Friday, June 28, 2013

SRAP Student Spotlight: Maddie Zoltek and fuel cell research

SRAPer: Maddie Zoltek
Home state: Illinois
Grade in school: High School Senior
Plans after High School: Attend college to study biochemistry or biomedical engineering

Maddie Zoltek hasn't always loved science. Her sophomore year of high school, however, changed that.
“I hated science up until then; I didn't think it was interesting,” Maddie says. “But when I took chemistry my sophomore year, I really liked it because of the awesome teacher I had. So, I started doing more research and getting more involved in it.”
Her love for chemistry continued to grow, leading her to want to pursue a degree in biochemistry.
“I thought chemistry was really interesting,” Maddie says. “Whenever we did labs in class, I loved doing them. I like the math involved too; it was just something that I really understood and I feel like I can apply it in a lot of ways. I just thought it was such a cool class.”
Maddie’s SRAP project involves working with Dr. Dongmei (Katie) Li, a professor in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. Maddie will take the knowledge she gained in chemistry and apply it to improve the durability of fuel cells.
“I have been working with fuel cells,” Maddie says. “When we make a fuel cell using the alternative approach, we dip the membrane in a chemical solution serving as a ‘glue’ instead of using heat and mechanical pressing. My project involves testing the effect of different times on the durability and overall performance of fuel cells.”
A fuel cell creates an electric current from a chemical reaction and is used in areas such as transportation, stationary power, and more.
“The kind of fuel cell we work with generates electricity from hydrogen and oxygen,” says Dr. Li. “And then you can generate electricity in which you can stack all of these single cells up to power your car.”
Maddie says that one of her favorite parts about creating and testing fuel cells is being able to work in the lab and get her hands dirty.
“The most interesting part is actually just being able to make the solutions yourself and make the fuel cells yourself and have a hands-on approach,” says Maddie. “Because up until now we’ve only been learning about it and talking about chemistry and other science disciplines, so the opportunity to use classroom knowledge is really cool.”
The research that Maddie is working on and the techniques she’s learning will be beneficial for her future.
“The molecule she’s using is mostly used in biochemistry,” says Dr. Li. “Researchers use that compound for various reasons in the field of biochemistry.”

Maddie is greatly enjoying her research project this summer, and she’s excited about the opportunity to be working in the field she loves while gaining invaluable knowledge and experience. 

SRAP is a six-week intensive research program for high school students. It is based at the University of Wyoming and sponsored by Wyoming EPSCoR.

By Robin E. Rasmussen and Kali S. McCrackin
Photos by Robin E. Rasmussen

Monday, June 24, 2013

SRAP Student Spotlight: Makenna and the New Zealand Mud Snail

SRAPer: Makenna Fair
Home State: Colorado
Year in school: Freshman in College
Future Plans: Attend CSU, studying biology

Most teenagers don’t dream of spending their summers studying science. But for Makenna, studying science is something that has always interested her.
“I just like science,” Makenna says.  “I’ve always been interested in science. Just being outside and being able to research about what I learn about the outdoors; it’s cool”.
Makenna is working with Dr. Amy Krist and graduate student Brenna Hansen. Last year, Dr. Krist and Brenna worked with a SRAP student and studied the differences in nutrient content of algae, which snails eat, along a stream bed. This year, Makenna is adding to that research by studying snails themselves.
 “We are doing a behavioral study on the New Zealand mudsnail, the invasive species that has invaded parts of North America, Europe, and Australia,” says Makenna. “We are testing population densities and how the snails behave in different population densities.”
The idea for this project came from Brenna, who identified in her thesis research the potential benefits that snails may receive from living in high densities.
 “One of the benefits seems to be facilitating food location,” says Brenna.  “The motivation behind this experiment is to determine whether mudsnails use high densities of conspecifics (same species) to locate food using visual cues (seeing clusters of individuals near/on food) or whether they follow chemical trails released by feeding conspecifics.”
Understanding this phenomena about the snails may help researchers like Brenna and Dr. Krist, and perhaps one day Makenna, identify ways to control the invasive nature of this species.
Makenna says her favorite part about this research is seeing how it all matches up.
“All of it is important, so it all ties together,” she says.
As Makenna looks forward to beginning a degree in biology, she is gaining invaluable research experience in SRAP. In the future, Makenna may not continue to study snails, but she is gaining knowledge about the research process and learning to write research papers, which will give her an advantage when she starts at university in the fall.

