Dr. Williams and student in a lab
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Student Experiences

For many Providence College students, conducting research is an essential piece of their undergraduate experience.

Students from many academic disciplines often present their diverse research on campus, at other higher-education institutions, and at regional and national conferences.


Douglas Biancur ’13 (Wallingford, CT)

Project title: Who is next in line for the throne?

Project description: Understanding the social interaction and lineage of the queen in a nest of wasps (Polistes erythrocephalus) gives great insight into their social hierarchy. The queen is the most important member of the wasp community responsible for looking after the nest and giving rise to viable offspring. Therefore, it is important to understand which wasp will take over once the queen is removed. This will help to unravel the mystery behind wasp behavior and allow keen insight into the eusocial interactions. In order to carry out this research, queens are removed from the nests and the wasps are examined through genetic analysis. Wasp DNA is extracted from the members of a nest and PCR (polymerase chain reaction) is run to amplify sections of the DNA. By looking at allele frequency in each wasp, relatedness is determined and this gives indication to which offspring come from which queen. This process in conjunction with an array of microscopy techniques will allow us to answer the question that is “which wasp will take over once the queen is removed and what is the relationship to the previous queen?”

How did you become interested in the subject matter? I have always been interested in doing biological research and research with Dr. Elisabeth Arevalo especially appealed to me because it combines both field and laboratory elements. The actual field work of collecting the wasps and nests for analysis is exciting and a great opportunity to observe wasp behavior in the natural environment. The laboratory work is also a great because we have the opportunity to become very familiar with a number of different biological methods, including genetic analysis, PCR, and confocal microscopy.

As an undergraduate, what has conducting this type of high-level research meant to your experience at PC? The research has been a very important part of my learning and growing as a biologist at PC.  The work has greatly contributed to my ability to design and carry out laboratory procedures.  The professors have been very encouraging and are always there to help in any way they can, while allowing us to operate freely in the lab and getting a true hands-on experience. Having the ability to work in this type of laboratory setting with real hands-on experience has been an extremely important part of my time at PC.

Christina D’Agostino ’14 (Meridan, CT)

Project title: Identification of sRNA genes in the dissimilatory metal-reducing bacterium Shewanella oneidensis

Project description: My research involves working with the small RNA ryhB, in Shewanella oneidensis, a homolog to that of E.coli. I work alongside Matt Goulet ’12, to verify the expression of ryhB, which is regulated by iron-deficiency, and the subsequent targets of the sRNA using a variety of techniques. What’s interesting about the organism that we work with is that it is found most prominently in lakes (isolated from Lake Oneida, NY), and under oxidative stress, it reduces toxic heavy metals such as Fe(III), Cr(VI), and U(VI) to their less-toxic states. This provides a potential bioremediative use of our organism.

How did you become interested in the subject matter? Having Dr. Brett Pellock, assistant professor of biology, for General Biology, I became interested in his research during my freshman year and wanted to learn more about what small RNAs were and what their functions were in an organism, such as Shewanella oneidensis. Considering that this organism can potentially have a bioremediative use via the reduction of toxic metals is great, and making any contribution to that field is rewarding.

As an undergraduate, what has conducting this type of high-level research meant to your experience at PC? Research has been a rewarding experience because I have been able to immerse myself in new laboratory techniques and protocols, as well as learn how to present the material that I have been working on to the rest of the scientific community. Through lab-conducted journal sessions, I have also increased my knowledge about other fields of research related to small RNAs and beyond.

What are your future goals? I am very interested in medicine and am planning on applying to medical school within my time at PC.

Emily Roblee ’13 (Bedford, NH)

Project title: Genome reduction in yeast involves programmed cell death

Project description: I’ve been working on this project since September 2010 when I joined the student lab run by Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, O.P. Dr. Richard Bennett, a biology professor at Brown University, has done a considerable amount of research involving yeast strains grown on sporulation media, a type of media that causes yeast cells to lose copies of their DNA. When he came to present his research at a seminar at Providence College, Dr. Bennett mentioned that when cells underwent this DNA loss, or “genome reduction,” most of them subsequently died. Along with Matt Hurton, another student in our lab, I’ve been working to determine the mechanism of cell death that these yeast cells undergo after this sporulation-media induced genome reduction. Our hypothesis is that this cell death is programmed cell death, also referred to as “cell suicide”–a deliberate, regulated pathway set in motion by the cell as a response to certain signals. To study the mechanism of death we use different assays on both normal light microscopes and on the confocal microscope, which is really exciting because we are one of the few undergraduate institutions privileged enough to have a confocal!

How did you become interested in the subject matter? I’ve always been a very scientifically minded person, so I became interested in research as a way to apply what I learned about biology in the classroom to practical lab work. I find it really amazing that as an undergraduate I can work to discover new scientific information and add to the bank of scientific knowledge.

As an undergraduate, what has conducting this type of high-level research meant to your experience at PC? The most important benefit of participating in research as an undergraduate for me is learning to think like a scientist. I’m definitely a perfectionist, and I always want to find the “right answer” or get results that are completely black and white. My research experience and Fr. Nic’s guidance have really taught me that this is not the way science works–all you can do is design experiments, observe the organisms in your experiments, determine the results, and then interpret the results according to the trends you observe. It can be very frustrating, because biological organisms don’t always behave as you expect for reasons you might not understand, but it can also be very rewarding when you finally obtain conclusive results!

What are your future goals? I plan to continue my education either in medical or graduate school.