Biology & Chemistry Research
Prepare for Your Career in Biology or Chemistry Through Hands-On Research
Learn to succeed in your field of study by conducting research with hands-on experiments in nearly every science class you take. In Liberty University’s Department of Biology & Chemistry, you will participate in labs taught by credentialed and experienced faculty.
Also, in our 400-level courses, you will have the opportunity to conduct your own research projects or do research simulations. Additionally, you could participate with faculty on their ongoing research projects.
Experience like this has given students the opportunity to present their research results at both regional and national scientific meetings, including the Virginia Academy of Science. Research experience can also help you gain internship opportunities, attend graduate school, and find successful employment.
Biology and Chemistry Faculty Research Opportunities Include:
The Allen Lab – Algae Biofuels
Dr. Todd Allen
Algae can be grown to have a high protein and/or lipid content, which can be used for animal feed, biofuel, or both. Dr. Allen’s group uses GC/MS (Gas Chromatography coupled with Mass Spectrometric Detection) for quantifying the total lipid content in samples obtained from algae biofuels companies who are developing cost-effective ways to optimize growth and harvesting techniques to convert the lipid fraction of the algae biomass into various types of biofuels.
This work provides students with hands-on, real-world, interdisciplinary training in both chemistry and biology. It will provide them with valuable, transferable skills and knowledge, and prepare them for employment, graduate research, or medical school.
- Students will apply fundamental principles of stoichiometry, kinetics, and equilibrium learned in their chemistry and biology courses to the preparation and analysis of samples.
- Students will acquire valuable chemistry and biology research experience through literature searches, in sample/standard preparation techniques, in the use of state-of-the-art instrumentation, as well as in data analysis, interpretation, and reporting.
- Students will learn how to effectively summarize and communicate scientific information.
The Becker Lab – Amphibians & Their Microbial Symbionts
Dr. Matthew Becker
The Becker lab is currently conducting two studies to understand the role of symbiotic microbes in the health and conservation of local amphibian species.
The impact of emerging infectious diseases on Virginia salamander populations.
In recent decades, amphibians have experienced unprecedented population declines, leading to many species extinctions worldwide. A large number of these declines and extinctions are occurring in protected areas, such as national parks, and are due to two amphibian diseases: chytridiomycosis and ranaviral disease. The impact of these two diseases in the southeastern United States is unknown and is hard to measure without long-term studies of infected populations.
Therefore, a main goal of the Becker lab is to set up long-term monitoring sites of local salamander populations and measure the impact of disease on population dynamics over time. Study species for this project include the eastern newt (Notophthalmus viridescens) and the Peaks of Otter salamander (Plethodon hubrichti), an endemic species with a very limited distribution along the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The microbiome of the Peaks of Otter Salamander
Animals are host to a diverse community of symbiotic microorganisms. We are currently discovering the significance of microbes to the health and normal function of the hosts they inhabit. In particular, some amphibian species host a wide array of bacteria on their skin that secrete compounds to prevent colonization of infectious pathogens such as the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, which is responsible for the disease chytridiomycosis.
Recent studies have shown that some of these beneficial bacteria can be used as probiotics to prevent chytridiomycosis in highly susceptible amphibian species. In an effort to understand the ecology of amphibian cutaneous microbial communities and further conservation strategies with the use of probiotics, the Becker lab uses microbiological and molecular techniques to investigate how these microbes interact with each other, their host, and B. dendrobatidis. Study species for this project will include several local salamander species, including the Peaks of Otter salamander (Plethodon hubrichti).
The Bender Lab – Research and the Laboratory
Dr. Michael Bender
Dr. Bender’s research interests at Liberty have included:
• Finding and identifying microplastic particles in freshwater crayfish
• Analyses of water from older hand-dug, stone-lined wells near the mineral springs at New London, Virginia
• Chemical mapping (via orthophosphates) the possible human usage patterns in an excavated basement in the mid 1750’s “Mead’s Tavern” in New London, Virginia.
Dr. Bender’s research objectives at Liberty are all targeted at providing lab opportunities for first year undergraduate students who are chemistry or forensics majors.
The Brophy Lab – Vertebrate Ecology & Systematics
Dr. Timothy Brophy
Dr. Brophy’s graduate research focused on ecology and systematics of salamanders and turtles, but he has broad interests in all vertebrates. Dr. Brophy is currently working on several research projects including ecological studies of the Peaks of Otter Salamander and baraminological analyses of landfowl, waterbirds, fossil horses, salamanders, and cucurbits.
