2024 FYRE Projects

Student Name: Britney Guzman-Cornelio

Project Title: Pandemics in History  

Project description: This project which expose students to the history of pandemics in the world focusing on different locations. The interventions of national, international, and global organizations will also be examined. The lessons from the recent covid-19 pandemic and how students should be positioned for future health challenges will be examined.  

Project Advisor: Ojo Afolabi (History)

Project Sponsored by REDI

Student Name: Benjamin Longley

Project Title: Robert Wedderburn, Black Romantic Writer and Activist  

Project description: I am creating a print edition of Robert Wedderburn’s “cheap” pamphlets designed for the working classes in the early 1800s. Wedderburn is a critically neglected Black British writer and activist. He was born in Jamaica to an enslaved mother and a Scottish enslaver father. After serving in the military, he made his way to London, where he became a notorious preacher and activist on behalf of poor people throughout the British Empire. This edition of Wedderburn’s work is ancillary to my book, Romanticism’s Black Geographies: Robert Wedderburn and the Abolitionist Commons, which is forthcoming next year.      

Project Advisor: Katey Castellano (English)

Project Sponsored by College of Arts and Letters

Student Name: Emily LaBar

Project Title: Documenting and Memorializing Lynching Victims in Virginia  

Project description: This research project involves the collection and dissemination of primary information about lynching events that took place in Virginia between 1866 and 1932. It entails working on hundreds of newspaper articles and documents and make them accessible digitally to the public; it also involves the compilation of a database of all the historical markers that have been dedicated to lynching victims in the United States.  

Project Advisor: Gianluca De Fazio (Justice Studies)

Project Sponsored by REDI and Honors College

Student Name: Iman Najeeb

Project Title: Bridging Wicked Divides: Can College Students Talk Productively Across Political Divides?

Project description: The “Bridging Wicked Divides” project is a multi-institution deliberative forum series encouraging college students to deliberate with peers across geographic, cultural, and political divides. The research examines via pre-and-post test surveys the impact of small group deliberative dialogues on college students’ abilities to talk productively about difficult issues across different kinds of divides.

Project Advisor: Kara Dillard (Madison Center for Civic Engagement; School of Communication Studies)

Project Sponsored by REDI and Honors College

Student Name: Lexy Farinelli

Project Title: Wine Dark Sea-A documentary film on global warming

Project description: Wine Dark Sea is a 45 documentary film on global warming. More information can be found at www.winedarksea.info. Once finished the film will be premiered at JMU and will be screened at international film festivals, educational institutions and probably at TV channels as well. The student's name will be credited in the promotional material of the film as well as the end credits.

Project Advisor: Nefin Dinc (School of Media Arts and Design)

Project Sponsored by REDI and Honors College

Student Name: Sophia VanAmeringen

Project Title: Cultural Misunderstandings: French Perceptions of America from 1776 to Today

Project description: This project will entail looking at various media (documentaries, fiction, historical documents) to gauge French perceptions of American culture from 1776 to today. The student will especially watch, assess, and summarize various documentaries having to do with French perceptions of American culture during the Revolutionary War and French perceptions of Americans in Paris (with a special emphasis on French perceptions of the African-American community in Paris-- Langston Hughes, Josephine Baker, James Baldwin, etc.).

Project Advisor: Peter Eubanks (Foreign Languages, Literatures, and Cultures - FLLC)

Project Sponsored by College of Arts and Letters

Student Name: Grace Malobisky

Project Title: Locating Slavery's Legacies at VMI

Project description: This project endeavors to uncover, document, and make accessible the historical ties between Virginia Military Institute, the Confederacy, and the Lost Cause. It is a part of the Locating Slavery's Legacies project, based out of the Roberson Center at Sewanee University. The goal of the project is to uncover and document expressions of the Confederacy and the "Lost Cause" intellectual movement at southern universities. We hope that uncovering this history will help facilitate reparative justice at colleges in the South.

