Mentor Name:
Bradley King

Mentor Position:
Assistant Professor

Health, Kinesiology, & Recreation



Project Description:

**This project is a part of the Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR), which provides undergraduate students with an intensive 10-week research experience under the mentorship of a University of Utah faculty member. SPUR 2022 begins on May 25 and ends on August 4. If you are interested in this project, please review all program information on the SPUR site. If you wish to apply to this project, you must apply using the SPUR 2022 application.**

Developmental research is often grounded in the notion that young adults are the model of optimal functioning and children are thus conceptualized as developing systems progressing towards this ideal state. Although this framework has its merits, it can also be considered incomplete, as there are instances in which children outperform young adults, and in the learning of novel motor skills in particular. A central premise of this research is that systematic investigations into the behavioral and neural processes underlying these childhood advantages offer a unique opportunity to increase our understanding of the developing brain.

This research adopts the acquisition of novel movement sequences as a model to investigate the behavioral and neural underpinnings of developmental advantages in motor learning behaviors. Specifically, we combine unique manipulations of motor learning paradigms with brain imaging approaches (i.e., functional magnetic resonance imaging) to answer the question: What is unique about the developing brain that allows children to outperform adults in these specific instances?

In addition to addressing a fundamental research question of high importance, this research will serve as a foundation for future examinations into the neural underpinnings of motor learning-related developmental disorders (e.g., dyspraxia).

Opportunity Type:

This is a paid research position

Student Role:

Joining the Lifespan Motor Neuroscience Lab at the University of Utah would provide the student the opportunity to contribute to two experiments. First, the student will work closely with the Principal Investigator and graduate students on a project that employs functional brain imaging approaches to reveal the neural underpinnings of childhood advantages in motor learning-related behaviors. This project then functions to familiarize the student to the world of neuroimaging. Second, and to afford the opportunity for the student to take the first steps to becoming an independent researcher, we aim for the student to take the lead – albeit in close collaboration with the PI and graduate students - on an experiment that employs a web-based data acquisition protocol to investigate childhood advantages in motor learning at the behavioral level. Contributing to these two experiments then provides the student with the opportunity to work towards independence via a behavioral investigation while also introducing them to more complex research methodologies (i.e., brain imaging). Direct contributions to these experiments will be supplemented by activities such as reading literature, gaining experience in relevant software for data processing and trainings in research ethics and good clinical practices.

Student Benefits:

This undergraduate research opportunity will provide a student with extensive experience in human subjects research in the domain of motor neuroscience. Specifically, the student will: Receive training in research ethics and good clinical practices in human subjects research. Learn how to interact with and acquire data from child and adult participants. Learn the foundations of scripting in software commonly used for data processing and statistical analyses (e.g., MATLAB). Learn basic principles of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) approaches. Become familiar with procedures for the acquisition of MRI data. Learn foundations of various neuroimaging analytical approaches. Gain experience with project/results presentations and scientific writing. These outcomes and experiences offer an ideal mix of research domain-general skills (i.e., ethics, scripting, writing, presentation) and domain-specific skills (i.e., acquisition and analyses of motor learning and brain imaging data). This will ultimately provide the student with an excellent foundation to pursue graduate training and/or a career in science, and in the movement and cognitive sciences in particular.

Project Duration:

35-40 hours per week on research and program-related activities, begins May 25, 2022, and ends August 4, 2022

Minimum Requirements:

Admission to the program is competitive. Applicants must meet all of the following criteria: 1) be a matriculated, degree-seeking undergraduate student in the Fall 2022 semester (beginning or continuing college career in Fall 2022 and not graduating before December 2022; concurrent enrollment while in high school does not meet this eligibility requirement). Applicants do not need to be a University of Utah student. 2) eligible to work in the United States: If you are a University of Utah Dreamer (with or without DACA), you are eligible to participate. U Dreamers with DACA will be hired and paid through U payroll. U Dreamers without DACA who graduated from a Utah high school will be compensated via a different mechanism. If you are a Dreamer from a different institution: If you have DACA, you are eligible to participate and will be hired and paid though U payroll. If you do not have DACA, you are able to participate and gain research experience, but we do not currently have a mechanism that allows us to compensate you. For more information, please contact Megan Shannahan at megan.shannahan@utah.edu or 801-581-2478. If you are an international student or scholar, you must either a) be a degree-seeking undergraduate student at the University of Utah, OR b) possess documentation that establishes your eligibility to work in the United States (if you hold US citizenship, it is likely you have these documents). 3) able to commit to approximately 35-40 hours per week of employment at the University of Utah for the entire duration of the program (May 25-August 4, 2022). 4) at least 18 years old by May 23, 2022 (required if you wish to use on-campus housing; preferred if you will not be using on-campus housing).