Undergraduate researchers will undertake a vast range of projects this summer. Among them, studying the writings of 18th-century political theorist Edmund Burke, engineering organic biological replacements or repairs for diseased tissues, finding the keys to addiction and obesity, and examining retinal ganglion cells.
In all, 44 undergraduates have received 38 Harrison Undergraduate Research Awards that will enable them to conduct independent research projects this summer. Two other students have had their research underwritten by the Stull family of Dallas and the Finger family of Houston.
The research awards support students who present detailed plans for projects that have been endorsed by a faculty mentor. A Faculty Senate committee selected the winners, who receive up to $3,000. Faculty mentors who oversee the projects receive $1,000.
“There were more than 80 very strong applications from a wide variety of disciplines,” said Katherine Walters, assistant director of the Center for Undergraduate Excellence. “It’s exciting to see how independent academic inquiry under the guidance of a faculty adviser impacts students. This program gives recipients a truly unique opportunity to delve into a topic of interest that they might not otherwise be able to pursue.”
Proposed projects span the humanities and social sciences, as well as the sciences and engineering. The diverse topics include examining the travel diaries of Joseph Cabell, soldier, politician and friend of University founder Thomas Jefferson, the feasibility of manufacturing medical devices in developing countries, estrogen’s affect on cocaine addiction and battery effectiveness at higher elevations.
“The Harrison Research Award is one of the most prestigious honors that an undergraduate student at U.Va. can earn,” said Shayn Peirce-Cottler, an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering who chairs the Faculty Senate’s Teaching, Research and Scholarship Committee, which selects the winners. “The grant enables our best student researchers to address important problems by posing relevant questions and hypotheses, testing these through mentored rigorous research in the field, laboratory or library, and ultimately presenting their results to what is often a national audience in their specialty area.”
“I’m grateful to the Harrison family for supporting this wonderful program, and to the many faculty members who help make it possible, whether by reviewing proposals or advising students,” Walters added. “The Stull and Finger families are also important supporters of making research an important part of undergraduate education.”
Research is a major part of learning, Walters said.
More than half of U.Va.’s students engage in some form of research, including classroom and independent work, during their undergraduate careers. Those who do so make better candidates for fellowships, graduate and professional school admissions and career placement, Walters said.
“Participating in cutting-edge research at a top-tier institution is one of the main activities that differentiates and defines the undergraduate experience for U.Va. students,” Peirce-Cottler said.
This year’s Harrison Undergraduate Research Award-winners and their research topics:
• Pranav Aurora, 21, of Lorton, a third-year nanomedical engineering major in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and Tristan Jones, 21, of Reston, a third-year engineering major, who are researching how to regenerate heart muscle cells to improve cardiac function after a heart attack.
• Bridget Bailey, 20, of Nashville, a third-year biology and studio art double major with an art history minor in the College of Arts & Sciences, who is researching impatiens, or “jewel weed,” and how the plant’s fitness may be impacted by an invasive competitor that grows with it in parts of Maine, Massachusetts and New York.
• Ben Bakkum, 21, of Yorktown, a third-year finance major in the McIntire School of Commerce and a history distinguished major student in the College, who is researching Joseph C. Cabell’s travel diaries, his devotion to the founding of the University and the construction of the James River and Kanawha Canal to better understand the political and ideological factors that influenced Cabell during the early to mid-19th century.
• Morgan C. Barrett, 20, of Virginia Beach, a third-year history major in the College, who will study the frieze of the Column of Marcus Aurelius as a way to better understand the Roman Empire and its army during the poorly documented second century AD.
• Jonathon Blonchek, 20, of West Friendship, Md., a third-year computer engineering major in the Engineering School; Shiv Sinha, 20, of Clifton, a third-year electrical and computer engineering double major with a minor in engineering business; Anish Simhal, 21, of Burke, a third-year electrical engineering major; and Vinay Dandekar, 20, of Fairfax, a third-year computer engineering major, who are seeking to develop a sensor system to determine occupancy in study spaces in Rice Hall, the newest engineering building.
