2011- 2012 Undergraduate Research Fellows

Vernon Anderson William Budnick Haden Bunn
Erin Cambier Benjamin Campbell Patrick Donnan
Michael Evans Stephen Giles Devin Kalafut
Caroline Kiteley Isabel Leon y Leon Christopher Lindsey
Matthew McBride Kristen McCall Ashlyn McCrorie
Matthew Perrella David Rider Chad Rose
Neena Singhal Trenton Smith Cole Sterling
Bradley Young Naixin Zhang

Vernon Anderson

Project Title: Phytoplankton Diversity and Ecosystem Function

Mentor: Dr. Alan Wilson, Fisheries and Allied Aquacultures

Project Summary: The purpose of my Undergraduate Research Fellowship project is to see how phytoplankton diversity (species, genetics) affects primary productivity in freshwater ecosystems.

Abstract: For the past two decades, a large number of experiments have examined the relationship between plant species diversity and ecosystem function (e.g., primary production, stability, or nutrient recycling). These experiments have shown important effects of diversity on ecosystem function, namely that species diversity is positively correlated with primary production. More recently, studies manipulating plant genetic diversity have shown similar results. Despite the plethora of diversity-ecosystem studies, none have manipulated phytoplankton diversity in the field. Using long-term field mesocosms, I will manipulate phytoplankton species and genetic diversity to see how they affect ecosystem function in ponds.

William Budnick

Project Title: Factors influencing the migration of a burrowing crayfish Cambarus diogenes between aquatic and terrestrial habitats

Mentors: Dr. James A. Stoeckel, Fisheries and Allied Aquacultures; Dr. Brian S. Helms, Biological Sciences

Project Summary: My research focuses on determining the environmental cues that trigger juvenile devil crayfish to migrate out of streams and create terrestrial burrows. I will investigate factors that cause juveniles to dig their first burrows in sandy soils near stream beds, and subsequently migrate to new burrows in clay soils farther from a stream bed.

Abstract: Devil crayfish (Cambarus diogenes) are a common burrowing crayfish well-dispersed in the Eastern and Midwestern states. However, much is still unknown regarding the specific life history of the devil crayfish. It is thought that adult females spend most of the year in terrestrial burrows but return to open water to release juveniles that were produced in the maternal burrows during the winter months. The juveniles grow and mature in those water bodies until a cue, or perhaps multiple cues, encourages them to leave the water and begin burrowing into nearby terrestrial habitat. This research aims to examine potential cues (temperature and photoperiod, discharge, water height, and age/size class biological factors) that promote the emergence of juvenile devil crayfish from the aquatic to the terrestrial habitat and subsequent burrow construction. I will be quantifying juvenile emergence patterns in a model population along Choctafaula Creek in Tuskegee National Forest, with the goal of capturing the timing and the distance of juvenile migration from the creek to the surrounding terrestrial habitat. I will also be observing whether the same cues that trigger juvenile migration from the stream to the sandy, streamside soils also trigger a subsequent migration of juveniles/young adults from the streamside soils to the floodplain soils at a higher elevation. I will relate environmental factors to burrow density along a series of 55m-long transects parallel with the creek edge, extending ~30m from the stream into the floodplain. Subsequent laboratory experiments will be designed to test the relative strength of potential environmental triggers identified by the field study. These experiments will utilize juveniles spawned and cultured in the laboratory in order to obtain experimental animals of known age and condition.

Haden Bunn

Project Title: HPLC Assay Development for the Immunosuppressive Drug, Leflunomide, In Companion Animals

Mentor: Dr. Dawn Boothe, Anatomy, Physiology and Pharmacy

Project Summary:The goal of this research project is to establish a therapeutic range for the immunosuppressive drug, Leflunomide. This will be achieved through the development of a HPLC based assay for the detection of Leflunomide and its active metabolite (A77 1762) in feline and canine plasma.

Abstract: The immune system of a companion animal is responsible for the detection and elimination of foreign antigen. Typically, a series of humoral and cellular (primarily T-cell, that is, T-lymphocyte mediated) mechanisms neutralize the antigen before returning the body to homeostasis. Often, however, the body fails to return to homeostasis, and the mechanisms that normally protect the host are directed toward host tissue. In such cases, disease becomes life-threatening and drugs that suppress these responses (immunosuppressive drugs) must be utilized to limit damage to the host.

Among the most effective immunosuppressive drugs is Cyclosporine, which acts by interfering with T-cell function instead of destroying the cellular components of the immune system. However, often, its immunosuppression is not sufficient. Accordingly, the need for the addition of alternative drugs, such as Leflunomide, is indicated. Scientific evidence that supports the clinical use of any of these drugs includes determining the concentration of the drug which will accomplish the targeted effect (dose-response relationship) in the target species. While this has been established in dogs or cats for Cyclosporine, it has not been established for Leflunomide.

The goal of this research project is to establish a therapeutic range for the immunosuppressive drug, Leflunomide, an alternative to Cyclosporine. This will be achieved through the development and validation of a HPLC based assay for the detection of Leflunomide, as well as its active metabolite (A77 1762) in feline and canine plasma and the assay of the drug in patients with immune-mediated disease that have clinically responded to the drug.

