Undergraduate Summer Research

The following undergraduate research opportunities were available for Dordt students for the summer of 2019.

INSECT DIVERSITY AND PEST MANAGEMENT IN NW IOWA

Mentor: Jeremy Hummel – Agriculture

This research project investigates the insects of NW Iowa, particularly in Sioux County. It has two components. Component 1 is a continuation (year 2) of a project investigating the parasites that contribute to control of corn rootworm, a major pest of corn in the Midwest US. In the first year of the project, 279 adult beetles and 117 beetle larvae were collected and reared in the lab, resulting in the emergence of two endoparasitic nematodes. The second year of the study will improve sampling methods and resulting beetle survival, to increase the numbers of insects reared and assessed for parasitism. The undergraduate research student will aid in the collection, rearing, and identification of rootworms and their parasites. Component 2 of the study is the first year of a survey of insect diversity of Oak Grove Park, focused on several major groups including ground beetles, water beetles, and pollinators. All three of these groups have been used in various studies as indicators of ecosystem health. The first year of the survey would contribute to a partial species list begun in summer 2017, contribute to nature programming with the Sioux County Conservation Society and Oak Grove Park staff, and provide baseline data against which future surveys can be compared. The undergraduate research student will establish and maintain insect traps, collect insects, and contribute to insect identification and/or collection curation.

HISTOLOGICAL STUDIES OF THIOREDOXIN-1 KNOCKOUT MICE

Mentor: Tony Jelsma - Biology

Genetically modified mice serve as valuable tools for the study of human diseases because these whole-body studies can often reveal effects on organ systems, which are not apparent at the cellular level. We have been studying the effects of deleting the antioxidant gene encoding thioredoxin-1 (Trx1) on a variety of organs. In these studies, we found profound effects on the structure of the liver, stomach, and spleen. One surprising finding was that the knockout was not complete in many organs. Careful histological analyses of these animals will provide an opportunity to study the effects of gene deletion in the context of other cells that retain the gene. To follow up on this work, you will also study the effects of Trx1 knockout in two other mouse models; one in the nervous system and the other in the lungs. You will also be involved with the cell culture project that is studying the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on CRP production in liver cells, with time shared between the two projects as appropriate. This will be an eight to ten-week project, but for one day per week, you will work with Dr. Eppinga on his research project.

INVESTIGATING THE EFFECTS OF OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS ON INFLAMMATORY SIGNALING IN CULTURED LIVER CELLS

Mentor: Tony Jelsma - Biology

There is evidence that omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, possibly by reducing inflammation. While some data have been obtained to support this claim, the mechanism of this effect is still unclear. Liver cells (hepatocytes) respond to inflammatory signals by secreting Creactive protein (CRP). Your project will involve testing the effect of omega-3 fatty acids on the production of CRP in cultured hepatocytes. This project will involve two major components. You will a) look at the effect of adding omega-3 fatty acids on cell membrane composition and b) measure the production of CRP mRNA using quantitative PCR. Time permitting, you may look at the levels of CRP protein using Western blotting and/or examine the effect of other lipids in this system. This project will provide you with a strong introduction to some commonly used research techniques, namely mammalian cell culture, quantitative PCR, and possibly Western blotting. You will also be involved with the histology project that is studying thioredoxin-1 knockout mice, with time shared between the two projects as appropriate. This will be an eight to ten-week project, but one day per week you will work with Dr. Eppinga on his research project.

ANALYZING SILVER CARP JUMPING BEHAVIOR IN THE BIG SIOUX RIVER USING AUDIO STIMULI IN ORDER TO BUILD A SPECIESSELECTIVE TRAP

Mentor: Robbin Eppinga - Biology

Silver carp (a.k.a. flying carp, jumping Asian carp) are a problematic invasive species in the Mississippi River and the river basins connected to it, including the nearby Big Sioux River. This species displaces native fish because it is a filter feeder that uses up much of the plankton that supports food webs. In addition, these large fish are problematic for humans that enjoy watersports because they jump out of the water when the detect the sound of nearby motors sometimes injuring boaters. (Google “flying silver carp video” to watch the jumping behavior). To study this species, summer researchers will build a floatation platform equipped with audio speakers that can be pulled behind a boat. Once built, this platform will be taken to the river to stimulate the jumping behavior of fish. Once we can predict jumping behavior, the platform will be modified to trap silver carp that are stimulated to jump. Ideal candidates will be creative, self-motivated students who can work with power tools, can drive (or learn to drive) a truck, can drive (or learn to drive) a boat, can swim (or wear lifejacket when on boat), enjoy being outdoors, enjoy building and troubleshooting.

