Biology Student Vaira Wins Presentation Award at National Primatology Meeting

Posted on 9/5/2017 9:44:48 AM

Gina Vaira presented her MS thesis work at the 40th annual meeting of the American Society of Primatologists, held in Washington, D.C.

Gina Vaira and her research poster on the cognitive capabilities of the siamangAt the meeting, Vaira was an invited participant in the student “data blitz,” during which student presenters were given two minutes to explain their research to the society membership. She then gave a poster presentation demonstrating her latest research, which focuses on assessments of the cognitive capabilities of the siamang, an endangered gibbon of southeast Asia.

In her work, Vaira uses touch-screen computer technology to present a standard battery of cognitive tests, designed to evaluate object recognition, discrimination, and recall. While this type of assessment has been conducted with many of the so called “great apes” (including orangutan, chimpanzees, and gorillas), Vaira is the first person to successfully train a gibbon to complete these tests.

Vaira earned the second place presentation award, which includes both a cash prize as well as a free year of membership in the American Society of Primatologists, the largest professional society focused upon primate behavior, ecology, and conservation.

Vaira’s thesis research is being conducted with the support of the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) as well as the Erie Zoo (Pennsylvania). Her research is advised by Paul Nealen (Department of Biology).