2012 - 2013 Fellows

Baldivia, Sarah Harrell, Dusty Porter, John
Bonner, Ross Hile, Ryan Sartor, James
Buss, Emily Kaczmarek, James Shaw, Joseph
Crowley, Kathryn Lopez, Samantha Sheffield, Steven
Doster, Enrique Lynn, Kelly Svyantek, Andrej
Evans, Michael  Melnick, Justin Watson, Zachary
Gennaro, Kyle Nelson, Kerri White, Julia
Hall, Jordan Phillips, Lindsey Whitmore, Ryan S

Sarah Baldivia

Project Title: Hydrogels as Injectable Delivery Systems for Tissue Repair Applications

Mentor: Dr. Gisela Buschle-Diller, Polymer and Fiber Engineering

Project Summary: Hydrogels are polymeric substances that exhibit unique characteristics that allow them to absorb large amounts of liquids without losing their physical shape. The goal of this research is to develop a hydrogel which will contain the precursors of a polymer and release them at a characteristic and distinct parameter (pH, temperature, etc.). Continued development of such hydrogel may create the potential for its use in cartilage or bone repair or replacement. The polymer could be formed by injection and the need for actual surgery would be omitted.

Abstract: The goal of this research is to develop an intelligent delivery system based on hydrogels that ultimately serves as an injectable tissue repair device. Hydrogels are capable of absorbing and releasing large amounts of liquids (500-1000%) without losing their physical shape. These hydrogels respond to specific stimuli, such as pH change, heat or irradiation. These hydrogels then function like a pump and, as they collapse, deliver active compounds. The goal in this case is to incorporate monomers for instant polymerization or catalysts to initiate a polymerization reaction. A variety of biocompatible hydrogels will be investigated for their suitability for this purpose. Various types and degrees of crosslinking for mechanical stability are studied to produce a hydrogel with a sharp response profile. Once the hydrogel has been established, monomers such as HEMA (2-hydroxyethyl methacrylate) will be loaded into the hydrogel and polymerized to pHEMA upon release. As an alternative, catalysts and initiators might be loaded and released to support the polymerization. Future studies in this area might reveal ability to include drug delivery, such as antibiotics or pain medication alongside with the monomer to ease the patient’s discomfort during or after the procedure if necessary.



Ross Bonner

Project Title: Insulin Resistance and Mechanism of Memory Loss: Diabetes and Alzheimer’s Link

Mentor: Dr. Vishnu D. Suppiramaniam, Pharmacal Sciences

Project Summary: Long-term potentiation (LTP) is a cellular mechanism for memory formation.  Glutamate, the major excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain, is involved in LTP through interaction with AMPA type glutamate receptors. Insulin resistance, the hallmark of type II diabetes, has been linked to decreased activity of the signaling molecule ILK. Preliminary studies have also found that insulin resistance in the brain can down-regulate AMPA signaling. Therefore, my project will set out to establish the relationship between insulin resistance, ILK, and memory deficit.

Abstract: Increasing evidence suggests that people with diabetes have higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Lack of insulin production and increased insulin resistance results in type I and type II-diabetes, respectively. Clinical studies point to insulin resistance in the brain as a cause of AD; thus, AD is sometimes described as type-III diabetes. However, the mechanism by which brain insulin resistance leads to AD pathogenesis is not known. Preliminary studies from our laboratory indicate decreased activity of integrin linked kinase (ILK), a downstream molecule of insulin signaling. Concomitantly, this animal model shows decreased expression and function of synaptic α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid (AMPA)-type glutamate receptors in the hippocampus, a part of the brain responsible for memory storage. The function of AMPA- receptors is crucial for expression of long term potentiation (LTP), a widely accepted cellular model of memory. In an animal model of sporadic AD, we found deficits in LTP and impaired spatial memory and established a correlation between ILK, LTP and memory loss in an insulin resistant brain. In this project, we propose to determine the causal link between ILK and memory loss. We hypothesize that down-regulation of ILK activity results in deficits in LTP due to decreased expression and function of synaptic AMPA receptors leading to impaired spatial memory. The results obtained will elucidate the molecular mechanism of memory impairment in insulin resistant brain leading to pathogenesis of AD.



Emily Buss

Project Title: “Green” Chemistry Catalysis

Mentor: Dr. Anne Gorden, Chemistry and Biochemistry

Project Summary: I am currently creating a catalyst that is water-soluble by attaching unnatural amino acids to the compound structure. This will eliminate organic waste and therefore decrease the cost of disposing the product waste. I will then preform reactions with the new catalyst and determine the products yield and compare with previous results.