Virginia Military Institute (VMI) is a senior military college located in Lexington, Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley. VMl was historically linked to the preservation and perpetuation of slavery, the Confederacy, and the Lost Cause.

This project involves processing archival material and writing brief histories of selected objects such as Confederate statues at VMI's campus. Students will gain research experience, analytical and writing skills, and an in-depth understanding of the Lost Cause and how it shapes current events.

Project Advisor: Jonathan S. Jones (History)

Project Sponsored by REDI

Student Name: Francesca Corrales

Project Title: Rejecting the narrative: Reasons US families are embracing homeschooling as a viable alternative

Project description: Interested in the Sociology of Education and/or the Sociology of Families? This study will examine the purpose of public schooling and how US families today are selecting homeschool as a viable alternative. Using grounded theory and qualitative methodology, this study explores why families are choosing to homeschool and what outcomes they seek. Whether the motivating factor is faith-based, safety-motivated, nature-inspired, or politically-driven as a way to reject colonizing curriculum mandates, the quest for agency will be explored in-depth as the connecting thread between such families.  
This is a collaborative research project between Drs. Smith Brennan and Porter. Two student positions are available, each with different responsibilities. One student will be responsible for assisting in the organization and facilitation of focus groups with JMU students who completed homeschooling for some duration of their K-12 academic years. The other student will assist in the organization and facilitation of parent interviews with families who currently homeschool their children. Student researchers will work collaboratively on analyzing and collecting data from social media platforms.

Project Advisor: Lisa Porter (Sociology and Anthropology)

Project Sponsored by REDI

Student Name: Brielle Lampf

Project Title: Terror Management Laboratory

Project description: Together with global collaborators, we strive to help humanity as they come to terms with the certainty of death and the unsavory behaviors that result, through advocacy for social justice and change. Through our research, we engage in the ultimate act of symbolic immortality and creation of existential meaning, while providing comfort for the world.  

We regularly engage in research surrounding suicidal ideation and advocate our work with national organizations such as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and local organizations such as the Campus Suicide Prevention Center of Virginia.   

Project Advisor: Lindsey Harvell-Bowman (School of Communication Studies / Department of Psychology)

Project Sponsored by REDI and Honors College

Student Name: Mustafa Jilani

Project Title: Assessing Diabetes Distress in College Population: Pilot Study (Phase 1)

Project description: Diabetes distress is common among adult individuals with Type 1 and 2 diabetes mellitus. Diabetes self-management curriculums have been found to be effective in reducing diabetes distress. However, these curriculums are prepared for adult individuals, and not many studies were conducted to assess whether such curriculums are equally effective on the college population, especially young college students. This study will assess the diabetes distress among students, faculty, and staff and also prepare a revised diabetes self-management curriculum specially geared toward college population. 

The objectives of the study are: 
1. Assessing diabetes distress among students, faculty, and staff. 
2. Analyzing currently available diabetes self-management curriculum. 
3. Modify currently available diabetes self-management curriculums for the college population. 

The study will include both quantitative and qualitative parts, including surveys, interviews, and focus group sessions.  

Student assistants will be recruited to assist the researchers in conducting the survey by distributing the invitation flyers and conducting interviews and focus group sessions with the college community members. Student assistants will learn firsthand the basics of health research by assisting the researchers. 

Project Advisor: Raihan Khan (Health Sciences)

Project Sponsored by Honors College

Student Name: Emily Hoder

Project Title: Impact of music on a specific health condition

Project description: Do you wonder why different types of music make you feel a certain way? Are you wondering, as you read this, if Music has an effect on your mood for instance? In this project, the student will engage in learning basic research skills to study the impact music has on a specific health condition that will be shared upon beginning the project. With sufficient enthusiasm from you (student), the culmination of the project could be a poster for a research day or conference!

