Research in Medical Robotics

– written by Cenk Baykal, BS Computer Science and Mathematics

When I started at UNC, I didn’t have the slightest idea what undergraduate research was. As a freshman, I heard about research opportunities, but given my inexperience, I was hesitant on pursuing them until my sophomore year. That year, I began to work as a research assistant in Enabling Technologies under the supervision of Dr. Gary Bishop. During this time, I helped develop and enhance tarheelreader.org, a website designed to provide a collection of easy-to-read books, and created an online game designed for visually impaired students. I was able to see the positive impact this work had, and wanted to continue conducting research afterwards.

I then became a research assistant in the Computational Robotics Group led by Dr. Ron Alterovitz. In the robotics group, I’ve been researching concentric tube robots – medical robots that have potential to enable novel and minimally-invasive surgical procedures. One challenge that we’ve faced is allowing for intuitive control of these robots by physicians. Hence, I have worked with graduate student Luis Torres and developed a multi-component system architecture that bridges real-time motion planning with an interactive user interface and visualization. Concurrently with my robotics work, I conducted research with Dr. Ming Lin and graduate student David Wilkie on participatory route planning, which culminated in the creation of a mobile system, similar to Google Maps, that was able to generate optimal route plans by considering the impact of the system’s own plans on future traffic conditions.

An image of the cocentric tube robot used in Cenk's project.

An image of the cocentric tube robot used in Cenk’s project.

During Summer 2014, I continued my research on concentric tube robots with the help of the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) and my advisor Dr. Ron Alterovitz. Namely, I have been investigating the optimization of the design of these medical robots on an application- and patient-specific basis. More specifically, I have been developing a software program that is capable of computing the optimal design under which the robot can feasibly maneuver to clinical regions of interest and simultaneously avoid damage to surrounding tissue. This has been an extremely exciting project and a great experience as it not only combines my passion for Computer Science and Math, but also has potential to facilitate the use of concentric tube robots for early diagnosis of lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Thanks to the Dunlevie Honors Undergraduate Research Award, I will be extending my work and writing an honors thesis on the design optimization for concentric tube robots during my senior year.

In retrospect, undergraduate research has definitely been a highlight of my experience at Carolina. I had the opportunity to work on fascinating projects and collaborate with outstanding professors, graduate students, and mentors, to whom I am extremely grateful. Conducting research has exposed me to a wide variety of notions and concepts that I would not otherwise be introduced to in a classroom setting alone. Participating in undergraduate research has also motivated me to apply to graduate schools this fall in pursuit of a PhD in Computer Science, something that had never crossed my mind when I first came to Carolina. I would definitely encourage every undergraduate student to give research a try and not be demotivated by qualms concerning lack of experience or skill. As I look back on my research experience, the only regret I have is not starting any sooner.

For more information about these projects please see:

http://robotics.cs.unc.edu/
http://tarheelreader.org/

http://gamma.cs.unc.edu/

 

Exploring Research in Public Policy

– written by Dalia Kaakour, Public Policy student

Research. Research. Research. Coming to UNC, I had been inundated with pamphlets urging me to explore my curiosities, and had spent hours trying to understand things like my older brother’s complicated research — it was something related to biophysics…I think. But despite my limited understanding of what “research” really meant, I was convinced that I would end up doing it, because frankly, it seemed like an important thing to do at a huge research institution like UNC.

Not long after arriving at, I found myself applying to labs, but without any real reason for why I wanted these positions. I realized that I wasn’t allowing my interests and passions to drive my research goals; I wasn’t searching with any direction or specific purpose.

After three years of reflection, exploration and, of course, a little luck, I’m happy to announce that I’ve finally found my niche in research. I reconciled my interests in the fields of public policy and medicine, independently designing and taking on a project examining “Physicians’ End-of-Life Healthcare Decision-Making,” as my Senior Honors Thesis. If you think the title sounds like a mouthful, just imagine explaining it to your friends and family!

