Six Undergraduate Researchers Recognized

Students Honored by Randall Outstanding Research Award Program

Students honored by the Randall Outstanding Undergraduate Research award Program with Dr. Judy Bonner, UA president.
Students honored by the Randall Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award Program with Dr. Judy Bonner, UA president.

From the June 2013 Desktop News Six College of Arts and Sciences students were recognized recently for their undergraduate research with UA’s Randall Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award Program.

Jonathan Belanich, a junior from Lindenhurst, N.Y., studied the metabolism of certain species of tarantulas and scorpions. His research focused on how environmental conditions such as temperature change and different food types can impact the arachnids. Belanich formulated the idea with guidance from Dr. Stephen Secor, associate professor of biological sciences, who nominated him for the award. Last year, Belanich was the recipient of the Henry Pettus Randall Jr. Endowed Research Scholarship and is a double major in biological sciences and anthropology. He hopes to go to medical school or continue graduate studies in biological sciences after graduating.

Sarah Crocker-Buta is a recent graduate from Tuscaloosa who researched Pantherophis guttata, commonly known as a corn snake. She examined the effects of meal size, body temperature, and body size on the post-feeding metabolic rate and movement of the corn snake. Crocker-Buta, who majored in biological sciences, was also nominated by Secor. She was also the first place winner for oral presentations in the natural sciences and mathematics division of the 2013 UA Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Conference.

Olivia Grubbs, a junior from Hazel Green majoring in microbiology, examined how the distribution of common soil bacteria known as Streptomyces could be linked to a phenomenon known as neurodegeneration, a common symptom displayed in Parkinson’s disease. Grubbs tested bacteria from soil samples in a model organism, a nematode called Caenorhabditis elegans, to see if they caused neurodegeneration. Grubbs was nominated by Dr. Julie Olson, associate professor of biological sciences. Grubbs hopes to attend veterinary school after graduating from UA, with a possible specialization in veterinary microbiology.

Ryan Jones, a junior from Madison majoring in biological sciences, studied a small species of fish known as mangrove rivulus that is found along the east coast of North, Central, and South America. His aim was to identify factors, such as an organism’s size, that will determine whether the organism is an aggressor in a fight scenario. Using 3D printed models of the fish, he exposed actual mangrove rivulus to 3D printed models of the fish to determine how it might behave in a fight. Jones, who has a background as an artist, sought to integrate the new technology of 3D printing with research already being done in the lab of assistant professor of biological sciences Dr. Ryan Earley, who nominated him for this recognition. After graduation, Jones hopes to pursue graduate studies in marine science.

Robertson Pearce, a recent graduate from Birmingham who is majoring in biological sciences, used fluorescent dye to tag mangrove rivulus in the wild. Pearce pioneered a technique that does not harm the fish and provides a color system that gives each fish its own unique marker. These fish can be tracked and researchers can gain valuable information about their behavior, the dynamics of the fish population, and their relationship with other species in their environment.  Pearce worked closely with Earley, who nominated him for this award. Pearce, who will attend medical school at UAB, said the problem-solving aspect of this research prepared him for his future role as a physician.

“The way in which I had to identify the problem, our lack of a means to identify these fish in the wild, and then think of and implement a solution, was somewhat similar to how a doctor diagnoses and treats his patient,” he said.

Lindsay Reynolds, a recent graduate from Huntsville who majored in biological sciences, uncovered associations between aging and Parkinson’s disease using the nematode roundworm, C. elegans. The candidate genes she identified are associated with the pathogenic features of Parkinson’s disease and are involved in cellular glucose metabolism. This finding is a previously unreported relationship that researchers in the lab of Dr. Kim Caldwell, associate professor of biological sciences, verified with collaborators using mouse glucose studies. Caldwell also nominated Reynolds for the award. Currently, Reynolds is seeking employment at research institutions in the Baltimore area.

The Randall Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award Program honors Henry Pettus Randall Jr. of Randall-Reilly Publishing in Tuscaloosa, a UA alumnus and creator of Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges. Winners are selected by a panel of UA research faculty and past winners of the UA Burnum Distinguished Faculty Award.