More Discovery Makers

To say we were “overwhelmed” with the number of nominations for “5 Students Who are Discovery Makers” would be an understatement. More than 45 nominations were received — the most ever since the “5 Students” site debuted in September 2009. So many of these students were deserving of the honor that it was extremely challenging to choose only five students.

Because undergraduate research is one of the distinguishing characteristics of a Purdue education (and clearly a hot topic), we wanted to include here some of the nominations that were received to illustrate the breadth and depth of research being done by Purdue’s undergraduates.

Click on the college/school name below to see samples of the student research being done in that area.


Austin Donner
Major: Food Science
Year: Senior
Hometown: Naperville, Illinois
Faculty mentor: Kevin Keener, Food Science

Austin recently completed a one-month extended shelf life study of in-package ionization at Air-Liquide in Delaware. He has presented his research involving in-package ionization of food products, including raw shell eggs and raw chicken, at various undergraduate symposiums. Currently, he is developing radiant heat frying profiles for a major fast food chain’s chicken products. His research and academic work led to an internship position last summer with General Mills in Tennessee. Upon graduation, he’ll be returning to General Mills in a full-time position.

Jiaqi Guo
Major: Entomology
Year: Senior
Hometown: Lanzhou, China
Faculty mentors: Virginia Ferris and Jeffrey Holland, Entomology

Jiaqi’s molecular study of Indiana fireflies took first place at the 2010 Ecological Sciences and Engineering Symposium Poster Contest at Purdue. The student-run, interdisciplinary event provides undergraduate and graduate students with an opportunity to present their research and interact with experts in various environmental fields. Last summer, she won first prize for best biology poster at Purdue’s 2010 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships Symposium. Her poster detailed her research involving identification and phylogenetic analysis of Indiana fireflies.

Stacey A. Hirt
Majors: Food Science
Year: Senior
Hometown: Villa Hills, Kentucky
Faculty mentor: Mario Ferruzzi, Food Science

Stacey’s research project is focused on understanding the stability of anthocyanin pigments in model beverage systems. Specifically, she is measuring the kinetics of photo-degradation and thermal degradation in model systems exposed to accelerated storage conditions. In her efforts, she is assessing different natural anthocyanin sources, such as grape, purple carrot and others, in model ready-to-drink beverage systems. Understanding the stability of these natural colors in such systems will facilitate their use in commercial beverages as a replacement for artificial dyes that are currently used.

Kelsey Heron
Majors: Animal Science; Spanish
Year: Sophomore
Hometown: Indianapolis, Indiana
Faculty mentors: Roman Pogranichniy, Comparative Pathobiology; Darryl Ragland, Veterinary Clinical Sciences

Working in the Virology department in the Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, Kelsey is examining the Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome Virus (PRRSV), doing real-time quantitative polymerase chain reactions (RT-qPCR). PRRSV is important because it affects the number of pigs available for production. It affects pregnant sows, neonatal piglets, boars, and finishing pigs. Because it can be shed in the blood, saliva, semen, and in the uterus, it increases mortality rates and decreases litter sizes. At Purdue’s School of Veterinary Medicine, it is being studied both in vivo and in vitro with the hopes of finding an effective vaccine.

Anna Hurlock
Major: Biochemistry
Year: Senior
Hometown: Russiaville, Indiana
Faculty mentor: Clint Chapple, Biochemistry

A member of the University Honors Program, Anna’s research focuses on determining the function of a protein that regulates the production of lignin, a major plant cell wall polymer that makes it more difficult to make biofuels from cellulosic biomass. She presented her research at an international plant biochemistry meeting in Canada last year and was one of three persons to receive a “best poster” award. Anna plans to continue her education in the Ph.D. program at Michigan State University.

Jamie Steiner
Major: Quantitative Agricultural Economics
Year: Senior
Hometown: Berne, Indiana
Faculty mentor: Larry DeBoer, Agricultural Economics

Jamie’s honors research project focuses on consolidation of school buildings and the effect on cost and student achievement. Using data for Indiana school districts, she found that districts with more buildings have higher costs per pupil than similarly sized districts with fewer buildings. Results are mixed for building size and achievement. Larger school building size has not been shown to reduce achievement, based on ISTEP passing rates, for high schools and middle schools. Larger buildings do appear to reduce achievement in elementary schools.

