC served as inspiration for her to pursue more research-based work.

“Their aid and enthusiasm helped me harbor the love and passion I had for research,” Ronzulli said.

Now, she is pursuing a PhD in Comparative Biomedical Sciences with an emphasis in Infectious Diseases.

“I chose infectious disease because I really like how involved you can be in the research and how much of an impact you can make,” Ronzulli said. “There are so many gray areas within infectious disease which allows you to become a well-encompassed scientist instead of only focusing in one area or one disease.” 


Presbyterian College students present, perform online for Honors Day


Though the backdrops weren’t physically classrooms or auditoriums, Presbyterian College students presented scholarly work and performed musical solos to campus. Guests used their computers or smartphones to peruse a virtual gallery from PC’s senior art student. 

The academic presentations and performances went on across digital platforms for this year’s Honors Day on April 23.

The annual symposium was held virtually for the first time, allowing for students in the College to continue the tradition of sharing the results of their academic efforts, even during a time of social distancing and online learning. As faculty, students and other members of campus logged onto live streams and YouTube, they were able to watch presentations, posters, performances and programs from across the humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and pharmacy.

The Thursday event was a way for presenters like physics student Emily Mitchell to share months-long work with an audience. She has been working on her project about interactive chess with partner, Preston Robinette, for a few semesters.

“We had another partner (Andrew Ellis) who worked with us at the beginning but has gone to Vanderbilt to finish his dual degree program,” Mitchell said. “We built a chessboard that would tell the user which locations a specific piece could go when picked up. 

“It was very involved both with software/programming elements as well as construction and wiring. We are still in the process of completing the final board, but we did present our progress and a sample 3x3 board that worked well. It was exciting to have something to show and to have good progress done on this project.”

She and Robinette prepared by editing and practicing their talk together for a pre-recorded session. Mitchell said she missed the engagement from the traditional Q&A and the “buzz” that Honors Day creates on campus, but was glad they were able to present virtually due to the circumstances. 

Emily Swanigan, who presented her research on the Algerian Revolution, was also happy to present live to her teachers, peers and those who tuned in. “A digital presentation meant that since people couldn’t really focus on me standing in front of them, I had to be as engaging as possible in my explanations of my arguments and research,” said Swanigan, whose discussion covered anti-colonial violence and the events that led Algeria and France into war.

“The greatest reward was finally getting to talk about what I meant and how this research has defined me in the past few months.”

Honors Day organizer, Dr. Stefan Wiecki, shared he is glad the day went well and was overall successful.

“I was very glad that our first Virtual Honors Day was so well received and that students were able to share their fascinating research with the wider campus community.”

He extended thanks for the work and support of colleagues, including Sarah Burns, Kate Hanlon, Kirk Nolan, Margo Petukh, Latha Gearheart, Andrea Fuhrman, and Bob Freymeyer, mentor and the original creator of Honors Day.  


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