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Research and Creative Activity

Spring Research Symposium

2nd Annual Undergraduate Research & Creative Activity Celebration

Coming April 15, 2022!

Save the date and stay tuned for more information on how to participate.

Research and Creative Activity Funding

The Experiential Education and Engagement Center (EEEC) along with the Office of the Provost has been funding AUM faculty projects that help provide our undergraduate students with opportunities to be a part of research.

To find out about applying for this funding opportunity please review the following documents.

To view information about currently funded research projects click on the researchers below:

The role of molecular chaperone Tid1 in prevention of deletions in human mitochondrial DNA

Mitochondria are cellular organelles that supply energy for the entire human body. Their function depends on the maintenance of their semi-autonomous genome. Defects of the mitochondrial genome result in the development of human mitochondrial diseases, for which there is currently no cure available. Notably, epidemiological surveys indicated that 1 in ~200 persons carries defects in the mitochondrial genome, which have the potential to onset a disease in the individual or next generations. This makes it a prevalent problem for the human population, and one of the most rushing challenges to science. Mitochondrial (mt)DNA deletions are the most common defects of the mitochondrial genome. We propose that human cells are ‘equipped’ with a system that prevents mtDNA deletions formation, which, however, fails once overwhelmed by stressful environmental conditions. The key factor of this putative mechanism is a molecular chaperone, Tid1. In this short summer project, we will evaluate our hypothesis by testing whether increasing the cellular concentration of Tid1 can alleviate the formation of mtDNA deletions in human dermal fibroblasts and HeLa cells, induced by stress factors.

Investigation on the suppression of ROS by beverages

The intake of water either plain water or beverage is a necessary means of hydration for a healthy human life. The reactive oxygen species, which are mainly produced in mitochondrial activities in the human body are known to be related to aging, cancer initiation, and a variety of neurologic disorders. It is known that many organic ingredients in the commercial beverage contain a variety of different types of antioxidants. Understanding and explaining the antioxidizing effects of organic substances to suppress the formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) is good for the health of the general public. ROS can be formed under highly powered ultrasonic irradiation in the lab to assimilate the role of mitochondrial work in the living organism. Fluorometric measurement is a good way to assess the amounts of peroxides in the solution. A variety of commercial beverages will be chosen for the study, and ultrasonic applications will be performed to the beverage solutions. All of the works are good to be run by an AUM undergraduate student. The results of this study will be presented in the UGR symposium and will be published in a peer-reviewed journal with the name of the student.

Development of a cancer macrophage fusion hybrid model

Abnormal spontaneous fusion of cancer cells with cells that arise in the bone marrow has been documented in multiple cancers. The first reports emerged when recipients of bone marrow transplants, who later developed solid tumors, were found to have cells with both donor and patient DNA. More recently, circulating hybrid cells in human cancer patients have been detected that correlate with disease stage and prognosis. Compelling in vitro and in vivo evidence exists to show cancer fusion cells exhibit characteristics of both paternal cells that induce a hybrid phenotype conducive to metastasis. However, the post-hybridization events that are responsible for producing cells with an enhanced motile and chemotactic phenotype are not fully understood, and there remains a lack of information regarding the activation of genes driving these pathways. Without knowledge of the mechanisms and pathways driving motility of cancer fusion cells, there remains an obstacle to understanding the fundamental basis of metastasis. The aim of the current proposal is to establish a cancer cell – macrophage fusion model that can be used to investigate the pathways that are utilized by these hybrid cells that potentially drives metastasis.

The effect of neuromotor exercise on cognition and physical ability in pre-school-aged children

Four- six top undergraduate students in the PHED 4030 Methods of Teaching Physical Education class will be chosen to participate in this project based on Field Experience rubric scores for teaching lessons in the Early Learning Center during PHED 3053 and PHED 4030. Students were informed of the opportunity during PHED 3053 this spring. A program proposal has been submitted for the Fall Alabama State Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (ASAHPERD) conference. If the proposal is accepted, faculty member Erin Reilly will help the students develop the presentation, make sure they understand the audience and expectations, and will accompany them to the conference to mentor them during the experience. None of the students have ever attended a professional conference, much less done a conference presentation, so this will be a great opportunity for them to get professionally involved in their state organization. The title of the proposed presentation is “Fun Large Group Activities for Pre-K and Primary Grades,” and the description is: “Fun activities for large groups of 4-8 years old. Modifications for age level and class management tips are included. Participants will learn how to easily integrate classroom standards, and how each activity helps improve socio-emotional learning and academic skills.”

