The Lepers of Baile Baiste, a new play by Ronan Noone, through October 8 at the BU Playwrights' Theatre

Vol. V No. 8   ·   
05 October 2001 


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From muscle mass to lizards
UROP symposium showcases undergraduate research

By Brian Fitzgerald

Slow, progressive resistance strength training has been proven to increase muscle strength in the elderly. But is high-velocity power training even more effective? That is the question Rochelle Lima wanted to answer, so she tapped into the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) at BU.


A male anolis marmoratus lizard displays its dewlap, or throat fan, to attract females. Photo by Chris Schneider


Lima (SAR'02) and 36 other UROP students will present their research during the program's Undergraduate Research Symposium on Friday, October 12, from noon to 2 p.m. in the Photonics Building's second floor atrium. UROP, which promotes undergraduates' participation in faculty-mentored research, has been holding these fall symposiums since 1998.
Because UROP serves as a University-wide clearinghouse for undergraduate research opportunities, Lima thought that it would be a perfect program to help her become familiar with the entire research process, from the proposal stage to the actual thesis. The human physiology major plans to apply to medical school, and has worked as a volunteer patient advocate in the Boston Medical Center emergency room. "But I didn't have any research experience," she says. "I talked to my advisor, Professor Roger Fielding, and he hired me to work in Sargent College's human physiology laboratory in January."

Fielding, an associate professor in Sargent's health sciences department, has been an advocate of weight training for the elderly for more than a decade. In the late 1990s, however, he began comparing the physiologic and functional effects of power strength training (quick, explosive bursts of energy) with customary training (deliberate movements with less weight but more repetitions) among this population. The latter is known to build endurance and reverse sarcopenia, an age-related loss in muscle mass. But he theorizes that power training may be even more useful in preventing fall-related injuries, which account for 40 percent of hospital admissions among people over 65.


Liam Revell holds a giant tropical toad. Photo by Corrie


Fielding's latest study compares changes in skeletal muscle fiber size and distribution in 30 elderly women using both types of weight training for 16 weeks. Thigh muscle biopsies were taken at the beginning, halfway through, and at the conclusion of the four-month regimen. "We completed an analysis using a computer-assisted image system," says Lima. Preliminary data confirm Fielding's theory, but Lima says that sample analysis will go on for months.

Lima says that compressing a plethora of information into a poster -- and explaining her work in several minutes -- won't be easy. "The symposium enables students to show off their work, but it's a little nerve-racking to be concise in such a complicated study," she says.

Liam Revell (CAS'03), who is studying color pattern variation in a lizard native to Guadeloupe, echoes the sentiment. "Displaying a condensed version of a long paper is a huge challenge," says Revell, a biology major. Still, with a roaming audience in the middle of an activity-filled Homecoming/Parents Weekend, brief and reader-friendly text is essential. UROP has let students know that a rambling presentation will turn people off.

Revell went to the eastern Caribbean island for three weeks in June to do research on the colorful lizard known as anolis marmoratus. He wanted to test the hypothesis of CAS Assistant Biology Professor Chris Schneider (see story on page 1) "that the remarkable variation among populations of this lizard represents adaptation to local light conditions," he says.
Although Guadeloupe is getting quite a reputation for ecotourism, Revell stuck to business. Every day, after an hour-long morning run -- he is on the BU track and cross country teams -- he collected tissue samples from the lizards. "We sampled 104 individuals to analyze genetic, morphologic, and color variation," he says. Revell and fellow researchers also measured ambient light and reflectance from background vegetation, and were able to confirm Schneider's hypothesis.

While many of the presentations at the symposium are science-oriented, UROP's definition of research is broad. Students may participate in any scientific, scholarly, or artistic activity that leads to the production of new knowledge, increases problem-solving capabilities including design and analysis, or produces original critical or historical critical theory and interpretation.

UROP posts faculty-submitted research opportunities and links to faculty research interests on its Web site, Research sponsors at this year's symposium include UROP, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, Pfizer, Inc., the Northeast Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate, and the Mark W. Rieman (CAS'75) Research Prize Competition.


05 October 2001
Boston University
Office of University Relations