Abstract: Catalysts are important because they can increase reaction rates without being consumed in the process.  Since they are not consumed in the reaction, the ratio between the catalyst to substrate is very small because the catalyst can participate in many consecutive cycles. Catalysts decrease the amount of energy needed by stabilizing the intermediates of a chemical reaction and altering the reaction pathway. Green Chemistry involves the use of environmentally friendly chemicals (e.g., water-soluble) that are less toxic in order to minimize or eliminate purification steps. My research project focuses on a metal-mediated catalyst that is only soluble in organic solvents, performing the best in acetonitrile. I want to see if by creating a water-soluble catalyst, we could increase the product yield and reaction rate compared to the organic solvent. The use of water will make the reaction less costly and minimize the removal of hazardous material. To change the solubility I will modify the amino acid in the ligand from the nonpolar functional group leucine to a polar unnatural amino acid that contains more phenyl groups. For the catalyst to oxidize the aryl methylene, it must contain a metal, for which I will use copper. I will then perform multiple reactions to determine the best possible conditions for obtaining the highest yield achievable. I hope to find that using a water-soluble catalyst will increase the yield of the reaction compared to the current organic soluble catalyst. By creating a water-soluble ligand I can potentially create a “greener” compound.



Kathryn Crowley

Project Title: “Green” Chemistry Catalysis

Mentor: Dr. Azhar Salman, Building Science

Project Summary: This porject is aimed at determining the feasibility of implementing sustainable technologies into the current plan to remodel the Auburn Hill dorms, and the cost savings that would result from those changes.





Enrique Doster

Project Title: Effects of Livestock Management Practices on Water Quality in an Agricultural Setting

Mentor: Dr. Alan Wilson, Fisheries

Project Summary: There are two things that, without fail, most people in the U.S. will do at least once a day - ingest food and water. Protecting our freshwater resources has become a vital global issue as numerous factors continue to degrade water quality. In many freshwater systems, cyanobacteria (also known as blue-green algae) proliferate and pose a threat to the animals that drink from these bodies of water. My study focuses on the relationship between different land management strategies and their effects on water quality in local ponds in livestock farms.

Abstract: Cyanobacteria blooms can release toxic chemicals, like the hepatoxin, microsystin. Reports have linked blue-green algae to livestock death (Francis 1878) and in rare cases to the death of humans (Carmichael et al., 2001). Blue-green algae thrive in lakes that have gone through eutrophication (excess production) and excrement is often the cause for eutrophication at livestock farms. Excess nutrients added by livestock and agricultural practices have shown the tendency to cause pond eutrophication and usually phytoplankton blooms. This study will sample ponds at the MacArthur Agro-ecology Research Center at Buck Island Ranch (MAERC), a high volume cattle producer in Florida. The center follows a number of different land management practices, making it a good site for studying the relationship between livestock grazing and water quality. I will sample from a number of different plots to test different land (burn vs. no burn) (native vs. semi-native pasture) and cattle (grazing vs. no grazing) management practices. Each water sample will be analyzed for standard limnological parameters, such as nutrients, chlorophyll, solids, and phytoplankton composition and water-quality patterns will be evaluated across sites and time. By studying the relationship between different land management strategies and their effects on local ponds, I can help farmers avoid algal blooms, thereby increasing herd health, productivity, and water quality.



Michael Evans

Project Title: Role of mopB and msrA in Calcium Sensing by Xylella fastidiosa

Mentor: Dr. Leonardo De La Fuente, Entomology & Plant Pathology

Project Summary: Xylella fastidiosa (XF) is a bacterial plant pathogen that infects a variety of economically important crops in the United States.  The bacterium forms biofilm inside the host plant’s xylem, obstructing water movement, a process enhanced by calcium. By creating and studying mutants deficient in the calcium-related genes mopB and msrA, the role of calcium in the infection process of XF will be further elucidated and used to develop novel control methods.

Abstract: Xylella fastidiosa (XF) is a bacterial plant pathogen that infects a variety of economically important crops in the US. XF forms biofilms that are hypothesized to clog host plant xylem vessels, resulting in a lack of water and nutrient depletion. Previous research in our laboratory has shown that calcium added to culture media increases biofilm formation and twitching movement for the XF wild-type Temecula strain. In order to investigate if this effect is widespread among diverse XF strains, in vitro assays for these virulence traits were performed on 13 additional strains of XF. Our results show that calcium is an important regulator of virulence traits across diverse XF strains. Based on genomic analysis, the genes mopB and msrA, coding for an outer membrane protein and the enzyme methionine sulfide reductase respectively, were selected as potential calcium-related candidates for a site-directed deletion mutagenesis. This study will analyze the phenotype of mutant bacteria deficient in these genes, mopB and msrA gene expression analysis, and through disease characterization of mutant-infected plants, the role of calcium in XF infection can be elucidated and utilized in future disease control methods.



Kyle Gennaro

Project Title:  Latent Inhibition in Lehmannia valentiana

Mentor:  Dr. Martha Escobar, Psychology

Project Summary: Latent inhibition is a behavioral phenomenon, which has been used as a model for cognitive dysfunctions in psychopathological disorders such as schizophrenia and attention deficit disorder (ADD). The aim of this project is to establish an effective procedure to demonstrate latent inhibition in the common garden slug, Lahmannia valentiana.

