Spotlights

Martin Koch

OU Major: 
Environmental Sustainability
Research Mentor: 
Travis Gliedt
Describe your undergraduate research or creative project:

I currently work as a research assistant in the Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability. My position is funded by the Honors College’s Honors Research Assistant Program, and additional project funding is provided by the Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program. I began in the fall of 2014 by assisting a graduate student, Preston Hartman, with his research project. I developed a contact database of Oklahoma water utility managers, and booked appointments for Preston to interview them and gather data. After gaining experience working on Preston’s project, I had the opportunity to conduct my own. During the spring semester, with the help of mentorship from Dr. Gliedt, I created a research project from the ground up. I developed a research question, wrote an abstract, and surveyed water utility managers in three states. My project examines the perception of statewide water conservation goals among local utility managers. It uses both qualitative and quantitative data to study how utilities are working to conserve water, and measure the degree to which conservation efforts are motivated by statewide goals. Additionally, a matrix will be generated that compares water conservation strategies based upon their cost-effectiveness, popularity, and ease of implementation. Climate change is projected to create additional challenges for water utilities in the years to come.

Explain what you learned or give advice to fellow students:

In prior undergraduate courses, I read and cited journal articles. However, during my research experience, I went beyond simply reading research to discover what steps are required to produce it. I learned how to write abstracts, proposals, and literature reviews. I also learned about conducting an effective survey, and identifying a useful question that will advance the field one is working in. Research is no longer something I idly consume; rather, it is now something I have the capacity to contribute to. Through my research, I aim to learn from the expertise of utility managers to determine how statewide policies can most effectively protect vital water resources by spurring community conservation. I would advise aspiring undergraduate researchers to be persistent about seeking out sources of mentorship and funding. Staying in contact with professors who inspire you is helpful, as they are good sources of information regarding conferences and journals. It is also helpful to research Honors College programs (such as HRAP, UROP, and FYRE) that support undergraduate research. Learning about current challenges in your field is useful for creating a relevant project. Finally, it is important to be dedicated to answering your research question. Conducting a research project requires effort, but provides a feeling of accomplishment not just in advancing your career, but in generating knowledge that can help solve real-world challenges.

Awards and/or presentations:

In April 2015, I will present my project at the Texas State Geography Student Research Symposium. Later that month, I will present at the Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting in Chicago. Funding for both presentations will be provided by the Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability.

Published Work:

n/a

Jesse Coker

OU Major: 
Biochemistry and Economics
Research Mentor: 
Adam Duerfeldt
Describe your undergraduate research or creative project:

I am an Undergraduate Research Assistant with the Duerfeldt Lab, a member of the Institute for Natural Products Applications and Research Technologies (INPART) and the OU Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. The Duerfeldt Lab focuses on designing, by synthetic methodology, and discovering, by natural product screening, novel therapeutic compounds against both human and bacterial targets. My project consisted of screening a diverse library of natural compounds derived from soil samples from all over the world (collected by the Cichewicz Lab, also a member of INPART at OU) in an effort to discover new antibiotics. Bacterial resistance to current therapies has grown into a major concern, making the development of unique and potent antibiotics extremely important. I worked on targeting a bacterial protease, a type of protein that eats other proteins. By over-activating this protease with an antibiotic compound, the protease becomes permanently switched on and consumes the bacteria from the inside out. I used multiple screening assays to uncover a never before reported natural product activator of this protease which has exciting antibiotic potential. Our lab continues to optimize this compound, alongside many others, and is optimistic about the potential of this new style of antibiotic.

