STEM Summer Research Project Descriptions

Below are some examples of faculty lab opportunities for summer 2020. Some of the faculty listed take part in the early STEM selection process, some do not. Please read carefully. For other STEM faculty members not listed, please see their web pages or contact them via email or in person.

  • Ryan Brindle - Psychology and Neuroscience Program  (Two students needed) (DOES take part in the early STEM process)
    Research examines the impact of mental stress on health and disease. Projects are concerned with understanding how individual differences in physiological (e.g., blood pressure, heart rate) reactions to mental stress impact health. Projects also examine how stress impacts the neurobiology of nocturnal sleep and whether sleep can buffer the negative impact of stress and improve health.

  • Michael Bush - Mathematics (One or two students) (Does NOT take part in early STEM Process, but considers students based on their background)
    Sequences defined by recurrences occur throughout mathematics. A famous example is the Fibonacci sequence: 1,1,2,3,5,8,13... in which each term from the third onwards is the sum of the previous two terms. This sequence of integers is increasing, and the terms do not repeat (it is not periodic). On the other hand, if you only consider the oddness (write "1") and evenness (write "0") of the integers in this sequence, then you get a sequence of period 3: 1,1,0,1,1,0,1,... This periodicity can be explained and generalized using modular arithmetic. We will investigate the periods of sequences defined by recurrences in this and other settings.

  • Paul Cabe - Biology (One to three students needed) (DOES take part in the early STEM process )Conservation Genetics of Crayfish
    We are studying a species complex which ranges from South Carolina to Pennsylvania, and includes more than one undescribed species. We use DNA sequence data to measure genetic differences within and among populations to help define species groups. Students will participate in field work and lab work (DNA extraction, PCR, sequencing, DNA sequence analysis).

  • Elizabeth Denne - Mathematics (Two students) (DOES take part in the early STEM process)
    Research Topic: Folded Ribbon Knots in the Plane Description: Take a strip of paper, tie a knot, then flatten it in the plane. This forms a folded ribbon knot. The ribbon length is the least length of paper needed to tie the knot. In this summer project we will study folded ribbon knots and ribbon length, and continue research work done by W&L undergraduate students. Background needed: Math 221 Multivariable Calculus and Math 222 Linear Algebra. Math 201 Bridges to Advanced math, is strongly recommended.
  • Greg Dresden - Mathematics (One or two students needed) (DOES participate in the early STEM process)
    Research in Number Theory, specifically on continued fractions, which look like this: 1 + 1/(3 + 1/(1 + 1/(3 + ...))). It's a nice combination of topics from abstract algebra and number theory. You'll need to have taken some 300-level math courses. Visit for more information.

  • Jonathan Erickson - Physics and Engineering (Two to four students needed) (DOES participate in the early STEM process)
    The Erickson lab team is developing a non-invasive technique to detect colon contractions using body surface electrical recordings. Research students build custom electronics and computer-automated signal processing methods to "see" and quantify colonic motor activity. The goal for summer 2020 is to perform 24-hour ambulatory recordings to demonstrate our new method works in and out of the lab setting.

  • Carrie Finch-Smith - Mathematics (Two Students Needed)(DOES take part in the early STEM process)
    An example of a Sierpinski number is 78557; this is a really cool number because 78557*2^n + 1 is composite for all positive integers n. Riesel numbers have a similar property. The Finch-Smith research group searches for infinite classes of Sierpinski or Riesel numbers in other sequences of numbers.

  • Erin Gray - Chemistry and Biochemistry (One or two students needed) (DOES participate in the early STEM process)
    The Gray Group designs new catalytic reactions and investigates organometallic reaction mechanisms with the goal of identifying practical, efficient transformations for the synthesis of complex molecules. The group is currently seeking students who have an interest in harnessing the activity of transition metal catalysts to effect chemical bond formation.
  • Bill Hamilton - Biology From Bacteria to Bison: (2-3 students needed)(DOES take part in the early STEM process)
    The interactive effects of grazing, climate and management decisions on plant and soil productivity in Yellowstone National Park. This summer my lab will focus on the effects of winter grazing on soil bacteria and nutrient cycles in Yellowstone National Park grassland soils. Techniques include: DNA extraction and qPCR, soil nutrient analysis and stable isotope analysis.