Project Advisor: Asmita Mhaskar (Health Sciences)

Project Sponsored by REDI

Student Name: Laura Paschetag

Project Title: Critique of disciplinary practices for reporting participants' average age in published research

Project description: The discipline of psychology has been undergoing a renewed interest in methodological carefulness, and in that spirit, I would like to work with a first-year student to document and critique something I've noted with concern in psychology research writeups. Introductory chemistry students learn to use "significant figures" or "significant digits" to express degrees of precision/accuracy in information, but this concept is missing from psychology; instead, our professional guidelines mandate specific numbers of decimal places, even when that level of implied precision is inappropriate and inaccurate. For example, the age of a sample of participants (typically reported by them in most recent whole year) is commonly averaged in published work to two decimal places; this is not only too precise to reflect the information as provided, but also, in the case of age, it is systematically biased downward by ~6 months, i.e., actually somewhat inaccurate. In this project, we will work together on an archival analysis of age reports in recent publications in high-impact psychology journals that will form the basis for a brief critique paper that calls for changes to disciplinary guidelines about how to handle significant figures, particularly in the case of age.

Project Advisor: Jessica Salvatore (Psychology)

Project Sponsored by REDI

Student Name: Hailey Music

Project Title: Constraint and Boredom in Education

Project description: I have been looking at what happens when students are given options in educational activities. For example, if students are allowed a choice of completing one of three readings, as opposed to being assigned a specific reading, they not only report that the reading is less boring, they devote more time and attention to it and do better on quizzes. I am interested in extending this work to required versus elective courses to find out what effect being in an elective course has on how students prepare in these classes.  

Project Advisor: Ashton D. Trice (Psychology)

Project Sponsored by REDI

Student Name: Christopher Michael Hubbard

Project Title: Autonomous Vehicles

Project description: The transportation industry is currently undergoing a drastic shift towards autonomous vehicles (AV) and processes. It is likely that autonomous transportation systems will be deployed within retirement communities significantly sooner than they are available to the general public: these communities have a particularly acute need for assisted mobility, and the controlled environment of a retirement campus simplifies many of the technical problems related to autonomous control. The elderly population has a relatively high prevalence of physical, sensory and cognitive limitations that must be addressed in the design of an AV system. We believe that a successful user interface in this domain will require a high level of passenger awareness. External and in-vehicle sensors will monitor the position, activities and mental state of passengers. The user interface will use that information to guide passenger interactions. For example, raising the volume of spoken instructions if a passenger is having difficulty hearing, or calling for assistance if a passenger is having difficulty entering or exiting the vehicle.

Project Advisor: Samy El-Tawab (Computer Science)

Project Sponsored by REDI

Student Name: William Ponczak

Project Title: Spatial Auditory Data Representation

Project description: Sound can be used to display quantitative information, as an alternative to visual data representation. This project focuses on using sound to represent spatial information (e.g., data in map form). The hope is that analysts using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to support environmental decision making will be able to consider more data than can be displayed visually. 

To research this possibility, we need an experimental platform that will allow us to try different uses of sound for various data analysis tasks and conduct human performance experiments to determine which approaches work the best. 

 The first goal of this project is to continue development of a plug-in for the QGIS system to allow users to choose which data they want to listen to and using which representation. This plug-in will then stream the selected data to audio generation tools (CoreAudio) on the host Mac computer so that they can be converted into the appropriate sounds. 

The result will enable research in such data representations to learn how best to use sounds in environmental decision support systems.  

Project Advisor: Steven P. Frysinger (School of Integrated Sciences)

Project Sponsored by REDI

Student Name: Sam Willis

Project Title: Case Study of Simulating the Power Production for the East Campus Hillside Photovoltaic Solar Array System  

Project description: Step into the vibrant world of solar energy with our project. We are diving into the world of solar energy right here on campus, using industrial standard tools and software (PlanetPredict, PVsyst, etc.) to study how well we can simulate solar photovoltaic energy production. We will rely on the on-site solar array system at the east campus hillside and collect data from the publicly accessible data portal. This dataset will serve as the reference, and you will experiment with how to simulate the actual power production based on weather conditions. This project is a gateway to renewable energy and weather forecasts. You will not just learn theory here, but you will be hands-on with data analytics and visualization.  

