Undergraduate Summer Research

The following undergraduate research opportunities are available for Dordt students for the summer of 2021. Dordt students may visit Dordt U to apply.

Insect Services and Pest Management in NW Iowa

Mentor: Dr. Jeremy Hummel – Agriculture

This project will focus on two areas of entomological interest in NW Iowa: insect diversity at Oak Grove Park and insect pest management in agronomic crops. The two parts of the project will occur concurrently throughout the summer. In Part 1 (Insect Services), the research student will sample insects from pitfall traps at Oak Grove Park. Trap samples will be sorted in laboratory for ground beetles (Carabidae) and several other ground-dwelling taxa. One additional insect group will be sampled—such as pollinators, aquatic insects, dragonflies, butterflies, fireflies, etc.—this group will be selected in consultation between the research student and mentor, and the student will have a considerable role in developing a sampling protocol for the collection period. The student will assist in insect identification, data analysis, and curation of collected specimens. The student will also consult with park staff to develop insect “field guide” resources to be made available at the park. In Part 2 (Pest Management), the research student will maintain micro-plots of native legumes and leguminous crop species and monitor them for infestation by soybean gall midge, a new insect pest of soybean.

Synthesis of Functional Peptides and Glycopeptides

Mentor: Dr. Joshua Zhu – Chemistry

There are two sub-projects in this summer research project: a) Synthesis of a library of glycosylated and sulfated N-terminal peptide of CCR5. It is granted that glycosylation of N-terminal of CCR5 is involved in the process of HIV virus invasion of the host cell, however, it is not clear about the how the glycosylation of CCR5 participating in the binding process and how different glycoforms affecting the binding process. Therefore, we are planning to synthesize a glycopeptide library to help demonstrate the function of glycosylation in the invasion process of HIV virus; b) Synthesis of multi-valented GLP-1 on Dextran scaffold. Developing multivalency of drugs on a scaffold can improve drug’s efficacy and it is essential for some drugs to appropriately work on their targets. We will continue modifying our synthetic method for generation of functionalized dextran. A series of functionalized dextran with specific loading numbers will be prepared in this subproject. After the synthesis of GLP-1, the peptide will be chemically loaded onto pre-functionalized dextran with different loading numbers. Future research will focus on testing the effect of the multivalent therapeutic peptides and apply this methodology to other therapeutic peptides.

Spirits of the Age Research

Mentor: Donald Roth – Kuyper Honors Program

This research will help to develop an accessible vocabulary for cultural analysis. You will help me by researching through a number of books and articles that deal with this topic and helping to further flesh out the “Spirits of the Age” framework first developed for use in Core 399. The goal is to provide sources and examples of the metrics, methods, and messages that animate our culture, possibly adding to or refining our current list.

Applying Bayesian QCD Sum-Rules to Hybrid Meson Correlators

Mentor: Dr. Jason Ho – Physics
Co-Mentor: Dr. Jason Wyenberg – Physics

Most of the matter we can see around us are made up of the same fundamental building blocks. The rules (i.e., the mathematical theory) that dictates how these particles can interact, however, allow for unique forms of matter that we are just now starting to observe in particle colliders. Interested students would begin by learning the basics of particle physics as they studied the literature of interest. No prior knowledge of quantum mechanics or particle physics is required or assumed. Students would be involved in building a methodology from the ground up; students would be involved in applying the statistical concepts using Python and/or Mathematica to apply the Maximum Entropy Method to solve a functional integral equation. Students will work together with myself and members of my collaboration, meeting together for collaboration and discussion every 1- 2 weeks, learning to communicate complex ideas and ask questions to sharpen their understanding. Students will be responsible for learning and applying concepts related to statistics, particle physics, variational calculus, and programming. This project is part of a larger research program and may not be neatly “tied-up” at the end of 8 weeks.

Inelastic Dark Matter Theoretical Particle Candidates

Mentor: Dr. Jason Wyenberg – Physics
Co-Mentor: Dr. Jason Ho – Physics

Undergraduate students will learn the basics of quantum field theory (QFT) and how it guides us in formulating new models for theoretical particle candidates. Students will review current literature and existing Mathematica computer models to understand how particles interact with detectors, and how to model potential signals of new beyond standard model (BSM) particles. A particular BSM particle which scatters inelastically with SM particles will be studied.

Computer Modeling of Precast Concrete Bridge Structures for Seismic Regions & Providing Structural Expertise to Local Manufacturing Operations

Mentor: Dr. Justin Vander Werff – Engineering

Project 1: The use of precast concrete members in high seismic regions is limited because of weakness (either perceived or real) in connection regions during earthquake events. The need continues for analysis work using timehistory acceleration data from real earthquake events to model and verify precast concrete connection behavior. In this project, we will use OpenSees, an open source earthquake simulation tool developed at the University of California-Berkeley, to conduct such analyses. The work will likely include both the refinement of existing models and the development of new models, comparing analysis results with real-world data that has already been collected.

