Many undergraduate researchers conduct independent research under the supervision of a professor, as part of UCLA’s student research program. The researchers then present their topics at Science Poster Day each year. Undergraduates gathered to share their findings Tuesday afternoon in Ackerman Grand Ballroom.
Here’s what some undergraduates are currently researching.
Alyson Ramirez, a fourth-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student, conducted research in a neurobiology lab. Ramirez is studying the development of cells called motor neurons, which allow people to breathe, interact and move. “There are diseases, such as spinomuscular atrophy, which can result in the loss of these neurons and eventually death,” she said.
There are no cures for these diseases, yet she said she wishes to gain more insight by looking into the development of these neurons. “We found proteins essential for the expression of neurons, and we hope to make a virus that has that protein,” she said. The purpose of that virus would be to replicate that protein in apetri dish, allowing for further analysis of neural development.
Amanda Loftin, a fourth-year psychobiology student, works in an orthopedic surgery lab. She is evaluating different implant materials, such as titanium, trabecular metal and stainless steel. Her experiments with these different metals aimed to see which metal accumulated the least bacteria and, therefore, which was the safest material for prosthetic implants. “Titanium and trabecular metal resulted in the most infections,” she said. “(This) may have been due to the metals’ poor structure (because of) large surface area, which creates more bacterial burden.” She is also looking into coating hardware with different antibacterial chemicals.
Amy Alayari, a fourth-year neuroscience student, was accompanied by her co-worker, Zafar Gill, a fourth-year psychobiology student. They are researchers in the molecular, cell and developmental biology department. They are looking into retinal degeneration, which is cell death in the eyes. “We’re using the fruit fly as our model organism, but it’s also found in humans,” Alayari said. She added that some people are born with normal retina, but they degenerate over time, causing sight problems like tunnel vision, which is the loss of peripheral vision. Another reason why fruit flies are experimented on is because flies’ eye gene structure is very similar to that of humans. “We want to identify what genes are involved in the degeneration process, and elucidate a pathway,” Gill said.