Ongoing URAP Projects for 2011-2012


Palladium-Catalyzed Synthesis of Amino Acid Derivatives
Dr. William "Skip" Brenzovich, Chemistry
URAP Scholar:  Allison Denton (not pictured)

Most medicines that are prescribed by doctors are complex organic molecules.  One reason that the cost of many of these drugs is so high is that the chemical processes that are required to make these molecules tend to be long and involved, and sometimes require the use of very expensive starting materials.  Many scientists are investigating new and more efficient ways to build molecules, and have discovered that small amounts of transition metals can catalyze the reactions of organic molecules, allowing for the faster and cheaper synthesis of important drugs.  The goal of this project is to explore new reactions catalyzed by the metal palladium, specifically utilizing the reactivity of the metal to help build unusual amino acid derivatives.  Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and can be found at the core of many important and useful medicines on the market today.  We will work to explore this new reaction in an effort to determine its potential use in the creation of some very interesting molecules.

Dr. Skip Brenzovich joined the faculty at Roanoke College in 2011. He received his B.S. in chemistry from the College of William and Mary and his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA. Dr. Brenzovich then completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley, designing new reactions involving the metal gold. Dr. Brenzovich's research interests focus on the relationship of the organic and biological molecules with metals, and designing new molecules with interesting and useful functions.

Buchholz's LabSynchronization and Emotions: What Do Music, Love, and Humor Have in Common?
Dr. Christopher Buchholz, Psychology
URAP Scholar: Elizabeth Hord (standing)

In this project the research assistant will participate in an experiment collecting data on how individuals react emotionally to different songs. Analysis of the data will contribute to our understanding of how emotions are related to our psychological health and happiness.

Dr. Buchholz joined the psychology department in 2004. He received a B.S. in psychology from Virginia Tech ('93), a M.A. from Appalachian State ('98), and a Ph.D. from Florida Atlantic ('02). His research interests include self-concept, music & emotions, social interaction, and the application of dynamical systems theory to social psychology. His teaching interests include social psychology, cross-cultural psychology, personality, and evolutionary psychology. His hobbies include hiking, music, and canoeing.


Collins' LabAssessing the Role of Exotic Earthworms on Forest Understory Diversity
Dr. Rachel J. Collins, Biology
URAP Scholar: Elsa Wieboldt (sitting)


Forests are teeming with biological diversity and nearly all of this diversity lives in the forest understories. These understories can contain a plethora of blooming wildflowers in the spring, dull and brightly colored salamanders on warm moist evenings, and abundant tree seedlings year round. Yet other local forests understories are devoid of this diversity. Why are some forests more diverse than others? Are humans causing these differences? Some of the most important ecological drivers in forests are hidden underground. This project will examine the link between exotic earthworms and forest understory diversity in Roanoke County forests. The URAP scholar on this project will work with the professor collecting data from forests, conducting laboratory studies, and performing computer analyses.

Dr. Rachel Collins has been studying forests since she was old enough to climb trees. As an adult, she has studied pine forests in North Carolina, old-growth conifer forests in Oregon, oak forests in West Virginia (Ph.D. research at the University of Pittsburgh), and beech forests in Wisconsin (Post-Doctorate Research Associate U-W Madison). She came to Roanoke College in 2007 and is an assistant professor of Biology where she teaches courses in ecology, biodiversity, animal behavior and conservation biology.

Dr. Elizabeth HolbrookThe Roanoke Valley Community Healthy Living Index
Dr. Elizabeth Holbrook, Health & Human Performance
URAP Scholar:  Lauren Roth (not pictured)

Leisure pursuits in the United States have undergone a drastic makeover in response to the technological advancements of the computer age. Specifically, American youth and adults are now spending the majority of total daily time engaging in sedentary activities.  As a result of these behaviors, our country is now experiencing the economic burden of dealing with increasingly pervasive levels of hypokinetic diseases.  Despite the apparent morphological changes surrounding us, we, as Roanoke Valley community members, often perceive the national health crisis as a phenomenon with little to no local impact. To combat this trend, we will spend the next few years conducting a community-wide assessment of the accessibility to healthy living within the Roanoke Valley. Involvement in the Community Health Living Index will serve as an excellent learning opportunity for any student interested in pursuing a career in a health-related field.

Dr. Liz Holbrook joined the Roanoke College faculty in 2010. She earned her B.S. in Kinesiology from SUNY Cortland College and her Ph.D. in Health and Human Performance from Middle Tennessee State University. She applies her love of exercise physiology in her leisure pursuits as an avid marathon runner and triathlete. Dr. Holbrook's research focuses on the relationship between physical activity participation and hypokinetic disease outcomes. She has a particular interest in studying factors which impact physical activity patterns across the lifespan.


