BES Faculty-Student Research

Binaya Adhikari, Ph.D.

Biodiversity, Conservation, Museum collection

The current research focus in my lab is the study of biodiversity and conservation using the plant museum collection in the Harvill-Stevens Herbarium. The projects include the study of the geographic distribution of plants, the study of rare and endangered species, and comparative studies of plant taxa by using morphological, microscopic (e.g., seeds and pollen graphs), and genetic (DNA sequences) characteristics. Based on the specific research interests, students may have to use morphometrics, molecular genetics, and computer modeling (e.g., GIS) tools to address research questions. There are no specific prerequisites to join my lab. All you need is a genuine interest in plants and biodiversity and a determination to work hard. I am accepting students in Fall 2023.

A preliminary map of the county-level distribution of plant specimens in Longwood Harvill-Stevens Herbarium based on 1,000 specimens. Map prepared using ArcMap v. 10.8 by Ross Bechtle, a student researcher working in my lab in Spring 2022.
A specimen of American Chestnut [Castenia dentata (Marsh.) Borkh.], a critically endangered species, housed in Longwood Harvill-Stevens Herbarium.  
Student researcher Ross Bechtle presents his work in Spring 2022 research symposium at Longwood University.

Amorette Barber, Ph.D.

Tumor Immunology Research Lab

*** Dr. Barber is seeking one new research student for fall 2023. ***

My research lab focuses on enhancing immune responses to cancer.  Current cancer treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation result in adverse side effects. Therefore, the development of novel therapies that specifically target tumor cells and minimize damage to healthy cells is desirable. One option is to use cells of the immune system, specifically T cells, which kill cells that appear dangerous or foreign. To maximize tumor targeting by T cells, genetic engineering is used to express receptors that enhance tumor cell recognition. These receptors, named chimeric antigen receptors (CARs), endow the T cell with a way to recognize the tumor cells and activate many cellular functions to eradicate the tumor. Encouragingly, CAR-expressing T cells have recently received FDA-approval for cancer therapy and the chimeric antigen receptor that I developed at Longwood will be starting Phase I clinical trials for cancer therapy soon. My current research at Longwood University focuses on studying how to enhance T cell immunotherapy for many different types of cancer through 1) creation and testing of novel CARs, 2) investigation of immune cell function, and 3) study of how various compounds (including natural products and parabens) alter immune cell function. In addition to the applications to human health, my research also has implications in enhancing our understanding of general immunology and cancer therapies.

Dale Beach, Ph.D.

Betting on Biotechnology to Build Better Brewers

The common yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, is frequently associated with baking and beer brewing where the yeast consumes sugars to produce carbon dioxide gas – important as a rising agent in bread dough – and ethanol – the inebriating factor in beer, wine, and distilled spirits.  On an industrial scale, baking and alcohol production (for human consumption and for commercial uses), represents billions of dollars annually. As you might guess, the commercial importance of yeast-based fermentation has given rise to a vast catalog of different yeast varieties that a fermenter, baker, or brewer can use to optimize their product quality, increase productivity, and lower costs. Surprisingly, the genetics of this industrially important organism is poorly understood from an industrial point of view. In the Beach lab we are working to understand the genetic roots of some very complicated yeast traits so that we can rapidly develop new strains for the craft brewing industry. By identifying potential target genes in the yeast genome, we are using DNA sequence analysis to characterize variations in gene sequences to better correlate genes with ideal traits, and the use that knowledge to generate novel yeast strains for the fermentation industry. We are currently investigating genes in the Flocculation pathway, an important process to collect and remove yeast cells from the fermentation reaction without costly filtration equipment.  Working on this project will help you develop DNA manipulation and molecular biology skills as well as computational analysis of genomic DNA sequences. Email for more information:​

Larry Collins, Ph.D.

