LAS students seize summer research opportunities

CATEGORIES: News, Research, Students
Students at an archaeology site.
Iowa State University students Courtney Schill, senior in anthropology, and Jonathan Landeros-Cisneros, senior in anthropology, are researching mortuary rituals at an ancient burial site in Mexico this summer.

From examining ancient burial rites in Mexico to exploring computational chemistry, a select group of College of Liberal Arts and Sciences students are spending their summer as funded LAS undergraduate researchers. Thirty-four LAS students received the Dean’s High Impact Undergraduate Research Awards this summer to support their undergraduate research.

Learn what some of these student researchers have been discovering this summer about the research process:

Matthew Andersland, junior in psychology
“I am working with Dr. Kevin Blankenship and his graduate students. Over the past few weeks I have been learning how to reliably code passages and rate them regarding their levels of the research metric integrative complexity. I have learned how psychological research is conducted after the data collection stage, and have advanced my own knowledge in regards to integrative complexity, alongside my ability to assess ones level of integrative complexity based on a passage.”

Alejand Hernandez-Delgado, junior in genetics
“I am working with Dr. Jeffrey Essner in a project called MPS and Lamp. Our main goal with the project is to create zebrafish model organism to help us create more gene therapies for kids with mucopolysaccharide (MPS) disorders. So far I have learned a lot. For example, I learned that it is fine to mess up as long as you learn from your mistakes and do better next time. In addition, I am learning how to create homology arms and how to integrate them into the zebrafish genome. We have been reading literature and finding out what hasn’t been done so that we can do it and make sure it would help those kids with MPS.”

Grace Kline, senior in biology
“While studying TSD (temperature-dependent sex determination) in the common snapping turtle, researchers found that a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in the Cold-Inducible RNA-Binding Protein (CIRBP) encoding gene is expressed differently at male-and female-inducing temperatures (Schroeder et al. 2016). This species has Type II TSD, where females are produced at high and low incubation temperatures, and males are produced at intermediate incubation temperatures. This summer, I am studying CIRBP encoding gene across reptile lineages to determine its possible role in sex determination of species with Type II TSD and to investigate mechanisms of convergent evolution of sex determination. So far I have extracted DNA from American alligator and musk turtle blood for this project, and am amplifying this DNA using polymerase chain reaction, and sending this DNA to the DNA facility at Iowa State to be sequenced. These sequences (along with other reptile species) will be analyzed to see if they contain the same SNP that was found in the common snapping turtle. I was also able to assist another undergraduate research project requiring painted turtle nest monitoring in Thomson, Illinois.”

Megan Knobeloch, sophomore in chemistry
“My research consists of making heterobimetallic precursors (specifically those consisting of groups 10 and 14 metals) and completing phosphine tuning on those precursors to change their behavior. We are making crystalline compounds that have never been made before! The hope with these precursors is that they will be successfully used as catalysts and can be fine-tuned to create different catalytic structures for different reaction requirements. I am learning so much through doing undergraduate research this summer. I honestly feel that being in the lab and doing things hands on has taught me more than my first year of college has. Making these compounds has given me a sense of purpose and made me feel like I am helping to progress chemical knowledge. I have dreamed of working in a lab ever since I was in middle school, so doing what I’m doing is surreal.”

Jonathan Landeros-Cisneros, senior in anthropology
“I am doing research with Dr. Andrew Somerville from the Department of World Languages and Cultures. We are working with local Mexican archaeologists associated with the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia. The research I am doing this summer consists of bioarchaeological work. I am investigating the mortuary ritual patterns and extent of socioeconomic inequality in the ancient Caxcan population from Cerro de Teul in Teul de Gonzalez Ortega, Zacatecas, Pueblo Magico. Using analytical tools such as the Gini Coefficient, I have learned that Cerro de Teul was a highly equal society based on the data from 68 individuals and that the mortuary ritual patterns consisted of honoring the sun as a deity since most of the burials were oriented East-West.”

Andrew Lamkins, junior in chemistry
“I am working in Professor Wenyu Huang’s lab in the Department of Chemistry this summer. My research is focused on the synthesis of new intermetallic catalysts for use in certain organic reactions. I primarily focus on palladium-tin intermetallics and the unique routes to synthesizing a specific phase of those two metals. This summer I have learned much more about the process of publishing works. I have done research in past semesters and am used to the lab work needed, but have only now began to learn how to use analytical methods needed to publish research.”

Alex Leffel, sophomore in chemistry
“I am working through the Ames Lab and am working with Theresa Windus. The work that I am doing is in computational chemistry, which has been a huge eye-opener for me. I had always thought that to do research and have interesting work you would have to be in a lab every day and work with dangerous chemicals. What I know now is that there is a huge field of theory as well as non lab-based research jobs and positions that range from being a professor to working at a national lab and many more. In addition to getting this great introduction to research, my work has also given me a foundation for classes that I will take in the following years. Running computations on transition metal complexes has helped me learn about the molecules themselves, as well as things I will learn in Chem 324 and 325, quantum mechanics and chemical thermodynamics, respectively.”

Ashley Macbeth, senior in psychology
“I am working with Dr. David Vogel in the Department of Psychology. We have been researching religiosity in the LGBTQ+ community. Specifically, we are interested in how parental religiosity can affect how parents reject/accept their LGBTQ+ child coming out and how that effects the LGBTQ+ children’s religiosity. These past few weeks have been focused on getting approval for the study from the IRB and working on writing the paper that will be submitted for publication hopefully by the end of the summer. I have learned a lot about how rigorous the research process is and how intricate the writing process can be.”