Dr. Gary HollisSynthesizing Novel, Highly-Fluorinated Cyclopentadienes 
Dr. W. Gary Hollis, Jr., Chemistry
URAP Scholar:  Dana Layo (not pictured)

My research interests lie primarily in the area of synthetic organic and organometallic chemistry. Synthetic methods are developed in order to facilitate the conversion of one molecule into another. In addition to this goal of investigating molecular construction, methods development contributes basic chemical knowledge concerning the properties of the species and the reactions being studied. My URAP student would work with me on my current project in this area. This student collaborator will learn basic techniques in organic and organometallic synthesis (including inert atmospheres, syringe techniques, extractions, etc.), methods of purification of organic compounds (including distillation, recrystallization, and column chromatography), and the means to identify compounds using modern spectroscopic instrumentation (most usually 1H and 19F NMR spectroscopy).

Dr. Gary Hollis earned a B.S. in Chemistry and his Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Hollis is currently Professor and Chairperson of Chemistry at Roanoke College.

Tim JohannCasey WojteraAshley NyitrayInvestigations of the Enzyme 5,10-Methenyltetrahydrofolate Synthetase
Dr. T
imothy W. Johann, Chemistry
URAP Scholars: Kayla Muncy (not pictured), Casey Wojtera (center), Ashley Nyitray (right), and Nick Wright (not pictured)

Folates are vitamins that are essential to human health. There are many forms of folate, each of which plays an important role in cellular metabolism. Folinic acid is a storage form of folate that is converted into more active forms of folate by an enzyme called 5,10-methenyltetrahydrofolate synthetase (MTHFS). These active forms of folate participate in essential cellular functions including synthesis of DNA, synthesis of protein, synthesis of ATP, and DNA repair. MTHFS is also important as its activity on folinic acid is an important component of two forms of chemotherapy. The goal of this project is to better understand the function of MTHFS by characterizing the various forms of this enzyme in different species.

Dr. Johann received his B.A. from Hamline University in biology and chemistry. He earned his Ph.D. in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). He had a seven year career in biotechnology where he was a scientist, project manager, and the director of a research group. After leaving industry, he taught for four years at Radford University and is now pleased to be a member of the Roanoke College Department of Chemistry. His hobbies include cooking, comic books, video games, and building Lego projects his 4 year old son.

Lassiter's LabEstrogen Activity in the Roanoke River
Dr. Christopher Lassiter, Biology
URAP Scholar: Tyler Barnes (standing)

Every day, our rivers are impacted with pollution in the form of agricultural run-off, industrial run-off, and wastewater treatment. Many of these chemicals are estrogenic, causing hormonal imbalance in wildlife and are a cause for concern in human health. Over the course of four years, this project will involve laboratory work with estrogen-sensitive genes in zebrafish embryos, and fieldwork sampling water in the Roanoke River. We will use zebrafish embryos as a living indicator to measure estrogen pollution locations and intensity along the river.

Dr. Lassiter is an Assistant Professor of Biology at Roanoke College and has been here since 2005. He received his B.S. in Biology from Furman University ('98) and a Ph.D. in Genetics and Genomics from Duke University ('05). His research interests include the effects of hormones on developing embryos. He uses zebrafish as a model organism. His teaching interests include Developmental Biology, Cell Biology, Immunology, Paleobiology, and a May Term travel course on the National Park System.

Maggie AndersonImproving Workforce Diversity Through Targeted Recruitment Techniques
Dr. Julie Lyon, Business Administration
URAP Scholar: Maggie Anderson (pictured)

Twenty-first century businesses understand the need to attract diverse candidates to their organizations. This project utilizes an interdisciplinary approach to develop innovative targeted recruitment techniques designed to attract minority candidates to organizations. We will integrate research from the fields of advertising and promotions, persuasion and influence, and social and industrial/organizational psychology to develop several lab and field studies. The URAP scholar will develop advanced research skills, including designing studies, analyzing data, writing for academic and non-academic audiences, and presenting at conferences. The URAP scholar will also work as part of a research team that spans several colleges and universities.

Dr. Julie Lyon received her B.A. in Psychology from NC State University and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from the University of Maryland. She joined the Business Administration and Economics Department at Roanoke College in 2007 and teaches Organizational Behavior, Team Dynamics, and Promotion Management. Dr. Lyon's research interests include diversity and selection, climate and culture, and technology-mediated work. She is currently the Director of Student/Faculty Research for the College.

Dr. Vern Miller & Mr. Jeremy Johnson

Logan BrownReactions of Amine Iodoboranes with Carbon-Carbon and Carbon-Oxygen Double Bonds
Dr. Vernon Miller, Chemistry
URAP Scholars: Jeremy Johnson (left picture, right), and Logan Brown (right picture)

The goal of this research is to find another way to add atoms, such as hydrogen, iodine, and oxygen, to carbon-carbon and carbon-oxygen double bonds. These reactions will make use of compounds that contain boron and iodine, and will not require substantial heating or chemicals that cannot easily be handled in the air.

