Research on FYRE

First Year Research Experience

Take your passion beyond the classroom

Offered by the College of Arts, Sciences, and Business (CASB), the First Year Research Experience (FYRE) is an opportunity for first year and transfer students to work one-on-one with a faculty mentor on a specific research project.

FYRE students can ask questions, check data and create knowledge. The program helps students improve critical thinking, communication, presentation and leadership skills while fully engaging in their education.

Apply to take part in FYRE

Applications are due Friday, November 12, 2021. FYRE is only available to students who are majoring in an academic program within the College of Arts, Sciences, and Business.

Learn How to Apply

First Year Research Experience showcase their research on posters in the Havener Center atrium.

Students are taking a look their research on posters at the First Year Research Experience(FYRE) showcase in the Havener Center.

Students and audiences are talking in the First Year Research Experience showcase about their research on posters in the Havener Center.

A students is explaining her The First Year Research Experience(FYRE) research in the Havener Center.

FYRE Project Options

You do not have to major in the discipline that matches the FYRE project. In fact, many extraordinarily successful partnerships have resulted from FYRE students and mentors from different disciplines. Students may apply for up to three projects.

24 research projects are available for the 2021-22 cycle. Please take some time to study them and talk to the professors involved to learn more about a project.

The FYRE program emphasizes one-on-one mentorship, so only one FYRE student will be selected to work on each project.

Biological Sciences

Faculty Name:  Matt Thimgan
Department: Biological Sciences
Title of Research Project: Determining markers of learning and sleepiness in biologically older and younger flies.

Description of Research Project:

Individuals age at different rates such that chronological ages do not reflect performance as well as biological aging does.  We have devised mathematical models that can use sleep patterns to determine the biological age of an individual animal.  One question that remains is whether biological aging impacts spatial learning in fruit flies.  This project will determine if flies that sleep in a way consistent with longer lifespan are able to complete a spatial learning task longer into life compared to biologically older flies.  The spatial learning will give us a method to assess how sleep can impact the fly’s biological age and ultimately if that changes a fly’s ability to learn later in life.  

Brief description of FYRE student’s responsibilities during Spring 2019, including expected outcomes and rough timeline:

Students will be responsible for learning animal husbandry and background for the project.  It is anticipated this will take 3-4 weeks.  In addition, students will learn how to conduct the spatial learning assay.  This will take approximately another month to gather data from the two different groups.  Lastly if there is time remaining, the student will look for changes in molecular markers that change before and after the learning assay or after sleep deprivation.  Lastly, the student will be responsible to report results to the university community.

What skills will the FYRE student acquire or enhance as a result of working on this research project?

The student will learn general laboratory techniques for fly husbandry and how to conduct a sleep study in flies.  In addition, the student will learn how to conduct and interpret spatial learning assays and the statistics from these experiments.  The student will learn to present their results to outside scientists in a coherent manner.

Faculty Name: Dave Westenberg
Department: Biological Sciences
Title of Research Project: Drought tolerance in bacteria-plant interactions

Description of Research Project:

Nitrogen fixing bacteria form an association with legume plants such as soybean and play a key role in crop health and productivity. This process is sensitive to drought and desiccation and the increasing challenge of climate change is having an impact on agricultural productivity. This project will characterize strains of the bacterium which interacts with soybean, Bradyrhizobium japonicum, for its salt tolerance. High salt concentrations mimics the conditions of drought and provides a good simulation of the process or drought tolerance. They project will collect critical data that will be used to investigate strategies to increase drought tolerance through synthetic biology.

Brief description of FYRE student’s responsibilities during Spring 2022, including expected outcomes and rough timeline:

The FYRE student working on this project will be following up on work done by last year’s FYRE student who grew strains of B. japonicum at various salt concentrations to test their salt tolerance. The student will repeat this testing and then investigate the antibiotic sensitivity of each strain. The determination of antibiotic sensitivity will be critical for the introduction of salt tolerance genes using synthetic biology. Strains will be identified which have the appropriate salt sensitivity and antibiotic sensitivity for future studies. If time permits, students will work on introducing salt tolerance genes into the B. japonicum strains and testing the ability of these genes to increase the salt tolerance of these bacteria.

What skills will the FYRE student acquire or enhance as a result of working on this research project?

FYRE students will learn how to prepare culture media for growing bacteria, assessing the growth of bacteria on culture media, and inoculating soybean seeds for forming nitrogen-fixing nodules. They will be growing plants and monitoring for root nodule formation. Additional skills will be molecular cloning techniques for introducing drought tolerance genes into bacteria.

Faculty Name: Niranjana Krishnan
Department: Biological Sciences
Title of Research Project: Elucidating differences in pesticide susceptibility across two butterfly species

Description of Research Project:

The goal of the project is to determine if the differences in pesticide susceptibility across two closely related butterfly species is due to differences in the activity of their metabolizing enzymes. The major enzymes responsible for metabolizing (i.e., breaking down) pesticides in insects are cytochrome P450s, esterases, and reductases.

The student will first conduct a baseline experiment where they will treat a known sensitive (monarch butterfly) and insensitive (painted lady) butterfly species with a neonicotinoid pesticide and determine the concentration that causes 50% mortality in both species. Then, in a set of intervention experiments, they will individually block each of the three metabolizing enzymes by applying various concentrations of the appropriate enzyme inhibitor in both species. Following this, they will treat the ‘primed’ butterflies with the pesticide concentration that was determined to cause 50% mortality.

While the intervention experiments are expected to cause greater than 50% mortality due to inhibition of the metabolizing enzymes, the responses will differ across species, inhibitor type, and inhibitor concentrations. The study will help inform which of the three enzymes is largely responsible for breaking down the pesticide and how the activity of the enzyme varies across both species.

Brief description of FYRE student’s responsibilities during Spring 2019, including expected outcomes and rough timeline:

Responsibilities: Read two relevant but short papers that will be shared by the faculty. Conduct experiments with the guidance of the faculty, document observations, and present results. Attend weekly meetings with the faculty.

Expected Outcomes: In the weekly meetings, the two papers will initially be discussed to ensure the student understands the material. The student will then be made aware of the project’s background and importance and provided an explanation of the experimental design and methods. Finally, they will be taught how to interpret the data (quantitative and qualitative) obtained from the experiments and present the results.

