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Honors Research

in Science

Welcome to the Leonetti/O'Connell
Honors Research in Science Program

The Leonetti/O'Connell Honors Research in Science Program provides an opportunity for students to spend a full year conducting original research in the lab sciences under the mentorship of an academic expert in their field of interest. Students gain practical life skills while also getting to participate in hands-on scientific work outside the classroom.

Due to the impact of COVID-19 on the 2019-2020 school year, we have pivoted from our traditional Celebration of Innovation model, and instead created a Poster Showcase! Below are the student's posters, and pre-recorded presentations. 

Thank you for the support of our amazing students!


Dr. Allison Ponzio

Honors Research in Science Program Head


Alessandra '20

Cognitive Psychology

Exploring the Role of the Amygdala in Aversive Decision Making


You can watch Alessandra's prerecorded presentation hereView Alessandra's poster here

Mentor: Dr. Hugh T. Blair; UCLA

Best Part of this Year: Getting hands on lab experiences.

Next Steps: I am going to Cornell and will be on the pre-health track so I will probably participate in more research.

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Ashira '20

Regenerative Neuroscience

In vitro Efficacy Study of Compounds for Aging in the Adult Mammalian Brain

View Ashira's poster here

Mentor: Dr. Michael Bonaguidi; USC

Best Part of this Year: The most exciting and satisfying aspect of this past year was building on the research project I participated in during my junior year. Using the in vitro model created in my first project, we are able to test the efficacy of my lab's in vivo project so we can ultimately understand the cellular responses to varying neural stem cell conditions.

Next Steps: Next year I will attend Cornell University where I plan to continue my path as a researcher. I hope to join a neuroscience lab during my freshman year


Caroline '20

Pediatric Cancer

Use of CRISPR Gene Editing to Study EWS-FLI1 Regulated Genes in Ewing Sarcoma

You can watch Caroline's prerecorded presentation hereView Caroline's poster here

Mentor: Dr. Timothy Triche; CHLA, USC

Best Part of this Year: If you had asked me two years ago if I thought by the end of senior year, I would be growing cancer cell lines, using CRISPR CAS9 technology, running PCRs, and analyzing relevant data for pediatric cancer, I would not have believed you!

Next Steps: Next year I will be attending the University of Pennsylvania and was selected to be a part of the Vagelos Scholars program for Molecular Life Sciences. In this research based program, I will continue working in labs for the next four years!

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Cosi '21

Developmental Psychology

The Impact of Divorce and Co-Parenting on Children and Adolescents

View Cosi's poster here

Best Part of this Year: The most exciting thing about HRS was finding out that I in fact could do research despite how daunting it may have seemed when I had heard about it in years past.

Next Steps: Next year in Honors Research, I am going to be studying something along the lines of psychology and political categorization/identity. 

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Delilah '21

Lung Cancer

Bioengineered 3D Biomimetic Lung Organoid as an In vitro Model for Small Cell Lung Cancer

View Delilah's poster here

Mentor: Dr. Brigitte Gomperts; UCLA

Best Part of this Year: Being a part of such an amazing lab, and all of the connections I have made because of it.

Next Steps: I plan to continue my researching small cell lung cancer. Since I have validated my model, I will now try to develop a high-throughput drug screen as well as make deeper inquiries into chemoresistance, heterogeneity, and cell-cell communication.

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Emily '20

Health Psychology

The Impact of Mother-Daughter Attachment on Heroin Use Outcomes

You can watch Emily's prerecorded presentation here. View Emily's poster here

Mentor: Dr. Alice Cepeda; USC

Best Part of this Year: The most exciting thing about HRS for me was being able to be part of a larger project that emphasizes the disparities in research when it comes to marginalized groups and their health outcomes.

Next Steps: I will be attending Williams College, and I plan to major in Psychology/Economics.

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Ally '20

Snow Science

Effect of Snow Surface Roughness on Albedo

You can watch Ally's prerecorded presentation here. View Ally's poster here

Mentor: Dr. Jeff Dozier; UCSB

Best Part of this Year: I loved being able to combine my love for nature and the outdoors with scientific research.

Next Steps: I'm planning on attending Bowdoin College in the fall, and as for my research plans, I am hoping to present at the American Geophysical Union's Fall Meeting.

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Bella '20

Regenerative Medicine

Loss of Neuregulin-4/ErbB4 Signaling in Macrophages Promotes Colonic Inflammation

View Bella's poster here

Mentor: Dr. Mark Frey; CHLA, USC

Best Part of this Year: Being a second-year student was my favorite because I knew my labmates/mentor really well and was able to get a head start on my research at the beginning of the year, which led to very promising results on multiple projects.


Next Steps: I will be majoring in "Medicine, Health, and Society" at Vanderbilt University and am hopeful to continue research there!

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Caroline '20

Stem Cell Biology

Gene Expression Analysis in Human Retinal Organoids

View Caroline's poster here

Mentor: Dr. Aaron Nagiel; CHLA, USC

Best Part of this Year: Research this year has given me the opportunity to take on a role in a fully functioning lab and get a taste for what pursuing science as a career may be like. I have gained so much experience over the course of the past year and have had two amazing mentors help me transition from high school science to lab science.

