A Summer in the Lab – Approaching Science in a New Way

- written by Natalie Deuitch

“What are you doing this summer?”

“Oh, just working in a lab… you know…”

I’ve had this conversation hundreds of times at parties, family gatherings, you name it. Last year I spent the summer and fall semester globetrotting in cool and exotic places, and people were super interested.

This year I’m spending the summer in a lab in hot, “boring” Chapel Hill. People take one look at my project title, “Exploring the relationship between proteins Axin and APC in the Canonical Wnt Signaling Pathway” and seem….underwhelmed. It seems as if they want to be excited for me, but science is a foreign language to most average Joes. Even fellow biologists probably don’t know enough about Wnt Signaling to get really revved up about my proteins.

http://museum.unc.edu/static/artifacts/111-a-MoreheadChemistryLabs_web.jpg

Morehead Labs, where many on-campus science labs and research experiments are conducted.

What doesn’t seem to get transmitted in these conversations is that I have been in love with every second of this summer.

Yes, I have had to run the same experiment practically a million times. And yes, my lab does smell a little bit like rotting fruit fly corpses. Still, this summer, science clicked. Maybe it didn’t click like switching on a light, more like turning up a dimmer (is that a thing?). But without an intense and busy routine of classes and exams I can think, focus, go home and really digest what I learned in lab. Then I get to come back with a plan to attack science and make it better. I’ve been running experiments from step one all the way through to the finish–during the school year just I put bits and pieces together, as if science is some cooking show with prepped ingredients, waiting for someone to put them together.

This summer I’m gaining the skills to make a plan and carry it through. I’m gaining the confidence to correct or question my mentor when she gets something wrong, for a change. I’m gaining the curiosity to keep asking good questions—endlessly. These things will help me both to fight colon cancer (because yes, that’s something you can do in a lab) and to take on life, even outside the realm of science.

And, I found something this summer. I collected data that nobody has ever found before. I’ve run experiments that no one has ever done before. And one day, as small as it may be, my data will help someone who’s sick. It’s the research that comes from thousands of people spending their summers (and springs, falls and winters) in labs that changes our world.

So don’t even think for a second that working in a lab isn’t as cool as backpacking through Europe. Because it is! Actually, it’s way cooler.

And after a little while you even get used to the smell of fruit flies.

Graduate Student Spotlight – Learning How to Think Like a Scientist

- written by Brandon Santiago, Analytical Chemistry graduate student

Mentorship, of all things, was not something I expected to be involved in when I became a graduate student in Analytical Chemistry. However, I stand here today having spent the past year working with and mentoring Jesus Martinez, an undergraduate chemistry major at UNC. Originally we were paired up through the Science and Math Achievement and Resourcefulness Track (SMART) program, and we’ve continued working together due to his desire to carry on lab work. During our time together, we’ve worked to develop research projects. Though the data from our research projects are definitely at the forefront of our work, I believe the research skills Jesus has developed are far more important for his long-term success, and I am thrilled to have played a part in this.

Part of the work our lab completes is the development and characterization of ionization sources for use with mass spectrometry. In short, mass spectrometers are able to determine the mass-to-charge ratio of molecules, but in order to do this we need to get either a positive or negative charge onto the molecule. One way to add this charge, thus forming an ion, is to use low temperature plasma (LTP). This is a relatively new technique, and Jesus has spent the better part of the last year working to further develop and characterize a LTP ionization source we have in our lab.

image

A low temperature plasma (LTP) probe.

Developing and characterizing may sound very straightforward, but in all honesty, that is not the case. The development of new techniques involves a lot of head scratching, note taking, troubleshooting, and wondering what changed from yesterday to today. I think that the ability to do these things in a logical and efficient manner are the most important things a graduate mentor can pass along to the undergraduate they are working with. The beauty of our research is that I don’t always have the answer to what is going wrong. Jesus is initially on his own to propose a solution. He’ll be a graduate student himself in the near future, and the experience he has gained searching for creative solutions or looking for inconsistencies will help him in all future endeavors.