The Fulp Lab – Modulation of Cannabinoid Receptors
Dr. Alan Fulp
The endocannabinoid system is made up of receptors, transporters, endocannabinoids, and enzymes that are involved in the synthesis and degradation of endocannabinoids. Modulation of the endocannabinoid system has the potential to treat a variety of disorders. One area of research that Dr. Fulp is currently pursuing is the development of peripherally selective compounds, compounds that do not penetrate the CNS, that modulate cannabinoid receptors or endocannabinoid levels. These projects involve using synthetic organic chemistry to generate novel compounds with the desired pharmacological activity. Another area of research that Dr. Fulp is currently pursuing is the development of novel synthetic methodology. These projects focus on developing tandem reaction to make synthetically useful intermediates.
The Gillen Lab – Mosquitofish, Mosquitoes and Malaria
Dr. Alan Gillen
Dr. Gillen is interested in malaria, mosquitoes, and mosquitofish to control malaria and mosquito borne diseases.
Gambusia holbrooki, also known as Eastern Mosquitofish, were taken from the lake primarily
from the Kingfisher Pond, and additionally from Lake Hydaway in Rustburg, Virginia. The
fish that were gathered and circulatory patterns in their tail analyzed. When the caudal tails of
Gambusia were studied under a microscope, the red blood cell circulation in regions with a
high count of blackspot (a parasite) was compared to the red blood cell circulation in regions
with very little blackspot over the course of one minute. According to the findings of their study,
the red blood cell circulation in the capillaries of Gambusia holbrooki was significantly faster
in areas where there was very little to no blackspot as compared to areas with a significant
amount of blackspot. Dr. Gillen’s team is interested in looking at the effects of parasites on blood
In addition, Dr. Gillen is interested in the origins of malaria, especially Plasmodium vivax (the most
widespread malaria form) and its return to the USA. During the summer of 2023, the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention reported several cases of locally acquired malarian in Florida
and Texas, meaning that patients were infected within the U.S.—the first such cases in over two
decades (CDC, 2023). He is interested in this new “home grown” malaria and creation origins of
malaria since it is back in the USA.
The Gilley-Connor Lab – Animal Husbandry
Dr. Kayla Gilley-Connor
View Dr. Gilley-Connor’s biography.
Whether you are wanting to go into vet school, grad school, research, or go straight into zoo keeping, experience in animal husbandry helps build skills and experience that is marketable post-graduation.
Depending on the needs from the lab, your level of interest, and how long you’ve been helping care for animals, you will be asked to do a variety of tasks with rodents, including:
Body condition checks
Feeding, watering, and cage changes
Insuring animals have adequate enrichment available
Sub-cutaneous administration of fluids (for those with serious interest and have shown dependability)
Breeding management (pairing and weaning of pups)
Liberty has amazing zoo and organismal biology programs, so we love to be able to offer these types of positions for students in those majors to make them competitive when looking for jobs. See below for qualifications:
Available for students as early as second semester Freshman
Looking for workers who are willing to check in on animals on the weekend if necessary
Willingness to learn, communicate, and are dependable
Especially as an animal care worker, the quality of your work and dependability directly influences our animals’ well-being. As researchers, we are trusting you to make sure we have happy and healthy animals
No background experience necessary!
If you are interested, please select the link below to apply!
The Gilley-Connor Lab 2 –Diabetes, Depression, & Dementia
Dr. Kayla Gilley-Connor
View Dr. Gilley-Connor’s biography.
Diabetes, Depression, & Dementia
We will start with exploring how type 1 diabetes and depression are related in male and female preclinical subjects.
Once our diabetic model is established, we will take our model forward and explore these outcomes:
Increased depression and anxiety in diabetic males and females
Increased risk for dementia in diabetes
The protective role of estrogen and how menopause influences depression, anxiety, and cognition in diabetes.
Interested in Neuro Research?
If you are interested in research experience, you will need to apply for consideration. We have limited spots, but we are just looking for enthusiastic students committed learning new things and wanting to being a team player! No prior experience necessary!
Before you apply:
While many students have preference for bench work skills including tissue processing, microscopy, etc., there are many day-to-day activities that are less than glamorous. We certainly want to offer you the opportunity to build the skills you want, however, if you are not interested in helping maintain a clean space, weighing animals, timing behavior, data processing, etc., then I would suggest exploring opportunities in a different lab.
