A summer gaining clinical experience as a certified nursing assistant

By Hayden Robinson ’18

This Summer, I have been working as a Certified Nursing Assistant. As a CNA, I have had the opportunity to be actively involved in the treatment of patients in an assisted care facility. This job not only involves basic understanding of biology, but also, an understanding of a variety of both social and scientific issues within the field of medicine. As a Hampden-Sydney Biology major, I am gaining invaluable patient contact experience, as well as a better understanding of the work necessary to monitor and treat patients in a clinical environment. With the ultimate goal of one day becoming a practicing physician, my work as a CNA allows me a very humbled and interesting perspective of the American health care system.

The author in his scrubs and ready to work

The author in his scrubs and ready to work

Summer Research Student James Ingersoll ’18 Investigates Neuronal Development

We know that ethanol exposure during development has many negative consequences for the offspring. This summer I’ve been working with Dr. Erin Clabough investigating mouse brain morphology following a one-time ethanol intoxication event in the early postnatal period for mice (which is equivalent to the third trimester of a human pregnancy). We have harvested mouse brains, followed a Golgi impregnation procedure, sectioned brains using a cryostat, followed staining procedures, used microscopes and computer programs to identify and trace medium spiny neurons, and will in the future analyze the number and types of dendritic spines.

During the Golgi staining process, we lost some usable brain sections into the wash, but in most sections, we were able to see the outline of individual neurons under the scope.

Jamie Ingersoll ’18 undertaking a Golgi staining process on mouse brain sections. The Golgi stain impregnates approximately 10% of neurons with a black pigment. We lost some usable brain sections into the wash, but in most sections, we were able to see the outline of individual neurons under the scope.

In prior study done in Dr. Clabough’s lab, we found increased branching in individual neurons in the striatum of the mouse brains immediately following a developmental ethanol exposure—which is the opposite of what we thought we’d find. We are now investigating different stages of mouse development to see when this branching phenotype disappears.

The most difficult parts of research so far have been when we were sectioning on the cryostat and it fought us for what seemed like years never wanting to yield a usable section and also the staining process where we had to watch as brain after brain slid off the slides into the unusable wash left behind.


Some of our 873 brain tissue sections drying over several days prior to Golgi staining.

This experience has showed me a whole new level of patience and also how important it is to not rush the process—for example, when something like the cryostat decides it will finally cooperate, then prepare to stay for a while and crank because the next day it may not be so kind. But the best part is when everything works and we are able to see and interpret results.

We will present our research at the 2016 Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego in November. We hope that our research will provide insights into not just how just one binge of ethanol can affect neurons in the brain, but also how medium spiny neurons are involved in the response to ethanol and how that response may change throughout development.

H-SC Biology Students Conducting Melanoma Research

This summer two Hampden-Sydney College Biology majors, James Lau ’17 and Brant Boucher ’17, are conducting melanoma research alongside Elliott Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Kristian M. Hargadon ’01.  Previous research in the Hargadon laboratory has shown a role for the FOXC2 transcription factor in promoting melanoma growth and metastasis, and James and Brant are currently investigating different aspects of FOXC2 as it relates to melanoma progression.  Using a mouse melanoma model, James is comparing gene and protein expression profiles of a highly aggressive melanoma cell line that expresses high levels of FOXC2 versus a CRISPR-Cas9 gene-edited version of this melanoma in which the Foxc2 gene has been disrupted.  This work will provide insights into genes that may be positively or negatively regulated by FOXC2 and will improve our understanding of how FOXC2 promotes aggressive behavior in cancer cells.  In related work, Brant is investigating a novel gene silencing approach that aims to shut down Foxc2 gene expression specifically in melanoma cells.  The ability to turn this gene off specifically in melanoma cells would offer an exciting opportunity to prevent the tumor-promoting functions of this gene in cancer cells without impacting FOXC2’s normal function in healthy cells.  Both James and Brant have already been accepted to medical school and will begin following their graduation from H-SC in 2017!

James Lau '17 performing flow cytometric analysis of B16-F1 melanoma cells containing functional versus disrupted Foxc2 genes.

James Lau ’17 performing flow cytometric analysis of B16-F1 melanoma cells containing functional versus disrupted Foxc2 genes.


