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Daniel Haddad ’06 (Colorado Springs, Colo.) has always been interested in behavior and how it can be manipulated and influenced by chemical agents. This spring the neuroscience major is developing his interests by conducting research for a senior honors thesis.

Haddad began research last fall with Wendy Hill, Rappolt Professor of Neuroscience, studying the effects of neurotransmitters in the mating behavior of finches. This spring he is using reviews of previous research to develop experiments and understand how dopaminergic pathways throughout the brain affect sexual behavior in male zebra finches. Dopaminergic pathways relate to or are activated by dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain

“My main goal during the experimental phase is to really understand all the facets of carrying out an experiment,” he says.

Although he understands that errors are always possible, Haddad says his preparation that with Hill should ensure a smooth experiment.

“Dr. Hill and I have only worked with each other for a semester thus far, and already I find her an incredible mentor. Her patience, wisdom, and knowledge have helped me come this far in understanding all of the concepts, procedures, and behaviors I was confronted with last semester,” says Haddad. “Whenever I was confused on a particular topic in the reading material or about anything else, even sometimes unrelated to our research but about neuroscience in general, she would take the time to address any problems and make sure I understood them.”

Haddad spent 10 weeks last summer conducting research with James Simmons ’65, professor of neuroscience at Brown University, through the Lafayette Alumni Research Network. Simmons studies the biological sonar, or echolocation, of bats as an auditory imaging system. His research is used to learn how bats process echoes of their ultrasonic sounds to perceive the location and identity of the flying insects they prey upon.

Haddad and Simmons focused on the swarming behavior of bats.

“We investigated why different species of bats are swarming together – whether it makes it easier to feed or drink, or whether it is a more complex social behavior,” says Haddad.

The research they conducted is most useful for the Office of Naval Research due to its many militaristic applications. However, Haddad adds that other cruise liners could also benefit from the research.

“Ultimately, the goal of the research is to replicate the degree to which a bat utilizes sonar to interpret its environment and then apply it to modern technology in order to improve our current sonar systems,” he says.

“Being able to experience this process first-hand has certainly improved my critical thinking skills and my design and analysis skills,” he says. “It has also given me a better understanding of the scientific method in action.”

Last January, he spent a week and a half shadowing Perrin Wilson ’00 through Lafayette’s externship program. Students serve externships with Lafayette alumni and other experienced professionals in business, the arts, education, healthcare, law, engineering, science, government, non-profits, and other fields. The students observe work practices, learn about careers they may consider entering after college, and develop professional networking contacts.

Haddad not only observed Wilson at work, he conducted experiments, which included tissue culturing and analyzing DNA to identify genes of a mouse line through a technique called polymerase chain reactions. He learned about enzyme analysis and dissected a mouse cerebellum.

“The experience was incredible. I loved every second of it,” Haddad says, adding that Wilson was a great host. “She really threw me in! I thought I’d be an observer, but I got really involved. I spent a lot of time in a real lab, doing firsthand what she does.”

A graduate of Cheyenne Mountain High School, Haddad volunteers through Lafayette’s Landis Community Outreach Center with the American Reads America Counts program and Adults with Dementia Program at Third Street Alliance. He also works with the Office of Alumni Affairs as a student ambassador and is a member of the Martial Arts Club.

Hill is the recipient of more than a dozen grants, including a 2003 James McKeen Cattell Fund Fellowship for a major new research project that could provide insight into how physiological systems give rise to adaptive behaviors. She was named Pennsylvania’s Professor of the Year in 1999 by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching for her extraordinary dedication to teaching and exceptional impact on and involvement with undergraduate students.

Honors thesis projects are among several major opportunities at Lafayette that make the College a national leader in undergraduate research. Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Thirty-nine students have been accepted to present their work at next month’s annual conference.

Categorized in: Academic News