Dr. Cory Goff
Research in the Goff lab focus on Conservation Physiology, the use of physiological metrics (i.e. body condition and stress) to assess the impacts and responses to environmental conditions and their effects on population health. Current research centers around the ecology and conservation of the Peaks of Otter Salamander (Plethodon hubrichti), a montane endemic to central Virginia. We are conducting long-term assessment of salamander densities, population metrics, and range limits to understand their ecology, as well as new research on population health. We started a multi-year comparative study on the salamander from different elevations, as well as allopatric and sympatric (where it is in competition with another similar species) sampling sites within its habitable range. We perform non-invasive hormone collection to quantify corticosterone levels, the primary glucocorticoid hormone involved in the stress response. Analysis of corticosterone levels in combination with body condition indices can be used as metrics to determine the population health and effects of both abiotic factors and competition with related species.
The Harris Lab – Aquatic Ecology
Dr. Kyle Harris
Dr. Harris conducts research in the area of aquatic ecology. Current undergraduate projects focus on crayfish ecology in relation to ectosymbionts, ecotoxicology, and predator/prey dynamics. These projects are a collaborative effort with faculty in the areas of analytic chemistry, histology, ecology, and microbiology. Students present their findings annually at the Virginia Academy of Science and have opportunities to present at other regional and national research meetings (e.g. Association of Southeastern Biologists and Ecological Society of America).
Lab and field-based projects on crayfish ecology include:
- The microbial assembly on crayfish along stream continuums in relation to crayfish ectosymbionts. This project utilizes molecular research (DNA extractions, PCR, QIIME2 sequencing analysis) to further unravel the role of obligate crayfish ectosymbionts (Branchiobdellidans) on community assembly. Students apply techniques learned in microbiology, genetics, and environmental biology.
- The natural history of crayfish ectosymbionts (Branchiobdellidans) in Central Virginia. This project is cataloging Branchiobdellidans and other crayfish epifauna in Central Virginia streams from associated project field sampling. Students apply skills with taxonomic keys introduced in organismal courses.
- The effects of pollutants on crayfish and crayfish ectosymbionts. Freshwater ecosystems are impacted by a wide variety of pollutants. This project investigates how sub-lethal levels of pollutants (e.g. herbicides) affect non-target organisms in streams. Students apply techniques learned in analytic chemistry, histology, and environmental science.
- The impact of microplastics on rural and urban streams. This project investigates the presence and abundance of microplastics in stream environments with special attention given to crayfish and associated biota (e.g. fish and queen snakes). Students apply techniques learned in ecology, environmental biology, and analytic chemistry.
- The effects of crayfish (predators) on the development of amphibians (prey).Interactions between predators and prey can result in morphological and behavioral plasticity of prey. This project investigates how the presence of crayfish influences the development of amphibians.
The Hobson Lab – Synthetic Organic Chemistry
Dr. Stephen Hobson
Dr. Hobson’s research group is focused on the application of the tools and techniques of organic synthesis to a myriad of areas such as polymer/materials chemistry, medicinal chemistry, and toxicology. The group currently focuses on the following: synthesis, characterization, and optimization of non-estrogenic Bisphenol A mimics; design and production of graphene-based chemical sensors; and discovery of novel molecules to ameliorate the effects of nitrates in the gut.
His broader research interests include synthesis of stimuli-responsive polymers; preparation of self-healing polymers and materials; catalyst development; discovery and development of new medical countermeasures for highly toxic industrial chemicals and chemical warfare agents; and development of new chemical sensors.
The Isaacs Lab – Chemical Modifications to DNA in Alzheimer’s Disease
Dr. Gary Isaacs
Although several mutations have been associated with patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease (AD), several lines of evidence suggest that AD development might be caused by chemical modifications which alter the DNA sequence. Dr. Isaacs’ hypothesis is that AD results from these chemical modifications because they influence the activity of nearby genes (which produce the working enzyme in every cell).
Dr. Isaacs’ overall research plan is three-fold:
- Identify regions of the genome that become chemically altered as the brain progresses toward an AD-like state
- Correlate the location and magnitude of these chemical changes with the activity of the nearby genes
- Determine the activity of genes in brain and blood tissue allowing a convenient and non-invasive screening method for physicians as they diagnose their patients.
The Kalu Lab – Pathophysiology of Alcoholic Liver Disease
Dr. Ben Kalu
According to the Center for Disease Control, chronic liver diseases and Alcoholic Liver Disease are the 12th leading cause of death in the U.S., accounting for about 34,000 deaths in 2011. Also, liver cancers are the 8th leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. with about 16,000 deaths per year. A common factor associated with these liver diseases is chronic alcohol consumption. Therefore, our group is interested in elucidating the molecular mechanisms and pathophysiology of alcoholic liver disease and its course/progression to liver cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma.