In the lab, the student will learn best lab practices and basic experimental skills. They will gain some knowledge on how to rear insects, prepare pesticide and enzyme solutions, treat insects, and note down observations.

Rough Timeline:

January 2022: Read two relevant but short papers

February 2022: Conduct the baseline experiment and one intervention experiment

March 2022: Conduct two intervention experiments

April 2022: Interpret data and prepare poster/short talk to present at Undergraduate Research Conference and FYRE Research Showcase

 

What skills will the FYRE student acquire or enhance as a result of working on this research project?

Lab skills: Rearing of insects, preparation of solutions, undertaking of toxicity bioassays, noting down of experimental observations

Other skills: Knowledge on how to design experiments, troubleshoot problems, interpret data, and present results (poster/short talk).

Faculty Name:  Katie Shannon
Department:  Biological Sciences
Title of Research Project:  How do mutations in a protein kinase affect cytokinesis?

Description of Research Project:

Cytokinesis is the physical process of cell division, which divides the cytoplasm between two cells.   To study cytokinetic defects, budding yeast is used a model organism.  One important pathway that regulates cytokinesis is called the Mitotic Exit Network or MEN for short. The MEN is a signaling pathway that allows a dividing cell to complete cytokinesis and exit mitosis.  Of interest is the regulation of Dbf2, a MEN protein kinase, by phosphorylation. Mutant alleles of the dbf2 gene that prevent phosphorylation or dephosphorylation have been created.  In this research project, the student will introduce the mutant dbf2 alleles into yeast cells.  The student will observe the cells during mitosis through use of fluorescence microscopy to determine the effects of the mutations on cytokinesis.  The student will also examine the effects of the Dbf2 mutations on the interaction of the kinase with other proteins.  This research has implications for human health, because Dbf2 is a member of the Ndr kinase family, and human homologs of Dbf2 have been implicated in cancer.

Brief description of FYRE student’s responsibilities during Spring 2022, including expected outcomes and rough timeline:

The FYRE student is expected to spend 6-9 hours per week in the lab.  Dr. Shannon will provide training in experimental techniques, no previous experience is necessary.  Student’s responsibilities include tasks such as making media and solutions required for experiments.  The student will be expected to read background papers, attend lab meetings, and present at the Undergraduate Research Conference in addition to performing experiments.  Expected outcomes include generation of new yeast strains and analysis of cytokinesis phenotypes in the first two months of the project.  Microscopy will begin mid semester, and immunoprecipitation experiments to examine protein-protein interactions will be undertaken if time allows. 

What skills will the FYRE student acquire or enhance as a result of working on this research project?

The FYRE student will learn molecular biology techniques such as plasmid purification, yeast transformation, and PCR.  Student will gain microscopy experience, which may include examination of both fixed and live cells, and may involve training on the new confocal microscope located in Schrenk Hall.  Student will be mentored and will have an authentic basic science research experience.

Chemistry

Faculty Name: Chariklia (Lia) Sotiriou-Leventis
Department: Chemistry
Title of Research Project: Carbon aerogels for high capacity and selective adsorption of carbon dioxide

 

Description of Research Project:

Carbon aerogels are light, highly porous materials with high surface areas. Their applications have beendemonstrated in a wide range of areas such as CO2 capture, gas separations, electrochemical cells, catalysis, etc. Carbon aerogels are typically made from pyrolysis of a variety of carbonizable polymeric aerogels, which in turn are synthesized via sol-gel methods. It has been argued that along with porosity and the surface structure, heteroatoms such as O and N play a decisive role on the properties of porous carbon materials. In particular, nitrogen-containing functional groups are responsible for adding basic character to the derived materials, which tends to improve interaction with gases for gas adsorption applications. Two main approaches have been used for introducing nitrogen in porous carbons: by post-treatment with nitrogen containing molecules such as ammonia, urea, melamine nitric acid etc., and by an in-situ method. The posttreatment method is straightforward, but the derived porous carbons are oftentimes unstable, and in general show lower surface areas and pore volumes than the untreated parent carbons. On the other hand, the in-situ method uses nitrogen-containing polymer precursors and involves a judicious choice of the polymerization chemistry and the monomers. In this project, the latter method will be explored.

Brief description of FYRE student’s responsibilities during Spring 2022, including expected outcomes and rough timeline:

The student will work closely with a graduate student in the synthesis of carbon aerogels (~ 1.5 mo) and materials characterization (~ 1.5 mo). During this process, the student will be involved in communicating his/her results via scientific writing and presentation in group meetings led by the PI.

What skills will the FYRE student acquire or enhance as a result of working on this research project?

  • Wet chemistry synthetic skills
  • Characterization of materials using different techniques: NMR, FTIR, SEM, and gas-sorption using a BET surface analyzer.
  • Scientific writing
  • Power point presentation

Faculty Name: V. Prakash Reddy

Department: Chemistry

Title of Research Project: AGE-Inhibitors and AGE-Breakers in Health and Disease

 

Description of Research Project (maximum 200 words):

In this project we will develop synthetic methods for fluorinated organic compounds, focusing on the antioxidants and AGE-inhibitors.  We will explore the antiglycating and AGE-inhibitory effects of these organofluorine compounds through fluorescence and NMR studies.

The FYRE student will collaborate with the graduate students in developing novel synthetic methods for organofluorine compounds and synthesize novel fluorinated versions of the polyphenolic compounds toward the goal of developing pharmaceutical candidates for neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease and traumatic brain injury. 

 We will also explore polyphenolic compounds as neuroprotectors, and design novel fluorinated versions of the polyphenolic compounds toward the goal of developing pharmaceutical candidates for neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease and traumatic brain injury. 

The neuroprotective and AGE-inhibitory studies will be predicted based on the fluorescence assays on the cell-culture models. 

 

Brief description of FYRE student’s responsibilities during Spring 2019, including expected outcomes and rough timeline (maximum 200 words):

The FYRE student will collaborate with the graduate students in developing novel synthetic methods for organofluorine compounds and synthesize novel fluorinated versions of the polyphenolic compounds toward the goal of developing pharmaceutical candidates for neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease and traumatic brain injury.  The expected outcomes include demonstrating the effectiveness of AGE inhibitor/breaker compounds in cell viability studies. 

 

What skills will the FYRE student acquire or enhance as a result of working on this research project?