Dalia at the 2015 Celebration of Undergraduate Research

Dalia at the 2015 Celebration of Undergraduate Research

The topic stems from my interest in healthcare spending. Not only do we as Americans spend way more than we have, but we undergo treatments and procedures that we don’t really even want. This is particularly pertinent to end-of-life care. The reality is that we spend an incredibly large amount of money on health care expenditures and often undergo unwanted treatments in the last days or weeks of our lives.

Not only does this put a strain on our finances as individuals, but it also puts pressure on our domestic healthcare system as a whole. Looking at this issue through the lens of doctors and what they would choose for their own end-of-life healthcare measures, I am examining the discordance between physicians and their patients. My hope is to draw conclusions as to what can be done to improve communication while still respecting patient desires and the authority of physicians, all the while retaining efficiency in end-of-life care.

Overall, my research project within the Department of Public Policy has been one of the highlights of my academic career. I went from an inexperienced undergraduate to a Principal Investigator — skipping over the Research Assistant step and everything else in between, which may not be the traditional way of doing things. However, everyone has a different path to reach their ends, and the best advice I can give is that it is never too late to find your passions, whether it is through research or elsewhere in life. I now finally understand what it means to “research” — not in its textbook definition, but more importantly in what it means to me as a student, and the continued role that I plan for it to have in my future career and life.

The Celebration of Undergraduate Research Best Poster Award

Written by Caleb Helms, OUR undergraduate assistant and Chemistry major

Before this year, I was unaware of the scale of the Celebration of Undergraduate Research. However, after experiencing it first hand, I now have a greater appreciation for the time and effort that undergraduate students put into research. On Wednesday, April 15, 2015, nearly 170 students gathered in the Great Hall of the Student Union to showcase their research in poster sessions and more than 40 students presented in neighboring panel sessions. From psychology, art, and sociology to mathematics, physics, and chemistry, all disciplines of research were well represented at the symposium. Watching so many students passionately present their research to students, parents, and faculty at the University was a unique experience. As I walked past group after group listening to descriptions of the research, I heard strings of intense words being spoken by the researchers. Words like “sclerochronological,” “ubiquitination,” and “Siderastrea siderea” that I had to look up to spell, and definitely remain unaware of their meaning. As a Chemistry major, I have continuously heard of the research opportunities available but never truly understood the level of rigor involved in undergraduate research. The immense amount of time invested by these students was evident in their presentations. It was amazing and inspiring to witness the commitment students had made to specific areas of research. I have carefully reviewed information that I know and none of my knowledge reaches the equivalent depth of these researchers. After experiencing the Celebration, I have an enriched appreciation for undergraduate research and the students who take part in it. I would recommend that students attend the Celebration of Undergraduate Research and view for themselves the sense of accomplishment achieved when students immerse themselves in a research project.

As an undergraduate assistant in the Office for Undergraduate Research, I was given the task of guiding a group of reviewers in selecting eight students to receive the “Best Poster Award.” The recipients of this award were decided based not only on the content of their research, but also the visual and oral presentation by the students. The graduate students and postdoctoral scholar judges worked hard to make it to each poster in the designated time limit. Each of the judges struggled to pull away from one poster and described the ‘immense detail’ or the ‘intriguing nature’ of the research that the students conducted. I thoroughly enjoyed having the opportunity to present the “Best Poster Award” winners with a ribbon for their accomplishments. Since only eight of the nearly one-hundred and seventy students received this recognition, the award was a huge accomplishment for the recipients.