Abstract: The terrestrial mollusk, Lehmannia valentiana, possesses a very simple neurophysiology, which makes it an ideal experimental subject to study basic behavioral and neural mechanisms involved in associative learning. So far, we have been able to establish an effective procedure to obtain Pavlovian conditioning, specifically aversive conditioning, in this species. In Pavlovian conditioning, a previously neutral stimulus is repeatedly paired with an outcome of significance to the subject, also known as an unconditioned stimulus or US. Through the conditioning process, the previously neutral stimulus acquires the ability of signaling to the subject the imminent occurrence of the US (i.e., it becomes a conditioned stimulus, or CS). This procedure allowed us to observe aversive conditioning using an odor as a CS paired with a noxious US.  Following conditioning, subjects avoided the stimulus that had been paired with the noxious US. However, if subjects were subsequently exposed to the odor in the absence of the noxious US. This procedure is known as extinction and is commonly used to attenuate fears, phobias, and other maladaptive behaviors. Subjects that had undergone the extinction procedure showed less avoidance to the stimulus than those that had not undergone extinction. Latent inhibition is an associative learning process that is related to extinction, and the next goal of our research.  Latent inhibition involves exposing the subject to the odor or CS repeatedly before pairing it with the US. The usual observation is a decrease in aversive conditioning as a result of pre-exposure. We hope to observe this in Lehmannia valentiana.  If latent inhibition can be demonstrated in the common garden slug, then it could be used as a valuable model in the study of the neuronal components of the associative learning phenomenon.



Jordan Hall

Project Title: Inverse Volatility Problem for Binomial Tree Models

Mentor: Dmitry Glotov, Mathematics and Statistics

Project Summary: In the world of finance today, researchers and practitioners rely heavily on high-level mathematics to develop models to price complex financial derivatives products. The main goal of the models is to use given information about the assets that the derivatives products take their value from and combine it with a measure of “randomness” in the market to get a fair price for the product. This measure of randomness is called volatility and is not easily calculated. Much research has been done in this area based on the famous Black-Scholes option-pricing framework; however, there are limitations and shortcomings to this approach. My goal for this research project will be to approach the problem of recovering volatility from a different angle by focusing on discrete-time models that are more flexible in the types of options they can price.

Abstract: In the field of financial mathematics, more accurate and adaptable methods are being sought to price the increasingly complex financial derivatives products that are traded in the market. In developing these models, researchers must determine or estimate unobservable parameters to obtain an asset value. Volatility is one of these parameters. It represents a measure of the inherent risk level in an asset and is used by practitioners to gauge their exposure to swings in the market as well as to price certain assets not determined by the market. Although the value for the volatility of an asset isn’t observable, it is embedded in the asset price, and finding this value is represented by an inverse problem in which, in the most general case, is represented by a function of time and the asset price. In this case, the forward problem to be reversed is finding the price of the derivative for given values of the asset price and time. Much work has already been done in this area of research, particularly in the case of the continuous-time model approach of the Black-Scholes PDE framework. The inverse problem has been shown for this case by Bouchouev and Isakov (1998) to reduce the volatility to a function of the asset price by defining it as the product of two functions (one of the asset price and one of time) and applying scaling techniques. However, this approach is limited by the constraints of the Black-Scholes framework in that it is invalid for certain types of derivatives contracts that allow early exercise of the option. I will approach this problem from the perspective of a discrete-time framework, which naturally allows options with early exercise to be incorporated, and attempt to develop an algorithm to recover the volatility surface from a discrete-time model for equity options. If successful, I will then attempt to implement the model, expand it to allow for more variation in the styles of options, and investigate whether it can be applied to other financial derivatives products.



Dusty Harrell

Project Title: Evaluation of Using PCR-RFLP of Cytochrome b to Distinguish DNA Samples from Carnivore Species in the Southeastern U.S.

Mentor: Todd D. Steury, Forestry and Wildlife Sciences

Project Summary: The goal of our research is to evaluate a relatively simple method for identifying carnivore scats (feces) of eastern North America. The method involves extracting DNA from scat and identifying the species that produced the scat by using special enzymes. The study could lead to a rapid, accurate, and inexpensive method of identifying carnivore populations for use in studies of habitat and population size, with minimal disturbance to the animal being studied.