The FYRE student will learn organic synthesis and will gain expertise in the characterization of organic compounds using NMR and mass spectroscopy. 

Faculty Name: Klaus Woelk

Department: Chemistry

Title of Research Project: Influence of different metal cations on the relaxation of magnetic resonance in water

Description of Research Project (maximum 200 words):

Paramagnetic and diamagnetic cations in aqueous solution (i.e., cations with and without unpaired electrons, respectively) influence the return of excited magnetization in water molecules to thermodynamic equilibrium. The time constant for the return to equilibrium (relaxation time) is an indication of interactions between the type of cations and the water molecules. The interactions will be analyzed and, if possible, quantized. If successful, the project will be extended to changes in the pH of the aqueous solutions as well as to more complex systems such as polymer hydrogels or catalytically active mixtures.

Brief description of FYRE student’s responsibilities during Spring 2022, including expected outcomes and rough timeline (maximum 200 words):

The student will be responsible to generate well-defined, aqueous solutions of different cations, prepare samples for NMR spectroscopy, and collect NMR spectra that can be analyzed with a mathematical routine for extracting one or more relaxation times for the samples under investigation. The student will learn the basics of NMR spectroscopy and is expected to independently run an NMR spectrometer after only a short period of training. The student is also expected to participate in weekly research group meetings, keep a good record of the experimentation procedure and results, and prepare presentations to the group and a broader audience, such as the audience at an undergraduate or regional research conference.

What skills will the FYRE student acquire or enhance as a result of working on this research project?

The student will enhance their laboratory practice as well as lab hygiene and safety. The student will become familiar with operating complex chemical instrumental, learn to modify essential parameters of NMR spectroscopy, and design basic pulse programs for conducting NMR relaxation experiments. The student will also learn to present scientific results to a scientifically interested, critical, and inquisitive audience.

Faculty Name: Jeffrey Winiarz

Department: Chemistry

Title of Research Project: Synthesis and characterization of semiconductor nanocrystals for use as photosensitizers in polymeric composites

 

Description of Research Project (maximum 200 words): In this project students will become familiar with wet-chemistry techniques used in the synthesis of semiconductor nanocrystals and the subsequent ligand exchange process necessary to enhance the charge-transfer process between the nanocrystal and the photoconductive polymer matrix in which the nanocrystals are suspended. Semiconductor nanocrystals such as CdS, CdSe, PbS, etc. will be synthesized using techniques that afford control over nanocrystal morphology and surface characteristics. Although these characteristics can be controlled, the resulting nanocrystals are passivated with organic molecules during the synthetic process. Most common among these capping molecules is trioctylphosphine (TOP). Unfortunately, due to their aliphatic nature, these passivating molecules also tend to act as an insulator to the charge-transfer process and thus drastically reduce the efficiency of the photosensitizer. In order to increase the efficiency, the nanocrystals need to passivated with a molecule which is more conducive to the charge-transfer process. In this project the student will attempt to exchange these insulative passivating molecules which are already well known for its charge-transporting properties, such as N,N′-Bis(3-methylphenyl)-N,N′-diphenylbenzidine (TPD). The efficacy of this approach will be gauged using standard photoconductivity characterizations.

 

Brief description of FYRE student’s responsibilities during Spring 2022, including expected outcomes and rough timeline (maximum 200 words): The student involved with this project will be expected to become familiar with the current literature involving semiconductor nanocrystal synthesis as well as the literature pertaining to photoconductive polymeric composites. The student will be expected to become proficient in the techniques used in the synthesis of semiconductor nanocrystals and their characterization including uv-vis spectroscopy, x-ray diffraction, transmission electron microscopy. It is anticipated that these techniques will be mastered in Jan-Feb. Upon successful synthesis of nanocrystals, the student will spend Mar-Apr performing the ligand exchange and any additional characterizations which may be required. It is anticipated that preliminary data may be obtained in May which will provide an indication as the efficacy of this approach.

 

What skills will the FYRE student acquire or enhance as a result of working on this research project?

Students engaged in this project will have the opportunity to learn the techniques needed to synthesize, manipulate, purify, and characterize inorganic semiconductor nanocrystals. This will include significant experience with Schlenk-line chemistry. In the course of this project students will 1) become familiar with the use of binary solvent systems and centrifugation commonly employed in the purification of these materials, 2) learn to perform optical spectroscopy and to interpret the results, 3) learn to interpret the results of x-ray diffraction and how to apply the Scherrer formula, 4) learn how to perform surface chemistry on the synthesized nanocrystals, 5) become familiar with the intricacies of hybrid organic/inorganic systems, and 6) become familiar with techniques associated with solvent-casting thin films.

Faculty Name: Amitava Choudhury
Department: Chemistry

Title of Research Project: Developing electrode materials for Li- and Na-ion Batteries


Description of Research Project (maximum 200 words):

In this project we aim to synthesize new materials or modify well-known electrode materials for enhanced
efficiency for lithium and sodium ion batteries. Several synthesis routes including hydrothermal and high
temperature ceramic methods are employed to synthesize new materials. The materials are then characterized by
employing X-ray diffraction techniques. Lithium or sodium ion cells are then fabricated with the synthesized
materials and then tested for their performances. The goal of this project is to understand what structural features
of the materials make it a good lithium or sodium ion battery electrode and how we can improve the performance
by modifying the chemistry/structure of the materials.

Brief description of FYRE student’s responsibilities during Spring 2022, including expected outcomes and rough timeline (maximum 200 words):

The FYRE student will be trained by a graduate student of Dr. Choudhury on how to carry out a synthesis of
material. After that the student will be given a problem where he/she would try to synthesize a target compound
by employing different synthesis routes. As the student makes progress in the project, the different
characterization techniques will be introduced slowly as and when it is needed. The students can come at any
time in the laboratory as permitted by their course work schedule. In one semester nothing much can be
expected but the students can at least learn how scientific research is carried out in a laboratory and with some
luck they may get some interesting results. If the students are interested in continuing the research beyond the
FYRE period, they have the option to apply for OURE fellowship.


What skills will the FYRE student acquire or enhance as a result of working on this research
project?

