VCU Student Inventors: Win up to $15K from the Lemelson-MIT Program


Dear VCU Community,

The Lemelson-MIT Program is searching for the most inventive students to apply for the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize. The competition is open to teams of undergraduate students and individual graduate students nationwide who have tested prototypes of tech-based inventions in four categories: food and agriculture, consumer devices, healthcare, and transportation.

Graduate student winners will receive $15K, while winning undergraduate teams will win $10K. All winners will be rewarded with national media exposure and exposure to the investment and business communities, among other benefits.

Applications are open through October 13, 2015.

Please contact Marlena Martinez Love at 617-258-5798 or should you wish to know more.

A class on two wheels: Students study and serve while riding bicycles around the city

Featured photoStudents in the Urban Biking Benefits class met on bicycles and traveled far and wide to learn about cycling initiatives in Richmond.
Photo courtesy of Nick Davis Photography.

About a dozen Virginia Commonwealth University students have been taking people’s bicycles this week from the corner of Monument and Davis avenues.

Their excuse? Their teacher told them to do it.

But not for nefarious reasons. The students are part of the Urban Biking Benefits class, a course that has been held largely atop bicycles. The class is one of several one-credit courses offered this semester to take advantage of the UCI Road World Championships being held in Richmond.

Urban Biking Benefits is a designated service-learning course that requires each student to perform 20 hours of service. Ten of those hours have been devoted to manning a bike valet station along the UCI route on Monument Avenue.

Organized by Bike Walk RVA — a Sports Backers program — the idea behind the bike valet station is simple. It encourages locals to ride their bikes to community events instead of to drive their cars. Volunteer valets then park the bikes, ensuring security for the riders. With the road closures and detours caused by the UCI, it’s much easier for spectators to bike to the event rather than to drive.

Some people don’t know anything about bikes, some people know a ton. It’s really great peer-to-peer learning … in the heat of the action.

“From our perspective, it’s been great for these [student] volunteers to really be exposed to a lot of bike-related things,” said Brantley Tyndall, community engagement coordinator for Bike Walk RVA. “They’re meeting a lot of people who come to watch. Some people don’t know anything about bikes, some people know a ton. It’s really great peer-to-peer learning … in the heat of the action.”

The remaining 10 service hours comprise collecting data for the university’s State of Cycling Report, which appraises VCU’s bike infrastructure and surveys students, staff and faculty about biking on campus.

“I saw this as a really great opportunity to continue that conversation,” said Tessa McKenzie, co-instructor for the course and a research coordinator in the Division of Community Engagement. “The data have not been updated since 2010 and the students are involved in collecting data on bike racks throughout both campuses. They each get 18 different racks and will provide updated data, and discuss and share findings. We do this all on bike. At VCU we make it real – real fun.”

 Students are serving as bike valets during the UCI Road World Championships, part of an effort to encourage spectators to bike to the course.<br />
<br>Photo by Steven Casanova, University Marketing.
Students are serving as bike valets during the UCI Road World Championships, part of an effort to encourage spectators to bike to the course.
Photo by Steven Casanova, University Marketing.

McKenzie collaborated with co-instructor Herb Hill, director of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program at VCU, to help students with the research component.

Hill, who works primarily with students conducting research in a structured academic environment, jumped at the chance to take research out of its traditional environment and into the community, which has a completely different impact, he said.

“We can do research that’s meaningful and that’s active and that has outcomes,” he said. “And you can communicate those results back to the community for change. To be able to see all of that happen in a relatively short time span is really motivating and inspiring.

Bikes are pictured at the bike valet.<br />
<br>Photo by Steven Casanova, University Marketing.
Bikes are pictured at the bike valet.
Photo by Steven Casanova, University Marketing.

“It’s unpredictable. Even in a lab environment, it’s unpredictable, but when you’re dealing with a community-engaged project, the unpredictability quotient kind of goes through the roof. But that’s what makes it so exciting. That’s what makes this a compelling project and a compelling course.”

It also helps that all of the students enrolled in the class want to be there.

West Redington, a junior mechanical engineering major and president of the Triathlon Club at VCU, calls the class “fantastic.”

“Everybody in it is there because they’re interested in bikes and the bike race,” he said.

The seven-week class meets each Wednesday, covering a different topic focused on a community bike initiative. Opting for a face-to-face class over an online one, McKenzie also eschewed a classroom setting. Instead, the class meets on its bikes and explores different parts of the city in what they call “ride and learns.” Each week, a different community expert joins them on bike to discuss the evening’s topic and to tour the city.

“For example, last week we met with former professional racer Matt Crane out of Richmond Cycling Corps,” McKenzie said. “Our topic was racing debunked, which examined the race route. We got to ride the cobbles and Governor Street hills, and discuss or demystify racing and how to be a spectator. It got sweaty.”