The opportunities I try to create for the students I mentor are derived from my own undergraduate level research experience. I was given the opportunity to think for myself, make mistakes, and learn from them. In my own practice, this process involves working together to develop a plan of attack, and then having a hands-off approach to let the student take over. By giving Jesus room to work and problem solve, he’s getting more out of the experience than a section on his resume. I truly believe he’s developing a set of skills that will be applicable to any field he chooses to enter. The beauty of programs like SMART is that undergraduates get to supplement their studies with a hands-on experience that is unlike anything that you can learn from a textbook. At the same time, it is a worthwhile experience for mentors as well, as they can use their knowledge to have a meaningful impact on another student’s future.

To find out more about the SMART program, click here.

Research in Oral History: LGBTQ Activism in the NC Triangle Area

-written by Aaron Lovett, History and Communication Studies, Class of 2017

-editor Monica Richard

Before coming to UNC last fall, I thought research was something only done in the physical and life sciences. So when I heard about undergraduate research, I imagined chemistry and biology majors spending all day in a lab, manipulating a plethora of confusing technical instruments, wearing huge goggles and white lab coats, examining bacteria, and conducting experiments on mice.

Ian Palmquist Photo source: http://tiny.cc/brp8jx

Ian Palmquist
Source: tiny.cc/brp8jx

That was not at all where my interests were. But during my first semester at UNC, I took a research-exposure first-year seminar in history, and through that course realized that research could be done in any subject. After hearing about UNC’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF), I decided I wanted to apply for the chance to conduct research of my own.

As a member of the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) community, I wanted to learn more about being queer in the Southeast United States, an environment historically hostile to queer people. Throughout American history, people who are now collectively identified as LGBTQ have been branded as deviant, ignored, and hated.

Alexis Gumbs Photo source: http://tiny.cc/lvp8jx

Alexis Gumbs
Source: tiny.cc/lvp8jx

Religious fundamentalism and social conservatism in the South have exacerbated this issue. Making matters worse, there is a slim amount of studies and literature on LGBTQ topics in general, let alone LGBTQ issues in the south.

However, through the Southern Oral History Program at Chapel Hill, I learned that oral history was a valuable method for learning about oppressed groups of people whose history is not thoroughly documented in official texts. So, I began an oral history project on LGBTQ activism in the Triangle area, to learn about queer history firsthand from people who have devoted their lives to shaping it. My second semester at UNC, I received the Pine Tree Fund SURF for research in LGBT Studies to fund my research.

For the project, I interviewed hardworking local activists such as Ian Palmquist, Alexis Gumbs, and Carlton Rutherford. Ian Palmquist, a UNC alumnus, is the former Executive Director of Equality NC, a statewide LGBTQ political action committee, and currently works at Equality Federation, a nationwide advocacy organization.

Pastor Carlton Rutherford Photo source: http://tiny.cc/6op8jx

PR Carlton Rutherford
Source: tiny.cc/6op8jx

As an experienced lobbyist and political activist, he offered valuable insight into how various progressive lobbying groups helped pass the NC School Violence Prevention Act in 2009, the first law in North Carolina history to include the terms “sexual orientation and gender identity,” and the first piece of legislation in the South to include the phrase “gender identity.” Carlton Rutherford has been a pastor for several years at St. John’s Metropolitan Community Church in Raleigh, which offers an all-inclusive space for religious members of the LGBTQ community. His experiences as a gay man of color and clergy member brings to light the many intersecting identities of LGBTQ people. Alexis Gumbs is a queer feminist activist whose work documents the histories of queer black elders; she received her PhD in English, Africana Studies and Women’s Studies from Duke University and is a widely published writer on LGBTQ topics. Younger than most of the activists I interviewed, she was able to not only add a queer woman of color’s perspective on LGBTQ activism, but also represent a newer generation of progressive activists.

My research experience taught me two critical things. First, that there are people from myriad and diverse ethnic, religious, and political groups, who share many of my past experiences. The ability to speak to and learn from them has been invaluable. Second, not all learning happens in the classroom – rather, some of the most valuable knowledge is gained through personal experience. There is so much you can learn by going out into the world and actually finding knowledge, archiving it, and reflecting upon it. And this process of retrieval, documentation, and analysis benefits not only the individual researcher, but the community they are a part of as well.
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Faculty Mentor Spotlight – Sylvia A. Frazier-Bowers, D.D.S, Ph.D.