The students learn different materials synthesis techniques

They get training on how to handle and interpret X-ray diffraction data

They learn how to fabricate a lithium- or sodium ion cells/batteries

They learn electrochemistry and how lithium/sodium ion batteries work

They learn about solid state/materials chemistry being involved in this research

They develop skills to analyze and present scientific data

Faculty Name:   Rainer Glaser 

Department:   Chemistry

Title of Research Project:   Kinetics and Mechanism of Oscillating Chemical Reactions 

 

Description of Research Project (maximum 200 words):

The classical Belousov−Zhabotinsky (BZ) oscillating reaction refers to the oscillatory cerium-catalyzed bromate oxidation of citric acid.  In the overwhelming number of chemical reactions, reagent concentrations decrease steadily, product concentrations steadily increase, and in some cases, one or more intermediates may form and later disappear.  In oscillating reactions, however, some species concentrations oscillate periodically (with hundreds of oscillations) as the reaction progresses.  How can that possibly happen? 

Since the discovery of the BZ reaction many similar oscillating chemical reactions have been discovered that use dicarboxylic acids (malonic acid, malic acid) as the organic substrate and are catalyzed by other metals such as Fe, Ru, Mn, and Cu, or by combinations of catalysts such as Fe/Ce.  The study of this set of reactions is at the core of the field of “Nonlinear Dynamics”, a modern, exciting, and growing field in reaction kinetics. 

It is our goal to understand these reactions so well that we can simulate their kinetics without any simplifying assumptions and considering consumption of substrates and the formation of a myriad of products.  To meet this challenge, we combine experimental studies of the reaction kinetics, mechanistic studies to explore plausible reaction mechanisms, and computational simulations of the complete multi-equilibria systems.

 

Brief description of FYRE student’s responsibilities during Spring 2022, including expected outcomes and rough timeline (maximum 200 words):

Students interested in working with us are expected to bring interest, enthusiasm, curiosity and dedication to the project.  No specialized prior knowledge is required.  Students will be mentored, instructed, and guided by Dr. Glaser and his graduate and advanced undergraduate students.  We will teach the students the skills they need to progress with their projects. 

Studies of oscillating reactions involve several stages:  (1) setting up and running oscillating reactions, (2a) direct recording of the reaction kinetics using UV/Vis spectroscopy and/or (2b) video-recording of the reaction and subsequent mathematical image analysis to determine the reaction kinetics, (3) oscillation pattern analysis of the reactions as a function of reaction time using mathematical methods, (4) formulation of the chemical equations that will be described by mass action kinetics, and (5) mathematical simulations of the reaction kinetics by numerical solution of the kinetics differential equations. 

Students may be involved in all or some of these components.  More chemically oriented students may focus on (1) and (2a) and (4), for example.  Mathematically interested and/or skilled students might want to work on Mathematica notebooks for image and/or pattern analysis and simulations in (2b), (3) and (5).

 

What skills will the FYRE student acquire or enhance as a result of working on this research project?

The Glaser group has been working on BZ reactions for a few years and we published papers on several aspects.  We will build on this foundation. 

Student working on this project will learn laboratory skills for chemical experimentation and instrumental analysis (UV/Vis spectroscopy), gain knowledge about the formulation and exploration of complicated multi-reaction systems, conceive of new reaction paths and explore their viability with modern theoretical methods of electronic structure theory (structural studies, thermochemistry, reaction rate constants), learn and develop mathematical methods for image analysis and oscillation pattern analysis, and apply and develop mathematical fitting algorithms to determine and/or improve reaction rate constants of elemental reactions.  

Importantly, students will learn about the process of research and best practices in collaborative group work, and students will have various opportunities to disseminate their results at conferences and by way of publication in scientific journals.

Faculty Name: Garry S. Grubbs II

Department: Chemistry

Title of Research Project: Microwave Pulse Schemes for Chiral Coherent Quantum Control

Description of Research Project (maximum 200 words): A large part of chemistry and chemical methods is based on the simple premise of chirality – two molecules which are mirror images of one another but are not superimposable. This handedness builds into it very unique properties which may be traced all the way to the quantum level. In the past decade in microwave (rotational) spectroscopy, it was discovered that these differences could be capitalized on in order to quantify one of the chiral species, or enantiomer, with respect to another using only microwave fields as polarization and detection methods. In the past 5 years, it was shown that these methods could be extended upon to actually quantum mechanically separate/select one enantiomer over another, but only by 6%. This research will build upon that research and use a new pulsing scheme to have up to 100% selectivity of one enantiomer. This research could have far reaching benefits in the areas of pharmaceuticals, cybersecurity, data storage, and quantum computing.

Brief description of FYRE student’s responsibilities during Spring 2022, including expected outcomes and rough timeline (maximum 200 words):

Student would be responsible for learning how to build microwave pulse sequences and taking data associated with the microwave spectrometer along with assembling and troubleshooting instrumental and experimental setups. The expected timeline is:

  1. Early Spring Semester – Assemble microwave 3-wave mixing (M3WM) experiment to take data in order to establish baseline separation value.
  2. Middle Spring Semester – Work on pulse sequences for Chiral Quantum Control experiments.
  3. Late Spring Semester – Implement sequences on control molecule in order to compare methods.

What skills will the FYRE student acquire or enhance as a result of working on this research project?

Experimental Physical/Analytical Chemistry techniques will be employed. An understanding of molecular structure and these effects on spectroscopy will be enhanced. Because this project involves maintaining an instrument, the student will gain experience on the following:

  1. Vacuum Technology
  2. Electronics Engineering through microwave pulse sequences and circuit design
  3. Coding in MATLAB and PYTHON
  4. Digital Electronics
  5. Gas Phase sampling methods in spectroscopy
  6. Laser Physics Techniques

Economics

Faculty Name: Dr. Radu Puslenghea
Department: Economics
Title of Research Project: A Case Study of Inflation Trends in the U.S.: The COVID-19 Pandemic and Its Aftermath

Description of Research Project:

The Covid 19 pandemic coupled with large scale and virtually unprecedented containment measures both at a social level and in terms of economic policies has created a volatile monetary environment.

The Federal Reserve System alone in an effort to safeguard the integrity of the financial system has provided more than 2 trillion dollars in liquidity, while effectively driving the short-term interest rates down to zero and making a number of regulatory changes to facilitate institutional access to credit.  

If we add to this, the massive fiscal stimulus of about 5.2 trillion dollars provided by the federal government, the disruptions in the global supply chain, a significant rise in the cost of containerized shipping, plus a booming housing market and a sharp rebound in oil and energy prices they all come together to paint a highly complex economic picture and growing concerns regarding inflationary expectations.