Dr. Vernon Miller, Associate Professor of Chemistry, is in his thirty-fourth year at Roanoke College. He received his B.A. from Manchester College in Indiana and his Ph.D. from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. Following these, he was a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Florida studying bisamine boron cations and at the University of Virginia studying metallocarboranes. Dr. Miller has had two sabbatical leaves, one at the University of Tennessee studying fly ash, and one at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg, studying analytical methods for marine waters. His current research interests are NMR spectroscopy and boron-containing compounds, particularly those that have a positive charge or that possess a halogen atom. He has done research with over 50 Roanoke students since arriving at Roanoke.

Chad MorrisCommunity-Based Public Health Promotion: Diet and Non-Communicable Disease in Palau
Dr. Chad Morris, Sociology (Anthropology)
URAP Scholar: Nathan Sliwa (not pictured)

The Republic of Palau is a Pacific island nation with just over 20,000 inhabitants. The influence of colonial occupation and globalization of food supplies over the past century has led to several changes in Palauan dietary behavior. These changes have produced sharp increases in prevalence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity, prompting Palauan health officials to declare an epidemic of non-communicable disease. The goal of this project is the creation of community research-based public health interventions aimed at improving food security and dietary habits in one or more small Palauan communities. The URAP scholar will experience a complete global health program over four years, helping to create interviews, analyze results, and use those results to design interventions. Opportunities for travel to Palau may be available, as are opportunities for conference presentations and co-authorship of project reports and scholarly manuscripts.

Dr. Morris joined the faculty of Roanoke College in 2009. He received his B.S. in anthropology/sociology and biology from Centre College, his M.A. (anthropology) from the University of Memphis, and his Ph.D. (anthropology) from the University of Kentucky. An applied medical anthropologist, Dr. Morris teaches courses that explore applied anthropology/community development, human foodways and nutrition, biological anthropology, global health, and the anthropology of service. Dr. Morris's research focuses on means of including community voices in public health decision making and promotion. In addition to the Palau project, his areas of research expertise include indoor environmental health, organ and tissue donation, "tween" fitness and nutrition, immigrant access to health care, and urban and rural development initiatives.

Dr. David NicholsPresent but Unseen: Suppression of Visual Information
Dr. David Nichols, Psychology
URAP Scholar: Victoria Godwin (not pictured)

Our visual perception of the external world typically occurs effortlessly and seemingly without considerable oddities. However, the fact that we have two eyes physically displaced from one another results in two slightly different representations of the world coming to our brain through our eyes. Under many circumstances that information can be integrated into a coherent whole, but other times the information is so different that the representation from one eye can be maintained while the other representation is discarded. The URAP scholar will help explore both how this process of selecting one representation over another takes place and what it tells us about how the human brain processes visual information about the world around us.

Dr. David Nichols joined the Psychology Department in 2009. He received a B.A. ('00), M.A. ('03), and Ph.D. ('06) in Experimental Psychology from Florida Atlantic University and spent three years as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Vision Research at York University in Toronto, Canada. He currently teaches classes in Research Methods, Sensation and Perception, and Introduction to Psychology. His research interests include visual perception, cognitive neuroscience, and dynamical modeling of alternations in perception.

Testing Coalescent Theory with the Fishes of the Tennessee and Cumberland River Drainages
Dr. Steven Powers, Biology
URAP Scholar: Kelsey West (not pictured)

The undergraduate researcher working on this project will conduct lab work testing Coalescent Theory, an important theoretical link between population ecology and genetic evolution. Empirical field research to test Coalescent Theory is wanting, and preliminary studies suggest the fish fauna of the Tennessee and Cumberland river drainages will provide a largely "controlled" natural laboratory to test the predictions of this important evolutionary theory. Molecular data from fishes with contrasting population sizes will be compared to test for the assumed inverse correlation between population size and genetic partitioning of populations. Much of this work will involve generating genetic sequences, using PCR techniques.

Steve Powers came to Roanoke College in 2008, specializing in the evolution and ecology of North American stream fishes. Before coming to Roanoke, he taught at Reinhardt College in northern Georgia where he collaborated with undergraduate researchers on several projects that resulted in papers presented at national meetings and published in scientific journals. He earned a Ph.D. at the University of Alabama where he worked in one of the largest, most active, and modern fish museums in the United States. Prior to attending Alabama, he completed a M.S. at Eastern Kentucky University where he conducted a great deal of field work in eastern Kentucky and southwestern Virginia. Dr. Powers is also a graduate of Georgetown College where he first became "hooked" on fish research as an undergraduate. It was this early experience with research that makes him committed to providing meaningful research opportunities for undergraduates.

