Office of Undergraduate Research Undergraduate research will set you apart.

Design and Development of a Low Temperature Tube Calorimeter for Ammonia Refrigerant

Student Author: Ford Gibbes

Co-Authors: Dr. Lorenzo Cremaschi

In 1987, with the ratification of the Montreal Protocol, the United Nations agreed that environmentally harmful refrigerants would need to be phased out. This decision has created a need for refrigerants with low global warming (GWP) and low ozone depletion potential (ODP). Ammonia refrigerant is promising in this regard because it possesses both of these characteristics and is also a naturally occurring compound. Unfortunately, ammonia is toxic and corrodes copper; thus it is not commonly used in HVAC systems. Recent government policies encourage the use of low GWP refrigerants and the interest in ammonia has grown since. However, there is a lack of information regarding the frictional pressure drop during two-phase flow phase change processes when ammonia is used inside the tubes of a heat exchanger.

In this project, a tube calorimeter is used to measure the differential pressure drop across a 180° U-bend. The calorimeter is constructed from 3/8”, 3/4”, and 1” stainless steel tubing with pressure transducer taps at specific distances. The bend radius to tube diameter ratio ranges from 1.2 to 2.5. Flow visualization data are recorded across the 180° glass U-bend using a high-speed camera and a pressure chamber. The data from this study are used to improve pressure drop models of ammonia.

Increased energy efficiency and more predictable heat transfer can be expected for heat exchangers that are designed using the new model. Because of this, ammonia has the potential to become an attractive refrigerant for wide usage in HVAC and refrigeration applications.  Currently, the testing facility is nearing the end of construction and testing will be feasible late 2018.

Statement of Research Advisor: Ford assisted in the design and construction of two heat transfer fluid loops and two refrigeration loops. Additionally, he was responsible for all design and construction of the test apparatus. The new test facility developed under this project will allow our research group to gather new data for pressure drops in U-bends of heat exchangers for ammonia refrigerant-based refrigeration systems. The facility isolates and quantifies the energy losses and inefficiencies associated with U-bends in heat exchangers. — Lorenzo Cremaschi, Mechanical Engineering



Expression of the INK4AB/ARF Tumor Suppressor Transcription Factor MSK1 in Canine Breast Cancer: Quantification through qPCR and Correlation with Established Phenotypes

Student Author: Jonathan Dismukes,

Co-Authors: Patricia DeInnocentes, R. Curtis Bird

MSK1 is a regulator of a protein that encodes for INK4A/p16, a vital tumor suppressor gene that is found defective in both human and canine cancers. While the cause of many of these defects are known and lie within mutations of the genetic coding for INK4A/16, the other causes are most likely due to upstream mutations, possibly with MSK1. Canine mammary tumors cells are used in this study since dogs are excellent models for human cancer and exhibit comparable molecular targets. Prior research exhibited heightened expression of MSK1 within tumor cell tissue after traditional polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification and gel electrophoresis. To quantify the levels of this expression, quantitative-PCR (qPCR) was utilized using a SYBR Green fluorophore, which preferentially binds to double-stranded DNA during amplification. Therefore, the levels of fluorescence correlate directly with the amount of product as it increases exponentially. Following analysis, MSK1 was confirmed to have more starting product within tumor cell lines than the normal epithelial cells, albeit varying degrees among the six lines used. Future work will compare the data to the known phenotypes of the respective cells. Additionally, further tests exploring downstream protein kinases of INK4A/p16 and CDKs 1 and 2 with flow cytometry and fluorescence microscopy will further verify expression and location of the transcription factor during the rapid growth of tumor cells. With these tools, description of MSK1 profiles among the different canine mammary cell lines and levels of expression will lead to evidence about defects within the mechanism of the INK4A/p16 tumor suppressor and changes in cellular location. Ultimately, this knowledge of the faulty cellular mechanism within canine cancer will allow for potential gene therapy treatments to correct the known defects in both dogs and humans.