The purpose of this research project is to identify and analyze trends in consumer prices both at the national level, as well as in the major U.S. metropolitan statistical areas. Of particular interest is to contrast their evolution during the recent recession to the “Great Recession” of 2007 – 2009 and point out significant differences.

Brief description of FYRE student’s responsibilities during Spring 2021, including expected outcomes and rough timeline:

The FYRE student will be involved in the primary data collection and basic preparation for analysis. She or he would become familiar with the existent literature on the topic and potentially help (if interested) with the drafting of the literature review section. The student will have exposure to the process of analysis and interpretation/presentation of the results. Ideally, we would like to complete the pre-analysis steps as early as possibly (depending also on the student’s availability), so we could have a draft and results that can be presented before the mid-semester in Spring. 

What skills will the FYRE student acquire or enhance as a result of working on this research project?

The student will gain experience with editing and presentation software standard for writing research papers (LaTeX editor, Beamer, Microsoft Power Point and Microsoft Excel). They will practice effective written and spoken communication, team work, and meeting deadlines. They will also learn about an interesting and topical research subject.

Faculty Name: Mahelet Fikru
Department: Economics
Title of Research Project: Consumption and production of mineral commodities in the US

Description of Research Project:

The objective of the project is to (1) collect price, production, consumption, and trade data on mineral commodities, (2) calculate descriptive statistics of variables, and (3) generate plots and graphs to understand trends and identify correlations.

Brief description of FYRE student’s responsibilities during Spring 2022, including expected outcomes and rough timeline:

Week 1-3: Review of studies: define key terms and concepts

Week 4-6: Data collection

Week 7: Organize data using Excel

Week 8-10: Calculate descriptive statistics

Week 11-13: Create graphs and plots; interpret findings

Week 14-15: Write report 

What skills will the FYRE student acquire or enhance as a result of working on this research project?

Data collection, using Excel for data analysis and visualization, critical thinking, using data to find answers, and writing research findings.

English and Technical Communication

Faculty Name: Dr. Sarah Hercula

Department: Department of English and Technical Communication

Title of Research Project: Language Ideologies in Television

 

Description of Research Project (maximum 200 words): This project will investigate how we are socialized into beliefs and attitudes about language (e.g. which languages and speakers are prestigious/correct/pleasant vs. those that are incorrect/stigmatized/broken) through the media we consume, namely, through television shows. By investigating and analyzing scenes from popular television shows that use language to invoke stereotypes, comment on characters’ level of intelligence, and/or portray characters in a particular (positive or negative) light, we can uncover patterns that shape ideologies about language—ideologies that are tacitly reinforced through our viewing habits. This study will investigate several different genres of television shows and seek out patterns among characters’ gender, race, ethnicity, religion, and other social factors to determine how television writers use linguistic interactions to shape characters’ identities and viewers’ perceptions of those characters. The overall goal of this research is to investigate the extent to which patterns of linguistic portrayals in television shows impact and shape viewers’ language ideologies and, thus, their attitudes and behaviors toward specific speakers in the real world.

 

Brief description of FYRE student’s responsibilities during Spring 2019, including expected outcomes and rough timeline (maximum 200 words): The FYRE student involved with this project will spend time transcribing scenes from various television shows using the transcription conventions specific to the field of linguistics, including recording not only dialogue but also emphasis, pauses and pause length, sound length, etc. The student will also develop a system to compile data from each scene analyzed regarding the social situation of the scenes and the social characteristics of the characters involved, ultimately seeking out patterns among the various scenes. Finally, the student will be responsible for creating a bibliography of existent research on language ideologies in the media, particularly in television.

 

What skills will the FYRE student acquire or enhance as a result of working on this research project? The FYRE student will learn the basics of linguistic transcription and will spend time honing their skills with detailed listening, transcribing, record keeping, data recording, and data analysis. The student will also learn more about practices for conducting secondary research and compiling background research for a research project. Perhaps the most important part of this project is that the student will gain experience conducting social-justice-oriented research. The results of this project will contribute to our current understandings of linguistic prejudice and linguistic discrimination, as we ultimately seek to investigate how we can improve language attitudes toward speakers with minoritized language backgrounds.

Mathematics and Statistics

Faculty Name: Daozhi Han
Department: Mathematics and Statistics
Title of Research Project: The scalar auxiliary variable approach for solving nonlinear fluid equations

Description of Research Project (maximum 200 words):
Many real-world fluid applications such as weather forecast and wind tunnel simulations entail solving nonlinear equations for long time in fine resolution. A prime example is the well-known Navier-Stokes equations which is one of the Millennium Prize Problems according to the Clay Mathematics Institute. Solving this system is very challenging, both in theory and numerically. The scalar auxiliary variable approach is a recently developed numerical method that enables solving a nonlinear system in a linear, stable, decoupled and parallel fashion. The current design however suffers from low accuracy for flow simulations in high speed regime (advection-dominated). This project seeks to derive a simple one-dimensional fluid model retaining essential nonlinear structures of the original system, discover the shortcomings of the current approach based on extensive numerical investigation of the simple model, and design new scalar variable approaches suitable for flow simulations in advection-dominated regime.

 

Brief description of FYRE student’s responsibilities during Spring 2019, including expected outcomes and rough timeline (maximum 200 words):
The student will first participate in deriving the simplified model (January). In the process the student will get exposure to fluid equations and relevant physics. Then the student will learn the idea of the scalar auxiliary variable approach for solving nonlinear systems (February), develop skills using software for numerical implementation and analyzing data (February and March). Based on the results, we will come up with a new scalar auxiliary variable approach, implement and demonstrate its superior performance (April). Finally the student will be responsible for writing a report detailing the idea, the implementation and the findings (April and May). The report will be part of a research publication.

 

What skills will the FYRE student acquire or enhance as a result of working on this research project?
1. Modeling: develop a critical problem solving technique—simplify a complicated model to a basic one, and infer from solving the simple model.
2. Numerical simulations: develop skills using software for numerical simulation and data analysis
3. Writing a scientific report: describe the mathematical problem, articulate the idea of the numerical method, detail the implementation, and explain the numerical results.