Ramesh's LabCharacterization of Specific Repetitive Element Families in the Coprinus cinereus Genome
Dr. Marilee Ramesh, Biology
URAP Scholar: Kendra Boyd (standing)

This project will integrate traditional molecular biology techniques with computational approaches to address questions pertaining to specific families of repetitive elements in the mushroom Coprinus cinereus. This organism has been shown to contain two families of retrotransposons and three families of DNA transposons. Future work will focus on characterizing the molecular structure and functionality of these elements. This project will involve opportunities to culture the organism, perform common molecular biology techniques and analysis with computational tools to manipulate DNA sequences.

Dr. Marilee Ramesh joined the faculty at Roanoke College in 2002. Dr. Ramesh earned a BS degree in Biology from the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point and a Ph.D. in Biology from Indiana University. She has performed postdoctoral research at the University of British Columbia and Emory University. During her sabbatical leave, she was a Visiting Scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has had the opportunity to supervise many undergraduate research students both at her research positions and at Roanoke College. She teaches courses in genetics, molecular biology and genomics. Her research interests are in the evolution of meiosis and fungal genomics.

Rearick's LabUnderstanding the Choices We Make: A Psychological, Physiological and Kinematic Examination of Human Motion
Dr. Matt Rearick, Health and Human Performance
URAP Scholar: Annie Shreckhise (standing)

Whether you are walking, communicating with a friend or reaching out to grasp a familiar object, what often appears to be an effortless movement is in fact the product of many complex interactions between the Central Nervous System (CNS) and the muscular and physiological systems. This project will use a naturally occurring experimental model - humans walking while using hiking poles - to examine several research questions related to how the CNS "chooses" a particular movement form and subsequently controls and modulates this motion within the context of the situation. The undergraduate research assistant will take part in all phases of the project from continued literature search and review, to piloting and experimentation (using a full Metabolic system and 2-dimensional video analysis) as well as poster and manuscript preparation.

Dr. Rearick joined Roanoke College in 2005. He received a B.S. in Biology (Minor in Psychology) from Shippensburg University and Ph.D. in Kinesiology from the Pennsylvania State University. Dr. Rearick completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Neurobiology at Arizona State University. Dr. Rearick's research interests in human science are broad and eclectic. Over the years his many projects have ranged from the neural control of movement (including examining Parkinson's Disease) to overtraining in young athletes to cognitive retraining in cerebral palsy. In all his work Dr. Rearick is passionate about the interplay between the psychological, physiological and mechanical, regardless of the research question(s) at hand. When not "playing" in the lab, Dr. Rearick works extensively with public school districts through federal, state and foundation grant programs to create educational opportunities for kids. You might also find him on his mountain bike or playing piano and guitar with his wife and two girls.

Sarisky's LabPurine Biosynthesis in Archaea
Dr. Catherine Sarisky, Chemistry
URAP Scholars: Maura Belanger (left), Michelle Pasier (right), and Danielle Allen (not pictured)

Published genomes for many archaeal species raise nearly as many questions as they answer. Although we can confidently say that many archaea are able to biosynthesize nucleotides, many of their genomes do not appear to contain genes for one or more of the necessary steps for the established biosynthetic pathways. The URAP scholar will use molecular biology and enzymology techniques to characterize several novel enzymes that we suspect are involved in these important biosynthetic steps.

Dr. Catherine Sarisky earned a B. A. in chemistry from New College of Florida and a M. S. and Ph. D. in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology, where she worked on protein structure and design with Dr. Stephen Mayo. Her current research interests focus on the biosynthesis of purine molecules, especially in archaea.

Dr. Jack SteehlerHeather AnthonyGuided Inquiry Learning With GC/MS
Dr. Jack Steehler, Brian H. Thornhill Professor of Chemistry
URAP Scholar: Heather Anthony (pictured)

This project will involve the URAP student in a science education research project, analyzing the effectiveness of different approaches to teaching introductory chemistry labs. The student will help collect and analyze survey data related to new experiments involving a guided inquiry approach to lab instruction, specifically for experiments involving a new gas chromatography/mass spectrometry instrument. The student will be involved in all aspects of data collection and computer based data analysis, and may assist with experiment development. The ideal student for the project should be "science comfortable", but may intend to major in a social science, in a natural science, or just have interests in education and teaching.

Dr. Jack Steehler is the Brian H. Thornhill Professor of Chemistry and Director of Student/Faculty Research at Roanoke College. He has a BS in Biochemistry from the Ohio State University, and a Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research interests include laser and optical spectroscopy, and chemical education research. He also has expertise in issues related to Technology and Society.He teaches freshman through senior courses in chemistry, and an Honors course on the Human Impact of Technology.


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Deadline: March 1st

(High School Students: You should apply during the winter of your senior year.)

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