Research Ambassadors

The University of Alabama at Birmingham Research Ambassadors are a select group of highly accomplished students who have participated extensively in academic research at UAB. Research Ambassadors have been involved in their labs for a minimum of one year and have been chosen to act as representatives and advocates for undergraduate research in their respective fields of interest.
Alex Chang
Since freshmen year, I have been working in the lab of Dr. Shahid Mukhtar in the Department of Biology. My lab studied effector-mediated transcriptional network perturbation of a plant pathogenic bacterium, Ralstonia solanacearum. This pathogen is classified as a potential bioterrorist weapon. Using LR/BP Gateway Cloning technology, a highly efficient and versatile cloning technique, I cloned a series of transcription factors and planned to test them using yeast hybrids to see which ones when activated killed the plant. My current project is isolating effectors from Golovinomyces cichoracearum, a fungi that usually infects cucurbits such as melons and cucumbers, for use in studying the mechanism by which the fungi infects plants. If genetics research is your passion, feel free to contact me.

Bliss Chang

Bliss is a Senior double majoring in Biochemistry and Biology. He works in the lab of Dr. Elizabeth Sztul studying the mechanisms of vesicular trafficking which is a process that regulates the transport of proteins and other molecules within the cell. He also works in the lab of Dr. Jamil Saad studying various proteins involved in cell programmed death. Bliss has won numerous national awards including the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Arnold & Mabel Beckman Scholarship. He has presented his research to Congress and discussed the importance of continued federal funding for basic science research. Please contact Bliss if you are interested in Biochemistry research or any fields without an ambassador.

Daniel Gilliam

Daniel is a junior pursuing a B.S. in Neuroscience and Biochemistry with minors in Mathematics and Biology. He is a member of the Science and Technology Honors Program and the Early Medical School Acceptance Program (EMSAP). He is a director of the Alabama Brain Bee, a statewide neuroscience competition for high school students, and a board member of Inquiro. In summer 2014 he was selected as an Amgen Scholar and conducted research in biophysics at Washington University in St. Louis. He has worked for three years in the Department of Neurobiology with Dr. David Sweatt studying the epigenetic underpinnings of learning and memory. Daniel plans to enter an MSTP program in fall 2016 and pursue an MD/PhD. Please contact Daniel if you have interests in Neuroscience research.

Jarrod Hicks

I work with Dr. Kristina Visscher (Dept. Neurobiology) and Dr. Paul Jung (Dept. Mathematics) to study how the network structure of the older adult brain is altered by a well studied cognitive training paradigm called speed of processing training. This research utilizes functional MRI techniques in combination with a branch of mathematics called graph theory to create and characterize brain networks. Understanding how training affects the brain will help us better improve existing training paradigms or design novel training strategies to reduce age-related cognitive decline. Contact me if you have interests in either Mathematics or Neuroscience research.

Quincy Jones

Having worked in a neuroscience-based laboratory studying Alzheimer’s Disease, I have a great appreciation for the brain and how it functions with learning in memory. However, my research interest is now in adolescent health behavior. Adolescent medicine has been a goal of mine for a long time now, but I realized along my journey that I do not only want to be a healthcare provider who diagnoses and treats adolescents. I want to produce new knowledge to the field of adolescent sexual health education. Frequent problems that I encountered, growing up in Mississippi, were the sexual health disparities of youth and the lack of comprehensive sex education available to students. I have witnessed some of my closest friends experience the turmoils of sexually transmitted infections/diseases and teen pregnancy. Even more so, I noticed an association between sexual health and drug/alcohol activities in adolescents. I want to continue exploring these associations and health disparities not only as an advocate and physician, but a scientist as well. Please contact me for more information on cellular biology and sexual education research.

Isabella Mak

As a student assistant, I am working with Dr. Wendy Demark-Wahnefried, Ph.D., R.D., Webb Endowed Chair in the Department of Nutrition Sciences and Associate Director at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. The research lab specializes in investigating the association of diet, physical activities, hormonal and genetic interactions with neoplasia, specifically breast cancer and prostate cancer. The goal of the research team is to improve patients' quality of life by lifestyle modifications among cancer survivors. The current projects include Harvest for Health, partnering with Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Please contact me if you are interested in Nutrition Sciences research.