We use in-vivo models of chronic alcohol consumption as well as alcohol-treated cell culture models to examine:
- Genes whose expression levels are altered and the physiological impacts of such alterations
- Subcellular localization, integrity and functions of organelles with particular emphasis on the mitochondria (oxidative stress) and lysosomes (autophagy)
- Possible molecules, drugs or nutritional supplements that may reverse, retard or halt the development of progression of these disease conditions (drug discovery)
Our group is very hands-on and student-oriented, affording the students flexibility to work at their individual paces while giving them exposure to laboratory skills and analytical competencies that will help define their career paths and make them competitive in the science community.
The Kim Lab – Nutrient Sensing and Metabolite Signaling
Dr. Jeong-Ho Kim
Title: Nutrient Sensing and Metabolite Signaling
Because glucose is the principal carbon and energy source for most cells, most organisms have evolved numerous and sophisticated mechanisms for sensing glucose and responding to it appropriately. Impaired regulation of blood glucose levels due to defects in glucose sensing may cause severe metabolic disorders, such as diabetes, and many types of cancer cells depend on a high rate of glucose consumption to maintain their viability. Thus, learning how cells sense and respond to glucose is of great interest and major significance.
Yeast senses glucose through the glucose sensing receptors Rgt2 and Snf3 at the plasma membrane, which are thought to be evolved from glucose transporters. The yeast glucose sensing receptors (YGSRs) appear to have lost the ability to transport glucose into the cell; instead, they generate an intracellular signal that induces expression of genes involved in glucose uptake and metabolism. However, it is largely unknown how YGSRs generate the glucose signal and transduce it across the plasma membrane to the intracellular machinery. Our long-term goal is to understand how eukaryotic cells sense extracellular glucose and adapt their central metabolic pathways to suit the availability of this crucial fuel.
The Korn Lab – Synthesis and Applications of Organic Compounds
Dr. Michael Korn
Dr. Korn’s research interests are at the interface between organic chemistry, materials science, and biology and include the following topics:
- Chemistry of the origin of life
- Development of new organic laboratory experiments
- Organic semiconductors
- Fluorescent molecules
The McClintock Lab – Using DNA Analysis as an Investigative Tool
Dr. J. Thomas McClintock
Evidentiary samples that are subjected to DNA analysis are often consistent with mixtures (i.e., more than one contributor), may contain low levels of DNA, and can show varying levels of degradation. One research aspect is to focus on increasing the levels of sensitivity and specificity of DNA analyses from mixed and/or degraded samples, as well as samples containing minute quantities or trace DNA that has been transferred. In addition, DNA testing of evidentiary samples derived from “Innocent Projects” could provide relief to those wrongly incarcerated while testing samples of historical significance, using short tandem repeat (STR) analysis and mitochondrial DNA sequencing, could provide important information about our past. Another research focus is the use of forensically-important insects and microbial succession to enhance the ability to determine postmortem intervals (PMI) during decomposition in Southwestern Virginia.
The Moore Lab – Drug Discovery in the Context of Type-2 Diabetes Pathogenesis
Dr. William Moore
Dr. Moore’s expertise includes molecular biology, metabolism, biochemistry, microbiology, and diabetes pathogenesis. His lab is currently working to identify novel compounds with anti-diabetic potential and characterize the mechanisms and biochemical pathways through which they exert their effects.
The Raner Lab – Biochemical Studies of Natural Products and Plant Peroxidases
Dr. Gregory Raner
The first involves the evaluation of a variety of natural products (herbal medicines, essential oils, etc.) for potential health-promoting activities, or possible adverse effects when consumed with pharmaceutical drugs. Specifically, students learn how to culture human liver cells in the lab and evaluate specific biochemical markers associated with positive health effects, such as anti-oxidant action or chemo-preventive properties. High throughput enzymatic assays using High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) or 96-well formatted fluorescence or luminescence kinetic assays are the primary tools associated with the project.
A second broad area of research is aimed at identifying novel peroxidase activities associated with a variety of different plant sources. The long-term objectives are to establish a library consisting of hundreds of crude plant samples and characterizing their peroxidase activities with regard to their abundance, stability and potential for use in biotechnological applications. Currently, the prototypical member of this family, horseradish peroxidase (HRP), is used for hundreds of applications, including large-scale biocatalysis, biomedical diagnostics (ELISA, western blotting etc..), biosensor technology, water treatment and a host of others. Limitations related to HRP in terms of stability, sensitivity to harsh conditions and non-selective activity suggest that a library of the type being developed would have great potential value in improving current applications and in the development of novel applications for this class of enzymes.