Statement of Research Advisor:  Jonathan helped develop a research strategy to first determine if the canine breast cancer cells expressed this newly described transcription factor thought to regulate cell proliferation and then designed a qPCR assay to assess the levels of expression.  Though it took most of the summer to first develop and then optimize the assay, he was able to detect this important regulator of gene expression and to quantify its expression levels in cancer cells he grew in culture.  This technology will allow the further investigation of this important transcription factor and its contribution to cancer cell proliferation. – R. Curtis Bird, Department of Pathobiology


Does Community Conservation Improve Human and Wildlife Health in Eastern Madagascar?

Student Author: Jordan Broadhead

Co-Author: Dr. Sarah Zohdy

The purpose of this study was to compare the health and well-being of people and wildlife in community protected and non-protected forests in eastern Madagascar. Forest loss on the island of Madagascar contributes to both the endangerment of some of the world’s most threatened species and the spread of poverty-linked infectious diseases in human populations. The practice of slash-and-burn agriculture has resulted in the loss of 40% of the island’s forest since 1950. Community-driven conservation efforts may offer the potential to improve human health and well-being while simultaneously protecting endemic wildlife.

In this study, we captured small mammals using Sherman traps and assessed the species diversity, invasive rodent distribution, mass, and ectoparasite counts for small mammals in both the protected forest and in a disturbed habitat. To assess human health, Association Mitsinjo, the local community conservation center, administered surveys to the local villages. One village was surrounded by protected forest and two were surrounded by deforestation. Surveys assessed the economic status, education, and personal health of the inhabitants.

We found that small mammal diversity in the protected forest was greater than in the disturbed forest. Invasive rodents were more prevalent in the disturbed forest. Mass and ectoparasite counts were not significantly different between the two sites for any species captured (p=0.38 and p=0.31). The two villages surrounded by disturbance had 103 responses from 50 households with a mean age of 33. The single smaller village surrounded by protected forest had 15 responses from 5 households with a mean age of 29. Comparing the health of villages over 6 months prior to the survey, people living in the protected forest village had more fever incidents but fewer fleas and no ticks, lice or diarrhea. People living in disturbed villages had fewer fever incidents but more lice, fleas, ticks, and diarrhea. We surveyed 16 guides and 46 agricultural workers. Comparing the health of people in these occupations over 6 months prior to the survey, we found people who work as ecotourism guides had more ticks and diarrhea, fewer fever episodes, and no lice or fleas. People who work in agriculture had many more fever occurrences, more lice, and more fleas but fewer ticks and cases of diarrhea. People living in the protected forest village reported less income than those living in the disturbed village. Guides reported greater income than agricultural workers.

This research suggests that community conservation can benefit human health and well-being while simultaneously protecting native forests and endemic species diversity. Community conservation has the potential to be an effective public health strategy.

Statement of Research Advisor: Jordan Broadhead has a deep interest in disease ecology and how human and animal health are linked. Jordan led this particular project investigating whether wildlife conservation can play a role in improving human health and well-being. Jordan made two trips to the island of Madagascar for this research, and in collaboration with Association Mitsinjo, the University of Antananarivo, and students from the Auburn College of Veterinary Medicine and Emory University, Jordan participated in all parts of the project from wildlife field sampling to helping with survey design and analysis and presentation of results at national conferences

—Sarah Zohdy, Forestry and Wildlife Sciences.

Mechanics of Professional Polo Players Exhibiting Pain vs. Players Without Pain

Student Author: Abigail Brittain

Co-Authors: Dr. Gretchen Oliver

As one of the oldest sports still played today, it is somewhat surprising that very little data have been collected on the sport of equestrian polo.  Of the available data, the focus has been either on the kinematics and kinetics of the offside forehand swing1,2 or injury statistics3,4 of polo athletes.  No study has yet to link the two areas of focus: mechanics and injury. The purpose of this study to identify significant differences in swing mechanics between female polo athletes with and without pain.

