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Students looking deeper into nicotine exposure data for summer research institute


GREENVILLE, Pa.—Undergraduate and high school researchers are working with Thiel College faculty members to expand on nicotine research that began as a part of the Greenville Neuromodulation Center Faculty/Student Research Institute last year.

In a collaboration between the Thiel neuroscience and psychology programs, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Department Chair Laura Pickens, Ph.D. ’06, Associate Professor of Neuroscience and Department Chair Greg Butcher, Ph.D., Thiel students, and local high school researchers are capitalizing on research conducted last summer on adolescent exposure to nicotine in rodents.

Butcher and Pickens are continuing their research with the help of Thiel students Theresa Kretzmer ’20, Gage Gladysz ’20 and Maggie Nee ’20, as well as two area high school students. Kretzmer, of Hermitage, Pa., is a 2016 homeschool graduate and psychology major. Gladysz, of Greenville, Pa., is a 2016 Greenville High School graduate and neuroscience major. Nee, of Erie, Pa., is a 2016 McDowell High School graduate and neuroscience major. The students helped to shape a new focus for the research.

“Last year we explored only male animals,” said Pickens. “This year the students, along with us, had talked about the importance of adding in the question of females.”

In the second phase of the project, Butcher takes on the molecular neuroscience examination of the study, using a staining technique to look at whether nicotine treatment increases or decreases the birth of new neurons within a part of the brain associated with learning and memory.

“We wanted to open the lab up for the option of having a couple of high school students who wanted to get a taste of research,” said Butcher.

The ongoing study earned the researchers use of a new research maze from the Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience equipment loan program. The maze was built by San Diego Instruments for a loan period of two years. The loan of the equipment was granted after Thiel College demonstrated institutional support for the project through the funding of the research institute as well as the construction of the new science connector facility that will add 7,850 square feet of research and lab space.

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Thiel College is a private liberal arts institution founded in the Lutheran tradition. Located in Greenville, Pa., the College offers 60 majors and minors, 25 varsity sports, and an 11:1 student-faculty ratio to more than 900 students. A dedicated faculty paired with dynamic research and internship opportunities produce numerous graduate school and job placements. Coeducational from its beginnings, the College celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2016 and remains committed to combining tradition with innovation.

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