Student Research

Undergraduates Solve and Prove through Research

No matter your major, the Undergraduate Summer Opportunity for Applying Research (U-SOAR) program gives undergraduate students the chance to work closely with a faculty mentor to collaborate on inquiry-based research. Participants collaborate with peers and others, use top-quality equipment, find the answers to problems and questions, and forge their way to becoming leaders in their chosen fields. Years from now, participants will draw from the U-SOAR experience and apply it in their careers and lives.

See more on the 2021 U-SOAR class—and remember them. They may be behind the next big discovery. You could be, too. Learn more about the U-SOAR program and how to apply.

Curtiss Harbin

Summer Research: Challenging, Exciting, Independent

“The research experience has been challenging yet exciting. It’s precisely what I wanted. I thoroughly enjoy how independent I can be as a researcher and how my advisor challenges me to think about various concepts that could impact our reaction outcomes, such as possible alpha-proton elimination or substitution. I’m learning how to use Gas Chromatography and Mass Spectrometry systems to analyze the contents of the reaction samples I collect. It’s a very powerful analytical instrument that can also be used in a clinical setting. While I am a Medical Technology major, Chemistry has become my recent scientific obsession.”

Curtiss Harbin, student researcher with the Leblond Lab at IUP for summer 2021, transferred to IUP after obtaining an Associate of Science degree in Biotechnology with honors.

Art, Design, and Performance

Bel Haberberger's painting

Queer History: Paying Homage to Gender-Fluid Warriors

Bel Haberberger

Studio Art
Bel Haberberger's research project

What are you researching?

For this project, I have explored the history of Joan of Arc and used my knowledge of metalsmithing to create a cross between a corset and a chestplate of armor, signifying the blend of masculine and feminine traits that Joan of Arc displayed. I also did a portrait of Joan of Arc and incorporated religious symbols as well as elements of gender. Unfortunately, I was not able to get as much done on this project as I had hoped to, but being able to create such a piece has really been an amazing opportunity for me.

Why is it important?

This piece is important because it shows that transgender people have existed all throughout history and have played extremely important roles in major events that have taken place in the past. It also highlights how the identities of these genderfluid people have been somewhat overlooked, for example, how Joan of Arc was written off as a woman who liked to dress like a man.

Adeline Kubicsek's art piece

Found Objects

Adeline Kubicsek

Fine Art
Adeline Kubicsek

What are you researching?

I am researching the use of found objects that would be thrown away or sitting and collecting dust, but they are used in a form of art instead. Wearable or not it is a good way to reuse these objects to help the environment. I took research from Emily Francis Barrett and Robert Ebendorf who have works that are in this specified style. Using their works to look at and imagine, I can get my ideas and ways to make my work standout like theirs and make a good cause out of this “junk”.

Why is it important?

The important part to my research is to show we can reuse these objects into a form of art and keep them out of landfills and oceans. Becoming as environmentally friends and cautious to help our animal friends out and keep the earth clean.

Communications and Media Technology

a screenshot from video editing software

Video Production of Students Working During COVID-19

Hayley Woodside

Communications Media
Hayley Woodside

What are you researching?

I created a short film about the video production process being done by IUP-TV production interns during the summer of 2021 and how it has changed due to COVID-19. The interns created research videos for other U SOAR students on campus and were had to follow all COVID-19 regulations while filming. I explored ways to tell a story about researching and working on production techniques that followed the safety guidelines put in place by IUP.

Why is it important?

This is important because production based internships are all about being there in person getting hands on experience in the field. Because of COVID-19, internships were moved fully online or followed a hybrid style. Either way, these interns aren't getting the "normal" internship experience and I wanted to see how much of the actual experience has changed.

Criminal Justice and Pre-law

the crowd form a Bush/Cheney rally

American Political Polarization in an Age of Terror

Connor Daley

Political Science
Conner Daley

What are you researching?

We live in a world increasingly defined by ideology, with words like left, right, liberal, conservative, fascist, and communist being used constantly in American civil discourse. One would be forgiven for thinking that America is the most divided it has ever been and on the cusp of political and social breakdown. This project aims to examine the roots of that modern American political polarization in the contentious elections from 2000-2008 with particular attention to the political climate surrounding The War on Terror. By examining party platforms, popular opinion polls, and prominent political speeches of the era, this project will attempt to find the prominent political shifts that, or a lack thereof, that have shaped the current political climate in the United States.