Brant Boucher '17 isolating RNA from tumor cells to assess melanoma-specific silencing of the Foxc2 gene.

Brant Boucher ’17 setting up a real-time PCR reaction to assess melanoma-specific silencing of the Foxc2 gene.


unPAKing H-SC classroom-based research in Austin

Hampden-Sydney is a charter member of Undergraduates Phenotyping Arabidopsis Knockouts (unPAK), a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded research initiative that seeks to better understand the genetics and ecology of the mouse-eared cress (Arabidopsis thaliana).  A. thaliana is a model plant whose study provides an inexpensive and efficient way to better understand plant biology as a whole.  The work of unPAK is predominantly performed by undergraduates in both classroom and independent research contexts.  The original 2011 network of 4 unPAK institutions (Hampden-Sydney, The College of Charleston, Barnard College (NY), and the University of Georgia) was joined by 8 additional institutions in 2014 (Virginia Tech, Oberlin College (OH), The University of Prince Edward Island (Canada), Tri-County Technical College (SC), Benedict College (SC), Francis Marion University (SC), Santa Rosa Junior College (CA), and The University of Washington-Bothell) upon NSF renewal representing American undergraduate institutions of all sizes and missions.

Hampden-Sydney Associate Professor of Biology Mike Wolyniak recently organized a gathering of faculty and student representatives from all unPAK institutions at the University of Texas-Austin, to coincide with the international joint meeting of the American Society of Naturalists, the Society for the Study of Evolution, and the Society of Systemic Biologists being held in Austin.  The unPAK meeting allowed members of the network to share their work with each other, plan future collaborative activities, and promote student conversations about projects spanning multiple institutions.

The unPAK meeting, UT-Austin

The unPAK meeting, UT-Austin

Hampden-Sydney students Drew Elliott ’18, Traylor Nichols ’17, and Dakota Reinartz ’18 presented their unPAK work from Dr. Wolyniak’s Genetics and Cell Biology course in which they explored the effect of mutations to plant lines to potentially compromise their ability to resist consumption by larvae of the diamondhead moth (Plutella xylostella). The project directly stems from long-term collaboration between Dr. Wolyniak and Dr. Dorothea Tholl of the Department of Biological Sciences at Virginia Tech.

Drew Elliott '18, Traylor Nichols '17, and Dakota Reinartz '18 with their research poster

Drew Elliott ’18, Traylor Nichols ’17, and Dakota Reinartz ’18 with their research poster

Drew discusses the group's work with unPAK conference participants

Drew discusses the group’s work with unPAK conference participants

Projects such as unPAK continue to provide Hampden-Sydney biology students with extensive access to original research experience as a vital part of their undergraduate training.

Three Hampden-Sydney men under the UT-Austin Lone Star flag

Three Hampden-Sydney men under the UT-Austin Lone Star flag

Elliott Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Kristian M. Hargadon ’01 Receives Invitation for Membership in European Academy of Tumor Immunology

Elliott Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Kristian M. Hargadon ’01 was recently invited to become a member of the European Academy of Tumor Immunology by the Academy’s Governing Body.  Founded in 2011  to promote tumor immunology at the scientific and clinical levels, the European Academy of Tumor Immunology (EATI) aims to “bridge fields, bridge continents, and bridge generations” of tumor immunologists across the globe who are studying tumor immunity at fundamental, translational, and clinical levels.  With his membership in EATI, Dr. Hargadon, whose research at Hampden-Sydney College focuses on immune suppression by melanoma, joins an international group of 360 tumor immunologists that includes 3 Nobel Laureates and many of the leading cancer researchers in the world.

Elliott Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Kristian M. Hargadon ’01 Receives $100,000 Grant for Cancer Research

Elliott Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Kristian M. Hargadon ’01 was recently awarded a $100,000 grant from the Jeffress Trusts Awards Program in Interdisciplinary Research to support his melanoma research program.  Funds from this grant will be used by Dr. Hargadon and his collaborating Hampden-Sydney College students to investigate anti-tumor CD8+ T cell dysfunction and the ways in which lymph node invasion by melanoma impacts the quality of tumor-specific CD8+ T cell immune responses.  Understanding these processes will shed light on mechanisms by which tumors evade immune destruction, and this knowledge may ultimately inform the design of novel immunotherapies that aim to improve the quality of anti-tumor immunity.