Screening plant and soil microbial communities in native prairie ecosystems

Understanding the mechanisms that maintain species diversity is crucial to restore healthy and well-functioning native ecosystems. In my research, I focus on the importance of interactions among plants and soil microbial organisms as drivers of species diversity and ecosystem functioning. This summer and fall, I will couple greenhouse and field experiments with field observational studies to assess whether soil microbes from remnant prairies are more beneficial to native prairie plants compared to soil microbes originating from disturbed habitats. This work will provide important preliminary data needed to establish a long-term prairie restoration experiment at AUM, which will offer excellent opportunities for continuous student involvement in the lab and in the field. This summer, four directed research students and one volunteer will be working with me. They will gain practical research experience, improve their analytical skills and be able to interact with researchers and scientists from other universities. The data we collect this summer will allow students to present a poster at the Ecological Society of America conference in August 2022 and to prepare a manuscript for submission to a regional journal.

The role of plant and soil microbial diversity in shaping prairie communities under drought

Understanding the mechanisms that maintain species diversity is crucial to restore healthy and well-functioning native ecosystems. In my research, I focus on the importance of interactions among plants and soil microbial organisms as drivers of species diversity and ecosystem functioning. In 2015, I established a long-term experiment at Washington University’s Tyson Research Center, Eureka, MO to test the overarching hypothesis that plant-soil microbial interactions are the dominant force stabilizing species diversity and ecosystem functions. Each fall, I am harvesting plant biomass from this experiment and this offers excellent opportunities for student involvement. Students will also be able to act as mentors for local high school students and work with them in the field. I propose to request funding to travel with students from AUM to the Tyson Research Center and to pay for local high school student interns. Students will gain hands-on experience in the field, improve their plant identification skills and be able to interact with other scientists and field technicians from a R1 institute. The data we collect will allow me to maintain this long-term experiment. Three manuscripts are in preparation for submission to international scientific journals, one of these is authored by an undergraduate student.

Creative-research trip to the Montgomery Zoo

This creative-research trip to the Montgomery Zoo would be a required experiential activity for students taking my ENGL 1020 (freshmen comp 2) course in Fall 2021. My theme for this sectionof ENGL 1020 is “Nature/Food/Animals,” which takes a general environmental humanities approach to students’ research and writing, asking them to investigate several local environmental issues from various disciplinary perspectives. For this project, students will spend a day at the Montgomery Zoo and Mann Wildlife Learning Museum in order to learn about animal conservation, ecological sustainability, animal ethics, and the history of zoos and collections of live animals—all issues they will read and write about during the course. All students will complete a creative project based on our trip—part reflection on two assigned course readings (Erica Fudge’s Animal and John Berger’s “Why Look at Animals?”), and part reflection/creation of their own experiences at the zoo. This creative project could take any number of forms, from poetry to visual art to a digital project. Students will also have the option to develop their experiences and research into the final research paper and presentation for the course.

Environmental humanities and environmental justice 

This required, sophomore-level course for students in AUM’s Honors program will center on the interdisciplinary field of Environmental Humanities (EH), with a particular focus on issues of environmental justice and racism grounded in the unique culture and history of the city of Montgomery, Alabama. Students will learn how humanistic inquiry presents possible solutions to local and global environmental degradation by analyzing cultural values, historical patterns, social contexts, public attitudes, political ideas, religious beliefs, spiritual dimensions, moral concerns, and emotional registers. Students will become familiar with core aims and key terms of EH through readings, assignments, and guest lectures in a number of different disciplines, including literature, art, history, and philosophy, and they will develop a number of experiential, research-based, and creative projects that ask them to engage with their local environments and histories in and around Montgomery. I’m requesting funding for three of these experiential trips: the Montgomery Zoo and Mann Wildlife Museum; the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum; and an overnight trip to the Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge (on the Gulf Coast) and Dauphin Island, Alabama.