Project Advisor: Weiming Hu (School of Integrated Sciences)

Project Sponsored by REDI

Student Name: Jack Gibson

Project Title: Student research connecting with the local poultry industry to study a respiratory disease in turkeys  

Project description: Rockingham and surrounding counties produce the largest portion of approximately 400 million pounds of turkey grown in Virginia each year.  The work of this project involves a pathogen of turkeys, and thus has a direct impact on our community.  Avian bordetellosis is a highly infectious, acute upper respiratory tract disease of young turkeys and causes significant weight loss and thus economic loss for our farmers. Bordetella avium was once thought to be the sole cause of bordetellosis in turkeys. However, in part as a result of work done by Dr. Louise Temple (Professor Emerita), since 2015, another member of the bordetella family, B. hinzii, is now also known to be a potential cause (Merck Veterinary Manual, 2022). New information, new identification techniques, and work with industry collaborators may help understand the role that B. hinzii plays in disease causation and thus provide new solutions to this problem. This project builds on two decades of undergraduate work at JMU, which has now taken a new direction to address recent developments in this infectious disease in turkeys. 

Our goal is to compare the results of techniques used to collect and to differentiate these two bordetella species using samples from local farms. Only then can we begin to assess the roles of B. avium and B. hinzii in the pathology of bordetellosis. Since 2004, we have had an active and ongoing relationship with our local state laboratory and local veterinarians. This partnership makes the proposed new and unique work possible, taking results from theoretical lab-based work into the realities of agricultural work in our area. 

Project Advisor: Cindy Klevickis (School of Integrated Science)

Project Sponsored by REDI

Student Name: Maria Kruml

Project Title: Growing Novel Filamentous to Remediate Polluted Sediment Environment  

Project description: Cable bacteria (CB) are a group of filamentous bacteria within the family of Desulfobulbaceae. They construct conductive filaments in the uppermost layer of aquatic sediment to transfer biogenic electrical current, which couples the sulfide oxidation and oxygen reduction over centimeters. The biogenic electrical current also prompts the establishment of a unique geochemical pattern and promotes various secondary reactions that significantly affect the cycles of metals in the sediment. Our team proposes to utilize the biogenic electrical current generated by enriched CB to remediate the marine sediment contaminated by heavy metals. Firstly, we will enrich freshwater and marine CB using local sediment collected from sites within the Commonwealth of Virginia. Second, CB's growth and biogenic electrical current establishment in autoclaved sediment spiked with representatives of toxic metals (Pb and Zn). Lastly, the concentration of the metals in each layer with the sediment will be analyzed and compared to evaluate the feasibility further. This project creates new learning opportunities for students in the applied biotechnology concentration, aiming to enhance their knowledge and skills in environmental biotechnology.   

Project Advisor: Cheng Li (School of Integrated Science)

Project Sponsored by Honors

Student Name: James Coulthard

Project Title: SafeDriveAI: Advancing Road Safety with Intelligent Technology  

Project description: Drinking and driving continues to claim the lives of thousands of Americans annually. While laws have made significant strides in reducing alcohol-related traffic fatalities, the issue persists. Our endeavor centers on creating an automated Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test that can be factory-installed in all vehicles as a passive safety measure. This HGN test must be successfully completed before the vehicle can be engaged. 

Upon starting the vehicle, the HGN test initiates. The driver must maintain a stable head position and track a laser-projected dot moving horizontally across the windshield within their line of sight. A camera monitors eye movement, relaying data to a controller. Using a machine learning algorithm, this controller compares the readings to the driver's baseline data, pre-established within specific parameters. These parameters serve to determine if the driver is impaired by alcohol or drugs. If the test results indicate impairment, the vehicle remains immobilized.  