STABILIZING THERAPEUTIC PEPTIDES WITH SUGARS AND MULTIVALENT PEPTIDE DRUG DEVELOPMENT

Mentor: Joshua Zhu - Chemistry

There are two subprojects of this summer research. a) Bivalirudin is a therapeutic peptide used for cardiovascular procedures as anticoagulant. The short half-life of this drug initiated our research on how to increase the stability of this drug. Our method for this research is stabilizing the drug with glycosylation (adding sugars on Bivalirudin with chemical method). Last summer, we paved out the way of synthesizing glycosylated bivalirudin and its derivatives. We are planning this coming summer to go further to get purified peptides and test the stability of glycosylated Bivalirudin and its inhibition effect. b) 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 start to develop a synthetic method that can enable us to conjugate some therapeutic peptide drug on a dextran scaffold. A linker will be chemically attached to a specific amino acid and corresponding peptides will be synthesized and purified. Then the peptide will be 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.

COSMOLOGIES AND CREATION STORIES

Mentor: Channon Visscher - Chemistry

From Genesis, to The Magician’s Nephew, to The Silmarillion, asking “where did we come from?” sets the stage for a good story. Throughout history this question has also provided the framework for understanding our place in creation. In this project, we explore how scientific descriptions of origins – made and told by people in community – also behave as creation stories. In this approach, observations of the world around us build a narrative of how the world (as its own witness) came to be as we see it today. We will also explore the relationship between science and religion in scientific theories of origins, and how our “creation stories” (and our corresponding views of the cosmos) have also developed and evolved over time, from objects known in antiquity to the astrophysical discoveries in modern cosmology. Exploring how scientific theories of origin interact with our cultural and religious views also provides new opportunities for enriching science-religion dialogue, including the development of resources to equip students facing questions about science and the Christian faith, and the origins of the physical creation.

EVALUATING STUDENT SELF-CONCEPTIONS OF DISCIPLESHIP

Mentor: Donald Roth – Criminal Justice

The researcher(s) will assist in data processing/coding previous discipleship exams from Core 399 as part of an analysis of students' perceptions of the major narrative threads in their religious experiences as part of a research paper. The researcher(s) will also be helping me research and prepare topics to be covered in the book I'm planning to write on the 5 Question model used in Core 399. These projects are related and can be adjusted based on the number and skills of researchers.

MOLECULAR MECHANISMS OF CELL MEMBRANE STRUCTURE MODIFICATION BY OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS

Mentor: Manuela Ayee - Engineering

Omega-3 fatty acids (O3-FAs) are bioactive molecules that have been shown to reduce the risk of death in patients with cardiovascular disease. Interestingly, the exact methods by which the risk factors for heart and blood vessel disease are reduced is unclear. Some scientists believe that O3-FAs change the structure and function of the cell membranes they encounter but incorporating themselves into the cell membranes. This incorporation may in turn affect the function of the whole cell. In this project, students will have the opportunity to create computer models of cell membranes and a variety of O3-FAs. They will use these models to test the effects of varying concentrations of O3-FAs on cell membrane properties such as lipid packing, water permeation and membrane fluidity. This project will be carried out simultaneously with another ongoing experimental project that will measure activation of signal transduction pathways and expression of C-reactive protein in response to varying O3-FAs concentrations.

CONSTRUCTION OF A BIOLOGICAL FLOW SYSTEM AND ASSOCIATED COMPUTER CONTROL PROGRAM

Mentor: Manuela Ayee - Engineering

The student will work on building a pump system for the cultivation of endothelial cells under flow conditions for simulating blood vessel environments. This system will then be used for experiments to assess the relationship between the adhesion of monocytes to endothelial cells and the changes in membrane tension related to membrane tethers pulled by the monocytes that are observed under dyslipidemic flow conditions. Creating a computer program to control the pressure pump system and calculate flow rates and volumes will be a major part of the project. This system and experiments will be part of a larger collaborative project with researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago that aims to elucidate the effects of bad cholesterol on endothelial cell biomechanics.

STIMULATING INTERACTIONS OF BEYOND STANDARD MODEL PARTICLE CANDIDATES MOTIVATED BY THE DARK MATTER PROBLEM

Mentor: Jason Wyenberg - Engineering

The Dark Matter problem motivates the search for beyond standard model (BSM) physics to postulate new particle candidates consistent with existing constraints on interaction cross-sections and mass density in the universe. Example candidates include Right-handed Sterile Neutrinos and sub-GeV scale WIMPs. Experimental efforts are underway around the globe to detect these particle candidates, and theoretically-motivated models are necessary to direct the technical improvements and next-generation designs of these detectors. Simulated models of existing and next-generation detectors such as Xenon1T and multiple Germanium Crystal Lattice detectors will be performed in Mathematica software. Completion of this project includes student research into the Dark Matter problem, current developments in theoretical particle physics and Quantum Field Theory, and detector designs. Computations on Dordt’s GPU-cluster will be performed and computer programming skills are required to successfully deploy Mathematica software in a parallel processing environment. A final presentation will be completed to educate non-physicists on the exciting state of the search for dark matter.

