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An impactful program

We would like to highlight and commend Longwood University’s PRISM Program.

PRISM stands for Perspectives on Research in Science & Mathematics.

The university’s website cites that PRISM is the following:

• An eight-week summer research program for Longwood STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) students modeled after the extremely successful Research Experiences of Undergraduates (REU) program sponsored by the National Science Foundation

• A program that combines practical training in specific research techniques with activities designed to put research into the context of larger goals of modern science, technology and mathematics

• A program that pairs a faculty member with a student so that one-on-one collaboration occurs in an effort to make significant strides on novel projects in biology, chemistry, environmental science, mathematics, physics and psychology

The impact of Longwood’s PRISM Program was brought to our attention recently through a university press release focusing on Brianna LaFratta, a rising senior at Longwood who is part of the program this summer, doing important research with Dr. Maxwell Hennings, Longwood assistant professor of neuropsychology.

Anyone who has been impacted by cancer — directly or indirectly — can appreciate how LaFratta and Hennings are putting the PRISM Program to use.

“Our project deals with a phenomenon called chemo brain, which is common in breast cancer patients,” LaFratta said in the release. “Symptoms include memory problems, trouble learning new tasks or remembering names, confusion and difficulty concentrating or multi-tasking. … This project aims to better understand what is causing the memory changes and cognitive decline that people who receive chemo treatments experience.”

LaFratta noted that when someone receives chemotherapy treatment, the drug is targeting actively dividing cells so that it can kill them, which kills the cancer.

“But it’s hypothesized that it’s also killing cells in the hippocampus of the brain,” she said in the release. “That’s not good. The hippocampus is associated with learning and memory. The dentate gyrus is where adult neurogenesis is happening — so where new neurons are being formed. It is believed that the chemotherapy is affecting those cells.”

LaFratta and Hennings are testing this hypothesis by looking at cells in the dentate gyrus under the microscope, counting the cells to see if there’s a difference between a control group and groups that received chemotherapy.

Another rising senior participant in the PRISM Program that Longwood has highlighted recently is Josh Walker.

The release on Walker noted that he is spending the summer working with Dr. Benjamin Topham, Longwood assistant professor of chemistry, on a long-running project aimed at creating electronic circuits using single molecules in place of regular components like diodes and resistors.

“In electronic devices, there are all sorts of components like switches and diodes,” Walker said in the release. “We are looking at designing single molecules to act like those components we are familiar with, in essence creating extraordinarily small electronic circuits. The way we do that is by building molecules on a computer and then running them through testing software that can predict how they would perform when connected to electrodes.”

These are impressive projects that not only provide outstanding educational experiences for the students involved but also may have substantial impacts on the world.