Abstract: The goal of our research is to evaluate a relatively simple method for identifying carnivore scats (feces) of eastern North America. The method involves extracting DNA from scat, amplifying a portion of the mitochondrial DNA cytochrome b gene using polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and identifying the species that produced the scat using restriction fragment length polymorphisms (RFLPs) and gel electrophoresis. The method was developed and tested for carnivores on the west coast by Bidlack et al. (2007). However, the method has not been tested on carnivores in the eastern U.S. Furthermore, the original study omitted some carnivores that can be relatively common, and thus could complicate species identification. The original study was able to distinguish among DNA from coyote (Canis latrans), red fox (Vulpes vulpes), grey fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), bobcat (Lynx rufus), puma (Puma concolor), raccoon (Procyon lotor), and striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis). We intend to evaluate additionally the ability of the method to distinguish DNA from domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris), domestic cat (Felis sylvestrus), black bear (Ursus americanus), eastern spotted skunk (Spilogale putorius), opossum (Didelphis virginiana), and long tailed weasel (Mustela frenata). Scat samples for all of these species have already been collected as part of other, ongoing field studies. Our plan is to use 1) the Bidlack et al. method to identify collected scats to species via RFLP, 2) sequence amplified DNA using a sequencer (either via the on-campus Genomics and Sequencing Laboratory, or an outside lab), and 3) compare sequence results to those obtained with RFLP. With a rapid, accurate, and inexpensive method of identifying species scat, studies of habitat use, population size, and conservation can be done accurately, efficiently, and with minimal disturbance to the animal being studied.



Ryan Hile

Project Title: Earthquake Hazards and Social Vulnerability in Salt Lake County, Utah: A Case Study

Mentor: Dr. Phil Chaney, Geography

Project Summary: My research will attempt to identify the vulnerability characteristic of Salt Lake County, Utah, with respect to earthquake hazards and human characteristics, such as age, race, and gender. Salt Lake County is located in Northeast Utah and rests along the Salt Lake City segment of the Wasatch Front, an active fault zone, where over a million people live.

Abstract: Contemporary natural hazards and disasters researchers advocate for an integrated analysis of disaster hazards, combining both geophysical processes and human factors that impact the severity of disasters. Even so, it remains in the majority of hazards and disaster research that human factors are marginalized or even entirely overlooked. Some researchers have made significant progress in integrating the geophysical and social aspects of hazards, notably with the creation of Cutter’s Hazards of Place model, which contains a robust social vulnerability index. The index combines such human characteristics as age, race, gender, income, and social structure to produce a quantitative tool to determine patterns of vulnerability that can be combined with geophysical risks to produce a vulnerability to hazards assessment for a location. This study seeks to utilize Cutter’s Hazards of Place model to analyze the vulnerability to earthquake hazards, specifically of Salt Lake County, Utah, an earthquake-prone area in Northeast Utah that has the potential for a devastating earthquake in the future. Using the Hazards of Place model in a case study of this area, the study seeks to improve hazard awareness, preparation, and mitigation in Salt Lake County with the goal of minimizing fatalities and damage to infrastructure.



James Kaczmarek

Project Title: Controlled Release of an Anti-Inflammatory Drug from a Silicone Hydrogel Contact Lens

Mentor: Dr. Mark Byrne, Chemical Engineering

Project Summary: It is the goal of my research to engineer a silicone hydrogel contact lens that will deliver a controlled amount of anti-inflammatory over an extended period of time. This will represent a sorely needed alternative to the inefficient and ineffective drug delivery offered by eye drops, which are currently the most popular form of ophthalmic medication.

Abstract: Ocular inflammation is one of the most common issues in ophthalmic medicine, notably in post-operative situations. Currently, the most common means of dealing with ocular inflammation is through the use of anti-inflammatory eye drops, which represented an estimated $848 million market in 2010. However, due to factors such as tear turnover and nasolacrimal drainage, only about 1-7% of the drug from eye drops is effectively absorbed by ocular tissue. This necessitates frequent dosing, sometimes upwards of 6 drops per eye a day. The frequent reapplication of eye drops yields a low patient compliance rate; as with any drug, low patient compliance further increases the risk of serious complications due to unchecked inflammation, such as partial blindness. Previous work in our lab has shown silicone hydrogel contact lenses to be a superior platform for drug delivery. Our research has shown that the chemistry of a silicone hydrogel lens can be altered to give continuous, controlled release of an ocular comfort agent for up to 60 days, which would eliminate the need for frequent dosing necessitated by eye drops, improving patient compliance. Additionally, the consistent release rate of the contact lens offers more constant therapeutic relief when compared to the low residence time of eye drops.  In my research, I will alter the chemistry of a silicone hydrogel contact lens in order to create a macromolecular memory for an anti-inflammatory drug within the polymer network. It is my goal to utilize the resulting memory in order to both delay and control the release of the drug from the contact lenses. I will also run experiments to ensure that factors such as optical clarity and mechanical properties of the synthesized contact lenses are consistent with commercial specifications. Engineering such a contact lens could vastly improve patient compliance with ophthalmic anti-inflammatory drugs, significantly decreasing serious risks to ocular health.



Samantha Lopez

Project Title: Competency of Xylella fastidiosa in a Microfluidic Environment

Mentor: Dr. Leonardo De la Fuente, Entomology and Plant Pathology

Project Summary: Xylella fastidiosa (XF) is a bacterial plant pathogen that infects a wide variety of plant hosts. It was recently shown that XF will take DNA from the surrounding environment and incorporate it into its own genome. My research aims to see if this process will occur in an artificial microfluidic device that mimics the interior vessels of plant where XF grows.

