trinity university neuroscience major
independent research in neuroscience (NEUR 4390)

The Neuroscience major at Trinity University requires that all students complete one semester of independent research in neuroscience for credit by registering for the course NEUR 4390. Students are able to fulfill this research requirement through research on- and off-campus as long as it fulfills the following expectations:

  1. students develop a meaningful research project for which it is reasonable to expect completed results no later than the end of the semester in which you are enrolled in 4390,
  2. students will work an average of 10 hours/week on the project during the semester (or 30 hours/week in the summer)
  3. the research mentor/project sponsor will provide feedback to the student in preparing a written report and a presentation based on the research results

 Requirements for research proposal:

All materials are due to be submitted electronically to the Neuroscience Steering Committee via Pearl de la Cruz (  To graduate with a major in Neuroscience, you must submit the proposal no later than September 1, 5:00 pm during your senior year.  [Note: for students graduating in 2010, the submission deadline is October 15, 2009.]

Click here for the Neuroscience 4390 - Research Proposal Cover Sheet and Contract

All proposals must have the following sections:

Abstract.  This should be a concise summary of your proposed project.  Do not exceed 200 words. You and your Trinity sponsor must sign and date the Abstract page.  You must use the cover sheet on page 17. 

Introduction to the project.  You should discuss the general problem to be addressed, the theoretical context of the work, and the most relevant literature to the problem.  You must also state the hypothesis to be tested in your project. 

Methodology.  Describe the techniques and methods to be used to test the hypothesis.  Discuss why these methods were chosen.  Identify the materials and supplies you will need to conduct this research.  Indicate any potential pitfalls and how you are prepared to address them.   

Data analysis.  Indicate how you will analyze and interpret your data.  Justify your analysis. 

Significance.  Indicate the contribution of the work to the published literature/field.  If this project is a portion of a larger project in the laboratory, state how this project fits into the whole. 

Location.  Indicate precisely where the research will be conducted. If the research is to be conducted off-campus, the off-campus sponsor must provide a separate letter of support for project, indicating that he/she has read the proposal and agrees to supervise the proposed research. 

References. Citations should follow APA style (6th ed). 

Formatting. Number all pages on the bottom center of the document.  Use Times New Roman, 11 point font; double-space throughout.  The entire proposal can be no longer than 5 pages. 

Requirements for research report:

The student must submit a written report to the Neuroscience advisory committee by the first day of finals for that semester. The report must be written in the style and format of a scientific research article (Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, References, Tables, Figures). Before submission to the advisory committee, the report must first be submitted to the project sponsor, and the version the student will hand in by the due date will be a revision that is responsive to comments made by the project sponsor. 

Requirements for research presentation:

In the same semester in which the student is registered for research credit, the student must publicly present the research. The presentation should be 15 minutes, with time for questions. The research mentor/project sponsor is expected to provide feedback to the student in preparing the presentation.

On-Campus Neuroscience Research Opportunities

Projects investigate the trafficking of secretory products from cells, both the mechanisms and how those mechanisms are regulated by hormonal induction and stress.  Neuroscience students would review the literature on the cell and molecular biology of secretory processes and the roles for secretion in neuron development and function.

Projects typically test hypotheses concerning how children deduce the meaning of a new verb.  Neuroscience students would review what is known about brain areas involved in the acquisition of words (nouns or verbs) in adults or children.

Projects typically concern the effects of attentional focus on performance on other cognitive tasks, such as memory or interpretation. We examine performance differences associated with depressed and anxious states. Neuroscience students would review literature on cortical activation associated with the relevant cognitive processes in depressed or anxious states.

