Undergraduate Science Research

All Dominican Biology and Chemistry undergraduate students participate in our signature Research Methodology Course Series.

Student and professor in a lab

Faculty members in Dominican’s Natural Sciences and Mathematics department lead strong research programs in the fields of biology and chemistry. Students gain first-hand experience in our modern research labs, using state-of-the-art equipment and technology under the guidance of experienced mentors. Graduates are equipped with critical skills and expertise to succeed in the workplace.

Research Methodology Course Series Highlights

Undergraduate Research Topics at Dominican

Learn more about our faculty and current research projects below.

Coral Bleaching Prevention

Coral reefs are undoubtedly among the most threatened ecosystems in the world. Most studies predict that without increased conservation and restoration efforts a complete collapse may be only a couple of decades away. Coral bleaching is increasing dramatically due to the worldwide rise in temperature. Such bleaching episodes can cause massive mortality of corals and rapidly decimate reefs. It is critical to find ways to protect corals until the root causes of the problem, i.e. climate change, can be effectively addressed globally. We are examining how different coral species respond to cumulative thermal stress, if decreasing light levels can help mitigate the effects of high temperature, and if so to what extent. Learn more. 
Led by Vania Coelho, PhD  

Marine Mammal Conservation

Marine mammals are sentinels of ocean health. Learning about diseases that impact them can indicate environmental trends.  My research combines my interest in marine mammals and anatomy, by examining skulls from stranded marine mammals. I have developed a collaboration with California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, which has one of the largest marine mammal skull collections in the United States. We examine skulls, primarily from California sea lions, to observe pathological abnormalities and trauma. Additionally, we compare morphometrics among species, age classes and sexes. Students learn about the process of preparing specimens. They conduct beach surveys, collecting skulls from stranded marine mammals. We will prepare specimens both on campus and at Cal Academy. 
Led by Doreen Gurrola, MS 

Amphibian Microbiota Research

My research focuses on characterizing variation in amphibian skin microbiotas and determining the effect differences in microbial community composition have on host phenotypes. I apply a combination of traditional microbiological techniques and high-throughput DNA sequencing of microbial and host samples to holistically describe host-microbe associations, evaluate changes in microbial communities over time, and describe the contribution of microbial symbionts to host physiological processes. 
My research pushes forward the frontiers of amphibian microbiota research by combining host and microbiota investigations to understand the effects of habitat quality, immunogenetics, and disease on host-symbiont associations. By exploring the microbial communities of multiple amphibian species in the field and laboratory, I seek to generate a broad understanding of the interactions between amphibians and their microbiota. I use diverse approaches from targeted sequencing to metabolomics to identify individual, environmental, and regional factors that contribute to heterogeneity in amphibian cutaneous microbiotas and microbiome functions. My integrative systems approach has the potential to offer solutions to complex questions typical of host-associated microbiome research. Learn more. 

Environmental Impact on Intertidal Crabs

Our lab is investigating the effects of ocean acidification on intertidal crabs in Northern California. Animals will be collected in the field and maintained in the aquatic lab in the science center. Specifically, we are interested in the crab exoskeleton weight, size, and composition. An additional focus of our lab is education and civic outreach, therefore we will be presenting on environmental issues on campus and off campus too. NOTE: Due to the nature of this type of research, students need to work on weekends when an experiment is in progress. 
Led by Diara Spain, PhD 

Invasive Plant Pathogen Research

We study diseases of ornamental and forest plants, especially those caused by invasive pathogens, such as Phytophthora ramorum, the causal agent of Sudden Oak Death. Invasive plant diseases can lead to widespread damage and death of native trees and cause devastating impacts on whole ecosystems. Our main focus is applied research, such as validation and development of best management practices (BMPs); development of remediation options for soil, water, and infested plants; and development of monitoring and control strategies. Our unique research nursery can be used by research partners from other universities and research centers. We share our research results with the public through a strong outreach program, as well as through scientific and technical publications.
Led by Wolfgang Schweigkofler, PhD

Neuronal Development

Our research investigates the expression of neuroreceptors in differentiating neurons derived from mouse embryonic stem cells. The goal of these studies is to identify receptors that play an important role in the process of neuronal development. Students will begin by learning the basic cell culture techniques and differentiation protocols used in the laboratory. Once these skills are demonstrated, they can begin to participate in experiments utilizing tools such as fluorescence microscopy for imaging cells and RT-PCR of cell extracts to measure in gene expression via mRNA. 
Led by Kiowa Bower, PhD  