  • Margaret Anne Hinkle - Geology Heavy metal contaminant remediation (coal mine drainage) by abiotic and mycogenic (fungal!) minerals (DOES take part in the early STEM process)
    Dr. Hinkle's lab investigates contaminant remediation, with this summer's research focusing on remediation of manganese and other toxic heavy metals by fungal biominerals at coal mine drainage remediation sites and soil weathering effects on spring water quality. Potential research projects can focus on either fungal or abiotic systems, depending on your particular interests. Research will involve both field and lab work, and has the potential to continue on into the school year if interested. If you would like to join our lab please contact Dr. Hinkle. Students who would like to collaborate with Geology faculty can apply through the regular SRS application.

  • Robert Humston - Environmental Studies Movement ecology of smallmouth bass (1-2 students needed)(DOES take part in the early STEM process)
    We will be using radio telemetry and tracking methods to monitor the movement and distribution of smallmouth bass in the Maury River in the reaches surrounding the location of the old (now removed) Jordan's Point dam. These data will be compared with data collected before the dam was removed to see how the change has affected fish movement and habitat utilization. Fieldwork takes place on the water using various watercraft (raft, kayak, or canoe) therefore applicants should be comfortable in the water and willing to work under unpredictable field conditions (i.e. weather).

  • Helen I'Anson - Biology & Neuroscience (Two students needed) (DOES take part in the early STEM process)
    The I'Anson research team studies the role of snacking using a developing rat model to understand the molecular mechanisms involved in childhood snacking and obesity onset. We will be focusing on molecular changes during development of obesity in peripheral tissues, such as the liver, adipose tissue and the GI tract.

  • Christopher Jenney - Cognitive and Behavioral Science and Neuroscience Program (two students needed) (Does NOT take part in the early STEM process)
    The Jenney Lab studies behavioral and molecular effects of nutrient deficiencies and supplements on vulnerability to cravings and relapse in rat models of self-administration of drugs of abuse.

  • Kefu Lu - Computer Science (1-2 students) (Does NOT participate in the early process).
    The project, Scheduling Programs with Algorithms, deals with finding the best strategies for computers to multitask when multiple programs are available to run. This involves proposing, analyzing, and understanding algorithms used in today's systems. Opportunities are available for students interested in discovering how algorithms are evaluated and designed.

  • David Marsh - Biology Conservation biology of Mountaintop Salamanders (Two students needed)
    My research is focused on the conservation biology of amphibians. Opportunities are available for students interested in field research and/or data analysis and computer modeling.

  • Sara Sprenkle - Computer Science (One to two students) (DOES take part in the early STEM process)
    Two projects: Web Application Testing and Development
    Professor Sprenkle's research focuses on automated testing of web applications based on how users interact with the application. To inform the testing approaches, we need to understand the development process. Our applications currently in development are the Ancient Graffiti Project and ChemTutor.

  • Natalia Toporikova- Biology Using machine learning algorithms to analyze physiological data (one to two students needed) (Does NOT take part in early process)
    Technological development in recent years lead to easier acquisition of physiological and behavioral data, such as images and videos. However, quantification and classification of such data can be quite challenging. This summer we will be using machine learning algorithms to understand how environments and genes affect timing of animal behavior.

  • Gregg Whitworth - Biology Gut microbiome metagenomics, Transcriptomes and Yeast apoptosis (Two students needed)
    We use a combination of experimental techniques, bioinformatics and computational tools to study regulatory changes in cells, tissues and organisms. We currently have three projects in the laboratory. In the first, we are using the model organism Saccharomyces cerevisiae (baker's yeast) to uncover new pathways that control regulated cell death (apoptosis). In the second, we are using advanced computational techniques to investigate changes in gene expression caused in a variety of tissues by a diet-induced obesity. Finally, we are also exploring how diet induced obesity affects the composition of bacteria found in the gut -- the gut microbiome. I am looking for two new students to join the lab in Summer 2020.

  • Charles Winder - Biology Long-term changes to the forests of House Mountain, Virginia (Two students needed) (DOES take part in the early STEM process)
    The Winder lab team is working on a long-term project to document forest composition on House Mountain and track long-term changes caused by natural and anthropogenic factors. House Mountain is a significant geographic and cultural landmark in Rockbridge County, and is currently managed as a public resource for recreation, education, and biological conservation. The work requires precise identification and measurement of tree and herb species within established plots, takes place outdoors in all weather, often in rugged and remote terrain, and is physically demanding. Needs at least two committed and enthusiastic students to continue this work.