Office of Undergraduate Research Undergraduate research will set you apart.

Recently in Research: Nicole Forchielli

Approximately 65 low-income elderly Lee County residents rely on Meals on Wheels each week, according to Nicole Forchielli, a senior studying nutrition dietetics. Nicole conducted her Undergraduate Research Fellowship this past summer under the mentorship of Dr. Yee Ming Lee in the College of Human Sciences.

“I got involved volunteering with [Meals on Wheels] and I really loved doing it and getting to know the residents, but I saw a lot of room for improvement,” Nicole said. “I kept that in the back of my mind, but I didn’t have an opportunity to make a lot of impact until I started doing research with Dr. Lee. She’s the one who pushed me to start a project.”

Nicole’s project involved both a quantitative study of the nutritional content of the meals provided to the elderly as well as a qualitative study of resident’s satisfaction with their meals.

“We’re looking at every recipe and breaking it down into its ingredients and nutritional components to make sure that what we’re giving them lines up with what the government says is a guideline for an elderly person,” Nicole said. “Hopefully we can offer better meals and improve what the residents think needs to be improved.”

Photo: Nicole entering Meals on Wheels menu items into a database of nutritional data.

Recently in Research: Jieong (Jess) Choi

Jieong (Jess) Choi began exploring undergraduate research opportunities her freshman year while enrolled in the Conservation Biology Learning Community. During her time in the learning community taught by Dr. Robert Boyd, Jess learned about research opportunities available to her from faculty members who visited the class.

Jess is now a senior studying microbiology (pre-vet) and minoring in plant pathology. She is conducting her Undergraduate Research Fellowship under the direction of Dr. Boyd in the biological sciences department. Her research involves studying a nickel hyperaccumulating plant Streptanthus polygaloides and a high-nickel insect called Melanotrichus boydi that eats the plant.

“What I’m really interested in is different populations of plants, geographic patterns, and morphological patterns that cause the plants to take and store different concentrations of nickel,” Jess said. “I am then interested in the bugs that are found feeding on the plants and if they can also store different nickel concentrations.”

During the summer of 2015, Jess traveled to the Sierra Nevada mountains in California to collect plant and insect samples from 25 sites. According to Jess, her biggest challenge so far during her project was collecting plant samples that were flowering. When Jess returned to Auburn, she then analyzed the nickel concentration of her samples using inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometry (ICP-OES).

After her freshman-year experience, Jess Jess using the ICP-OES machine to analyze her plant samples.returned her sophomore year to be the peer instructor for the Conservation Biology Learning Community. Jess said she had this advice for freshman looking to get involved in research, “If you’re a freshman go ahead and contact professors. If you’re in the sciences check out their lab websites and see what they are researching. Don’t think that all the professors expect you to know stuff. Be confident and talk to your professors. They all like to talk about their research.”

Photos: Jess using the ICP-OES machine to analyze her plant samples.

Recently in Research: Gabby Gilmer

Gabby Gilmer, a junior in chemical engineering, began her undergraduate research involvement fall of her Sophomore year in Dr. Gretchen Oliver’s lab in the School of Kinesiology. Gabby’s research involves studying athletes who suffer from pain in different areas of the body and how that pain affects their athletic ability.

“I’m working on two different projects. The first project concerns how pain in different areas of the body affects the throwing mechanics of softball players,” Gabby said. “The purpose of the project is to see if generally people with pain in certain areas adjust their throwing mechanics to compensate for the pain.”

The second part of Gabby’s project will study novice handball players from the similar sports backgrounds to see if those athletes have similar throwing mechanics.

“We will look at youth baseball players and novice handball players to see if they have similar instability issues. It’s been found in previous studies that a lot of youth players do not have core stability which affects their throwing mechanics. This could lead to shoulder injury when they’re older,” Gabby said.

Photo: Gabby Gilmer placing sensors on a test subject.

Recently in Research: Holland Bankston

Holland Bankston is researching how microwave radiation, the kind used in your kitchen appliance, can be used to manufacture a material for energy storage. Holland is a senior studying polymer and fiber engineering. His undergraduate research fellowship is under the guidance of Dr. Xinyu Zhang.

“I’m specifically focusing on a faster way to create nanocomposites. Ideally, we could use these nanocomposites for energy storage, in simple terms, a battery,” Holland said.

Holland hopes to produce a material for energy storage using a faster method than what is currently used.

“If we could create something comparable or even better than a lithium-ion battery for energy storage, we would change the market,” Holland said.

Photo: Holland Bankston placing a vial containing his composite material into a kitchen microwave.

Recently in Research: Kasey Shepp

Kasey, a senior studying biomedical sciences, began her undergraduate research involvement fall of her junior year. Her Undergraduate Research Fellowship project is being conducted under the guidance of Dr. Nancy Merner in the Harrison School of Pharmacy. Kasey is studying certain receptors called hydroxycarboxylic acid receptors. “My focus is looking at any potential genetic variance [the receptors] may have. Such mutations may connect them with hereditary breast cancer,” Kasey said.