Calla McCulley

My current research lab uses TGA and DSC to study the thermal decomposition kinetics. Obtaining reliable kinetic characteristics of decomposition is important for estimating thermal stability of energetic materials. My previous research lab is interested in biomolecular structure-function relationships and how they affect molecular recognition.  Solution NMR spectroscopy and other biophysical and computational methods are applied to investigate the structures and dynamics of proteins, poly-ADP-ribose and other biological molecules. This work helps in understanding the basic functions of enzymes and cells, developing new biological methods and reagents, creating new interventions against cancer and infectious disease, and advancing progress in drug discovery, biological chemistry, structural genomics, and biophysics. This lab is interested in poly(ADP-ribose) (PAR) structural biology.  PAR is involved in DNA damage repair, chromatin remodeling, the cell cycle, stress responses, antiviral processes, and many other signaling pathways. I have presented at the SERMACS on my work. Please contact me if you are interested in chemistry related research.

Krina Patel

Krina is a Freshmen pursuing a degree in Biology accompanied by minors in Business Management and Chemistry on the Pre-Dental route. Krina is apart of Alpha Delta Epsilon pre-health society and the Pre-dental club. She's also a part of Sigma Sigma Rho Sorority Incorporated. She currently works for Dr. Desilva in her neurobiology lab. Her goals are to go to UAB Dental school and research at the UAB dental school. Contact me if you are interested in neurobiology research.

Ranjani Ponazhagan

I am a member of the University Honors Program and serve on the editorial board for Inquiro, UAB’s undergraduate research journal. I am currently studying the role of microglia, the resident immune cell of the central nervous system, in Parkinson Disease under Dr. David Standaert in the Department of Neurology. Previous therapeutic studies targeting metabotropic glutamate receptors in microglia have shown protection against neurodegeneration, but their role in inflammation remains unknown. In addition to presenting this work at various conferences, I also received the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation Student Fellowship this past summer to continue my project. Feel free to contact me if you are interested in neuroscience research.

Sara Robicheaux
Sara is a senior neuroscience major and fast-track MPH student who works in the lab of Dr. Merida Grant and is interested in the effect of coping mechanisms of the stress response in individuals with and without a history of early life trauma. Other interests include health behavior modification. Upon graduation this spring, Sara will be continuing to pursue her MPH while also applying to medical school for 2016. Please contact Sara if you are interested in Public Health research.

Harsh Shah
My current research focuses on alternative methods in the treatment of triple negative breast cancer under the mentorship of Dr. Trygve Tollefsbol in the Department of Biology. Triple negative breast cancer does not have a favorable response to conventional cancer treatments such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy. As such, the mortality rates of men and women diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer are disproportionately high. Resveratrol and pterostilbine, antioxidants found in grapes and blueberries, respectively, are the treatment vehicles for this research project. The novelty in the research arises from using both antioxidants in a combinational therapy rather than individual treatments as seen in previous research. I have been able to gain technical skills in PCR, Western Blotting, and various assays in order to collect data for the research. If an student is interested in similar research or research focusing in molecular biology, then please do not hesitate to contact me. I would be more than happy to help you all, particularly those interested in Cancer related research. 

Donovan White
Donovan White is a Senior Biomedical Engineering Honor student in the Science and Technology Honors Program with minors in Biology, Chemistry and Japanese. For the past 3.5 years he has researched with Dr. Tara DeSilva in the UAB School of Medicine's Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.  His researched has focused on the development and understanding of the neural glial cells. He has investigated the ability of the irritable bowel syndrome drug, Sulfasalazine  to reduce inflammation mitigated by microglia by adjusting the cells gene expression levels. Additionally, he has investigated the interaction between microglia and oligodendrocytes in vivo during development. He has been awarded the UNCF/Merck Science Initiative Fellowship. Please contact Donovan if you are interested in Biomedical Engineering research.