Other guests included Tyndall, a VCU alumnus who launched several bike initiatives while at the university.

The visiting community members appealed to Julia Carney, a senior political science major.

The bike is really this tool for community engagement and to go beyond the traditional classroom structure.

“You couldn’t ask for a better class,” she said. “These are people I wouldn’t normally interact with but our instructors are well-connected, so they bring these people in that are pillars of the biking community. I wouldn’t ever talk to [them], but [now] I have this experience to bike with [them]. It’s really fantastic. I love it so much.”

McKenzie sees the bike as a unifying component of the class, similar to how the UCI is unifying VCU, Richmond and the world.

“We found something special here,” she said. “The bike is really this tool for community engagement and to go beyond the traditional classroom structure. So I saw this as a way to get students on bikes, to ride in the community, to be connected with the community, to learn with the community, and that was the vision. The students have learned about these exciting community initiatives that are happening in Richmond right in front of us, right on campus.

“I think it’s important that faculty at VCU consider alternative methods of teaching in the classroom. The bike for us has been extremely successful and has really unified the students with the community as well as with this bike race. … This has been unforgettable.”

Students in the Urban Biking Benefits class met on bicycles and traveled far and wide to learn about cycling initiatives in Richmond.<br />
<br>Photo courtesy of Nick Davis Photography.
Students in the Urban Biking Benefits class met on bicycles and traveled far and wide to learn about cycling initiatives in Richmond.
Photo courtesy of Nick Davis Photography.

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VCU Chemistry Majors: Summer Research in Retrospect


Josh websiteThis summer I did a research internship at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA through their Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program.  I worked on a project this summer that focused on finding better drug therapies for Ebola virus and other filoviruses.  Specifically, I looked at antibodies from human survivors of Ebola and other filoviruses, then mapped how they interacted with a protein expressed on the surface of the viruses that’s responsible for allowing the virus to infect cells using electron microscopy to produce 3-D images of the complex.  This provides more information as to whether the antibody will be a good candidate for use in a therapeutic cocktail.

This internship had a profound impact on my professional development! I’m very interested in studying the immune system and viruses at the molecular level to gain a better understanding of how they work, and this internship allowed me to gain experience in the exact area of research I’m interested in.


My job at Pfizer Consumer Healthcare is to assist in the structure elucidation efforts of the Materials andCassie website Product Chemistry team. Structure elucidation consists of using HPLC/MS, preparative LC, MS/MS, and NMR to characterize unknown degradants in our over the counter prototypes. This summer I also got the opportunity to learn more about GC-MS, and I hope to use the instrument in future projects involving solid-phase microextraction (SPME) fibers. My experiences at Pfizer have helped prepare me for pharmacy school by encouraging me to think critically and to work independently. Working at Pfizer has also been a great opportunity for me to use what i’ve learned in the classroom and apply it in a real lab setting.


LeahThis summer, I was able to continue research that I had started through Independent Study with Dr. Gronert in my junior year.  I worked on a mass spectrometer looking at reaction rates of organic molecules in gas-phase. In addition, I started a new project of at isolating an organic dianion and a small metal cation (such as Li+ or Na+) in the mass spectrometer in order to study different types of reactions.  Doing research over the summer allowed for me to focus on the research and apply different concepts I learned in my classes at VCU to these two projects.  Doing research has definitely broadened my interest in chemistry and I feel as though working in a lab has led me to pursue a PhD in chemistry.



Joel websiteI had the pleasure of working in the Department of Chemistry with Dr. Heather Lucas, conducting research related to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. With these diseases, along with the process of aging, the cellular organelle called the mitochondrion becomes dysfunctional likely due to faulty electron transfer of one of the mitochondrial enzymes. Interestingly, if laser light is used to irradiate dysfunctional cells, this electron transfer is rejuvenated and the mitochondria  become fully functional again.  My active role in the Lucas lab was (and still is) to analyze the chemistry behind this electron transfer via laser light through a hetero-bimetallic synthetic model that mimics this particular enzyme’s catalysis.

This research opportunity has given me a chance to develop my ability to think critically and allowing me to effectively solve everyday problems, a “must-have” skill in the professional world. There are numerous skills that I have developed that give me an upper-hand professionally. The most relevant concept that I have come to learn while conducting research is the power to touch the minds of others with knowledge that can influence behaviors that may lead to the betterment of mankind. This is a skill that every competent chemist, biologist, physicist, physician or any professional should have. 



This summer I did undergraduate research in Dr. Alvarez’s lab. I learned how to use an electrochemicalLauren technique called cyclic voltammetry. The experience was enriching towards my knowledge because a lot of the chemistry involved in the technique was outside of my scope. It required me to take the chemistry I knew, and apply it to this unfamiliar area of chemistry. The best part of research was working in a lab where experiments are not designed to succeed. I enjoyed the mystery that each experiment presented and the investigation process that followed. All in all, this experience strengthened my desire to pursue a career in research.