Coastal Resilience, Climate Change Education Research

*** Dr. Collins is seeking two new research students for fall 2023. ***

In an era of rapid coastal population growth and sea level rise, coastal resilience strategies are becoming increasingly important for combating habitat loss  and maintaining vital ecosystem services.  One coastal resilience strategy, living shorelines, are nature-based in that they can consist of plants and other natural elements that provide habitats for coastal organisms and protect shorelines.  Using remote sensing, Virginia’s Coastal Resilience tool, and several oceanic databases, we will model the extent of sea level rise in areas including Hampton Roads and Virginia Beach under several different scenarios to identify site suitability for living shorelines near these coastal areas. However, this nature-based strategy for coastal management can cause controversy amongst those who live in coastal areas.  Thus, the second component of this project will involve the use of a Structured Decision Making framework in order to understand how people develop their perceptions of living shorelines and the factors that lead to acceptance of living shorelines as a coastal management strategy.  Students who join this project will also get to learn and practice communication skills with multiple stakeholders.

Adam Franssen, Ph.D.

Behavioral Neuroscience in Rats

In broad terms, the Franssen lab is investigating how the developmental environment affects gene expression, brain chemistry, animal behavior, and ultimately reproductive success in animals. Specifically, students currently working with rats in our state-of-the-art Neuroscience Facility in Allen Hall are investigating how two factors – maternal behavior and environmental enrichment – affect the cognitive abilities of offspring. Students working in the lab will learn the knowledge and skill needed to conduct behavioral neuroscience research. Skills may include animal husbandry, behavioral testing, analysis of behavior, cryosectioning of neural tissue, immunohistochemistry, neuroquantification, written and oral communication. Once those skills are mastered, each undergraduate research collaborator is encouraged to develop their own project to work on. For example, one recent student-motivated research program has investigated the epigenetically heritable consequences have having a “Good” or “Bad” mother. Another research projects seeks to determine whether environmental enrichment or loss during early development can alter behavioral responses to new stimuli.

Students wishing to join the lab should be highly motivated, be able to work independently after training, and be excited to collaborate with others from different backgrounds. Students from all majors/minors are welcome; successful members of the Franssen Lab have come from Biology, Chemistry, Kinesiology, Psychology, and Neuroscience Studies programs. Varied career goals are welcome, too. In addition to multiple Neuroscience PhDs, Franssen Lab Alumni have become Anesthesiologists, Dietitians, Genetic Counselors, Lawyers, Physical Therapists, and Teachers.

Mary Lehman, Ph.D.

Allelopathy and Interactions of Plant Stresses

*** Dr. Lehman is seeking one new research student for fall 2023. ***

Allelopathy involves the interaction of plants through their release of chemicals into the soil, often negatively affecting the growth of surrounding plants. This can be thought of as “chemical warfare” among plants. There are also many other stresses that impact plants, such as low nutrient availability, high temperature, and the presence of pollutants. Little is known about how other plant stresses interact with allelopathy, or how various allelochemicals interact with each other. My lab uses a nutrient culture system (hydroponics) to grow bioassay plant seedlings to precisely control exposure of plants to allelochemicals and investigates the interaction of this stress with other plant stresses.

No experience is required, but students should be prepared for the fact that this research involves the preparation of many chemical solutions; it’s not just growing plants. Students also must be committed to daily maintenance of plants while an experiment is in progress, including weekends.

Ann Mayo, Ph.D.

Insect Behavior, Diversity, and Ecology

Ants, though small and often inconspicuous members of ecosystems, have enormous impacts on ecosystem health and resilience. Because most ants are ground nesting, they make a large contribution on soil generation. They are also major predators and important prey. Their species diversity and abundance tells us a lot about ecosystem health, resilience, and function. There are also important invasive ant species that upset these roles and in turn impact ecosystem health. With concerns for the impacts of pollution, human land use changes, and climate change, monitoring ant diversity has become an important tool for reclamation and conservation projects as well as land management procedures.

I am currently identifying and monitoring local ant populations (in and near Longwood’s campus) and at the Baliles Center located on the Potomac River with the aim to describe the current ant diversity and ecosystem.

Ravi Sankar, Ph.D.

