I am exploring the effects of Valerian (an herbal antianxiety drug) on escape and avoidance learning in the earthworm. Earthworms are capable of learning about their responses through a process called instrumental conditioning. If a response prevents an unpleasant stimulus from occurring, it is considered avoidance. If a worm makes a response while an unpleasant stimulus is still occurring, then it is considered escape. Little research has been done with earthworms and the administration of Valerian and the presentation of an unpleasant stimulus -- more specifically, a bright light.
I expose earthworms to a solution of Valerian root, place them in running wheels, and present an unpleasant stimulus in order to record the effects on behavior. I expect to find that worms exposed to Valerian would be less likely to make avoidance and escape responses than are the worms given no drug.
There is a lot of preparatory work required for running experiments. Before I administered the drug to the earthworms, I had to make sure all programs that recorded data were working, create a schedule for running the worms, calibrate running wheels, and do background research for my drug. Planning ahead and creating outlines for the summer was definitely a key to my success.
My interest in research was sparked in Neuroscience I with Dr. Wilson. Last fall, I asked him if I could help his research student collect data for her thesis. I fell in love with the subject matter and helping with experiments. I found that I was particularly interested in the effects of drugs on behavior, so I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to come up with my own FURSCA project. I chose Valerian because I am interested in anxiety disorders and this drug is a newly-considered alternative for those with anxiety.
I intend to present my findings at a national meeting (the Pavlovian Society or the Society for Neuroscience) and at the Elkin Isaac Research Symposium. After my senior year, I plan on attending graduate school in order to pursue my interest in research. Doing summer research, attending conferences, and writing a thesis will be an excellent way to prepare for graduate school.
I am currently working on the process of data collection. I run a total of 12 worms a day for four hours at a time. Once all data is collected, I will conduct an analysis to determine if Valerian has an effect on the earthworms' behavior. I wish to continue research into my senior year, and perhaps use my findings as a basis for my senior thesis.