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W&L Student Receives Research Grant from the Virginia Academy of Science Megan Dufault ’24 is studying the risks that environmental pollutants pose to fetal development.

Megan-Dufault-scaled-600x400 W&L Student Receives Research Grant from the Virginia Academy of Science

Washington and Lee University student Megan Dufault ’24 recently presented at the Virginia Academy of Sciences (VAS) undergraduate research competition in Richmond, Virginia and was selected as a VAS grant recipient.

The Virginia Academy of Science was established at the College of William and Mary in 1923 and promotes the advancement of science in the Commonwealth by providing financial support for research projects and a platform for the dissemination of research results. The VAS undergraduate research competition was held as part of the 2023 VAS Fall Research Meeting at Virginia Union University, and $900 grants were awarded to the 10 most outstanding proposals to help fund the completion of their projects. Grant recipients are also awarded an annual membership to the VAS and are expected to present their final research findings at the academy’s annual meeting to be held at the University of Mary Washington in May 2024.

“I had a great experience presenting my research at VAS, and it was an honor to meet a variety of distinguished science professors from across the state,” said Dufault, a Johnson Scholar from Jackson Hole, Wyoming. “I had a great time meeting other undergraduate students and hearing dozens of proposal pitches, ranging from physics to environmental science to psychology.”

Dufault, who is majoring in neuroscience with a minor in women, gender, and sexuality studies at W&L, presented her current neuroscience thesis at VAS, which she is conducting under the mentorship of Fiona Watson, associate professor of biology. Her project is focused on the effect of glyphosate herbicide (commercially sold by Bayer under the brand name Roundup™) on neurological development and uses a chick egg as a model for a growing fetus within the uterus. The proposal is based on a preliminary study she conducted with Maggie Johnston ’23 in Watson’s Developmental Biology class during Fall Term 2022. The results of Dufault’s current study will have implications for pregnant women exposed to glyphosate herbicide and add to a body of literature investigating potential fetal abnormalities caused by glyphosate. The VAS grant expands her budget for continuing the study.

“My neuroscience education has culminated in the execution of this project,” said Dufault. “I am pursuing a career in reproductive and women’s health, and this study is preparing me for the intensive research that path requires.”

After graduation, Dufault will be working at Massachusetts General Hospital in the Center for Transplantation Sciences as a research technician in Dr. Richard N. Pierson III’s cardiac xenotransplantation laboratory before attending medical school.

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