• Fallon Bormann, 21, of Fishersville, a third-year biology major in the College, who is researching epigenetics – specifically, the effect of knocking down the tumor suppressor menin and how this changes the histone modifications and in turn the transcriptional activity at the IRF1 gene.
• Mary Lansden Brewbaker, 20, of Tuscaloosa, Ala., a third-year economics and religious studies double major in the College, who is researching health care spending prioritization and the economic feasibility of manufacturing surgical supplies in developing countries. She is conducting the research in connection with the School of Medicine’s Rwanda Collaborative to determine the market for surgical supplies in Rwanda in the hopes of increasing health care coverage there.
• Evan A. Brown, 20, of Virginia Beach, a third-year biology and psychology double major in the College, who is researching the ecological significance of the eastward orientation of adult sunflower heads. Potential effects may include disease resistance, temperature regulation and temperature moderation.
• John Burns, 20, of Forest, a second-year student in the College developing an Echols Scholar interdisciplinary major in global health economics, who is researching health financing techniques such as Community Health Funds or micro-insurance in the developing world.
• Andrea Chernau, 21, of Richmond, a third-year kinesiology major in the Curry School of Education, who is researching estrogen’s effect on a protein that is associated with cocaine addiction to quantify the hormone’s specific effect in the brain in conjunction to drug abuse.
• Alexander Clark, 21, of Burke, a third-year biomedical engineering major in the Engineering School, who is researching developing a program to improve the specificity and decrease inter-observer variability when identifying children with rheumatic heart disease from 2D ultrasound images.
• Kylene Daily, 19, of Clifton, a second-year biochemistry major in the College, who is researching Neisseria gonorrhoeae and human neutrophils, examining the relationship between the human immune system and particular bacteria.
• Mikel Dermer, 20, of Alexandria, a third-year chemical engineering major in the Engineering School, who is researching the deposition of zirconia coatings onto battery materials to mitigate their reactivity at elevated temperatures.
• Cameron J.G. Dodge, 20, of Washington, a third-year distinguished history major in the College, who is researching how trade in Brazilwood, a tree native to Brazil the wood of which was used to create a red dye, influenced both the Portuguese colonization of early Brazil and the Portuguese imperial economy.
• Arun Dutta, 19, of Charlottesville, a second-year biology major with a history minor in the College, who is researching how individual members of a protein family are involved in various cellular processes such as muscle formation and dead cell clearance.
• Emily Evans, 21, of Beverly Hills, Mich., a third-year biomedical engineering major in the School of Engineering and Applied Science and an African studies minor in the College of Arts & Sciences, is researching risk factors for mortality in HIV positive patients admitted to the U.Va. hospital who experienced instances of severe sepsis or septic shock.
• Peter A. Finocchio, 21, of Wayne, N.J., a third-year history major in the College, who is researching Edmund Burke as a history writer by analyzing his little-known essay, “Towards an Abridgment of the English History,” using Burke’s historical writings to begin a deeper study into post-1688 Whig historical revisionism.
• Carl David Goette-Luciak, 21, of Blacksburg, a second year political and social thought and anthropology double major in the College, who is researching two remote regions in Nicaragua not currently connected to the rest of the country with paved roads. One region wants a road while the other does not. The project seeks to discover how differences in race, culture and historical experience have shaped these two very different positions on development.
• Christine Hou, 21, of Richmond, a third-year neuroscience and biology major in the College, who is researching the localization of calbindin in the cerebellum to further understand its role in neurological disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.
• Kathryn Kingsbury, 19, of Herndon, a second-year student in the College who intends to major in biology and biochemistry, who is researching the role of a class of retinal ganglion cells that are similar in some respects to the rods and cones of the mammalian retina, but are largely responsible for non-visual effects, such as pupil constriction and the maintenance of circadian rhythm.
• Andrew Lankenau, 20, of Fairfax, a second-year chemistry major in the College, who is researching the separation of the de-aromatizing enantiomers, which has potential pharmaceutical applications.
• Nicholas Chien-Juei Lee, 19, of Winchester, a second-year biochemistry major in the College, who is researching the phosphorylated histone H2AX, a signal of DNA damage, and its role in the cell cycle to gain a better understanding of its effect on cancer.
