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SRIA Scholars Gain Valuable Research Experience

Amber Ryan, C'22, MBA'23
Graduate Assistant, School of Natural Science & Mathematics

Seven Student Research Internship Award (SRIA) scholars worked one-on-one with faculty mentors over the summer of 2022 to gain lab experience and further develop their research skills. The SRIA students are chosen for this competitive research award based on the research proposals submitted to Dean of Natural Science and Mathematics Christine McCauslin, Ph.D.

sria-2022-group-photo-2.jpgThe student scholars pursued their proposed projects and built upon important research skills that will help prepare them for graduate school and/or their career. They all found the experience to be valuable as expressed by John Marinelli, a sophomore biochemistry major. “I am extremely glad to have been able to have this experience, and I would recommend it to anyone who is looking into scientific research as a possible career choice,” he said.

The SRIA program, including stipends for the student scholars, is funded by the Dean's Fund for Excellence. Julianna Mariano's stipend was part of the Battelle National Biodefense Institute grant the university received. Her housing and meal plan were funded through the Dean's Fund for Excellence.

Julianna Mariano

Julianna Mariano, a junior, spent her summer discovering the biodiversity and elemental composition of small bodies of water by studying the elemental differences between stoneflies and mayflies. Mariano found that if the water did not have these organisms the water quality tended to be poor. Different element levels indicated which species would be able to survive. Mariano’s focus was to provide a “standard” by which researchers can compare future bodies of water. She plans to finish writing a manuscript with her research partner this fall.

Throughout her research, Mariano obtained many skills including coding; conducting ENOVA, a PCA; and using an ICP machine for elemental breakdown. She experienced major setbacks with supply chain shortages, but capitalized on this challenge by creating code and formulating her writing procedure. This experience allowed her to be independent and hone her time management skills.

This process would not have been possible without the help of Assistant Professor Rachel Hartnett, Ph.D., who helped Mariano enhance her statistical knowledge, construct an effective SOP, practice ethical and practical sampling techniques, and create long-term plans and schedules for research.

Elijah Thalos

Thalos, a senior majoring in biology, created a model that combines pre-existing force-length curves from a diverse sample of organisms and muscles to compare optimal force productions. He hoped to develop a better understanding of mechanistic explanations for the variations in optimal force production. He chose this project in part because he is a student-athlete who plays on the men’s water polo team.

Throughout his experience, he learned how to analyze and sift through current knowledge of a topic and combine data from multiple source types. Thalos spent his time categorizing and comparing experimental designs to see whether a comparison could even be made. He found that this process wasn’t easy and faced problems with finding papers that would be applicable to his analysis. Often, the experimental designs were too obscure. But with the help of Assistant Professor of Biology Kari Taylor-Burt, Ph.D., Thalos learned which articles were the best fit for his research project as Taylor-Burt provided him with explanations that helped him better understand the research process. He hoped that this experience would help clarify which field of medicine he would like to enter.

Makala Harrison

Makala Harrison, a senior studying neuroscience, conducted research using benthic macroinvertebrates and water quality metrics to investigate water quality in streams. She became interested in macroinvertebrates because they can be used to gain insight into water quality over a longer period of time compared to other water quality tests. Her goals for the project included determining how land use and rain events impact macroinvertebrate communities and how the macroinvertebrate communities correlate to water quality in the stream. One of the many things Harrison found was that both macroinvertebrate communities and water quality measures exhibit a smaller amount of variance in rural areas across different sites compared to agricultural and residential areas.                                                                                                              

While Harrison was new to coding and conducting fieldwork research on her own, she overcome her struggles through meetings with Assistant Professor Hartnett, her mentor for this project. In addition to using code, Harrison also learned how to use it for statistical analysis and graphics, giving her a new skill to assist in all future research projects.

Brylen Hatcher

A junior majoring in neuroscience, Brylen Hatcher conducted research on worms. His research sought to determine whether the mutated gene, Seb-3 influences the behavior of worms. One of Hatcher’s biggest takeaways from this experience is that patience is needed to have success within the lab. Managing your time within the lab to be productive will help you stay focused and organized.                                                          

Hatcher sharpened his skills within the lab, learning how to conduct research and experiments from start to finish. One of the biggest hardships that Brylen had to face this summer was when they gathered and finalized their data. Problems arose when the controls did not mirror the previous experiment, meaning that the independent variables data could not be used. Although this was an obstacle he could not overcome this summer, he is continuing to work on this research this fall.

Maddison Devine

Maddison Devine, a junior neuroscience major, spent her summer continuing research from a previous project involving the alg-1 and alg-2 mutant C. elegans. She sought to confirm her results and rule out any other possible variables. She ran multiple tests, including statistical analysis, on her data. Although it did not show any statistical significance, Devine was able to speculate reasons why this could be. She learned that although experiments may not be successful, they can be used to ask questions and develop processes that will work better.                   

In the end, Devine gained substantial data to further her study. She also honed her leadership skills by helping and guiding two fellow students on how to go about the research process. Devine noted that her mentors, Associate Professor of Biochemistry Michael Turner, Ph.D., and Assistant Professor of Neuroscience Angy Kallarackal, Ph.D., showed her the impact of dedication and passion on students. Both of these professors have a deep passion for their fields and enjoy teaching students about them. Maddison recognized this through their constant affirmations and pushing her to pursue her passion in the lab. They helped shape her research and learning experience by teaching her how to break down and analyze articles. They also taught her the proper techniques for presenting research to an audience. Devine plans to pursue research in neuroscience as a future career.

Nema Kebbeh

Nema Kebbeh, a senior majoring in psychology, spent his summer working on rat models to see if physical activity would make a substantial change in behavior. This summer research project also gave him the fundamentals for his senior project. He will use the information and data he gathered this summer to further his research in the academic year. The focus of his project was to determine if physical activity could decrease impulsivity.

Over the summer Kebbeh gained an understanding of the relationship between animals and research. He learned certain techniques in order to get the animals to cooperate. A big obstacle when working with animals is establishing relationships with food. Kebbeh found that animals will go for an immediate reward rather than a delayed one due to factors such as uncertainty about the feeding schedule. Kebbeh noted that this research could not have been done without the help of Psychology Department Chair Jonathan Slezak, Ph.D., who guided him through each step of his research experience, helping him do it both effectively and correctly. This experience has given Kebbeh the confidence to work independently and direction for his future. He plans on doing research after graduation.

John Marinelli

john-marinelli.jpgA sophomore biochemistry major, John Marinelli originally saw this research internship as an opportunity to gain general lab experience and to consider a career in research. Working with  Associate Professor of Biology Kathryn Dye, Ph.D., Marinelli studied the SARS-CoV2 spike protein and the interactions it had with proteins on the cell wall. Not only did he gain knowledge about how cells work to fight off viruses and the information gained from the actual research, but Marinelli also learned new processes and procedures necessary for work in a lab. This included PCR and gel electrophoresis, qPCR, running an ELIZA test, working in cell culture, and storing and replicating genetic material. The biggest struggle was getting consistent results from the same tests, but Marinelli eventually obtained usable information.

In the group photo are, from left to right, Nema Kebbeh, Elijah Thalos, Brylen Hatcher, Makala Harrison and Julianna Mariano. Maddison Devine is in the front row.


Amber Ryan, C'22, MBA'23
Graduate Assistant, School of Natural Science & Mathematics