The Summer Scholars Program is an intensive hands-on research experience that allows students to collaborate with a faculty mentor in the process of discovery. Students are paid a stipend for approximately 20 hours of research per week and engage with other student researchers in professional development workshops and social gatherings. Enrolled AU students from all disciplines are encouraged to apply.
Summer Scholars Application Process & Timeline
Application period for SSP 2024:
November 1, 2023 - January 5, 2024
Application period for SSP 2024:
February 1, 2024 - February 14, 2024
Data Integration to Improve Productivity in Biomedical Research, Dr. Clement Aubert (9 weeks)
The productivity of a researcher tends to be evaluated along only two axis: the number of their publications, and their citations count. However, preliminary research showed that patents, number of co-authors, clinical trials, number and quality of grants, and diversity in collaborators were important criteria in the success of a researcher. Hence, improving our understanding of what makes a researcher successful requires a richness of factors to be considered that are sometimes difficult to gather and synthesize. The study of this multi-factored path to success requires to fetch data from a variety of sources and to "connect" them in a central database. A first prototype tool allows information to be pulled from a variety of sources, but remains to "connect" them correctly. The tool conforms with all the standards in software engineering. In addition, its documentation, as well as its rigor, will make it easy for students and external collaborators to understand it and contribute to it.
Program Analysis and Manipulations in Compilers, Dr. Clement Aubert (9 weeks)
Compilers are a required tool for any computer program to exist: they perform the crucial function of translating programs written in a programming language into instructions that a computer can execute. Numerous analyses and transformations take place during compilation to improve the quality of the program: error identification, performance optimizations, dead-code elimination, etc. This project involves research into the world of compilation and developing familiarity with topics often obscure to student programmers. The goal of this research project is to train a student to learn and become familiar with those advanced techniques that will be highly sought-after on the job market. This project involves rigorous and hands-on study of modern compiler analyses and program transformations, culminating in implementation of a transformation pass for the LLVM compiler.
Exploring Culturally-Responsive Pedagogies in Kinesiology: Developing Classroom Best Practices, Dr. Hannah Bennett (9 week)
Culture can be described in various ways. Traditionally, culture can be understood as the traditions, history, arts, and beliefs that are passed down from generation to generation. However, when reading about culture or thinking about culture, people are categorized or placed into groups based on seen and unseen characteristics which are problematic. Both an individual’s culture and organizational culture impact students and student education. Additionally, culture, when predominantly associated with race, brings up large inequities in higher education. Thomas & Quinlan (2021) proposes that we as educators need to reduce the engagement gap in higher education. This study intends to provide student-informed practices that can help professors/instructors cultivate more relevant practices that promote academic success for all students, specifically utilizing Ladson-Billings (1995) Culturally Relevant Pedagogies as a framework to explore and collect undergraduate students’ perceptions of their professors/instructors regarding cultural relevance. The purpose of this study is to collect and explore students’ perceptions of their professors regarding their professor's ability to be culturally relevant and then to integrate those culturally relevant pedagogies into the classroom through the creation of a workbook of activities and lessons that can be implemented in college courses.
Involvement of the NF-kappaB and CXCL10/CXCR3 signaling pathways in breast cancer invasion, Dr. Jennifer Bradford (5 weeks)
While studies agree that immune cells called macrophages play critical roles in tumor growth, more information is needed about the precise roles they play in deadly triple negative breast cancer growth and ability to spread beyond the primary tumor site. Our recent data point to the interaction between two major signaling pathways (the NF-κB and CXCL10/CXCR3 signaling axis) that could influence cancer growth, and importantly, its ability to spread to distal sites (invasion/metastasis). During the CURS Summer Scholars Summer Program, undergraduates will obtain macrophages that lack NF-κB from our currently used mouse model to understand how deletion of NF-κB influences the CXCL10/CXCR3 signaling axis. These isolated macrophages will also be grown with cancer cells to see how their influence potentially changes. Importantly, we will test the influence of knocking these pathways out to see if distal cancer spread (invasion) is reduced. We will be utilizing siRNA knockdown of CXCL10/CXCR3 and genetic deletion of NF-kappaB to help answer these questions.
