From Medical Research to the American Catholic Experience in the Civil War, U.Va. Announces 39 Undergraduate Research Awards

March 13, 2014

Proposals to examine ancient Greek sanctuaries in Turkey, sample the opinion of Taiwanese youth, study dissolved nitrogen mobility and research therapeutics for pain management are among the 39 summer research projects forwarded by University of Virginia undergraduate students that have received funding.

Thirty-eight of the proposals received Harrison Undergraduate Research Awards and another student has had his research underwritten by the Stull family of Dallas. This marks the 15th year of the program, which helps underwrite a key component of the U.Va. student experience – hands-on research.

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 in January and notified them applicants in February. Each will receive up to $3,000, and faculty mentors who oversee the projects receive $1,000.

“The Harrison Undergraduate Research Awards provide an opportunity for undergraduate students to participate in a core purpose of the University, by creating and advancing new knowledge,” said Brian Cullaty, director of undergraduate research opportunities at U.Va.’s Center for Undergraduate Excellence. “The program aspires for these student-faculty collaborations to make an original intellectual or creative contribution to the discipline.”

The center received more than 70 grant applications, which were reviewed by nearly 50 faculty members, including the members of the Faculty Senate’s Research, Teaching and Scholarship Committee.

“The winning applications are compelling evidence of the ability of our best undergraduates to pose significant questions and design research to answer them,” said Bruce A. Williams, the Ambassador Henry J. Taylor Professor of Media Studies and chair of the Research, Teaching and Scholarship Committee. “As one of the highest awards an undergraduate at U.Va. can earn, the Harrison Award allows students to work with faculty mentors who help them hone their research skills and produce findings that often lead to publications or presentations at national and international scholarly conferences.”

The grant recipients, drawn from a wide array of disciplines, will engage in cutting-edge research guided by world-class faculty, Williams said.

“Undergraduate research has been identified as a high-impact educational practice,” Cullaty said. “The process moves students away from passive learning and furnishes them with the ability to demonstrate mastery of disciplinary concepts and then apply their knowledge to the process of research and discovery.”

Performing research as undergraduates prepares students for further education or for an innovative career.

“I’m grateful to the Harrison family for supporting this wonderful program, and providing a valuable opportunity for students to pursue their scholarly inquiries,” Cullaty said. “The Stull family is also an important supporter of making research an important part of undergraduate education.”

Proposed projects span the humanities and social sciences, as well as the hard sciences and engineering.

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, Cullaty said.

This year’s Harrison Undergraduate Research Award winners and their research topics:

  • Stephen Amorino, 20, of Midlothian, a third-year anthropology major. is researching indigenous rights and political ecology as part of his ethnographic research in the Amazonian interior of Guyana.
  • Abraham Axler, 18, of New York City, a first-year student in the College of Arts & Sciences, is researching how a transgender politician encodes his public profile and how the media decodes it. He is particularly interested in why the media pays special attention to transgender politicians when gender identity bears no influence on political competency.
  • Russell Bogue, 20, of Guilford, Conn., a second-year politics and Mandarin Chinese double major, will research the political opinions of Taiwanese youth to compare with the views of an older generation on reunification with the communist mainland.
  • Yiqi Cao, 20, of Blacksburg, a third-year biomedical engineering major, is researching clinical techniques to improve the efficacy of soft tissue reconstruction.
  • Cassandra Cosans, 20, of Winchester, a third-year geochemistry major, is researching the physical connection between groundwater and stream water in several coastal streams to improve the understanding of dissolved nitrogen mobility. Nitrogen is a plant-growth nutrient that upsets ecosystem balance when present in excess in natural waters.
  • Sarah Cottrell-Cumber, 20, of Stafford, a third-year neuroscience major, is researching a potential interaction between oligodendrocyte progenitor cells and glatiramer acetate, a current multiple sclerosis therapeutic, to promote remyelination as a promising therapy for patients with MS and other demyelinating diseases.
  • Robert Michael Bruce Dyer, 19, of Dumfries, a second-year chemistry major specializing in biochemistry, is researching the synthesis of compounds that would serve as potential drug inhibitors of sphingosine kinase in the hopes of a cancer treatment.
  • Berk Ekmekci, 19, of Sterling, a second-year chemistry major specializing in biochemistry, is researching the use of computer simulation to determine how it is that an ancient family of proteins found across the tree of life behaves in physiological conditions and interacts with other macromolecules.
  • Gray Evans, 20, of Charlottesville, a second-year neuroscience major, is researching the development of therapeutics for pain management.
  • Jessica Goldsby, 20, of Springfield, a third-year neuroscience major, is researching transgenerational effect of the endocrine-disrupting compound Bisphenol A on the expression of sexually dimorphic proteins in the brain.
  • Mirenda Gwin, 20, of Vinton, a third-year history distinguished major and media studies double major, is researching American legal history and California lawyer Daniel Marshall, specifically, the effect Marshall had on First Amendment evolution and interpretation in America through his freedom of religion argument in California Supreme Court Case Perez v. Sharp.
  • Sarah Hansen, 21, of Pittsford, N.Y., a third-year biomedical engineering major and engineering business minor, will construct and evaluate a viral-based gene delivery system as a strategy for cardiac transdifferentiation. Delivering transcription factors could enable the direct reprogramming of fibroblasts into cardiomyocyte progenitors, which could have implications for post-heart attack treatments.
  • Catherine Henry, 19, of Great Falls, a second-year biomedical engineering major, is researching the structural differences between healthy and dystrophic diaphragms and how the aging process compounds the adverse structural adaptions found in dystrophic diaphragms.
  • April Hyon, 20, of Chantilly, a third-year human biology major, is researching the role of a specific microRNA in glioblastoma, the most common and deadliest primary malignant brain tumor.
  • Sheethal Jose, 20, of Fairfax, a second-year biology and foreign affairs double major, with a minor in French, is researching possible mechanisms by which helminthes infections play a role in decreasing an organism’s susceptibility to autoimmunity.
  • Justin Kaplan, 21, of Norfolk, a third-year human biology distinguished major, is conducting genotypic and phenotypic analysis of HIV from antiretroviral therapy resistant patients in order to determine if or how subtype diversity plays a role in drug resistance and treatment effectiveness.
  • Suemin Kim, 21, of Chantilly, a third-year biology major, is researching the effect of tumor necrosis factor receptor signaling for the development and function of proprioception, in hopes to identify a novel target for movement disorders such as muscle dystonia, which presently has no available cure.
  • Catherine Kitrinos, 21, of Springfield, a third-year biology major specializing in genetics, is researching the genotypic variability in sunflowers with regards to the hyper accumulation of metals.
  • George Knaysi, 21, of Richmond, a third-year cognitive science major, concentrating in neuroscience, will research the negative cognitive and physiological effects of felt misunderstanding using methods from neuroscience, or what harm does a person experience when he or she feels misunderstood by another person.
  • Eunice Yoon Ko, 20, of Centreville, a third-year history and classics major, is researching ancient Greek sanctuaries on the western coast of Turkey, their changing role and significance in relation to ancient empires.
  • Kathryn Marqueen, 19, of Richmond, a second-year chemistry major, is examining the role of the protein-disabled homolog 2 (Dab2) in the development of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease through the regulation of inflammation.