Ten female professional polo athletes (33.0 ± 10.4 yrs.; 1.69 ± 0.06 m; 66.9 ± 9.3 kg) participated.  After signing an informed consent and completing a health history questionnaire, participants were attached to an electromagnetic tracking system (trakSTAR™, Ascension Technologies, Inc., Burlington, VT, USA) synced with The MotionMonitor® (Innovative Sports Training, Chicago, IL., USA).  Each participant then warmed-up and executed three match effort offside forehand shots from a wooden horse.  Warm-up time as well as equipment (mallet and helmet) were not standardized in effort to minimize testing environment adjustments.  Testing procedures were approved by the university’s Institutional Review Board prior to all testing.

Five of the ten participants indicated they were currently experiencing pain and five indicated having no pain, allowing for participants to be divided into two equal groups, those with pain and those without pain. Kinematic data were analyzed at three swing events: take away (TA), top of backswing (TOB), and ball contact (BC) (Figure 1). An independent samples t-test was conducted to determine significant correlations between trunk and swing-side shoulder kinematics and reports of current pain. Significant differences were calculated using IBM SPSS Statistics 21 software (IBM Corp., Armonk, NY) for normally distributed data with an alpha level set a priori at α = 0.05.  Significant differences were found between pain and shoulder elevation at TA (t (7.54) = 2.999, p = 0.18); shoulder horizontal abduction at TOB (t (7.061) = -2.868, p = 0.24); and shoulder elevation at TOB (t (7.322) = 3.030, p = 0.18).

Based on this study, polo players exhibiting pain display different kinematics of the offside forehand swing, compared to those with no pain. The findings of this study suggest that athletes who display higher shoulder elevation at TA and TOB, as well as greater shoulder horizontal abduction at TOB, may be more likely to also experience pain. This means that bringing the mallet excessively high and farther from the midline of the body may be related to incidence of pain susceptibility in polo athletes. The study supports previous work that reported higher forces at the elbow when shoulder horizontal abduction is greater.1 Based on these results, more research regarding pain location, kinematics, and kinetics is warranted.

Statement of Research Advisor: Abigail’s work documents some of the first data published regarding polo swing mechanics. Abigail was able to utilize her research experiences carry out a solid study regarding polo swing mechanics that will not only further the sport of polo but also world of sports medicine and biomechanics.

Gretchen Oliver, Kinesiology


Figure 1: Events of Offside Forehand Polo Swing


  1. Oliver GD, Barfield J, Gilmer G, Brittain A, Washington JK. Horizontal shoulder abduction and elbow kinetics in the offside forehand polo swing. European Journal of Exercise and Sports Science.
  2. Oliver GD, Gilmer G, Barfield J, Brittain A. Swing mechanics of the offside forehand inprofessional female polo athletes. Journal of Orthopedic Research and Therapy. 2018.
  3. Costa-Paz M, Aponte-Tinao L, Muscolo DL. Injuries to polo riders: a prospective evaluation. Br J Sports Med. 1999.
  4. Merlini VL. A case study of the equestrian sport of polo: An integrative approach to issues of structure, function, and interaction. University of Connecticut, Doctoral Dissertations. 2004.

Multi-bend antenna optimization by genetic algorithms

By: James Smith, Michael Baginski

The goal of our research was to design antennas that broadcast electromagnetic energy in very specific, predefined regions. Signal strength topology may appear to be nearly pixilated and is typically impossible to realize using commonly available antennas. Highly directional antennas are very beneficial in tracking radars where maximum “power on target” is crucial for telecommunication systems trying to maximize coverage. Telecommunication systems and specifically cellular towers trying to focus the signal power in populated areas and eliminate coverage in unpopulated areas (city reservoirs, landfills, etc.) will greatly benefit from these antenna designs.

