Adiha Khan ′13
Hometown: Germantown, TN
By Caroline Ponseti
The younger sibling of two Rhodes graduates and current dentists, Adiha Khan was introduced to the Rhodes’ Biology Department sooner than one might expect. “I came to visit my siblings at Rhodes pretty often and met their professors,” Adiha says. “Rhodes felt like home from the start.”
As an eager freshman, Adiha approached Professor Laura Luque de Johnson about the possibility of doing research. Despite Adiha’s lack of prior experience, Professor Luque de Johnson was impressed enough by her enthusiasm and determination to place her in the Snake Parasite project. Researchers in the project study snake parasitism in Overton Park as a bioindicator for the health of the ecosystem. Essentially, it measures the effect of urbanization on the environment.
“When you think about it, Overton Park is a fragmented forest surrounded by both urban and residential areas,” Adiha explains. “Our creation of these urban and residential areas is affecting the ecological balance between the snakes and parasites.”
Adiha has become very passionate about this project, which she has been working on during her entire time at Rhodes. “It′s been a wonderful and exciting experience because I′ve had the opportunity to involve myself in all the aspects of the study, including GIS (geographic information system) work, microscopy, molecular analysis, and snake catching!”
Outfitted in her peacock rain boots for protection, Adiha has embarked on several snake hunts in Overton Park, the project’s main study site. Adiha laughs, “My mom makes fun of me for catching snakes but being too afraid to kill a spider.”
Adiha and Professor Luque de Johnson once travelled to a nearby swamp for a snake-catching exploit. She laughs about her experience trudging through the swamp water in search of snakes. “I fell in six or seven times and forgot a change of clothes,” she recalls. “When I met my brother’s fiancée that night, I looked like a swamp monster!”
The research team is in the process of confirming their discovery of an unidentified hepatozoon species of blood parasite that they have isolated from the snakes. If they are able to prove it, they will be able to name the new species, a task that has gotten Adiha excitedly playing around with potential names.
“Adiha not only thrives in the field but in the lab as well,” says Professor Luque de Johnson. “By her sophomore year she was able to run and troubleshoot molecular assays.” At the end of her sophomore year, Adiha presented her research at the American Society of Parasitology conference in Anchorage, Alaska, alongside mostly graduate and Ph.D. students.
Adiha credits her liberal arts education for her diversity of skills and interests. Her dual love of Biology and English has enabled her to develop her writing skills through many outlets. “I co-authored a publication that was published last March in The Journal of Urban Ecosystems,” Adiha says. “It involved a lot of writing, editing, and reviewing. These are skills that I was able to develop through a fiction writing seminar with Professor Mark Behr.”
In addition to her work in the lab, Adiha has been working on a paranormal fiction novel since her freshman year. She hopes to use her free time after she graduates in December to fully develop the story into more than just a romance novel.
Adiha currently serves as the unit coordinator of the Oral Surgery Unit of the Regional Medical Center at Memphis and the President of the Tri-Beta Honor Society. She plans to enter dental school next fall to pursue a career in oral surgery and facial reconstruction. Though she will leave Rhodes in December, Adiha has made a lasting impression on the community.
“I have never regretted taking a chance on an enthusiastic, intelligent, young woman,” Professor Luque de Johnson says. “Four years later, I do not see Adiha as my student, I see her as a partner in research.”