This is an archived article. For the latest news, go to the Advance Homepage
For more archives, go to the Advance Archive/Search Page.

 April 10, 2000

Undergraduate Scholars Profiled

Research Helped Peterson Define Career Interests

AUniversity Scholar and Presidential Scholar, Elizabeth Peterson became interested in environmental science as a Girl Scout. At UConn, she found that toxicology, which explores the effects of toxins on living tissue, was not much of a leap from environmental science.

If she'd had any questions about the career direction she wanted to pursue, they ended last summer, when she did research with Professor Jose Manuatou, an expert on liver toxicity. The research focused on colfibrate, a chemical that can reduce the toxicity of acetaminophen.

The active ingredient in Tylenol and a component of some 200 other products, acetaminophen is an effective pain killer, but can also damage the liver if it's taken for an extended period in larger-than-recommended doses or if it's ingested in combination with alcohol. Peterson's research specifically looked at acetaminophen's impact on liver proteins and colfibrate's potential to mitigate damage.

Peterson, who is now completing her honors thesis with Manuatou, recently attended the Society of Toxicology's annual meeting in Philadelphia, where she presented a poster on her work.

Long term, she's still unsure what she wants to do for a career - possibly research, an academic position or a job in industry. The three are not, she's quick to point out, mutually exclusive. For the time being, she has applied for Ph.D. programs in toxicology and has been accepted at Brown and MIT.

Jim Smith

Brown Twins on Fast Track to Careers in Research

As participants in the Minority Access to Research Careers program, twin brothers Morgan and Ben Brown became involved in biological research while they were still in high school. They came away from the experience -- at the Temple University Medical School -- clear about what they wanted to do with their college education.

Ben and Morgan Brown

Brothers Ben, left, and Morgan Brown at the entry to the Homer Babbidge Library.

Photo by Peter Morenus

Last summer, the brothers traveled to the University of Toronto, where they participated in a long-term research project to find G Protein-coupled receptors, chemicals on the surfaces of brain cells that receive specific signals from various stimuli.

Ben, a Day of Pride scholar, did "bench work," using laboratory equipment to try to isolate the receptors when clues to their whereabouts were found. Meanwhile, Morgan, who has a Leadership scholarship, tackled the challenge of finding the receptors by reviewing computerized DNA sequence data, looking for the telltale signs of predictable sequences.

Once the receptors are identified, researchers can study their functions and, depending on what they do and why, possibly develop pharmaceuticals to control them. On average, says Morgan, the laboratory expects to find one of the receptors every three months. Last summer, he found eight. And when the laboratory's article about the first of those receptors is published soon, he expects that his name will be among those cited. Both brothers, who plan to pursue careers in the biomedical field, could return to Toronto this summer if they wished, but they are currently weighing their options.

Jim Smith

Baier Explores Sociology of Crime in Honors Thesis

Colin Baier

Colin Baier, a senior majoring in sociology, set out to investigate the possible impact of religion in deterring crime.

Photo by Peter Morenus

The title of Colin Baier's senior honors thesis -- "If You Love Me, 'Keep My Commandments': A Meta Analysis of the Religion-On- Crime Relationship" -- is not exactly a give-away. Baier, who became interested in the sociology of crime while taking a criminology course during his third semester at UConn, set out to explore whether or not a family history of active involvement with religion had a measurable impact on the likelihood of becoming a criminal.

The thesis evolved from work Baier, a Presidential Scholar, did with Professor Brad Wright, whose research explores the role of self-control in equations of this sort. Ultimately, Baier says, he found his own research objectives to be over- ambitious.

Before he could effectively test religion's impact, he had to sort out discrepancies in the scholarly literature. That's what his thesis does. When he was reviewing nearly 20 major papers, he found that differences in sample sizes and other variables led, not surprisingly, to dramatically different conclusions.

"If You Love Me, 'Keep My Commandments'" will provide researchers with a starting point, says Baier. Before any of the data in these contradictory studies could be used, it was first important to understand the contradictions. And that challenge, at the heart of his work, is still occupying him during the remaining weeks of his final semester at UConn.

Will Baier continue to pursue this research? He's not sure. Although he plans to pursue a Ph.D. in sociology, and almost certainly will continue to follow his interest in criminology, he says he needs some time off from education right now. He's looking for work in the Hartford area and will take a year before deciding on his next career move.

Jim Smith

Biology, Chemistry Not So Far Apart, Dunn Finds

Matthew Dunn, a senior, came to UConn expecting to major in biology. And with characteristic energy, he threw himself into that goal practically from the moment he arrived on campus, from a research opportunity studying algae during his freshman year.

Matthew Dunn and Zoe Cardon

Honors student Matthew Dunn, left, discusses his research on salamander respiration with Zoe Cardon, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.

Photo by Peter Morenus

Even as recently as a year ago he was still pursuing biology. As a researcher on a project that extended into a summer opportunity, he explored "the metabolic costs of heat shock protein production in spotted salamanders," research aimed at determining what biochemical price salamanders (and, by implication, other amphibians) may have to pay for global warming.

"Amphibian populations are crashing worldwide," Dunn will tell you. By artificially subjecting the salamanders to heat stress that was not life-threatening, Dunn and his collaborators were able to determine how much energy the salamanders expended producing a specialized protein that protects them from heat extremes by repairing cellular damage.

But in the past year, he has discovered the joys of organic chemistry. As a research assistant to Professor Amy Howell, he has worked this year on a project involving synthesis of compounds that contain oxygen in a four-member ring. "Such systems are highly strained and are consequently very reactive," he says. "This means they can be used to prepare compounds of greater complexity."

By the end of the semester, Dunn will have synthesized several 2, 3-dimethyleneoxetanes, a class of molecules that are particularly susceptible to manipulation. Beyond that, he plans to spend time this summer taking additional chemistry courses and then aims to pursue a Ph.D. in organic chemistry and, possibly, an MBA degree.

Jim Smith