Southwestern

Engaging Minds, Transforming Lives

Inquiry Initiative

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    Junior Animal Behavior major from Syosset, New York
    © 2012 Lance Holt

A junior Animal Behavior major from Syosset, New York

She set out to work diligently on focusing on academics and becoming involved on campus. Now she serves as the president of the Animal Behavior Society and the captain of Southwestern’s cheerleading team. As a budding academic and scientist, Nicoletta serves as Teacher’s Assistant for one of her classes and is a member of the Psi Chi Psychological Honor Society. “When I immerse myself into the Southwestern community and put my heart into all of the things I do, it allows me to grow and be a part of a new family: my Texas family and my Southwestern family,” Nicoletta said.

Her immersion into the Southwestern community has taken her beyond the classroom and into the laboratory. Nicoletta currently investigates the “the influence of an endocannabinoid agonist and antagonist on female sexual behavior of Long-Evans rats.” She hopes that her research will give insight into “how natural cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant [as well as] endogenous cannabinoids interact with sexual behavior.” Nicoletta noted that “…the aim of our study is to try and solidify the results and determine how these two systems may interact with each other…Those studies that do investigate the two systems interacting have produced inconsistent or conflicting results.” Why rats, you ask? Rats serve as a model organism for how endocannabinoid agonists and antagonists might impact the behavior of humans.

Teamwork was an important element in Nicoletta’s investigations. Many of the aspects in Nicoletta and her classmates’ research design was uncharted territory, such as the dose of the chemicals to use on the rats. “Our team sat down together and reviewed the literature and discussed which dose we believed would produce the most robust effect on female sexual behavior,” Nicoletta explained. “…[E]xcellent communication and teamwork allowed for the testing to run smoothly, data to be processed, and results to be analyzed in a organized manner. All in all my teammates and I became very productive, efficient and learned how to work very well together through this experience.” Teamwork also helped Nicoletta land the pinnacle accomplishment of undergraduate research: a publication. Nicoletta worked with a team of students and professors that recently had their paper published in a scientific journal.
Besides gaining skills in communication, critical thinking, and working in a team, Nicoletta has developed a passion for doing science. She exclaimed, “I feel most like a scientist when I am in the lab with my lab coat on recording data from the paced mating behavior tests used to observe sexual behavior in the rat model. It really is fascinating and having to focus on timings of different behaviors of the rats really makes me feel like an established scientist!”

What does this young scientist have planned for the future? “I would love to go to graduate school to either pursue Primate Behavior or Physical Anthropology. In addition, I plan to get more lab experience and continue my research that I have started at Southwestern University with my mentor,” Nicoletta said. Nicoletta’s love for inquiry would take her far away not only from her home in New York but also the United States. “If the opportunity presents itself, I hope to travel around the world to research different animals and conduct naturalistic observations to investigate how different species live in their natural environment.” Now that is passion for scientific inquiry!