Project Advisor: Ahmad Salman (Computer Science)

Project Sponsored by Honors

Student Name: William Jedrzejczak

Project Title: MusicCPR  

Project description: Have you ever taken an instrumental music course (e.g., Band or Orchestra)? Well, I haven’t 🙃, but I understand from my student and faculty collaborators that for some students it can feel like there’s a disconnect between who they are (and to what music they enjoy listening) outside of the classroom and who they are in the classroom. Join our international, interdisciplinary collaboration to help us with the next steps for our project.  
Our project includes a web application that is sort of like a niche Learning Management System (e.g., Canvas) named MusicCPR. We have designed and implemented this web application in collaboration with music teachers. First launched as an early prototype during the pandemic, students and teachers were enthusiastic about our work. 

In the theme of building connections between who students are inside vs. outside of the formal instrumental music education context we will (1) work toward a more inclusive music education experience that broadens the repertoire of pieces student learn to even include composers who are still living 😆, (2) work toward the inclusion of musical genres that require post processing (such as electronic music), and (3) experiment with opportunities to build bridges between tasks students already do in music, and similar tasks in other disciplines that they may not otherwise encounter.  

Project Advisor: Michael Stewart (Computer Science)

Project Sponsored by Honors

Student Name: James Parente

Project Title: Monitoring Land Condition Changes in the Shenandoah National Park  

Project description: Natural and human-driven land changes have transformed the landscape globally. Satellite images have been the main data source for mapping land changes over large areas. Historically, retrospective mapping of abrupt categorical land cover changes (e.g., deforestation) has been the focus of the field of remote sensing. With the improvement in both the quality and the quantity of free satellite images, as well as the advancement in cloud computing technology, the community have shifted to continuous monitoring of more subtle changes in the land conditions (e.g., changes in vegetation productivity). In this project we will use satellite images from the Landsat program and tools developed based on Google Earth Engine to monitor land condition changes in the Shenandoah National Park. The goals are not only to create a complete history of the land changes in the park, but also create an operational system that can continue to monitor new changes as newer images are collected.    

Project Advisor: Xiaojing Tang (School of Integrated Sciences)

Project Sponsored by Libraries

Student Name: Dilpreet Gill

Project Title: Virtual Study Buddy - Using Virtual/Augmented Reality to Enhance Student Learning    

Project description: Want to use virtual/augmented reality (VR/AR) to develop learning applications of the future? Then this project might be for you! VR and AR let us interact with virtual objects and people as if they were real. This can bring new opportunities to advance student learning. Prior research has shown that having a physical companion can help students formulate their thoughts and increase learning gains. What I aim to do is to investigate if the added immersion from a VR/AR headset can be used to create interactive virtual learning companions. Imagine having a virtual study buddy that could help you stay motivated or understand topics. As part of this project, you would be involved in the entire scientific method, from establishing the specific hypothesis we want to study, to the development of a virtual system, to the evaluation of said system with real users.  

Project Advisor: Isaac Wang (Computer Science)

Project Sponsored by Honors

Student Name: Sana Jaf

Project Title: Unveiling the Impact of Generative Artificial Intelligence (GAI) Implementation in Public School Classrooms

Project description: This proposed research study seeks to evaluate the effects of introducing Generative Artificial Intelligence (GAI) technologies in public school classrooms. The study will focus on understanding how GAI can enhance the educational experience of students (P-12) and improve the efficiency of teaching in these settings.  

The research will involve the deployment of GAI-powered educational software in a diverse range of public schools. These software tools will be designed to provide personalized learning experiences, adapt instructional content to individual student needs, and offer real-time feedback to both students and teachers. The study aims to assess the impact of GAI on student engagement, academic performance, and the overall teaching and learning process. 

Additionally, the research will investigate potential challenges related to data privacy, equity in access to technology, and the need for teacher training to effectively utilize GAI tools. Ethical considerations in implementing GAI in the classroom will also be a focal point of the study. 
By analyzing the outcomes and experiences of students and educators, this research endeavors to provide valuable insights into the feasibility and benefits of GAI integration in public schools, offering a foundation for informed decisions regarding its potential widespread adoption in education. 