Explain what you learned or give advice to fellow students:

When taken as a challenge rather than a defeat, failures are actually critical to propelling yourself forward. Science is slow; sometimes painfully, frustratingly so, and setbacks are ever-present. However, I’ve learned that overcoming these challenges defines the heart of science. Research takes time, energy, and a lot of determination, but the struggle of science, while sometimes demoralizing, has challenged and redefined my attitude about failure. And, when a daunting obstacle is finally defeated, the victory tastes that much sweeter. Do it. Research is exciting and extremely rewarding—there is something fundamentally incredible about making a discovery. I would strongly encourage every undergraduate, in every discipline, to undertake research. Find a professor whose work sounds interesting and reach out to them; the faculty at OU is extremely enthusiastic about undergraduate research. Send an email, make a phone call, stop into someone’s office—be bothersome and persistent, and very soon you’ll find an amazing opportunity. Research is something you need to do at OU. As Nike would say, just do it.

Awards and/or presentations:

I gave an oral presentation detailing my antibiotic research at the 2015 OU Undergraduate Research Day and received, along with my partner Cici Zhou, an Honors Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) grant.

Published Work:

n/a

Lauren McGraw

OU Major: 
Geology
Research Mentor: 
Dr. Megan Elwood Madden
Describe your undergraduate research or creative project:

Traditional methods of quantitative analysis are often ill-suited to determining the bulk chemistry of high salinity brines due to their corrosive and clogging properties. Such methods are also often difficult to apply remotely in planetary environments. However, Raman spectroscopy can be used remotely without physical contact with the fluid and is not affected by many ionic brines. Developing methods to study aqueous solutes is vital to future study of brines on Mars and other planetary bodies, as they can reveal important information about modern and ancient near-surface aqueous processes. Both sodium carbonate standards and unknown samples from carbonate mineral dissolution experiments in high salinity brines were analyzed using a 532 nm laser coupled to an in Via Renishaw spectrometer to collect carbonate spectra from near-saturated sodium chloride and sodium sulfate brines. A calibration curve was determined by collecting spectra from solutions of known carbonate concentrations mixed with a pH 13 buffer and a near-saturated NaCI or NazS04 brine matrix. The spectra were processed and curve fitted to determine the height ratio of the carbonate peak at 1066 cm-1 to the 1640 cm-1 water peak. The calibration curve determined using the standards was then applied to the experimental data after accounting for dilutions. Concentrations determined based on Raman spectra were compared against traditional acid titration measurements.

Awards and/or presentations:

McGraw, L. (2016, April). Development of a Rapid, Nondestructive Method to Measure Aqueous Solutes in High Salinity Brines Using Raman Spectroscopy. Poster session presented at the University of Oklahoma's Undergraduate Research Day, Norman, OK.

Published Work:

n/a

Ariel Thomasson

OU Major: 
Bachelor's Musical Arts
Research Mentor: 
Valerie Watts
Describe your undergraduate research or creative project:

Many infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or NICU, are premature and consequently suffer from chronic pain, increased heart rate, and typically develop slower than an at term infant. An infant is considered premature if gestation age is at or less than 3 7 weeks. Active music therapy programs are already present in 72% of hospitals. Music Therapists are board certified rehabilitation specialists who use musical components to achieve non-musical goals. In the NICU, music therapists use specific techniques to help premature infants with pain management, oxygen saturation levels, observed stress behaviors, and feeding. The three specific techniques are: PAL, MMS, and Developmental Music. PAL, or Pacifier Activated Lullaby, uses biofeedback from the infants sucking reflexes to record data. Only when the infant is sucking does the pacifier play the lullaby. This helps develop non-nutritive sucking by positive reinforcement which can transfer to nutritive sucking. This helps infants to build stamina with their sucking reflex to be able to improve feeding and receive the nutrients they need. The second technique is MMS, or Multimodal Stimulation. This works by layering different stimuli together to help an infant reach lower stress levels and eventually learn to self-soothe. The therapists starts a short melody "ooing," then humming, then adding real words. After that, the therapist incorporates touch, and finally rocking.

Awards and/or presentations:

Thomasson, A. (2016, April). Music Therapy in the NICU. Poster session presented at the University of Oklahoma's Undergraduate Research Day, Norman, OK.