Does Fatigue Influence Ground Reaction Forces during Landing, Dr. Andrew Craig Jones (9 week)
According to Santamaria & Webster (2010) the influence of fatigue has been found to affect muscle reaction, movement coordination, and motor control precision. Fatigue has also been shown to increase muscular activity during exercise. Findings show that it is more challenging to have proper landing from a single leg hop since one leg must supposed to stabilize the entire body and decelerate that center of mass in horizontal and vertical directions. It is important to understand the nuance of ground reaction forces (GRF) during landing and how these forces are affected. Previous research has used whole body fatigue to alter conditions but it may be more appropriate to focus on lower body fatigue. This project has two major objectives. The first objective is to determine if fatigue effects the ground reaction forces during landing. The second objective of this project is to determine if lower body fatigue influences the amount of muscle activity during landing. If these two objectives are completed through this project, more light will be shed on injury risk during sport and how fatigue may be placing athletes at greater risk.
Preservice Secondary Mathematics Teachers’ Opportunities to Learn Reasoning and Proof, Dr. Jia He (9 week)
This summer scholar project plans to involve undergraduates who are preservice secondary mathematics teachers. The undergraduate researchers will analyze data from a large research project funded by the National Science Foundation: Preparing to teach algebra (PTA) project. The PTA project explores whether and how recommendations from mathematics professional societies, standards for school algebra, and state-level policies related to algebra are addressed in secondary mathematics teacher preparation programs. Specifically, the PTA project investigates the opportunities secondary mathematics teacher preparation programs provide to learn about algebra, algebra teaching, and issues in achieving equity in algebra learning and ways in which secondary mathematics teacher preparation programs address mathematical practices described in the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM). This summer scholar project aims to investigate a portion of the PTA data that explore the opportunities teacher education program provide for future secondary teachers to learn reasoning, proving and sense making, which are important mathematical ideas relevant to three mathematical practices described in CCSSM. The project will analyze the 40 transcripts of instructors’ interviews along with all course materials submitted by instructors. The extensive data set provides opportunities for undergraduate researchers to examine the data from various perspectives and make meaningful analyses.
Determining the role of tryptophan metabolism on Drosophila health and longevity, Dr. Jessica Hoffman (9 week)
Average lifespans are increasing rapidly across the globe, and older adults are spending more years of their lives in poor health with multiple chronic conditions. There is an imperative need in biomedical research to determine novel interventions that increase longevity while also improving health. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is involved in multiple metabolic pathways including the de novo production of NAD (a pro-health metabolite) through kynurenine, serotonin and melatonin biosynthesis, and production of indoles by gut bacteria. Here, we will take advantage of the Drosophila model to discover how genetic manipulation of the tryptophan degradation pathway influences health and longevity. Using already developed genetic strains with the gene knocked down, students will complete a longevity assay as well as multiple health assays. They will be able to determine if modulation of a specific gene in the tryptophan metabolic pathway leads to increased or decreased lifespan. This will provide more insights into the role of tryptophan on the aging phenotype, as well the potential of tryptophan modulation to be a novel intervention to increase lifespan and improve health across species.
Is there a role for histamine in high blood pressure development? Dr. Daria Ilatovskaya (9 week)
High blood pressure is a very important clinical problem. For many people that suffer from it, the more salt they eat, the higher their blood pressure is. This is called "salt sensitivity", and it damages the kidney. There are no treatments for salt sensitivity. Here we proposed new mechanisms that may cause kidney damage in this condition. High blood pressure usually goes hand in hand with inflammation. Inflammation is very damaging to kidney cells and will lead to chronic kidney disease. One of the established inflammatory agents is histamine, and we know very little about its role in the kidney. Patients with chronic kidney disease often take antihistamines, and it has not been studied what effects these drugs have on kidney function. In fact, we know almost nothing about histamine and kidney function. Here, using a salt-sensitive model, we will test the role of histamine in kidney disease. This proposal supports the mission of the American Heart Association to build healthier lives. The study will have a clinical impact as it will help us understand if people with kidney disease and high blood pressure should take antihistamines.