The Reichenbach Lab – Ecology and Conservation Biology of Reptiles and Amphibians
Dr. Norm Reichenbach
Dr. Reichenbach’s current Ecology and Conservation Biology Projects include the Peaks of Otter Salamander (ecophysiological distributional boundaries for a montane species with an extremely restricted distribution), eastern box turtle (population dynamics in a degraded urban environment), eastern newt (long-term population cycles), and water snakes and queensnakes (urban snake population ecology).
The P. Sattler Lab – Herpetology
Dr. Paul Sattler
Dr. Sattler is involved with both lab and field studies with amphibians and reptiles. He has been an active member of the Virginia Herpetological Society since 1987 and has held every elected office at one time or another. He currently serves as the co-editor of their journal, Catesbeiana. He participates in the VHS surveys and supervises the Field Notes section of the journal, updating and determining the distribution of amphibians and reptiles in Virginia.
Dr. Sattler is also using molecular genetic techniques, protein electrophoresis and DNA sequencing, to examine the extent of genetic differentiation in isolated populations of amphibians, particularly salamanders in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia. The technique has been useful in uncovering cryptic species, those that cannot be determined using traditional morphological characters. Molecular techniques can uncover new species, and once the molecular markers are available, to determine the extent of that species’ range. Thus, field and lab studies are integrated to answer basic questions on the distribution of animals in Virginia. Students are involved with research projects to isolate DNA from tissues, usually tail clips, and then PCR used to amplify specific gene fragments to either differentiate or identify species.
The G. Sattler Lab – Migration Dynamics of Northern Saw-Whet Owls
Dr. Gene Sattler
Northern Saw-whet Owls are a rare breeder at high elevations in Virginia and a secretive migrant throughout its range. Prior to initiating a project banding them during migration, only two historical records existed for the Lynchburg area. However, with the help of biology students, we have banded over 500 saw-whets at our banding station since 2002.
The project is focused on exploring the migration dynamics of this species as we answer questions about the timing of the migration in this region, differences in the magnitude of flights among years, and differences in the timing and magnitude of movement among age and sex classes. A banding station here also adds insights into the geographic distribution of Northern Saw-whet Owls during migration; we are one of the more southern banding stations for the species in eastern North America, and our location in the inner Piedmont of Virginia complements saw-whet banding stations in Virginia in the Ridge and Valley province to the northwest and in the outer Piedmont and Coastal Plain provinces to the east. The project also provides students with valuable field experience in mist netting, handling, and banding birds.
A second project has been studying the fall hawk migration from Liberty Mountain since 1997. Over a dozen species of hawks and other diurnally migrating raptors such as eagles and osprey migrate through Virginia each
year. The study of their migration dynamics in Virginia has always been done predominantly along mountain ridges of the western mountain and valley region and along the coast of the eastern Coastal Plain. We are documenting this migration in the inner Piedmont region to fill in gaps in our understanding of Virginia’s hawk migration.
The Stevenson Lab – What effect does BPC have on the immune system?
Dr. Lindsey Stevenson
Exposure to Bisphenol A (BPA) has been shown to have a range of deleterious effects, resulting in anything from life threatening cancers to cosmetic problems such as breast formation in men. However, BPA and other estrogenic compounds have been shown to affect the development and function of the immune system. The wide ranging harmful effects of BPA exposure have resulted in plastic manufacturers discontinuing the use of BPA in favor of “safer” BPA alternatives such as BPC, BPF, etc. But how safe are these alternatives? Dr. Stevenson’s lab seeks to test the effects of exposure to BPA alternatives, with their current focus being BPC, on the development of the immune system. They use zebrafish (Danio rerio) as an animal model.
The Winter Lab – Insulin Resistance and mTORC1 Signaling
Dr. Jeremiah Winter
View Dr. Winter’s biography.
Dr. Winter has been involved with the following:
- Studying insulin resistance as it pertains to mTORC1 signaling
- Elucidating the role of polyphenols in the regulation of mTORC1
- Treating Rat2 fibroblasts with large amounts of insulin to lower insulin sensitivity and make a cell culture model of insulin resistance
- Intracellular signaling of p300 and S6K1 as it relates to IRS-1 activity
Dr. Winter has worked with undergraduate students and Ph.D. students, and his motivation is to see students take projects and make them their own. To accomplish this, the student must first be trained well, and Dr. Winter ensures that his students have a solid grasp of cell culture techniques that they can then take with them wherever they go.