Published Work:

n/a

Elliott Vanderford

OU Major: 
Biochemistry
Research Mentor: 
Dr. Ulrich Hansmann
Describe your undergraduate research or creative project:

Proteins are a fundamental building block on which life as we know it is based. Through proper folding and structural assembly, a protein is able to function selectively in many biochemical reactions. However, improper folding can lead to a plethora of illnesses, resulting from the inactivation of proteins and possible deleterious effects of the improperly folded state. One such effect is amyloid aggregation, the process by which proteins are induced to misfold and then aggregate into highly structured systems, which then seed further healthy proteins to aggregate in the misfolded state. This has been associated with multiple neurodegenerative illnesses, including Alzheimer's Disease, which is caused through the aggregation of peptide Amyloid beta (A~). Until recently, the structure of these aggregates could only be inferred through the use of dyes attracted to highly ordered systems. However, advances in spectroscopic techniques allow for the resolution of the aggregates' structural data to be gathered as an ensemble of potential states. This can be used computationally to create dynamic data on the structure of an aggregate that can then be used to guide further experimental work using the lowest energy state of an ensemble as a basis. A computational approach, in contrast to other methods, allows for modelling and prediction beyond the fidelity available to more conventional means.

Awards and/or presentations:

Vanderford, E. (2016, April). Effects of Ensemble Structures on the Computational Stability of Amyloid Beta. Poster session presented at the University of Oklahoma's Undergraduate Research Day, Norman, OK.

Published Work:

n/a

Maxine Weiss

OU Major: 
Petroleum Engineering
Research Mentor: 
Dr. Mashhad Fahs
Describe your undergraduate research or creative project:

The research proposed is unique in that we plan to create a practical experiment in order to confirm the conclusions that have only been drawn from theoretical models and computer simulations. I will be examining a binary system of ethane and heptane in a PVT (pressurevolume-temperature) cell with and without volumetric confinement and I will compare my findings to both previous studies of phase behavior in nano-porous media and the results I obtain from a simulation program called SOPE (Simulation of Phase Equilibrium). These funds would allow me to etch the nano-channels that simulate nano-pores and obtain some of the experimental cell components, safety supplies and chemicals I need to begin experimenting. I expect to finish constructing the apparatus this semester and conclude the experiment during the fall of2015. I believe that the results of this experiment will support previous findings in terms of bubble point and in-situ density suppression because the additional variables such as mineral composition, wettability, adsorption and structural heterogeneity will be eliminated with the use of an artificial pore system. Further studies must be conducted to understand the role that each of these parameters plays individually in phase behavior.

Awards and/or presentations:

Weiss, M. (2016, April). Phase Behavior in Nano-pores. Poster session presented at the University of Oklahoma's Undergraduate Research Day, Norman, OK.

Published Work:

n/a

Michael Hughes

OU Major: 
Mechanical Engineering
Research Mentor: 
Farrokh Mistree
Describe your undergraduate research or creative project:

Through the work of several members of the Systems Realization Laboratory, models for the compromise decision support problem (cDSP) as well as multistage manufacturing processes (MMP) have been created. However, there is currently no mutual language connecting the two. The goal of this research is to create a common network of terms to connect the two problems through the creation of an ontology. The ontology will be developed first by creating a hierarchy of terms in MMPs, creating the connections between the terms as well as describing the distinct characteristics of each of the terms, and then framing the overall language within the already developed ontology for cDSP developed by the Systems Realization Laboratory. This ontology would form the basis for a larger domain connecting various problems in manufacturing processes with the cDSP, ultimately creating a knowledge base and allowing for easier and more efficient modeling and design. As stated, the focus of this ontology is the connection between a general MMP and the cDSP, and as such should enable the general development of any MMP in conjunction with the cDSP. It should be stressed that the connections being developed are focused first on one MMP model and then relating those connections to the pre-established cDSP ontology. As such, future expansion would likely be to include other models of MMPs.

Awards and/or presentations:

Hughes, M. (2016, April). An Ontological Connection between cDSP and MMP. Poster session presented at the University of Oklahoma's Undergraduate Research Day, Norman, OK.