Project Advisor: Chelsey Bollinger (Early, Elementary, and Reading Education Department)

Project Sponsored by REDI

Student Name: Elise Crowder

Project Title: Multimodal teacher development in Uzbekistan 

Project description: This project is to offer multimodal professional development for early childhood teachers in Uzbekistan. Online modules will be created and offered in Sprig 2024. Monthly zoom meetings will be held with the participating teachers. In-person workshops and coaching in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, may be conducted in Summer 2024 (grant pending). Research will be conducted to evaluate the impact of the multimodal teacher development. The JMU undergraduate student will have ample opportunities to interact with Uzbek early childhood teachers, learn about UN's Sustainable Development Goals, and travel to Uzbekistan (grant pending).

Project Advisor: Shin Ji Kang (Early, Elementary, & Reading Education)

Project Sponsored by REDI

Student Name: Bahaa Hussein

Project Title: Novice Teachers' Experiences on Becoming Culturally Sustaining Educators  

Project description: The purpose of this study is to learn about past participants’ (from a 2020 study) current teaching experiences with culturally responsive and culturally sustaining practices. This will add to our existing research on our graduate students’ attainment of program competencies. The study is a qualitative research study that seeks to gain an understanding of our former preservice teachers’ experiences with a culturally sustaining pedagogy and the meaning they ascribed to their practices. The study includes four graduate students who were interviewed to learn about their teaching beliefs and practices now that they have taught in P-12 U.S. schools for a few years. Our findings from our first study (Koubek & Wasta, 2023) revealed that our preservice teachers had an awareness of culturally responsive pedagogy; they recognized the importance of learning from and with their students and families but still had areas for growth when implementing culturally responsive practices, prompting us to further explore how these preservice teachers enact culturally sustaining practices in their current classrooms.  

Project Advisor: Katya Koubek (Educational Foundations & Exceptionalities - EFEX)

Project Sponsored by REDI

Student Name: Griffin Mahoney

Project Title: Computer simulation of parenting and the life history of the dinosaur Maiasaura

Project description: Maiasaura was a genus of dinosaur that lived in the Upper Cretaceous Period in North America. The discovery of Maiasaura was the first evidence of a dinosaur feeding its young, hence the name given to it, which means "good mother reptile." The number of fossil specimens of Maiasaura that have been obtained is extremely high and have led to a number of fairly low uncertainty estimates for life history statistics (e.g. age distributions, survival rates, etc.) making Maiasaura one of the best understood extinct vertebrates in the fossil record. In this project, we will take these empirically-obtained values and construct a computer simulation, specifically, an agent-based model (ABM), of the species to observe its population dynamics. ABMs are models where individuals (agents) are unique and autonomous and interact with each other and their environment locally. We will adjust survivorship rates simulating a trade-off between parenting and individual survival and see how these effects propagate to the population demographics. The goal of this project is to determine how impactful the role of parenting was in establishing a stable population.

Project Advisor: Alex Capaldi (Mathematics & Statistics)

Project Sponsored by REDI

Student Name: Summer Kantanen

Project Title: Localized pattern control in spatiotemporal patterns using reaction-diffusion equations 

Project description: Research into spatiotemporal self-organization and pattern formation in naturally evolving systems has garnered significant attention within the field of statistical mechanics over the past few decades. These patterns hold immense interest because of their remarkable similarity to crucial biological, chemical, and physical processes, such as DNA oligomers, skin pigment development, and oscillatory chemical reactions. 

While numerous Turing-like models have been proposed to mathematically describe reaction-diffusion systems, only a limited few exhibit the nonlinear and chaotic behaviors closely resembling those found in natural systems. The Gray-Scott model, serving as the primary model of study, uniquely possesses both of these behaviors and boasts a rich parameter space replete with a multitude of intriguing dynamical regimes. 

The Gray-Scott model is a cubic, autocatalytic reaction involving two chemical concentration densities, u and v. This research project centers on the exploration of emerging spatiotemporal patterns within the Gray-Scott model. This exploration involves systematic localized parameter adjustments and the incorporation of electric fields, providing a deeper understanding of the model's intricate behavior and its potential applications in various natural phenomena. 

