Robert Haluska The Brain on a High Fat Diet: The Effects of Beta-Hydroxybutyrate on Astrocytes

Biology Professor Robin E. White, Ph.D., tapped Robert Haluska at the end of his freshman year to work with her on an independent study research project looking at the effects of high-fat diets on alternative energy sources of the brain.

White felt Haluska was exactly the kind of exceptional student that could benefit from the university’s mission of providing research and other opportunities to undergraduates that might normally only be reserved for graduate students.

“He is hardworking and incredibly dedicated. One of the most important aspects of what I look for in a research student is not only that they are smart, but they really care about their project,” she said. “Showing up consistently and keeping up a high morale of research is really important and something that Rob has absolutely done.”

Still two years away from graduating with a degree in biology, Haluska’s resume so far could be mistaken for a more educationally experienced senior. Under the guidance of White, Haluska, 20, presented his research on how ketone bodies, energy sources from fat (rather than carbohydrates), affect the health of neuronal support cells called astrocytes, at the national Experimental Biology Conference in Boston in April.

For Haluska, getting to share his research with other students in the field of biology, especially at such a young age, will benefit him after college. “This opportunity means a lot to me. It will help with my resume and to get into a good graduate school to further my career in biology,” he said. “I want to apply what I am learning now for a job or graduate school.” Haluska learned about the university’s encouragement of undergraduates getting involved in research projects when he first toured the campus.

“That was a kicker for me to go here,” he said.

As a fairly new faculty member, White came to Westfield State because all of her attention could go to training undergraduates. As a mentor and an educator, supervising undergraduates who have the opportunity to showcase their research is a bright spot in her teachings.

“It’s incredibly exciting at this stage in my career to have trained a student and see him explain our work and watch him take charge and take ownership of it,” she said. “It’s really fun for me to know he understands the work and is invested in it.”

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Robert Haluska ’17


As a middle school student, Robert Haluska discovered his interest in science. While other kids at the time were focusing on the educational basics, the future Westfield State University biology major saw his curiosity about astrology eventually narrow to biology and cells.

Now as a Westfield State sophomore, Haluska is making the most of the school’s opportunities for undergraduates for advancement in the sciences. Today he enjoys learning about cellular level biology. “Westfield is small and cost-effective and degrees do matter here. I am looking for experiences where I can later apply my degree,” he said.

After graduation, Haluska is considering graduate school in the fields of genetics or medical research, or possibly an internship at a pharmaceutical company.

Robin E. White, Ph.D.,

In 2013, Robin E. White, Ph.D., joined the Westfield State University biology faculty where she brings her passion for research in that field.

As a neuroscientist, White welcomes the opportunity to get students interested in research in topics that include how the nervous system functions generally and after events that involve trauma or disease. She imparts to students both historical research in biology and topics on the cutting-edge of the field.

Her current teaching courses include human biology and organismal neurobiology. Having the type of environment at Westfield State where the focus is on undergraduate students’ experiences in research lends itself to “more independence and a lot more knowledge about what they’re actually learning,” she said.