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Neuroscience major Lori Cooper ’07 (Brackney, Pa.) presented her research on pupil dilation at the 11th annual meeting of the Northeast Under/graduate Organization for Neuroscience (N.E.U.R.O.N.) Saturday, March 3 at Simmons College in Boston, Mass.

Her project, “Parasympathetic and Sympathetic Control of the Pupillary Light Response in Turtles,” was the result of research she has performed over the last several years under the guidance of James Dearworth, assistant professor of biology.

Since the summer of 2005, Cooper and Dearworth have been examining the neural control of the red-eared slider turtle’s pupillary light reflex. Cooper has been topically applying a variety of mydriatic drugs, which cause pupil dilation, to the cornea of the turtle’s eyes to determine how the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system control this response.

“One of the drugs, vecuronium bromide (VB), blocks parasympathetic control of the iris by blocking nicotinic receptors,” she explains. “The parasympathetic branch normally causes pupil constriction. Application of VB, which blocks innervation by this branch of the nervous system, showed a significant increase in pupil diameter suggesting that this species of turtle has this subtype of receptor. I also applied a drug that enhances sympathetic innervation and then tested a combination of the two drugs. I tested other mydriatic drugs to further examine the way these two branches of the nervous system innervate the iris in the turtle.”

Although she is currently working on a related honors thesis, Cooper excluded her recent data and only presented a summary of her previous work.

Cooper learned about the N.E.U.R.O.N. conference through Dearworth.

“Dr. Dearworth keeps all his research students informed about opportunities to present our work and encourages us to take advantage of them,” she says. “I have really enjoyed my time in Dr. Dearworth’s lab. I have worked in his lab as a Nalven Scholar, an EXCEL Scholar, and now am currently working on an honors thesis. Each opportunity has been a fulfilling experience.”

After presenting a poster at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting in fall 2005, Cooper was excited to participate in the N.E.U.R.O.N. conference.

“I’m very excited about presenting my work,” she says. “It was a great opportunity to gain some experience talking about my work before my thesis defense in the spring and also to see what research other undergraduates are doing.”

Dearworth believes the presentation experience allowed Cooper to receive valuable feedback from experts in the field.

“It was a great opportunity for her to go to the meeting as an attendee and as a presenter she was be able to interact with students and faculty from other schools,” he says. “She also got feedback from other experts in the field, which will help her prepare for her final thesis defense.”

Cooper believes Lafayette’s academic environment has prepared her for and encouraged participation in such conferences.

“Lafayette has definitely prepared me for presenting my work at N.E.U.R.O.N. A few of my upper level neuroscience courses have required me to work with peers to develop a research project, collect data, and then present our results in front of the class, which can be just as involved as presenting a poster at a conference,” she says.

Cooper is vice president of Lafayette Society of Neuroscience. Last summer, Cooper worked with James Simmons ’65, professor of neuroscience at Brown University, to study the biological sonar of bats through the Lafayette Alumni Research Network (LEARN). She is a member of Alpha Phi sorority and competes in javelin for the track and field team.

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

Categorized in: Academic News