Research in the Hollenbeck Lab is focused on the structure and function of designed ankyrin repeat proteins. The ankyrin repeat (AR) is one of the most common protein sequence motifs, and AR proteins have a variety of different functions inside the cell. Of specific interest is the AR domain within transient receptor potential (TRP) ion channels. TRP channels are key transducers of diverse sensory and environmental signals. For example, a single cysteine residue within TRPA1 becomes covalently modified by pungent compounds from mustard oils such as wasabi. This modification activates the ion channel which leads to the sensation of pain. Our lab has developed a model system to monitor structural changes within the AR domain due to similar amino acid modifications, and we are working to develop a functional assay to complement these experiments.

My research examines the mechanisms of lizard social behavior and the ecological contexts in which these behaviors occur.  I’m particularly interested in the neural, muscular, and hormonal traits that underlie reproductive behaviors, and how variation in these traits produces variation in behavior within and among species.  Research in my lab involves field work (both locally and in the Caribbean) to determine how the environment influences neuroendocrine traits and behavior; histological and biochemical techniques to analyze tissues associated with these traits; and laboratory experiments on captive animals to allow careful, systematic manipulation of the animals and their environment.

Projects involve understanding how cells interact with their neighbors. Cellular junctions help regulate movement of molecules within an organism, provide structural and metabolic support, prevent infection by forming a barrier and play a critical role in preventing the metastases of tumors. We use lung and kidney cell models exposed to common pathological stressors (i.e. inflammatory stimuli or high oxygen concentrations) to examine tight junction function.  We would be interested in pursuing glial-neuronal cell interaction model. Our studies focus on identifying the cellular signals and molecular mechanisms that lead to the disruption of cellular junctions.  Our long-range goals are to understand how the cells control their junctions thereby minimizing the detrimental effects caused by stressors on cellular junctions.

Projects investigate visual communication signals in birds and fish to study the adaptive function and the underlying honesty enforcing mechanisms that regulate signal intensity. For example, neuroethological research can focus on effects of testosterone and corticosterone in signal design and regulation, and how the physiological costs of testosterone, or the costs of stress — as indicated by corticosterone, vary with an individual’s phenotypic quality, and how this translates into the amount of resources available to invest in signaling. Most research in the lab is on wild Goldfinches in Canada, Orioles in Mexico, and local Titmice in the hill-country, as well as on captive female Betta fish (and some captive birds). Neuroscience students would review the literature on the endocrine and neural mechanisms involved in the maintenance of communication signals and/or the sensory reception and processing of these signals.

The focus of the lab is capuchin monkey behavioral biology.  I am primarily interested in the neuroanatomical correlates of skilled motor actions and the mechanisms accounting for variation.  Current research is focused on brain development and the development of skilled motor actions, and the macrostructural and microstructural organization of the corpus callosum.

The major research area in the Roberts’ lab focuses on the role of the sex steroids, estrogens and androgens in mediating protection/recovery of the brain from damage due to oxidative stress, focusing on the nigro-striatal pathway and its degeneration in Parkinson’s disease.  Estrogens generally are protective while androgens are in general damaging.  This whole system is characterized from the perspective of the changes which occur as the animal’s age progresses. Astrocytes, the largest cell population in the brain regulate neuronal homeostasis and have been implicated in affecting the viability and functioning of surrounding neurons under stressed conditions. In addition, much attention has been focused on estrogen interactions in non-neuronal cell types. Recent data from our lab suggests indirect actions of estrogen through ERa in neighboring glia to protect dopamine neurons against MPP+ toxicity in mouse mesencephalic cultures.  These results prompted us to study estrogen signaling in astrocytes to evaluate the mechanism of estrogens indirect neuroprotective effects on DA neurons.

Projects investigate mechanisms of performance under pressure. Specifically, our lab examines the relationship between measures of approach and avoidance orientations (e.g., behavioral activation and inhibition systems) and performance outcomes in different social situations. Neuroscience students would review literature on the physiological and neurological roots of the performance mechanisms they study.

Projects explore developmental changes in reasoning and learning about emotionally-laden topics during college years.  Work here is associated with identifying behavioral evidence of prefrontal cortical changes associated with late adolescence and early young adulthood.


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