Six Virginia Tech undergraduate students were selected to present their research at the 2019 Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Meeting of the Minds Conference, held this spring at the University of Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky.

The annual ACC Meeting of the Minds event gives undergraduates an opportunity to present their research at a conference attended by the 15 ACC member schools. The group of Virginia Tech students were selected from a variety of disciplines to represent the university and share diverse research topics with their peers. The students included:

·       Ethan Boeding, a third-year nanoscience major in the College of Science and double minoring in green engineering and chemistry. Boeding presented a poster titled "Quantifying Nucleic Acid Association to Nanoparticles." His mentor was Peter Vikesland, professor in civil and environmental engineering.

·       Grace Davis, an accelerated masters student in human nutrition foods and exercise in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Davis gave an oral presentation titled "The natural metabolite mensacarcin impairs metabolism in human melanoma cell lines." Her mentor was David A. Brown, associate professor in human nutrition foods and exercise.

·       Gaeron Friedrichs, a senior studying electrical engineering in the College of Engineering. Friedrichs gave an oral presentation titled "Helmholtz Cage Development for CubeSat Testing." His mentors were Johnathan Black and Kevin Schroeder, professor and postdoctoral associate, respectively, in aerospace and ocean engineering.

·       Lauren Haacke, third year student studying experimental neuroscience in the College of Science. Haacke presented a poster titled "Investigating the protein expression of KCC2 during viral infection-induced acute seizures." Her mentor was Harald Sontheimer, executive director and professor in the School of Neuroscience.

·       Matthew Madrazo, a third-year student studying packaging systems and design in the College of Natural Resources and Environment and double minoring in business leadership and wood science and forest products. Madrazo gave an oral presentation titled "Preparation of Packaging Aerogels Using NFC Reinforced with Industrial Hemp Fibers and Amylopectin Starch." His mentors were Young Kim and Tom Hammett III, assistant professor and professor, respectively, in sustainable biomaterials.

·       Mohammad Sabbagh, a senior studying clinical neuroscience in the College of Science. Sabbagh presented a poster titled "Examining the role of microbiota in emotional behavior: antibiotic treatment exacerbates anxiety in high anxiety-prone rats." His mentor was Sarah Clinton, associate professor in the School of Neuroscience.

Virginia Tech student presenters enjoyed and benefitted from participating in the conference.

“ACCMOM was definitely an amazing and unique experience. I enjoyed seeing the vastly different topics that were presented and the collaborative environment that the University of Louisville created,” Davis said.

Boeding added, "It was such a rewarding experience to get to know other researchers, not only from Virginia Tech, but all the other ACC schools."

"Before attending this conference, I had never been exposed to liberal arts research, but through this experience I was able to expand my understanding of scientific research to include all areas of academia," Sabbagh said.

In addition to showcasing their hard work, the conference participants had a full schedule of tours, speakers, networking opportunities, meals, and entertainment throughout the three-day event.

"I had no expectations, just excitement, going into the ACC Meetings of the Minds because this was my first conference," Haacke said. "I loved the interdisciplinary culture that all of the students helped create. There were so many fun things going on each day, but I was giddy after presenting at the poster presentation because students asked such engaging and interesting questions.

“Everyone was genuinely curious about what our new friends from all different schools had been studying," Haacke said. "Overall, such a great experience! I felt truly lucky to get to attend and represent the Hokies with such awesome fellow students."

Applications to represent Virginia Tech at the Meeting of the Minds are accepted by the Office of Undergraduate Research early each spring semester. Selected students receive full support for travel and accommodations.

Written by Keri Swaby

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