Faculty Name: Matt Insall
Department: Mathematics and Statistics
Title of Research Project: Distance Functions For Image Analysis

Description of Research Project (maximum 200 words):
We will assess performance of new metrics on hyperspaces in image analysis. A two-dimensional image of a skin lesion can be viewed as a compact subset of the interior of a closed disk, R, in the real plane. Such a disk, R, represents a portion of the complete view field of a camera or other imaging device that contains the images to be compared; it forms a metric space, and compact subsets A and B of R can be viewed as two images, one, say A, an exemplar of a cancerous tumor, and the other, B, a sample for diagnosis. Let G be the group of self-isometries of R, and, given a metric, D, on the hyperspace of R, we want to find a minimizer h in G of the distance D between A and the image, h[B], of B under h. This gives us, a “best position” for B for “visual comparison” with A, so that if the distance D(A,h[B]) is “small enough”, then the image B is classified as being cancerous like A. Abstraction of the problems to data sets in feature spaces, or to facial recognition, will be considered later. 


Brief description of FYRE student’s responsibilities during Spring 2019, including expected outcomes and rough timeline (maximum 200 words):
1. Learn about current methods of image analysis using metrics on hyperspaces, and write a 2 page report (3 weeks);
2. Learn about the new metrics developed by Professors Charatonik and Insall and extend the report accordingly by 3 to 5 pages (2 weeks);
3. Write modified image analysis code to use the new metrics in place of the old versions, extending the report by up to 10 pages (3 weeks);
4. Test code on some elementary examples and edit report to include results, revising report to be no more than 19 pages, including references and introduction (2 weeks);
5. Modify both sets of code to implement isometry groups of interiors of closed disks, and edit report to be no more than 23 pages, including references, introduction, and abstract (3 weeks);
6. Test revised code on elementary examples and edit report to include results and comparisons, revising report to be no more than 29 pages, including references, introduction, and abstract (2 weeks);
7. Revise Report and submit Final Report (1 week).

 

What skills will the FYRE student acquire or enhance as a result of working on this research project?
1. Reading mathematics research articles;
2. Coding for “proof of concept” in bringing a tool from pure mathematics into the realm of applications;
3. Mathematical Report Authorship;
4. Document Markup Language (LaTeX) for Mathematicakl Report Authorship;
5. Meeting planning, agenda generation, meeting minutes, and time management.

Physics

Faculty Name: Aleksandr Chernatynskiy

Department: Physics

Title of Research Project:  Modelling thermal conductivity in high-entropy alloys: a molecular dynamics study.

 

Description of Research Project (maximum 200 words): High-entropy materials are a subject of intense scientific interest due to an unusual combination of properties and might find future applications in several areas. However, due to the complex structure, predicting and optimizing their properties is a non-trivial task. In this work, we will explore the lattice thermal conductivity of the model high-entropy alloy consisting of the atoms interacting via the simple Lennard-Jones potentials. In particular, the influence of the number of types of atoms, their masses, and differences in the bonding strength on the thermal conductivity will be investigated by rigorous molecular dynamics approach and compared to the approximate solutions.

 

Brief description of FYRE student’s responsibilities during Spring 2019, including expected outcomes and rough timeline (maximum 200 words): Student will have to learn the physics underlying the thermal transport processes through reading of the scientific literature and discussions with the adviser. He/she will be responsible for creating input filed for the computational software, running the jobs on the supercomputer and analyzing the results of the calculations.

 

What skills will the FYRE student acquire or enhance as a result of working on this research project? The student will be introduced to the research area of computational condensed matter physics and will learn how the properties of materials emerge from the atomistic structure. Further, he/she will gain experience of working with the supercomputers, ability to run scientific codes, create input files and analyze the output

Faculty Name: Yew San Hor

Department: Physics

Title of Research Project: Electric Field Exfoliation and Atomic Force Microscopy Characterization for Two Dimensional Nanolayered Materials

 

Description of Research Project (maximum 200 words):

Two dimensional layered materials such as graphene and monolayered transition metal dichalcogenides are quantum materials that exhibit unique quantum properties for examples quantum fluctuations, quantum entanglement, quantum coherence and topological effects. Here, we will develop a new method in exfoliating nanolayered materials from transition metal dichalcogenides by utilizing electric and magnetic fields. This method is elegant, clean, and effective in obtaining high quality nanolayered samples. Atomic Force Microscope will be used to characterize their thickness. Then, the high quality nanolayered samples will be fabricated into physics devices by using e-beam lithography. These physics devices will be used for fundamental studies of the quantum phenomena such as anyons (unusual particle-like objects) and axion electrodynamics.

 

Brief description of FYRE student’s responsibilities during Spring 2022, including expected outcomes and rough timeline (maximum 200 words):

Student will construct the experimental setup to generate electric and magnetic fields to exfoliate 2D metal chalcogenides (NbSe2 and Bi2Se3) on silicone substrates. The student will then characterize the exfoliated flakes by using atomic force microscope (AFM). The AFM has high resolution, and it is capable in characterizing one-nanometer thick samples. First, the student will spend the first month in Spring 2022 to set up the electric field exfoliation experiment and learn how to use the AFM in the laboratory. Second, the student will perform the exfoliation and characterization of the 2D metal chalcogenides. He/she will learn how to write a report and present his/her findings to other lab members in April 2022. The student will work closely together with lab members. The thin flakes of the 2D materials with thickness ranging from 1 to 20 nm will be expected. The flakes will then be used for physics device fabrications. Device fabrications will be performed by other lab members and the obtained results will be discussed among lab members in lab meetings.

 

What skills will the FYRE student acquire or enhance as a result of working on this research project?

The student will gain some experience in setting up experiments in laboratory. He/she will be familiar with the usage of AFM and producing nanostructured materials which are important for future technology and fundamental physics exploration. Furthermore, he/she will learn how to make scientific presentations.

Psychological Science

Faculty Name: Dr. Vahe Permzadian
Department: Psychological Science
Title of Research Project: The effect of assessment type (e.g., open-book exam) on performance and learning


Description of Research Project (maximum 200 words):
Instructors are often confronted with deciding whether to administer a closed-book exam, an open-book exam, or an exam that is some combination of these formats. These seemingly minor pedagogical decisions can still have important consequences. Furthermore, the empirical evidence for the effect of assessment format is mixed. Thus, the goal of this project is to review and quantitatively summarize the existing literature on the effect of assessment format on student learning outcomes. Because student learning and student performance are both important but different constructs, they will both be included as criteria. In addition to determining the average effect of different assessment formats, this project aims to examine any potential boundary conditions (i.e., moderators) that can provide for a better understanding of the mixed findings in this domain. Accordingly, one of practical implications of the study is to provide course instructors with evidence-based guidelines that will inform their decisions regarding the most appropriate assessment format that should be adopted.