Shalyse Tindell
Major: Animal Sciences
Year: Junior
Hometown: Oxford, New Jersey
Faculty mentor: Shawn S. Donkin, Animal Sciences

Milk production and health of dairy cattle is often limited by the ability of the cow to synthesize glucose in liver. There is a paucity of information on the molecular events that control this process in both healthy productive cows and during metabolic disease states. A key gene controlling this process in nonruminants is phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase or PEPCK. Cattle express two forms of PEPCK in the liver but nothing is known about its regulation. The goal of Shalyse’s research is to clone and characterize the gene for mitochondrial PEPCK in cattle and assess its role in health and disease.

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Emilia Czyszczon
Major: Biological Engineering
Year: Sophomore
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
Faculty mentor: Jenna Rickus, Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Emilia’s research project took her to southern Indiana where she hiked a glacial cave to collect soil samples in an effort to isolate a bacteriophage, a virus that infects bacteria. She took her soil sample from mud that has been around since the ice age. Seven weeks into testing, she discovered a bacteriophage. She has since isolated its genome and is currently characterizing the new organism (to be named Czyszczon1). The viral DNA will be submitted to the GenBank and all genetic information will be under her name. The DNA from the virus is now being analyzed to see what genes and proteins it has as well as what the specific functions of the virus are.

Pedro Jofre
Major: Biological Engineering
Year: Junior
Hometown: West Lafayette, Indiana
Faculty mentor: D. Marshall Porterfield, Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Pedro is working on the Cell Electrophysiology Lab on Chip system for gravitational biology research. He built the data hardware system that was recently used for the NASA flight experiments.

Joe Muth
Major: Materials Engineering
Year: Junior
Hometown: Knoxville, Tennessee
Faculty mentor: Jeffrey Youngblood, Materials Engineering

Joe is working on a project funded by the U.S. Marines to develop a rapid, field-deployable repair method for carbon-fiber composite aerostructures, specifically a next-gen heavy lift helicopter. The method in use is a UV-cured resin in order to lower volatile organic compounds, be clean and not need complicated mixing or autoclaves. Through his research, Joe has achieved strengths comparable to epoxy-based layup methods. They are looking to file patents on the procedure and are trying to transition it to industry so that it may be deployed.

Jarrett Powell
Major: Civil Engineering
Year: Junior/senior
Hometown: Indianapolis, Indiana
Faculty mentor: Samuel Labi, Civil Engineering

Jarrett participated in a research project that examined the current state of public-private partnerships in highway construction and preservation. This is a critical issue due to the need to attract private capital into public investments, share risks with the private sector and to exploit the cost-saving efficiencies that are inherent in the private sector for public benefit.

Chris Rivera
Major: Biomedical Engineering
Year: Junior
Hometown: Somerville, New Jersey
Faculty mentor: Gudrun Schmidt, Biomedical Engineering

Damaged hard-soft tissue interfaces have often limited ability to self-repair and are often not reestablished after surgery. Consequently, there is much research around developing better biomaterials for the regeneration of such interfaces. Chris and his team are involved in developing nanocomposite biomaterials that synergistically combine polymer characteristics, with the bioglass properties of inorganic nanoparticles. These materials have the potential to overcome deficiencies in both mechanical strength and delamination. The discoveries he and his team have made and the structure function relationships established provide critical insight for further interfacial biomaterials design.

Matthew Rockey
Major: Computer Engineering
Year: Senior
Hometown: Bloomfield, Indiana
Faculty mentor: Matthew Jones, Physics

Matt Rockey is working on the development of low cost electronics for producing and controlling high voltage used in photomultiplier tubes with which to study cosmic rays. His work involves prototyping electronic circuits, programming microcontrollers and designing printed circuit boards as well as the overall system and user interface design.

Sriram Vaidyanathan
Major: Biomedical Engineering
Year: Junior
Hometown: Coimbatore, India
Faculty mentor: Kevin Otto, Biological Sciences

Sriram’s research in the NeuroProstheses Lab have significantly advanced a promising technology: chronically implantable neural microelectrodes for the treatment of many neurological diseases or injuries including epilepsy, spinal cord injury and depression. He is investigating the use of sol-gel, a biocompatible material, as a coating material for the microelectrode arrays. The study hypothesizes that the nanostructure of the coatings, as well as the ability of these coatings to deliver bioactive molecules, will significantly improve the lifetime of these implants. Sriram’s success in the lab over the past three years includes successfully coating devices and evaluating their drug-delivery capabilities.

