Student Research Opportunities at Castleton

Castleton students have a couple different avenues available for pursuing scientific research with faculty.

The Castleton Faculty-Student Research Committee sponsors grants each semester for undergraduate student research. The research project must include at least one undergraduate student and at least one faculty mentor. A research proposal summarizing the background, nature, rationale, and significance of the proposed study must be written, with deadlines in October and March.

Castleton Summer Science Research internships are also available each spring to students that approach a science faculty member and prepare a written proposal for their work.

Lastly, externally funded research projects may be available through grants awarded to our faculty. Over the last 6 years science faculty have been awarded over $750,000 in these grants, which have funded many students for summer work. If you are a student interested in doing undergraduate research in the sciences, please contact faculty directly to find out more information about current research opportunities, including independent studies and summer research.  

Research Activities and Interests of Castleton Natural Sciences Faculty Members

Jump to a faculty member: 
Carlstrom • Coupe • Garcia • Mango • 
Moulton • Palmer • Thibodeau •  Vastag • Vermilyea

Justin Carlstrom (Exercise Physiology)

Justin Carlstrom PhotoDr. Justin Carlstrom’s research interests include investigations on the effect of various substances on anaerobic and aerobic performance. He is currently looking at the effect of both caffeine and sodium bicarbonate on indicators of performance in collegiate rugby players. This work is being completed on campus with the help of students majoring in Exercise Science. They are utilizing state-of-the-art equipment including a Parvo Medics Metabolic System and the Velotron electronically-braked cycling ergometer. In addition, they will soon be examining the effect of various protocols and nutritional strategies on recovery from strenuous exercise.

Brad Coupe (Animal Behavior)

Brad Coupe PhotoDr. Brad Coupe is an animal behavior biologist particularly interested in the evolution of traits used in competition for access to mates or as a result of mate choice by the opposite gender. The evolutionary process leading to these traits is a subset of natural selection called sexual selection. The effects of sexual selection are most easily observed in the form of weapons, such as antlers, and bright coloration, as seen in many bird species. Currently, students in his laboratory are studying the potential for red coloration to serve as a signal of mate quality in long-nosed dace, a fish common in local streams. 

Preston Garcia (Microbiology)

Preston Garcia
Dr. Preston Garcia's research will focus on the work he did at UConn, specifically looking at genetic regulation of Sinorhizobium meliloti. Dr. Garcia's lab is looking to further characterize genes associated with metabolic regulation and control of succinate-mediated catabolite repression (SMCR) in Sinorhizobium meliloti through the two-component regulatory system,sma0113/sma0114S. meliloti utilizes C4-dicarboxylic acids as preferred carbon sources for growth while suppressing the utilization of alternative carbon sources such as α- and β-galactosides. Sma0113 has been identified as a member of a two component regulatory system which relieves SMCR in cells grown in succinate with either lactose, maltose or raffinose. The two component system is comprised of the histidine kinase, Sma0113 and the cognate response regulator, Sma0114. Contained within Sma0113, PAS domains are known to sense energy state and redox levels inside cells. He hypothesizes that this two component system may use sensory information about redox levels or energy state gathered from the PAS domains to modulate electron flow, metabolism and catabolite repression. The current goal of the lab is to elucidate the function of the system through chemotaxis studies, whole cell biosensor expression with the plant host and solidifying the role that phylogenetically related genes have in regulating the external sensing through sma0113/sma0114.

Helen Mango (Geochemistry) 

Helen Mango PhotoDr. Helen Mango is currently researching the occurrence of arsenic in groundwater in southwestern Vermont. This research has grown out of her interest in the geochemistry of aqueous solutions and how metals are transported by these solutions. The Slate Belt of southwestern Vermont contains rocks that sometimes include pyrite (“fool’s gold”), and this pyrite often contains elevated concentrations of arsenic as a naturally-occurring element substituting for sulfur in the pyrite structure. Castleton students have been involved in this research, helping collect water and rock samples for arsenic analysis, and measuring rock fractures to determine groundwater flow direction. She has also begun research in Iceland investigating the source of phosphorus in new volcanic soils in collaboration with Castleton molecular biologist, Dr. Christine Palmer.

Cynthia Moulton (Ecology)

Cynthia Moulton PhotoDr. Cynthia Moulton conducts ecological field research with students to study plethodontid salamanders in Vermont stream sites using mark/recapture
techniques to assess population dynamics, distribution and movement. These lungless salamanders are an important link in the food web that connects aquatic and terrestrial habitats and can be an indicator of ecological integrity. In the future she hopes to work with students to study the genetics of variation in morphology of newly discovered potential hybrids.

Christine Palmer (Biology)

Christine Palmer PhotoDr. Christine Palmer is interested in how organisms respond to the environment, from the molecular to physiological to ecological level. Her previous work investigated how plants deal with metals in the environment with the goal of increasing human nutrition and cleaning up toxic metals from soils, as well as how plants respond to shaded environments to increase agricultural productivity. Her lab is currently focused on using molecular methods to identify soil mycorrhizae in local soils as well as in newly formed Icelandic soils in collaboration with the Icelandic Forest Service and Castleton geologist, Dr. Helen Mango. The Palmer lab is also actively working on characterizing the gut contents of Neotropical katydids as a model for human digestion and food tolerance in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institute, Dartmouth College, and Cornell University. Students have traveled to Iceland and Panama as part of this work, have been co-authors on peer-reviewed publications, and have applied molecular methods to answer ecologically relevant questions of how organisms can respond to challenging environmental conditions.

Timothy Thibodeau (Chemistry)

Timothy Thibodeau PhotoTimothy Thibodeau is excited to join the Natural Sciences faculty in the fall of 2014. He has always been interested in studying both Chemistry and Physics. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from Saint Anselm College. As an undergraduate, he studied the surface chemistry of a high temperature superconductor using infrared spectroscopy. Then, he went to the University of Maine to earn his doctorate in Physical Chemistry. While at the University of Maine, he was part of a renewable fuels research group. He utilized theoretical and experimental methods to determine ways of increasing the energy content of this fuel.

Livia Vastag (Organic Chemistry)

Livia Vastag PhotoDr. Livia Vastag is interested in metabolism and the regulation of material flow in cells. Her most recent research projects included characterization of metabolic events during early embryonic development of frogs, and investigating how Herpes viruses acquire cellular materials to replicate themselves. At Castleton, she hopes to engage students in research aimed at understanding and optimizing the ways that bacteria, such as Clostridium acetobutylicum, produce fuels which can be substituted for gasoline.

Andrew Vermilyea (Environmental Chemistry)

Andrew Vermilyea PhotoDr. Andrew Vermilyea studies naturally occurring reactions in lakes and streams that, with the help of the sun, can destroy organic based contaminants such as BPA that is leached from many consumer plastics. He is also interested nutrient export from various watersheds since they are important in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. He works in glacial watersheds and studies their role in supplying important nutrients (carbon and nitrogen) to the sea life in the Gulf of Alaska. Additionally, he is partnered with UVM to research phosphorus and carbon nutrient export into Lake Champlain.

Research Experiences at Other Institutions

If you are an undergraduate student interested in traveling to another location for a summer research experience, there are many opportunities available to you. The National Science Foundation (NSF) funds the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program at many different sites across the country. REU projects involve undergraduate students in meaningful ways in ongoing research programs at departmental or multidisciplinary levels. Other opportunities include: Vermont EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) and Vermont EPSCoR (NEWRnet).