Erin Cambier

Project Title: Characterization of relaxin expression and release in porcine adipose tissue during adipogenesis and in response metabolic hormones.

Mentor: Dr. Terry Brandebourg, Animal Sciences

Project Summary: Our lab recently discovered that adipose tissue expresses the reproductive hormone, relaxin. My research objectives are to better characterize relaxin gene expression and protein release from pig adipose tissue using cell culture techniques, real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and a relaxin bioassay that detects functional protein. Better understanding how adipose tissue-derived relaxin is regulated should give us clues to its physiological role in adipose tissue.

Abstract:Relaxin was traditionally considered a pregnancy hormone due to its production by tissues of the reproductive tract and its role in the birthing process. However, a recent observation that adipose tissue expresses relaxin raises questions as to what controls relaxin release in adipose tissue and just what it might be doing once released. Given these unknowns, my objectives are to better characterize relaxin expression and release in pig adipose tissue. I will do this by measuring relaxin gene expression using real-time PCR and protein expression using a relaxin bioassay. Initially, I will measure relaxin during fat cell differentiation, and then test how relaxin release is affected by insulin, catecholamines, fatty acids, and glucose. I will examine the effects of these hormones and nutrients because all are important signals known to regulate the metabolism and endocrine function of adipose tissue. A better understanding of how relaxin expression and release by adipocytes is regulated should provide important clues concerning the potential function it may play in altering adipose tissue development and metabolism. Given that the Brandebourg lab is developing the pig as a translational model for metabolic and cardiovascular disease, our findings could be applicable to human obesity and its complications.

Benjamin Campbell

Project Title: Hypersensitivity to Reward as a Behavioral Mechanism Underlying Perseveration in a Reversal Task

Mentor: Dr. M.Christopher Newland, Psychology

Project Summary: Many psychiatric and neurological disorders are characterized by irregularities in reward processing which can induce perseverative behavior in human patients. Using a mouse model, my research is built around the hypothesis that this behavioral deficit is mediated by hypersensitivity to reward value and that altered dopamine neurotransmission plays a role in this hypersensitivity. My goal is to develop a preliminary mouse model of environmental factors that could perpetuate perseverative behavior.

Abstract: Many behavioral disorders, such as drug abuse, autism, schizophrenia, and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), are characterized by irregularities in reward processing, which are frequently correlated with dysfunctional dopamine pathways in frontocortical and subcortical brain structures (Boulourgouris et al. 2008, Clark et al. 2004, de Wit 2008). Of particular interest, neurotoxicants, such as methylmercury (MeHg), and abused drugs, such as cocaine, alter the function of these dopamine pathways and promote maladaptive behavior, such as perseverative responding on a previously reinforced response (like a lever-press) after that response is no longer reinforced. For example, previous studies of rats exposed to MeHg during gestation reported such perseverative responding in a reversal learning task (Paletz et al. 2007, Reed et al. 2006). By definition, a reversal task involves presenting two response options to the subject. Selecting one option is reinforced, while selecting the other option has no programmed consequence. Once the animal responds robustly on the reinforced option, the options are reversed: the previously reinforced response no longer has any consequences, while the previously unreinforced response is now reinforced. Animals exposed during gestation to MeHg showed excessive perseverative responding on the previously reinforced response following a reversal, sometimes for hundreds of trials. Interestingly, animal models of chronic psychomotor stimulant exposure have shown perseverative responding in a similar task as well (Jentsch & Taylor 1999). While the neural mechanisms of perseveration have been investigated extensively in the laboratory, much less is known about the specific behavioral mechanisms that underlie these deficits. The present research proposal is built around the hypothesis that this behavioral deficit is mediated by hypersensitivity to reward value, or reinforcement magnitude, and that altered dopamine neurotransmission plays a role in this hypersensitivity.

I will investigate three key variables, reinforcement magnitude, daily exposure to a psychomotor stimulant, a regimen that enhances dopamine neurotransmission, and phenotypic differences between two mouse strains using a 2 (reinforcer magnitude) X 2 (chronic drug) X 2 (mouse strain) full factorial design. Reinforcement magnitude will be manipulated by delivering 1 or 4 sucrose pellets per response. Dopamine processing will be altered by administering a psychomotor stimulant, amphetamine, daily for up to 14 days (all animals will be treated similarly). I will examine the main effects of chronic exposure and reinforcement magnitude. The interaction between these variables will reveal any non-linear amplification of the effects of reinforcer magnitude by perturbations in dopamine neurotransmission.

Patrick Donnan

Project Title: Theoretical Calculations Concerning the ALPHA Experiment: Cold Antihydrogen and Laser Spectroscopy

Mentor: Dr. Francis Robicheaux, Physics

Project Summary: Following the successful trapping of antihydrogen by the ALPHA Collaboration in Fall 2010, many tests of matter-antimatter symmetry remain to be done. We aim to provide calculations of how antihydrogen should behave in these tests. The main test that we will be examining is the emission spectra of antihydrogen through laser spectroscopy.

