Undergraduate students get immersed in research during summer

The Utah State University Summer Undergraduate Research and Creative Opportunity Grant—SURCO—is a means for students to be financially supported while still exploring their scholarly, creative and research interests throughout the summer. This past summer there were 38 Utah State SURCO grant recipients. Here’s a recap of what some of these elite undergraduate researchers have were up to this summer.

David Barton—Physics

Physics major David Barton’s research has involved working in the CASS department with the green laser beam above the SER building at the Atmospheric Lidar Observatory, which can be seen across the valley on a clear night. He has focused on four different atmospheric models and has compared each one with existing measurements to examine seasonal variations and see how closely the models follow the observed measurements.

“I’ve really enjoyed being involved in running the equipment and helping to finish the upgrade on the Lidar System,” Barton said. “Being able to see how the data that I’m working with was taken and how we can improve future data is a rewarding and challenging experience.”

Barton said he looks forward to being able to better understand what is happening in the mesosphere during each season and to expose differences between models.

“I feel this will help the modeling field to create more accurate models and that they will be useful in the future of atmospheric sciences.”

Lillian Eiman—Family, Consumer and Human Development

Lillian Eiman helped with the USU Gray Matters study this summer—a six-month pilot study that is aimed to create a successful lifestyle intervention for middle-aged people at risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

Gray Matters consists of 100 participants who have a specific smartphone app they use to record data of their day-to-day efforts. In hopes of bettering the quality of life, the study targets six lifestyle areas: healthy food choices, physical activity, social engagement, stress management, cognitive activity, and sleep quality.

Eiman said the Gray Matters intervention has the potential to not only drastically improve lives, but also lower people’s risk for Alzheimer’s disease dramatically. Eiman had the opportunity to help design the social engagement portion of the intervention, plan and help carry out booster events aimed at teaching and helping study participants, assist with data entry and analysis as well as serve as a personal coach to four of the participants.

“I love interacting with the participants and getting a feel for how they are responding to the study,” Eiman said. “It’s so exciting to be involved in a pilot study of this size—seeing firsthand the massive amounts of data pouring in and the many people it takes to put a study like this together and then see it through. It’s not easy work, but it is so thrilling to begin to see results.”

Lia Bogoev—Chemistry and Biochemistry

Lia Bogoev’s summer project, “Investigation of Iron Doping in Nickel Sulfides as Hydrogen Evolution Catalysts in Water,” has involved researching the effects of different first-row transition metal when doped into nickel sulfide film—which is anticipated to enhance the catalytic performance while simultaneously reducing the cost of catalyst material.

Solar energy is a carbon-neutral and renewable energy resource. Solar-driven water splitting to produce hydrogen and oxygen is widely considered an appealing approach to meet this goal, with hydrogen acting as a green energy carrier. But, the slow kinetics of hydrogen evolution from water to hampers its wide applications. Bogoev said the project is aimed at developing an effective catalyst for this process.

“Analyzing the data is my favorite part,” Bogoev said. “Once I’ve run a few experiments and my professor and I sit down to discuss and decide what the next step is—it’s exciting. I can see the progress. Sometimes our ideas don’t work out, sometimes they work better than expected, but we don’t know until we comb through the data.”

Konnon Smith—Watershed Sciences

Having spent much of his summer across various sites on the Great Salt Lake, Konnon Smith has been studying changes in root carbohydrate reserves and its implications for management of Phragmites australis—an aggressive plant invader of Great Salt Lake Wetlands.

Phragmites austrailis is spreading rapidly across North America and threatening wetland ecosystems as it outcompetes and displaces existing plant communities, thus leading to a decline in native flora and fauna. A better understanding of the plant is necessary before methods can be improved to control its spread.

“I have really enjoyed my research because it is an area of urgent need,” Smith said.

Smith has been monitoring changes in carbohydrate stores in Phragmites rhizomes and hopes to determine when the stores are most low to identify the window of time for more effective Phragmites control treatments.

“We often don’t realize the war that invasive species are waging on native species all around us,” he said. “It’s exciting to be part of research aimed at answering questions that will help us change the fate of our native ecosystems.”

-RGS Communications