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An Emory Undergraduate Research Experience

Daniel Kikuchi is a senior majoring in Biology. He was awarded a Spring 2016 Independent Grant which he used to conduct research on atherosclerosis under Dr. Kathy Griendling. 

During my freshmen year at Emory, I took an introductory biology course. I enjoyed the laboratory portion of the class and wanted to learn how authentic research was conducted. Towards the end of the summer after my freshmen year I began to look for a lab. I emailed approximately 20 professors in search of a position. I was told by friends that it was important to email many professors because some do not respond and some do not take undergraduates. Therefore, I was surprised to receive eight interviews and just as many offers. I ended up choosing to work in the laboratory of Dr. Kathy Griendling in the Cardiology Division of the School of Medicine. I choose the Griendling lab not only because I found her work interesting but also because I thought it was where I would be able to learn the most.

Chris Batterman is a junior double majoring in Music and Psychology. He was awarded a Fall 2017 Conference Grant which he used to attend (des)articulaciones 2017.

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend and present at the University of Pittsburgh’s conference, (des)articulaciones: (De)conceptualizations: Beyond Identity, Coloniality and the Subaltern. Sponsored by the university’s Department of Hispanic Languages and Literatures, (des)articulaciones is an international graduate student conference that allows students to present their research and get feedback from colleagues and professors in the field. This year, the conference theme revolved around the idea of the subaltern, communities or identities that have been marginalized or hierarchically positioned at lower statuses. Oftentimes, this subalternity is a result of power structures introduced by colonialism or imperialist policy (i.e., America’s involvement pretty much anywhere). This year’s theme was especially timely because it comes only a few months before the retirement of John Beverly, professor and director of the department. Beverly, also one of the conference’s founders, is one of the leading scholars in subaltern studies and was one of the first to apply subaltern thought and decolonial philosophy to the study of Latin America. The conference thus invited scholars from all fields (Hispanic Studies, Comp. Lit, Music, Philosophy, etc.) to present projects that grappled with this idea of subalternity and explored its presence in Latin America.

For the Love of Research

Margaret Martinez is a senior majoring in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology. She was awarded a Spring 2016 Independent Grant which she used to conduct research on synesthesia under Dr. Simon Lacey.

I had just begun to enter the world of research when I first arrived to Emory University. In high school, I worked under an M.D./Ph.D. at a psychiatric institute processing MRI images, and quite frankly, I often felt like I had no idea what I was doing. Despite my constant feelings of confusion and being out of my depth, there was something about research that pulled me in, so as a freshman, I participated in the Research Partners Program. I began my work on synesthesia in Sathian lab having no idea what synesthesia even was. Now, after a year of practice of learning, I can automatically explain that synesthesia is a crossing of the senses. It’s when a person has an automatic sensory response to an unrelated stimulus with the most common type of synesthesia being grapheme-color. My research had to do with comparing those who experience synesthesia to everyday controls. There are some papers in the past that suggested synesthesia lies along the same spectrum as cross-modal correspondences. Cross-modal correspondence is a phenomenon when people associate a stimulus in one modality with a seemingly unrelated stimulus in another modality. For example, most people associate high pitch with high elevation. When the year came to a close, I knew I wanted to sign on for another year of research at my lab. I also decided to become a peer mentor to pass on what I learned from my time as a SIRE student. I had the opportunity to present this research both at the end of the year and at the SfN Conference last October. Now, following up on that research I’m looking at how synesthesia relates to the associations made in metaphors.

Presenting the Mind’s iPod at Society for Neuroscience

Lokita Rajan is a senior majoring in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology. She was awarded a Fall 2017 Conference Grant which she used to attend the 2017 Society for Neuroscience Conference.

I attended the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) annual meeting in Washington DC. My first time attending a neuroscience conference happened to be the largest in the world. About 30,000 attendees came from all around the globe, specializing in research across a spectrum from a cellular level all the way to cognitive systems. The sheer size of the conference was impressive. There were a thousand poster presentations happening at a given time. I felt like part of this huge community of scientists brought together by studying the brain.

The poster I presented at SfN was partially funded by a URP independent research grant. I studied auditory imagery compared to other modalities of sensory imagery. Visual imagery is subdivided into two types. Object imagery involves pictorial images integrating surface (color, texture, etc.) and structural (shape) properties. Spatial imagery involves schematic images that focus on structural properties at the expense of surface properties, and on spatial transformations. These imagery dimensions also exist in haptic (touch) imagery. My research examines whether similar dimensions exist in auditory imagery. I also looked at the correlations between auditory imagery preference and visual imagery preference.

People from many different disciplines within neuroscience stopped by my poster to learn more about my research. Several people who studied multisensory perception came to see my presentation and were most interested in the analogs between sight, touch, and hearing. Others specifically studied the auditory system and wanted to know more about the parts of the brain that were engaged during the auditory task that participants completed. One person who studied the effects of sensory perception on meditation also came by to learn more about sensory imagery in the context of her work. Some scientists who worked in cellular neurobiology and other areas outside of cognitive science came to my poster just because they were drawn to the catchy title, “Listening to the Mind’s iPod.” I was originally concerned that presenting for four hours would be tiring, but it remained exciting and engaging, because each person who came to my poster had a different perspective and sometimes even new ideas for future directions to contribute.

When I was not presenting, I had the opportunity to attend lectures given by extremely prominent neuroscientists. One was about artificial intelligence (AI), given by Dr. Demis Hassabis. He spoke about neuroscience-inspired reinforcement learning in AI systems, using a concept I had learned about in my neuroscience classes at Emory, called the dopamine reward prediction error hypothesis. This allowed him to create an AI system that could learn from its mistakes to beat a master player at an Asian game called Go, which has far too many possible board positions for traditional calculation-based AI systems to work with. He talked about the future direction of neuroscience-inspired AI and how AI systems could also inform the way we study the brain.

I attended another lecture given by Dr. Pasko Rakic, whose work I have studied in many of my neuroscience classes. He is best known for the radial unit hypothesis, which is a conceptual theory of cerebral cortex development. Notably, Dr. Rakic has attended all 47 annual meetings of SfN. His lecture showcased his work studying the cerebral cortex over the years as the field of neuroscience developed and changed. This “History of Neuroscience” lecture was filled with funny historical quips like “Don’t ask what new neurons can do for you, ask what you can do for your old neurons,” and “One small step for cell…one giant leap for mankind.”

From presenting my own research to seeing neuroscience inform cutting edge technology to learning about the scientific process behind the concepts I see in class, attending SfN was an incredible experience. I grew as a student, researcher, and academic, and I am very thankful to URP for making this trip possible for me.

Visit the Undergraduate Research Programs website to learn more about applying for Conference Grants. 

“Adele”-icate Kidney

Trinity Kronk is a 2016 graduate who majored in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology. She was awarded a Spring 2016 Independent Grant which she used to conduct research on kidney function and hypertension under Dr. Robert Hoover.

Now you might ask “How in the world did she get herself into something like that?” Trust me; it’s a question I have asked myself many times, but for this instance the answer was clear.  I am passionate about my research. So passionate that I dressed up in a kidney outfit, put on fake nails and crazy makeup and lip sync to a kidney version of Adele’s song “Hello.” Never would I have expected myself to be a kidney nerd, but I am.