Kasey began her project by designing primers to target certain genes within a DNA sample. She then used Polymerase Chain Reactions (PCR) to amplify those genes. Kasey is currently analyzing the results from DNA sequencing. She wants to determine the rarity of the genetic variance and if the variance are damaging or benign.
“My lab is focused on finding new breast cancer susceptibility genes. Specifically, those present in African-Americans,” Kasey said. “[African-Americans] have a higher chance of receiving a more detrimental case and no one exactly knows why. So, we’re trying to find genetic factors that may influence that. Through this, we are able to provide genetic screening for women who might not have had that opportunity.”

Recently in Research: Will Kelner

William (Will) Kelner is a senior majoring concurrently in psychology and sociology. His Undergraduate Research Fellowship, under the guidance of Dr. Apryl Alexander, involves studying perceptions of mental illness on the Auburn University campus.

“What I would like to look at is how college students perceive individuals who may be showing signs of mental illness,” Will said.

Will began his undergraduate research involvement at the end of his sophomore year when he began working in three psychology labs.

This past summer Will completed a literature review where he looked at previous studies of mental illness awareness on college campuses. He and Dr. Alexander then narrowed down the focus of his project and found scales that look at stigma associated with mental illness. Will plans to collect data this fall on mental illness awareness by surveying students. He will then analyze the data and report his findings in the spring.

Will wants to raise awareness of mental illness in the Auburn community, so that people can access resources to become educated about it.

Recently in Research: Robert Boothe

Undergraduate Research Fellow Robert Boothe is a senior studying biochemistry and conducting research under the guidance of Dr. Christian Goldsmith in the Chemistry Department. Robert is making chemicals for MRI contrasting agents that will highlight regions of the body that are dense with reactive oxygen species (ROS’s).

“Generally, ROS’s are associated with various diseases and cancers. A lot of high density ROS’s can cause DNA mutations that can potentially lead to cancers. I’m working with Nickel based compounds. I crystalized them, characterized them and now I’m studying their aqueous chemistry,” Robert said.

Robert has this advice for students thinking about getting involved in undergraduate research.

“Definitely start early. I wish I had started earlier than the summer after my Sophomore year. If you get plugged into a lab early you can figure out if you really like it or not. People don’t realize how long it takes to get good results in research. It can take years,” Robert said.

Working in close proximity to an expert in specific field can provide numerous benefits to undergraduate students.

“Dr. Goldsmith is great with teaching me how to do research. He gives his undergrads a lot of responsibility. He’s taught me how to manage a project, to be responsible, and work in a timely manner. Whenever I have a question he always has an answer,” Robert said.

Recently in Research: Ryan Heslin

Ryan Heslin is an Undergraduate Research Fellow and senior studying biomedical sciences. His research mentor is Dr. Miranda Reed in the Harrison School of Pharmacy. Ryan began working with Dr. Reed in January 2016 studying a link between Alzheimer’s disease and inflammation.

“What I look at specifically is introducing a viral mimic that will stimulate a response as if the body were fighting a virus. We look at how that influences glutamate levels in the hippocampus. There is a lot of research linking glutamate levels and neurogeneration. So this is a small part of how a viral mimic and inflammation can influence glutamate levels and therefore theoretically influence neurogeneration,” Ryan said.

Ryan began his undergraduate research experience the summer after his freshman year at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

Ryan has this advice for freshman thinking about pursuing undergraduate research, “Go for it, get to know your professors. Don’t be afraid to email them and ask if they have any opportunities available.”

After he completes his undergraduate studies, Ryan plans to pursue a master’s degree in pharmacology through the Auburn University School of Pharmacy.

Recently in Research: Sahm Deravi

“A lot of the research we do in our lab has to do with converting light into energy using solar fuel cells. I’m investigating the photocatalytic behavior of two-dimensional titanium oxycarbide nanosheets,” said Sahm Deravi, a senior studying chemical engineering. Sahm is an Undergraduate Research Fellow and is conducting research under the guidance of Dr. James Radich.

According to Sahm, titanium oxide (TiO2) is one of the most studied catalysts but has a deficiency in that the compound can only absorb UV light. “We want to expand the absorption of the light spectrum by this titanium compound,” Sahm said.

Sahm began his undergraduate research experience the summer after his freshman year when he obtained a fellowship to conduct research at Harvard. When he returned to Auburn, Sahm sought out opportunities on campus and found that Dr. Radich was starting a new lab.

Students do not necessarily have to wait until they are an upperclassman to get involved in research. Sahm has this advice for students looking to get involved in research. “The one thing I would say to a freshman looking to get involved in undergraduate research is you need to go talk to a professor if you are interested.”

Sahm Deravi in the laboratory

Photo: Sahm standing next to a machine called a UV-Vis that measures how much light is absorbed by compounds.