- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
When UC Davis fourth-year student Jessica Macaluso enrolled in a longevity class taught by UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology James R. Carey, she was pleasantly surprised to learn of his expertise in teaching students to write research papers.
Macaluso not only got an "A" but she won the top prize in the science, engineering and mathematics category of the Norma J. Lang Prize for Undergraduate Information Research. She received $1000, and her research paper, “The Biological Basis for Alzheimer's Disease," will be published in eScholarship, an open-access scholarly publishing service affiliated with the University of California.
This is the first time a student enrolled in a UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology class has won the universitywide competition, now in its fourth year. The award memorializes Norma J. Lang (1931-2015), professor emerita of botany.
Macaluso, who is majoring in psychology with a biological emphasis, and minoring in aging and adult development, anticipates receiving her bachelor of science degree in the fall of 2020.
Carey, an internationally recognized teacher, instructs undergraduates in his classes--which usually exceed 200 students--how to research topics, use style sheets, and structure their papers. He has produced 13 videos on how to research and write a research paper, along with a new video on the use of style sheets.
The Lang Prize recognizes undergraduate students whose research projects make extensive use of library resources, services and expertise. First, second and third-place prizes are awarded each year in two categories: science, engineering and mathematics; and arts, humanities and social sciences. Second place in the science, engineering and mathematics category went to Vincent Pan, a student doing research in the lab of ecologist Rick Karban, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. His paper: "Recent Advances in Elucidating the Function of Zebra Stripes: Parasite Avoidance and Thermoregulation Do Not Resolve the Mystery." (See all recipients at https://bit.ly/3cPPsNt.)
“Macaluso's term paper gives an in-depth synopsis of the biology of Alzheimer's disease, a prevalent form of dementia that impairs memory and cognition,” wrote the Norma J. Lang Prize judges. “Utilizing the library's databases and subject guides, Macaluso identified 20 sources from top scientific journals across multiple disciplines, including Nature and the Annual Reviews of Medicine, Neuroscience, Psychology and Public Health, to provide a comprehensive overview of the current state of the science on Alzheimer's.”
“This currently incurable disease is caused by significant neuronal death in the brain due to of the accumulation of two neurodegenerative proteins: intercellular amyloid-beta plaques and intracellular tau tangles,” she wrote. “The interaction of these two proteins creates a feedback loop that facilitates the continual destruction of nerve cells in the brain. Because the destruction of nerve cells disrupts the neuronal connections in the brain, Alzheimer's disease results in significant memory deficits as well as impaired cognition. Moreover, with the use of human models and transgenic mouse models, researchers have been able to analyze the role of biology, genetics, and physiology in Alzheimer's disease. For example, mutations in the presenilin 1 (PSEN1) gene or the amyloid precursor protein (APP) gene predispose an individual to acquire early-onset Alzheimer's disease.”
“Likewise, an individual can have an increased likelihood of developing late-onset Alzheimer's disease if they carry the ApoE4 variant of the apolipoprotein E (ApoE) gene. In summary, researchers are amply investigating Alzheimer's disease from a variety of biological faucets in an effort to treat or even cure this form of dementia.”
Macaluso went on to discuss three major risk factors affiliated with Alzheimer's disease: age, gender, and genetics.
Macaluso penned “The Biological Basis for Alzheimer's Disease” as her term paper for Human Development-Aging 117 (Longevity) in the fall of 2019. “The purpose of this assignment was to utilize the library databases for research, improve both my writing and editing skills, and broaden my understanding of longevity with a topic of my choice," she wrote in her Norma J. Lang Prize application. "Moreover, this research paper served to expand my communication skills and bolster my intellectual confidence. A key requirement for this paper was to use at least ten sources, seven of which needed to be primary sources such as a research article or a review paper. Initially, I was quite daunted by the prospect of this assignment because I had only modest experience reading research papers or using the online library databases. I distinctly recall reading about this assignment on the syllabus and questioning if I was capable of such an onerous task. To my surprise, by the end of this quarter and after countless hours exploring the online library reserves, I completed my assignment and felt confident in my ability to utilize the UC Davis library resources.”
A 2019-2020 McNair Scholar, Macaluso has worked as an undergraduate research assistant for the Dynamic Memory Lab (Charan Ranganath Lab) since 2017. She serves on the Animal Care Staff at Young Hall; as a genetics tutor for the Academic Assistance and Tutoring Centers; and as president of the America Red Cross Club at UC Davis.
The UC Davis student, a native of Santa Barbara but raised in nearby Buellton, plans to enroll in graduate school in the fall of 2021 to study cognitive neuroscience or cognitive psychology. Her career plans? "I'm thinking academia right now," she said. "I hope to finish my PhD, work as a postdoctoral fellow for a few years, and then pursue a professorship position."
Carey, a member of the UC Davis entomology faculty since 1980, is considered the preeminent global authority on arthropod demography. He directed the multidisciplinary, 11-institution, 20-scientist program, “Biodemographic Determinants of Lifespan,” which garnered more than $10 million in funding from the National Institute on Aging from 2003 to 2013.
Highly honored by his peers for his teaching expertise, Carey received the Entomological Society of America's 2015 Distinguished Teaching Award; a 2018 Robert Foster Cherry Award from Baylor University, which presents international teaching awards; and the UC Davis Academic Senate's 2014 Distinguished Teaching Award, an honor given to internationally recognized professors who excel at teaching.
(Here's where UC Davis undergraduate students can apply for the 2021 Norma J. Lang Prize)