Student examining a specimen in a microscope

Dr. Michelle Vieyra

Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences

Nutrition and Neurobiology

Avenues of student research:

The role of diet and exercise in rat obesity and behavior:  There is evidence that different components of the human diet (high sugars, high fats, high protein, different vitamin or mineral compositions) contribute to a range of physiological problems from obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.  Diet also has an effect on stress and cognitive abilities.  Students will use rats as a model organism to tests the relative roles of dietary changes and exercise on various indicators of health and behavior.  Students will learn about the difficulties of animal research, get practice doing several lab protocols and/ or dissection and will learn about the ethical handling of research animals. Rats are housed in the animal care facility in Penland.  Students must feed/ take care of the rats 7 days a week for at least 8 weeks so there must be at least two students involved with a given project.  Students will also be required to handle the rats.  I need to know at least 6 months before the start of a student’s research semester that they wish to participate in this project so we can breed rats and obtain proper animal use permissions.  Two semesters of research involvement is preferred. 

The role of diet in human cognitive functioning:  There is evidence that many of the substances found in the human diet, particularly additives such as caffeine, change how efficiently we process information and perform cognitive tasks.  Students participating in this research will learn about the ethics of human subject research and how to use psychophysiological equipment including EEG and/ or fNIR. This project is in collaboration with the psychology department and all testing will be performed in the Penland building.  Students involved in this research will need to become human subject certified and will be involved in obtaining permission to conduct human subject research.  Students must be involved for at least two semesters to allow time to learn how to use the brain recording equipment before formulating questions to test as well as time to obtain human subjects approval. 

Science Education: Secondary education majors interested in looking at the benefits of student involvement in a research program or the prevalence of plagiarism in science student writing are encouraged to talk to me regarding opportunities to help me with my research.

Examples of past projects:

Physiological effects of food deprivation and activity in rats

Effects of sucrose vs. HFCS on obesity and triglyceride levels in rats

Effects of a high sucrose diet on obesity and blood glucose in rats

Effects of a high sucrose diet on stress, depression and activity levels in rats

Effects of a high sucrose diet on cognition (long and short term memory) in rats

The effects of caffeine on cognitive performance and neuronal activation (using fNIR)

The effects of l-theanine on cognition (using EEG)