Why is it important?

The importance of this research lay primarily in the pursuit of certainty where there is little to be found in the modern American political sphere. This research is aimed at reaffirming the country's ability to weather the trials of a shifting political landscape due to the focus on other recent periods of contention.

Environment and Sustainability

Ashlee Brady in a kayak

Surface Water Quality of the Sandy Lick Creek in Clearfield and Jefferson County

Ashlee Brady

Biology/Environmental Health
Ashlee Brady

What are you researching?

For my research, I am accessing the surface water quality of the Sandy Lick creek that runs through my hometown of DuBois, PA. The Sandy Lick is affected heavily by Acid Mine Drainage and other anthropogenic activies. Water samples were collected during the project and analyzed at IUP by the following methods: alkalinity titration, gravimetric total dissolved solids (TDS), suppressed anion chromatography (IC), and inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometry (ICP-OES). The titration will provide information about the stream alkalinity – how much acid load the water can handle. TDS provides information on the overall amount of all dissolved substances. IC provides quantitative measurement of various analytes such as chlorides, nitrates, sulfates, and others. ICP-OES provides quantitative measurements of 12 different metal species such as calcium, iron, magnesium, lead, and mercury.

Why is it important?

As I said, the creek runs through the heart of town and is highly affected by AMD. The Buffalo and Susquahanna had their shaft No. 1 (a huge mine site) directly under the mall where most of my efforts were focused. The Sandy Lick has always been orange running through town a few years ago it looked cleaner but is recently orange again. I know that the stream gets stocked with fish and is heavily fished. With the bright orange color I suspected high iron in the water which wouldn't be good for the wildlife or fishermen if they decided to eat said wildlife. Thus I thought it would be beneficial to conduct a study on the stream conditions. I hope to take my learned knowledge and bring this to the attention of the township and start reclamation efforts to try and clean up the Sandy Lick to keep DuBois and the environment better and safer for all.

Ryan Francis beside a streamEffluence Effect on Two Lick Creek and Surrounding Bodies

Ryan Francis

Environmental Engineering
Ryan Francis

What are you researching?

My research consists of taking water samples at three specific areas around my area's wastewater treatment plant. These samples are taken during average weather conditions, such as a sunny or partly cloudy day without the effects of rain or other precipitation. Each sample is taken at a different flow point, which allows the results to be compared against each other. After taking these samples, it is refrigerated and stored for testing at the lab. These samples are analyzed for basic water quality parameters through tests such as alkalinity titration, total dissolved solids (TDS), suppressed anion chromatography (IC), and inductively copled plasma optical emission spectrometry (ICP). Each test provides a separate yet equally important informant to the water's mineral and alkalinity load. The IC and ICP help to point out the nonmetal and metal solids that are dissolved in the water, allowing conclusions on stream safety.

Why is it important?

Sample analysis is always a very important method to keep track of the health in bodies of water. My specific research goes beyond this though, showing the positive and negative effects of effluent current into natural bodies of water, such as Marsh Run and Two Lick Creek. The treatment plant helps create flow in Two Lick, but must be analyzed in order to assure effluent metal and nonmetal load is within EPA standards. Two especially important analytes in this study are phosphorus and nitrates, which both are essential to life, but at two large a load may cause bacteria or algae overpopulation, essentially choking out the macroinvertibrates that would naturally live in the water. As long as everything is within parameters, though, nothing that the treatment plant does should hurt environmental life, and may even help the creek stay healthy.

a water drainage ditchWater Budget Study of Marsh Run Watershed

Molly Rabon

Geoscience
Molly Rabon

Why is it important?

Natural processes and human impacts on a watershed can negatively impact the flow of the stream. Marsh run is a very flashy stream, meaning when a rain event begins Marsh Run rises very quickly and its discharge increases, where this happens very fast, it takes much longer for the stream to return to baseflow. Being able to determine the water budget means we can find better ways to help the flow network and decrease things like flooding to occur.