-Written by Daijha Copeland

-Edited by Monica Richard

Meet Dr. Sylvia A. Frazier-Bowers, a native of Chicago, an associate professor, dentist, researcher, and mentor. Frazier-Bowers came to University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 1993.

As a child, Frazier-Bowers visits to her dentist inspired her to pursue dentistry.

Sylvia Frazier-Bowers

Sylvia Frazier-Bowers

Frazier-Bowers said, “For better or worse, I visited my dentist often so the comfort and ease I felt during my visits soon turned into intrigue. I later realized that unlike some health professional fields, the dentist seemed to be very solution-oriented and definitive in dealing with patients’ dental needs.”

In high school, Frazier-Bowers enrolled in the Chicago Health and Medical Careers Pre College Program. During the program, the ins and outs of the health profession and biomedical research were introduced to Frazier-Bowers, sparking an interest in research that never left her. Frazier-Bowers received her undergraduate degree from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, but worked for a year in research and development before continuing her journey in to the dental profession. While attending dental school at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Frazier-Bowers was actively involved in the research projects of her professors. Serendipitously, she opened a flier in the mail about a fellowship program at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (formerly National Institute of Dental Research) summer fellowship, applied and was accepted.

Dr. Frazier-Bowers and dental assistant with patient at UNC School of Dentistry Faculty Practice

Dr. Frazier-Bowers and dental assistant with patient at UNC School of Dentistry Faculty Practice

The experience was transformative. During the fellowship, Frazier-Bowers got the opportunity to listen to guest speakers who gave glimpses into their scientific work and medical practices. Frazier-Bowers said, “I was completely captivated by this environment of scientists.” It was during these talks that Frazier-Bowers realized that most of the problems and anomalies that patients face arise from facial proportions, which are largely inherited. It was obvious that these anomalies had a genetic route. Dr. Frazier-Bowers believed that by knowing what these genetic processes were a more holistic perspective could be given to patients’ conditions and their care could be improved.

Frazier-Bowers sought out a National Institute of Health training grant that would allow her to obtain a specialty in her field and pursue a PhD. Finding such a program at UNC-Chapel Hill, Frazier-Bowers packed her bags and moved to North Carolina. Obtaining a certificate in orthodontics and her PhD in genetics and molecular biology, focused and motivated, it was not long before Frazier-Bowers became an associate professor at the UNC School of Dentistry, where she now conducts her own research.

The Frazier-Bowers story does not end here. It is at UNC that Frazier-Bowers experienced a great need to “give back” in respect to all of the great mentors she had along the way. Frazier-Bowers believes that, “A mentor can help students combat the negatives in life, whether inside or outside of the lab or classroom, and draw inspiration from their experiences which can help them improve and succeed.”

When asked about the most challenging moments of mentoring students, Frazier-Bowers said, “There seems to always be a scheduling conflict. It is hard to ensure one-on-one time…That one-on-one time is crucial to the mentoring process.” But beyond the challenges, it is the energy and excitement about the science that young mentees bring into the lab that Frazier-Bowers enjoys most. Frazier-Bowers said, “Having that presence produces a spirited atmosphere that nurtures the ultimate goal – creating new knowledge – a product, I enjoy seeing come to life.”

 

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From Miami to Chapel Hill – One SMART-T Alumna’s journey

-written by Virginia Perello B.A. Chemistry 2014

-edited by Daijha J. Copeland

Virginia Perello during her SMART-T poster session

Virginia Perello during her SMART-T poster session

I am a Latina and a Cuban immigrant, raised in Chile. I moved to the United States in 2006 with my family and the dream of being the first woman in my family to become a doctor. After graduating from the two-year Honors College at Miami Dade College, I decided to continue my education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for all of the incredible research opportunities it has to offer. This decision forced me to look beyond what had become familiar, my home state of Florida, and move to North Carolina. At UNC, I grew not only academically, but also on a personal level. I found the classes to be much more challenging and demanding than in my prior school, but I believe that the experience made me a better student. Along with adjusting to UNC’s demanding atmosphere, I gained a greater sense of inquiry and desire to do more outside of the classroom.