*** Dr. Sankar is seeking one new research student for fall 2023. ***

The Geomorphology Research Lab (GRL) at Longwood University employs advanced techniques such as high-resolution geospatial, topographical, and sedimentary methods to investigate how natural processes and human activities shape Earth’s landscapes over time. Improving the accuracy of datasets and computational models used to predict the frequency and severity of extreme weather events is crucial, as it highlights the significance of addressing climate variability’s short-term forecasts that indicate a potential rise in environmental risks. At the GRL, we employ various techniques (e.g. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Ground-Penetrating Radar (GPR), and topographic surveys) to identify, track, and study changes resulting from sea level rise, storms, and land-use along varying coastal and fluvial regions such as beaches, bays, barrier islands, dunes, rivers, and the nearshore. These collected data are then utilized in numerical models and GIS-based techniques to investigate the intricate processes responsible for shaping the earth’s landscapes. The overall goal of our research at the GRL is to provide important information for communities and decision-makers who are facing the challenges of swift environmental change, and to offer insights for disaster mitigation planning. 

Students are encouraged to email me at to discuss ongoing and potential future projects. 

Denis Trubitsyn, Ph.D.

Magnetic bacteria

My lab studies a unique group of bacteria known as magnetotactic. These organisms synthesize their own magnets (see attached image) and use them similarly to a compass needle in navigation. In addition to learning molecular mechanisms involved in the process of making magnets, our research focusses on application of bacterial nanoparticles in medicine. Specifically, we aim to add proteins to magnetic crystals that will make them bind to human cancer cells. Such modified magnets can then be used to aid in tumor localization with MRI. 

While the projects outlined above may require several years of lab work to complete, students in my lab help to accomplish individual phases of this research. They gain skills such as preparation of culture media, growth and harvesting of various bacteria, PCR, cloning, DNA and protein gel electrophoresis, isolation of bacterial magnetic particles, detection of functional proteins with various molecular biology techniques. Students also get to present their work at state and national conferences. There are no formal prerequisites to join my lab; however, I look for someone who is enthusiastic and curious. It may be possible to develop additional research projects based on your personal interest in microbiology.

Wade Znosko, Ph.D.

Using a long-term study of water quality monitoring of the Appomattox River Watershed of central Virginia, it is possible to test the effects contaminants in local waterways on the development of aquatic vertebrates. By measuring the presence of fecal indicator bacteria, the relative number of pollutants can be assayed. These measurements typically are used to protect humans from potential exposure to toxins. However, little has been researched about the effect of the presence of FIB on organisms that live in these waters. It has been established that within aquatic vertebrates, the Wnt developmental pathway, important for brain and heart development, is significantly down-regulated when raising zebrafish embryos in local polluted waters. Currently, there is not much known about muscle development within these embryos. Using embryos raised in water from the Appomattox River (considered ‘clean’; <238 E. Coli/100mL) and Gross Creek (considered ‘impaired’; >238 E. Coli/100mL), the effect on muscle development and physiology will be examined. qRT-PCR analysis and in situ hybridizations will be performed to identify genes and expression levels that are critical for proper muscle development. Additionally, it is unknown how misformed muscles early in development effects muscle physiology in the adult fish. One key muscle behavior in fish, a startle response, will be examined, that includes the fish making a C-shaped bend in order to swim away fast from predators. Finally, this study will also examine the effects of ‘impaired’ water on C-starts by using high-speed tracking cameras.

