Research spotlight: Janel Harach

AQUINAS PHOTOS / KATHLEEN HEALEY JANEL HARACH currently works along Marc Seid, Ph.D., in his lab at the University. Their research focuses on the bee species Megalopta genalis.

AQUINAS PHOTOS / KATHLEEN HEALEY JANEL HARACH currently works along Marc Seid, Ph.D., in his lab at the University. Their research focuses on the bee species Megalopta genalis.

Published: September 18, 2015

KATHLEEN HEALEY
Staff Writer

When Janel Harach is not attending club meetings or practicing crew, you will most likely find her in the lab. Harach, a junior neuroscience major and Spanish minor in the Honors Program, began her study of ants in Marc Seid’s, Ph.D., lab during her first year at The University after having Seid for general biology. She reflects that her interest in research was purely exploratory. Describing herself as a people person, she was unsure if she would like the lab, but has since discovered a niche in the lab. Much of her sophomore year research included studying the effect of octopamine on developing ovaries of large worker ants. Harach credits her neuroscience research methods course for perfecting her skills of dissecting ant brains and also for providing further topics for research, including one that she used as a research proposal for a summer internship

This summer, Harach spent 10 weeks on Barro Colorado Island in Panama participating in an internship run by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. She focused her research on exploring the neuromechanisms behind eusocial behavior of the bee Megalopta genalis. Specifically, she was looking at the effects of optamamine on ovary and brain development and dopamine on aggression. Brain and ovary sizes were examined through microscopes and aggression was measured through a series of tests.

She ran experiments with Adam Smith, Ph.D, an associate professor at George Washington University who examines the underlying neuromechanisms of social bees. He mentored her throughout her research. Harach’s favorite aspect of her internship involved the diversity among the researchers. “Talking to the scientists from many different countries gave me so many differing perspectives and insights into what I was doing. I also now have a place to stay in almost every country in Europe ” said Harach.

In terms of future studies, Harach mentions that her summer work still needs to be analyzed. She plans to spend this semester staining and analyzing the specimens’ brains. The Honors Program allows her to integrate her lab and lecture studies. This semester she is taking a tutorial on insect pharmacology with Seid. Her entyomolgy class, also taught by Seid, provides her with additional knowledge aiding her research. She enjoys the lab component of this course, which involves traveling to different state parks each Friday and collecting insects.

Next summer, Harach intends to focus her time pursuing an internship focused more on clinical experience. This experience, she hopes, will hopefully solidify and strengthen her decision to become a doctor. She reasons that her dissection of countless ant and bee brains has more than prepared her for her intended future career.

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