After searching for research opportunities both online and through conversations with professors, and getting nowhere, I received an unexpected email stating I had been recommended to participate in the Science and Math Achievement Resourcefulness Track for Transfer students (SMART-T) program. I was immediately drawn to investigate what the program was about, as I had never heard of it before. The more I read about it, the more eager I was to apply. I submitted my application to Dr. Gidi Shemer, SMART Program Director, who paired me with Dr. Mike Kulis. Dr. Kulis is a Research Assistant Professor in the department of Pediatrics. This was a good match for me, because my ultimate goal was to become a pediatrician and work with Doctors Without Borders.

Peanut products cause the most common food allergy causing skin-based, stomach, respiratory symptoms, and even life-threatening anaphylaxis.

Peanut products cause the most common food allergy causing skin-based, stomach, respiratory symptoms, and even life-threatening anaphylaxis.

Dr. Kulis worked in the Food Allergy Lab, which gave me the opportunity to contribute to the research on immunotherapy for food allergies. This research assesses whether or not the antibody isotype, IgG, can be a factor of decreasing allergic reaction and prevention of anaphylactic shock. The significance of this project is that it will provide a better understanding of the role of IgG in immunotherapy for allergic subjects. Thus, it will contribute to the diagnosis and therapy for peanut allergies. The ultimate goal of this project is to assess whether or not histamine release from the basophil is inhibited as a result of IgG, which is directly proportional to peanut allergen exposure over time as a result of immunotherapy. Peanut allergy accounts for the vast majority of life threatening and fatal allergic reactions to foods and affects approximately 3 million Americans and 3.9% of the pediatric population.

Under Dr. Kulis’ mentorship, my SMART-T experience has helped me view the clinical side of medicine from a completely new perspective. Dr. Kulis taught me about important laboratory techniques such as the Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) method and provided me with the tools to become a better researcher and future doctor. I was able to see the interconnection between scientific research and individual wellbeing in a healthcare based laboratory, since allergies affect a person’s physical and social welfare. I used to think researchers only worked in a lab and did not have much patient exposure, but I have learned that it is possible to work in a lab setting and still have the essential patient interaction. My summer in the SMART-T program solidified my decision to become a pediatric physician, who is involved in clinical research.

My SMART-T experience has taught me that for anyone thinking that it is too late to get involved in research or think there isn’t enough time, trust me there is a research opportunity out there for you! Summer research fellowships are the perfect programs as they do not get in the way of courses during the regular fall and spring terms and you can apply during any point of your undergraduate career. I highly recommend just taking the time to apply once you find an opportunity that suits you, as I did, because who knows how these opportunities may shape your career goals.divider

Adding Undergraduate Research to your UNC Bucket List

-written by Kirsten Consing B.S. Psychology/ Chemistry minor 2016

Kirsten regular pic

Kirsten Consing

-edited by Daijha J. Copeland

It was the summer of 2013. I was selected to be a part of the Illinois Summer Neuroscience Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). My weeklong visit at UIUC was a great introduction to neuroscience research as well as to exploring all that the field had to offer. The program included presentations by neuroscience faculty, laboratory exercises, interactions with graduate and medical students pursuing careers in neuroscience, and tours of the campus and research facilities.One of the students that I had the pleasure of speaking with was a Carolina alumnus currently pursuing his MD/PhD at UIUC. The graduate student shared with me how his undergraduate research experience at UNC led to his work in Illinois. The experiences that I had in Illinois really inspired me to get involved in research, so I had to add conducting research to my Carolina bucket list.

Kirsten uncAfter I left Illinois, I spent the rest of my summer trying to connect with as many researchers on campus as I could before returning to UNC. First, I looked at many department websites for faculty members doing research and their research interests. After making a list of faculty members whose work I was interested in, I emailed them my information and stated why I was interested in their work. It did take time for some faculty to respond, but luckily I found a lab that would take me on as a volunteer.

Under the direction of Audrey Verde, a MD/PhD candidate at UNC, I volunteered with the Cognition & Addiction Biopsychology Laboratory (CABLAB) run by Dr. Charlotte Boettiger. I also had an opportunity to volunteer in the Neuro Image Research Analysis Laboratories (NIRAL) run by Dr. Martin Styner. While working with Audrey, I was exposed to different neuroimaging techniques such as structural magnetic resonance imaging and diffusion tensor imaging. As I learned new techniques, I was able to apply what I learned in my classes to the rationale behind each one. Volunteering in the CABLAB and NIRAL, I learned a great deal and truly grew as a student. Dr. Styner witnessed this growth and suggested that I apply for the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) through the Office for Undergraduate Research (OUR). With Dr. Styner’s help, I composed a research proposal that was soon selected, and I am now spending summer 2014 as a SURF participant!

