Spit for Science Research Symposium is Dec. 3 at 4pm!


The Spit for Science Undergraduate Research Team will present preliminary results from the study on Thursday, Dec. 3rd from 4-5pm in the Forum Room of the University Student Commons. Projects include perception of peer alcohol use and drinking outcomes, assessing risk for anxiety and depression, residential life and mental health, and benefits of pet ownership after trauma exposure. Join us to learn about the project, meet the undergraduate research team, and receive a free t-shirt and pizza! For more information, please see spit4science.vcu.edu or email spit4science@vcu.edu.

About the project: The goal of Spit for Science: the VCU Student Survey (www.spit4science.vcu.edu) is to understand how genetic and environmental factors come together to influence a variety of health-related outcomes in the VCU undergraduate population.  The project, launched in the fall of 2011, followed the 2011 VCU freshman class across is its college years, and will follow new VCU freshman classes over the next few years.


Undergraduate Research Assistants Needed for VCU Juvenile Anxiety Study


J.A.S. Research Assistant Position Description

Program of Research: Research assistants will assist with an IRB-approved and NIMH grant-funded study titled, “A Twin Study of Negative Valence Emotional Constructs (Juvenile Anxiety Study – JAS).” This study is interested in investigating internalizing disorders. Internalizing disorders (ID), consisting of syndromes of anxiety and depression, represent common, debilitating negative emotional states whose etiology is not well understood. A growing body of basic research has suggested that these conditions share more of their risk factor domains and underlying neurobiology than would be predicted by clinical nosology alone. Thus, the NIMH has launched the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) project as part of their strategic plan to “develop new ways of classifying disorders based on dimensions of observable behaviors and brain functions.” RDoC aims to serve as a framework for new approaches to research on mental disorders using fundamental dimensions that cut across traditional disorder categories. The goal of this study is to examine various emotional indices using laboratory-based paradigms (e.g., CO2 hypersensitivity, stress responsivity) to gain a better understanding of the underlying etiology of ID.

Study Methodology: Child and adolescent participants will complete at least one lab session at the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics. During the visit, participants complete self-report measures, an IQ test, and computer tasks involving looking at faces. In addition, they provide a saliva sample and complete two physiological assessments: one in which they inhale 7.5% CO2 enriched air, and another that involves a fear potentiated startle paradigm. During these “physio.” tasks, research assistants affix several electrodes to the participants and these assistants are responsible for checking and maintaining reading levels (i.e., they monitor and correct for issues with incoming physiological data).

Activities: The student research assistants will be involved in all aspects of the study including independently running data collection sessions, entering data, cleaning data, and performing basic analyses. In addition to gaining laboratory experience, students will engage in academic work as part of her BIOL492 experience. Specifically, students will be encouraged to read an identified collection of articles that pertain to the carbon dioxide hypersensitivity, panic disorder, emotion recognition, fear-potentiated startle, and other related literature. In addition, students will meet weekly with the research team to review various aspects the research project, review progress, and discuss relevant articles/literature pertaining to the twin studies. Students also will be expected to write a research paper by the end of the semester on a topic agreed upon by the student and Dr. Hettema. The topic of the paper will relate to an aspect of the described study.

Hours per week:

Break down of how hours will be used each week (approximate):

Total: ~10 hours/week during the fall semester

Reading literature/working on paper:       1 hour/week (home)

Assisting with data collection:        5-6 hours/week (in lab)

Data entry/cleaning/analysis:         2-3 hours/week (in lab)

Attending weekly lab meetings/meeting with research team:   1 hour/week (in lab)

Dr. Hettema and the study coordinator, Andrea Molzhon, will be responsible for the overall supervision of the students’ progress on this project and will meet with them periodically. Moreover, Dr. Hettema and the study coordinator will be responsible for day-to-day supervision of the twin studies and for day-to-day supervision of all students working on the project.  Please contact Andrea Molzhon with any questions:

To apply, download the application and send as an attachment to: molzhonar@vcu.edu with “JAS RA Application” in the email subject.

Download position application here: VCU Research Assistant Application_ B

Call for Submissions and Staff Openings for Auctus: The Journal of Undergraduate Research and Creative Scholarship at VCU

auctus screen

Auctus, VCU’s Journal of Undergraduate Research and Creative Scholarship, is seeking talented students to join the staff for the next issue. Members will help review and edit research articles and creative works in all disciplines for our journal sections of Creative, Humanities, Social Sciences, STEM and News + Noteworthy.

Check out some of our current content!

Students of all backgrounds are encouraged to apply. Editor and staff positions are available. Joining could be a great opportunity for anyone with a copy editing background, knowledge of MLA Style, an interest in research, talents in writing, skills in public relations or background knowledge in their degree field. The staff application can be accessed at http://auctus.vcu.edu/apply , and the final deadline is November 30, 2015. Please contact auctus@vcu.edu with any questions.

We are also currently accepting article and multimedia submissions of undergraduate research, scholarly work, and literature reviews from the Humanities, Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Arts, Creative Scholarship and Community Engaged Research.  Submissions are accepted year-round on a rolling basis.

