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Student Research Opportunities in the Sciences

Check back in January for Summer 2018 opportunities!

Nearly 30 science research opportunities are available at Beloit College for summer 2017! 

Opportunities are available in astronomy, biochemistry, biology, chemistry, biochemistry, computer science, environmental science, geology, mathematics and neuroscience.  Many projects will accept more than one student, so you will work on a team of researchers.  In addition to conducting research with a faculty mentor, you will also participate in activities with other student researchers that aim to strengthen your professional skills as a scientist.

Most of the opportunities are 8-week experiences (but some are shorter). Successful applicants will receive a stipend of $4,500 for an 8-week experience, must enroll in one unit of Special Project (BIOL, CHEM, CSCI, GEOL, MATH, or PHYS 390), and pay summer tuition for this course. They must live on campus and contract with the college for room and board. The stipend has been calculated to cover these costs.

To learn more, please read the descriptions of the available projects.  If you are interested in a project, talk to the faculty mentor for the project to learn more about it.  Then, apply for the project here. Make sure to request two reference reports from Beloit College faculty members and send an unofficial transcript to Taylor Ajamian. Applications are due on March 20th, 2017. Awards will be made within 2-3 weeks of the application due date.

If you have questions, please contact Sue Swanson (Geology) or Rachel Bergstrom (Biology). Alternatively, contact the faculty member associated with the project that you would like to work on.

 

Principal Investigator: Amy Briggs

Focus Areas: Biology
Project Duration: 8 weeks (June 5-July 28)

Description: As sessile organisms without circulating cells, plants must equip every cell with the ability to respond to abiotic and biotic stresses, such as drought and pathogen infection. My lab mainly uses the model organism, Arabidopsis thaliana, to study how plants protect themselves from such stresses. Summer research projects may include: using bioinformatics to analyze Arabidopsis' transcriptional responses to pathogen infection, screening natural variants of Arabidopsis for drought and salt tolerance, and investigating the drought tolerance and pathogen susceptibility of the subsistence tuber, cocoyam (Xanthosoma and Colocasia genuses).

Preferred prerequisites: BIOL 247: Biometrics and BIOL 289: Genetics

Number of student positions:  2

 

Principal Investigator: Britt Scharringhausen
Focus Areas: Astronomy
Project Duration: 8 weeks (June 5-July 28)

Description: The F ring of Saturn is a narrow, irregular ring that lies just outside the main rings. F-ring clumps are well-characterized radially and longitudinally, but their vertical structure is not nearly as well-known. Summer research scholars will use IDL (the Interactive Data Language) to analyze the brightness of the rings in Imaging Science Subsystem Narrow Angle Camera (ISS NAC) images of a ring-plane crossing by the Cassini spacecraft in which Saturn's rings are seen edge-on. Scholars will analyze and identify bright clumps in the F ring, track them to determine their orbital parameters, and measure their size, brightness, and shape. Cataloging F-ring clumps seen in these edge-on images contributes to the ultimate goal of characterizing and understanding their vertical structure and the vertical structure of the F ring itself.

Prerequisites: The successful applicant will have taken PHYS 101: General Physics I, PHYS 206: Math Methods for Scientists, and will have some programming experience (though not necessarily in IDL).

Number of student positions:  3

 

Principal Investigator: Chantal Koechli
Focus Area: Biology
Project Duration: 8 weeks (May 22-July 14)

Description: The soil microbial community is responsible for around 80% of decomposition in soils. Understanding microbial community composition and its role in carbon cycling has major implications for soil fertility and climate change. Previous research has found that land management is a factor affecting soil carbon cycling. Thus, elucidating the impact of land management on structure and function of microbial communities is of interest. Potential projects relating to this task include exploring the impact of land management around the Beloit-area on soil carbon storage, respiration, and/or microbial community or determining the distribution of a specific microbial group across land management.

Prerequisites: Students should be comfortable with physical field work and have completed an introductory geology and/or introductory biology course.