The eight students recognized at the 2015 Celebration of Undergraduate Research with the “Best Poster Award” included:

• Courtney Shepard, Assessing the Sustainability of Impulse Social Enterprises
• Jonathan Garrick, A Late Holocene Sclerochronological Analysis
• Teresa Martz, Retinal Vessel Oxygenation in Diabetic Retinopathy
• Millicent Robinson, Superwoman Schema, Stigma, Spirituality, and Sensitive Providers
• Mary Ward, Exposing Students in Special Education to STEM
• Emily Davidson, Shifts in Aqueous Carbonate Chemistry
• Samuel Brotkin, Future Self-Continuity and Health Behavior
• Luma Essaid, Hepatocyte Growth Factors and Their Role in Breast Cancer

Along with the Office for Undergraduate Research, I would like to congratulate these students on their accomplishments and thank all the participants at the 2015 Celebration of Undergraduate Research.

 

“Best Poster Award” Winners from Session One. From left to right: Teresa Martz, Millicent Robinson, and Courtney Shepard. Not Pictured: Jonathan Garrick. Photo Credit: Dan Sears

“Best Poster Award” Winners from Session One. From left to right: Teresa Martz, Millicent Robinson, and Courtney Shepard. Not Pictured: Jonathan Garrick. Photo Credit: Dan Sears

 

 

 

Winners from the second session of the Celebration of Undergraduate Research. From left are, Samuel Brotkin, Luma Essaid, Emily Davidson, and Mary Ward.

 

 

“Best Poster Award” Winners from Session Two. From left to right: Samuel Brotkin, Luma Essaid, Emily Davidson, and Mary Ward. Photo Credit: Dan Sears

 

 

The Celebration of Undergraduate Research and Other Spring 2015 Events to Highlight Undergraduate Research

Here in the Office for Undergraduate Research we are busy gearing up for the annual Celebration of Undergraduate Research which will be held on Wednesday, April 15 from 1:00-3:15 p.m. as part of National Undergraduate Research Week.

 

We are fortunate to have additional events taking place on campus this spring that highlight undergraduate researchers at Carolina. Please join us at the Celebration and also take advantage of these other opportunities to support other students and learn about the wide range of research being conducted by Carolina undergrads.

Upcoming Events:

Biology Undergraduate Research Poster Session
Friday, April 17, 2015
2:00-5:00 p.m.
Genome Sciences Building, lower level lobby

BIOL 395 students in their second semester of research will present their findings. The posters will be displayed throughout the week of April 13-17.

Undergraduate Art Symposium
Wednesday, April 22, 2015 (tentative)

Details forthcoming

If your department or unit is hosting an undergraduate research conference, symposium or event, please let us know and we will be happy to include it on this list.

Completed Events:

Curriculum for the Environment and Ecology Student Research Symposium
Saturday, February 21, 2015
9:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
North Carolina Botanical Garden

The 3rd annual CEE Student Research Symposium is designed to showcase many of the program’s students and their research accomplishments.  The symposium will incorporate oral and poster presentations from both graduate and undergraduate students over the course of the day.  In addition, the symposium will serve as a great networking vehicle for various members of CEE to meet and get to know one another. This event’s main goals are to provide student researchers the opportunity to present their research in a supportive environment and to foster relationships among members of the Curriculum, the University community, and the Research Triangle.​ You can review the program: CEE Symposium 2015.

McCain African and Diaspora Student Undergraduate Research Conference
Department of African, African American, and Diaspora Studies
March 20-21

The McCain African and Diaspora Student Undergraduate Research Conference presents undergraduate research projects on a variety of aspects of African, African American and Diaspora studies. The Dunbar-Stone lecture will kick off the conference on Friday, March 20; the keynote speaker is Cami Chavis. The conference will follow on Saturday, March 21 from 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. Read about this Conference here.

Biology Undergraduate Research Honors Symposium
Monday, March 23, 2015
All day in Coker 215

Biology senior honors thesis students present their research. Open to the public.

Department of Sociology Honors Research Presentations
Monday, March 23, 2015
3:30 PM
Hamilton 271

Sociology Honors students from Duke and UNC will be presenting their findings. Everyone is invited to attend.

Are You Interested in Serving as a 2015-16 OUR Ambassador?

