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Impact research

STEM students and alums share research from highly selective summer research programs.

September 25, 2018

This past summer, several students from Mount Saint Mary’s STEM programs carried out important science research in prestigious research experiences for undergraduates (REU).

Mahak Virlley ’19, a double-major in biology and mathematics, presents findings from her summer research, conducted through UCLA's highly selective 2018 Summer Undergraduate Scholars Program.
Mahak Virlley ’19, a double-major in biology and mathematics, presents findings from her summer research, conducted through UCLA's highly selective 2018 Summer Undergraduate Scholars Program.

Mahak Virlley ’19, a double-major in biology and mathematics, and Celeste Tobar ’19, a double-major in chemistry and mathematics, were both selected to participate in the highly selective 2018 UCLA Summer Undergraduate Scholars Program.

Virlley worked in the lab of UCLA assistant professor Jonathan Kao, PhD, on “Noninvasive brain-machine interface utilizing electroencephalography.” She presented the results of her work both in a summary of projects session and in a poster symposium. Her research and prior work experience at the Mount has focused on identifying microbial communities in the University’s Chalon Campus garden, including toxin-producing bacterium, which eventually led her to testing the anti-cancer properties of these toxins on HeLa cells. Her research interests include biomedical engineering and electrical engineering, particularly at the intersection of music and neuroscience. 

Celeste Tobar ’19, left, a double-major in chemistry and mathematics, presents results from her summer research, conducted through UCLA's highly selective 2018 Summer Undergraduate Scholars Program.
Celeste Tobar ’19, left, a double-major in chemistry and mathematics, presents results from her summer research, conducted through UCLA's highly selective 2018 Summer Undergraduate Scholars Program.

Tobar, meanwhile, contributed research in UCLA’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Department under assistant professor Sam Emaminejad, PhD. She recently presented a poster in the Summer Undergraduate Scholars Program on “Optimization of NIPAAm-based hydrogel for wearable biofluid processing.” This is the second consecutive year that Tobar has participated in a selective REU. In 2017, she was at Cornell University, as part of the Cornell Center for Materials Research Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates Program, which was sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF). 

“The Mount’s emphasis on STEM research helps our students to get into external summer research programs like these, which, in turn, make our students highly competitive applicants for graduate school and medical school.” says Eric Stemp, PhD, the Loring-Denault Endowed Chair in Chemistry and chair of physical sciences.

Tobar is also part of a Mount Saint Mary’s chemistry research team led by Deniz Cizmeciyan-Papazyan, PhD, professor of mathematics and physical sciences. The team is investigating enantiomeric interactions — which are important in the pharmaceutical industry as well as in pre-biotic life — through computer simulations. At the Mount, Tobar has been involved in detailed research that investigates motion in gypsum, a highly useful mineral. This work will soon be published. And in the fall, Tobar and Virlley will both conduct further research at the Mount with Dr. Cizmeciyan-Papazyan, studying computational chemistry.

A third Athenian also advanced scientific understandings in her field this summer. Vivian Lee ’19, a biology major, carried out marine biology research at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), as part of an NSF program called “Ocean Global Change Biology REU.” Lee worked on a project, “Identifying the bacterium vibrio on sea star species pisaster ochraceus through DNA fingerprinting,” which focused on trying to find the cause of the Sea Star Wasting Disease.

STEM alumna published
A recent Mount alumna is also making waves in the scientific community. Melissa Martinez ’18, who earned a BS in biochemistry with a minor in psychology, has been published in the scientific journal, Nucleic Acids Research. Her paper, “Global landscape of mouse and human cytokine transcriptional regulation,” detailed the work she conducted at Boston University in the summer of 2017 as a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow.

There, Martinez carried out investigations of cytokines, cell-to-cell signaling proteins that play a central role in immune development, pathogen responses and diseases. Her research will help provide a framework for the rational design of future cytokine gene regulation studies.

At the Mount, Martinez served as president of Women in Science and Health, and was selected as a PLEN Women in STEM Policy scholar with the Public Leadership Education Network in Washington, D.C. Her work at Boston University was funded thanks to grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.