Project 2: Local constituents in construction and agriculture firms overdesign their equipment’s structural components because they lack a thorough understanding of structural analysis. At present this overdesign is necessary to ensure a near-negligible probability of failure. But, as a result these firms poorly steward both input materials and finances. My structural engineering background provides expertise that can be extended to serve these constituents. Involvement of undergraduate students in this work provides an excellent mechanism for local companies to hire the students as “consultant” interns, working under my oversight to provide expertise to the companies at an affordable rate. Specific projects for this summer are still being identified.

Investigating the Finite Tropical Semiring

Mentor: Dr. Mike Janssen – Mathematics/Statistics

This project continues an ongoing investigation of the relationship between discrete mathematics and algebraic structures. Our focus will be the finite tropical semiring and various discrete representations of its properties, such as the directed graph. Depending on time and student interest, we may investigate ideals and varieties as well. Students will be responsible for all aspects of the research process: generating examples and questions, forming and proving conjectures, and writing up the results for presentation on campus, at area conferences, and publication in a suitable venue. Interested students should have completed Calculus II, with preference given to students who will have completed Discrete Structures by the position start date.

Molecular Insights Into an Inherited Neurological Disorder

Mentor: Dr. Manuela A.A. Ayee – Engineering

Charcot Marie Tooth disease is a progressive disorder that affects the mobility and strength of the lower legs and feet. There are several forms of this disease, which differ depending on the type of point mutations that appear in Myelin Protein Zero (MPZ), the most abundant protein found in the myelin sheath. Still unknown is how exactly MPZ mutations affect protein-protein interactions. This question is important because MPZ is known to oligomerize and form dimers and tetramers within its membrane environment. We will address the question of MPZ chemical interactions using molecular dynamics computer simulations. We have already created computer models of MPZ in its native form and select mutated forms. We will next quantitatively assess the molecular interactions between these model proteins. Specifically, using simulations, we can answer questions such as: what are the points of contact between the proteins; what is the affinity of these interactions, or how strongly do they interact with each other; how does protein concentration affect interaction rates; and how does the protein influence membrane structure and dynamics? The answers to these questions would form part of a larger study that will attempt to understand the biological significance of specific MPZ interactions and mutations.

Up-cycled Packaging Design for Disaster Relief and Developing Countries

Mentors: Dr. Jeff Ploegstra – Biology and Dr. Kevin Timmer – Engineering

During a disaster like hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico or the Mexico City earthquake, critical infrastructure is interrupted. The most immediate threat created is a lack of clean drinking water. Because of the convenience of distribution and storage of bottled water, it remains one of the primary components of emergency response efforts. Throughout Hurricane Gustav response efforts, over 30,000,000-liter bottles were shipped in by the Army Corps of engineers. Disruption of waste removal also becomes a problem. By providing emergency goods in packaging with a useful purpose, we can help to alleviate the waste burden created during disasters. Additionally, waste removal is typically the last infrastructure priority in developing countries, creating trash-filled landscapes, and polluted air as waste is burned. Our goal is to develop product packaging that has end uses applicable to the context where products are used. One example is cuboid water bottles that, when empty, can be filled with soil and stacked to provide landscape stabilization and/or shelter after a disaster or in a developing area.

Evaluation of Ceramic Filter Disk Performance

Mentor: Dr. Derek Chitwood – Engineering

Ceramic pot water filter are effective and widely acceptance by end users as a means to provide drinking water free from biological pathogens in people’s homes. One disadvantage is that they are easily broken in transport and use. To reduce the possibility of breakage and to improve their accessibility, a high flow rate ceramic water filter disk has been considered. To meet this goal, the design flow rate must be greatly increased while the removal of bacteria needs to stay above the 2 log removal minimum rate. In previous work, filter disks were made with various size and various concentrations of burnout material. These disks were placed in PVC receptacles and tested for their flow rate and removal of non-pathogenic E. coli. These results provided interesting but incomplete results. For example, it is expected that the flow rate would be linear proportional to head pressure, but we consistently had non-linear results. Similarly, E. coli removal was not proportional as expected. In this research, we will test the above mentioned filter disks at various head pressures for flow rate and E.coli removal and attempt to understand the flow characteristics which will allow high flow rates and high removal of E. coli at head pressure between 30 cm and 2 meters.

Additional Summer Research Opportunity 

Design and Analysis of Genetic Studies

Mentors: Dr. Nathan Tintle – Mathematics/Statistics and Jason Westra

View more information on this project.