Abstract: Xylella fastidiosa (XF) is a bacterial plant pathogen that infects a wide variety of plant hosts. There are many XF strains, most of which come from different hosts, and have minor differences in their genomic makeup. It is possible that these different strains have adapted to their hosts through competency. Competency is the ability of bacteria to take in DNA from the surrounding environment, and either degrade it for other uses or incorporate the DNA into its own genome. XF has been shown to be competent in recent experiments performed in test tubes. My research goal is to replicate these results in a microfluidic chamber, a device that aims to mimic the interior xylem of a plant, where XF infects and spreads. The next goal is to find out how this process is occurring in XF and what factors affect the rates of genetic recombination. In order to do this, green fluorescent protein (GFP) will be used to label the bacteria to observe the process under a microscope while the process is occurring in the microfluidic chamber.


Kelly "Sabrina" Lynn

Project Title: Uranium-Catalyzed Synthesis of 2,3-diaminophenazine

Mentor: Dr. Anne Gorden, Chemistry and Biochemistry

Project Summary: In order to better understand the chemical properties of uranium, I am focusing my research on a single catalytic reaction in which uranium has shown unexpected behavior. I hope to characterize the optimal reaction conditions, and will then experiment with different reagents using this new method.

Abstract:  I am currently interested in the uranium-catalyzed synthesis of phenazine to demonstrate the Lewis acid properties of uranium. This may provide an alternative means of producing phenazine – a precursor to several antibiotics. I plan to focus my research on three areas related to the uranium catalyst: determination of the catalytic property in other actinides or uranium species, application of the catalyst to a surface, and use of the catalyst to synthesize other products. Previously, I have conducted several reactions using various actinides (thorium and multiple uranium species) and cyanometallates in an effort to catalyze the phenazine synthesis. However, now that the catalysis has been confirmed with just uranium, I am interested in how this catalysis works and whether this property is unique to uranium or shared by other actinides. To determine this, I will perform extensive comparison of the uranium reactions and the thorium reactions, and comparison of the different forms of uranium used in reaction. If the Lewis acid property of uranium is not demonstrated by other actinides, then this property could be utilized in actinide separation processes. Also, I plan to attach the uranium catalyst to a surface, which, if the catalyst is still functional when secured to a surface, would eliminate the need for further separation methods after reaction. Additionally, I will research other products that can be synthesized by Lewis acid-catalysis and thus by the uranium catalyst, and perform such reactions.



Justin Melnick

Project Title: Case Study on the Political, Financial, and Environmental Challenges of American Golf Course Architecture Abroad

Mentor: Dr. James R. Hansen, History

Project Summary:  The golf architecture industry has moved fully abroad in the past decade, for the first time in its 125-year history. My research will analyze an unknown French golf development that can explain the detrimental missteps made by architect Robert Trent Jones’s firm in the late 20th century. Today’s firms can use this study to operate abroad in a more efficient and diplomatic manner.

Abstract:  International golf course construction has grown exponentially in the last several years. Unfortunately, the transition abroad has not been simple. Local, provincial, and even national governments and cultures that are markedly different than the United States have created barriers to progress, which many architects have been unable to handle properly. As the golf architecture industry expands beyond the USA, companies need all the practical doctrine available in order to avoid cultural conflict and potential fiscal damages. Investigating the unheard and unpublished story of Vidauban, a course in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of southeastern France, will be an excellent case study for any architectural firm questioning how not to conduct international business. The 18-hole facility built by Robert Trent Jones, Sr., sunk millions of dollars into debt in the 1970s and 1980s before the first shovel broke ground. Local land policy, corporate structure, and international politics are only a few of the areas that the firm failed to navigate properly. The issues this project encountered over more than a 10-year period moved Jones’s firm from having the potential to build the most successful project of his career to almost retiring bankrupt. The very extensive Vidauban papers in the Robert Trent Jones Papers at the Cornell University Archives contain project information including designs, transactions, and journals. My research plan is to publish an analysis of this project that can explain the missteps made by the famous architect’s firm. It is my hope that modern day companies will learn from these mistakes and operate abroad in a more efficient and diplomatic manner.



Kerri Nelson

Project Title: The Effects of Gender and Pressure on Risk-Taking Behavior

Mentor: Dr. Ana Franco-Watkins, Psychology

Project Summary: The purpose of my research is to examine gender differences in risk taking in the absence and presence of social and performance pressures. Because there is a lack of research connecting gender, risk taking, and pressure together, my research will serve the role of exploring this combination of factors in an effort to add to the knowledge of this understudied area.

