ONU wrestler competes against a Capital wrestler

A team of Ohio Northern University educators tackled a study aimed at not only benefitting the health of competitive athletes, but also giving real-world experience and hands-on work in the lab for students.

ONU Professor of Biology Linda Young, Ph.D., and retired Associate Professor of Biology Vicki Motz, Ph.D., worked on a study along with Alex Bearer, a junior biology/pre-med major, on new ways to prevent skin infections on wrestlers.

At the request of the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA), Young and Motz tested the effectiveness of laundry sheets infused with silver at keeping skin-infecting bacteria from being contracted onto clothing during a wrestling bout.

Motz said silver has been a known healer of the human body since as early as the 1930s, but new ways to use the metal continue to be explored. She added that machines existed that would allow clothing to be washed using silver, but the cost of the machines was too great for practical use.

The request by the NWCA led to the study using ONU wrestlers, under the approval of the Institutional Review Board, to study the effectiveness of the silver sheets with varying bacterial loads acquired from one, two and four bouts on one single use of the sheet.

As a result of the study, Young and Motz found the silver was highly effective at fighting the transfer of bacteria initially, but with each additional bout, the silver became less effective over time, resulting in effectively no difference in having used the silver sheets after multiple matches similar to that of a wrestling tournament.

They discovered factors like frequency of the bouts, the length of time since the clothing was washed using silver and multiple other variables could change how effective the “bang for your buck” of the silver sheets are.

“It answers a question, and like everything else in research, it causes you to ask five more questions,” Motz said.

The additional experiments needed to answer the ensuing questions is welcomed by ONU’s educators, as it leads to more opportunities for University students to gain hands on experiences in the lab.

Bearer is a thrower on the ONU track and field team and raised questions on the type of fabric used in the study since cotton was the tested material while many athletes prefer to use a wicking or dri-fit material.

Young applauded Bearer’s inquisitiveness that raised a question that would need additional testing. She said ONU students being able to be in the lab to take part in research gives them an advantage over the competition, whether it be to gain employment or to continue their education at a medical school or another track.

“Everyone who has done research that publishes has found that it is a great stepping stone in their career, and that it makes them a better-looking candidate,” Motz added.

Young said she hopes Bearer can present the team’s findings at the American Society for Microbiology meeting in the summer of 2024, continuing a track of ONU students publishing and presenting work done in ONU labs. She also hopes for Bearer to present to a conference of athletic trainers and to be published in the Journal of Athletic Training.

The timelines of studies and the release of findings often are dictated by ensuring students get the most out of the experience as possible.

“We want to get as many students involved as possible,” she said. “I could kind of power through all this in a shorter time frame, but then the students don’t have the experience.”

The passion for science and the quest to instill that passion in others, pushes educators like Young and Motz to ensure the research opportunities are available for students.

“Even kids that don’t publish and just do one semester of research, I’ve had them say ‘I’m getting a science degree and the one time I really felt like a scientist was when I was in the lab,’ and I think that’s a wonderful thing to offer that affirmation of their career,” Motz said.

Young and Motz plan to conclude the silver sheet study in the fall along with Bearer, and continue to find more research opportunities for ONU students to participate in.

“Every time we find something we want to ‘play’ with,” Motz said, “we ask what student can we bring along to give them the experience.”

Young added she is proud that a smaller-sized institution like ONU can offer a multitude of hands-on opportunities for its students.