The optimization technique used in this research is called a genetic algorithm (GA).  This technique mimics the biological processes of evolution, molding and shaping a “population” of wires over several generations to perform optimally in a specific task. Objects are optimized on their “fitness,” or how well the object performs compares to the ideal object.  Two key advantages of a genetic algorithm are that it can search an infinitely large number of possible solutions and it can avoid local minima and maxima by introducing mutations. 

The predecessor for this work was the “crooked wire antenna,” which can be imagined as a straight piece of wire arbitrarily bent many times to achieve a specific antenna power pattern [1]. The location and degree of the bends were determined by a GA that selects the antenna designs that best creates the desired pattern.  Our research extends the “crooked wire antenna” design to achieve even better results using a type of “branching antenna” where the antenna wire configuration resembles the branch structure of a tree. A specially designed GA determines the length and placement of each of the wire branches. The key difference in this work from the “crooked wire antenna” is that each wire is allowed to branch out in arbitrary directions, similar to a tree.

To test our hypothesis, we ran trials of our developed genetic algorithm comparing branching versus non-branching antenna results for several test cases.  Table 1 shows averaged fitness results of such a test case, using 10 trials per combination of branches per node and depth of antenna. The total number of wires for each antenna is a result of its branches per node and depth, as shown in Figure 1. This is presented in the results to show that branching wire antennas are not out-performing non-branching wire antennas by consisting of more total wires.  Our most important finding was that the averaged fitness, a single value that represents how close the antenna is to the “ideal antenna” (with the more positive value being the better antenna), is much higher for antennas allowed to branch.  Figure 2 shows the radiation patterns for the antenna giving the highest fitness in this experiment.

Future research will apply this technique to a practical problem, likely including further restraints.  We plan to show that the multi-bend antenna can be used for cost-saving in industry.

James Smith

Statement of Research Advisor:

This research is significant because, unlike its predecessor, all the conceptual designs are realizable using antenna branching that reduces the load bearing of the individual antenna member . These findings will be transformative to any field needing unique antenna radiation—Michael Baginski, Electrical and Computer Engineering 

Mental health integration through accountable care organizations

By: Cassidy Roby, Rene McEldowney

Mental health treatment continues to be the “elephant in the room.” Psychiatric services need to be more ade- quately integrated into primary and hospital care, yet are often superseded by physical healthcare issues due to the negative stigma of mental ailments. The high prevalence of mental health disorders and lack of access to facilities are indicators of need for greater integration of mental health services. Accountable Care Organiza- tions (ACOs) aim to increase coordination between physicians in order to improve quality and increase savings, and thus provide a proper framework for assessing current mental health integration efforts.

Our research examined the current integration of mental health services in hospital-led ACOs by looking at ado- lescent, consultation, education, emergency, geriatric, outpatient, partial hospitalization, and residential treatment services offered using the data from the American Hospital Association (AHA) 2014 database. In our analysiswe defined “mental health integration” as the availability of psychiatric services offered by that hospital entity. We acknowledge the limitations of this definition. Our assumption is that if psychiatric services are more readily available to patients, they will be more inclined to use them. Our analysis showed all psychiatric services, with the exception of residential treatment, are more adequately integrated into hospital-led ACOs than non-ACOs. Res- idential psychiatric treatment did not appear to have any statistically significant differences between ACOs and non-ACOs. Recent increased prevention efforts may account for the lack of services in both ACOs and non-ACOs. We speculate that the lack of residential treatment in hospitals is a positive sign of preventative medicine being able to treat psychiatric patients without needing inpatient rehabilitation services. We make this speculation with the understanding that inpatient rehabilitation is often more time consuming, expensive and usually intended for very extreme psychiatric cases. Further research is needed to confirm the reasons behind this lack of residential treatment services.

These results show that ACOs provide greater quality of services to mental health patients than non-ACOs, and imply that ACOs are achieving their goal of providing coordinated care. Further research is needed to find if mental health integration has helped ACOs achieve greater cost savings. This study serves as a reference point to track the progress of mental health services in a rapidly changing healthcare system.