Gavin Vashie's researchMicroplastic Contaminants in Indiana, PA's Freshwater Systems

Gavin Vashie

Geology
Gavin Vashie

What are you researching?

My goal is to measure the amount of plastic pollution that passes through Indiana Pennsylvania's aquatic environment. My research involves the examination on an unseen pollution called microplastics. Microplastics are simply small broken-down pieces of plastic debris in the environment, caused by the breakdown of industrial water and consumer products. These focused microplastics are being found everywhere, including in our local wastewater treatment facility here in Indiana. This work sets out to quantify the microplastics passing through the wastewater treatment facility and into local streams. Wastewater effluent is collected by a plant employee and processed in the lab at IUP.Current work has developed a protocol for sampling and separating out the microplastics. The effluent is processed through a set of stacked sieves (smallest 64 microns) to separate the plastic and organic materials. Hydrogen Peroxide is used to remove the organics from the microplastics. Once the acid is added the sample is put into a drying oven to evaporate the solution to leave the microplastics in a aluminum container, each separately organized on date then size of sieve (collection started since March of this year). Each of the samples will be quantified by type of plastic and count of pieces. In the future I plan to expand this research to the surrounding streams around campus and possibly further.

Why is it important?

The importance of this study is that the unseen pollution within our environment can cause problems to the environment's health along with ours. Still is much unknown of the effects of microplastics to humans. Along with the amount present in Indiana. Microplastics are dangerous from the chemicals that can absorb into the plastic particles over time, block digestive tracts, reduce growth and reproductive output.

Health Care and Pre-med

a man working out at the gymThe Influence of the Covid-19 Shutdown on College Students

Olivia Barrett

Biology, Pre-medical Track
Olivia Barrett

What are you researching?

At a point in 2020, Covid-19 changed the world. For many, regular lifestyles were altered in some way during this time. Activities, hobbies, and even obligations were hindered. I am exploring the influence of the Covid-19 shutdown period on college students and their exercise habits.

Why is it important?

Physical activity is a critical factor in maintaining health and well-being. Studies have confirmed that physical activity and exercise reduce the likelihood of ailments such as cardiovascular disease, and more. Exercising has also been shown to provide mental health benefits. The awareness of mental health has become an increasingly recoginzed and discussed topic in the last few years.

During the shutdown period of Covid-19, most exercise facilities were closed. Even when re-opened, many had altered hours of operation and strongly enforced mask mandates. Masking during exercise can reduce oxygen consumption and lead to a stressful exeperience. During the shutdown period, the country was also encouraged to isolate in order to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Many Americans did not even leave their homes for some time. It is important to recognize how this may have had an effect on college students and their physical activity behaviors, as they are already dealing with other obstacles in their lives, as students. 

Curtiss Harbin working in the labExploration of Ligand-Free C(Sp3) - C(Sp3) Suzuki Cross Coupling

Curtiss A. Harbin III

Medical Technology
Curtiss A. Harbin III

What are you researching?

We are researching the needed reaction conditions to create a compound called Deoxybenzoin. The specific compounds used for starting material were selected to create sp3 hybridized carbon-carbon bonds. The coupling of the carbon bonds between the two compounds can be created using Suzuki cross-coupling. While the Suzuki reaction has been highly studied, formation of sp3 bonds is the least known.

Why is it important?

Having the capability to form carbon-carbon bonds allows the ability to create other organic compounds that can be used for pharmaceuticals such as, Losartan, Valsartan, and Irbesartan. Developing cleaner and efficient reaction conditions without ligands would provide the opportunity to produce on a larger scale. Deoxybenzoin has already been used in two end-use pharmaceutical products, Tamoxifen and Ospemifene. Knowing that this compound can be used as an intermediate allows further investigation on other potential medicinal or industrial uses.

zebrafish under green lightStudying the Process in Which Zebrafish Use Stem Cells to Make New Kidney Tissue

Scott Semelsberger

Biology/Pre-Medicine
Scott Semelsberger

What are you researching?