SRAP is a six-week intensive research program for high school students. It is based at the University of Wyoming and sponsored by Wyoming EPSCoR

By Robin E. Rasmussen and Kali S. McCrackin

Sunday, June 23, 2013

SRAP Student Spotlight: Quentin and Questions of Cultural Identity

SRAPer: Quentin Cui
Home State: Florida
Year in School: Senior in High School
Future Plans: Attend a university, Johns Hopkins perhaps, and earn a degree in pre-med

Most high school seniors are thinking about the future and their plans for higher education. Quentin is no exception, but his plans for the future go beyond his undergraduate degree.
“I really want to join the Peace Corps or Doctors without Borders after medical school or after undergraduate school,” says Quentin. “I can only think that a medical degree would help me with that.”
Right now, Quentin is looking for experiences that will help him help others. SRAP, he says, is one of those opportunities.
“I started looking online for summer programs and people had made lists of summer programs and posted them on Google,” Quentin says. “So, I opened one of those lists, clicked through it and the best one I saw was SRAP.”
His first two weeks in the program have not left him disappointed and for the next month he will continue to work with his mentors, Dr. Walt Scott and second-year graduate Stephanie Bachtelle, from the UW Psychology Department on his project about cultural identity.
“We’re going to be studying how Native American youth identify themselves, whether as more western or more Native American, and how that will affect their goals and what they plan to do,” Quentin says.
To do so, Quentin is going through surveys that Dr. Scott has been collecting from youth on the Wind River Indian Reservation since 2001.  
“We’re interested in whether differences in cultural identity as reported on the self-report measure predict the kinds of goals kids are thinking about for the future,” Dr. Scott says.
For Quentin, the most intriguing aspect of this research is realizing that every person is unique.
“I’m most interested in the idea that basically, one construct of psychology can’t really be directly applied to everybody,” Quentin says. “I would say that everybody is a little bit different.”
As a soon to be high school senior, important decisions are right around the corner. But for Quentin, with his unique perspective, respect for diversity and motivation, he is sure to reach his goal and make a difference in the world.
SRAP is a six-week intensive research program for high school students. It is based at the University of Wyoming and sponsored by Wyoming EPSCoR.  

By Kali S. McCrackin

Thursday, June 20, 2013

SRAP Student Spotlight: Kaycee and Bilingual Decision Making

SRAPer: Kaycee Perez

Home State: Wyoming

Year in School: Freshman in college

Future plans: Attend the University of Wyoming to study Physical Therapy

Seeing the different types of science is one of Kaycee Perez’s favorite parts of the STEM fields. As a second year SRAPer, Kaycee has experience d differences in science fields as she has worked in both pharmaceutical research and now in psychology. While last year she was studying diabetes, this year she is focused on language.
“My project is focusing on if being bilingual has an effect on whether when you’re a juror, that affects your verdict,” says Kaycee. “I think the most interesting part is just seeing if being bilingual actually does have an impact on your decision making,” says Kaycee.
The idea for Kaycee’s project came from her mentor, graduate student Victoria Estrada, who had extra data from her thesis. 
“When I presented it to Kaycee, she was on board with it”, says Victoria. “She was like ‘Oh, this could be interesting’.”
Victoria and Kaycee will also be branching out to other participants to get more up to date data.
"We are going to try to run an extension project using online participants and look at whether people are more willing to help either monolingual English or monolingual Spanish speakers; we are looking to see if people are biased against monolingual Spanish speakers,” says Victoria.
 This project is vastly different than the one that Kaycee worked on last year, and she is enjoying the change of focus.
“I’m most looking forward to being with a different department. Last year I was with pharmacy and psychology is a lot different than that,” says Kaycee.
At the end of the program, Kaycee will get the opportunity to see all of the different projects her fellow SRAPers have been working on. SRAP students are placed in many different departments, including molecular biology, botany, chemical engineering, geography, electrical and computer engineering and more.  Each student will have the opportunity to present their research and findings during a formal presentation on July 19th.
SRAP is a six-week intensive research program for high school students. It is based at the University of Wyoming and sponsored by Wyoming EPSCoR.

By Robin E. Rasmussen and Kali S. McCrackin
Photo by Robin E. Rasmussen

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

SRAP Student Spotlight: Christopher and the Tangled Protein

SRAPer: Christopher Hoyt
Home State: Colorado
Year in School: Senior in high school
Plans after high school: Attend a four year college and study a chemistry related subject