Kirsten Consing during Holi Moli 2014

Kirsten Consing during Holi Moli 2014

Currently, I am working on my very first independent research project at the NIRAL lab with Dr. Styner. My project is titled, “Analysis of Subcortical Structures in Infants with High Familial Risk for Autism.” I am focusing on the examination of subcortical structures in the brain across infants at 12 and 24 months with high familial risk for autism via 3D structural statistical shape analysis. I am proud of all the effort that I have put forth this summer and cannot wait to see the results of my project!

My advice, to any undergraduate student who is unsure of whether or not to do research at Carolina, is to really try it and stick with it for at least a semester. Ask other undergraduate students, especially upperclassmen, about their experiences and take advantage of the OUR website to really start off on the right foot. At the beginning, finding a research opportunity may seem daunting, but I find that pursuing research is something that one should definitely include on the Carolina bucket list, along with rushing Franklin Street, participating at Holi Moli, etc…divider

Letters from Panama, Summer 2014

Brianna Osinski, who graduated from Carolina in May with a major in Biology, in is Panama on a research internship with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. As an undergraduate, Brianna studied phenotypic plasticity in spadefoot toads in the lab of Dr. David Pfennig. Brianna has been sharing her experiences with her mentor, Dr. Peter White, and agreed to let us publish the following excerpts. Thanks, Brianna!

From: Osinski, Brianna
Sent: June 7, 2104, 4:20 pm
To: White, Peter S
Subject: Panama, week 1 review

So, wow, Panama! How have I never been here before!?!? It is so verdant and life is brimming everywhere you look. My alarm clock here consists of a chorus of green parrots that roost outside my window and the occasional trio of tamarind monkeys. Then there are the agouti that just stroll through the backyard eating our mangoes and the iguanas zipping about around them. I think so far I’m most captivated by the leaf-cutter ants. Their sheer numbers are amazing and their industrious nature is simply admirable. Also, the trees here are breathtaking. I just keep stopping to gape at all the buttress roots and staring up into the canopy trying to take in the enormity of the nature surrounding me.Brianna trees

The scientific community here is wonderful, too. I’ve yet to meet an unkind soul and the best part is that everyone here is in love with what they’re studying. So, when I ask questions, a LOT of questions, I’m met with excitement and joy, because they want to talk about what they’re studying just as much as I want to hear about it. We had our first “frog talk” yesterday, which is when all the people here studying frogs gets together and present their research, and it was heavenly! I’ve found my niche, and it is amongst biologists.

Our research with the Tungara frogs is going well. We start at 7:30 pm and collect pairs for about 2 hours at various sites. Then we take them back to the lab, run the females through some phonotaxis tests in our sound chamber to observe their mate preference, we weigh/measure/and toe clip them (toe clipping took some getting used to :/), and last but not least we put them back where we found them before the sun comes up. Ideally, we’re done by 3:30 am, but some nights, like last night, run long and we were working till 6:30. But, since I love what I’m doing, it’s really not so bad when it goes late. If I had infinite energy levels and didn’t require that whole sleep thing, I’d do research all day long.

Week Two in review.

Week 3 was as grand as could be!

Animals galore during week 4!

Great to be alive during week 5!

Rhyming week 6 has me in a fix!

Note: If you are interested in learning more about Brianna’s research or about STRI itself, please feel free to contact Brianna: bosinski@live.unc.edu.

