Roanoke College

2010-2011 URAP Projects


2010-2011 URAP Research Projects

These projects were available for students entering Roanoke College in Fall, 2010. 

"Estimating Emotional State Using a Nintendo Wii Remote"

Dr. Durell Bouchard, Computer Science

Motion capture provides accurate tracking of motion at a high economic cost as well as a high degree of subject interference from the suit that must be worn. This reduces the practicality for motion analysis applications outside of a laboratory setting. There are, however, much cheaper, less invasive sensors that can be used, such as accelerometers as are found on the Nintendo Wii remote. The goal of this project is to show to what degree it is possible to analyze and describe motion when using these more simple sensors. The URAP student will help test the fidelity of emotional estimation algorithms when using the Nintendo Wii remote as a motion sensor. If the remote proves useful, the student will develop a video game to serve as a testbed to determine the utility of having player emotional state affect game-play.

Dr. Bouchard received his B.A. in computer science from Haverford College and his M.S.E. and Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Pennsylvania. His research interests include human simulation, animation, motion capture, motion analysis, virtual environments, human-computer interaction.

"Synchronization and Emotions: What Do Music, Love, and Humor Have in Common?"
Dr. Christopher Buchholz, Psychology

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.

"The Impact of Technology on Cognitive and Social Skills"
Dr. Denise Greene, Psychology

As technology has become an integral part of our society, it is imperative that we examine how it impacts human thoughts and behavior. This project will examine how the use of technology is related to cognitive (e.g., attention, memory) and social (e.g., emotion recognition) skills. Data analysis will contribute to the literature detailing the positive and negative influences of technology. The URAP student will benefit from participating in all facets of research from initial project design to professional presentation of the data.


Dr. Greene joined the Psychology Department in 2007. She received her B.S. in psychology from Averett University ('01) and her M.S. in Psychological Sciences ('04) and her Ph.D. in Developmental and Biological Psychology ('06) from Virginia Tech. Her research interests include how technology impacts human behavior in the classroom as well as individual differences in cognition and emotion. Her teaching interests include child and adolescent development, research methods, brain and behavior, developmental psychopathology, and human cognitive development.


"Relationships between structure and function in biological molecules"
Dr. Timothy Johann, Chemistry

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 elucidating the bonding contacts it makes with its substrates (folinic acid and ATP). We accomplish this by changing parts (amino acids) of the enzyme and then studying the function of the modified product. The collected information will improve the understanding of this important enzyme and the understanding of current medical therapies.

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 comic books, video games, and chasing his 3 year old son around the yard.

"Estrogen Activity in the Roanoke River"
Dr. Christopher Lassiter, Biology

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.

"Archaeological Investigation of the Tanyard House"
Dr. Whitney A. M. Leeson, History

In this project the research assistant will help collect, catalog, and curate artifacts recovered from the Tanyard House excavation taking place on the southeast corner of our campus. Using both archival and archaeological evidence, the student researcher will interpret the lifeways associated with the various occupation levels (ca. 1855-1990s) of this story-and-a-half frame dwelling.

Dr. Whitney Leeson received her B.A. in History and Anthropology from the College of William and Mary and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Virginia. She is a historical anthropologist by training with field experience in historical archaeology as well. She enjoys teaching courses in anthropology, archaeology, and late medieval and early modern history. Her research interests include medieval and early modern repentant communities (houses for reformed prostitutes in the south of France) and culture contact in the New World, most notably New France. She also serves as Associate Book Review Editor for the Sixteenth Century Journal.


"Present but Unseen: Suppression of Visual Information"
Dr. David Nichols, Psychology


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.

"Studies of Judicial Institutions"
Dr. Todd Peppers, Public Affairs

The URAP student will work on two different projects, each involving the study of judicial institutions. The first project focuses on the various roles played by Supreme Court law clerks, with the specific goal of empirically testing whether law clerks wield influence over judicial outcomes. Data collection will involve several trips to the Library of Congress, where the personal papers of former Supreme Court justices are housed. The second project examines how three decades of asbestos litigation has shaped, and been shaped by, various legal, social, political and economic forces.

Associate Professor Todd C. Peppers earned his B.A. at Washington and Lee University, his J.D. at the University of Virginia and his Ph.D. in Political Science at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Prior to joining the faculty at Roanoke College, he was a senior associate at the law firm of Hawkins & Parnell in Atlanta, Georgia. He is the author of Courtiers of the Marble Palace: The Rise and Influence of the Supreme Court Law Clerk (Stanford University Press, 2006) and the co-author of Anatomy of An Execution: The Life and Death of Douglas Christopher Thomas (Northeastern University Press, 2009).


"Testing Coalescent Theory with the Fishes of the Tennessee and Cumberland River Drainages"
Dr. Steven Powers, Biology

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.


"Characterization of Specific Repetitive Element Families in the Coprinus cinereus Genome"
Dr. Marilee Ramesh, Biology

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.


"Purine Biosynthesis in Archaea"
Dr. Catherine Ann Sarisky, Chemistry

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.


"Public Opinion Surveys"
Dr. Harry Wilson, Public Affairs

In this project the research assistant will participate in a wide variety of public opinion survey projects. As part of the Center for Community Research, the student will be trained in interviewing, questionnaire construction, data analysis, and report writing. Most of the surveys will study statewide political, social, and economic issues. The experience gained in this work will give the student outstanding skills for future employment or graduate studies.

Dr. Harry Wilson has been with Roanoke College since 1986. He earned his bachelor's degree in journalism and master's in political science both at Pennsylvania State University and later his Ph.D. in political science at Rutgers University. A native of Aston, Pennsylvania, he received a Fulbright Award in 1995. He is Director of the Center for Community Research at Roanoke College and is a recognized expert in gun control policy issues, including authoring Guns, Gun Control, and Elections: The Politics and Policy of Firearms in 2006.