Abstract: I aim to provide calculations for the ALPHA (Antihydrogen Laser PHysics Apparatus) Collaboration, which recently became the first group to trap the antimatter hydrogen atom. ALPHA is now setting up experiments that will test and measure the fundamental properties of antihydrogen; I will provide computational support for this endeavor. Initially, this will involve the examination of quantum bound state transitions and the effect of microwaves on these transitions in the strong magnetic fields of the trap. This understanding will allow me to analyze the emission spectra of antihydrogen and compare it to the emission spectra of hydrogen to test CPT (charge-parity-time) symmetry between matter and antimatter. Following, I will provide the simulations for the next experiments that ALPHA will perform.

Michael Evans

Project Title: Influence of calcium in the infection process of the bacterial plant pathogen Xylella fastidiosa

Mentor: Dr. Leonardo De La Fuente

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. This process is enhanced by calcium. My research goal is to identify genes that respond to calcium during the bacteria’s infection. These genes can be targeted to reduce XF virulence and control the disease.

Abstract: Xylella fastidiosa (XF) is a bacterial plant pathogen that infects a variety of economically important crops in the United States, including grapes, blueberries, and peaches. Inside the xylem of the host plant, XF forms biofilms that are hypothesized to clog xylem vessels, resulting in a lack of water and nutrients available throughout the plant. Previous research has shown that the presence of extracellular calcium enhances the formation of biofilm and movement of XF. My research goal is to identify genes regulated by calcium that play a role during the bacteria’s infection process. First, I will use scientific literature searches and the genetic sequence database GenBank and its BLAST tool to compare the XF genome to other bacterial genomes and identify which genes may be related to calcium utilization. I will then select 3 or 4 genes and create mutants in the XF bacterium for those genes. The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) will be used to make copies of the selected genes that will be cloned in a plasmid and marked with antibiotic resistance. The mutant genes will then be added to the genomes of XF by using homologous recombination. A variety of assays for biofilm formation, attachment, and movement will be used to characterize the effects of the mutations. I will then infect plants grown in the greenhouse with the selected mutant bacteria and observe the infection process. I expect to find that some of these mutants do not cause or cause fewer disease symptoms, and therefore, I can use this information to develop novel disease control methods. I can then propose to block the identified gene activity to reduce the severity of the disease caused by XF in the field.

Stephen A. Giles

Project Title: Generation of Alternative Liquid Fuel Microdroplets for Combustion in a Drop-Tube Furnace

Mentor: Dr. Steve R. Duke

Project Summary: My research goal is to devise a method of producing microdroplets of viscid alternative liquid fuels, such as glycerin, and eject them into a drop-tube furnace. High-speed images will then be taken of the droplets combusting. By analyzing these images and varying the combustion parameters, we hope to determine the optimal combustion environment for each fuel.

Abstract: The widespread use and depletion of fossil fuels has become a popular topic among scientists and ordinary citizens alike. At the present time, energy production from alternative fuels is often impractical due to inefficiency in energy production and subsequently increased costs. This research could make a significant impact on increasing the understanding of the optimal combustion environments for various alternative liquid fuels. Microdroplets of alternative fuels, such as glycerin, can be achieved using a piezoelectric droplet generator. These microdroplets, with diameters between 100-200 microns, can be ejected into a drop-tube furnace via a glass injection nozzle. Due to the injection nozzle being one foot in length, but having a diameter of only six millimeters, the majority of the microdroplets must travel in a nearly perfectly straight trajectory, lest they come into contact with the inner wall of the glass nozzle and fail to be ejected. Once the microdroplets are falling through the furnace and undergoing combustion, high-framerate images are taken and can be analyzed. First, by simply viewing images of different combusting fluids at different combustion parameters, one can obtain a qualitative understanding of the effects that these have on combustion. However, I hope to obtain more than simple qualitative combustion results; in the future, I hope to have the additional capability of importing the combustion images into MATLAB©, a computing program, and visualizing the temperature distribution across the droplet via a source code written specifically for this purpose. Once the images have been analyzed in MATLAB, I will have gained valuable information regarding the specific combustion characteristics of fluids at different combustion conditions. This will be beneficial in increasing the viability of more widespread use of alternative liquid fuels in place of fossil fuels in industrial settings.

Devin Kalafut

Project Title: Freeze Casting Porous Human Tissue Scaffolding

Mentor: Dr. Jay Khodadadi, Mechanical Engineering

Project Summary: Development of suitable techniques for manufacturing synthetic bone tissue will open up the future for bioengineering, implantable drug delivery systems, as well as dental and skeletal implants. The research project aims to construct a lab scale specimen of tissue scaffolding that has the identical porosity and strength of human bone using a method of freezing a mixture of metal particles and water.

Abstract: The acceptance of synthetic bone implants in the human body is a topic of many great obstacles. To properly prepare a material for human osseointegration, it must be uniformly porous with channels of only nanometers in diameter, and it must also be strong enough to handle any reasonable stress and fatigue. Without proper pore structure, the implant could not diffuse nutrients, house vascularization, or promote cell tissue growth. Freeze casting is a procedure thatcan provide the necessary lamellar, mesoporous form by controlling the propagation of ice crystal dendrites moving ahead of a freezing front. This method can be exploited to sort through a mixture of micro or nano sized metal particles suspended in a water solution to build up a network of uniform, interconnected ice pillars separated by the solid material. The ice pockets are of a controlled size and can be sublimated out of the material, resulting in a powder structure that must be sintered to reveal the final solid product. As imagined, the project requires a unique testing chamber capable of providing a prescribed thermal environment since one-dimensional freezing is key to the proper manipulation of the dendrite tip radii and formation speed. Innovative test equipment must be designed once the analysis of the expected heat transfer and fluid properties research is complete. The ultimate goal will be to create a sample of synthetic human bone tissue using the method described above. With this freeze casting technique fully understood, other fields can use the material to improve thousands of lives.