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Caroline Johnson
Major: Behavioral Neuroscience
Year: Senior
Hometown: Lafayette, Indiana
Faculty mentor: Kim Kinzig, Psychological Sciences

Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric disorders and typically presents in adolescence. Using an animal model, Caroline’s independent research is designed to elucidate the long-term neural consequences of experiencing anorexia in adolescence. Her research may aid in identification of treatments or therapies that decrease relapse in patients affected by anorexia nervosa and help improve quality of life. After graduation, she plans to pursue a doctorate in behavioral neuroscience.

Teryn Sapper
Major: Dietetics
Year: Junior
Hometown: Warsaw, Indiana
Faculty mentor: Mario Ferruzzi, Food Science

Since beginning undergraduate research as a freshman, Teryn is the co-author on two papers. Her current honors research project aims to determine the impact of lipid type and amount on polyphenol absorption from salads, and to identify any effects of lipids on polyphenol metabolism. Studies have shown that the consumption of diets rich in polyphenols are associated with decreased risks in coronary heart disease and cancer.

Alyssa Rose Schnaus
Major: Psychology
Year: Junior
Hometown: Jasper, Indiana
Faculty mentor: William Graziano, Psychological Sciences

As a research assistant, Alyssa is studying how stigmas (grouping people based on behavior viewed as unusual or undesirable) are related to mental disorders. Specifically, the impact that stigma has on attitudes towards individuals with mental illness and how mental illness stigma is related to agreeableness. This research could help promote a better understanding of how to educate communities to be more accepting of people with mental disorders.

Pardis Taheripour
Major: Foods and Nutrition
Year: Senior
Hometown: Urbana, Illinois
Faculty mentor: Sean Newcomer, Health and Kinesiology

In addition to leading the maternal exercise research project in Health and Kinesiology, Pardis has worked in Professor Megan McCurry's foods and nutrition lab for more than a year. She also spent the summer analyzing biological samples for the Camp Calcium research project. With a firm grasp of the scientific process, she often makes suggestions about potential modifications of research protocols. Recently, she developed her own project examining differences in food consumption between offspring of exercised and sedentary pigs.

Hailey Wilson
Majors: Dietetics; Nutrition, Fitness and Health
Hometown: Rockford, Illinois
Year: Junior
Faculty mentor: Wayne Campbell, Foods and Nutrition

Doing undergraduate research since the spring semester of her freshman year, Hailey has a project now that examines the effects of protein from different sources and in varying dietary amounts. Last fall, she wrote a grant to obtain funding for her honors project, which will measure the effects of these variables on amino acid levels. She also wants to evaluate the correlation between the concentrations of circulating amino acids and appetite.

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Heidi Trapp
Major: English Literature
Year: Senior
Hometown: Valparaiso, Indiana
Faculty mentor: Bob Lamb, English

Heidi is passionate about India—in particular the Punjabi language and women’s stories that are in danger of being lost. In fall 2009, she visited Delhi as part of a Purdue co-sponsored study abroad program, returning in summer 2010 on a Department of State Critical Languages Scholarship. While there, she studied Punjabi and researched women who have been affected by the partition of India.

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Jianyu Tu
Major: Economics
Year: Senior
Hometown: Xi'an, China
Faculty mentor: Kevin Mumford, Economics

Jianyu’s research investigates the impact of health shocks on employment and health insurance coverage. Represented by changes in the illness absence the individual takes, his research finds that health shocks significantly increase the individual’s chance of being unemployed and the chance of losing health insurance coverage. Further study of his research focuses on comparing the impact of health shocks from chronic and non-chronic diseases. After controlling the effects from chronic diseases, his study concludes that, contrary to our convention, health shocks caused by non-chronic diseases in particular have very significant impacts on employment and health insurance coverage.

Karen Wardjiman
Major: Management
Year: Junior
Hometown: Arcadia, California
Faculty mentor: Daphene Koch, Building Construction Management Technology

Karen has been working since May 2010 on a project to understand gender issues related to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers. During a literature review, Karen found that girls are turned off by science and math by the age of 8. Her skills in time management, organization and communication resulted in a paper that is being used as the basis of a pilot study. She is now testing theories on children ages 3-5 in the preschool at Purdue.

