West Virginia University senior biology major Julie Diamond spends up to five hours every week day in a lab researching cancerous molecules.

Each day she and her trusty microscope and white gloves get to work, as she takes on a different experiment each week by “preparing cancer cells, treating them with particular chemicals of interest and isolating the results through various mechanisms.”

“It takes a lot of commitment to produce meaningful data, but that’s why it’s so rewarding,” Diamond said. “Setbacks only help you to learn more and form new ideas on how the cancer cells might be reacting and communicating. Once a positive piece of data surfaces, it’s such an exhilarating feeling.”

Diamond, who hopes she can use her role as WVU’s Homecoming queen to draw attention to biomedical research and the need for government funding, will be one of 33 students who will showcase their research at Undergraduate Research Day at the Capitol in Charleston on Thursday (Jan. 26).

Diamond has worked under Laura Gibson, Ph.D., at the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center as part of her Honors College program to research a signaling molecule found in leukemic cells and believed to contribute to tumor growth. She also studies the effects of chemotherapy on the molecule.

“So far, we’ve discovered that this molecule seems to be controlled by a specific mechanism that contributes to its production,” Diamond said. “Research like this can potentially help millions of people suffering from leukemia. I’m excited about explaining the work we do in our lab to lawmakers and helping them understand the importance of funding biomedical science.”

WVU is a major land-grant university with many opportunities to excel both inside and outside of the classroom. Without its amazing support and faculty, it would have been quite difficult to put my interests in biomedical science to use.

—Undergraduate researcher Julie Diamond

“I’m looking forward to speaking with legislators and government officials on the importance of research funding, since it is such an issue facing the biomedical community today,” she said. “Without these resources, labs wouldn’t be able get the supplies they need and consequently wouldn’t be able to fully contribute to disease characterization and treatment identification.”

The Undergraduate Research Day at the Capitol event provides students in various disciplines at private and public institutions throughout the state an opportunity to share their research with members of the West Virginia Legislature and executive branch who provide funding for higher education.

“The research community at WVU is a thriving and encouraging network that I am so happy to be a part of. The research mentors I’ve met are extremely supportive of the undergraduate students, and they truly want them to succeed,” Diamond said. “WVU is a major land-grant university with many opportunities to excel both inside and outside of the classroom. Without its amazing support and faculty, it would have been quite difficult to put my interests in biomedical science to use.”

A total of 105 students from universities across the state – 33 of them from WVU – will present at the Capitol. Sixteen institutions will be represented at Undergraduate Research Day, which runs from 8:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. in the Capitol Rotunda.

Undergraduate Research Day allows students to present their discoveries in poster format and talk to legislators about their findings. The projects are original research and the posters have been designed for a general audience.

“Research of the kind conducted by these students is the basis of our economic future and this event offers a great opportunity for members of the state Legislature to interact with students who will be the innovators of the future. It also highlights the importance WVU places on the one-on-one academic activities that take place between students and faculty,” said Keith Garbutt, Eberly Family Professor and dean of the Honors College at WVU.

Garbutt, co-chair of the event’s organizational committee, said legislators have shown a lot of interest in the students and their projects in the previous years.

“The students really appreciate the interest shown by members of the state Legislature.” Garbutt said. “Visits with the students have increased each year, we feel this is a clear indication of the interest legislators have in higher education in West Virginia.”

Students mentored by faculty from the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design and the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences will present their posters in the areas of animal science, plant science, biology, psychology, computer science and information technology, forensic science, physics, chemistry, biochemistry, sociology/social work, engineering, history, African studies, political science, English, environmental studies and geology.

“With our students participating in Undergraduate Research Day, we are fulfilling two of the five goals of our 2020 Strategic Framework for the Future: engaging students in a challenging academic environment and excelling in research, creative activity and innovation in all disciplines,” said Provost Michele Wheatly. “This is an opportunity to showcase what great students we have here at WVU.”

Some of the presentations from WVU students include:

  • Psychology majors Amanda Hanrahan, Regina Majestro and Alexandria Perrotta have researched the correlation between the number of hours worked in part-time jobs and problem behavior in a sample of rural youth in West Virginia. The findings have shown that problem behavior varies on location and socioeconomic status.
  • Chemical engineering major Sarah Lazur has researched the increase of energy consumption as the world population has grown. She is studying the co-gasification of wood chars and coal/wood char mixtures using thermogravimetric analysis, which could be used to create a new energy source as supply of national resources deplete.
  • Economics major Abigail Thaxton has researched the obesity epidemic in West Virginia, focusing on the decisions that high school students make when deciding on foods to choose in a lunch line. Her research has taken her to five high schools in West Virginia for observation, which could help lead to healthier adolescents in Appalachia.
  • Psychology major Andrea Tanner has researched childhood asthma and its treatment plans. She has studied 108 families in West Virginia to test whether they are accurately remembering how to correctly take asthma medication. The study has implications for possible interventions to improve family asthmas action plans.

Other students presenting at Undergraduate Research Day: Caitlin Ahrens, Grace Altimus, Sean Belardo, Jessica Berry, Diana Black, Jessica Carr, Joy Cox, Ian Douglas, Erica Fitzsimmons, Braeden Harpool, Amanda Holber, Jason Ice, Kailey Implay, Amanda Kulick, Jonathan Mauller, Logan Moon, Matthew Murry, Nainika Nanda, Amanda Pollitt, Milo Sanda, Lincoln Schaefer, Tandra Sias, Chloe Snyder, Karen Sommers, Nathan Tehrani and Nicholas Zimmerman.



CONTACT: Lisa Verlinden, Honors College
304-293-2100, Lisa.Verlinden@mail.wvu.edu

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