Statement of Research Advisor

The research Cassidy conducted demonstrates the ability for adolescent mental health services to be fully integrated into hospital owned Accountable Care Organizations at the primary provider level. Utilizing the American Hospital Association comprehensive data base, Cassidy’s analysis indicates that Hospital owned Accountable Care Organizations are an effective way to assimilate adolescent mental health services into the scope of Primary medical care. Cassidy is a Health Services Administration Spruiell Scholar and an extremely accomplished individual and student
—Rene McEldowney, Health Administration

Physiological and Psychological Effects of Music

By: Sarah Stevenson, Dr. Paula Bobrowski, Dr. Ann Knipschild, and Dr. Jennifer
Any music listener will agree that music can evoke emotions such as pride, elation, or relaxation. Research suggests that music does more than that for humans: it stimulates various parts of the brain and bodily responses, including the release of stress hormones (Levitin, 2006; Linnemann, Kappert, Doerr, Strahler, & Nater, 2015). Our current research project addresses the questions: How do different kinds of music affect the human body physiologically and psychologically? Is the unconscious experience elicited by the autonomic nervous system analogous to what is experienced consciously through emotions?
To attempt to answer these questions, we conducted an experiment involving 88 students over three semesters who were enrolled in the Music and Science course at Auburn University. Students were fitted with a respiration belt, two electrodermal activity electrodes, and two electrocardiogram electrodes and were asked to listen to two-minute audio recordings of Igor Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" (Song 1) and Erik Satie’s "Gymnopédie No. 1" (Song 2) as biofeedback software recorded their responses. After hearing each of the songs, the students completed a paper-and-pencil psychological survey in which they rated emotions elicited by the music clips.
The raw data were then analyzed to obtain various measurements (Figure 1). Results over all three semesters were not consistent or significant (p<0.05), most likely because the research protocol was updated and improved after each semester; however, some potential trends were identified over the course of the study. Measures of sympa thetic nervous system activity (skin conductance event count and sympathetic nerve activity) were higher during Song 1 than Song 2, with the exception of the sustained skin conductance level , which was higher in Song 2. This could mean that Song 1 elicited more overall changes in sk in conductance activity, even though the sustained electrodermal activity baseline was lower. Measures of parasympathetic nervous system activity (respiratory sinus arrhythmia and vagal nerve activity) were higher during Song 2. Beats per minute is an end organ measure, or a culmination of sympathetic an d parasympathetic nervous system activity; this measure indicated that there was more overall activity during Song 1 than during Song 2. Therefore, we can conclude that Song 1, “The Rite of Spring,” provoked more sympathetic activity and Song 2, “Gymnopédie No. 1,” provoked more parasympathetic activity.
The physiological results were analogous to the psychological results from the emotion surveys; participants rated their emotions as alert, attentive, and excited during Song 1 and relaxed, calm, and interested during Song 2. In conclusion, there was an overall more aroused response in terms of physiological and psychological activity during the more musically complex Song 1 (Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring”).
These results will contribute to the body of knowledge regarding the relationship between music and science. In future semesters, we will continue to investigate the relationship between music and the body, examining specific qualities of music that elicit reactions. This information can then be applied to areas such as therapy, education, and healthcare.

Statement of Research Adivsor

The result of this research is already making a significant impact on the field of music and science. It is being used in general education courses as a demonstration project to inform students on the interrelatedness of science and music as well as to engage them in their own research projects. The research has been presented at multiple national forums and has resulted in funding for outreach projects and other grants. I predict the results of this project to reach far into the future and positively impact the quality of life for a wide range of populations.

Paula Bobrowski, Political Science; Ann Knipschild, Music; and Jennifer Robinson, Psychology.

Significant results from the study: skin conductance event count, skin conductance level, and sympathetic nerve activity are measures of the sympathetic nervous sytem. Respiratory sinus arrhythmia and vagal nerve activity are measures of the parasympathetic nervous system. Beats per minute is a culmination of both types of activity.