The OUR Ambassadors are a group of undergrad researchers at UNC who work with the Office for Undergraduate Research to promote a culture of research on this campus. They’re also here to help you! Feel free to contact the OUR Ambassadors at the email address listed.
If you are an undergraduate with research experience, consider serving as an OUR Ambassador. Applications for the 2015-16 academic year are now closed. The application period opens early in the spring semester; watch for more information in Spring 2016.
Minor: Spanish for the Medical Professions
As a freshman, I came to Carolina with the desire to pursue my interests in Biology beyond the classroom. I worked as a lab assistant in the Duncan lab in the Biology Department throughout the school year, and began my research career the following summer under Dr. Duncan’s mentorship. During the following summer and my sophomore year in the Dohlman Lab, I investigated cell starvation in the absence of glucose. My research included extracting proteins from cells and monitoring enzymatic activity. During a stroke or heart attack, neurons and myocytes are starved for glucose for a prolonged time period. By better understanding our cells’ survival mechanism, we can improve therapies to keep these cells alive until nutrients can reach them again. As a rising junior, I am spending the summer doing research at Johns Hopkins Medical School. During my junior year, I will resume exploring cell starvation and how selective autophagy of lipid droplets is induced. These research and other scholarly experiences have enriched and influenced my aspirations significantly. I plan to pursue an M.D-Ph.D. degree and become a medical researcher.
Welcome to Carolina! My experience with research started last year, when I started working with Dr. Larry Benninger, in the Geological Sciences Department, looking at potential rare earth element deposits in Lee and Moore counties. Then, last summer, I looked at the effect of gold nanoparticles on multiexciton emissions from CdSe quantum dots. Now, I’m conducting seismology research with Dr. Jonathan Lees. As part of this research, I traveled to Chile for two weeks, where I helped deploy and manage seismic equipment on the Llaima volcano. This trip underlies my current project, a moment tensor inversion, which looks at how the earth’s initial movements during an earthquake can describe its subsurface. Whether you get to travel, or not, research is an adventure, and I have learned more from my undergraduate research experiences than many of my classes. However, you never know what the right fit is until you try it. Chase what interests you! The other ambassadors and I are here if you have any questions, especially my favorite, “How do I get started?”
Major: Health Policy and Management and Economics
My research at Carolina has grown into a passion that lies at the intersection of health, public policy, and business strategy. As a first-year student, I worked in a neuropharmacology lab studying the role of stress in relapse to alcoholism. In my second year, I transitioned to a behavioral neuroscience lab where I studied decision-making in the context of addiction, and analyzed cognitive data to predict the efficacy of a drug used to manage alcohol and opioid dependence. My independent research expands on my interest in substance abuse to examine how public policy affects marijuana use in adolescents. In my last two years, I hope to study the financing of mental and behavioral health services as a Carolina Summer Research Fellow and hope to complete an honors thesis on the role of the private sector in improving coordination and quality in the U.S. health care system.
Minor: Math and Religious Studies
My undergraduate research experience began in Geology 72H, a research-intensive first year seminar where I spent a week in the Sierra Nevada learning about field research and doing a project on glacial moraine degradation. During my sophomore year, I worked with Dr. Jose Rial in the UNC Wave Propagation Laboratory, compiling ocean sediment records for use in polar synchronization analysis. I then had the opportunity to spend summer 2013 conducting glacier research in Alaska and British Columbia through the Juneau Icefield Research Program. My research there focused on comparing GPS and satellite-derived glacier strain rates on the Taku Glacier. I spent fall 2013 in Copenhagen where I studied with polar researchers from the Centre on Ice and Climate and traveled to Greenland for some Arctic field experience. My research now is focused on creating a bedrock topography model of the Taku Glacier with Dr. Evan Burgess at the USGS Alaska Science Center. For my senior honors thesis, I am utilizing remote-sensing data to determine spatial and temporal patterns in river ice breakup in Siberia with Dr. Tamlin Pavelsky at UNC. I am very interested in polar science, Arctic remote-sensing and glaciology, and I plan to attend graduate school with the ultimate goal of becoming a polar scientist. Undergraduate research has been by far the defining experience of my time at Carolina and has allowed me to travel to numerous amazing places. I am so excited to see where it takes me next!