Next Steps: I will be attending Dartmouth College to major in Biology and Spanish and hope to continue doing scientific research in some way.

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Delaney '20

Environmental Anthropology

The Anthropological Similarities in Climate Change Mitigation Tactics and Climate Perceptions in Thailand and the United States

You can watch Delaney's prerecorded presentation here. View Delaney's poster here

Best Part of this Year: Posting my survey on Reddit and seeing all of the responses from individuals across the United States.

Next Steps: I am planning on continuing my research at Barnard college next year. My research will hopefully adapt to a New York environmental perspective with an emphasis on policy.

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Emily '20

Social Psychology

An Analysis of How Twitter Users Discuss e-Cigarette Use Among Pregnant Women

You can watch Emily's prerecorded presentation here


View Emily's poster here

Mentor: Dr. Raina Pang; USC

Best Part of this Year: The most exciting part of HRS was finding a topic I was interested in and then researching it in more depth. After a year of reading articles, writing drafts, and collecting/analyzing data it is very satisfying to see the whole project come together into one final report and a poster that I am able to share with my friends, family, and fellow researchers.

Next Steps: Next year I will be attending college and hopefully will be able to continue my research or find other possible research labs that I can collaborate with.

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Emma '20

Biomedical Engineering

Tool Motion Tracking for the Evaluation of Expertise in Open Surgery

You can watch Emma's prerecorded presentation here. View Emma's poster here

Mentors: Dr. Veronica Santos, Dr. Peyman Benharash; UCLA

Best Part of this Year: The experience of bringing a project from beginning to "end" (although we are in no way done) was extremely valuable. Each breakthrough moment, no matter how small, was so exciting, whether it was finally figuring out some bugs in the code, learning how to solder wires, or testing our entire device for the first time.

Next Steps: I will be attending Stanford University next year. I'm currently undecided, but am leaning towards majoring in computer science with a concentration in artificial intelligence and robotics. I am also interested in continuing some form of biomechanical or mechatronics research.


Emma '20

Computational Genomics

How does Myh14 affect cardiac hypertrophy?

View Emma's poster here

Mentor: Dr. Jessica Wang; UCLA

Best Part of this Year: I loved being able to work with real life data! The coding I did was just so much more satisfying and fulfilling when I knew it had real potential to affect heart failure data. I felt like a real data scientist which was pretty cool.

Next Steps: I plan on attending UC Berkeley to major in Computer Science and continue to find interdisciplinary research in statistics, computer science, and biology.

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Grace '20

Board Game Development

The Business of Science: Creating a Science Board Game

View Grace's poster here

Mentor: Catherine Croft; Catlilli Games

Best Part of this Year: Having the opportunity to do a hybrid between Honors Research and the Entrepreneurship Capstone.

Next Steps: I'll be attending Barnard College next year where I hope to continue doing scientific research.

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Jaiden '20

Social Neuroscience

The Influence of Stress and Social Support on Cognitive Decline

among Middle-Aged and Older Adults

View Jaiden's poster here

Mentor: Dr. April Thames; USC

Best Part of this Year: Getting the opportunity to research a topic that I was genuinely interested in and that I felt a deeper connection to. I am the youth ambassador for the Alzheimer's Association, so participating in this program allowed me to get a better understanding of Alzheimer's Disease and other forms of cognitive decline.

Next Steps: Next year I will be attending Duke University. Duke has an incredible Alzheimer's research center where I hope to continue learning about Alzheimer's and to possibly get involved in some of their current research.

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Gabi '20

Computational Political Science

A Demographical Study of Registered Voters in North Carolina

You can watch Gabi's prerecorded presentation here. View Gabi's poster here

Mentor: David Kurtz; DigiDems

Best Part of this Year: I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to dive deeply and independently into a project I crafted myself around a topic that I am so passionate about.

Next Steps: I will be attending Brown University and concentrating in Computer Science & Political Science. I am excited to continue conducting research throughout my college experience.


Jacque '21

Orthopedic Medicine

Bone Mineral Density in Persons with Spina Bifida

View Jacque's poster here

Mentors: Dr. Tishya Wren, Adriana Conrad-Forrest; CHLA

Best Part of this Year: The most exciting part about honors research this year was going to the lab. I loved having the freedom to do my work off campus and working in a new environment.

Next Steps: I am planning on continuing Honors Research next year!!

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Kaitlyn '20


Use of Bent Double-Lobed Radio Sources for Detection of Galaxy Clusters​

You can watch Kaitlyn's prerecorded presentation here. View Kaitlyn's poster here

Mentor: Dr. Rachel Paterno-Mahler; Claremont McKenna

Best Part of this Year: Working with a female astrophysicist!

Next Steps: I will be attending Columbia University, I will be studying astrophysics and art history.

