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The relationship between clocks and pigeon behavior was the focus of an intensive research project conducted this fall by neuroscience major Lisa Hudak ’05 (Moosic, Pa.). She believes the research is important because it demonstrates behaviors also present in humans.

“Clocks are important in everyday life for both humans and animals. They help organize our behaviors,” she says. “For instance, if you wake up at 10 a.m. on a Saturday and think it is Friday, your behaviors, such as rushing to get to work on time because you think you overslept, are contingent on clock stimuli.”

Hudak worked with Robert Allan, associate professor of psychology, through Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, in which students conduct research with faculty while earning a stipend. The program has helped to make Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. Many of the more than 160 students who participate each year share their work through articles in academic journals and/or conference presentations.

“We all use clocks. We position them in critical places so that time never ticks away unnoticed. The research Lisa worked on involved the question of how clocks work to organize behavior,” Allan says.

Hudak was excited about taking her classroom knowledge and applying it in a real-world setting.

“It is an amazing opportunity to have the experience of performing professional-level research. I learned how to care for and handle the animals, how to analyze data, and the mechanics behind the laboratory equipment,” says Hudak. “There is an enormous difference between reading about research and actually performing research. The latter, of course, is much more rewarding! This experience, combined with the possibility of my name being on a poster or publication, will make me a stronger applicant for medical or graduate school.”

The research also related to her interest in working with autistic children.

“One of the only treatments that works for these children is behavioral analysis,” she says. “Although I worked with animals, some of the same approaches can be used on humans. A clock-stimulus setback contingency to control behavior may even work on autistic children.”

Hudak also is working under Allan’s guidance to conduct a yearlong honors thesis combining her interests in neuroscience with the EXCEL research.

“First we will try to replicate the results we are obtaining with the pigeons, but now using a rat model,” she says. “It is a clock-stimulus controlled experiment in which a clock governs the rats’ behavior using a setback contingency. After we establish these results, we will move on to the next phase, which involves injecting the rats with different [anxiety-relieving] drugs and observing their effects on the rats’ behavior.”

Allan’s mentoring has left a lasting impression.

“Dr. Allan goes above and beyond to teach me everything about his research,” says Hudak. “His passion for his career and research interests is contagious; every day in lab I become more passionate about my work because of him. [He] is constantly giving me articles to read based on my particular interests, and knowing my interest in autism, he is even facilitating a meeting for me with a woman who opened up schools for autistic children.”

Hudak credits Lafayette for providing ideal research conditions.

“Lafayette provides a wonderful environment for undergraduate research. The laboratory facilities are great and because it’s a small college, the students are able to receive the attention they need,” she says. “Not having to compete with graduate students for research positions allows Lafayette students to have experiences most other undergraduates can’t have until graduate school.”

She is president of Lafayette Society for Neuroscience, a chemistry peer tutor, and a hospital volunteer and volunteer at Third Street Alliance, where she works with adults with dementia.

She took part in externships during the past three January interim sessions, first with Peter D’Aubermont ’73, dermatologist at Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Atlanta, in 2002; with Vic Ferraris ’64, professor and chief of cardiothoracic surgery at the University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center, in 2003; and with Carmela Pane ’78, associate director at Valley Hospital, in 2004. Lafayette’s externship program allows students to observe work practices, learn about careers they may consider entering after college, and develop professional networking contacts with alumni and other experienced professionals.

Hudak also participated in internships during the past two summers. She first interned at Duke University, creating databases for urological surgeries,researching and preparing papers on urological topics, andobserving urological surgery. Then, during a study-abroad program, she interned at the Hoffman de Visme Foundation in London, England, assisting autistic adults with arts and crafts, music, cooking, and community activities and analyzing behavioral observation charts.

As a national leader in undergraduate research, Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Forty-two students were accepted to present their work at the last annual conference in April.

Categorized in: Academic News