Project Advisor: Jason Czak (Physics & Astronomy)

Project Sponsored by REDI

Student Name: Emily Euler 

Project Title: Computational investigation of butanol reactivity on gold-titania nanocatalysts   

Project description: When used as a biofuel for vehicles, butanol contributes to cleaner air by reducing unburned hydrocarbons in tailpipe exhaust. 1-butanol and 2-butanol are isomers, which means they have the same chemical formula (C4H9OH) but different structures. When they react on a gold-titania nanocatalyst surface 1-butanol and 2-butanol unexpectedly form different products. To understand why these two similar molecules follow different chemical reaction pathways this computational surface science project will use software based on quantum mechanics to predict the structure and energies of butanol molecules as they react on catalyst surfaces Research will be conducted using high performance computing (HPC) resources available at JMU, UVA, and Argonne National Laboratory.  

Project Advisor: Kendra Letchworth Weaver (Physics & Astronomy)

Project Sponsored by REDI and Honors College

Student Name: Morgan Jones

Project Title: Discovering conserved genes in sister species of garter snakes

Project description: When vertebrates evolved from aquatic to terrestrial life, natural selection preserved a network of genes to synthesize lipids in the skin to prevent whole-body dehydration. Snakes are an ancient lineage of terrestrial vertebrates but have adapted to a variety of environments, including semi-aquatic habitats. Do closely-related species of garter snakes, despite their divergent habitats, all have and use the same genes for skin lipid synthesis? Recently, we identified some of these skin lipid synthesis genes in one species of garter snake, and these genes are seasonal and sex-specific in their activity. Next, we will extract RNA and make cDNA from skin samples from several other garter snake species and then use traditional and quantitative PCR to measure any differences in skin gene activity. Students involved in this project will read the primary literature and learn molecular biology techniques (RNA extraction, cDNA synthesis, PCR) to test hypotheses on the evolution of gene networks. If successful, and because this project is part of a larger collaborative study, the student will eventually co-author a manuscript that will be submitted for peer review.  

Project Advisor: Rocky Parker (Biology)

Project Sponsored by the College of Science & Mathematics

Student Name: Conor Bourke

Project Title: Evaluating the stability of supramolecular boronic acids gels for targeted drug delivery  

Project description: This project involves the study of peptides with boronic acid handles. Peptides are known to form hydrogels, materials that act like solids despite being predominantly water. The introduction of a boronic acid allows for recognition of drugs, such as L-DOPA. L-DOPA is a Parkinson’s drug that dramatically improves patients’ motor deficits. Despite its benefits, patients taking L-DOPA experience adverse gastrointestinal side effects, which primarily arise from drug breakdown. Transdermal L-DOPA administration with our hydrogel will minimize these side effects and improve drug efficacy. In this project, we will synthesize a library of boronic acid-peptides, use these molecules to form gels, and evaluate their stability under biological conditions. The enzymatic resistance of L-DOPA incorporated materials will also be investigated

Project Advisor: Gretchen Peters (Chemistry & Biochemistry)

Project Sponsored by REDI and Honors College


Student Name: Evelyn Page

Project Title: Molecular sponges: Using biopolymer metal-organic framework composites to remove ions from water 

Project description: Is my water safe to drink? That’s a question we don’t have to ask at JMU because we have access to safe and reliable water sources. However, there are many places where water contains ions that we want to extract because we have a safety concern (lead) or because the ions are rare and are needed for other applications (gold). In this project, we will synthesize composite materials, or “molecular sponges,” to remove ions from water. These sponges consist of a biopolymer and a metal-organic framework (MOF). We are interested in exploring the biopolymer nanocellulose, nano-sized particles of cellulose, as a support to make molecular sponges that contain MOFs. MOFs are promising for isolating ions from water because MOFs can be modified to control how they interact with ions in solution. In this project, we will synthesize selective molecular sponges by controlling their materials properties and incorporating additives that can be used to selectively remove contaminants from solution. 