Predictors of falls in older males and females with concussion, Dr. Deborah Jehu (9 week)
Approximately 502,908 older adults ≥65 years sustain a concussion every year in the United States, and 80.1% of these injuries are a result of a fall.1 There are sex differences in concussion prevalence, such that 64.7% of older females sustain a concussion compared to 35.3% of males.1 Older females also report more symptoms (i.e., headache, dizziness, nausea, fogginess),2 have a longer recovery,3 and require greater healthcare use than older males.4 However, the reason for these sex differences is not well understood.4 Furthermore, between 24-84% of those who sustain a concussion have non-resolving issues of poor cognition, and impaired eye, head, and trunk movement 3 months after injury,5-8 which place them at a greater risk for falls. Given that falls are a significant public health issue,9 more research must be done to improve the health and quality of life in this population. Importantly, falls can be prevented through targeted screening and treatment protocols;10 yet, no studies have examined the predictors of falls among older adults with concussion, or whether they differ by biological sex. Purpose: The purpose of this prospective cohort study is to 1) determine the falls-risk factors that predict future falls over 12 months and 2) determine whether the predictors of falls differ by biological sex among older adults with concussion.
Implications: The predictors of falls identified from this study will aid in refining falls screening protocols as well as targeted treatment strategies specific to biological sex among older adults with concussion.
Implementation of physical activity into a comprehensive weight control program, Dr. Molly Kindred (5 week)
Visualizing routes of internalization for cell surface proteins that generate force on neighboring cells, Dr. Paul Langridge (9 week)
In the Langridge lab we study how cells communicate with one another, specifically a form of communication involving a cell surface receptor called Notch that is activated by a signal tethered to the surface of a neighboring cell. This physical link between cells has fascinating mechanical properties and is central to how the Notch receptor normally works and, if it becomes dysregulated, can directly lead to disease states. Our approach uses cutting edge Drosophila genetics combined with molecular biology techniques, microscopy, and computational modeling. Given how important the Notch receptor is, it is not surprising that when it goes wrong severe diseases can result in humans, including abnormalities in development and forms of cancer. To receive a signal from a neighboring cell, the Notch receptor is physically pulled like the rope in a cellular ‘tug-of-war’. The proposed work is to find out more about the pulling mechanism. Surprisingly little is known about the movement of Delta into the signal sending cell that generates the force and in my lab we have a tool kit of genetic and Drosophila based tools that will allow us to investigate this. Specifically, we aim to use electron microscopy to observe the path by which Delta moves into the signal sending cell.
Physics of Collective Cell Migration, Dr. Abdul Malmi Kakkada (9 week)
Physics of living systems is a subfield of physics seeking to understand biological cell behaviors from a physical science perspective. Forces experienced by cells from neighboring cells and the mechanical environment of cells determine behaviors such as growth, division, and movement. This project will focus on collective cell behaviors that arise when two or more cells maintain physical contact and act together. When a group of cells maintain physical contact and move together, they undergo collective cell migration. Even though the biochemical factors (genetics, proteins etc) that support collective cell migration are comparatively well studied, how physical forces contribute to collective cell migration is not well known. Collective cell migration occurs during important physiological processes such as tumor invasion, cancer metastasis, organ formation during embryo development, and wound healing. Hence, a physics-based understanding of collective cell migration could pave the way towards the development of novel ways of treating diseases such as cancer and birth defects. The current project will use physics-based computational models to examine important mechanical cues that impact collective cell migration. During the course of this summer project, we will investigate how the variability of cell-cell adhesion determines the motility of cell collectives in two and three spatial dimensions.
Separating the effects of lithium toxicity and mechanical stress in renal tubular cells, Dr. Mykola Mamenko (9 week)
International and United States Health Policy Research, Drs. Neil MacKinnon & Preshit Ambade (9 week)
Students will be engaged in two projects, exposing them to international and national public health issues. 1) The 2021 International Health Policy (IHP) survey of 11 high-income nations is focused on the healthcare experiences of senior citizens. The survey's findings show that US older adults faced negative economic consequences during the COVID-19 pandemic. US senior citizens have higher out-of-pocket health costs and are more likely to forgo treatment due to cost-related reasons when compared with their counterparts from other high-income nations. Furthermore, older adults from all the surveyed countries experienced delays in getting treatment and gaps in treatment planning. We will conduct a secondary analysis of the 2021 survey. The research will contribute to the growing literature on post-pandemic assessment of healthcare systems with a focus on vulnerable populations. 2. Healthcare workforce burnout is a public health concern that is exacerbated during the pandemic. Nearly 54% of nurses and physicians and approximately 60% of medical students and residents suffered from burnout. Recently, US Surgeon General published a framework for workplace well-being emphasizing five core domains: protection from harm, connection and community, work-life harmony, mattering at work, and opportunity for growth. Using this framework, our project aims to assess community preceptors’ well-being by administering a short questionnaire.