Abstract: Risk-taking behavior in various decision-making domains and the effects of pressure on task performance are two separate areas of research that are well established. Previous research has demonstrated that males tend to report taking more risks and having lower risk perceptions than do females in a variety of situations (Weber, Blais, & Betz, 2002). Recent pressure research has also found that performance tends to decline when social and performance pressures are introduced (DeCaro, Thomas, Albert, and Beilock, 2011). However, there is a lack of research exploring the connection between gender, pressure, and risk-taking behavior. The goals of my research are to investigate gender differences related to risk taking using different decision-making tasks and to examine how risk taking can be affected by the situation such as the absence and presence of social and performance pressures. The results of my research project may aid in pinpointing the factor or group of factors that contribute to gender differences in everyday risk-taking behavior and gender imbalances in certain professions and fields.



Lindsey Phillips

Project Title: Effects of Harassment on Trap Visitation by Wild Pigs

Mentor: Mark D. Smith,Forestry and Wildlife Sciences

Project Summary: Corral traps are the most cost-effective means for removing wild pigs. However, it is often recommended that landowners simultaneously use other  forms of lethal removal while trapping. This research examines the effects of these other forms of disturbance on wild pig visitation to traps to determine if it may be best to employ removal techniques sequentially rather than simultaneously.

Abstract: Wild pigs (Sus scrofa) are a nonnative invasive species first introduced into the United States in the 1500’s by the Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto. Due to the illegal trap and transport of wild pigs by humans, the prolific reproduction rates of wild pigs, and the high adaptability of wild pigs, the distribution of wild pigs has spread rapidly across the United States. Today, wild pigs are present in at least 45 states, including Alabama. Wild pigs cause $1.5 billion annually of damage to agriculture and likely an equal amount of damage to forests, the environmental, and  native wildlife species. The most cost- and time-effective means of removing wild pigs is lethal removal using corral traps. However, it is frequently recommended that landowners simultaneously use multiple forms of lethal removal, in addition to trapping. These multiple forms of lethal removal include opportunistic shooting, shooting at night, shooting over bait, and hunting with hounds. Although these non-trapping methods may remove some individuals, they are significantly less efficient, in terms of time and effort, in reducing wild pig populations when compared to trapping. Several wild pig control specialists have noted that increased human disturbance and harassment of wild pigs by less effective removal techniques, such as shooting, often results in lower visitation to traps by wild pigs. Therefore, this research will examine the effects of human disturbance (e.g., vehicular traffic, simulated shooting, hunting with hounds) on wild pig visitation to traps as it may be best to employ removal techniques sequentially rather than simultaneously.



John Porter

Project Title: Template-Synthesized PDMS Nanowire Surfaces for Cardiac Tissue Engineering

Mentor: Dr. Elizabeth Lipke, Chemical Engineering

Project Summary: My research focuses on the design and fabrication of electrically conductive, nanostructured polymers for use in tissue regeneration. My hypothesis is that by designing and fabricating such a conductive polymer structure, I can make it more conducive to the growth and differentiation of cells, especially those of the heart and brain, which have intrinsic electrical activity.

Abstract: In the United States, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, taking over 616,000 lives in 2008. Additionally, over 250,000 people in the U.S. have spinal-cord injuries (SCIs). Most new SCIs occur in Americans between ages 16-30, resulting in lifelong injuries. There are currently no clinical methods to reverse heart or spinal-cord damage. Re-generating damaged tissue in the heart and brain will require that we can expand these cells outside the body. In an effort to combat this issue, research is being conducted on nanowires that effectively grow viable cells without the need of additional chemical components. The current hypothesis is that conductive nanowires will be more conducive to the growth and differentiation of cells, especially those of the heart and brain, which have intrinsic electrical activity. In order to create such a nanostructure, polydimethylsiloxane and a nanostructured template will be used. The polymer will be pulled into the pore structure of the template, which is later leached away using sodium hydroxide. Some of the nanostructured polymer samples will be treated with polypyrrole in order to make them conductive. The rest of the samples will be left as non-conductive controls. The growth of cardiomyocytes seeded onto the different nanowires will then be characterized using microscopy and optical mapping.
Better understanding of the interface between cells and biomaterials, including the electrically active polymers under investigation, is an essential step in the process of forming better electrical interfaces between the body and prosthetic devices.



James Sartor

Project Title: Ion/Anion Pair Production in H2 via Fast Electrons

Mentor: Dr. Allen Landers, Physics

Project Summary: The purpose of our experiment is to analyze in greater detail the reaction:
The photon (γ) will come from a very high-energy electron beam. By measuring the vector momenta of the ejected ions, we will be able to fully determine the dynamics of the reaction event by event, culminating in a probability distribution. Through these measurements, we hope to gain a deeper understanding of the complex processes associated with the interactions between molecules and ionizing radiation.

