Undergraduate research helps educate the whole student

Undergraduate research opportunities at Virginia Tech are virtually endless, allowing students to work collaboratively with faculty who challenge them to think critically and creatively. These research opportunities are designed to develop undergraduate students into knowledgeable and competitive scholars.

In addition, undergraduate research projects can be selected for presentation at a research conference – an exceptional opportunity most often reserved for the best groundbreaking research.


Undergraduate Aaron Rudd conducts research in the lab Aaron Rudd researches the impact of an absence of the Nhlh2 gene in mice.

Showcasing undergraduate research

Four Virginia Tech undergraduates were selected through a competitive process to feature their work at the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Meeting of the Minds in 2008, an annual two-day conference showcasing undergraduate research from each of the 12 ACC universities.

The conference is similar to a professional scholarly meeting where papers are read, experiments are demonstrated, and peer networking is fostered. There, student researchers present their research findings to peers and administrators from other universities.

Aaron Rudd of Stephens City, Va., a senior majoring in human nutrition, foods, and exercise in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, presented his research on the role of a gene in skeletal muscle tissue as it relates to obesity and reduced activity.

Rudd’s faculty mentor, Deborah Good, associate professor in human nutrition, foods, and exercise, said, “Our lab is trying to understand why mice with a deletion of the Nhlh2 gene get fat. We already know they have an overall reduction in daily activity levels, but we don’t know why. The ultimate goal is to determine the role of Nhlh2 in skeletal muscle function and possibly how an absence of Nhlh2 may contribute to increased body fat and reduced physical activity.”

Andrew Lucas of Fairfax Station, Va., a University Honors Program student and senior double majoring in biology and chemistry in the College of Science, says he has studied and spent much of the past several months in the lab.


Undergraduate Tyler Haak at the Great Wall of China Tyler Haak visited the Great Wall of China during his visit to the country while conducting research on isolation cones.

Lucas' research focused on understanding the cross-talk mechanisms among the circadian, cell division, and metabolic processes.

Specifically, he aims to identify the structural-functional basis for circadian recognition of metabolic changes. His work contributes mechanistic insights to enhance understanding of how changes in our normal physiology impact cell-division processes.

Tyler Haak of Ingomar, Pa., a recent graduate who majored in civil engineering in the College of Engineering, was involved in a research project that took him to China.

Haak submitted his abstract for the Meeting of the Minds conference after being accepted into a National Science Foundation summer program in 2007. 

In that summer program, he began studying offshore oil platforms in the bay outside Dalian, China. “When the bay freezes in the winter, ice will move across the water's surface and collide with the platforms, making them less serviceable,” Haak said. “My research investigated the best ways to minimize the vibration caused by these collisions, which currently appears to be the design and implementation of a vibration isolation cone.”

Elizabeth Carraway of Charlottesville, Va., a recent graduate who majored in English in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, expanded on her previous research done while taking a course on modern American literature. Fascinated by the parallels between F. Scott Fitzgerald’s portrayal of Judy Jones in Winter Dreams and Sherwood Anderson’s characterization of Elizabeth Willard in Mother, Carraway studied the enigmas of the two female characters.

She concluded in her research that the writers were attempting to understand a “new woman” who emerged after World War I demanding freedom of expression. Instead of allowing the characters to thrive, each writer simplified his central female character so the male characters could evolve.

Encouraged by faculty who create opportunities, many Virginia Tech undergraduates are highly engaged in research projects that allow them to work side by side with the leading researchers in their fields — setting Virginia Tech apart from other top-ranked research institutions.

  • For more information on this topic, contact Meghan Williams at iwill07@vt.edu or call (540) 231-4754 or (540) 231-7930.

How did Meeting of the Minds get started?

The annual ACC undergraduate research conference was made possible when the conference established the championship football game between the Coastal Division and the Atlantic Division leaders.

The conference presidents dedicated some of the game revenue to support academics and sponsor an annual undergraduate research conference.

North Carolina State University will host the fourth annual conference in 2009.

Undergraduate works in Mali to save lives

    Christine George looks at a jar of mosquitos in the lab.

Senior Christine George is helping fight the spread of yellow fever and dengue carried by the Aedes mosquito.


Research findings


Undergraduate Elizabeth Carraway Elizabeth Carraway's research presents a psychological, sociological, and biographical explanation of two authors' intentions for their female characters.

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