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Biology students present at nation’s oldest undergraduate science conference

Published on April 12, 2023

Biology students present at nation’s oldest undergraduate science conference

Megan Piechowicz won an award for her research on a model legume plant.

Juliana Didero-Mullen's research was on the Red-backed Salamander.

Anne Le presented on genes that control nitrogen fixation in a model legume plant.

Four Eastern Connecticut State University biology students presented and won awards for their research at the 77th annual Eastern Colleges Science Conference, the oldest continuous scientific conference for undergraduates in the United States. The conference was held at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT, on April 1.

Megan Piechowicz ’23, who conducts research with biology Professor Vijay Veerappan, won an excellence award for her presentation on “Phenotypic characterization, identification of mutations and mRNA expression analysis of flavonoid pigmentation mutants in the model legume plant Medicago truncatula.This was a study of the molecular mechanisms of how two flavonoid compounds in plants, which are responsible for bright colors, are regulated. 

John Yoder
John Yoder presents his research, which won an excellence award.

John Yoder ’23, an honors student who conducted research with biology Professor Kristen Epp, won an excellence award for his oral presentation on “Effects of snake predatory cues and salamander distress signals on activity and site fidelity of the Eastern Red-backed Salamander, Plethodon cinereus.” His field study looked at the effect of predator odors from the Eastern garter snake on the salamander’s habitat use.

Other students presenting at the conference were Anne Le ’25, also working with Veerappan, and Juliana Didero-Mullen ‘23, who worked with Epp. Didero-Mullen’s research on the Red-backed Salamander was a study of how losing the end of its tail to evade predators affects the salamander’s territorial behavior. Le studied the novel genes that control symbiotic nitrogen fixation in the legume plant, Medicago truncatula.

Yoder, who is from Wallingford and plans to pursue a career in forestry/agricultural science, said the conference was his first opportunity to present scientific research. “I’m satisfied knowing that I capped off my career at Eastern by sharing the product of months of work alongside many talented student researchers,” he said. 

“Over the past nine years, the length of time that I have been attending the conference, Eastern’s biology students have won numerous awards,” said Barbara Murdoch, associate professor of biology. “This is a remarkable testimony to the outstanding contributions made by our faculty mentors as they prepare our students for careers in science,” she said.

Every faculty member in biology performs research that includes undergraduates, she noted. In all, seven biology students attended this year’s conference.

Written by Lucinda Weiss