Biology students, faculty recognized for excellence at H-SC 2016 Final Convocation

The biology department was well represented at the College’s 2016 Final Convocation ceremony, held each April to honor the achievements of members of the Hampden-Sydney community over the past year.  The Biology Department gives two awards at this event.  The first, the R.T. Hewitt Biology Award, is given to the graduating senior who has distinguished himself in his work in the classroom and the laboratory over his 4 years at the College.  This year’s recipient, Christopher Hawk ’16, has worked extensively with Professors Ed Lowry and Mike Wolyniak over the past two years on ecological and molecular biological research studying the microbiome of hops.  His work was instrumental in the development in a new research-based introductory laboratory course at Hampden-Sydney.  Chris plans to begin work next year in the field of environmental consulting.

Biology Department Chair Dr. Alex Werth presents the Hewitt Award to Christopher Hawk '16

Biology Department Chair Dr. Alex Werth presents the Hewitt Award to Christopher Hawk ’16

Next, the department presented the Overcash Award, a prize awarded to the top junior in the department who is planning a career in the health sciences.  This year’s recipient, James Lau ’17, was recently named the third Goldwater Scholar in Hampden-Sydney history and will undertake research this summer with Professor Kristian Hargadon ’01 (the College’s first Goldwater Scholar) and will begin study at Eastern Virginia Medical School in the fall of 2017 as part of the early admission articulation agreement between the two institutions.

Dr. Werth presents the Overcast Prize to James Lau '17

Dr. Werth presents the Overcast Prize to James Lau ’17


Finally, Professor Kristian Hargadon received the John Peter Mettauer Award for Research Excellence in recognition of his extensive and productive research program on the study of melanoma in a mouse model.

Dr. Kristian Hargaon receives the 2016 Mettauer Award from Dean of the Faculty Mike McDermott

Dr. Kristian Hargadon receives the 2016 Mettauer Award from Dean of the Faculty Mike McDermott

Faculty from the Biology Department have won the Mettauer Award 3 of the last 4 years and 4 times in the past 7 years (Dr. Alex Werth-2010, Dr. Mike Wolyniak-2013, Dr. Bill Shear-2015, Dr. Kristian Hargadon-2016).

H-SC Biology students present research at national conferences coast-to-coast

One of the benefits of getting involved in independent research at Hampden-Sydney is the chance to present the finished product at a national scientific conference.  In the course of a week in early April 2016, six H-SC biology students presented their research on both coasts of the United States!  First, four students made their way to San Diego, California, to attend the 2016 Experimental Biology Meeting.  Travis Goodloe ’16 and Jefferson Thompson ’16 presented work done last summer under the guidance of Dr. Kristian Hargadon while Charlie Kyle ’16 and Jake Rockenbach ’16 showed a poster based on their joint Departmental Honors project advised by chemist Dr. Bill Anderson and biologist Dr. Mike Wolyniak.

Jefferson Thompson '16, Jake Rockenbach '16, Charlie Kyle '16, and Travis Goodloe '16

Jefferson Thompson ’16, Jake Rockenbach ’16, Charlie Kyle ’16, and Travis Goodloe ’16

Jefferson’s work explored the use of CRISPR-Cas9, an exciting new molecular biology technology, to edit a cancer factor in a mouse cell line model.  Charlie and Jake focused on work originally begun by Chris Ferrante ’15 and Jay Brandt ’15 (both of whom are currently in medical school) that attempted to develop novel antibiotics for use on a series of pathogenic bacteria.  Travis’ project looked at ways to use quantitative PCR to identify the presence of cancer progression in melanoma cells.  The Experimental Biology conference brings together thousands of scientists ranging from students to established leaders in fields representing six different professional  societies covering biochemistry and molecular biology, anatomy, physiology, pathology, nutrition, and pharmacology.  The students, accompanied by Dr. Wolyniak, were also able to take in some of the sites of San Diego, including attending part of the San Diego Padres season opening series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Jefferson Thompson '16 explains his project