• Hyeon Jin Lee, 20, of Mechanicsville, a third-year biochemistry major in the College, who is researching the affects of directed bacterial movement in response to chemical gradients on the formation of biofilms.
• LeeAnn Li, 21, of Vienna, a fourth-year biomedical engineering major in the Engineering School, who is researching the endocrinology of obesity – specifically, how the key obesity hormone leptin crosses the blood brain barrier to exert its effects on appetite and metabolism.
• Jason Liao, 20, of Livingston, N.J., a third-year chemistry major specializing in biochemistry in the College, who is researching the cause of diabetes in hopes of finding a therapeutic avenue, after having found a potentially novel new pathway in diabetes etiology.
• Michelle Lim, 20, of Berkeley Heights, N.J., a third-year neuroscience major in the College, who is investigating the effects of anesthesia on histone methylation to understand the molecular basis for anesthetic-induced memory impairment.
• Matt Lycas, 20, of McLean, a third-year neuroscience major in the College, who is researching the mechanism for a potential neuropharmacological treatment for alcoholism, examining why Topiramate is able to reduce ethanol consumption in rats.
• Ethan Nyberg, 21, of Sterling, a third-year biomedical engineering major with a minor in engineering business in the Engineering School, who is researching the ability to engineer organic biological replacements or repairs for failed or diseased tissues such as bones, blood vessels and organs by leveraging emerging stem cell technology.
• Tomihiro Ono, 21, of Gaithersburg, Md., a third-year chemistry major with a concentration in chemical physics in the College, who is researching how the structure and properties of a micelle vary under specific alterations in composition and solution parameters, with an aim to formulating a model for these variations to make solubilizing and studying the functions of membrane proteins using micelles much easier.
• Juyeon Park, 21, of Fairfax, a third-year neuroscience major in the College, who is researching developmental neurobiology and the effect of a switch in growth factor availability during development of neurons on Coronin-1’s ability to mediate axonal growth.
• Karina Payerhin, 18, of Lynchburg, a first-year student in the College who plans to study biology, who is researching how high lipid levels cause kidney disease in some individuals.
• Olivia Rappe, 20, of Richmond, a third-year global development studies major in the College, who is researching different remittance service providers used by the Latino immigrants in Richmond to send money home, to provide a deeper understanding of the underdeveloped remittance service provider market.
• Corinne Roberts, 20, of Manassas, a third-year neuroscience major in the College, who is researching how a certain subunit in voltage-gated sodium channels affects the electrical properties of hippocampal neurons.
• Kelly Sullivan, 21, of Haverford, Pa., a third-year biology major in the College, who is researching the biochemistry and cell biology of an enzyme mutation found in 10 percent of melanoma tumors. This mutation is associated with UVB radiation damage and the formation of malignant melanoma.
• Benjamin Tran, 20, of Falls Church, a second-year neuroscience major in the College, who is researching the effect of exposing Bacillus anthracis toxins to neurons to investigate the effect of anthrax on cognitive function.
• Kristen Whalen, 21, of Suffolk, a third-year biology major in the College, is researching Sjogren’s syndrome, the second most common autoimmune disease in America, for which there is no cure. She will be testing the efficacy of a drug that may be able to cure about 60 percent of Sjogren’s syndrome cases.
• Yanzhi Yang, 21, of Potomac, Md., a third-year chemical engineering major in the Engineering School, who is researching influenza NP antiviral drug design using molecular simulations.
• Alese Zeman, 20, of Alexandria, a third-year double major in psychology and cognitive science, with a minor in sociology in the College, who is seeking to increase the sensitivity and informative capacity of three widely used cognitive memory tests used to test for Alzheimer’s disease, by analyzing the individual items on the tests as opposed to the overall test scores.
The recipient of the Finger Family Research Award is Catherine Zucker, 20, of Alexandria, a second-year double major in history and astrophysics in the College, who is researching the causes that precipitated the rise of American astronomy in the antebellum period.
The recipient of the Stull Family Research Award is Katherine Roche, 21, of Atlanta, a third-year neuroscience major with a specialization in biochemistry in the College, who is researching the effect of adenosine-modulating drugs on the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain, which is relevant to current Parkinson’s disease research.