For Christopher Hoyt, studying corn genetics isn’t anything new. Christopher, a soon to be high school senior, participated in SRAP last summer and worked on corn genetics with his mentor, Dr. Carolyn Rasmussen. This year, he’s back at it again, but with a variation on the area of focus.
“What we’re working on this year is a protein called tangled,” Christopher says. “The tangled mutant has irregular cell divisions. So, instead of them being parallel or perpendicular, they divide at a bunch of weird, awkward angles.”
Other studies on Tangled have led researchers to believe that the gene helps with how new cell divisions are placed. Christopher’s project this summer will add to this body of research.
“What I’m trying to do is figure out how the protein moves,” Christopher said.
To do this, he is using a technique called Fluorescence Recovery After Photo-bleaching (FRAP). The first part of the FRAP technique requires Christopher to zap part of a cell with a laser. This decreases the fluorescence and allows Christopher to then track the process of that part of the cell becoming fluorescent again. The current time-frame used is around seven seconds, requiring Christopher to be focused, fast and careful.
“This is technically a tough project,” says Dr. Rasmussen. “But, since I worked with Christopher last year, I thought ‘The sky’s the limit. We can do the most tricky project and I know he will pull it off.’”
In addition to his interest in the numerous techniques he can use in his project, Christopher is excited to get to know the other SRAPers.
 “I’m most looking forward to learning more about the current SRAPers this year, because once I finally did get to know all the SRAPers last year, it was just fantastic!”
SRAP is a six-week intensive research program for high school students. It is based at the University of Wyoming and sponsored by Wyoming EPSCoR.

By Robin E. Rasmussen and Kali S. McCrackin
Photo by Robin Rasmussen

Friday, June 14, 2013

Research Experience for Undergraduate Students Begins

The western United States is rampant with water issues, especially as wildfires dominate most of the summer months. To help understand water systems and ensure strong water-management plans, CI-WATER researchers are developing models. On Monday, some of these researchers will begin a month-long course with undergraduate students to teach them the importance of modeling and how models can make a difference in the future of water in the West.
The Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) begins June 17 at the University of Wyoming (UW) and will focus on high performance computing and watershed modeling. Through lectures and hands-on research students will solve complex computational science problems, learn to work in team research situations and improve programming skills. An optional, week-long course on watershed modeling systems will follow REU.
This year, REU is being led by Dr. Fred Ogden, a professor in Civil Engineering at UW, and Dr. Craig Douglas, a professor of Mathematics at the UW. Both Dr. Ogden and Dr. Douglas are researchers on the CI-WATER grant.

By Kali S. McCrackin 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

New Field Course Begins for Wyoming and Mississippi Students

When it comes to the natural environment, Wyoming and Mississippi do not have a lot in common. The arid plains and mountains of Wyoming contrast drastically with the humid plains of central Mississippi. The differences, however, offer ample opportunity for an expansion of knowledge. Tomorrow, students from both states will join together to begin a two week field research course focused on hydrology, ecology and geophysics.
This field course is the beginning of a collaboration between Jackson State University (JSU) and the University of Wyoming (UW) through the Wyoming Center for Environmental Hydrology and Geophysics (WyCEHG). The goal is to offer students from both institutions a chance for exposure to new environments while increasing knowledge of field techniques and equipment use. Dr. Scott Miller, one of the principal investigators for WyCEHG and a lead for the camp, believes that such a collaboration offers important new opportunities for everyone involved.
“The collaboration is compelling for several reasons,” says Dr. Miller. “For one, the geologic and hydrologic settings of the southeastern United States and the Rocky Mountains provide an excellent contrast for field studies and environmental interpretation. Second, students from both institutions will gain familiarity and exposure to very different physical and cultural geographies. Third, faculty and students at JSU and Wyoming have shared research interests, and this field course will provide a mechanism for academic exchange. Students will be trained on various critical techniques, including field observation and use of hydrogeophysical equipment that will prepare them for both the job market and academic research.”
Faculty from UW that will be teaching parts of the course include Dr. Miller, from ecosystem science and management; Dr. Steve Holbrook,from geology and geophysics; from Dr. Dave Williams, from ecosystem science and management and the director of the Stable Isotope Facility; Dr. Brent Ewers, from the botany department; and Dr. Brad Carr, manager of the Facility for Imaging the Near and Sub-surface Environment.  Together, the team will create a dynamic, interdisciplinary research experience.
More information about the field course and the JSU-UW collaboration can be found at:

 By Kali S. McCrackin

Friday, June 7, 2013

SRAP 2013: Beginning a Summer of Research

SRAP students from 2010

The weekend is fast approaching, but for Summer Research Apprentice Program (SRAP) participants and coordinator Lisa Abeyta, that does not mean rest and relaxation. Instead, the twenty-two high school students enrolled in the program will travel to the University of Wyoming and Lisa will be ready to meet them. This weekend’s activities include moving into the Honors House, where the students will live for the six-week program and a welcome lunch with Vice President of the Office of Research and Economic Development, Bill Gern.
On Monday, the students will begin their research in science labs alongside graduate students and professors. These research projects are intended to give SRAP participants real, hands-on experience in scientific research in order to encourage and support students interested in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields. Each student will work on a unique project, which will culminate in a written paper and oral presentation.
SRAP was started in 1985 to provide minority and first-generation, college-bound students with hands-on experience in STEM fields. It is Wyoming EPSCoR’s longest running program and this year we are excited to have students working in fields as varied as Watershed Management, Chemical Engineering and Psychology. 

By Kali S. McCrackin
Photo courtesy of Mariah Strike