SMART Program Alumna Spotlight

-written by Lauren Askew B.S. Biology 2016

-edited by Daijha J. Copeland

When I started my first year of college at UNC-Chapel Hill, undergraduate research or a research-related career had never crossed my mind. However, once I decided that I wanted to go to medical school my focus changed. I quickly discovered that it would be helpful to have some lab experience, so I found a research opportunity in Dr. Mara Duncan’s cell biology lab. As I gained more skills and summer approached, Dr. Duncan suggested that I apply for the Science and Math Achievement and Resourcefulness Track (SMART) summer research program. I was accepted into the 8-week program. I remember being both nervous and excited. Each week I spent about 40 hours in the lab and attended 3 meetings: lab meeting, a larger lab meeting with other labs, and a program meeting. I gave two presentations weekly and thus gained confidence in presenting scientific data. The first few weeks of the program were difficult because I was afraid to ask questions. I feared that lab members would think poorly of me. One day a graduate student took me under his wing and encouraged me to ask questions about my project and the projects of other lab members. I acted on the graduate student’s advice and my overall performance in the lab lead to an opportunity to do independent research my sophomore year.

Lauren

LB+ Ampicillin bacterial plate with DamLmnB transformed colonies.

I did research on autophagy in yeast and how it can be initiated during the summer and the following school year. Early in the school year though, I transitioned to a biochemistry lab, and gained a new prospective on the work that I had previously conducted.

During the summer, working in a lab every day was straightforward. Research was my sole responsibility. I found during the school year that conducting research was far more difficult. Expectations were higher and time management was crucial when working with longer experiments. And then there was school work, and other obligations. By the end of my sophomore year, I better understood my capacity, stopped spreading myself so thin, and could better schedule experiments and extracurricular activities.

Lauren Askew before her journal club meeting during her Summer Internship Program (SIP) and John's Hopkins.

Lauren Askew during her Summer Internship Program (SIP) at John’s Hopkins.

Currently, I am doing research at Johns Hopkins for 10 weeks through their Summer Internship Program (SIP). My research is on Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome, a rare genetic condition that causes delayed developmental growth and is characterized by premature rapid aging of the face in early childhood. The goal of my project is to find novel interactions between Zmpste24, a gene that codes for a post-translational enzyme, and other regulatory proteins proven to be involved in premature aging syndromes. The research involves working with mammalian cells and performing a lot of cloning, both of which are new to me.

Getting involved in research has changed my career plans significantly. Instead of pursuing the M.D. path, I plan to obtain an M.D./Ph.D. dual degree in infectious diseases. Although it is possible to do research as an M.D., I want to gain the research skills provided by a doctoral degree to reach my maximum potential as a medical researcher. My research experiences have also made me more interested in academia in the future. I had amazing mentors, who have constantly encouraged me and helped me strive towards excellence. Using the mentoring techniques I gained from my mentors, I have been able to help fellow students in their research projects. I find joy in sharing my knowledge with others and would definitely like to make mentoring others a part of my career.divider

“When One Teaches, Two Learn”

-written by Rob Uche Onyenwoke

-edited by Daijha J. Copeland

Rob Uche Onyenwoke, PhD

Rob Uche Onyenwoke, PhD

My career in the sciences began at the University of Georgia in Athens, where I received a B.S. in Biology and conducted an honors thesis involving an evolutionary analysis of microbial tRNAs (transfer RNAs). From working on my senior thesis with my mentor Prof. William B. Whitman, I garnered an interest in microbiology and decided to stay on and pursue a Ph.D. I focused my studies in the areas of performing biochemical and microbial analyses of oxidoreductase enzymes and microbial metabolism and performing microscopy. One of my fondest memories of this time was due to my mentor, Prof. Juergen Wiegel, who helped me through the trying time of completing my Ph.D dissertation. Prof. Wiegel was the epitome of a great mentor and working with him led me to serve as an instructor of microbiology and later a teaching fellow during the final year of my Ph.D. work.

While completing my Ph.D., I spent a significant amount of my time as a researcher and teacher, mentoring undergraduate and graduate students in my respective departments. Having had a fantastic mentor, like Prof. Wiegel, I was eager to guide and counsel younger researchers through their journey. Based upon my own experiences, I learned to view mentoring as very important work.

I accepted a post-doctorate fellowship from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, after completing my teaching fellowship and Ph.D. work. UNC gave me the opportunity to work with Prof. Jay Brenman in the Neuroscience Center and Lineberger Cancer Center studying and identifying novel metabolic targets involved in the progression of diabetes and cancer/neuroblastoma. Soon I began developing my own areas of research and went on to further characterize a calcium channel intimately involved with metabolic disease using high-content imaging.

