Research News


Students study wildlife in Swaziland

“Warning!” reads the course description, “Mega-mammals, crocodiles, snakes, thorns, baboons, etc. may be abundant at many of the sites. Please be very careful!” The course, Field Biology and Ecology, provides one of the latest study abroad opportunities offered at Auburn University. Last summer during the inaugural course, 10 Auburn students ventured to Swaziland and South Africa for a once-in-a-lifetime, hands-on, research experience, guided by Biological Sciences professors Troy Best and Michael Wooten.

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Disease Detection in the Palm of Your Hand

Two Auburn University professors have developed a disease-detection technology that could be the beginning of handheld, point-of-care devices – a breakthrough that would let health care professionals, first responders and even individuals quickly do blood tests for a variety of illnesses and conditions. Associate Professor Christopher J. Easley and Professor Curtis Shannon, both in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in the College of Sciences and Mathematics, led the research team that published its results in the March 27 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

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Professors Thomas and Konopka receive funding for dusty plasma research

Ed ThomasEdward Thomas, Jr. (pictured left), the Lawrence C. Wit Professor, and associate professor Uwe Konopka (pictured below), both of the Plasma Sciences Laboratory in the Department of Physics, were awarded two new grants from the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation totaling $765,000 for the project titled, “The Physics of Magnetized Dusty Plasmas.”

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Liu receives grant from the National Science Foundation

Kaijun Liu, assistant professor in the Department of Physics, received a three-year, $240,444 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences. The project, “An Integrated Study of Fast Magnetosconic Waves in the Radiation Belts,” aims to comprehensively understand the excitation of fast magnetosonic waves, or “equatorial noise,” and their interactions with relativistic electrons in radiation belts. Liu and his team will use satellite data analysis, linear kinetic dispersion theory, kinetic plasma simulations, and test-particle computations to carry out an integrated study.

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Dhar receives grant from the National Science Foundation NSF

Sarit Dhar, assistant professor in the Department of Physics, was awarded a $598,777 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Partnerships for Innovation program. The grant will support collaborative research between Auburn University and industry partners CoolCAD Electronics, LLC, in College Park Md., and United Silicon Carbide, Inc., in Monmouoth Junction, N.J. CoolCAD Electronics performs design, analysis and prototyping for cryogenic SiC and IR electronics, and United Silicon Carbide works on the design, fabrication and commercialization of SiC technologies.

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Fogle receives NSF grant for international collaboration

Professor Mike Fogle received a one-year grant in the amount of $21,511 from the National Science Foundation's Catalyzing New International Collaborations program, which is funded through the Office of International Science and Engineering. The grant, titled, "U.S.-Sweden Planning Visit: Research on the Dynamics of Complex Systems with Ion Storage Rings," will cover travel costs for Fogle and a graduate student to travel to Stockholm, Sweden, to develop a collaboration with Richard Thomas, a research associate at Stockholm University. Thomas' research group in Stockholm recently completed construction of a new, state-of-the-art ion storage ring facility, the Double Electrostatic Ion Ring Experiment, which will be used to investigate the detailed structure and dynamics of molecular systems under precisely controlled interaction conditions. No devices of this type exist in the U.S.

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Havird and Santos receive NSF grant

Justin C. Havird and Scott R. Santos, both of the Department of Biological Sciences, are the recipients of a two-year grant from the National Science Foundation's Division of Environmental Biology. The research proposal is titled, "Assessing evolution of euryhalinity in anchialine shrimps," and the funding will allow Havird and Santos to further investigate the evolution of the molecular mechanisms of osmoregulation in shrimp species from coastal ponds and pools. According to Havird, the molecular mechanisms of ionic and salt regulation in crustaceans have only been characterized for a narrow range of species, mainly crabs with a marine ancestry.

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Bond receives NSF grant to study millipedes

Jason Bond, professor of biological sciences and director of the Auburn University Museum of Natural History, received a three-year, $548,000 grant from the National Science Foundation's Division of Environmental Biology for his research proposal titled, "Millipede Systematics: Developing phylogenomic, classification, and taxonomic resources for the future." The grant funding will allow Bond to conduct research on millipedes which are in the arthropod class Diplopoda, comprising some 12,000 described species distributed worldwide in nearly every biome. According to Bond, the group has a deep evolutionary history that includes some of the first terrestrial animals, dating from the mid-Silurian over 400 million years ago. Despite their ecological importance as decomposers in forests, wealth of diversity with an estimated 20,000 to 80,000 species, and prominence as chemical warriors owing to their vast array of defense secretions, the group is woefully understudied. Bond and his team will revise the current ordinal and family-level classification systems using a modern phylogenomic framework based on next-generation sequence data and then employ these data to explore the evolution of chemical defense secretions and their precursors.

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Singh receives Fulbright grant

Narendra Singh, professor of biological sciences, has been awarded a Fulbright grant to teach and conduct research in India from August to December 2013 at SRM University. Singh's research and teaching involves the molecular biology of stress tolerance in plants, genetic manipulation of higher fungi, and edible vaccines that can be mixed with feed to ward off diseases that cause massive damage to the poultry industry. In India, he will teach and co-teach graduate courses in plant molecular biology and biotechnology, and offer a senior seminar course for undergraduate students. He plans to focus his research on the elucidation of mechanism of action of a plant protein he discovered in 1985 and named osmotin.

