Class of 2020

Harrison Undergraduate Research Award

Chase Amos

Bachelor of Science in Chemistry with Specialization in Biochemistry

“The Role of Plasma Membrane Order in Insulin Vesicle Exocytosis”

Insulin is a hormone that helps the body regulate glucose levels. When there is high glucose in the blood, beta cells in the pancreas release insulin via a process known as exocytosis. Biological cells are separated from their environment by a membrane that consists of lipids and proteins. Growing evidence shows that lipids in the membrane intimately participate in the molecular machinery that drives and controls exocytosis. In my research, I address the contribution of the balance between lipids with saturated and unsaturated fatty acyl chains to exocytosis of insulin by beta cells. Our data indicates that regulated exocytosis depends on a balance between membrane fusion promoting unsaturated fatty acyl chains and membrane fusion inhibiting saturated fatty acyl chains. I am now further exploring the molecular origins for the lipid influence in insulin exocytosis in Dr. Lukas Tamm’s lab in the UVA Molecular Physiology & Biophysics Department, with mentorship within the lab from Dr. Volker Kiessling.

I am pursuing my B.Sc. in biochemistry at UVA (class of 2021). After completing my bachelor’s, I hope to go onto graduate school for a PhD. My ultimate goal is to become a professor and scientist in academia, studying membrane biology in the lab. I hope to advance our understanding of diseases related to membrane biology.

Luke Cavanah

Bachelor of Science in Chemistry with Specialization in Biochemistry

Luke is a fourth-year undergraduate pre-medical student at UVA, majoring in chemistry (with specialization in biochemistry) and psychology. Aside from classes, he works as a certified nursing assistant and is conducting research under Prof. Morris’s guidance in social neuroscience research. Luke’s independent research project will be extending previously conducted research on a study examining the effects of valence and concurrent task difficulty on the late-positive potential (LPP), where the stimuli presented were words. Due to the visual nature of most emotional stimuli prevalent in day-to-day life and the importance of the LPP in memory encoding and storage, he is interesting in examining: How does the difficulty of a concurrent task alter the LPP corresponding to the processing of emotional images of varying levels of arousal and different valences? The LPP is a type of event-related potential (ERP), which is implicated in a variety of long-term cognitive processes and is notable for its unique stability across repeated stimulus presentations. ERPs refer to small but distinct changes in the voltage recorded by an electrode in electroencephalography, which arise due to specific events or stimuli.  

Julia Dressel

Bachelor of Science in Chemistry

Rising carbon emissions from industrial sources have cascading impacts on the environment, but it is challenging to mitigate climate concerns while meeting current energy demands. An attractive solution would use renewable energy to electrochemically reduce CO2 into valuable building blocks for chemicals and fuels or to produce hydrogen. Because these reactions are energy intensive, catalysts have been developed to make these processes more efficient. In an effort to improve upon known catalysts, my Harrison research project seeks to investigate a new molecular nickel complex as an electrocatalyst for these energy relevant reactions using several electrochemical, spectroscopic, and computational techniques.  

Julia Dressel is a third-year chemistry and environmental science major from Clifton, VA. She is thankful for her faculty mentor, Dr. Charles W. Machan, her graduate student mentor, Shelby Hooe, and the rest of the Machan laboratory for her great research experiences. 

Zhiwen Xu

Bachelor of Science in Chemistry with Specialization in Biochemistry

I am Zhiwen Xu, currently a rising second-year planning on majoring in biochemistry and studio art major on a pre-med track. 

I have loved science as a child starting with my first science fair project, "Temperature and Bee" in fifth grade. I continued to do science projects throughout high school, where I began to develop an interest in gene interaction within human bodies and was fascinated to find solutions to lower the occurrence of inflammatory disease. In one of the projects, I discovered that dandelion extracts could suppress colonies of E.coli, in which the project was selected to participate in the International Science and Engineering Fair in 2017. At UVA, I continued my pursuit of science. I joined Professor Mete Civelek's lab in the biomedical engineering department, starting my first year of fall semester 2019.

Along with my mentors, my current research focuses on investigating how KLF14 functions differently in female and male adipocyte cells by comparing the KLF14 gene expression between the knockout and wild-type mice within the different sexes. As the prevalence of type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2D) increases rapidly worldwide, with 642 million cases projected to occur by 2040. However, among the increasing population that has T2D, the susceptibility of disease differs between females and males, partly due to the different patterns of body composition and fat distribution. Thus, it is crucial in understanding the sex-specific influences on metabolism that involves the genetic regulation of gene expression in adipose tissues, which could lead to the development of new customizable therapies for individuals to treat T2D more effectively. I am deeply thankful for my mentors, Dr. Mete Civelek, Dr. Qianyi Yang, James Hinkle, and the rest of the lab members.

Outside the lab, I love to draw and design using mixed media. Some of my works were published in magazines recently, such as Scratch Zine and Gilerzine. I am also interested in fashion, so I was part of the Fashion for A Cause fashion show fall of 2019 as a stylist, where many of the donations go toward the community. I also have founded a design/product business called MoonPrint that started a few years ago, right now, I am planning to continue and grow MoonPrint this summer. Moreover, I am currently part of the MindBody at UVA executive team as the marketing and design officer. I am always curious about the world and love to try and explore new things. In my free time, I love hanging out with friends, dancing, singing or playing music, going to various outdoor activities, and ice skating.