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SPARC Ignites Collaborative Research by Psychology and Science Students, Faculty

Lauren Hill, left, a student in the College of Psychology’s M.S. in Experimental Psychology Program, shows graduate student Andrea Lopez how the electroencephalography (EEG) system records electrical activity of the brain.

Lauren Hill, left, a student in the College of Psychology’s M.S. in Experimental Psychology Program, shows graduate student Andrea Lopez how the electroencephalography (EEG) system records electrical activity of the brain.

How does the brain work? What are the effects of factors such as sleep deprivation, bilingualism, and aerobic exercise­­? These are among the topics of research projects being conducted by students and faculty in both the College of Psychology and Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography as part of the Science Peer and Research Collaborative (SPARC).

The three-year program funded by the U.S. Department of Education is designed to promote institutional collaboration, curricular innovation, research initiatives, and peer-to-peer success networks that increase minority students’ participation in science.

A total of 11 NSU students—including eight undergraduates and three graduate students—will work on six research projects led by Jaime Tartar, Ph.D., and Mercedes Fernandez, Ph.D., associate professors at the College of Psychology, and Aurelien Tartar, Ph.D., associate professor at the Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography.

NSU is working collaboratively with Miami-Dade College (MDC) School of Science, where eight students are conducting parallel research. Jaime Tartar is the NSU principal investigator of the $280,000 federal grant awarded to NSU in fall 2014 to fund the research projects. Heather Belmont, Ph.D., dean of the MDC School of Science, is the MDC principal investigator.

“It’s beneficial for students and faculty when schools with different strengths collaborate,” said Jaime Tartar, adding that SPARC enables NSU and MDC students to conduct independent research and share resources and ideas. “The students are very motivated and eager to do research. It’s reinvigorating for NSU and MDC faculty to meet as a research group to discuss goals, strategies, and student progress.”

The projects include

  • “An Integrative Analysis of the Physiological and Behavioral Effects of Sleep Deprivation,” led by Jaime Tartar with Margaret Lorenzetti, a student in the College of Psychology’s Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology program, and Lauren Hill, a graduate student in the college’s M.S. in Experimental Psychology program. (MDC student Christopher Sarmiento also is participating).
  • “Changes in mRNA Expression of Cytokine Activity after Sleep Deprivation,” led by Jaime Tartar with undergraduate student Ezana Asseffa, who is double majoring in behavioral neuroscience and biology.
  • “The Relationship between the Adenosine Deaminase Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) in Sleep Behavior and Melatonin Levels,” led by Jaime Tartar with biology major Franklin Hiffernan.
  • “The Effect of Acute Exercise on Brain Measures of Emotion Processing,” led by Jaime Tartar with biology major Sebastien Salzmann (in collaboration with Jose Antonio, Ph.D., assistant professor at the College of Health Care Sciences).
  • “Does Bilingualism Affect all Components of Executive Function?” led by Mercedes Fernandez with behavioral neuroscience majors Luz Delgadillo and Maria Panameno, and graduate student Andrea Lopez.
  • “Pathogen Detection in Metagenomic DNA,” led by Aurelien Tartar (the names of participating students will be announced soon).

In addition, NSU is participating in the STEM Ladder to Success Project, a federally funded grant program supporting summer research projects that partner NSU faculty with MDC students to increase inter-institution collaboration. During summer 2015, five MDC students worked with four faculty members from the NSU College of Psychology and the Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography. Faculty included Jaime Tartar, and assistant professors Robert Smith, Ph.D.; Travis Craddock, Ph.D.; and James Munoz, Ph.D.