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Undergrad Researchers Awarded USU College of Science Minigrants

Eleven Utah State University science majors are recipients of College of Science Undergraduate Research Minigrants for the 2020-2021 academic year. Awardees are Clay Barlow, Samantha Benovitz, Olivia Gornichec, Carly Lee, Brais Marchena, Madeline Measom, Anthony Peidl, Ray Poe, Jeremy Shaw, Josafat Vargas and Andrew Williams.

“We congratulate these students, who were selected from a competitive field of applicants,” says Michelle Baker, associate dean for research and faculty in the College of Science. “Our scholars are pursuing impressive projects representing a diverse range of disciplines.”

Each minigrant awardee receives a semester stipend of $750, plus department-matched funds of $250. Awardees in the current grant cycle received funds to support research during summer 2020, fall 2020 or spring 2021.

Barlow, a geology major, is investigating how sediments are eroded, transported and deposited along Utah’s Bear River. Working with faculty mentor Tammy Rittenour, professor in the Department of Geosciences and director of the USU Luminescence Laboratory, Barlow will use optically stimulated luminescence data to examine the river’s depositional record and create a framework for modeling paleogeographic and paleo-drainage histories.

Working with faculty mentor Kim Hageman, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Benovitz is testing the efficiency of the Hageman Lab’s high volume water sampler in retaining organic contaminants. The chemistry major’s aim is to evaluate the sampler, so its use can be validated in past and future studies.

A biochemistry major, Gornichec is investigating the Type IV-B CRISPR system, an immune system found in bacteria. With faculty mentor Ryan Jackson, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Gornichec plans to transplant the system into a plasmid and use the plasmid to study the system’s effect on immunity and co-existence with other CRISPR technologies.

Lee, a senior geology major, is exploring an area of northern Cache Valley, Idaho that was dominated by Lake Bonneville, until an unknown trigger cause it to catastrophically flood out of the valley near Red Rock Pass some 18,000 years ago. Working with Professor Susanne Jänecke in the Department of Geosciences, Lee will map the area and endeavor to determine the potential cause and implications of the flood. Her research is conducted in honor of renowned geologist G. K. Gilbert (1843-1918).

Marchena, who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in biology with an ecology/biodiversity emphasis, is comparing data collected in Costa Rica from pristine and disturbed water bodies. Working with Department of Biology advisor Samuel Rivera, Marchena is creating an aquatic macroinvertebrate composition guide, to be used as a basis for bioindicator guidelines of water quality bioassessment in the study region.

Through the study of adult pair-bonded coyotes’ brain tissue, Measom and faculty mentor Sara Freeman, assistant professor in the Department of Biology, plan to map the distribution of vasopressin 1a receptors throughout the coyote brain. The goal, says Measom, a human biology major, is to compare this distribution map to other known monogamous species and provide a neuroanatomical for future studies of the arginine vaasopressin system of coyotes.

With Joanie Hevel, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Peidl is studying PRMT1, an enzyme in human blood that plays an important role in a number of biological processes, including gene transcription and DNA repair. A biochemistry major, Peidl is investigating how well S-Adenosyl methionine binds into the active site of three different PRMT1 constructs, which harbor specific mutations linked to cancer.

At a site near Moab, Utah, Poe is exploring how the Colorado River’s erosion affects the area’s landscape. Working with Professor Joel Pederson in the Department of Geosciences, Poe, a geology major, will pursue field work and use remote sensing to investigate river anticlines and salt domes that form the site’s unique geology.

With faculty mentor Yi Rao, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Shaw is pursuing carbon dioxide reduction of cuprous oxide under electrocatalysis, photocatalysis and photoelectrocatalysis. An aim of the research says Shaw, a biochemistry major, is to explore renewable solar radiation of an energy source.

Vargas, a biochemistry major, is investigating potential therapeutic uses for carbon monoxide, which is produced in small amounts in humans. With faculty mentor Lisa Berreau, Vice President for Research, Vargas will pursue synthesis of a coumarin flavonol, a light-induced, CO-releasing molecule.

Williams is investigating anti-CRISPR genes that act against CRISPR bacterial immune systems. With faculty mentor Ryan Jackson, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Williams, a biochemistry major, will clone anti-CRISPR genes into a target plasmid and determine these genes’ biochemistry and protein structure.

Geology major Myles Schubert was also awarded a minigrant, but declined the award after accepting a full-time position in his field.

The College of Science conducts an application process for minigrants each spring.

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