Major: Chemistry (Biochemistry Track) and Biology
I began my undergraduate research in Dr. Bill Marzluff’s lab in the summer of 2011 right after graduating high school. My research has been primarily on exploring the role of a long, non-coding RNA on the expression of an evolutionarily conserved histone gene cluster. I initially worked under the guidance of a graduate student mentor, but have since taken the lead on the project. Additionally, I have collaborated with another graduate student on a project studying the expression of alternative histone mRNA variants in differentiated cells. In addition to research, I have been a Resident Advisor for two years, first in Ehringhaus then in Koury, and will be the Resident Advisor Mentor in Cobb for the 2014-15 academic year. Conducting undergraduate research has been the most meaningful part of my Carolina experience, and I highly encourage anyone who thinks they may be interested in research to reach out and talk to me or other Ambassadors!
Major: History and Art History with concentration in Medieval Studies
I am excited to be an OUR Ambassador! I look forward to working with fellow researchers and students! My research interests span many periods and places in history and art history, but mainly are focused in medieval Western Europe and the modern United States (the 1940s, 50s, and 60s fascinate me). I have done research on medieval castles, illuminated manuscripts, courtship, and World War II. I am fascinated by any mystery in history that I can try to solve through research, whether it is finding out the inspiration behind why a certain castle was built and who built it, why numerology was used in illuminated manuscripts, or how people managed to date during World War II. Currently, I am working on studying leisure life in Chapel Hill during the 1950s. I plan on going to graduate school to study history and hope to eventually teach.
Major: Biochemistry and Biology
Freshman year, I started working in the Strahl Lab as a work-study student. One area of research for our lab is on the function of post-translational modifications (PTMs), either singularly or in combination, on both histone and non-histone proteins. Broadly, these modifications, like methyl, acetyl, or phosphate groups, that are added to proteins will elicit different biological outcomes. I was fortunate to begin my research experience early and it has greatly enriched my experiences here at Carolina. On the other hand, I also have friends who have discovered that the research life is not for them also by taking a stab at undergraduate research. Whether you are determined to graduate school or simply want a research experience, I (and any of the OUR Ambassadors!) would love to hear from you and help you towards your goals!
Major: Environmental Health Sciences and Biology
My research at UNC began the summer after my first year. I spent two months at UNC Project – Malawi, which is a collaboration between UNC and the Malawian Ministry of Health that seeks to improve Malawian healthcare through research and training. In addition to serving the local community, I worked with an epidemiologist to investigate the efficacy of HIV counseling and testing in terms of its capacity to reduce HIV incidence. Upon returning to Chapel Hill in the fall, I began working in the Swanstrom Lab, which investigates various aspects of HIV pathogenesis. As a double major in Environmental Health Sciences through the Gillings School of Global Public Health and Biology, my research interests encompass both fields. I plan to return to Malawi to continue my epidemiology research and to continue working in the Swanstrom Lab in an effort to complete honors theses in both disciplines.
Major: Political Science and English
Minor: Public Policy
In the fall of 2013 I began to research the role of suicide in the plays of William Shakespeare as an assignment for Dr. Daniel Anderson’s seminar on the digital humanities. In particular I focused on the suicidal characters from plays set outside of the British Isles. I studied and contextualized the cultural references to taking one’s own life during the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras and questioned how audiences would react to such deaths onstage. My work with Dr. Anderson continues with one of the English department’s undergraduate journals, and I hope to learn more about how some of Shakespeare’s most popular characters were his suicidal ones when he wrote for an audience that condemned the action.
Major: Environmental Health Science and Engineering
Minor: Chemistry and Ancient Greek
I began working in Dr. Fry’s systems biology lab within the Environmental Health Science and Engineering Department in Gillings School of Global Public Health in January 2013. My research focuses on studying the genomic and epigenomic effects of environmental toxins, specifically arsenic and formaldehyde, in order to elucidate the mechanisms by which these toxins act. I have had the opportunity to work on a number of different projects ranging from changes in miRNAs in formaldehyde-exposed rats to prenatal arsenic exposure through drinking water in Mexico. This research not only contributes to the growing body of knowledge about toxin-induced diseases, but also identifies specific biological targets for potential pharmaceutical interventions. I have loved the diverse experience of wet bench laboratory, data analysis, and scientific writing skills that my research has allowed me to develop. I plan to continue my education in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences and Engineering in Dr. Fry’s laboratory, pursuing a Master’s of Science degree in one additional year after completing my undergraduate studies.
Major: Clinical Laboratory Sciences
Starting the summer before freshman year, I pursued research under the mentorship of Dr. Ken Jacobson in the ‘Cell and Developmental Biology’ department. I began and still continue on developing a thermoelectric vaccine cooler. Through conceptual work, prior engineering software, and multiple experiments to test the feasibility of each new model, I worked with various knowledgeable students that contributed to the research progress. During the years, the model went from being a simple Styrofoam box to one that is a definitive and functioning prototype. I had the opportunity to meet with multiple experts from RTI and NCSU’s engineering sector in the field and have learned the importance of collaboration as it has tremendously helped mold the research. Aside from research, I maintain interest in public health and medicine. It is extremely rewarding to see how I can apply my research in each of the two areas. Carolina has given me a wonderful tale to share and I couldn’t have asked for a more significant and defining experience than research, which I have been part of for almost my entire undergraduate career. Post-graduation, I plan on gathering experience in research through my work as a clinical lab scientist. I would love to speak with any students that may be interested in beginning this investigative journey at Carolina!