Caroline Kiteley

Project Title: Acyclic 1,3 Dienes as Models for the Photoisomerization of Retinal

Mentor: Dr. Michael Squillacote, Chemistry and Biochemistry

Kiteley researching

Project Summary: My work deals with small molecules that are models of a complex of the polyene retinal and the protein opsin. This complex, called rhodopsin, is the species that absorbs light in our eyes and so controls our vision. I have previously synthesized different molecules that mimicked retinal and I exposed them to ultraviolet light. After examining my results, I concluded that the change in molecular geometry of retinal (that triggers our nerve impulse and allows us to see) was primarily due to charge-stabilizing groups on the molecule as opposed to the mass of the groups. My next step is to determine if these charge-stabilizing groups are directly attached to the diene or if they are nearby, similar to amino acid chemistry. I will do this by examining the pH dependence of the photochemistry of molecules similar to amino acids.

Abstract: This project has as its basis the visual system. In brief the initial photochemical event in vision is the absorption of light by retinal, a polyene attached to the protein opsin. When a photon of light is absorbed by this molecule, a rapid cis - trans double bond isomerization occurs about the 11- 12 double bond. This geometry change eventually generates the optic nerve impulse. Even though there is a possibility for any of five double bonds to rotate, the opsin controls so that only the 11 - 12 bond is isomerized. There is little understanding of how or why this system shows such high regioselectivity in the isomerization. In this project we seek to find a rationale for this by investigating the regioselectivity of model acyclic 1,3-diene systems.

There are considered to be two possible explanations for the regioselectivity of double bond photoisomerization in acyclic 1,3-dienes, and by extension retinal. The first involves formation of zwitterionic intermediates. If these charged species are present during the photoisomerization process then the electrostatics of substituents on the diene should have a profound effect on which of the diene double bonds rotates. A second explanation for the photoregioselectivity involves movement through a conical intersection. With this pathway, the regioselectivity would be controlled by inertia effects. A double bond attached to a heavy a group would be less likely to photoisomerize. My results suggest charge rather than mass effects control diene, and therefore retinal photoisomerization.

The question remains as to whether the opsin protein controls retinal photoisomerization via charged amino acid groups positioned about the polyene backbone. To address this I propose to synthesize and examine the pH dependence of the photochemistry of the molecules that mimic amino acids. Instead of the charge stabilizing groups being directly attached to the diene, the charge stabilizing groups will be remote to the diene backbone and mimic the charged amino acid residues that opsin may use to control the photochemistry. By changing the pH of the solution the charge on the amino acid will vary from negative, to neutral, to positive. If the photoregioselectivity of this molecule shows pH dependence then it is likely that opsin does indeed control the photoisomerization process via charged amino acid residues.

Isabel Leon y Leon

Project Title: The Effects of Hydrocarbons on Foraminifera from the Gulf of Mexico

Mentor: Dr. Ronald D. Lewis, Geology and Geography

Leon y Leon researching

Project Summary: Foraminifera are single-celled marine organisms that have hard outer coverings called tests. Pollutants such as oil have been known to cause deformations in tests. I plan to study sediment samples from the Gulf of Mexico to examine test deformations that may be related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Abstract: A group of marine protists, known as foraminifera, have been studied by geologists because of their value in determining the age and environment of formation of ancient rocks due to their rapid evolution, abundance, and high preservation potential. Foraminifera have short life spans and leave behind shells, or tests, which are often abundant in the sea-floor sediment of the Gulf of Mexico. Recently, coastal foraminifera have been used as indicators of environmental pollution, including oil spills. As foraminifera grow, they add chambers, much like the nautilus. When pollution occurs, newly added chambers are deformed or grow in unusual places.

On April 20, 2010, millions of gallons of crude oil were spilled into the ocean due to a deep sea drilling accident known as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The oil has now disappeared from surface waters, but some researchers believe that the oil did not merely disappear but sank into the water column and remains there.

Foraminifera close to the well-head would be expected to be the most affected by the oil spill. However, research has shown that the oil mixed with dispersants have moved elsewhere. Dr. Lewis and I have a multitude of samples from all across the Gulf of Mexico, taken for a broader study of benthic organisms. I plan to use maps of deep-water currents along with surface currents to predict sites to check for contamination, as determined by deformations of the foraminifera. Certain species will be selected due to their widespread occurrence. These species will be further studied for deformations using a microscope. Changes in live/dead ratios will be studied using Rose Bengal stain to determine which foraminifera were alive at the time of collection. Studying samples from various places in the Gulf of Mexico would also help track the recovery process from the oil spill. It is hoped that this research will aid in finding oil transported from the well-head and will help to ensure the environmental health of Gulf of Mexico waters.