Number of student positions:  1

 

Principal Investigator: Darrah Chavey

Focus Area: Computer Science
Project Duration: 8 weeks (June 5-July28)

Description: Blockade Games on Graphs: A class of games, played historically in at least 10 cultures, is played by moving pieces on a graph and trying to block your opponent so they have no move to make. Several graphs have been used for this game, and this research project works to analyze all small graphs to decide whether other graphs exist that would generate interesting games of this form, or whether historic cultures have already found the best such games. Previous student research has generate a code base to analyze these games, and to filter out those that do not meet certain criteria that characterize games that people enjoy playing. Along the way, other features have been found that also appear crucial in generating quality blockade games. This research will incorporate those features into the code, working to narrow the class of candidate graphs for these games, and analyzing what makes such games "good". In addition, the researchers will work to improve the existing algorithms to increase the performance of the code so it can be extended to analysis on larger graphs.

Prerequisites: Research participants must have taken CSCI 204: Data Structures and Algorithms. One programming or algorithms course beyond CSCI 204 is preferred.

Research Topics: Graph algorithms; Computer Games.

Number of student positions: 2

 

Principal Investigator: Erin Munro Krull
Focus Area: Math, Neuroscience
Project Duration: 8 weeks (June 5-July 28)

Description: Action potential propagation in branching axons. We will explore the relationship between sodium conductance (g_Na) and action potential (AP) propagation. AP propagation in axons is a long outstanding problem, where it is difficult to predict whether an AP will travel across branch points. Sodium conductance directly influences how excitable an axon is, so the higher g_Na is the easier it is for an AP to propagate.Using NEURON software, we will simulate AP propagation in simplified axons. Together, we will try to determine relationship between g_Na and axon geometry that allows propagation. We will then test relationship predictions on real axon geometries downloaded from neuromorpho.org. Preliminary work shows that the sodium conductance may linearly predict AP propagation in axons. This approach may yield key insights into predicting AP propagation in all axons.

Prerequisites: MATH 115: Calculus II, some programming experience.

Number of student positions:  4

 

Principal Investigator: George Lisensky
Focus Area: Chemistry
Project Duration: 8 weeks (May 22-July 14)

Description: Superhydrophobic Materials: Water-repellent materials have antifogging, self-cleaning, anti-icing, and anticorrosion applications. For example, a hydrophobic natural wax coating with nanoscale surface roughness contributes to the high water repellency and self-cleaning ability of the lotus leaf. This combination of chemistry and physics is said to be superhydrophobic. The goal of this project is to prepare surfaces with varying feature sizes and coatings to identify the relative importance of the two variables, while still using environmentally friendly materials. Some possibilities that may be investigated are ZnO nanowires with PDMS (ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces 2015, 7, 26184−26194), beeswax (ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces 2016, 8, 18664−18668), hydroxyapatite nanowires (ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces 2016, 8, 34715−34724), Cu on steel with PDMS (ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces, 2017, 9, 3131–3141), copper hydroxide nanorods with stearic acid (ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces, 2010, 2, 636-3641), polymer nanophere templates (ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces, 2014, 6, 9503−9507), dodecanoic acid on silver on copper (ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces, 2009, 1, 420-423), and flower petal templates (ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces 2013, 5, 1460−1467).

Preferred prerequisites: Students who have done synthetic chemistry (such as course work in CHEM 150: Nanochemistry, CHEM 230: Organic Chemistry I or 250: Solid State Chemistry) are preferred.

Number of student positions:  2

 

Principal Investigator: Jim Rougvie
Focus Area: Geology
Project Duration: 8 weeks (June 5-July 28 tentative)

Description: Metasomatism, a process during which the compositions of rocks are changed by the addition or removal of chemical components by fluids, occurs on the nanometer scale but can affect rock bodies on a local to regional scale. These fluids can mobilize and deposit valuable elements, affect rheological properties that control rock deformation, and play a major role in the formation and ongoing evolution of the crust or mantle. This project will focus on understanding the reaction mechanisms that take place during alkali metasomatism in the shallow crust. Combining cathodoluminescence and scanning electron microscopy with major and trace element analysis (including handheld X-ray fluorescence) of rocks and minerals, we will investigate the role of trace minerals (apatite, titanite, and others) play in controlling element mobility during rock alteration events, and how the compositions of those minerals can be used to identify the sources responsible for metasomatism.