Abstract: Although the hydrogen molecule (H2) seems, at first glance, very simple, it is actually a complex four-body quantum system. As such, its behavior does not have an exact analytic solution. First, we will construct a vacuum sealed collision chamber in which we will run the experiment. Once the system is constructed, we will fire bursts of electrons over a wide range of energies into the jet of hydrogen gas, causing the reaction to take place. We will use an electric field to cause the positive and negative ions to travel in opposite directions to detectors. Based on the location on the detectors and the time of flight between the reaction and detection, we can completely determine the initial momenta of the ions, immediately after the reaction. Computer analysis will b eused to convert the raw data into momentum space and discriminate this channel from other similar channels, such as single, double, and dissociative ionization. These results will likely lay the groundwork for future collisional and photodisassociation measurements on even more complex systems.



Joseph Shaw

Project Title:  Studying the Interactions Between a Pre-existing Dusty Plasma Cloud and a Strong Secondary External Perturbation

Mentor: Dr. Edward Thomas, Physics

Project Summary:  Plasmas are energized gases that carry electromagnetic properties. These electromagnetic properties have the ability to lift and interact with micrometer-sized particles. This is called a dusty plasma. The particles are able to conglomerate into three-dimensional structures that exhibit properties of solids, liquids, and gases. We are looking at the creation of waves and the change in confinement of dusty plasma structures when we introduce secondary dust or plasma populations into the already existing system.

Abstract:  The purpose of this research is to better understand the interaction between a pre-existing dusty plasma cloud and a strong secondary external perturbation. This external perturbation can come in two forms: the streaming of a secondary population of dust particles or the introduction of a secondary plasma population. Beginning with a pre-existing dusty plasma system, we can introduce a secondary plasma with an additional set of electrodes further down a vacuum chamber. By very quickly oscillating the voltage of the electrodes, we expect to be able to observe the plasma shockwave from the other electrodes. Through this research, we seek to gain insight on how the confinement and instabilities of an existing cloud are modified by the introduction of an external perturbation. With the pre-existing suspended particles in a dust cloud, we are able to observe the effects of the perturbation. Using a high-speed camera and Particle Image Velocimetry (PIV) we are able to track the dust particles and their movements by reconstructing the velocity vectors of the individual particles. This allows us to observe any changes in the local structure of the dust cloud.



Steven Sheffield

Project Title: Greener on the Other Side: Do Sustainable Companies Outperform Their Peers?

Mentor: Dr. Claire Crutchley, Finance

Project Summary: Since 2009, Newsweek ® has ranked the most sustainable U.S. and global companies. Using Newsweek’s data, this study will examine if the “greenest” companies atop this list outperform their industry peers not appearing on the list. The paper will use a customized score based on Newsweek’s sub-scores and financial performance measures, including accounting and market returns.

Abstract: In the last few years, sustainability has become a buzzword in academic works, businesses, and classrooms. As it relates to company performance, some firms have incorporated sustainability into their strategic thinking and subsequent actions. In 2009, Newsweek ® began ranking the top 500 U.S. companies and global companies based on their reputation as “green” leaders, their strategies regarding their environment, and how those strategies are transformed into action. This paper examines if those firms highly ranked on the Newsweek Green Rankings list outperform their industry peers not appearing on the list or if the resources they spend on those initiatives limits their performance. Financial performance of the companies will be measured by, among other metrics, risk, return on assets controlled by industry, and Tobins-q. Using sub-scores taken from Newsweek’s ® Green Scores over the last four years, this study examines if “green” companies outperform their competitors.



Andrej Svyantek

Project Title: Assessing the Genetic Make-Up of Mutant Populations of Poa annua with Suspected Herbicide Resistance to Photosystem II Inhibitors.

Mentor: Dr. Scott McElroy, Department of Agronomy and Soils

Project Summary: I am screening populations of annual bluegrass with suspected resistance to herbicides. I will weed out plants of significance by applying several herbicides to ascertain whether resistance is actually present in a given population. I will then sequence and determine genetic changes associated with a specific kind of herbicide resistance to photosystem II inhibitors.

Abstract: Poa Annua, a cool season grass and a major weed pest in turfgrass environments, has undergone significant selection pressure on golf courses, sports fields, and in home lawns. Point mutations are changes in individual nucleotides that yield different amino acids; these changes are then selected for by environmental pressures, such as drought and temperature, or and artificial pressures like herbicides. Through years of selection by herbicides that inhibit the initial protein complex in the light-dependent reactions, water plastoquinone oxidoreductase or photosystem II, multiple populations of P. annua have accumulated mutations in their genomes that yield resistance to herbicides with a psII inhibitory mode of action. These mutations associated with psII resistance have thus far only been identified to occur in the psbA gene in P. annua. This study will be conducted to elucidate mutations associated with psII resistance by initially screening P. annua biotypes for mutations that yield tolerance and resistance. The level of resistance will be quantified and subsequently taken into account when DNA is extracted; ideal populations will be sparsely or entirely unaffected by treatments that would generally be deemed lethal doses. DNA and potentially RNA will be extracted, processed, and sequenced. The final data should indicate a correlation between certain point mutations and resistance populations.