A program of solar radiation and cloud measurements

This project will complement an ongoing project funded by NSF involving the collection of hyperspectral images of the sky through the creation of a concurrent data set of solar radiation measurements and hemispherical RGB sky images. A publicly available data set including both hyperspectral sky images and solar radiation measurements does not currently exist. Such a data set will allow our research group to explore the use of detailed spectral information contained in hyperspectral images to determine the effects of aerosols and clouds on solar radiation. Students will learn to use instruments for measuring the parallel and diffuse components of solar radiation and how to model that data using a simple model describing the attenuation of solar radiation by the atmosphere. The proposed project will involve at least two undergraduate students each working up to 100 hours on the project.

Emmeline Pankhurst in Russia and the international intersections of feminism and communism, 1917-1933

In June, 1917, the notorious feminist Emmeline Pankhurst traveled to Russia, accompanied by her secretary and fellow suffragist, Jessie Kenney. Her goals were two-fold: to encourage the Russian people, particularly its women, to support Russia’s continued participation in the war, and to teach Russian women how to use the vote. The women spent a total of five months in Russia, witnessing and participating in one of the most important transitional periods in Russia’s long history. In the end, Pankhurst was unsuccessful in both areas, but an examination of her visit – from the British, Russian, and American sides – reveals a number of questions about the character of these various liberation movements, albeit from very different oppressive regimes. I would like to obtain the help of an undergraduate history student in scouring American sources. Working with a student in this way will not only further my research, but will also help the student expand their knowledge and experience with research. Understanding the steps involved in quality research is critical to history majors. Students will be expected to locate potentially useful primary sources (letters, papers, diaries, etc.) and contact the institution that houses those documents to obtain as much information as possible about the collection, and order copies where applicable. In other cases, students will be expected to scour American newspapers of the period to locate and copy articles reporting on Emmaline Pankhurst in Russia.

Digitizing the AUM herbarium: a valuable resource for biodiversity information

Herbaria represent important repositories of historical biodiversity information. Most herbaria are small and have not yet been digitized and made accessible to the global scientific community in public databases, meaning that the information they contain is known only to a small number of scientists with direct access to the herbarium. I propose to mentor an AUM student in digitizing AUM s small herbarium of around 1,000 specimens. That digital information will then be uploaded to public biodiversity databases so that it is accessible to researchers around the world. AUM s herbarium will then become a more valuable long-term resource for use in classes and research projects at AUM and other institutions.

The importance of design and selection of equipment in early childhood education center areas

Four undergraduate early childhood students serving their practicum hours (ECHE 4914) in our on- campus Child Development Center were given the opportunity to assist in early childhood research. These students are in our pre-service teacher preparation program to become early childhood educators. They have completed methods courses on the importance of developmentally appropriate learning environments for early childhood students. These four undergraduates have spent a great deal of time in the on-campus Child Development Center this summer assisting the director and the lead teacher. These four students will have the opportunity to learn about research protocol and a literature review as they assist in preparing various parts of the literature review. We are in the beginning stages of discussing time commitment for this project on the part of the undergraduates so all four have been made aware of the opportunity and so far two have made the commitment should the research proposal be granted. If the research is conducted, I (Tami Shelley) would also like the opportunity to assist these students in sharing their research findings at a professional conference. This would mean I (Tami Shelley) would select the appropriate conference (virtual or in person) and guide the students in writing up the proposal for a presentation. If selected, I would also assist them in the planning and implementation of the presentation. The opportunity to assist undergraduates with research protocol and the idea of professional development through the sharing of research/ideas at a professional conference is extremely important to me as a professor. It is a unique learning opportunity in pre-service teacher preparation. The title of the proposed research proposal is “Early Childhood Research on Importance of Design and Selection of Equipment in Center Areas”. Each student will be assigned an area of the literature review concerning design and selection for book centers and gross motor outdoor wheeled equipment areas for early childhood age groups of three and four years-olds (this is the age group served in our on-campus Child Development Center. We will then present this to our director and lead teacher in order to discuss what they feel the needs are in updating the existing book center based on the literature findings/suggestions. The director and lead teacher have expressed a need for updating of the reading area to enhance student engagement with books in the book center. We will also collect qualitative data in the form of observation/notes of the children using the existing book center and wheeled motor development equipment. Observations will be conducted again after the updating of the book center and wheeled motor development areas.