Published Work:

n/a

Redouane Laaroussi

OU Major: 
Electrical Engineering
Research Mentor: 
Liangzhong Xiang
Describe your undergraduate research or creative project:

X-ray induced acoustic computed tomography (XACT) is an imaging modality that takes advantage of the ultrasound waves that are produced by X-rays. The ultrasonic waves are received, interpreted and then converted into an image. This modality has many uses in a medical clinical setting, including imaging the breast for the detection of tumors which may be cancerous. Utilizing computerized phantoms in breast imaging research can provide a valuable tool for improving breast imaging techniques and lead to better diagnostic outcomes [1]. Therefore, there is a need for developing a 3D digital breast phantom that contains both X-ray properties and acoustic properties. We are developing new techniques to analyze digital phantoms. A series of breast CT images along the coronal plane from a patient who has breast calcifications are used as the source images. A segmentation algorithm is employed to identify breast tissues in five categories, namely the skin tissue, fat tissue, glandular tissue, chest bone and calcifications, from each CT image. Then, each tissue type is given a set of X-ray related parameters such as energy-dependent mass attenuation coefficient, and a set of acoustic parameters such as frequency-dependent acoustic attenuation coefficient and sound speed. Additionally, other parameters which are used in XACT, including the density, the thermal expansion coefficient, and the heat capacity, are also given to each tissue type.

Awards and/or presentations:

Laaroussi, R. (2016, April). 3D Breast Digital Phantom for Dual x-ray and Ultrasound Imaging. Poster session presented at the University of Oklahoma's Undergraduate Research Day, Norman, OK.

Published Work:

n/a

Alex Lay

OU Major: 
Geology
Research Mentor: 
Mike Soreghan
Describe your undergraduate research or creative project:

Sediment cores record changes in accumulation that allow for interpretation of temporal changes of the region caused by tectonics or, in recent sediments, human activities. The sediment can be analyzed to determine origin, whether it be natural deposition or human activity-induced erosion. A sediment core allows us to determine trends and changes in the local environment. The purpose of this research is to examine two sediment cores from Lake Tanganyika, near Kigoma, Tanzania, to analyze the changes in sedimentation over time. The Lake has a highly unique biodiversity and is important for studies on evolution. It has been shown that changes in the lake bottom environment, due to sedimentation, are negatively affecting the organisms in Lake Tanganyika. Our research determined a contributor to the recent change in sedimentation.

Awards and/or presentations:

Lay, A. (2016, April). Sedimentation in Lake Tanganyika. Poster session presented at the University of Oklahoma's Undergraduate Research Day, Norman, OK.

Published Work:

n/a

Dylan Lindauer

OU Major: 
Biology
Research Mentor: 
Cameron D. Siler
Describe your undergraduate research or creative project:

Among the many diseases that affect amphibian populations, the fungal disease Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), also known as Chytrid, is one of the most concerning. Along with being a fatal disease, Chytrid also spreads extremely quickly and can wipe out entire populations in rapid succession. In order to protect the amphibian population, teams must conduct studies mapping where and when a disease is prevalent, and which amphibian populations are most at risk. With this information in hand, we could then begin taking solid first steps in protecting the amphibian population. Currently, three counties in Oklahoma have shown the presence of Chytrid. Combine this with the fact that surrounding states have positively tested for Chytrid at numerous sites and you begin to realize just how much work there is to be done. With that in mind, this project first proposes to test for the prevalence and seasonality of Chytrid in a manageable testing environment with possible expansion throughout the state after completion. For one year, Cleveland and Oklahoma County amphibians were tested for this disease with variables including the times tests were conducted and their location (Oklahoma and Cleveland Counties). From current data collected, Chytrid seems more prevalent during the late spring (May) and late fall (October), and less prevalent during the summer months (July and August). Additionally, Oklahoma County appears to contain a higher presence of Chytrid.

Awards and/or presentations:

Lindauer, D. (2016, April). Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) detection in Central Oklahoma. Poster session presented at the University of Oklahoma's Undergraduate Research Day, Norman, OK.

Published Work:

n/a

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