Last semester I was awarded the 2015 EXROP Award through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute edris website(HHMI) in which I was placed at the University of Illinois: Urbana-Champaign to participate in research within their chemistry department this past summer. My research focused on studying a specific sulfite reductase by engineering functional mimics in simpler well-known proteins. The summer program gave me the opportunity to explore different areas of chemistry research and diversified my knowledge for approaching future research projects. This summer has been especially helpful in guiding my endeavors to attend graduate school and, ultimately, obtain my Ph.D in a particular field of chemistry.




This summer I went to Auburn University to do research. I worked in Harrison School of Pharmacy for ten weeks. My research was about metastatic melanoma treatments, often targeting malfunctioning ErbB4 receptors.  My research consisted of High Throughput Screening. I used sandwich ELISAs and ran stimulations on a robot. I worked alongside a graduate student of chemical engineering, Richard Cullum, and Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Programs of the Pharmacy School, Dr. Riese. This experience has greatly added to my professional development because I received hands on experience in a wet lab, but  it also showed me what was expected of a graduate student. It helped me discover if I think research is for me. Often it can be very frustrating when you don’t receive immediate results, but the breakthrough is what makes it all worth it.


Tyler websiteIn lab, I work under the supervision of a graduate student on an independent project to synthesize cathinone-like compounds. These compounds are known as “bath salts” and are being found on the streets as drugs of abuse. My lab is trying to better understand the mechanism of action of these compounds at the monoamine transporters. My current project is the synthesis of 3-methoxymethcathinone and evaluation of its effects on the monoamine transporters.
My time spent in lab taught me many things I would not necessarily learn in a classroom. Being able to test a procedure, observe the reaction, and adjust any variables based off of the results strengthened my observation and research skills while also enhancing my ability to critically analyze problems without a known solution. Research has also taught me interpersonal skills through attending graduate student seminars and presentations, and participating in weekly lab group meetings. Most importantly, working in a lab has provided me with insight on the importance of collaborative learning and teamwork

Goldwater Scholarship: Attention STEM sophomores and juniors interested in funding!


The National Scholarship Office is hosting two upcoming information sessions for the Goldwater Scholarship: Wednesday, Sept 2 at 1:00PM and Thursday, Sept 3 at 2:00PM, both held in Room 1303 at The Honors College (701 W. Grace Street). Goldwater Scholarships recognize sophomores and juniors pursuing degrees in STEM disciplines who intend to pursue research-oriented careers in these fields.  For more information about Goldwater Scholarships, visit or or email

The Goldwater Scholarship recognizes students who are pursuing undergraduate degrees in STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering or mathematics) who intend to pursue research-oriented careers in these fields.

Competitive Goldwater candidates will be strong students (GPA > 3.7), will already have research experience, and will have a plan for pursuing graduate education that will lead to a career as a research scientist, engineer or mathematician.

Since 2007, nine VCU undergraduates have been selected as Goldwater Scholars.  They have pursued or are presently pursuing graduate degrees at Johns Hopkins, UCLA, Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill, Harvard and Oxford among others.  Other nominees who were not selected as Goldwater Scholars have also gone on to pursue graduate degrees at top graduate institutions.

First year students who are not yet eligible to apply are encouraged to attend one of the Goldwater information sessions to learn more about this future opportunity.

The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program was established by Congress in 1986 to honor Senator Barry Goldwater, who served his country for 56 years as a soldier and statesman, including 30 years of service in the U.S. Senate.

The purpose of the Foundation is to provide a continuing source of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians, and engineers by awarding scholarships to college students who intend to pursue research careers in these fields.

How to Start Your Lit Review: Free VCU Libraries Webinar

How to Start Your Lit Review
September 16 at 1 p.m.
Register for free Webinar

As part of the Advance Your Research series, John Glover, Humanities Research Librarian, will help you start your lit review. Learn basic techniques for locating literature, tracking down citations and putting it all together.

Virginia Commonwealth University | VCU Libraries
James Branch Cabell Library
901 Park Avenue
P.O. Box 842033 Richmond, VA 23284-2033
Tompkins-McCaw Library for the Health Sciences
509 North 12th Street Richmond, VA 23298
Phone: (804) 828-1105 | Fax: (804) 828-0151

Undergraduate Research Assistants Needed for VCU ADOLESCENT AND YOUNG ADULT TWIN STUDY!

matr_logo_grayHere’s a little about the project…

In the past few decades there have been many advances in our understanding of human emotions and psychology. These advances have led to improvements in how doctors treat internalizing disorders like depression and anxiety. Internalizing disorders have a significant impact on the quality of life of individuals as well as on society. Though we have made many advances, there is still a great deal more to learn about these conditions and their causes. Improved scientific techniques now offer researchers opportunities for an even deeper level of understanding about internalizing disorders.