Recommended prerequisites: GEOL 200: Mineralogy

Number of student positions:  1

 

Principal Investigator: Jim Schulte
Focus Area: Biology
Project Duration: 8 weeks (June 5-July 28)

Description: Complex, integrated traits such as viviparity (live birth) evolve through the interaction of developmental-genetic networks in the context of historical selective conditions. Viviparity occurs in two modern amniote lineages, mammals and squamate reptiles (lizards and snakes) and remarkably has evolved independently more than 100 times in squamates. Advances in next-generation sequencing technologies have greatly facilitated the generation of extensive comparative gene expression datasets. In this study, we will compare gene expression profiles (transcriptomes) of the female oviduct during different stages of embryonic development in several lineages of snakes and lizards from Wisconsin and Argentina. The goals of this study will be to determine the similarities and differences in gene expression between species with different reproductive modes. Comparison of these data with previously published skink uterine and mammalian (mouse/human) transcriptomes will attempt to identify the extent of overlap in gene content among all transcriptomes analyzed as these genes have the greatest potential to yield the most information on common genetic reproductive patterns in amniotes.

Recommended prerequisites: BIOL 217: Evolution, BIOL 247: Biometrics, and BIOL 289: Genetics are strongly recommended but not required.

Number of student positions:  2

 

Principal Investigator: Ken Yasukawa
Focus Area: Biology
Project Duration: 8 weeks (June 5-July 28)

Description: Birds have many adaptations to reduce nest losses to predators.  I study the anti-predator behavior of adult and nestling red-winged blackbirds in the field using observational and experimental methods.  We know from previous research that nestlings respond to the anti-predator alarm calls of their parents by becoming silent and crouching in the nest.  My goal in this research is to determine if nestlings can respond directly to a potential predator. A student and I will use broadcasts of calls of three different species of birds: Cooper’s hawk (predator of adult redwings), American crow (predator of nestlings), and northern flicker (a nonpredator).  I expect that nestlings will respond to the crow broadcasts and that adults will respond to the hawk broadcasts as they would to real predators, but that the flicker broadcasts will affect neither nestlings nor adult redwings.  This research will be conducted at Newark Road Prairie, where I have a well-studied population of red-winged blackbirds. 

Prerequisite courses:  Any introductory biology course and BIOL 247: Biometrics. 

Preferred prerequisites: BIOL 217: Evolution and BIOL 343: Animal Behavior would be helpful, but are not required.

Number of student positions:  1

 

Principal Investigator: Kristin Labby
Focus Area: Biochemistry, Chemistry
Project Duration: 8 weeks (June 5-July 28)

Description: Antibiotic resistance is an evolutionary process that selects for bacterial strains with enhanced capacity to survive in the presence of antibiotic drugs. Studies of resistance of one particular class of antibiotics, the aminoglycosides (AGs), have revealed the presence of a family of enzymes within many bacteria called aminoglycoside modifying enzymes (AMEs). AMEs are responsible for modification and subsequently inactivation of these AG antibiotics. Hundreds of AMEs exist and are potential targets for small molecule inhibition. Due to its clinical prominence, I am interested in synthesizing small molecule inhibitors of one particular AME, AAC(6’). The Biomedical Scholar’s role in this medicinal chemistry project would include organic chemistry synthesis of AAC(6’) inhibitors, over-expression and purification of AAC(6’) protein, and executing biochemical assays of the inhibitors against AAC(6’).

