Undergraduate Research Opportunities

Dr. Corien Bakermans, Associate Professor of Microbiology

Office: 204 Hawthorn

Lab: 103 Holtzinger

Email: cub21@psu.edu

What I study: My research examines the genetics, physiology, and ecology of cold-adapted bacteria from Polar regions with the long-term goal of understanding how microorganisms successfully inhabit and contribute to nutrient cycling in Arctic permafrost. My research also has relevance to identifying the limits of life on Earth and defining Planetary Protection protocols for space research. Current projects include:

  • culturing the elusive Acidobacteria from Antarctic permafrost
  • in-depth examination of the genome sequence of a bacterium from Siberian permafrost
  • determining the role of RNA structure in gene expression at different temperatures
  • identifying the microbiome of birds

Work my students do: Culture microorganisms. Perform plate counts. Conduct DNA extractions and PCR analysis. Analyze DNA sequences. Present results at local and regional conferences.

Where my students do their work: In my lab at the Altoona campus.

How many students might work for me: I have 1–2 students in the lab at a time.

Limitations for students: Preference will be given to students who have taken MICRB 202 or 203, are staying at Altoona for all four years, and have competitive GPAs. Full-time employment during the summer months is not possible.

How to contact Dr. Bakermans: Email me at cub21@psu.edu or stop by my office during posted Office Hours.

 

 

Dr. Cairsty DePasquale, Assistant Professor of Biology

Office:  207 Hawthorn

Laboratory: 107 Holtzinger

Email: ocg102@psu.edu

What I study: How much physical activity or cognitive stimulation an animal experiences is dictated by the environment it lives in. My current research interests lie in understanding the effects physical activity and environmental enrichment have on the brain, and ultimately how those changes affect behavior. I use zebrafish as a model organism for this research; they are a well-known laboratory species and animal model of human disease. A better understanding of how behavior is modified by physical activity and the environment, and how this correlates with mechanistic changes in the brain, will help us to assess the impact of natural and anthropogenic environmental change in wild as well as captive animals.

Work my students do: Students in my lab participate in all aspects of the research—animal husbandry, experimental design, collecting behavioral data, data analysis, and drafting manuscripts. Intensive involvement in a project will typically lead to co-authorship on a manuscript and/or presentation of the work at local and national conferences.

Where my students do their work: In the fish lab on Altoona campus

How many students might work for me: During the semester, I usually have 4–5 students. Students can apply for a stipend or receive credit for their research hours; however, the first semester is typically voluntary and is primarily husbandry work. After the initial semester, students can be placed on an individual or a shared project. During the summer I usually have two students who are paid through a stipend. All students are expected to help out with husbandry work during the week and weekends.

Limitations for students: Preference will be given to students who can commit to research for at least two years and those who can help out during the summer.

How to contact Dr. DePasquale: Email me at ocg102@psu.edu

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Lisa Emili, Associate Professor of Physical Geography and Environmental Studies

Office: 221 Hawthorn

Laboratory: 109 Holtzinger

Email: lae18@psu.edu

What I study: I study the impact of landscape change and human activities on water quality and biogeochemical cycling. I use a combination of in-field data-collection methods, Geographic Information System (GIS) tools, and computer modeling to predict pollution “hotspots” and to investigate the impacts of best management practices to mitigate nonpoint-source pollution. I am also interested in water resource use and sustainable development in agricultural and urban watersheds.

Work my students do: Students collect water quality data at seven sites along three streams in Altoona once a month from May to the following April. I provide all equipment and training. My students gain valuable laboratory and job skills by:

  • Performing in-field surface water and soil sampling using multi-parameter meters and colorimetric methods.
  • Maintaining a database of monitoring events and equipment for field readiness.
  • Performing statistical data analyses; compiling and presenting research results at the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities Fair
  • Training new interns in laboratory and field procedures.

Where my students do their work: Stream sites within Altoona, including on campus.

How many students might work for me: Two students per year. Students are responsible for travel to and from each of the sampling sites.

Limitations for students: Environmental Studies major (BS or BA); preferred completion of Environmental Studies 200; preferred completion of Statistics 200 or 250; minimum 3.2 GPA

How to contact Dr. Emili: Email me at lae18@psu.edu or stop by my office, 221 Hawthorn

 

 

Dr. Jim Julian, Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies

Office:  205 Hawthorn

Laboratory: 109 Holtzinger

Email: jtj2@psu.edu

What I study: I am interested in the fungal and viral pathogens that infect wild populations of frogs and salamanders that have caused hundreds of species to decrease in numbers across the globe. I use molecular genetics techniques to detect these pathogens in amphibians and pond water samples. I am particularly interested in how the composition of amphibian communities, and the time of the year, influences whether fungi and viruses infect populations.