Have you had a substantial undergraduate research experience? Do you enjoy talking about your research, scholarship and/or creative work? Would you like to have access to professional and leadership development opportunities? Are you interested in helping to support and expand the work of the Office for Undergraduate Research?

If so, please consider applying to serve as an OUR Ambassador! We’d like to recruit several additional Ambassadors for the 2015-2016 academic year.

You can read about some of our current Ambassadors here.

Our goals for the program:

  • To build a cohort of student ambassadors to support and enhance the work of the Office for Undergraduate Research
  • To provide opportunities for students to help continue to build a culture of undergraduate research at UNC
  • To provide peer mentors to incoming and current students interested in research
  • To provide professional and leadership development opportunities to OUR Ambassadors
  • To provide assistance to OUR in developing fundraising activities

Requirements:

  • Complete application and interview process
  • Meet 3-5 times during the academic year with OUR staff for program planning and professional development
  • Commit 15-20 hours/semester to Ambassador activities. In addition to Ambassador meetings, you might mentor current and incoming students, participate in panels or present in classes about undergraduate research, and engage in other outreach activities, including fundraising

If you are interested in applying to be an OUR Ambassador for next year, please complete the application on or before March 20, 2015 and email a copy of your current resume.

If you have any questions, email us.

Reflection and Resolution: The Summer Internship Program at NIEHS

Written by Yasemin Cole, Biology Major

As the year came to a close, I reflected on the opportunities UNC-Chapel Hill has given me and the amount I have grown academically since I entered as a first year student. One experience topped the list: this past summer, as I was preparing to leave for my nine week journey to study abroad in London, I received exciting news from my mentor at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) that I would be a co-author of a scientific research article. I was ecstatic to hear the news and the memories came flowing back in my mind of my time in the lab running western blots and going into the dark room time after time to develop films. My experience at NIEHS sparked my passion for scientific research and gave me fundamental research skills that I have built upon as a Biology major at UNC.

Reflecting on the experience, I knew that my hard work in the lab for the past two summers had paid off — not because a paper was published with my name on it but because I had helped find something that no one has seen before.

During the summer before my freshman year and the summer before my sophomore year I spent 8 weeks each summer working at NIEHS with the Summer Internship Program (SIP). With the help of my mentor, I researched the role of Glis3 (a transcription factor which regulates insulin production) in transdifferentiating an exocrine cell into an insulin-producing beta cell. The following summer, I built upon this work by researching the protein-protein interaction between an ubiquitin ligase and Glis3 to see how it affects insulin transcription. Through this research process, I learned the art of experimentation and built the curiosity to analytically question results one step at a time.

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in Research Triangle Park

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in Research Triangle Park

To a non-science major student these terms may be unfamiliar but the point is that as a first year I was able to learn about these incredible cellular mechanisms that occur in each cell of your body. To me, that is an amazing thing! Potentially in the future, with further research, we will be able to identify therapeutic targets for the treatment of diabetes (an insulin related disease). I know that my research is one small step in the many steps that will eventually help someone who is sick.

Beyond working in the lab, the SIP program provided me with the opportunity to explore my scientific interests by listening to talks and presentations given by other labs at NIEHS. Furthermore, all SIP participants attended planned seminars and workshops on topics such as UV radiation and pollution (which were my favorite). At the end of the program, all participants presented their research at the poster session. Apart from these enriching activities, I met other UNC students and college students from around the U.S. who are as passionate as I am for science. This program by far went beyond the expectations that I had when I applied.

My suggested New Year’s resolution for you is to apply for this internship program and to take part in this incredible experience. If I could apply again for this internship program I wouldn’t think twice; I believe this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. It made me realize how basic scientific research works and how it benefits human health. Since this research experience, I have been brought back to these thoughts in all of my Biology classes where we learn about amazing scientific discoveries and feats. But nothing can compare to tangibly performing experiments and discovering results that no one has seen before; that is the beauty of scientific research.

 

Note: The deadline for the Summer 2015 SIP is March 1, 2015.

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.