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Saunders receives NSF grant

James Saunders, professor in the Department of Geology and Geography, received a three-year National Science Foundation grant for his research project titled, "Transport and Deposition of Metallic Nanoparticles as a Hydrothermal Ore-forming Process." The grant is supported by the Petrology and Geochemistry program and will allow Saunders to expand his research in the realm of metallic nanoparticle transport, particularly those involved in the formation of shallow deposits of gold and silver, which were the type of precious-metal ores commonly mined in the western U.S. in the 1800s.

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Searching for evidence of life on the Red Planet

Has there ever been life on Mars? Shawn Wright, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Geology and Geography suggests we can only answer that question by looking in the right places, including deep craters on Mars.

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Prof. Duin receives NASA funding

Professor Eduardus Duin is a co-investigator for a project funded by NASA on “Iron-sulfur clusters in the evolution of the Enzymatic Synthesis of RNA” in collaboration with scientists at the University of Arkansas and Ehime University in Japan.

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IGP grant for Professors Goodwin and Calderon

Professor Douglas Goodwin and Professor Angela Calderon of Pharmacal Sciences have received funding for their Internal Grant Proposal, “Toward new antitubercular drugs: Uncovering mechanistically appropriate inhibitors of Mycobacterium tuberculosis shikimate kinase from natural products”.

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IGP funding for Professors Easley, Shannon and Simonian

Professors Christopher Easley and Curtis Shannon of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and Aleksandr Simonian of the College of Engineering have received funding for their Internal Grant Program proposal entitled “Surface Dynamics of a Highly Sensitive and Versatile Protein Quantitation Method, the Electrochemical Proximity Assay”.

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Logan Chair celebrated with recognition dinner

On Jan. 15, a dinner was held in recognition of Chris Rodger, the inaugural recipient of the Logan Chair, established by Don and Sandy Logan. Rodger is the associate dean for research and graduate studies for COSAM. The Logan Chair is designed to support superior faculty of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics who possess academic leadership in the pursuit of excellence in teaching, research and university and professional service, including outreach activities, within the department, with each category weighted equally. Additionally, the recipient of the Logan Chair is expected to work to strengthen and enhance mathematics, and serve as a positive role model for students and colleagues.

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New antimatter method to provide ‘a major experimental advantage’

Prof. Francis Robicheaux is co-author of a study published in the Journal of Physics B: Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics that describes a method for cooling trapped antihydrogen which they believe could provide ‘a major experimental advantage’ and help to map the mysterious properties of antimatter that have to date remained elusive.

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Auburn University Scientists to embark on six-week Antarctic cruise

On Jan. 1, a team of scientists from Auburn University's College of Sciences and Mathematics will embark on a research cruise to one of the world's most secluded and mysterious places, Antarctica. The voyage will last approximately six weeks, during which time the team will explore the genetic diversity of marine organisms found in the waters surrounding Earth's southernmost continent.

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Internal grant triggers interdisciplinary work and multiple projects

Luke Marzen, professor in the College of Sciences and Mathematics, or COSAM, and Art Chappelka, professor in the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, or SFWS, spurred collaboration between Auburn University and the U.S. Geological Survey Alabama Water Science Center to produce an exact, three-dimensional model of the Toomer’s oaks. The model provided both a means of measuring the overall health of the trees, as well as documentation of the historic oaks. It was produced using a tripod-mounted laser scanner, also known as terrestrial light detection and ranging, or T-LiDAR. The T-LiDAR sends out a laser that scans anything within range and produces a three-dimensional replica.

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Consequences of the oil spill on the Gulf Coast environment revealed

Two researchers in Auburn University’s College of Sciences and Mathematics have delivered preliminary results of ongoing research into the effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and results indicate potentially serious consequences for the environment. The researchers, Ming-Kuo Lee, Robert B. Cook professor of geology, and Ken Halanych, alumni professor of biological sciences, carried out two separate projects surveying different regions in the gulf, and in each location, effects of the oil spill are persistent. The research suggests the oil spill may have caused massive harm to the environment at a microscopic level, which in turn could have serious repercussions on the food chain in the long term.

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NIH Grant for Assistant Professor Easley

Dr. Christopher Easley has received an R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health for a project entitled “Interrogating Dynamics of Acute Secretion of Adiponectin Multimers from Adipose Tissue” in collaboration with Dr. Robert Judd, Associate Professor of Pharmacology.

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The Auburn Tiger Trapdoor Spider – A new species discovered from a college town backyard

Researchers at Auburn University reported the discovery a new trapdoor spider species from a well-developed housing subdivision in the heart of the city of Auburn, Ala. Myrmekiaphila tigris, affectionately referred to as the Auburn Tiger Trapdoor spider, is named in honor of Auburn University’s costumed Tiger mascot, Aubie.

