Nov. 16-29, 2001
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Senate highlights work of Harrison undergraduate researchers
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Senate highlights work of Harrison undergraduate researchers

Harrison undergraduate researchers
Peggy Harrison
Front row, l-r: Faculty Senate Chair Rob Grainger, environmental sciences professor Deborah Lawrence and undergraduate Laura Cacho.
Second row, l-r: Undergraduate Esther Huang, Commonwealth Professor of Spanish David Gies, and students Elizabeth Whelan and Poonam Sharma.
Top row, l-r: Psychology professor David Hill, student Chris Yuskaitis, chemistry professor Michal Sabat, and student Gregory Broughton.

By Matt Kelly

Eight undergraduate students presented their research Nov. 6 to a group of fellow students and faculty members at the Colonnade Club.

The students were among 43 winners last year of the David A. Harrison III Undergraduate Research Awards.

Students submitted applications for the next round of Harrison grants this week.

Funded with $100,000 in Harrison money through the President’s office and another $60,000 from the Provost’s office, this coming round is the last for the awards under the current funding plan, which covered only three years. Faculty Senate members are seeking new funding for the program.

“I hope someone is interested enough in undergraduate research to provide permanent funding for it,” said Susan Perry, who chairs the Faculty Senate’s research and scholarship committee.

Vice President and Provost Gene Block, in his opening comments, noted that his alma mater, Princeton, recently boasted of a new undergraduate research funding program similar to what U.Va. already offers.

Student presentations ranged from a photo essay on the aftermath of a hurricane in Honduras, to an analysis of soil respiration in the rain forest, to taste bud structure and function to the molecular properties of nanoparticles, to an examination of health care in rural Virginia and India. Introduced by their faculty mentors, the students outlined their presentations with computer assisted slides and overhead projections.

The presentations opened with Milton Brown, assistant professor of chemistry, introducing Jonathan Grimm, who is working with anticonvulsant compounds that could be used in the treatment of epilepsy.

Religious studies professor James Childress introduced Katherine Kimbrell, who is researching the availability of health care in rural Virginia and India. Kimbrell, with the help of slides, detailed her volunteer work and travels in India, where health care is an entitlement, but some doctors are corrupt and people distrust Western medicine.

Kimbrell also spent time at the Blue Ridge Medical Center in Nelson County, shadowing a physician.

Professor Michal Sabat, director of the chemistry department’s molecular structure lab, introduced Gregory Broughton, who is investigating the molecular properties of nanoparticles crosslinked by DNA.

Elizabeth Whelan presented some of the more than 2,500 photographs she took in Honduras in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch as part of her study on how the Catholic church is assisting with the rehabilitation of a village that suffered 70 percent devastation. She said the church there is an integral part of people’s lives and the people were willing to submit to God’s will, believing the hurricane’s devastation was part of God’s grander plan which they could not fathom.

Deborah Lawrence, assistant professor of environmental sciences, who is also familiar with Honduras, said the hurricane’s devastation was caused by deforestation. Lawrence introduced student Laura Cacho, who is studying soil respiration in rain forests in relation to species, function type and species richness.

Esther Huang is studying the protective role of AT2 receptor in hypertension. Huang discussed her research in which she studies the effects of different drugs on mice with artificially induced high blood pressure. Huang said the research could have an impact on heart disease, which she said is linked to 40.6 percent of all deaths in the country.

Psychology professor David Hill introduced Christopher Yuskaitis, who is investigating the structure and function of taste buds, using mice that have a gene modification affecting normal cell death.

Poonam Sharma explained some of her research in the evolution of autoantibody responses in lupus, a disorder affecting predominantly female victims in which the immune system turns on the body.

After the student presentations, Shadi Kourosh, of the student-run Undergraduate Research Network, talked about URN and what it offers student researchers, including streamlining resource processes and setting consistent guidelines, providing mentorship and holding annual symposiums to celebrate the research.

David Gies, the former Faculty Senate chair, praised the student researchers and urged others who are considering research projects to apply for Harrison grants.

“The worst that can happen is we say ‘No, you can’t have $3,000,’” he said.


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