Zachary Watson

Project Title: The Acoustic Effect of Using New Materials for the Nut and Saddle of Acoustic Flat-Top Guitars

Mentor: Dr. Jeffrey Fergus, Materials Engineering

Project Summary: My research will allow luthiers (builders of string instruments, such as guitars, violins, cellos) to better understand the influence of different materials used for the nut and saddle on the sound of the guitar and if these materials can be used to achieve different sounds/effects.    

Abstract: My research looks at the effect of using different materials for the nut and saddle of an acoustic flat-top guitar. The nut and saddle are the two points between which the strings are suspended. Specifically, the nut is near the headstock and tuners, while the saddle is on the body of the guitar. When acoustic flat-top guitars are constructed there are 4 main materials that are used for the nut and saddle: bone (traditional and most commonly used), micarta (Bone-synthetic, known for uniform density, tusq (polymer that mimics graphitic properties), plastic (cheap, easy to work with, fragile). Bone is the most commonly used because it is believed to produce the best sound due to its material properties. Guitars achieve sound and volume by the transfer of vibrations from the strings through the saddle and nut to the soundboard and fretboard, respectively. My initial hypothesis is that three main factors affect the rate of the oscillation transfer. These three factors are the elastic modulus (stiffness), the density, and the dampening coefficient. Acoustic experiments will be performed to focus on how the soundboard moves and how the different materials affect values such as the soundboard’s amplitude and directional movement. To help understand how the amplitude and directional movement directly affect sound, recordings of the saddles and nuts will be administered in a testing environment so that tonal qualities, timbre (tone color), and volume can be directly related to the materials’ properties.



Julia "Alyssa" White

Project Title: An Analysis of Terminal Stature in the Mississippi Basin During the Transition to Agriculture

Mentor: Kristrina A. Shuler, Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work

Project Summary: I aim to analyze the influence of the introduction of maize agriculture in the Mississippi Basin of Mississippi and Louisiana from approximately A.D. 700 to 1200 by utilizing new stature regression formulae to determine the terminal height of several skeletal samples before and after the subsistence shift.

Abstract: One of bioarchaeology’s main goals is to illuminate the state of societies based on population-wide health conditions. The human skeleton will not fully develop during childhood if an individual is severely stressed. Therefore, terminal height reveals a great deal about the social conditions of a people. Until recently, accurate stature estimation formulae have not been available for Native American populations. Auerbach and Ruff (2010) published a set of regression equations specifically designed for indigenous American populations within specific geographic regions. These new standards have not been widely applied but have the potential to be used to assess growth trends among late prehistoric populations of the Southeastern U.S. Specifically, I aim to assess growth trends across settlement types and by temporal period with the intensification of agriculture, the subsequent increase in population density, and the rise of social inequalities within this region.  I will apply Auerbach and Ruff’s formulae approximately six samples including those of the Coles Creek (A.D. 700-1200) and Mississippian (A.D. 1000–1700) periods. These data will be placed contextually with previous anthropological studies. I hypothesize that stature and other growth indicators in the region would have declined over time as agriculture offered more widely available food for increasingly larger populations with rising socioeconomic disparities.



Ryan Whitmore

Project Title: Multiscale Modeling of Articular Cartilage

Mentor: Robert Jackson, Mechanical Engineering

Project Summary: Research done to investigate the geometry and properties of cartilage would allow us to create a more realistic model of a synovial joint by finding the true geometric and material properties of cartilage as it is in a living joint. We will examine the material properties of equine cartilage, specifically measurements of the friction and stiffness. Ultimately, this information could be used to develop comprehensive models of synovial joints and to design biomimetic artificial joints that perform better and survive longer than existing technologies.

Abstract: My proposed research topic is to investigate the geometry and properties of cartilage that would allow us to create a more realistic model of a synovial joint.  We wish to answer the question, "What are the true geometric and material properties of cartilage as it is in a living joint?"  We will examine the material properties of equine cartilage, specifically measurements of the friction and stiffness. Combined with the data collected using Auburn’s new 7T MRI to capture the geometry of an intact joint, we will gain a better understanding of the true properties of cartilage. Ultimately, this information could be used to develop comprehensive models of synovial joints and to design biomimetic artificial joints that perform better and survive longer than existing technologies. To determine the stiffness properties of the equine cartilage, a machine that performs indentation and creep tests called a tribometer will be used. A mathematical model of the data will then be developed using biphasic or triphasic methods. The data collected using this tribometer setup could then be compared to the data collected using established methods. The data can also be used to compare the material properties between different equine joints. I would also like to implement the 7 Tesla MRI in order to collect large-scale cartilage surface data. The unique 7 Tesla MRI capabilities will allow us to characterize the structure of cartilage in the joint to a degree that has not yet been achieved.  This will illuminate the role that the geometry of the cartilage plays in the operation of the joint. Along with the material properties described previously, the images collected can also be used to create a comprehensive model using finite-element modeling software, such as ANSYS.




Last Updated: July 17, 2014

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