Kidney disease is a serious global health concern with limited and insufficient treatment options. However, by studying the process in which zebrafish use stem cells to make new kidney tissue, new treatments may be achievable. The kidney stem cells in zebrafish express the lhx1a protein, which plays an important role in activating kidney stem cells during development and regeneration . By understanding the mechanisms behind the lh1xa protein, proper manipulation of this protein may lead and contribute to a new kidney regenerative treatment. Furthermore, my project focuses on finding novel molecules that bind to the lhx1a protein. We hypothesize that the new molecules found to bind to the protein of study may be able to enhance or inhibit stem cell regulation and organization. Zebrafish, sharing similarities to humans, provide an excellent model to study kidney development and regeneration.

Why is it important?

This research is important because kidney disease is a looming threat globally, affecting almost 50 million Americans each year. The current treatment for end-stage kidney disease is limited to dialysis and transplantation, both having severe limitations. Furthermore, the amount of people receiving renal therapy is projected to double by 2030. A rapidly aging population with increased rates of hypertension and diabetes need an alternative therapeutic to keep up with the current demand for kidney disease treatment. While the quality of life is formidable for dialysis treatment, transplantation is not a sustainable treatment as risk of rejection and supply issues are far too prevalent. Therefore, a new therapeutic treatment to treat kidney disease is more important than ever.

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math

a hand holding various fossilsHabitat heterogeneity in Latest Silurian patch reef systems, Central Pennsylvania

Joshua Colasante

Geoscience
Joshua Colasante fossils embedded within a stone surface a hillside next to a parking lot

What are you researching?

Ancient reefs are suitable for study because they trap the history of there succession (community change through time) within their vertical growth layers. These sediments are then preserved within the rock record once lithified. (Think layers within layers). I will be looking at these layers and the fossils within them at two different (geographically) outcrops of the Keyser formation to determine the similarities /differences within the patch reef succession. In conducting the research, I propose to obtain an understanding of how the reef responded to different latitudes along the paleo-shoreline by examining how similar (and/or different) the reefs are to one another. In a two-fold approach, I will also attempt to reconstruct the paleogeography to some degree.

Why is it important?

Since the rocks that make up the reef were deposited under rising sea-level conditions, it makes for a good analog to climate change, (how the biological construction and the community of the reef react to rising sea levels with melting continental ice sheets).

a man taking a water sampleDeveloping Methods to Prepare Wastewater Samples For PCR Analysis to Detect SARS

Philip Colen

Biochemistry
Philip Colen

What are you researching?

For the summer project I'll be working with Dr. Villemain in cooperation with a group at IUP working to detect and model SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater. My role in this project would be to develop internal laboratory methods for preparing wastewater samples for PCR testing for SARS-CoV-2 RNA. Clinical testing of patients with COVID-19 have shown that viral RNA can be found in stool samples and asymptomatic individuals may spread the virus. By collecting data correlating levels of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in wastewater with community clinical cases, the data can build models that can predict future clinical case counts.

Originally, my role was to collect samples, prepare samples for delivery, and package samples for shipment. I would also prepare laboratory methods to prepare wastewater samples for PCR testing of SARS-CoV-2 RNA. However, as our research progressed, the focus shifted towards designing a system that could test sewage samples from IUP instead of paying a third party. This included processes such as filtering, pasteurization, pelleting, and amplification or concentration of RNA fragments. I also learned of BSL safety ad the difference and importance between BSL-2 and BSL-3, the operation and maintenance of a BSL-3 fume hood, and the proper safety protocol associated with different BSL safety levels.

Why is it important?

The reason this research is important is because we may use the knowledge gathered during the summer in the future if SARS-CoV-2 cases begin to rise again in the future at IUP. It would be more effecient to perform testing at IUP rather than continue to outsource to a third party for all sewage samples taken. At the moment, news of the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 cases are beginning to rise and the safety of students and faculty and IUP is critical as the fall semester approaches. By being able to monitor the wastewater at IUP, we can more efficiently monitor the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and determine the best course of action as the school year begins.

chemicals and equipment on a lab tableSelective Oxidation of Alcohols in the Presence of Amines

Abra Dadum

Chemistry
Abra Dadum glass containers containing various chemicals

What are you researching?

