The Collegian
Thursday, June 13, 2024

Students present summer research

University of Richmond students presented their summer research this afternoon in Gottwald during the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Science Symposium.

The poster session, which took place from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., featured students who received HHMI grants to research during the summer and also included other summer researchers.

Students created posters explaining their labs and findings and spoke with faculty, students and visitors attending the session.

Sophomore Nicki Smith, an HHMI grant recipient, said that the poster session had been set up to be conversational. Some of the science professors assigned classes to go to and talk to the researchers, she said.

"It's a good sample of research," Smith said. "I went last year to decide which lab to join."

Smith took the integrated quantitative science full-year course last year as a freshman.

The course was new last fall and incorporated the introductory biology, chemistry, physics, math and computer science courses for prospective science majors. It received an HHMI grant last year.

Smith said that 18 students from the class were funded to stay for the summer.

She researched with Dr. Carol Parish in the theoretical chemistry lab.

She worked to find the shape of neurosteroids, which are brain steroids. She did this by figuring out the steroid backbone.

"The backbones are ring systems," she said. "Four rings go into the steroid."

Smith explained that she started with one and used the lowest energy to find its position and continued on with the other rings.

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"You figure out the backbone and then how it applies to the shape," she said.

She researched neurosteroids because another lab was having trouble finding a protein and knowing what bound with it would help them, she said.

She began her research in the spring and wrote about her findings for the summer.

Reginald Gooden, a senior, received a grant through the university to research with Parish as well.

He worked to find the basic confirmation for certain molecules, he said. He explained that the confirmation is how the molecule is sitting in space.

He did this by working with the potential energy surface of the molecules.

With his work, he could use programs to mimic how the molecules would act as medicine in the body. "If we can find the flexibility of the molecule, we can see how it will react as medicine," Gooden said.

These findings could help in combating diseases in the future through the medical applications, he said.

Another HHMI grant recipient, sophomore Kristin Peterson, studied sponges. She took the IQS course as well and joined Dr. April Hill's lab because she liked what was done in class, she said.

"I'm looking at sponges because of their evolutionary importance," she said. "I am specifically looking at symbiots. There are bacteria which live in harmony with the sponge, or maybe not. I looked at the relationship and what the bacteria do for the sponge."

Peterson studied one sponge and then removed the bacteria from it. She studied the genes that were turned on in the sponge only when the bacteria were present.

She now has a set of genes that are on with the bacteria present and is trying to figure out their importance, she said.

Once the results are validated, she said, she hoped they would be able to turn genes on and off to look for specific effects.

"Because of the evolutionary importance of sponges, these pathways can aid in looking at the genes in other organisms," she said.

Sophomore Melinda Lucia and junior Erin McDaniel were both working with Dr. Craig Kinsley and looking at the maternal brain. McDaniel used rats to determine whether mothers distinguished between their own young and alien young, she said.

Lucia studied postpartum aggression with how a maternal rat would react to a male placed in the cage compared to a nonmaternal rat.

They both looked at behaviors and McDaniel used brain stains as well.

"Research just gives you a deeper understanding of something you do in class," Lucia said. "I learned a lot about myself, my interests, where I could take this in the future."

"I am a science major, but was never pre-med," McDaniel said. "This is exactly what you'd be doing in grad school. It was such a valuable experience."

Contact reporter Kaileigh Connolly at

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