Blaine Lindsey

Project Title: Demarginalizing the Architecture of Housing

Mentor: Dr. Justin K. Miller, Architecture

Lindsey researching

Project Summary: Affordable housing for moderate-income families in the United States is largely developer-driven and does not involve an architect in the process. As a result, architecture is the pursuit of a wealthy few. This research investigates how aspects of custom design, such as site orientation and energy performance, can be manipulated to develop affordable architecture for moderate-income families.

Abstract: This research investigates the feasibility of involving the custom design of an architect in the development of affordable housing for moderate-income families. The investigation is pursued as a theoretical design project that uses the urban area of Birmingham, AL as the test location. Initial socio-economic research determines the target demographic and the parameters of affordability. This establishes the budget for the theoretical client. With available financial resources established, cost is researched and evaluated. Cost is understood as a complex, comprehensive figure of initial cost, operational costs, and life cycle. A developed matrix offers comparative analysis of cost for materials and assemblies. This comparative analysis is used to inform a site-specific, custom design that is measured against the available resources of the moderate-income family.

Matthew McBride

Project Title: Therapeutic contact lenses: using rewetting agents to enhance comfort

Mentor: Mark Byrne, Mechanical Engineering

McBride researching

Project Summary: Previous research has used the silicone hydrogel lenses as a platform to release re-wetting agents, producing more comfortable contact lenses. I will be developing a system to quantify the relative comfort provided by re-wetting agents at different concentrations and molecular weights which will be vital in optimizing comfort-enhanced contact lenses.

Abstract: Silicone hydrogels have revolutionized the contact lens field. These hydrogels are a relatively new material that offers extended wear by having high oxygen permeability along with other advantages. While these lenses have dominated the market for the past decade, there has been trouble keeping the lens and the eye moist during extended wear (i.e., 30-day continuous wear). Lens dehydration on the eye irritates the wearer and is the major cause of discontinuation of lens wear. This condition is commonly known as contact lens-induced dry eye (CLIDE) and is typically managed through the application of re-wetting agents containing eye drops. Recent work within our lab has explored the controlled release of re-wetting agents from the silicone hydrogel lens itself. This work has resulted in the production of a comfort-enhanced silicone hydrogel lens that continuously delivers the comfort agent, hydroxypropyl methylcellulose (HPMC), for any duration of lens wear including 30-day wear. The purpose of my work will be to develop a system for quantifying the relative comfort provided by the various re-wetting agents. These data are vital for the continued production and optimization of our comfort-enhanced contact lenses, as there is no correlation between HPMC mass release and comfort felt by the wearer. The data will also determine or affect design parameters, such as the desired HPMC release rate, the mass of HPMC needed to load in the lens, the HPMC release time, the optical clarity of the lens, and mechanical properties of the lens. These factors can be optimized to provide the highest level of comfort to the lens wearer by finding the optimal molecular weight and concentration of different re-wetting agents.

Kristen McCall

Project Title: Appalachian-Ouachita and Caledonian Mountain Systems Based Study of Continental Margins; Focusing on the Gullesfjord Fault in Arctic Norway

Mentor: Dr. Mark Steltenpohl , Geology and Geography

McCall researching

Project Summary: My study focuses on continental margins. More specifically, I will be collecting rock samples in northern Norway and isotopically dating them in order to determine if a previously discovered fault, the Gullesfjord fault, represents the suture separating the two ancient proto-continents, Laurentia and Baltica.

Abstract: The modern Norwegian margin in northern Norway is underlain by rocks and structures of the 400-million-year old Caledonian mountains. This belt formed when the ancient continents of Laurentia and Baltica (proto-North America-Greenland and proto-Europe, respectively) collided, destroying the ancient ocean basin separating them and causing them to become sutured together, forming the supercontinent Pangaea. Shortly following this collision, Pangaea began to rift (separate) and then drift apart, forming the modern Atlantic Ocean. Based on previous work, the Gullesfjord fault is suspected to be the suture between the two ancient continents. I will seek to answer three questions: 1) Does the Gullesfjord fault represent the suture between Baltica and Laurentia? 2) What processes led to the destruction of these continental margins? and 3) How does the evolution of the modern Norwegian margin, 400 m.y. later, relate to those processes? To address these questions, I will travel to Norway to do additional mapping of the Gullesfjord fault and to collect bedrock samples that can be dated using isotopic methods. I will then spend two weeks using U-Pb isotopic dating facilities at the University of Oslo to separate and date zircon crystals from my samples. Zircon is a very durable mineral found in metamorphosed sedimentary rocks and the isotopic dates I will generate can be used to compare with distinctive age patterns known for both Laurentia and Baltica, providing a test for whether the Gullesfjord fault is indeed the hypothesized Iapetus suture.

Ashlyn McCrorie

Project Title: Marriage and Retirement: Marital Preparedness and Health in Older Adult Couples

Mentors: Dr. Amy Rauer, Human Development and Family Studies and Dr. Kathy Jo Ellison, School of Nursing

Perrella researching

Project Summary: As people grow older, health becomes an increasing concern. For most adults, their spouse is their first line of defense in dealing with new health worries. If we can pinpoint what helps couples engage in healthy active behavior, we can teach these strategies for success to other couples who may be dealing with a new health crisis. My study examines how couples encourage one another’s healthy behavior.