Within my research, I am studying the effects of selective oxidation using an oxoammonium salt for a range of amino acids. This research investigates the ability to effectively oxidize alcohols while in the presence of an amine functional group. This research seeks to optimize the oxidation reaction and to determine which applied method is best. This research aims to determine the viability of selective oxidation by varying types of alcohols to be oxidized (primary, secondary), amines (primary, secondary, tertiary), as well as carbon chains. Additionally, we seek to investigate the ability to couple and form differing imine groups.

Why is it important?

This research serves to provide a one-pot method of effectively oxidizing alcohols in the presence of amines, and allow for the formation of differing imines while at ambient room temperature and pressure. Furthermore, oxoammonium salt is considered “green” in that no heavy metals such as manganese or chromium are involved. This research could provide insight on the exact selectivity of oxoammonium salt and provide a cheaper, more user friendly reaction in the oxidation processes.

blue liquid in a glass containerUltrafiltration Media Based on a New Chitin Composite for Water Treatment

Jacob Fritsky

Chemistry
Jacob Fritsky light blue liquid in a glass container

What are you researching?

I am researching a new material that is meant to be a filter based on chitin that can be used in water treatment. The filtering material is a chitin-nickel polymer that can be easily separated from water, cleaned, and reused in filtering more water. Chitin was chosen because it is a renewable resource, since chitin can be obtained from shellfish and crustaceans, and has an antibacterial property. Nickel was chosen because it has magnetic properties that would allow it to attract other magnetic materials in the water such as iron and cobalt. When we combine these two materials, we hope to create a filter that is easily reusable, efficient, and more effective than current filters.

Why is it important?

This research is important because it allows the design of a new filter that uses renewable materials. It would create use for shells that are discarded in the fishing industry, thus reducing the waste that would end up in landfills. This research also creates a new filter that will hopefully be useable in water treatment, reduce the cost of filtering and treating water, as well as filtering water better than current filters.

chart with plotted linesExploring the Collatz Conjecture

Elizabeth Lees

Mathematics and Dance Arts
Elizabeth Lees

What are you researching?

The Collatz Conjecture was first stated in 1937 by Lothar Collatz, and it says that if you start with any natural number (1, 2, 3, . . . ) and form the Collatz sequence, then the sequence must contain the number one. To form the Collatz sequence, you repeat the following process with the number: divide the number by two, if it is even; or multiply the number by three and add one, if it is odd. Whatever number you get, repeat the process with that number.

While this problem is seemingly simple, it has yet to be proven. We have worked to gain a better understanding of the conjecture, proved several properties of the Collatz function that gives the Collatz sequence, and made several conjectures relating to the Collatz Conjecture that we are still working to prove.

Why is it important?

It can be hard to understand the importance of a pure math problem, like the Collatz Conjecture, but the purpose is to search for a deeper understanding of math itself. Many important applications are developed from a deeper understanding of pure mathematics, even though the concepts may have seemed very far removed from everyday life when they were developed.

a hand holding a tiny vial of blue liquidMulti-Site Directed Mutagenesis of Srs2 Helicase

Gabriella Pettipas

Biochemistry
Gabriella Pettipas

What are you researching?

The C-terminal domain (CTD) of the Srs2 Helicase found in yeast is a Cdk1 regulated protein that appears to change function and structure depending on its phosphorylation state. This protein plays an important role in the regulatory pathways for the repair of DNA breaks, or homologous recombination (HR). It can translocate on single-stranded DNA and open the two strands of a double helix. This translocation is critical in preventing unwanted recombination (Saponaro et al, 2010). We are setting up multiple site-mutations to the Srs2 C-terminal Domain (CTD) to investigate how phosphorylation at specific cites of the CTD affects its conformation and protein-protein interactions.

Why is it important?

This research is important because it provides insight into the innerworkings of proteins and can have many real world applications. By understanding the factors involved in the DNA repair process, we can understand the causes of errors which result in disease such as cancer and a plethora of others.

two beetles on a tableIdentifying and Analyzing Abundance of Beetles Collected From PA Hemlock Forests

Alec Wentz

Biology ECEB
Alec Wentz

What are you researching?