Preferred prerequisites: CHEM 230: Organic Chemistry I and CHEM 235: Organic Chemistry II

Number of student positions: 2

 

Principal Investigator: Rachel Bergstrom
Focus Area: Biology
Project Duration: 8 weeks (June 5-July 28)

Description: (Project #1) In addition to the propagation of electrical signals required for efficient synaptic transmission, the axon provides a highway for the transport of cell surface receptor signals from the synapse back to the neuron cell body and nucleus. The interruption of these signals has been observed in several neurodegenerative diseases. This project will focus on an in vitro model to address the question of cell surface receptor signaling in neurodegeneration, axonal maintenance, and neuronal survival. The students will work together to employ multiple techniques, including tissue culture, fluorescence microscopy, and western blotting, to investigate the role of specific growth factor signal trafficking in neuron survival and neurodegeneration.

Prerequisites: Students must have completed intro-level biology course. Students will be required to work with mice.

Preferred prerequisites:BIOL 237: Cell Biology, BIOL 340: Neuroscience, BIOL 247: Biometrics, and BIOL 289: Genetics.

Number of student positions: 2

 

Principal Investigators: Rachel Bergstrom
Focus Areas: Biology
Project Duration: 8 weeks (June 5-July 28)

Description: (Project #2) Electroencephalography (EEG) provides insight into brain function via the recording of electrical signals from scalp electrodes. Data in the form of voltages are collected and used to prepare graphical representations of neuronal firing. Using this technology, we are able to observe different brain states in patients. Of interest, EEG is one of the primary methods for analyzing seizure activity, such as that associated with epilepsy. Seizure activity graphs as periods of high-frequency, high-amplitude, or high-frequency/high-amplitude activity in the EEG, and is quite distinct from normal brain function. While even untrained observers are able to quickly appreciate the difference between seizure and normal activity, analysis of EEG isn't always straightforward. We propose to use a computational seizure analysis tool that has been validated in mouse data on human data, to determine if seizures can be identified and characterized in EEG signal. The signal will be analyzed by eye and by computer algorithm to characterize algorithm performance.

Prerequisites: Students must be familiar with basic neuroscience and capable of carefully reading and interpreting graphical data. Computer programming experience is preferable but not required.

Number of student positions: 2

 

Principal Investigator: Rongping Deng
Focus Area: Biochemistry, Chemistry
Project Duration: 8 weeks (June 5-July 28)

Description: Infrared spectroscopy and UV spectroscopy are the conventional experimental methods in chemical analyses with applications in many scientific fields. However, due to their resolution limits, it is difficult to characterize some chemical groups with these methods. The combination of these spectroscopies with the lately developed 2D correlation spectroscopic technique provides a channel to characterize chemical identities by using the conventional spectrometers. In this project, students will apply the 2D correlation spectroscopic technique to explore an experimental method to (1) characterize the fatty acids in the commercial fish oil supplements, dietary fats and oils; (2) apply the established method to study materials, biological species or biomolecules.

Prerequisites: Students who participate in this research project are expected to have learned MATH 110: Calculus I, and at least one chemistry course at 200 level or equivalent.

Number of student positions:  2

 

Principal Investigator: Sue Swanson
Focus Area: Geology
Project Duration: 4 weeks (June 12-July 7)

Description: The Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey (WGNHS) is conducting a statewide inventory of springs. Wisconsin groundwater law mandates the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to consider impacts to springs when approving new high-capacity well permits; however, historical databases of Wisconsin springs have many limitations. The number of new high-capacity wells in Wisconsin has grown in the last decade, and there is an increasing need for more complete and accurate information on springs. The students on this project will participate in a team of researchers, including three geologists at the WGNHS, a UW-Madison student, and Sue Swanson.  The team will conduct county-level field surveys of springs with flow rates of 0.25 cfs and higher. As part of this work, there will be opportunities for individual student research involving nutrient loading in spring-dominated stream channels or the geomorphology of spring-dominated channels. 

Students applying for this project should enjoy working outside in wetlands, streams, and forested environments.  We will spend extended periods of time in northern Wisconsin.  Individuals should be capable of carrying field equipment over uneven ground.

Prerequisites: GEOL 110: Environmental Geology or GEOL 100: Earth: Exploring a Dynamic Planet.

Number of student positions:  2