Major: Global Studies
Layla became involved in undergraduate research her first-year through enrolling in a BorderWork(s) course at Duke University and designing a research project around sectarianism in Iraq after the US Invasion. This research project gave her the opportunity to interview Iraqis living in Baghdad (through Skype) and Iraqi refugees living in the US. She was then awarded a SURF to begin a documentary and research the impact and role of the Arts in Palestine, and interviewed nearly 50 Palestinian artists (musicians, dancers, actors, poets, etc.) in 10 major Palestinian cities. She traveled to Turkey in the Summer of 2013 in order to research how the Kurds distinguish themselves (as the largest stateless population in the world) amongst a majority Turkish population, and what nonviolent resistance practices they use to express their ethnicity. As an intern with the Southern Oral History Program in the Center for the Study of the American South in Fall 2014, Layla researched the Sexual Revolution at UNC in the 1970s and the experiences of the LGBTQ community at Carolina. Layla traveled to Palestine in the Summer of 2014 in order to research how Palestinian artists are reacting to the cultural boycott of Israel for her honors thesis.
Layla has presented her research at the ACC Meeting of the Minds Research Conference, the UNC Celebration of Undergraduate Research, the State of North Carolina Research and Creativity Symposium, the Duke University Visible Thinking Research Conference, and the National Conference on Undergraduate Research. Layla also presented her research at Harvard’s National Collegiate Research Conference in Spring 2014, where she was awarded the Honorable Mention and People’s Choice awards.
She is excited to give back to the Office for Undergraduate Research for believing in her research, giving her the resources to question and explore, and fostering a research culture on campus.
I began my research in Dr. Terry Magnuson’s lab in the Department of Genetics my sophomore year. Our lab works on understanding the connection between mutations in epigenetic regulators and cancer. More specifically, my project focuses on the role of the SWI/SNF chromatin remodeling complex in liver cancer. In the summer of 2013, I began working on a study in the Comprehensive Cancer Support Program at the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. This study aims to improve end of life care for parents who have terminal cancer. We construct surveys to better understand the emotional hardships associated with being a parent of a young child and battling a terrible disease so that we can improve emotional care for the entire family.
Major: Biostatistics and Quantitative Biology
I am studying the RNA regulation of asymmetric cell divisions during embryogenesis of the nematode model organism C. elegans in the Lieb lab. In a broad sense, I am interested in how the distribution of specific RNA molecules controls the divisions of a single-celled zygote to generate the body pattern and cellular diversity of an adult organism. I am fortunate to have the support of a university with the latest technology in genomics and microscopy. I began my research experience early in my first year at Carolina, so I understand the thrills and challenges of getting started in undergraduate research. I am very eager to hear your research interests and help you take those first steps.
Zijian (Larry) Zhou
Minor: Computer Science
My current research is with the Pielak group in the Department of Chemistry investigating biomolecular crowding on protein stability. In essence, I am trying to determine if molecules near proteins can exert non-specific interactions that alter the structure and stability of the protein. A more detailed summary on my research topic can be found in Carolina Scientific, a journal written by UNC undergrads on some of the wonderful research we are conducting here (http://goo.gl/ivSNCe). But I started research in the spring of my sophomore year under Dr. Edward Miao (Dept. of Microbiology and Immunology). It was an amazing and nervous experience to plunge myself into research. I was nervous and had no idea what I wanted to research on. But when you have great PIs (Principal Investigator a/k/a The Boss), they will guide you just the right amount for you to develop the independence and mindset to conduct research. This has been true with my PIs and other undergrads I have talked to. With Dr. Miao, I investigated whether a chaperon protein, flgS aided in the delivery of flagellin protein in Salmonella, and if it was subsequently detected by the immune system.
My career goal is to pursue a M.D/Ph.D. with a Ph.D. in Computer Science or related field. I find fascinating the power of computer programming and processing. I see computer science as a field that can drastically alter medicine and bring us to a future similar to what you would find in Star Trek.
Ambassadors Clark Cunningham and Rizul Naithani have created materials for an Undergraduate Research bulletin board display, which you can download here: OUR Bulletin Board Materials Package Fall 2014.