Jefferson Thompson ’16 explains his project

Travis Goodloe '16 and his poster

Travis Goodloe ’16 and his poster

Charlie Kyle '16 and Jake Rockenbach '16

Charlie Kyle ’16 and Jake Rockenbach ’16

As the San Diego crew was preparing to come home, another group of H-SC biologists set off from campus to present their work at another national meeting.  This time the venue was the University of North Carolina-Asheville, site of the 30th Annual National Conference for Undergraduate Research (NCUR).  The National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) was established in 1987 and is dedicated to promoting undergraduate research in all fields of study by sponsoring an annual conference for students. NCUR welcomes presenters from all institutions of higher learning and from all corners of the academic curriculum. The conference provides a unique experience for all undergraduate students because it supports student achievement in all areas of study through poster, oral, visual, and musical presentations.

H-SC Biology was represented by two students at NCUR 2016.  First, Mason Luck ’16 presented his work on invasive species conducted under the guidance of Dr. Ed Lowry.

Mason Luck '16 presents his project

Mason Luck ’16 presents his project

Also presenting was Christopher Hawk ’16 and his Departmental Honors work advised by Drs. Lowry and Wolyniak and identifying molecular markers for the rapid detection of fungal infection on hops plants.

Chris Hawk '16 and his poster

Chris Hawk ’16 and his poster

The Biology Department is proud of both its California and North Carolina representatives to these prestigious national conferences!

10 H-SC Students Inducted into Sigma Xi Honor Society

On March 30, ten Hampden-Sydney College students were inducted into Sigma Xi, the international honorary scientific research society.  Founded in 1886 to honor excellence in scientific investigation and to encourage collaboration among researchers in all fields of science and engineering, the Society now consists of over 500 chapters at academic, industrial, and government research institutions and has nearly 60,000 members in more than 100 countries around the world.  The Longwood University/Hampden-Sydney College chapter of Sigma Xi was reactivated in 2013, and the two institutions now alternate hosting an annual Sigma Xi Research Symposium that features a keynote speaker and student poster presentations highlighting recent research activities on both campuses.  Congratulations to the H-SC students inducted in 2016:  Branch Vincent, Christopher Hawk, J.D. Chaudhry, Jefferson Thompson, Linh Nguyen, Mitchell Thomas, Shaquann Seadrow, Will Echols, Will Fitzgerald, and Zachary Martin.

Hampden-Sydney genomics students publish their annotated bacteriophage sequence on national database

As the final product of the Hampden-Sydney Genomics and Bioinformatics course from the spring 2014 semester, the National Center for Biotechnology Information has accepted  the class’ sequence annotation of a bacteriophage discovered at Hampden-Sydney for publication in the GenBank database.  The sequence, authored by Josh Dimmick ’15, Grayland Godfrey ’15, William Banning ’15, Mitch Cavallarin ’15, Tommy Isom ’14, Hakeem Mohammed ’14. Jackson Parker ’14, Francis Polakiewicz ’14, Putney Smith ’14, and Professor Mike Wolyniak, was a part of Hampden-Sydney’s participation in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Science Education Alliance-Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science (SEA-PHAGES) program.  Dr. Vassie Ware of Lehigh University collaborated with the final stages of preparing the sequence, which will directly contribute to a national research initiative based out of the University of Pittsburgh that seeks to understand how viruses that infect various bacterial species have evolved over time.

Bacteriophage McFly was isolated by a previous Hampden-Sydney Molecular and Cellular Biology course by Seth Ayers ’11.  It is a virus that infects the species Mycobacterium smegmatus and has a genome of approximately 50,000 basepairs.  The student authors listed above used several bioinformatics databases over the course of a semester to identify and characterize the predicted genes in the McFly sequence.  McFly is the third bacteriophage Hampden-Sydney students have contributed to the national sequence database, joining Arturo and Cheetobro.  The SEA-PHAGES initiative allows students from Hampden-Sydney to join undergraduates from across the nation in conducting original research as a component of their scientific training.

To explore McFly, visit the sequence file at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/nuccore/1007010572

Electron micrograph of McFly, isolated at Hampden-Sydney in 2011.

Electron micrograph of McFly, isolated at Hampden-Sydney in 2011.