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Kate '20

Regenerative Biology

Cardiac Regeneration in Zebrafish: An Analysis of Cardiomyocyte and Endothelial Cell Migration

You can watch Kate's prerecorded presentation here. View Kate's poster here

Mentor: Dr. Ching-Ling (Ellen) Lien; CHLA, USC

Best Part of this Year: Being able to obtain real work experience in a professional medical environment. Not only did I learn to become more independent as a scholar, I have also learned how to maintain professional relationships with doctors and professors, a skill that will benefit me in every future job environment.

Next Steps: Planning to join the regenerative medical research lab at Michigan!

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Miya '20

Evolutionary Biology

Back to Bacula: An Analysis of the Driving Forces Behind Baculum Shape Variation

You can watch Miya's prerecorded presentation here. View Miya's poster here

Mentors: Dr. Matthew Dean, USC; Dr. Jim Dines; NHMLA

Best Part of this Year: Getting involved in new projects involving squirrels and mice - I enjoyed being a part of handling live organisms and learning PCR techniques.

Next Steps: To graduate. I will hopefully be able to continue marine and evolutionary research in college.

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Olivia '21

Business Science

An In-Depth Comparison of Lab-Grown and Mined Diamonds as Related to Usage In The Jewelry Industry

You can watch Olivia's prerecorded presentation here. View Olivia's poster here

Mentor: Pat Syvrud; University of Delaware

Best Part of this Year: My interviews! I loved getting to speak to people whose work I had admired from afar - it was educational and exciting. Each meeting was different and they all offered some kind of new experience, whether it be seeing a jewelers bench or using a loupe.

Next Steps: I'll be continuing into the Entrepreneurship Capstone to apply all the information I learned and advice I received this year.

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Sarah '21

Developmental Neuroscience

The effect of DHA on the Functional Connectivity on APOE4 Carriers

You can watch Sarah's prerecorded presentation here. View Sarah's poster here

Mentor: Dr. Meredith Braskie; USC

Best Part of this Year: Being able to go to the lab and learn many new things about neuroscience, data analysis, and research. I gained new knowledge that helped me understand research and science more in depth that I couldn't get anywhere else.  

Next Steps: I'll be continuing to work on this project next year, and use the knowledge and experience learned this year to help me improve. 

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Sophia '20

Social Work

How can we effectively prevent sexual violence against children?

View Sophia's poster here

Mentor: Rebecca Bevans; Tennessee Department of Children Services

Best Part of this Year: Traveling to Nashville to meet my mentor, along with many other influential women working towards making advancements in child sex abuse prevention.

Next Steps: I want to create an interdisciplinary project that combines neuroscience and psychology, specifically concerning how adverse childhood experiences impact the adolescent mind.


Katie '20

Clinical Neuroscience

Sex Differences in the Association of Glutamate in the dACC With Cigarette Craving and Negative States During Abstinence From Smoking

You can watch Katie's prerecorded presentation here. View Katie's poster here

Mentor: Dr. Maylen Perez Diaz; UCLA

Best Part of this Year: Being given the opportunity to experience the undergraduate/postgraduate research world as a high school senior.

Next Steps: I will be attending the Clark D. Honors College at the University of Oregon, and plan on majoring in Neuroscience. I hope to get the chance to participate in research abroad!


Noor '20

Clinical Neuroscience

Lesion to Segment Mapping for Post Traumatic Epileptogenesis Biomarker Search in Traumatic Brain Injury Patients

You can watch Noor's prerecorded presentation here. View Noor's poster here

Mentor: Dr. Dominique Duncan, USC

Best Part of this Year: Being able to get real lab experience and spend a year going in depth understanding the brain was really exciting. If it wasn't for my research project, I would have never decided to major in neuroscience next year.

Next Steps: I will be attending Yale next year, planning on majoring in neuroscience and global affairs. I plan on continuing to do research as a first year.


Priya '20

Clinical Research

Identifying Coronary Heart Disease using Machine Learning

View Priya's poster here

Mentor: Dr. Damini Dey; Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

Best Part of this Year: Learning more about what research entails and learning new skills such as learning how to code in R.

Next Steps: I hope to continue doing research at my college next year.

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Sadie '20

Social Psychology

Analyzing Micro-expressions of Prominent Politicians

You can watch Sadie's prerecorded presentation here. View Sadie's poster here

Best Part of this Year: The most exciting thing about Honors Research this year was when I was able to start my online training.

Next Steps: NYU!

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Sofia '21

Orthopedic Medicine

Injury Tracking and Analysis using the Lower Extremity Spring Dexterity Test

You can watch Sofia's prerecorded presentation here. View Sofia's poster here

Mentors: Dr. Tishya Wren, Adriana Conrad-Forrest; CHLA

Best Part of this Year: I learned so much about what it means to do research in the real world and I am so excited to have those skills going into life.

Next Steps: Next year, I will be continuing my project at the same lab!

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Sophie '20

Personalized Medicine

Mitochondrial DNA and Maternal Ancestry in Rhabdoid Tumors

View Sophie's poster here

Mentor: Dr. Jaclyn Biegel; CHLA, USC

Best Part of this Year: For me, the most exciting part of Honors Research was the collaboration. I enjoyed working with such supportive and experienced team members at my lab as they helped me navigate the trial and error process of research.

Next Steps: I plan on pursuing research opportunities at Columbia University.

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