Dr. Kathy Gee & Dr. Dale Beach

*** Drs. Gee & Beach are not accepting any research students during the 2023-24 academic year. ***

Evaluation of Human Health Risks Associated with Rainwater Harvesting Systems

Rainwater harvesting is the practice of collecting rainwater from a roof and storing it for later use. As climate change increasingly threatens traditional sources of potable water (groundwater and reservoirs), it is essential to utilize methods of conserving water, such as rainwater harvesting systems, to reduce the burden on these resources.  Because a roof surface collects leaves, pollen, and organic debris and is often frequented by critters such as squirrels and birds, the rainwater washing into the collection tank includes biomass and microorganisms, including known pathogens. The first goal of this project is describing the characteristics of the harvesting system, such as proximity to overhanging trees, ease of access for critters, or how often the system is maintained and relating them to pathogen concentrations.  By understanding how these factors influence pathogen concentrations, system owners can make adjustments to reduce the likelihood of pathogens in the harvested water. Second, we seek to improve pathogen quantification in systems by using novel molecular methods to directly measure infectious levels of Legionella, the cause of Legionnaires Disease (a pneumonia-like infection that can be fatal). The results of this project will allow a better and more accurate measure of the risks involved in using rainwater harvesting systems, and increase user safety and confidence is keeping these conservation systems. Ideal students for this project will have an interest in how interdisciplinary biological concepts and techniques can be applied to real-world situations to better understand them, make them safer to use, and broadly promote conservation efforts. 

Mark Fink, Ph.D.

*** Dr. Fink will not be accepting any research students during the 2023-24 academic year. ***

Longwood Campus Breeding Bird Atlas Project

The overall goal of this project is to initiate a long-term monitoring plan for avian populations on Longwood campuses (Main campus, Lancer Park, and Baliles Center at Hull Springs).  This project will launch in spring 2023 (mid-January through mid-June) with breeding bird surveys of main campus and Lancer Park.  Student researchers will spend the early part of the semester researching avian census methods and developing protocols for our breeding bird atlas project.  Researchers will then implement these protocols by collecting field data of breeding birds on main campus and Lancer Park from March through mid-June.  Compilation and analysis of data will occur concurrently with data collection.  Opportunities for continuing research in subsequent semesters are possible.  Students must be available through mid-June and are responsible for their own housing.  Previous experience is not required though ability to identify common birds by sight and sound is preferred.  Email for more information:

Ken Fortino, Ph.D.

*** Dr. Fortino will not be accepting any research students during the 2023-24 academic year. ***

Small, human–constructed ponds are a dominant landscape feature in eastern North America, where they can have significant impacts on watershed hydrology, biodiversity, and organic matter processing. My lab studies how small ponds alter the way that watersheds process energy and organic matter. My students and I have investigated the way ponds affect the decomposition and storage of terrestrial leaf litter and have found that leaves break down slowly when they enter ponds, indicating that ponds contribute to organic matter storage in watersheds. We have also found that inorganic nutrients are abundant in these small ponds, supporting high levels of primary productivity which interacts with leaf decomposition in a process called priming. Overall the student researchers in my lab have contributed to our understanding of ponds as important and dynamic biological systems in watersheds. My lab is not currently accepting new students for the 2023–2024 academic year but I am always happy to answer questions and explore future student research opportunities.

Brandon Jackson, Ph.D.

*** Dr. Jackson will not be accepting any research students during the 2023-24 academic year. ***

How do animals move? When different animals have differently shaped legs, wings, or bodies, does that affect how well they move? My lab studies the evolution of anatomy and physiology related to animal locomotion, both in the lab and in the field.  We ask questions related to neuroscience, animal behavior, developmental biology, ecology, biomechanics, physiology, and evolution, but students do not need a background in any of the above to start in the lab.

Research students are encouraged to develop their own projects based on their interests but can also work on existing projects. We study nearly any type of animal. I currently have active projects studying the following: how losing a leg affects walking in stinkbugs; unique properties of ladybug walking and takeoff; the role of bird tails in slow-speed flight; the role of wing flexibility in cicada flight; crawfish fighting mechanics; and startled zebrafish swimming.  

Example videos can be found at my lab page:

Chris Labosier, Ph.D.

*** Dr. Labosier will not be accepting any research students during the 2023-24 academic year. ***

As an applied climatologist and environmental scientist, I am interested in using meteorological and climatic data, methods, and theory to explore a broad range of questions related to environmental phenomena. Applied climatology is an inherently interdisciplinary field, borrowing heavily from a multitude of disciplines. My research interests reflect this interdisciplinary nature spanning climatology and meteorology, along with public health, urban geography, and emergency management. While taking advantage of the variety of applied climatology research interests presented when working with students, my primary research interests are (1) climate-health relationships, (2) urban climates, (3) hazard perception, response, and communication, (4) climate science literacy, and (5) hydroclimatic variability.