The goal of this study is to learn more about genetic and environmental factors that could influence the likelihood of someone developing an internalizing disorder. To help accomplish this, the researchers are inviting parents (or legal guardians) and their adolescent/young adult twins, ages 15 to 20 years old, to participate in this study. This age group of twins is key to the study because it allows the researchers to observe behaviors and collect basic data during a significant developmental period.

Dr. Roberson-Nay, the primary investigator for this study, and her team are looking to acquire a small group of highly motivated, enthusiastic individuals here at VCU to be research assistants in this study. These positions are currently volunteer (unpaid) positions, but there is the possibility of earning course credit. The types of research experiences that you will gain depend largely on your own interests as the current twin study touches on many different aspects of psychology and biology. Some examples of the experiences you are likely to gain from the lab include:

-Extensive participant interaction
-Working with psychophysiological software and equipment                                          -Opportunities for posters and papers                                                                         -Collaboration with researchers from a variety of backgrounds

We are requiring that all students dedicate a minimum of 10 hours a week to working in the lab. We are also requiring at least a one year commitment (including summer 2016) as the level of training on our part is quite high.

If you are interested working with our lab please contact the project coordinator, Jennifer Cecilione ( with a CV/resume. Please include your year in school, GPA, and major as well as a brief summary of your academic and research interests.

Four VCU Anthropology Alumnae and their Summer of Research!


Ashley McCuistion, VCU Anthropology alumni and current graduate research assistant at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, recently dropped a message to her former undergraduate research mentor, Dr. Bernard Means, to share her summer research experience and those of three of her fellow School of World Studies alumnae.  Mariana Zechini, Catarina Conceicao and Becki Bowman round out the quartet of recent VCU graduates who continue to pursue professional careers in the field of Archeology.  All four of the VCU alums conducted research as undergraduates at VCU as part of Dr. Means’ Virtual Curation Laboratory.

Ashley’s message to Dr. Means reads: “Earlier this summer I had an idea to make a sort of “where are they now” or “day in the life” video highlighting the different things students who have graduated from VCU are doing in archaeology.  I pitched the idea to everyone I knew who was working in the field this summer and three of your former students and I were able to put something together. I really hope you like it, I think it turned out pretty cool!”.

2 spots open in CMST391:Urban Biking Benefits. Community-Engaged Research on 2 Wheels!

cmst391Want to do community engaged research and service learning for course credit, on a bike?  There are two spots left for students to register for CMST 391: Urban Biking Benefits!

Course Description

This is an undergraduate course that is service-learning designated, entirely on bike and in the community. The course will include three interrelated components from which students will learn, do and reflect on learning content:

Community-Engaged Research: In this undergraduate course, students will use a community-engaged research (CEnR) approach to investigate the current state of biking on campus and collect data on biking usage and infrastructure to address a university-identified need, the VCU State of Cycling Report. The 2010 VCU SCR provides data on bicycling trends on the two VCU campuses: Monroe Park Campus and the MCV Campus. This is a major focus for the course, as it will better enable the university to plan for additional investments and improvements in the future as VCU continues to expand.

Community Engagement: Students will engage with an experiential learning opportunity that empowers action through research, and learning through reflection and community engagement. Students will participate in weekly Ride + Learns, or group bike rides, that are led on bike and with community bike experts. Through direct observation and dialog, students will investigate, explore and critically reflect on bike infrastructure and programming, and experience the joy, benefits and challenges of urban biking.

Service-Learning: This is a service-learning course and coincides with yearlong city and university-wide bike initiatives to prepare the city and campus for a 9-day international bike event in Richmond, Virginia: the 2015 UCI Road World Championships. Students will engage in service-learning through bike-related activities by providing bike parking and valet assistance at the event in collaboration with SportsBackers BikeWalkRVA. A service-learning framework locates our classroom in the community, on bikes, and at the heart of this international biking event.

Course Learning Goals

The core questions we will investigate during this course are:

  1. What is community-engaged research (CEnR)?
  2. What are the benefits (and challenges) of urban biking?
  3. How and why do we build community dialog that promotes action?
  4. How can our community service promote change in ourselves?
  5. How and why do we ensure that research findings are disseminated back to the community?

Course Competencies

By the end of the 7-week course, students will be able to:

  1. Describe CEnR as means to promote social action and change
  2. Understand the benefits and challenges of urban biking
  3. Reflect on how community engagement promotes personal development
  4. Understand the role of community in academic research and learning