Malaria Prevention and Treatment

Malaria is a parasitic infectious disease spread by mosquitoes. There are five species of malaria that infect humans, but only Plasmodium falciparum kills people, and accounts for about 50% of the roughly 250 million annual cases. Malaria parasites infect the red blood cells and are carried from person to person by female Anopheles mosquitoes. Malaria mostly occurs in the tropical regions of the world, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. About 450,000 children die of malaria every year. Although there are safe and effective drugs available, getting these to the people of Africa in an affordable manner is a great challenge. Additionally, artemisinin combination therapies (ACTs), which are the current worldwide mainstay for malaria treatment, are threatened by resistance. Drug resistance and lack of a vaccine complicate efforts to control malaria. My research at Dominican and in Uganda is focused on how drug resistance evolves in malaria parasites, as well as how we can make affordable drugs to overcome resistance. Specifically, our project will focus on how doxycycline, an important drug in preventing malaria, works against the Plasmodium parasite. 
Led by Roland Cooper, PhD   

Crustacean Evolution 

The goal of our work is to understand how and why unique characteristics such as eye loss, pigment loss, and appendage length gain have evolved in cave crustaceans. We will specifically look at the genetics and developmental biology of these characteristics and will achieve a better understanding of the mechanisms of evolution and also hope to develop this species as a medically useful model for understanding eye and pigment degeneration. Specific projects include: 1) comparing embryological development between cave and surface populations to discover when eye loss, pigment loss, and appendage gain come about. 2) Analyzing RNA sequence data from embryological samples to find mutations and genes responsible for eye and pigment loss. 3) Examining multiple cave populations and seeing whether the same or different genetic regions are responsible for the evolution of similar phenotypes.  
Led by Meredith Protas, PhD  

Five Computational Projects are Offered

We use computational formalisms and algorithms to study environmental, chemical,  and biological systems. We currently have three projects involving Dominican students and faculty both locally and across the country. The first project combustion generated Environmentally Persistent Free Radicals (EPFRs) that pose health hazards in communities adjacent to the combustion sources. This project is a collaboration with researchers at Louisiana State University, North Carolina State University, and The University of Queensland. The second project studies the effect the extent of glycosylation plays in the function of the cyclooxygenase enzyme in the overproduction of prostaglandins. This project is a collaboration with Dr. Mary Sevigny of Dominican University. The third project studies the propensity of potentially toxic compost degradation products to leach into the groundwater. This project is a collaboration with Dr. Ken Frost of Dominican University of California.
Led by Randall Hall, PhD

Natural Products Research

The long range goal of our laboratory is to isolate and characterize natural products from terrestrial and marine derived extracts provided by the National Cancer Institute and prepare them to be screened as libraries of pure compounds against new disease targets to search for: a) therapeutic lead structures in biomedical research and or b) novel molecular probes in chemical biology.
Led by Tyler Johnson, PhD 

Wildfire and Sea Spray Aerosols

My group studies and characterizes wildfire aerosols and sea spray aerosols. Among many species in the aerosols, radicals are our primary concern. Radicals that are formed from organic precursors (e.g. pesticides) in wildfire aerosols are investigated. Formation and the degradation pathway of the radical species are studied using spectroscopic tools in conjunction with aerosol techniques. In addition to the laboratory projects, air quality in the field (e.g. water treatment facility) is also studied in order to gain a deeper understanding of the impact of aerosol particles on our local air quality.

Led by Christine Koh, PhD

Professor and student in lab with pipets

Testimonial: Larissa '19

"Working as an undergraduate student in a research lab at Dominican provided me with the confidence and skills to apply for a job in biotech.”

Students in lab using beakers


Students who complete Dominican’s Research Methodology Course Series as part of their curriculum are prepared to apply for graduate-level programs such as our MS in Biological Sciences, and pursue careers in research, natural sciences, and more.

Learn about our MS Bio Program

Meet our Faculty

Diara Spain headshot

Diara Spain, PhD

Professor of Biology, Department Chair
dominican seal

Kiowa Bower, PhD

Assistant Professor
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Roland Cooper, PhD

Chris Endicott headshot

Chris Endicott, PhD

Laboratory Manager
Doreen Gurrola headshot

Doreen Gurrola, MS

Assistant Professor
Randall Hall headshot

Randall Hall, PhD

Lillian L.Y. Wang Yin, PhD Endowed Professor
Tyler Johnson headshot

Tyler Johnson, PhD

Associate Professor
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Lynne Marie LoPresto

Adjunct Professor
Meredith Protas headshot

Meredith Protas, PhD

Associate Professor MS Biological Sciences Director
Wolfgang Schweigkofler headshot

Wolfgang Schweigkofler, PhD

Research Associate Professor and Lead Scientist at NORS-DUC
Victoria Worch headshot

Victoria Estrella Worch, MEd

Student Services Administrator
Amy Young headshot

Amy Young, MS

Assistant Professor, Physical Sciences

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