While I am not accepting new research students during the upcoming academic year, I am more than happy to discuss research ideas for subsequent semester. Please contact me at

Dina Leech, Ph.D.

*** Dr. Leech will not be accepting any research students during the 2023-24 academic year. ***

Water Quality and Ecosystem Restoration

Land use and land cover are closely linked to coastal water quality. Runoff of nutrients and organic matter from agricultural fields often leads to algal blooms and the formation of ‘dead zones’, or regions of low dissolved oxygen, that negatively affect aquatic life. At Longwood’s Baliles Center for Environmental Education at Hull Springs, within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, agricultural fields have recently been restored to forest and wetland.  The Leech Lab is monitoring changes in local water quality on and near the property in consort with these restoration efforts to assess their effectiveness.

Students get hands-on experience collecting water samples in the field and then processing them in the lab to measure the amount of bacteria, algae, nutrients, and organic matter. We also maintain a water quality sonde for the Longwood Environmental Observatory (LEO) that collects data every 15 minutes on several water quality parameters, including water temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, and salinity. These important monitoring data are shared publicly to better inform management strategies within the Bay’s watershed. They also complement experimental work conducted by the lab to better understand mechanisms of ‘dead zone’ formation.

Björn Ludwar, Ph.D.

*** Dr. Ludwar will not be accepting any research students during the 2023-24 academic year. ***

I am looking for self-motivated, curious students, interested in working in relative independence on one of the following projects:

BL01.) Diabetes, Symmetry, & Fingerprints: In collaboration with Ohio University and Touro University, CA, we are collecting fingerprints and medical histories with the goal of correlating fingerprint symmetry with a diabetes diagnosis. Our role in the project is to analyze the data for symmetry. Student participation includes the handling and organization of ‘big data’. Excellent Excel, and ideally programming skills (Python), are a must. Our next goal for the project is to use machine-learning algorithms (via TensorFlow) to score print defects and analyze their effect on predictiveness.

BL02.) Developmental Rate & Symmetry: Using the model system Drosophila melanogaster, we are studying a potential correlation of developmental rate and bilateral symmetry. The project has used various morphological markers in the past: microscopic images of wings, the immunofluorescence stained nervous system of the animal, and lately structures visualized via electron microscopy. Student participation includes maintaining the genetically diverse fly stock, performing independent experiments, analysis and presentation of resulting data. The next big project goal is to link previous findings to diabetic Drosophila mutants, as well as metabolic stress.

BL03.) BYOI (Bring Your Own Idea): I am always open to new project ideas within the realm of animal physiology. If it involves measuring something complicated and/or uses computing power to analyze it, I am generally interested. My lab is set-up to do most electrophysiological experiments. Examples of projects I am curious about include the use of FreeMoCap ( as a classroom-grade 3D tracking solution, photogrammetric triangulation using Agisoft’s Metashape and photography or electron microscopy, developing automated behavioral assays for drosophila (google “ethoscope”). If electronics, robotics, optics, 3D printers, and programming do not scare you, you will feel right at home in my lab.

BL04.) SEM imaging: I welcome independent student scanning electron microscopy projects. Students select an object of study, learn how to prepare the sample for imaging (fixation, dehydration, contrast enhancement, etc.), learn how to use an SEM, image the sample, and prepare the resulting images for presentation. This could be in conjunction with another research project (in a different lab), or as stand-alone project using specimen I am somewhat knowledgeable about.

More info at

Ben Campbell, Ph.D.

Science Education Research

*** Dr. Campbell will not be accepting any research students during the 2023-24 academic year. ***

Dr. Campbell is interested in a variety of topics in science education, ranging from instructional preparation to classroom interactions. A recent publication focused on science competitions, and another addressed opportunities for informal science education while visiting wetlands in Virginia State Parks.