Brief description of FYRE student’s responsibilities during Spring 2019, including expected outcomes and rough timeline (maximum 200 words):
The FYRE student will be involved in two of the major early phases of the project. The first phase of the project will require identifying the articles that might be included in the study. This process is very similar to the early stages of a literature review. The next major early phase is coding the articles. This process involves reading the relevant sections of each paper and extracting the information that would be needed by recording it in a coding document. Both of these phases can be lengthy depending on the number of papers that meet the criteria for inclusion. The following is a potential timeline for project activities:
o January: Preliminary training
o February: Developing the inclusion criteria, search strategy, and beginning Phase 1 (identifying papers to include in study)
o March: Complete Phase 1
o April: Develop coding document and begin Phase 2 (coding the papers)
o May: Complete Phase 2

 

What skills will the FYRE student acquire or enhance as a result of working on this research project?
The FYRE student will acquire both research knowledge and skills. Some of the most important include:
o In-dept understanding of how meta-analyses are conducted
o In-dept understanding of how to conduct a literature review
o Knowledge of the various research databases (e.g., Scopus) that are used to locate articles
o In-depth knowledge of the assessment format literature
o Learning how to code articles for a meta-analysis
o Increased research self-efficacy

Faculty Name: Dr. Daniel B. Shank

Department: Psychological Science

Title of Research Project: Simulating the Affective Dynamics of Real-World Human-AI Social Interactions

Description of Research Project (maximum 200 words): Humans socially interact with a range of artificial intelligence agents including specialized algorithms, smart home assistants, robots, and software bots. Affect control theory, a mathematically-specified theory of social interaction, can simulate how humans’ social interaction and perceptions unfold, according to the labels used in the situation, the affective meaning (how good, powerful, and active something is) of those labels, and the affective dynamics in the theory’s equations. To make valid simulations for social interaction with AIs using affect control theory requires (1) collecting affective meanings of common AI agent terms (e.g., A Personal Home Assistant, A Twitter Bot, A Roomba) and (2) finding realistic human-AI social interactions that occur in the real-world. For the first, my research team and I have recently collected a database of the affective meaning of many common AI agent terms. This FYRE student’s project is the second, finding real-world AI-human social interactions that can be used for affect control theory simulations. The FYRE student will “translate” the AI-human social interactions into simple sentences and simulate them with affect control theory. The larger research project team will use these in a study comparing human-human interaction with human-AI interaction.

 

Brief description of FYRE student’s responsibilities during Spring 2022, including expected outcomes and rough timeline (maximum 200 words):

This project has three ordered but overlapping phases. The FYRE student will (1) systematically look at news articles, blogs, and web threads for people reporting social interaction with the specific AI agents, (2) translate those into actor behavior recipient simple sentences that can be simulated, (3) conduct the simulations and analyze the results. The FYRE student will simultaneously learn the basics of affect control theory and participate with the larger team researching the affective meaning of AIs. To learn affect control theory, the FYRE student will read important research papers including prior studies from Dr. Shank that relate to the concepts and may write summaries of some of those papers. The FYRE student will analyze the results of the simulations, and those findings will culminate in the FYRE poster (or report), which will show the types of differences in the AI’s general out-of-context affective meaning and their affective meaning in-context of the social interaction.

 

What skills will the FYRE student acquire or enhance as a result of working on this research project?

Based on this project and skills gained by Dr. Shank’s former FYRE students, the 2021-2022 FYRE student will gain a number of basic skills including (1) searching for specific arguments within research articles, (2) how to read and write brief summaries of important papers, (3) learning about a theory, (4) interpreting simulations, (5) taking real world situations and transforming them into useful stimuli, (6) using simple statistics and visuals to present data, (7) creating output in a poster format, (8) working with multiple types of data, (9) understanding the relationship between projects, (10) organization skills, and (11) communication skills. Additionally, the student will get an on-the-ground perspective of a cutting-edge research area of applying psychology to people’s perceptions of AIs and using simulations in the social sciences. Dr. Shank has multiple grants around the areas of interaction and perception of intelligent technology, and currently, 13 students (or former students) are part of his research teams. This means an interested and capable FYRE student could continue research on this project or another project with Dr. Shank after the FYRE project ends.

Faculty Name: Dr. Clair Kueny

Department: Psychological Science

Title of Research Project: Understanding Rural Healthcare Professional’s Perceptions of Organization Support Strategies During a Pandemic

 

Description of Research Project (maximum 200 words): Healthcare organizations have faced tremendous challenges during COVID-19, including frequently and often contested changing guidelines set by the CDC, and consistent, direct contact with COVID-positive patients, as well as “typical” challenges faced by many organizations (remote work, quarantine schedules, staff shortages, etc). Adding to the complexity, rural healthcare organizations face unique stressors even in “normal times”, including transcending the provider-patient relationship into community relationships. Additionally, they are in a unique position as a result of regional differences where often local ordinances have not followed CDC public health guidelines. As a result, rural healthcare has faced a conundrum of circumstances during the pandemic, such that they have had to implement significant organizational changes with mixed-views as to what actions are really necessary and when. To better understand how rural healthcare has tried to navigate these challenges, data were gathered from healthcare professionals about their perceptions of their organization’s strategies in the early months of COVID-19. Surveys asked participants to list supportive actions their healthcare organization took during the first few months of the pandemic as well as actions they wished their healthcare organization had taken. Data are partially coded (need further coding) and need to be analyzed for trends in perceptions.

 

Brief description of FYRE student’s responsibilities during Spring 2022, including expected outcomes and rough timeline (maximum 200 words):

The FYRE student will help further code the qualitative data collected as well as analyze the data using basic analyses (e.g., comparisons of code frequencies, looking for differences in perceptions between demographic groups such as occupation, supervisor/employee, profession, etc.). An initial coding scheme has been created to help provide a foundation/give initial direction to the student, but they will have the opportunity to find further ways participant perceptions may be related (e.g., new coding schemes) as well as differences between participant groups that may help give direction to differences in perceptions about how the healthcare organization supported employees in the early months of the pandemic.