(B) Representative image of wild-type da neurons expressing an Actin::GFP fusion transgene in a second instar larva. (C) ampka mutants display enlarged plasma membrane domains (arrows) in sensory neuron dendrites, but not axons. (D) A wild-type ampka transgene expressed autonomously within da neurons completely rescues the dendrite phenotype.

(B) Representative image of wild-type da neurons expressing an Actin::GFP fusion transgene in a second instar larva. (C) ampka mutants display enlarged plasma membrane domains (arrows) in sensory neuron dendrites, but not axons. (D) A wild-type ampka transgene expressed autonomously within da neurons completely rescues the dendrite phenotype. Images from: Swick, L. , & Kazgan, N. , & Onyenwoke, R. U., & Brenman, J. E. (2013). Isolation of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) alleles required for neuronal maintenance in Drosophila melanogaster.. Biology Open, 1321-1323.

Dr. Brenman on occasion also served as a faculty mentor to a program offered at UNC called the Science and Math Achievement and Resourcefulness Track program (SMART). I participated as a mentor. The SMART program paired undergraduates with mentors. Students were expected to commit a minimum of 30 hours a week during the summer to complete a research project. Thanh Bui (B.A. Chemistry ’14) was my mentee last summer. I helped her navigate the ins and outs of the lab in order to complete her project examining the relationship between the enzyme AMPK, gene TRPML1, and the target of rapamycin complex 1 (TORC1) pathway. I am proud to say that we have plans to include her work in a revised manuscript to be submitted to the journal Science Signaling. Bui will begin her graduate studies at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Pharmacy in the fall.

Dr. Rob Uche Onyenwoke is an independent Principal Investigator with the Biomanufacturing Research Institute and Technology Enterprise (BRITE), a part of North Carolina Central University (NCCU) in Durham as a Research Assistant Professor/Core Facility Manager. NCCU’s BRITE is primarily a training institute and seeks to mentor and train the next generation of scientists.divider

The Methods of your Research Madness

-written by Daijha J. Copeland

OUR - Graham Memorial

OUR – Graham Memorial

This past spring, the Office for Undergraduate Research (OUR) petitioned the University’s Education Policy Committee to request a course expansion for its Carolina Research Scholar Program (CRSP). The expansion includes UNC research methods courses, which are courses that teach the techniques and tools that scholars use to ask and pursue research questions. Students new to research can take courses to learn the methods involved in asking questions within their discipline, and students already involved in research have an avenue to better tailor the tools used to conduct their own original projects.

Dr. Krista Perreira, OUR Director and Associate Dean said, “For many disciplines or majors, students must learn fundamental research methods or techniques to pursue more intensive research activities.  We wanted to provide Carolina Research Scholars with the opportunity to receive recognition for developing their skills in research techniques appropriate for their discipline.  Though some courses may be listed as both research-intensive courses and research methods courses, we anticipate that this change will expand the number of course options available to students who want to become research scholars.”

from: Communication Currents vol. 7 issue 4

from: Communication Currents vol. 7 issue 4

As early as June 2014, UNC-Chapel Hill students pursuing the Carolina Research Scholar designation will have more choices for meeting the program’s course requirements, which previously included completing one multidisciplinary course, at least two research-intensive courses, and presenting one’s research to a public audience. The expansion means that students can now pair a methods course with a research-intensive course to meet the requirements listed on the CRSP page.

Students can now begin receiving credit for methods courses such as CLAR 411: Archaeology Field Methods, AMST 202: Approaches to American Studies, and BIOL 452: Mathematical and Computational Models in Biology.  For a full list of research methods courses check-out the database of research methods courses.  Keep a look out for the addition of more research methods courses in the fall.

CRSP was developed to enable students to pursue individual research tracks within a curriculum, build an undergraduate community based on research, and then for students to receive formal acknowledgement. Currently there are over 1300 registrants pursuing the CRS designation and 245 students have received the designation as of January 2014.  Carolina Research Scholars have gone on to participate UNC’s research community by serving as peer advisors offering support to students preparing research proposals; student representatives introducing UNC research opportunities through their own experiences to new students at Orientation; and as student government representatives developing specific programs to promote and support undergraduate research.  Learn how you can become a part of this influential community by visiting the CRSP page. divider