  • Stefan Moscalu, 20, of Lynchburg, a third-year biomedical engineering major, is studying the role of NK 1.1 + cells during progressive kidney disease through depletion and ischemia-reperfusion models.
  • Daniel Ng, 21, of West Windsor, N.J., a third-year anthropology and global development studies double major, will study the microfinance program of a nongovernmental organization in the village Bujidanga Mundia, located in western Bangladesh.
  • Wade Oakley, 20, of Arlington, a cognitive science and psychology double major, is researching social facilitation in group contemplative practice by studying ashtanga yoga practitioners at the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India.
  • Ashley O’Keefe, 21, of North Potomac, Md., a biology major, focusing on neurobiology, and religious studies major, will research the Nkx2.2+ cells in the perineurium of the sciatic nerve in mice. Nkx2.2+ cells play an essential role in the development of the mammalian perineurium, important in guiding the development of axons and Schwann cells.
  • Nicole Penn, 21, of Bristow, a third-year history and foreign affairs double major, is researching the experience of American Catholics in the Civil War.
  • John Roach, 21, of Richmond, a third-year distinguished history major, is researching the defeat of the Unionist Party machine in Birmingham in the 1945 British election, a watershed moment in British politics, but one seldom discussed in detail with Britain’s second-largest city.
  • Parisa Sadeghi, 20, Alexandria, a second-year intended politics and economics double major, is exploring French restrictions on racist speech and Holocaust denial as outlined in 1972 and 1990 amendments to an 1881 law on the freedom of the press, to understand what considerations and assumptions inform French opinions of these limitations on freedom of expression.
  • Katharine Sadowski, 21, of Virginia Beach, a third-year double major in history and leadership and public policy, is writing a thesis on the history of American education, specifically the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and how federalism affected the implementation of the act in Richmond, comparing how “ideological” solutions don’t always work in practice.
  • Edward Schrom, 20, Harrisburg, Pa., a third-year biology and mathematics double major, is researching whether invasive and native plant species differ in their ability to induce chemical and/or mechanical defenses in response to browsing by white-tailed deer. The research has implications for the interaction of deer with invading plant species and forest management strategies.
  • Zoe Slepian, 20, of Charlottesville, a third-year neuroscience and psychology major, is researching visual learning in fruit fly larvae, specifically to define the critical period (specific time period of great sensitivity for learning) for visual attractive behavior to determine whether learning occurs via classical conditioning or imprinting.
  • Mitchell Slovin, 21, of Andover, Mass., a third-year chemical engineering major, with a minor in engineering business and computer science, is investigating fluid dynamics on nanoscale superhydrophobic surfaces using computer simulations. He is primarily interested in the ways superhydrophobic surfaces can be optimized by adjusting surface texture and surface texture randomness.
  • Christine Tran, 20, of Richmond, a third-year neuroscience and biology double major, is researching the use of phosphatase inhibitors as a potential adjunctive therapy to potentiate the effects of drugs such as diazepam in the treatment of the prolonged seizures of status epilepticus.
  • Rebecca Walker, 20, of Deltaville, a third-year environmental sciences and anthropology double major, is going to Israel to research both the biogeochemical effects and cultural perceptions of the Aleppo Pine, which was planted ubiquitously by the Jewish National Fund during the later 20th century as a means of conserving the soil and as a sociopolitical tool to claim the land for Israel.
  • Sasha Ward, 21, of Castro Valley, Calif., a double major in Spanish and Jewish studies, will research the Ladino print culture in Turkey to see if it constitutes a freer space for Sephardic Jews to discuss Turkish politics in a time of widespread Turkish nationalism and politicized anti-Semitism.
  • Mengran “Nancy” Xu, 22, of Shanghai, China, a third-year psychology major, is researching whether people’s psychological indebtedness is related to their financial indebtedness. Her hypothesis is that people who feel less “debt” when receiving a favor from friends, they may be more comfortable taking financial loans. She is also interested in the cross-cultural aspect of this relationship between psychological and financial indebtedness.
  • Arslan Zahid, 21, of Valdosta, Ga., a third-year distinguished major in history and biology, is researching the development and consequences of surgical practices during the Napoleonic Wars.
  • Sibo Zhang, 20, of Virginia Beach, a third-year biomedical and neuroscience major, is researching a newly discovered gene modification technique, known as CRISPR, to see if it can be adapted to fix a specific mutation that causes early-onset hearing loss in mice. If successful, it may have implications in treatment of an analogous disease in humans known as Usher Syndrome.

Stull Award:

  • Joseph Dardick, 21, of St. Louis, a third-year neuroscience and global development studies: global public health major, is researching cell division and the ability to use stem cell therapies in the clinical setting.

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