Introduction to the data and familiarizing with coding – January (once semester starts)

Explore data for possible new coding structures – February

Explore data for group differences in participant perceptions – February & March

Write-up and presentation development – April

 

What skills will the FYRE student acquire or enhance as a result of working on this research project?

The FYRE student will acquire skills in qualitative coding analyses as well as basic inferential statistics such as mean group comparisons and finding patterns among categorial groups (e.g., chi-square analyses). Additionally, the student will gain an understanding of how applied organizational psychology research data is collected and analyzed, including strengths and limitations of such a data collection process, realities of how applied/organizational field data can be collected, and impacts these strengths and limitations have on data interpretation and application.

Faculty Name: Dr. Jessica Cundiff
Department: Psychological Science
Title of Research Project: Evaluating a game designed to teach about gender bias


Description of Research Project (maximum 200 words):
Understanding the covert and unconscious nature of gender bias is critical for being able to detect and address it. Yet, teaching about bias can backfire and thwart information processing and learning goals. To overcome these challenges, my research lab developed an evidence-based classroom activity, the Workshop Activity for Gender Equity Simulation-Classroom (WAGES-Classroom), that can be used to teach about gender bias in the workplace. WAGES-Classroom is a board game that illustrates how the effects of unconscious bias unfold overtime and shows how individuals can interrupt the operation of unconscious bias on their own and others’ behalf. The purpose of the proposed research project is to test the efficacy of the game by randomly assigning participants to either play the game or not, and then measuring participants’ learning outcomes.


Brief description of FYRE student’s responsibilities during Spring 2019, including expected outcomes and rough timeline (maximum 200 words):
The FYRE student will help develop materials for the evaluation study, including developing measures to assess learning outcomes and putting those measures into online survey software. The FYRE student will also help coordinate the experimental study, including managing participant sign-ups, awarding credit, and sending reminder emails for follow-up surveys. The FYRE student will also have the opportunity, if they desire, to serve as an experimenter and learn how to facilitate the game. Here is a rough timeline:
January: Complete human-subjects research training, read background literature
February-March: Develop materials for the study, submit IRB application, and input measures into online survey software
March-April: Conduct study with participants
April-May: Send reminder emails to participants for follow-up survey


What skills will the FYRE student acquire or enhance as a result of working on this research project?
The FYRE student will:
• Gain experience conducting research with human participants, including training on ethical treatment of participants
• Gain in-depth knowledge of the psychological science of unconscious bias and sexism in the workplace
• Learn how to develop measures that are valid and reliable
• Learn how to use a popular online survey tool (Qualtrics) used by many employers
• Gain insight into experimental research design
Overall, the skills learned through this project will benefit the student in future coursework involving research methods and critical thinking.

Teacher Education and Certification

Faculty Name:  Dr. Michelle Schwartze
Department:  Teacher Education and Certification
Title of Research Project: Impact of Pre-Service Launch Teacher Training on Future Teaching of STEM

Description of Research Project:

The Teacher Education and Certification Department has been working with Project Lead the Way Launch (Pre-K - 5th grade) for the past six years. The preservice teachers for elementary education are all certified to teach PLTW Launch during their STEM methods course on campus. This training, which was originally for in-service teachers wanting to teach Launch to their students, gets preservice teachers prepared to teach the STEM modules to elementary students. Preservice teachers (or college students), though, do not have a current classroom in which they will use this curriculum right away, and so the training is based on what they visualize their future classroom to be. This research will look at alumni that have graduated with the Launch Classroom Teacher Training and see if they were able to apply the training they had as preservice teachers into their current classrooms. We will also examine what they found helpful and what they would possibly change with their experience in preservice Launch training.

 

Brief description of FYRE student’s responsibilities during Spring 2019, including expected outcomes and rough timeline:

The FYRE student in this project will be responsible for helping collect data on what alumni have received the preservice classroom teacher Launch training and where they are currently teaching. While working on this, the FYRE student will also create a survey on Google that will be sent to participants. I expect this part to take one month.

Once a list has been created of alumni and the Google form is finalized, the FYRE student will then reach out to those teachers and ask if they would like to be a part of this research. If they agree, the FYRE student will share the Google form with them and collect data as it comes in. Teachers will also be given the opportunity to complete an interview if they would like, in which case the FYRE student will meet with them for an interview and collect that data as well. This will take approximately two months.

As the data comes in the FYRE student will be responsible for meeting with me to analyze the information and come to some conclusions based on the data. This will then be made into the final poster. This should take approximately one month to complete.

 

What skills will the FYRE student acquire or enhance as a result of working on this research project?

The FYRE student will become familiar with qualitative data collection. They will create the survey, collect data from the survey, and hopefully be able to interview at least one participant.

The FYRE student will also meet with me to analyze the data and we will discuss strategies for analyzing qualitative results.

About the program

FYRE goal

Motivated students will learn to execute solid research methods.

Apprentice-style research partnership

Faculty mentors and students work together throughout the spring semester.

Additional research opportunities

It's not expected that a comprehensive research project will be completed in a single semester. FYRE students are encouraged to continue more advanced research, including S&T’s Opportunities for Undergraduate Research Experiences (OURE) projects. Mentors and students may also choose to continue their working relationship beyond the term of the program.

Students on FYRE

Randy Greeves in the FYRE (First Year Research Experience) showcase.

Randy Greeves seeks results

Mentored by Shannon Fogg, chair and professor of history and political science, Randy Greeves, a history and political science major, researches the humanitarian efforts applied children's treatment during war. Randy wants to use his research skills in industry when he graduates. In the FYRE program, Randy learned about the difficulties subject matter experts face and how to overcome them to produce results. 

Stephanie Dukes in the FYRE(First Year Research Experience) showcase

Stephanie Dukes knows her path

Mentored by Susan Murray, chair and professor of psychological sciences, Stephanie Dukes, a psychological sciences major studied personal "grit"—how it affects G.P.A. and how a sense of purpose can enhance a person’s grit. Stephanie wants to use her degree to help victims of domestic abuse. The FYRE program taught her how an experiment can be formed from an idea.

Want more information?

For questions, contact Melanie Mormile, associate dean of research and external relations in the College of Arts, Sciences, and Business and professor of Biological Sciences

Contact: mmormile@mst.edu or call 573-341-6346