The Role of ectonucleotidase CD73 in gingival stromal cell phenotype, Dr. Ana Carolina Morandini (9 week)
The protein CD73 is a nucleotide-metabolizing enzyme found on the surface of cells and in the extracellular environment. This enzyme is responsible for the production of extracellular adenosine from its precursor adenosine monophosphate (AMP) after a series of dephosphorylation steps that hydrolyze extracellular adenosine triphosphate (ATP). CD73 is crucial to cells, as it is responsible for shaping the extracellular environment for adenosine signaling. During inflammatory processes, CD73 and other nucleotide-metabolizing enzymes tightly regulate the concentration of adenosine, ATP, and other danger signals, which are released in damaged tissue or exposed on stressed cells. The main goal of this research project is to examine the role of CD73 in the inflammatory phenotype of gingival stromal fibroblasts. Specifically, the study will use two groups of mice, wild-type C57Bl6 (WT) and CD73-deficient mice, which lack the functional activity of the CD73 enzyme. The student will work with previously primary isolated murine gingival cells. Cells will be stimulated in vitro with a typical inflammatory cytokine (Interleukin-1β) for different time points and specific fibroblast markers will be measured and compared in WT versus CD73-deficient cells. We will assess the mRNA expression of inflammatory markers and will also investigate co-expression of fibroblast markers.
Characterization of enzymatic homologation: a potential method of drug modification, Dr. Shogo Mori (9 week)
Natural products (NPs), chemical compounds produced by microorganisms and plants, are a very important source of drugs and drug leads. Infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases, and other ailments have been treated by these molecules throughout human history. Infections by antibiotic-resistant pathogens are increasing globally and are anticipated as one of the greatest threats to human health in the future. It is important to develop new strategies to tackle resistance to peptide NPs. Enzymes called proteases or peptidases are often used to develop resistance in peptide NPs which contain amino acid linkages. These enzymes recognize the target by the structure of the molecules, and there are a few common ways to modify the structure. However, for that reason, many other microorganisms possess or develop resistance to NPs that contain these common modifications. To characterize those enzymes, my lab will test the activity of the purified enzymes in vitro. We will focus on characterizing one of the enzymes, B2HB synthase. We have obtained preliminary data on the wild-type enzyme and will construct mutants to understand the reaction catalyzed by the enzyme. This work will shed light on the development of a new enzymatic tool to modify highly complex peptide NPs, which are more biologically stable.
Modeling the Effects of Immune Response and Antiviral Therapy on SARS-CoV-2 Infection, Dr. Eric Numfor (9 week)
Researching and Applying Performance Theories and Methods: Setting the Foundation for Devising an Adaptation and Staging of Alice in Wonderland, Dr. Melanie O'Meara (5 week)
Mathematical modeling of vaccine breakthrough infection and rebound infection: analysis for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regions, Dr. Olusegun Otunuga (9 week)
Clay and Digital Fabrication through the lens of Virtual Reality, Mr. Raoul Pacheco (9 week)
Development of Potential Drug Candidates for Breast Cancer treatment, Dr. Siva Panda (9 week)
"I can be a scientist too." Development of scientific inquiry and views of the nature of science in authentic research experiences, Dr. Alex St. Louis (9 week)
Molecular vibrations and magnetic stimulation of neurons, Dr. Trinanjan Datta (9 week)
Exploring Health Care Provider Communication in Traditionally Conservative States regarding Bodily Autonomy, Dr. Taylor Walker (9 week)
Mathematical Modeling and Data Analytics for Crime Prediction and Prevention, Dr. He Yang (9 Week)