Abstract: As a nurse, I want to capitalize on these supportive techniques to enhance spousal education as couples decline in health. To accomplish this, I will answer the question of how couples encourage each other’s healthy habits and behaviors and how this promotes current and future health. To examine couples’ support strategies, we have been collecting data over the past year in which couples discuss health concerns with each other (e.g., diet, arthritis). We film these interactions and watch how the couples act while they discuss the problem. To examine the effectiveness of the support, I will explore how this support relates to both spouses’ health at the time of the observation and in a one-year follow-up questionnaire (e.g., blood pressure, subjective health, doctor diagnosed diseases). In addition, given my interest in prevention, I will include a measure of active caregiving preparation in the follow-up questionnaire to see what actions they are already employing (e.g., researching health issues, participating in health classes, regular exercise, maintaining regular doctor visits). If we can pinpoint what helps couples engage in healthy active behavior, we can teach these strategies for success to other couples who may be dealing with a new health crisis. As a nurse, spousal education is already used in the hospital to help teach individuals how to take care of their spouse after recent health complications. If we can ensure that this knowledge is empirically grounded, effective spousal support can be coupled with current medical treatments to speed patient recovery and improve each spouses’ quality of life.

Matthew Perrella

Project Title: Heat Transfer and Storage Performance of Encapsulated Phase Change Material

Mentor: Dr. Jay Khodadadi, Mechanical Engineering

Perrella researching

Project Summary: I will be testing the heat storage capabilities of Encapsulated Phase Change Materials or EPCM’s. These materials change phase or “melt” when heat is applied, allowing them to store large amounts of thermal energy for extended periods of time. These materials can be used to enhance the application of thermal solar energy as a renewable energy resource.

Abstract: One of the main challenges in the practical application of solar energy today is the lack of a storage medium that will allow large quantities of solar energy to be stored efficiently for extended periods of time. Phase Change Materials (PCMs), which have large energy densities and latent head, address this issue by providing a means to store large quantities of thermal solar energy. The most common problem with the use of PCMs in thermal storage applications is that the material changes phase or freezes at the boundary of the heat exchanger, preventing effective heat transfer and storage. To counter this effect, small amounts of PCM can be encapsulated in polymers or resin and dispersed in a fluid medium such as water. This mixture, frequently referred to as slurry, has increased thermal conductivity and heat storage efficiency. Besides this advantage, encapsulation also reduces the PCM’s reactivity with the environment, increases heat-transfer area, and allows for changes in volume as phase change occurs.

The purpose of my research is to determine the effectiveness of Encapsulated Phase Change Materials (EPCM) for use in thermal storage applications. Through small-scale experimentation, I will determine the effect of various parameters on the heat transfer and storage abilities of the PCM slurry. Among these parameters are the individual particle size, the particle density in the fluid medium, and the type of fluid medium. Dimensional analysis can be used to determine the effect these parameters have on the overall effectiveness of the EPCM slurry as a heat storage material. Several samples of these EPCMs have already been obtained by my mentor. Additional samples of varying size will be obtained and mixed with the fluid medium in varying densities for testing. Using an existing structure as a starting point, I will construct a test fixture that will contain the EPCM slurry and apply heat in a controlled environment. The temperature of the medium will be measured at various locations and this data will be used to determine the thermal response of the slurry system. I will also observe and consider any settling or particle flow that may occur in the medium. My ultimate goal will be to determine the parameters that characterize the ideal thermal storage EPCM slurry.

David Rider

Rider researching

Project Title: Gender in the 20th Century Illness Narrative

Project Summary: The purpose of my research is to highlight the themes present in 20th Century illness narratives to gain perspective on how issues of gender, body and physical relationships are dealt with and regarded by contemporary thought. Using feminist critical theory, I will investigate various illness narratives and relate them to our own understanding of gender.

Abstract: During my research year, I plan to use feminist literary theory, specifically the theories of Hélène Cixous, Julia Kristeva and Alice Jardine, to consider the 20th century illness narrative. Working through texts such as J. M. Coetzee’s Age of Iron, Margaret Edson’s Wit, Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Cancer Ward, I will consider instances where differences in gender result in biased treatments of illness and death. I will also reflect upon how the new media of the 20th century (i.e., television, radio and film) illustrates gender with regard to death and illness. Are there, in fact, differences in how death and illness are delivered between male and female characters? If so, how does this fluctuate between male and female authors? Most importantly, though, has the construction of gender within the illness narrative changed throughout the 20th century? With this information, I hope to discover how the 20th century illness narrative represents our own understanding of gender and how these views have changed throughout the 20th century.

Chad Rose

Project Title: The Development of Superior Thermal Interface Materials (TIM)

Mentor:Dr. Jay Khodadadi, Mechanical Engineering

Rose researching

Project Summary: Demand for high-powered microelectronics is growing faster than the technology. The major barrier to technological advances is the need for better thermal management. The heat generated by new, smaller electronics is harder to dissipate. The weakest link of any heat dissipation arrangement is the boundary between where the heat is generated and the heat sink. Thermal Interface Materials (TIM) seek to increase how fast heat can travel across these boundaries, and my research is exploring a new class of TIMs enhanced with nanoparticles.

