April 6, 2011 — Twenty-four University of Virginia undergraduates have received Harrison Undergraduate Research Awards for independent research 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 research 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.
"The Harrison Awards have worked as a catalyst to stimulate others to give generously to the University to support undergraduate research," Lucy Russell, director of the Center for Undergraduate Excellence, said. "The Stull and Finger families have followed this lead by creating their own research awards."
Proposed projects span the humanities and social sciences, as well as the sciences and engineering. The diverse topics include analyzing a water filtration system in Guatemala; studying which animal best models human cases of pancreatic cancer; researching food-related neurological disorders; researching political behavior around the U.S.-China exchange rate; researching China's use of soft power to acquire mineral resources in the developing world; and studying the messianic visions of Irish writer James Joyce and the lesser-known German-Jewish philosopher Gershom Scholem.
"The Harrison Undergraduate Research Awards are a perfect example of the unique and personalized research environment at U.Va.," said Pamela Norris, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science and chair of the Faculty Senate's Research and Scholarship Committee. "This program allows undergraduates complete access to the labs, tools and intellects of our faculty while having the opportunity to complete their own independent research."
Many of the projects were student-initiated, she noted. "These awards give our students a competitive advantage over students from elsewhere. They have the opportunity to personally conceive of a research problem, conduct the research under the advisement of our faculty and to then publicly present their research to the University community."
Research is also a major part of learning, Russell said. "The Harrison Research Awards encourage undergraduates to think of research as an important component of their education. They allow students to engage in significant scholarly work with the guidance of a faculty adviser. This is a wonderful program made possible through the generosity of the Harrison family."
"Student passion and intellectual curiosity are no more evident than in a research project that a student engages with a faculty adviser," J. Milton Adams, vice provost for academic programs, said. "Learning to ask a new question based upon the literature and do the scholarly work – whether in the library, field or laboratory – to answer that question advances our students' understanding of what and how we know."
More than half of U.Va.'s undergraduates are engaged in some form of research, including classroom and independent work. Students who conduct research make better candidates for fellowships, graduate and professional school admissions, and career placement, according to Russell.
This year's Harrison winners and their research topics:
• Gracie Burger, 19, of Annapolis, Md., a second-year global development studies and sociology major in the College of Arts & Sciences, with an African studies minor, pre-law concentration, is researching the excessive and unlawful pre-trial detention within the Ugandan criminal justice system.
• Nan Cheng, 20, of Shanghai, China, a second-year biomedical engineering major in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, is researching the pancreatic cancer animal model that most closely resembles human cases.
• Tudor Cisu, 21, of Manlius, N.Y., a third-year biology and astronomy major in the College, is researching cardiovascular biology and the role of a gene in a specific vascular injury.
• Zachary Jonathan Collier, 21, of Monmouth Beach, N.J., a third-year neuroscience major in the College, is researching the effects of anti-depressants in the treatment and prevention of post-traumatic stress disorder.
• Peta Katherine Douglas, 21, of Richmond, a third-year Spanish and Latin American studies major in the College, is using several different methods to analyze the effectiveness of a water filtration system previously installed by U.Va. students in the Kaqchikel community of Tzununa, Guatemala.
• Mark Duerksen, 21, of Richmond, a third-year political and social thought major in the College with a minor in studio art, will travel to Kampala, Uganda, to research contemporary Ugandan artists and ideas behind their work.
• Jacqueline Hodges, 20, of Gainesville, a third-year biochemistry major in the College, is researching a selective interaction between a membrane protein and a host receptor to quantify the binding affinity.
• Leen Jamal, 29, of Anaheim/Huntington Beach, Calif., a third-year biomedical engineering major in the School of Engineering, is researching the behavioral patterns of signaling pathways in basal-like breast cancer.
• Sarah Kim, 20, of Annandale, a third-year biology major in the College, is researching the effects of aging in field populations of plantago lanceolata, commonly known as ribwort plantain, English plantain and narrowleaf plantain.
• Daniel Lindberg, 21, of Trumbull, Conn., a third-year neuroscience and biology double major in the College, is researching the possible cause of food-related neurological disorders such as compulsive overeating, food addiction and anorexia nervosa.
• Hannah Meredith, 21, of Richmond, a third-year biomedical engineering major in the School of Engineering, is researching the virulence of a deadly protozoan parasite prevalent in developing nations with poor sanitation.
• Yixiao Min, 20, of Beijing, a third-year politics honors major in the College, is researching political behavior around the U.S.-China exchange rate.
• Jessica Modi, 19, of West Chester, Pa., a second-year English major in the College, will research the effects of women's empowerment in Rajasthan, India.
• Catherine Moore, 21, of Richmond, a third-year psychology and cognitive science double major in the College, is researching the molecular basis of using exercise to treat nicotine addiction.
• Diana Walid Naim, 20, of Choueifat, Lebanon, and Fredericksburg, a third-year cognitive science and biology major in the College with a concentration in neuroscience, is researching psychiatry and neurobehavioral science.
• Aradhya Nigam, 20, of Danville, a third-year neuroscience major in the College, is researching methods of reducing hyperexcitability in epilepsy patients.
• Carolyn Pelnik, 20, of Richmond, a second-year engineering science major in the Engineering School and the College, combining biomedical engineering with environmental science, is researching the ability of bacteria to migrate towards and degrade chemical pollutants in groundwater systems.
• Joseph Riley, 20, of Etowah, Tenn., a third-year foreign affairs and Mandarin Chinese double major in the College, is researching China's use of soft power to acquire mineral resources in the developing world. He is partnered with Peter Slag.
• Peter Slag, 20, of Richmond, a second-year global development studies and foreign affairs double major in the College, is researching how the Zambian public views Chinese economic aid and activity in the Copperbelt region. He is partnered with Joseph Riley.
• Vladislav Sviderskiy, 20, of Henrico, a third-year chemistry major in the College specializing in biochemistry, is researching metal catalysts for water oxidation to allow more efficient storage of solar energy in chemical fuels.
• Daniel Edward Watling, 20, of Glen Allen, a third-year English and comparative literature double-major in the College, is researching the messianic visions of Irish writer James Joyce and the lesser known German-Jewish philosopher Gershom Scholem and their relationship to the Modernists' conception of history.
• Kristin Wilmoth, 19, of Richmond, a second-year cognitive science and psychology major in the College, who is researching how sensory information about taste is processed in the brain.
• David Wu, 20, of Arlington, a second-year biology major in the College, who is conducting research on a protein that plays a role in the cell cycle and cancer.
• George Zaras, 21, of Arlington, a third-year archaeology and religious studies major in the College, who is researching ancient Greek religion in the Hellenistic colony named Morgantina, located in Sicily.
The Stull family of Dallas is underwriting Alexandra Asaro, 21, of St. Louis, a third-year biology major in the College researching the role of microRNA in the genetic reprogramming of adult cells into induced pluripotent stem cells.
The Finger family of Houston is underwriting Mary Catherine Kinniburgh, 21, of McLean, a third-year English and medieval studies double major in the College researching literature situated in its geographical and historical context in order to expand the way texts are studied, focusing on pagan Scandinavian ritual and legal culture as it exists in the medieval Icelandic sagas.