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Joonyoung Park
Major: Pharm. D.
Year: P-1 (first professional year)
Hometown: Incheon, Korea
Faculty mentor: Yoon Yeo, Industrial and Physical Pharmacy

Joonyoung first participated in a research project as part of the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program in May 2009. He has continued to pursue undergraduate research ever since. His work has involved chemical modification of chitosan, a natural polysaccharide, and poly (lactic-co-glycolic) acid (PLGA), a synthetic biodegradable polymer. The object is to create new biomaterials that could be useful as an artificial tissue scaffold or a drug delivery vehicle. He has been recognized as a co-author in two poster presentations at local and international meetings. In addition, he is co-author on a manuscript under revision and two other manuscripts ready for submission.

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Patrick Boehnke
Majors: Physics and Mathematics
Year: Senior
Hometown: Randolph, New Jersey
Faculty mentor: Marc Caffee, Physics

Patrick’s research is aimed at determining the origin and composition of terrestrial xenon using meteorite and radioactive decay xenon. This research is important because xenon is a good tracer for studying processes that happened during the formation of the earth. Patrick's work to date shows that earlier decompositions of mantle Xe, which assumed an atmospheric isotopic composition as the underlying component, may be wrong. If a more primitive component is considered, the decomposition of mantle-derived Xe changes substantially.

David Eaton III
Major: Biology
Year: Sophomore
Hometown: Indianapolis, Indiana
Faculty mentor: R. Claudio Aguilar, Biological Sciences

The basic process by which a cell engulfs nutrients and other factors from its environment is called endocytosis. Traditionally, endocytosis and cell division have been conceived as independent processes. However, research in our lab is challenging this concept. Specifically, our work suggests that endocytic proteins regulate the intracellular localization of the cell division protein Bem3. David's research involves the determination of the regions in Bem3 that are responsible for its proper localization. This research has far-reaching relevance because correct Bem3 function requires proper localization. Improper Bem3 activity leads to abnormal cell division — a characteristic of cancer takes place.

Kandace K. Kiefer
Major: Atmospheric Science
Year: Junior
Hometown: Berne, Indiana
Faculty mentor: Ernest Agee, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences

During the past few years, solar sunspot activity has been noticeably quiet, something scientists had not predicted. A lack of solar activity in the past may have influenced temperatures to be lower than average. Kandace’s research looks at this low or no sunspot activity and the potential effects on climate. She presented her work as a poster at Purdue’s 2010 Undergraduate Research Symposium and co-authored a reviewed publication in the November 2010 issue of the Journal of Climate. This paper also addressed the climatic ramifications of these events on the model predictions of climate change, in particular global warming. Kandace received a research experience for undergraduates (REU) from Harvard during the summer 2010, where she completed a study of the variations in solar wind characteristics during the recent 11-year cycle (#23). She presented these results at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in December 2010.

Joshua Liddell
Major: Biology
Year: Sophomore
Hometown: Merrillville, Indiana
Faculty mentor: Frederick Gimble, Biochemistry

Joshua has been fortunate to be involved in a research project from its inception. Homing endonucleases are enzymes that cleave long (14-40 base-pair) DNA recognition sequences. Few target sites exist for these enzymes within complex genomes. Homing enzymes are potential tools for gene therapy applications because they could be used to initiate the repair of defective genes using normal copies. The work requires engineering homing enzymes to recognize specific sites within a genome, which will require understanding how homing enzymes evolve new target site specificities. Joshua completed several research tasks, such as growing cultures, using kits to prepare DNA, preparing E. coli cells for transformation and purifying proteins using affinity chromatography.

Bryan Moyers
Majors: Biology–Neurobiology and Physiology; Behavioral Neuroscience
Year: Senior
Hometown: Greenwood, Indiana
Faculty mentor: Donna Fekete, Biological Sciences

Bryan has been involved in undergraduate research nearly all his college career. From understanding the visual system in humans and how we detect motion in the world and art to observing the mechanism of axon (brain cell) guidance in the developing ear (which could help cure deafness and other neurological disorders). He has also been involved in multiple projects elucidating the mechanism of cell fate choice in the ear during development, which helps us to better understand the development of the ear and has applications to stem cell technology.

