Poster Session Reveals Students’ Complex Research, Interesting Findings

News Story: May 30, 2007

The titles of many poster projects presented at Sacred Heart University’s 8thannual Undergraduate Research Poster and Showcase Session on April 27 were lengthy and complex – a reflection of the amount of time students put into this year’s efforts and the type of research they conducted.

There was Lucas Bernacki’s “Microsatellite Analysis of the Limulus Polyphemus Population of Long Island Sound,” Kara Callahan’s “Characterization of the Role of Mismatch Repair in Heterocyclic Amine Mutagenesis in Salmonella,” and the group project of “A Gene with Homology to the Cytochrome P450 PFam Domain is Down-Regulated during Sexual Development in Schizophylum Commune.”

Despite the tongue-twisting titles, the research students conducted, most of them for two semesters, revealed interesting findings and in many cases practical applications for humans and animals. As an intern at the Animal Clinic at Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport, Meredith Baker studied metabolic bone disease in Howler monkeys which resulted in useful information on causes and treatment options.

Persida Kastrati, a senior Biology major from Stamford, Conn., said the research she did with three other students on a gene that shuts off – or in scientific terms down-regulates – found that the gene produces proteins similar to Cytochrome P450, which are found in all organisms, including humans.

“From that we can learn how proteins interact in humans, which could be used in medical research on how fungal diseases interact in the human body and help with possible treatment,” said junior Biology major Kayleigh Erazmus, of Middletown, Conn., one of Kastrati’s research partners.

Biology majors Amy Wolcott, a senior from East Haven, Conn., and sophomore Stephen Mastriano, of Meriden, Conn., treated E. coli strains with nitrous acid and came up with some troubling results.

“Sodium nitrate is a preservative used in lunch meats and when it’s in an acid environment, like our stomach, it turns into nitrous acid, which is bad,” said Wolcott, who enjoyed the “real-life experience” that the research and poster presentation allowed.

“The hands-on experience in the lab gives you the visual aspect to what you learn in the classroom and that makes the material easier to comprehend,” Mastriano said.

Not all the student researchers arrived at conclusions. Some projects are ongoing and will continue with other students at the helm. And other projects, like Tariq Lescouflair’s, aren’t intended to provide answers, but rather to provoke thought. His “Chaos: Order Masked by Disorder,” examined chaos theory and the Butterfly Effect that wonders whether the mere flapping of a butterfly’s wings could set off a typhoon across the globe. Will that breeze amplify or dissipate?

“There is no answer for it,” said Lescouflair, a senior from Glastonbury, Conn. with a double major in Math and Chemistry.

Professor Marlina Slamet, Chair of the Poster Session Committee, said this year’s event at University Commons featured 31 posters from about 60 students in a variety of disciplines – Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Psychology, English, Computer Science/Information Technology and Media Studies/Digital Culture.

Claire Paolini, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, called the research and presentations a wonderful opportunity. “It’s very important for students, especially students who are going on to graduate school, to have this kind of background because they can highlight the fact that they were in a grant competition, they were successful in winning the grant, they were successful in carrying the grant out and they were successful in making the final presentation. It prepares them for that kind of practical use of the theoretical,” Paolini said.

“This is what we mean by active and engaged learning,” she said.