Submission is open to VCU undergraduates in every discipline.  Articles can be submitted online at: http://www.auctus.vcu.edu/submit Please share this opportunity with your colleagues, students and undergraduate researchers!  The current issue of Auctus can be found at:  http://www.auctus.vcu.edu/


Research Position: Dept. of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Sciences



There is an open position in the lab of Dr. Mary Peace McRae, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science at VCU School of Pharmacy on MCV.

The main research focus of the lab is to characterize the functional consequences of drugs of abuse (such as methamphetamine and morphine) coupled with HIV on the transport of anti-retroviral drugs across the blood brain barrier. Our lab does primarily bench top research. Techniques the undergrad will be conducting may include western blot, immunofluorescence, microscopy and image analysis. Students can volunteer their time or gain independent study credit hours. While experience is recommended, it is not a requirement.  Time commitment 10-20 hours per week.

If you are interested, contact the lab manager, Preetha Palasuberniam (palasubernip@vcu.edu), and provide the following information:

Contact Information:


Phone Number:


Academic Information:




What days/hours would you be available to work in the lab during spring semester?

How many credits are you taking during the spring semester?

How many hours per week would you ideally be able to devote to research?

Would you be available to conduct research over the summer?

Future Plans:

Are you planning to apply for graduate school or medical school? If yes, in what field?

Previous Research Experience:

Please list and describe any research experience you have. Include the location, your supervisor, the project you were involved in, and your specific duties.

Call for Submissions – Posters on the Hill 2016! Deadline is Nov. 4th.


View the full application website HERE.  Questions about your Posters on the Hill application?  Please email: Sabrina E. Hall, studentprograms AT cur.org.

In the Spring of 2016 the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) will host its 20th annual undergraduate poster session on Capitol Hill.  There will be an evening poster session and reception where students will have the opportunity to speak directly to members of Congress and demonstrate how they have been impacted by these programs.

“It was a great honor to be selected to this elite group of undergraduate student researchers to directly attest the importance of research initiatives to the success of our Colleges, Communities, and Country to members of Congress and staff from government agencies. My experience on Capitol Hill gave me invaluable insight into the intersection of academic research, advocacy, and policy making within our government. Research is an evidence-based discipline and Posters on the Hill brings live and breathing testaments of undergraduate student success as a result of Federal funding of various research initiatives in the sciences and humanities right to the heart of government!”

–Emmanuel Fordjour, University of Texas at Arlington, Posters on the Hill 2014 Participant

The Posters on the Hill event was the highlight of my undergraduate career. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend and present at four national conferences, however Posters on the Hill topped them all. From the student’s perspective, it was very exciting but also intimidating to have the opportunity to present my research to members of Congress and the Senate. During the presentation, I had many different people from national organizations to government agencies show interest in my work. During the presentation I realized that everyone in the room was as passionate as I am about undergraduate research. The support from each person in the audience made me feel as though the all of my effort, from the research process to the application process was absolutely worthwhile.

Joe Moloney, President, Student Organization for Undergraduate Research, and President, Class of 2011, Bridgewater State University.

CUR will invite representatives from federal funding agencies and nearby foundations, members of Congress, and Congressional staff to attend the poster session.  We ask you to provide the name of the agency or organization sponsoring your research, and the name of the program officer to facilitate our making these invitations.

Submission Process: Applications due Wednesday, November 4, 2015, including letter of recommendation

Students: The Council on Undergraduate Research invites you to submit an abstract for the 20th Annual Posters on the Hill. Your research should represent one of CUR’s Divisions (Arts and Humanities, Biology, Chemistry, Engineering, Geosciences, Health Sciences, Mathematics/Computer Science, Physics/Astronomy, Psychology, and Social Sciences). Abstract submissions should describe your research, scholarship, or creative activity and discuss its significance to society (i.e. what larger issues or problems were you trying address or understand?; how does your work relate to current policy issues?).

CUR membership is required in order to apply: VCU is an institutional CUR member!! Membership will be verified either when you select your institution or when you add your faculty advisor or undergraduate research coordinator to you application through the search function. To check membership status, please reference the list of institutional members. Should you have additional questions regarding membership, please contact CUR’s Director of Membership at curmember@cur.org.

Abstract submissions will only be accepted by using our on-line submission form. To prepare you application, please refer to the “Information Required to Submit” document linked at the bottom of this page. Once you submit your application, you will receive an email confirmation that we have received it.  Please note you will also receive an email for partially completed submissions which include instructions on how to login to complete the application (be sure to read these emails carefully to ensure you have a complete submission).

This is a unique opportunity that we believe will have a very positive impact on the future of federal funding for undergraduate research. We encourage undergraduates from both public and private predominantly undergraduate institutions, research universities, and those who have done their work at a national laboratory or facility to submit abstracts. A committee of CUR members anticipates selecting approximately 60 posters for participation in the evening poster session. Students selected for participation will be notified in early February.

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 marlenam@mit.edu 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.

Subscribe to the weekly VCU News email newsletter at http://newsletter.news.vcu.edu/ and receive a selection of stories, videos, photos, news clips and event listings in your inbox every Thursday.

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