David McHugh, senior in biology
“I am working with Dr. Peter Clark in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. I have participated in a number of research projects through a variety of unique ways. While working with a graduate student on her probiotics study, I was tasked with sectioning mice brains using a microtome and freezing stage. I was also trained on the common lab practice, IHC, an analytical technique used to stain tissue for specific neurochemicals and histological structures. Since starting my position, I have become proficient in both techniques and am able to contribute significantly to the lab as a result. In addition, I have worked closely with another graduate student on his ‘drinking in the dark’ study, helping with animal handling and blood analysis via gas chromatography. Finally, I had the chance to participate in multiple sessions of necropsy, where we collected brain and organ samples from rats at the end of a study on eating behavior in stressed mice. Thus far, I have gained the knowledge and skills necessary to be a qualified research assistant, which will help me make an impact in future lab positions as well as my future career.”

Lena Menefee-Cook, senior in performing arts
“I am working with Amanda Petefish-Schrag, an assistant professor of theatre in the Department of Music and Theatre.  This summer, I am researching shadow puppetry styles, techniques, design, and material use for Iowa State University Theatre’s production of ‘Of the Deep,’ an original play by Amanda Petefish-Schrag that will take place in Spring 2020. The play explores a coastal community’s experience when a whale carcass washes ashore, as well as the present, historical, and mythical relationships between humans, the sea, and marine animals. The primary method of storytelling will be several different forms of puppetry, and shadow puppetry will be used to explore the mythical world of the sea and creation stories. Traditional shadow puppetry has often been closely linked with the spiritual world of myths, legends and religion. The shadow images exist in a liminal place that feels neither tangible nor completely intangible, which will allow us to explore the complexities of humanity’s relationship with the increasingly polluted oceans and the creatures that live there. Through my research, I have also discovered how essential the experimentation stage is in the puppetry design process, especially when using recycled materials such as plastic milk jugs, netting from produce bags and egg cartons. Each material has to be tested for durability, flexibility and opacity, all of which must be reflected in the design and manipulation techniques.”

Sarah Moody, senior in political science
“I am working with Dr. Mark Nieman in the Department of Political Science. We are researching if there is a relationship between the type of school that a leader of a country attended (military, vocational, educational), the area they studied (humanities, sciences, etc.) and the policy decisions that they make. Multiple people collected information on the same leaders for where they attended school, the type of school they attended, the highest degree they earned and the area they studied. It is my responsibility to look at the collected data and ensure that the information is consistent across sets. If there are any differences between the original sets, I research the leader in question to gather correct information. At this stage in the process I’m learning a lot about data collection and the amount of time and research that goes behind answering what appears to be a simple question at the surface level.”

Courtney Schill, senior in anthropology
“I am working with Dr. Andrew Somerville on a bioarchaeological research project in Mexico this summer. With the support of the Institucion Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH), I am working with the skeletal collection excavated from the archaeological site of Cerro del Teul. The primary goals of my research are to assess the stature (calculated height in life) and pathology (rates of disease and injury) of this particular population.  Once I have finished my research, my co-researchers and I will be presenting our results and submitting an official report of the site to INAH regarding the paleopathology, oral health and social inequality of the people at this site.”

Anthony Sillman, senior in biology
“I am doing research under Dr. Nicole Valenzuela in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology. I am currently trying to isolate a gene to have it sequenced by the DNA sequencing lab on campus. This involves running PCRs, gel electrophoresis, nanodrop testing and designing primers. When I am not doing that I help to take care of the turtle hatchlings that are being kept for research purposes in Nicole’s lab. I also help extract DNA from samples so that the lab has turtle DNA available for the research and I was involved in field work in which we collected turtle eggs from a turtle farm. I have learned valuable information about the research process, about genetics and bioinformatics, research techniques and turtles. It has been a fantastic research experience from which I have learned valuable skills and information.”

Cameron Vannoy, junior in chemistry
“I am currently working on research in the lab of Dr. Marit Nilsen-Hamilton under the supervision of Dr. Gennady Pogorelko. My research is focused on developing a biosensor for the KIM 1 (kidney injury molecule 1) protein. The KIM 1 protein is a biomarker for acute kidney injury (AKI) and can be found in the blood and urine of affected patients. KIM 1 is currently detectable but the testing process is time and money intensive. My research looks to change this through the use of aptamers. An aptamer is an oligonucleotide that can bind to a protein and ‘tag’ it, thus allowing us to ‘see’ if the target molecule is there. The process of finding the best fit aptamer is long, and involves isolating the appropriate protein gene, cloning that gene to a vector, expressing the protein, purifying the protein and then aptamer selection and finally aptamer modification to optimize its function. This summer I have been cloning the KIM 1 gene and am getting ready to express the protein in several different E. coli strains.

Working on this research has given me a unique insight as to the work that goes into lifesaving technology long before patients ever see it. I have learned lab techniques and skills that will help me conduct my own research one day. I came into this research with little knowledge of lab techniques such as plate streaking or how to grow bacteria, and I now know how to do these things and many more complex protocols. I love the collaborative work that goes on in the lab. I don’t just work with Dr. Pogorelko but the other faculty in the lab along with graduate students and lab technicians. Working with all these amazing scientists has allowed me to learn lab techniques that only someone who had worked in the lab for years would know. I love scientific collaboration and learning that it is okay to ask questions and get help in the lab is making me a better scientist. I am grateful for the funding that has allowed me to learn and grow as a scientist.”