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“Dr. Hill has been a fabulous model for me and has really taught me how to think critically, question many aspects of the research, and reason through prior studies,” says Kim Bassi, a junior behavioral neuroscience major from Johnstown, Pa., and a graduate of Westmont Hilltop High School. “I hadn’t realized that the opportunities students have here aren’t universal at all schools. Knowing professors on a personal basis, collaborating, and working together on projects is such a unique experience at Lafayette.”

The question Kim Bassi is asking is not, “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” It’s “When do a chick’s biological rhythms begin?”

As a participant in Lafayette’s EXCEL Scholars program, she is doing hands-on research to determine when the biological rhythms, such as eating and sleeping, of domestic chicks are established. EXCEL Scholars collaborate closely with faculty members on research projects while earning a stipend.

Bassi is working with Wendy L. Hill, an associate professor of psychology and chair of Lafayette’s new neuroscience program. A specialist in comparative and physiological psychology, Hill played the lead role in creating the program in neuroscience, an increasingly popular, interdisciplinary area of study that focuses on the ways in which behavior in humans and animals is affected by the activities of the nervous system.

Hill explains, “Chicks come into the world with established biological rhythms, called circadian rhythms, that occur in a 24-hour period. It is likely that these rhythms are established two days before hatching. Their endogenous clock, or the internal system that regulates when they eat or sleep even without external cues such as light, has already been set before hatching. We’re trying to determine when that occurs.

“Kim will help me with all aspects of the experiment,” Hill continues. “This research project presents a unique opportunity for Kim to be actively involved in conducting research in behavioral neuroscience and, in the process, learn more about the contribution of the nervous system to behavioral development.”

The project includes extensive reading and hands-on lab work for Bassi, who is scheduled to continue the research right through January’s three-week interim session and into the spring semester.

“I am studying how the hormones melatonin and serotonin affect the endogenous clocks of domestic chicks,” Bassi says, “By varying light cues during the incubation period, chicks will behave differently when they hatch. Professor Hill and I are interested in determining when is the critical time that chicks require light cues from the environment in order to have set internal rhythms.”

Bassi welcomes the unique challenges of the project, particularly the lab work and the chance to work closely with a faculty mentor.

“This is my first experience working with animals. It’s definitely a challenge,” says Bassi who plans to attend graduate school and pursue a career in the field of neuroscience. “Dr. Hill has been a fabulous model for me and has really taught me how to think critically, question many aspects of the research, and reason through prior studies.”

Hill says, “Kim is a bright, conscientious, and motivated student. As a behavioral neuroscience major, she has the necessary background in biology and chemistry to help perform the neurochemical analyses via high-performance liquid chromatography. She really takes the initiative and is very independent in her work. EXCEL is really beneficial in that students can get so much more out of the experience than a traditional classroom situation.” Hill is optimistic a publication may result from their joint efforts.

Another Side of Kim

She is president of the Psychology Club and cochair of the Culture Committee of the Lafayette Activities Forum, a student organization that provides the campus with high-quality entertainment. She sings in the Concert Choir. A member of Alpha Phi sorority, she is a delegate to Lafayette’s Panhellenic Council.

Categorized in: Academic News