Project Advisor: Barbara Reisner (Chemistry and Biochemistry)

Project Sponsored by REDI and Honors College

Student Name: Mckenna Witt

Project Title: Data and Disease: How do we use data to better model disease spread and intervention?

Project description: We will be investigating how to use data to study the spread of certain diseases as well as the efficacy of intervention strategies (such as quarantine, vaccination, treatment, etc.) Disease spread in a population will be modeled by using nonlinear dynamics models and/or discrete time models. We will then use statistical methods to approximate parameters from existing data sets This work is interdisciplinary, touching on math, statistics, data sciences, biology, public health, and medicine.  

Project Advisor: Eva Strawbridge (Mathematics and Statistics)

Project Sponsored by REDI and Honors College

Student Name: Norah Squires

Project Title: Interactive Dimension Reduction for Microbiomes  

Project description: Math is great for combining variables and projecting observations into a 2D visualization space. Humans are great at finding patterns and groups among observations in 2D visualizations. If we let humans adjust the visualization, we can update the math to reflect the patterns the human found or imposed. Software for this human intervention is available in Python, which is great, but most people in the field are using R. So, we are translating code from Python to R and adding other useful features. We will test the code on both generic, publicly available data and on data generated in the biology lab where we study microbiomes - the community of bacteria, fungi, and other microbes living in or on an environment (i.e., in the human gut). While this project doesn't have a “wet” lab component, future projects could. Instead, this project focuses on a data science component, specifically visualization. Data science is one of the fastest growing and highest paying fields in the country right now and this project is a perfect introduction to the field and how it applies to biological data.  

Project Advisor: Laura Tipton (Mathematics & Statistics, and Biology)

Project Sponsored by Honors College

Student Name: Newton Elizabeth

Project Title: Use of JMU tree inventory data to estimate the carbon sequestration and building heating/cooling effect  

Project description: Determining the cooling impact of tree canopies relies significantly on carbon sequestration, wherein carbon dioxide stored in the carbon pool plays a crucial role. This becomes particularly vital in urban environments characterized by a high percentage of impervious surfaces, such as buildings. The Climate Change Resource Center of the U.S. Forest Service has introduced the Tree Carbon Calculator Tool (CTCC) to facilitate this assessment. This tool enables the estimation of carbon dioxide sequestration and energy savings associated with individual trees. Our approach involves employing the CTCC to compute the carbon sequestration of the trees within James Madison University. The essential parameters for the CTCC, derived from the JMU Tree Inventory (available as an ArcGIS Web App), encompass the climate zone, tree species name, tree size (precisely diameter at breast height), or the age of the tree species. Initially, we will estimate the carbon sequestration and cooling effects on a per-species basis. Subsequently, we will determine the overall or total sequestered carbon dioxide and cumulative cooling effect (annual energy savings in kWh in electricity) by aggregating the data from individual tree species. The final step involves leveraging ArcGIS Online to publish the final maps as a Web App or a story map.  

Project Advisor: Dhanuska Bandara Wijesinghe (Department of Geology and Environmental Science)

Project Sponsored by the College of Science & Mathematics

Student Name: Evan Poindexter 

Project Title: Monarch Butterflies and Milkweed species

Project description: Climate change is affecting pollinator species, such as the monarch butterfly In experimental studies, we are determining monarch butterfly preference and caterpillar growth on eight species of native milkweed which may be increasing in toxicity due to increased levels of CO2. We will determine toxin levels in the plants as well as the caterpillars feeding on them.  This may have an effect on the OE parasite that is infecting them.  The student will cultivate milkweed species in the greenhouse in the early spring and plant the species in experimental plots in the late spring The student will count eggs and measure caterpillars on milkweed species in garden plots during the fall semester if they continue in our lab.   Monarch butterflies are also captured to test for presence of the OE parasite

Project Advisor: Heather Griscom (Biology)

Project Sponsored by the College of Science & Mathematics

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