THE LIFE AND WORK OF HELEN CREIGHTON: CANADIAN FOLKLORIST AND ETHNOMUSICOLOGIST

Mentor: John MacInnis - Music

Helen Creighton (1899-1989), through the course of her life, became one of Canada’s most significant folklorists. Her work focused primarily on the Maritime provinces, throughout which she traveled collecting folk songs and local stories of many different people groups in the region: Native American, German, African, Scottish, etc. Her life's work was honored by her admittance to the Order of Canada, in 1976, and her name listed as a Canadian Person of National Historic Significance, in 2018. Creighton published numerous collections of Maritime folk songs and articles on Canadian folklore. This project will engage a Dordt College theatre arts student (theatre major, minor, or a student simply involved in theatre arts at Dordt College) to assist the faculty mentor in: 1) Researching the life and work of Helen Creighton to the end of crafting a musical with her as its topic. 2) Researching musicals typically undertaken by high schools. 3) Researching how musicals are typically written and published. 4) Researching plays and musicals that are already prominent in the Canadian Maritime Provinces, which may indicate a ready niche. 5) Researching ways in which musical theatre can be an opportunity to promote a vision for human flourishing generally and in terms of Creation, Fall, Redemption.

HOPELESSNESS AMONG RURAL AND/OR MINORITY PATIENTS WITH ISCHEMIC HEART DISEASE

Mentors: Deb Bomgaars – Nursing, Kristin Van De Griend - Sociology

A team of nursing and public health researchers is conducting a research study on hopelessness among patients with coronary heart disease (CHD). Hopelessness is associated with increased morbidity and mortality in patients with coronary heart disease (CHD). Little research exists describing hopelessness and its relationship to exercise in CHD patients and no research exists specific to rural patients, a known health disparate group. The purpose of this project is: 1) to describe hopelessness in rural CHD patients and 2) to evaluate the validity and reliability of the survey in this population. We are looking for two friendly, motivated students to help our team with this research study during the summer of 2019 by gathering participant data, helping faculty analyze the data, and assisting in writing preliminary reports. Students will commit 5 days per week over the course of 8 weeks.

UKRAINIAN MENTAL HEALTH IN THE POST-SOVIET ERA

Mentors: Luralyn Helming – Psychology, Mark McCarthy – History, Kristin Van De Griend – Sociology, Nathan Tintle - Mathematics

This international Research Experience for Undergrads is funded by the National Science Foundation. Students will participate in a cutting-edge research experience in the current health of the developing country of Ukraine. Students will travel for 2 weeks to Ukraine with a faculty mentor. They will then spend 8 weeks on Dordt’s campus where they will be in multidisciplinary groups to develop research questions, carry out literature reviews and iterative data analysis, and disseminate research findings under the mentorship faculty. Additional information can be found on the Ukraine REU website.

CHARTING MENTAL HEALTH TRAJECTORIES IN RURAL NORTHWEST IOWA AGRICULTURAL COMMUNITIES DURING AN ECONOMIC DOWNTURN

Mentors: Bruce Vermeer and Angela Kroeze Visser – Psychology

The economy of Northwest Iowa depends heavily on the farm economy and indicators point to slowing profits for key Iowa crops. Prior farm-related economic downturns in rural areas (such as in the 1980s) led to an increase in depression and suicide. Our research group is interested in exploring whether current economic trends will have an impact on mental health issues (depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation) for persons involved in agriculture and understanding potential sources of social support and community engagement for rural residents who are experiencing economic stressors. This summer’s project is a feasibility study to test outreach and survey methods and gather preliminary data. We anticipate making contact with farm owner-operators in the region and invite them to complete a brief online survey (utilizing Survey Monkey) regarding their current work-related circumstances. The survey will include a depression/anxiety scale. The role of the student researcher will be primarily collecting and processing survey data.

INTERACTIONS BETWEEN ALGEBRA AND DISCRETE MATHEMATICS

Mentors: Mike Janssen and Melissa Lindsey – Mathematics/Statistics

Two students will explore interactions between abstract algebra structures and graphs. Students will begin by getting up to speed on the current literature and then identifying 2-3 problems that they’d like to pursue throughout the summer. The projects will be accessible to students who have completed Math 212.

CREATING A CORE-CURRICULUM MATERIAL FOR UNIVERSITIES IN THE MISSION FIELD

Mentor: Jay Shim - Theology

Writing a curriculum of Biblical Foundations to be used at a university in the mission field! Doesn’t this excite you? With the guide of the faculty mentor, Dr. Jay Shim, a group of students will share and summarize the most significant parts of the history of salvation in the Bible and write them into a curriculum that faithfully reflects the biblical story of salvation and fits well in the African context. Both faithful summary of the Bible and thoughtful reflection on it for today are important for the project. In 2017 Dr. Shim visited Kumi University in Uganda and led a two-week faculty enrichment program. They wholeheartedly accepted the principles of Reformed Christian education and asked to provide guidance to reshape their education. Kumi University was established with a dualistic spirituality and worldview, but now they want to transform their educational foundation to a holistic view. As a followup, seven leaders of the university visited Dordt College in February 2018 and studied and experienced more on Reformed education. Next step to help the university to mature as a Christian institution is to create a core-curriculum that defines all of their education. That’s what this summer project is trying to accomplish.

BIOSTATISTICS/STATISTICAL GENETICS

Mentor: Nathan Tintle – Statistics

View more information on this project.