This summer me and two other students, Emma Bland and Alexus Bobak, are collecting and identifying beetles from samples taken in trees of PA hemlock forests in 2019. This process requires us to sort through a vile of insects and isolate the beetles, we then identify them down to their family. Our research requires us to take high quality photos of beetles that can sometimes be smaller than a pinpoint. We are submitting photos the website bugguide to help further identify them as well as sending them for genetic coding.

Why is it important?

Most of Pennsylvania's hemlock forests are being depleted due to the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid, which feeds on the sap of the trees. Many beetles are predators to the HWAs and feed on the cotton-like structures of the HWA. Classifying what types of beetles found in hemlock trees can help us understand what may be feeding on this pest and help develop ways of biological control.

lab equipment on a tableSynthesis of Neurotransmitters for Methamphetamine and Cocaine Treatment

Jeffrey A White

Chemistry
Jeffrey A White

What are you researching?

My research consists of performing a two step organic reaction by following the steps of synthesis, isolation, purification, and characterization to get a desired product. When performing the reaction the reagents used to create the product are removed in the isolation step. That isolated product is then characterized using various instrumentation to determine content and purity. If it is determined to be impure, further purification will be needed to perform the second step of the synthesis. Performing a reaction on an impure product will commonly result in further impurities. After purifying and characterizing a final compound, the final step is to then use it in a biological system.

Why is it important?

This research is important during the biological system, in that step of the project is where you can use the created Neurotransmitter to study its effectiveness against methamphetamine and cocaine dependence.

computer generated image of molecular structureA Biochemical Study in Mice and Rats in Observance of 5-Hydroxytryptamine

Isaiah Woodard

Natural Science
Isaiah Woodard computer generated image of molecular structure

What are you researching?

The initial focus of this project is to study the biochemical & behavioral effects in mice, of 5-Hydroxytryptamine which is a small molecule, and member of serotonin receptors that function as a neurotransmitter in the nervous system. The specifics of the project would include Testing 5-HT1A antagonist WAY 100635 for induction of HTR on it's own and in combination with a moderate dose of 5-HTP (120mg/kg) in male and female mice. Testing this we are supposed to observe an increase in twitching in the head of mice meaning the serotonin levels are increasing. Also another drug we are testing is 5-HT1A agonist 8-hydroxy DPAT (8-OHDPAT) for blockade of 5 HTP induced HTR in female and male mice. With this drug, serotonin should decrease and twitching should decrease. Both male and female 3 treatment groups per sex. 3 groups of 8 male mice would be observed along with 3 groups of 8 female mice would be observed, in response to 5-Hydroxytryptamine. This means would have the opportunity to observe the responses of 48 mice in total. The goal of the study is to extend the findings of Darmani (1998) in the light & dark cycles of mice.

Why is it important?

This is important because it opens an opportunity to observe how 5HTP effects not only male mice but females also. Dr.Widzowski and I are trying to fill a gap in past scientific literature (Darmani 1998).Usually in the scientific community male animals are the most commonly used. There usually is not an opportunity to see the drug induced reaction from both sexes. In continuation with this research this would allow us to understand how the drug may affect the sexes differently physiologically, biochemically and differences in behavior.

Social Sciences and Research Fields

screenshot of a powerpoint presentationExamining The Consequences of Dehumanization in Justification of Police Use of Force Against Minoritized Youth

Sean Bennett

Psychology
Sean Bennett

What are you researching?

Our research studies the consequences of dehumanization in justification of police use of force against minoritized youth.

Animalistic dehumanization refers to denying individuals higher order traits that distinguish humans from animals, such as self-control and intelligence. Mechanistic dehumanization refers to denying individuals human nature traits, such as agency and warmth.

This project will allow us to examine the extent to which Black boys are subject to mechanistic dehumanization, as this element has not been previously studied. Second, this project will allow us to extend the examination of the impact of dehumanization on police use of force by studying its impact on justification of violence against Black girls. This study will therefore examine the dehumanizing perceptions people hold of Black boys and girls and their association with perceptions of police violence.

Why is it important?

Awareness of factors related to the perpetration and justification of police use of force are low. Research suggests that police use of force has doubled against men since 1999 but use of force against women was 4.5 times higher in 2015 compared to 1999.