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NSF graduate research fellowships awarded to DBS students


Department of Biological sciences graduate students Alex Bentz, Nicole Garrison and Rebecca Koch each won a prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. The fellowship is the oldest fellowship of its kind and has a long history of recipients achieving high academic and professional success. GRFP fellows often become life-long scientific leaders and educators. Bentz's mentor is assistant professor Wendy Hood; Garrison is being mentored by professor Jason Bond; Koch's mentor is professor Geoff Hill.

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Halanych awarded NSF grant

Ken Halanych, professor of biological sciences, has been awarded a National Science Foundation grant along with his collaborator, Craig Smith of the University of Hawaii. The combined $800,576 of funding will begin in September of 2012 and allow Halanych and Smith, along with collaborators from five different countries, to continue their research on the diversity of deep-sea organisms.

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Auburn researchers play role in antimatter breakthrough featured in journal Nature

A recent scientific breakthrough could lead to changes in the world of antimatter physics, according to Francis Robicheaux, an Auburn University physics professor and member of ALPHA, the international team of scientists conducting the antimatter research. Last year the ALPHA (Anti-Hydrogen Laser Physics Apparatus) team was able to trap and hold the antimatter version of the hydrogen atom. They have now accomplished the goal they set at that time of being able to measure the fundamental properties of antihydrogen. An article in this week’s edition of the journal Nature, titled “Resonant quantum transitions in trapped antihydrogen atoms,” describes the progress made in that research. The article reports that ALPHA has made yet another monumental step toward being able to make defendable and precise comparisons between atoms of matter and those of antimatter. Recently, Robicheaux and collaborators were able to measure the frequency needed to alter the magnetic properties of the antihydrogen atom by sending microwaves through the atom trap. “This is the first baby step into doing great experiments with antihydrogen atoms,” Robicheaux said. “This is the first time any properties of antihydrogen have been measured with any type of precision.”

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Gorden awarded Intramural Grant

Anne Gorden, associate professor of Chemistry, received an intramural grant from Auburn University’s Office of the Vice President for Research for $160,000. The grant was awarded based on her proposal, “Ultraviolet-visible/ Fluorescence Microspectrophotometer.” Collaborators on the grant include assistant professor Christian R. Goldsmith and associate professor German Mills, both of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, as well as Virginia A. Davis, associate professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering. Funding from the grant will be used money to purchase an ultraviolet-visible/ fluorescence microspectrophotometer for the University to be housed in Chemistry. Gorden notes that not only will this machine be available for use by other departments, many of which have already shown interest, but it will also help attract additional funding to the University.

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Auburn researchers: climate change plays major role in decline of blackbird species

Populations of the rusty blackbird, a once-abundant North American species, have declined drastically in recent years, and Auburn University researchers say climate change is to blame. That’s the finding of graduate students Chris McClure, Brian Rolek and Kenneth McDonald published recently in the scientific journal Ecology and Evolution. Under the direction of ornithology professor Geoffrey Hill, McClure, Rolek and McDonald studied the blackbird decline and wrote the paper “Climate change and the decline of a once common bird.” The group analyzed rusty blackbird breeding data and climate indices and examined temperature oscillations in the Pacific Ocean, and concluded that climate change does in fact play a major role in the recent decline of the population.

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Physics professor receives $2.1 million grant

Physics Professor and Director of the Plasma Sciences Laboratory, Edward Thomas, received an NSF award through the Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) program. This competitive program research training in our nation's institutions of higher education, museums, science centers and not-for-profit organizations. The total amount awarded to Thomas is $2.1 million, which includes a 30 percent cost-sharing by Auburn University. This project represents one of the largest MRI projects ever awarded to Auburn University.

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Ph.D. candidate explores remote Guiana Shield

For the past several years, Lesley de Souza has focused her research efforts in a place so remote, it's nearly impossible to access: the Guiana Shield. A mountainous, forested region just north of Brazil, the Shield has no cities, cold drinks or showers. Instead, it welcomes visitors with attractions such as anacondas, piranhas, jaguars, venomous snakes and a tiny fish called a candiru that is rumored to invade humans by swimming up the urethra. de Souza knows that should she ever receive a poisonous snake or spider bite in the field, not much could be done; there is no medic standing by. But for her, the dangers are worth the rewards of researching the area's rich biodiversity.

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Physics professor involved in anti-matter breakthrough

Last year, an international team of scientists including Auburn University physics professor Francis Robicheaux made a scientific breakthrough by trapping and holding the anti-matter version of the hydrogen atom. When the discovery was initially announced, the team, known as ALPHA, had captured 38 atoms of antihydrogen, storing each for a mere sixth of a second. Since then, ALPHA has made significant progress by trapping 309 antihydrogen atoms, with some held for as long as 15 minutes.

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Dr. Christopher Easley discusses his diabetes research

Diabetes is a disorder of the endocrine system signified by high levels of blood glucose resulting from defects in insulin production, insulin action, or both. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S. and results in $174 billion in direct and indirect medical costs per year. Indeed, medical costs are more than two times greater for those with diabetes, due in part to a host of health problems that can result from the disease including: blindness and eye problems, kidney failure, limb amputation, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, pregnancy complications and depression.

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