Abstract: Growing demand for high-powered microelectronics, especially hand-held devices, in recent years is outpacing the development of these technologies. The major barrier to realization of further technological advances for these devices is the need for better thermal management. One of the key advances needed for better thermal management is the development of superior thermal interface materials (TIM). Thermal interface materials fill in the gaps between the heat-generating components and the heat sinks that absorb the rejected heat. Several novel techniques for enhancing the capabilities of thermal interface materials, such as microchannel heat sinks combined with micropumps and carbon nano-tubes, have been practiced. However, the use of phase change materials (PCM) is very promising for their intrinsic capability for heat storage and operation at a constant temperature. Although PCM have a very high latent heat of fusion, their overall thermal conductivity is very low, preventing them from being the instant solution to the aforementioned problem. My research question is to design a PCM to meet the needs of a TIM by enhancing the thermal conductivity through the use of metallic nanoparticles. The research process will begin with a literature survey that will culminate in the selection of the base components of a composite PCM. This new composite will be Auburn-designed and manufactured and will be tested against an industry standard TIM. I will prepare several different samples of the experimental TIM by varying the mass fraction of the nanoparticles within the composite. The enhanced thermal conductivity of the TIM will be measured using the state-of-the-art Thermal Constants Analyzer at my mentor’s laboratory. My experiment will consist of three identical heating elements: a control element cooled only through natural convection, a second element fitted with the industry standard TIM and fins, and the third with experimental TIM and identical fins. The fabrication of the experimental TIM’s as well as the experiment is very feasible and can be accomplished in Auburn University laboratories, with reasonable investment in supplies and no new equipment. The TIM developed by this research project would provide a first step in a new direction for fulfilling the need for better thermal management in high-tech devices.

Neena Singhal

Project Title: Determining significance of clock gene expression in adipose tissue

Mentor: Dr. Terry Brandebourg, Animal Sciences

Singhal researching

Project Summary: My project is to test for expression and significance of clock genes in adipose tissue. I will use techniques such as PCR, gel electrophoresis, and cell culture. In order to determine the potential biological significance of these genes, I will observe gene expression in various circumstances such as adipose differentiation and response to certain hormones.

Abstract: While I was previously working in Dr. Brandebourg’s lab, we assayed for the expression of multiple neuronal genes in adipose tissue using conventional PCR on samples taken from primary cultures of pig fat cells. During these experiments we observed that the clock genes, Bmal and Npas2, and the neuronal gene, synuclein gama, were actually expressed in pig adipose. My research goal is to follow up these initial observations, by further studying the expression and significance of one of these particular clock genes. We hypothesize that expression of this gene in adipose tissue could potentially have biological significance. In order to test this hypothesis, I will observe the expression of this gene during fat cell differentiation as well as in response to hormones and fatty acids that regulate metabolic genes in adipose. I will use PCR, gel electrophoresis, and cell culture techniques to carry out experiments. I will also use real-time PCR to obtain quantitative results. This project pertains to a relatively unexplored area of study that has a strong potential to be of substantial importance. Furthermore, I will have the opportunity to learn real-time PCR techniques for quantitative analysis, as well as gain experience in hypothesis testing and in-depth analysis of experimental results.

Trenton N. Smith

Project Title: Effectiveness of Wild Pig Trap Door Designs

Mentor: Dr. Mark D. Smith, School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences

Smith researching

Project Summary: Wild pigs pose an economic and ecological threat to our Nation’s agricultural and natural resources. The goal of this research is to determine the effectiveness of multi-catch doors, which are designed to capture additional individuals remaining outside the trap when the door closes. This research will determine the relative effectiveness of three commonly used trap doors for catching wild pigs

Abstract: Wild pigs (Sus scrofa) are a nonnative invasive species found in more than 40 states and cause the agricultural industry to incur an estimated $1.8 billion/year in crop damage. Furthermore, wild pigs destroy the habitat and forage of native wildlife species. Illegal introduction by humans and prolific reproduction of pigs has led to extreme population growth and expansion across the United States. Trapping is the most effective and widely used method for controlling wild pig populations. Traps vary by style (corral, box, cage) and door type (falling, saloon, and root). Complex multi-catch doors (saloon, root, and trainer) are alleged to capture more pigs because of their ability to allow continuous one-way access into the trap after the door has closed. However, this belief has not been supported by research and multiple wildlife professionals refute this assumption according to field experience. My study will examine the effectiveness of different door designs on corral style traps for wild pigs. I will observe the reactions of 10 to 15 different free-ranging, wild pig sounders (family groups) to each multi-catch door style (saloon, root, and trainer) using motion-sensitive cameras. I will determine if pigs remaining outside of the trap once the door closes attempt to enter. This information will reflect the cost efficiency of the different door designs. For example, multi-catch steel doors cost approximately $250, whereas a single-catch wooden door can be built for about $20. For the price of one multi-catch door, two complete corral traps with single catch doors may be purchased. Knowing the efficiency of these door types, property owners and wildlife professionals can make informed decisions on how to use their finances to manage wild pig populations.

