Engaging Minds, Transforming Lives

Inquiry Initiative



Research Mentors & Projects

Animal Behavior
Fay Guarraci

Marijuana (Cannabis sativa) is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States. The main psychoactive ingredient of Cannabis sativa is delta 9–tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which acts on the endogenous CB1 cannabinoid receptor. In marijuana users, activation of CB1 receptors has been found to produce various ‘aphrodisiac’ effects. However, these effects follow an inverted-u shaped dose response on sexual behavior and differ between men and women. To date, the results from studies investigating the role of the endocannabinoid system in female sexual behavior have not been consistent nor have the full range of measures of sexual motivation been tested. The present research project will investigate the effects of various drugs that activate or block neuronal endogenous cannabinoid receptors on sexual behavior in an animal model. All female animals will be tested for sexual motivation using a partner preference test as well as a mate choice test.

Romi Burks
Ampullariids, the family commonly referred to as apple snails, comprise an intriguing group of species from biodiversity and ecosystem function perspectives.   The family Ampullariidae includes the largest freshwater snails and represents a major component of tropical/subtropical freshwater biodiversity.  Potential projects in the lab range from ecological investigations of life history characteristics (behavior, reproduction, desiccation tolerance, feeding habits) to molecular ecology projects focused on distribution and diversity of apple snails across native and exotic ranges.

Martín Gonzalez & Stacie Brown
The research in our laboratory looks to address the posttranscriptional regulation of the error-prone DNA polymerase V (RumA’2B) from the Integrative Conjugative Element R391. We will be assessing  two genes encoded on this element that likely factor in proofreading function of the DNA polymerase V and the selective degradation of RumA’2B. 

Ben Pierce
The Georgetown salamander (Eurycea naufragia) is rare aquatic species known from only 16 sites in the Georgetown area.  All known populations of the salamander are threatened by increasing urbanization, and the species was recently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.  This project will continue the long-term research and monitoring of two populations of salamanders that my students and I have conducted over the past 7 years. Students will conduct monthly field studies at the two sites, counting and capturing salamanders.  We will photograph all salamanders captured and will utilize pattern-recognition computer software to uniquely identify salamanders based on melanophore patterns on the head. From the photographs and field data we will determine salamander abundance, movement, reproduction, and growth rates within these two populations.  This information will be used to develop a long-range conservation plan for the species.

Chemistry & Biochemistry

Kerry Bruns

1) This project is designed to explore the possibility that a malignantly transformed cell line might respond differently to the stress of nutrient deprivation than its parental, non-transformed cell line.  These cells are grown in culture conditions where nutrient availability can be controlled, and the responses of the cells can be studied by detecting the appearance of certain cellular proteins that indicate either an apoptotic (programmed cell death) or autophagic (self-eating) response.  Some preliminary studies suggest there is a basic difference in how these cells respond to limited nutrient availability.

2) We have designed several peptides to synthesize and test for their antimicrobial properties. We used clues from the structures of naturally occurring antimicrobial peptides in the design of our synthetic peptides, but we have introduced some structural alterations to change or enhance some of their physical or chemical properties.  Some of the alterations include the use of unnatural amino acids in the structures, cyclization of some peptides through chemically reactive side-chains, and modifying the amphipathic nature of the peptides by acylating the amino termini of some peptides with short-chain carboxylic acids.  In previous studies with similar peptides, we observed antibacterial activities against some Gram-positive species.

Mike Gesinski
Dialkyltitanium(IV) derivatives are proposed to react with α-halo ketones and aldehydes to produce cyclobutanols. The high strain energies of these organic moieties can be exploited in the synthesis of complex organic molecules of biological, agricultural, and industrial importance. Furthermore, because of their 1,2-dianionic nature, dialkyltitanium(IV) species are anticipated to react with a variety of other electrophiles to form five- and six-member rings.
Pre-requisites: At least one year of Organic Chemistry at SU.

Gulnar Rawji
Several gold(III) and copper(II) complexes have shown potential for cleaving DNA upon irradiation. These findings will be explored further during the Scope Summer Research Program. Specific focus will be on investigating the mechanism by which cleavage occurs and on the binding selectivity of these complexes. The gold(III) complexes, in principle, have the capability to bind covalently to DNA. This potential will also be investigated, and kinetics of such binding will be studied for those are found to bind to DNA in such manner.

Willis Weigand
We will be synthesizing a semicarbazone and thiadiazole ligand this summer to react with select transition metals to form organometallic complexes.  Those complexes will be characterized using NMR and IR and, if crystals can be grown, x-ray diffraction.  We then plan to conduct biological testing using DNA or bacteria to determine any potential biological activity. 

Maha Zewail-Foote
DNA damage is thought to play a role in many human age-related diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and neurodegeneration and can arise from both exogenous factors and endogenous processes. The goal of this project is to evaluate the ability of antioxidants to protect DNA from DNA damage induced by free radicals. In another project, we will be measuring DNA damage levels in brain tissue of rats exposed to a widely abusive drug that binds to dopamine receptors, leading to the formation of reactive radicals.
Pre-requisites: At least one year of General Chemistry at SU. Organic Chemistry preferred.

Scott McLean
Early starting blocks in competitive swimming were flat and simply elevated the swimmer above the pool so the swimmer could dive from an increased height. Block design began to incorporate an inclined platform to promote the production of more horizontal force and to facilitate forward movement. Recent design changes have introduced the use of wedge on top of the inclined platform (similar to that used in track and field) to further increase the horizontal force production. This research project will evaluate the effect of manipulating the platform inclination with a fixed wedge design. It is hypothesized that by reducing the platform inclination, takeoff angle will increase thus producing a more favorable trajectory.

Jimmy Smith

Since ventilatory rate can affect speech pattern, it has long been suggested that the disruption in speech pattern might be a practical means of determining the ventilatory threshold.  With this idea in mind, an application for the iPhone/iPad is being developed that will be able to quantify speech pattern disruption.  Repeating a common phrase into an iPhone/iPad at specific times across the duration of an incremental exercise bout should allow for plotting a pattern of disruption that could possibly identify the ventilatory threshold.  This project will seek to determine if speech analysis during incremental exercise can provide a valid and reliable means of determining the ventilatory threshold.  

Therese Shelton
The topic of difference equations is not covered in the typical undergraduate curriculum, and yet some is accessible to a motivated student with a solid high school math and science background. Difference equations lend themselves to study at a variety of levels; some work can be accomplished with a high school background, and yet advanced mathematics can also be included. This type of mathematics lends itself well to inquiry-based and interdisciplinary research by undergraduates.

Steve Alexander
Most robots contain a variety of sensors, an electromechanical system that allows them to move and a computer that controls everything. Today, robots have the capability to learn, to act autonomously, and to interact with humans and their environment. In this project, students will work to use these abilities to create a robot that can perform many of the tasks needed to run a small farm.