Work my students do: Visit wetlands to identify amphibians and collect water samples. Dissect tadpoles to test tissues for pathogens. Clean and decontaminate field equipment. Conduct DNA extractions and quantitative PCR analysis (summers only). Work with relational database and geographical information system software. Present their research at Penn State and regional conferences, with occasional co-authorship on research papers.

Where my students do their work: Wetlands in central PA; Altoona campus; Genetics laboratory at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Fisheries Center (Lamar, PA).

How many students might work for me: During the semester, I usually have two students who are paid for their work, as well as one or two volunteers. During the summer, I usually have three students who are paid, but work 8–16 hours per week.

Limitations for students: Full-time employment during the summer months is not possible. Students who work in wetlands and travel to the Northeast Fisheries Center will need to provide their own transportation to these locations. Students who learn molecular genetics techniques are students that intend to stay at PSU Altoona to complete their degrees.

How to contact Dr. Julian:

Email me at jtj2@psu.edu or

stop by my office in 205 Hawthorn.

 

 

Dr. Lara LaDage, Assistant Professor of Biology

Office:  214 Hawthorn

Laboratory: 107 Holtzinger

Email: LDL18@psu.edu

What I study: My research concerns the relationship between the brain and behavior, specifically focusing on the evolution of spatially based behaviors and the hippocampus, an area of the brain heavily involved in learning and memory. Typically, we use nonmodel species (lizards, in particular) to incorporate ecological relevance into this relationship.

Work my students do: Students in my lab participate in all aspects of the research—animal husbandry, brain sectioning and staining, immunohistochemistry, brain-attribute estimations, data analysis, and drafting manuscripts. Typically, intensive student research results in co-authorship on publications and poster presentations at local, regional, and national venues.

Where my students do their work: In the lizard lab at the Altoona campus.

How many students might work for me? I usually have 3–5 students in the lab at any given time. The expectation is you will volunteer in the lab for one semester. This will help you determine if you are truly interested in a research position. Subsequently, students can either work for a stipend or for credit. During the academic year, students work three hours per week. Students who stay in Altoona for the summer can work up to 10 hours per week.

Prerequisites for potential students: No experience/previous coursework is necessary as you will be trained in all techniques. All majors are welcome in the lizard lab—I’ve had research students from Biology, Chemistry, Engineering, Psychology, and Nursing. Preference will be given to students staying at Altoona for all four years.

How to contact Dr. LaDage: Email me at LDL18@psu.edu

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Ed Levri, Associate Professor of Biology

Office: 101 Elm

Laboratory: 109 Holtzinger

Email: epl1@psu.edu

What I study: I study the role of behavior in the process of biological invasions. I use the invasive New Zealand mud snail to examine how different clones of the species behave differently and how that variation may influence invasion success. Students in my lab perform behavioral experiments as well as collect animals from the field. In another project, Maureen Levri and I study the reproductive ecology of mountain laurel in the Seminar Forest on campus.

Work my students do: Students maintain snails in the lab and perform behavioral experiments. Students also aid in field collections and collect biological diversity data and various water chemistry measurements from field sites. Completion of projects results in data analysis and presentation of the work at the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities Fair as well as at the Pennsylvania Academy of Science meeting each spring.

Where my students do their work: Students work in my lab as well as in rivers and streams in PA, NY, NJ, and MD.

How many students might work for me: I usually have about five students.

Limitations for students: I prefer students who are serious about research. While I will take students at any level, I would like to get a freshman and/or sophomore or two in my lab.

How to contact Dr. Levri: Email me at epl1@psu.edu or stop by my office, 101 Elm.

 

 

Dr. Carolyn Mahan, Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies

Office: 209 Hawthorn

Laboratory: 109 Holtzinger

Email: cgm2@psu.edu

814-949-5530

What I study: I study wildlife response to human-modified landscapes, helminth (roundworm) parasites of wildlife—primarily squirrels, landscape changes in national parks, as well as plant responses to these landscapes.

Work my students do: Students potentially could work in the laboratory examining wildlife tissues for parasites and parasite eggs, analyze existing data sets, or help with plant and pollinator field work periodically during the summer. Completion of projects may result in local and regional presentations, peer-reviewed publications, or contributions to technical reports.

Where my students do their work: Students work in the lab as well as in central Pennsylvania.

How many students might work for me: I usually have about 1–2 students per year.

Limitations for students: I primarily work with students who intend to stay at Penn State Altoona for four years. However, I do have potential for work at the Frost Entomological Museum located at University Park—so if you are transferring, you may talk with me about that project.

How to contact Dr. Mahan: cgm2@psu.edu

 

 

 

 

 

 

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