Cody Mullen
Major: Interdisciplinary Science
Year: Junior
Hometown: West Lafayette, Indiana
Faculty mentor: Steve Witz, Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering

Cody started working with Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering as part of the Discovery Park Undergraduate Research Internship program in summer 2009. He is currently leading a center project examining readmissions rates and causes in critical access hospitals. This is a hot topic nationally because it’s seen as an area where costs can be reduced. Cody will be gathering data from hospitals and doing a descriptive study.

Dan Piraner
Majors: Biology and Chemistry
Year: Junior
Hometown: Columbus, Indiana
Faculty mentor: Carol Post, Medicinal Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology

Dan has been actively engaged in structural biology research for more than a year. His project is to define the three-dimensional structure of a molecular complex between two proteins: Vav1 and Syk protein tyrosine kinase, a key protein component in a signaling pathway of B cells. By defining the three-dimensional structure of this complex, Dan will contribute to achieving a molecular level understanding of immune responses. Dan is using data from high-resolution nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy plus graphical and computational tools to define the structure. He developed his own computer code to analyze the NMR data. Results of his work should be published within the next year.

Isaac Shaw
Major: Biology
Year: Senior (graduated December 2010)
Hometown: Lafayette, Indiana
Faculty mentor: Louis Sherman, Biological Sciences

Isaac is working on a project that involves the central control of metabolism in a cyanobacterium. This research will have significance in areas such as alternative energy production by photosynthetic microbes and for carbon sequestration. He has performed a large number of experiments that will be part of publications, and he likely will be co-author on two papers. He graduated in December 2010 and is planning to attend medical school.

Hunter Vibbert
Major: Chemistry
Year: Junior
Hometown: Lafayette, Indiana
Faculty mentors: Michael Ladisch, Agricultural and Biological Engineering; David McMillin, Chemistry

A member of the Science Honors program (for freshmen), Hunter is currently part of the Chemistry Honors program. He has co-authored a book chapter with one of his research advisors on the “Fundamentals of Nanotechnology and its Relevance to Food Science and Technology” and is part author of a patent for “Biomimetic Preprocessing of Lignocellulose.” He was one of the few freshmen who presented a poster at the Biofuels Symposium poster session in May 2009.

Ashley Zerr
Major: Biology–Neurobiology and Physiology
Year: Junior
Hometown: Shelbyville, Indiana
Faculty mentor: Howard Zelaznik, Health and Kinesiology

Ashley is currently working on an honors research that focuses on the effect of visual input on sensory perception and movement control and timing. She designed the project herself, which she will complete her senior year with an honors thesis and submission to a scientific journal. Ashley’s career goal is to be a pediatric oncologist.

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Jim Mlynarski
Major: Aviation Technology
Year: Senior
Hometown: Palos Heights, Illinois
Faculty mentor: Denver Lopp, Aviation Technology

During fall semester 2010, Jim spent time doing graduate-level research on Delta Air Lines operations at their hubs. He is documenting, collating and processing to what degree Delta personnel are adhering to company and industry practices. The research he presents to airline executives will ultimately help make at least one airline safer and more efficient and timely. That's work that can impact tens of millions of Americans as well as potentially save millions of dollars through increased efficiencies.

Alex Motazedi
Major: Building Construction Management Technology
Year: Senior (graduated December 2010)
Hometown: Brownstown, Indiana
Faculty mentors: Bryan Hubbard, Building Construction Management Technology; Jim McGlothlin, Health Sciences

Alex worked on research that examined safety issues of wind farm construction. The number of wind farms in the United States is increasing rapidly, and there is a concern over construction safety. He investigated the details of the construction along with the construction safety design features incorporated in the modular units. He was one of the authors of a paper presented at a conference on wind farm research.

Michael L. Short
Major: Aeronautical Engineering Technology
Year: Senior
Hometown: New Albany, Indiana
Faculty mentor: Mark Thom, Aviation Technology

Michael’s involved in research for the National Testing Facility for Alternative Fuels and Propulsion. The project involves development of a standardized test method to evaluate compatibility with and functionality of o-rings with alternative fuels. The test will be used in different test scenarios, such as static and dynamic external loading, and static and dynamic internal fluid pressure. It is part of alternative fuels research that is helping to build a better, more environmentally friendly aircraft industry for years to come.

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