Vision and depth-based trajectory for mobile robots

Vision-based trajectory tracking using a camera system mounted on a mobile robot has been a challenging problem. In such tracking systems, the robot/camera system is required to follow a desired trajectory for relative position and orientation (pose) with respect to a target object. In typical outdoor applications, the actual pose of robot is measured by a Global Positioning System (GPS). However, GPS is not practical for indoor applications. The precise pose error of the mobile robot with respect to the target cannot be measure by GPS. In such cases, the pose error may be calculated using vision-based approaches. In the proposed project, we will explore fast and reliable vision-based approaches for real-time calculation of the pose error between the mobile robot and the target. In vision- based systems, the pose is estimated using the camera images of the target object taken from robot’s current position. And robot is instructed to move desired position for given time instant. During our experiments, we will first create simulation models using python programming language. Later, we will use an actual robotic vehicle to test our algorithm. The proposed project will involve two undergraduate students each working 80 hours during Fall 2021 semester. Students will gain skills for recent demanding CS jobs such as robotics, computer vision, and machine learning. Project will also help AUM CS Department to develop materials and tools for a new Robotics course, which will be offered in Spring 2022.

Michael Field Diaries archive

The Diaries of Michael Field is a scholarly community project that seeks to make publicly and freely available the journals of Katharine Bradley (1846-1914) and Edith Cooper (1862- 1913), who wrote collaboratively under the name “Michael Field.” The journals cover the years 1888-1914 and are currently housed in the British Library; they have been digitized and the images are publicly available at The Diaries of Michael Field website. Since 2015, scholars and students involved in the archival project have collaborated on transcribing these digitized images; transcriptions are then peer-reviewed and encoded for digital dissemination. The current site is a pilot and work in progress, initially funded and supported by the University of South Carolina and now hosted and funded by Dartmouth College, alongside other partners. With URCA funding, AUM students would assist Dr. Witcher with the ongoing transcription of the journals and the formatting of already completed transcriptions. Students would also be available to assist with additional opportunities for work relating to digital humanities. The intended outcome of The Diaries of Michael Field, as a whole, is the digital publication and transcription of all 29 journals. Students involved in the proposed project— “Michael Field Diaries Archive”—at AUM would have their names attached to their portions of the transcription, providing them with a research publication and experience working on a scholarly digital humanities project.

Utilizing cooperative group structures in environmental education

Classroom discourse and cooperative grouping are important teaching strategies. Benefits of these strategies include gains in student achievement, promotion of higher-level thinking skills, and increased student motivation (Kagan & Kagan, 2017). Though classroom teachers and educators are aware of the benefits of these strategies, most don’t structure the experiences in an effective manner (Vasquez, 2008). To effectively utilize these strategies, teachers need to be aware of how to effectively structure them. Cooperative grouping is part of the curriculum of undergraduate education majors, however effective cooperative grouping structures, proven by research to be effective, may not be part of the teaching strategies that many undergraduate students are exposed to. Environmental Education instructors, in particular, may lack the pedagogical background skills necessarily to implement effective cooperative grouping strategies.

Our project involves two parts: 1) Develop and present a workshop for environmental educators in which they learn three cooperative grouping structures. 2) Conduct a qualitative case study examining the experiences of environmental educators as they apply their learned cooperative grouping structures in their classrooms. At least three undergraduate Elementary Education majors will be involved in the development and presentation of the workshop to environmental educators. The undergraduate students will also work with the Principal Investigator (PI) as we design and conduct the qualitative case study. This proposed project has two outcomes. Undergraduate elementary education majors will develop and deliver the workshop described above and will assist the PI with a case study leading to the publication of a manuscript.

If you have any further questions, email us at eeec@aum.edu.

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