Cole Sterling

Project Title: Quantification of Natural Bioactive Compounds Using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance

Mentor: Dr. Angela I. Calderón, Harrison School of Pharmacy

Sterling researching

Project Summary: My research aims to quantify natural bioactive compounds using quantitative nuclear magnetic resonance. Three plants have been identified as containing chemical constituents which show promising biological activities against infectious diseases. In order for these compounds to be developed into drugs, their exact amounts within the plants will be determined.

Abstract: The medicinal impact of plant-derived formulations to improve health has increased their widespread use in addressing numerous health challenges globally. qNMR is a versatile tool which allows the precise determination of the content of a compound in plant materials. Our research has identified three plants (Guatteria recurvisepala, Euterpe oleracea and Licania kallunkiae) as containing natural bioactive compounds through liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) analyses. These compounds demonstrated inhibitory activity of metabolic enzymes of microorganisms responsible for causing malaria and tuberculosis in humans. In order to develop medicinal formulations based on the studied plants, the concentrations of these bioactive compounds should be determined exactly. Since its relatively early discovery, NMR has been very useful in generating structure elucidation information; however, more recent technological advantages have made NMR a useful means of quantification as well. I will utilize three methods of qNMR in order to quantify bioactive compounds within the plants mentioned above: an in-house developed platform, the use of an internal standard, and the use of Agilent’s recently developed “qEstimate” macro. An additional positive impact of the proposed project will be the development of new NMR based methods to determine chemical profilesand content of major bioactive compounds present in plant-based formulations.

Bradley Young

Project Title: Lipid Assembled Porphyrin/Fullerene for Photocurrent Generation: A Preliminary Study

Mentor: Dr. Wei Zhan, Chemistry

young researching

Project Summary: The low efficiency of solar energy is hindering this clean energy process from reaching its full potential. Efforts by the Zhan research group are being made toward alleviating this problem by building and studying lipid-based model photo-converting systems. The motive of my research is to study several key parameters that are essential to improving the efficiency of organic photovoltaic devices. These would include energetics of electron donors and acceptors, as well as the electron transfer distance between them. Ultimately, the results of my research could be a useful tool for determining which combination of lipids and photo-agents holds the optimal amount of potential energy that can be used to produce a clean energy source through solar power.

Abstract: In the study of artificial photosynthesis, scientists try to adopt principles and strategies used in natural photosynthesis to achieve high-efficiency harvesting, conversion and storage of solar energy. One approach that has been pursued by this lab in the past few years has been to use solid-supported lipid bilayers to organize various photoactive species on electrodes for photocurrent generation. The primary focus of the present study is to introduce two photo-agents into such a system, a zinc-coordinated porphyrin and fullerene C63. Previous studies have documented efficient photo-induced electron transfer between these two species upon photo-excitation. My goal, therefore, is to see how our lipid-based system can match up with the reported systems in terms of photo-conversion efficiency.

Several experiments are planned to research the photocurrent generation. First, anodic current measurements of Zinc porphyrn alone in POPC will be taken. These currents will cover a spectrum varied by five different alkanethiol monolayers. This array of five currents will provide an initial cornerstone that will lead to current measurements of C63 in POPC. The results of the first two experiments will be analyzed to determine the optimum alkanethiol length to be used in the next experiment. The next experiment will be a current measurement of the ZnP in POPC sample with varied percentage concentrations rather than varying alkanethiol lengths. The results from the varied alkanethiol experiments accompanied by the results from the varied concentration experiment will be combined to ultimately determine the greatest quantum efficiency of the system. I hope to verify the results from the experiments by performing an impedance analysis and fluorescence spectroscopy.

Naixin Zhang

Project Title: Characterizing Sip19 in Pseudomonas aeruginosa

Mentor: Dr. Sang-Jin Suh, Microbiology

young researching

Project Summary: Many genes are regulated by RpoS in P. aeruginosa, but unfortunately, the function of most of these genes and their products have not yet been characterized. One of the RpoS regulated genes of interest is PA5178. This gene encodes for a small protein with no known function. My research purpose is to characterize the function of this protein.

Abstract:Pseudomonas aeruginosa is an opportunistic pathogen that infects patients with compromised immune systems as well as people with Cystic Fibrosis. Dr. Suh’s laboratory is interested in understanding the molecular mechanisms of P. aeruginosa’s ability to resist environmental stress. One of the regulators of interest is RpoS, an alternative sigma factor that mediates the General Stress Response. Many genes are regulated by RpoS in P. aeruginosa, but unfortunately, the function of most of these genes and their products have not yet been characterized. One of the RpoS regulated genes of interest is PA5178. This gene encodes for a small protein with no known function. My research purpose is to characterize the function of this protein. I plan to initiate my research by addressing whether the PA5278 null mutant is hypersensitive to various envelope stress including heat shock and osmotic stress. Following the initial characterization of PA5178 in stress response, I want to continue the characterization of PA5178 and its product both genetically and physiologically. Genetically, I plan to determine whether RpoS and AlgT regulate PA5178 directly or indirectly via other transcriptional regulators. Physiologically, I plan to determine whether PA5178 is involved in antibiotic resistance like many other envelope stress response proteins.

Last Updated: Nov. 30, 2011

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