Undergraduate Summer Research

The following undergraduate research opportunities were available for Dordt students for the summer of 2016.

Converting Existing Research Software to Exploit GPU Computing

Mentor: Nick Breems, Computer Science

Dordt has a new GPU-based high performance compute cluster. However, to fully utilize the significant power available requires careful optimization and administration.

This summer research position will be involved in three types of task:

1) Learning to administer and manage a powerful compute cluster so that it is available and easy-to-use for numerous stakeholders

2) Helping researchers adapt their existing programs to use GPU computing by employing pre-written software or GPU-enabled libraries

3) In cases where there are no adequate existing libraries, writing custom GPU kernels to accelerate research computing on Dordt’s campus. This research project will enable the student to gain hands-on experience in Linux system administration, parallel programming, and high performance supercomputing.


Characterizing how Myosin5 Supports Nerve-Cell Interactions and Brain Health

Mentor: Robbin Eppinga, Biology

Two students have the opportunity to work on a team that will characterize the interaction between two proteins found in neurons – Myosin5 and PACSIN. A previous screen as well as initial characterization in yeast has identified these proteins as potential partners whose function may involve the communication between nerve cells, underlying proper brain function. This team will finish characterization of the interaction in lower eukaryotes, yeast, using the Yeast-Two-Hybrid assay, and in human cells using transfection followed by immunoprecipitation and Western blotting. Depending on our progress, there is a possibility that we will also do some studies probing the function of the interaction, using immunofluorescence techniques and GFP-based assays. Students will learn advanced molecular and cellular techniques on the job. 


Using Environmental DNA Technology to Survey the Little Sioux Watershed for Invasive Silver Carp for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources

Mentor: Robbin Eppinga

The "jumping" Asian Silver Carp is an highly invasive freshwater fish species that escaped containment in aquaculture and municipal ponds during the Midwest U.S. 1992 flood and has been moving northward up the Mississippi River system ever since. This species has recently been located in the NW Iowa Big Sioux River system, both by visualization and confirmed by environmental DNA sampling. It is currently unclear whether this species has invaded inland into Iowa tributaries such as the Little Sioux River.

Recently, while developing a system to stimulate these fish to jump in order to capture them without harming other local fish species, Eppinga and a current Dordt biology student contacted the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to determine their interest in this species. Their interest is high, and they have indicated that they would like a survey of the Little Sioux River system. 

In this study, we propose to sample and perform DNA analysis on water from the Little Sioux River to determine whether these waters are inhabited by Silver Carp. Further, if we detect the presence of Silver Carp we plan to perform semi-quantitative PCR to determine whether Carp presence is increasing or decreasing though the summer. These data will be helpful to both the Iowa DNR to facilitate Carp management and to Dordt College as they determine the spread of silver carp.

Developing Facilities for Shoulder Biomechanics Research

Mentor: Kayt Frisch, Engineering

A survey of female high school volleyball players in the local region during the fall 2014 season suggests that more than 30% of respondents have experienced pain that is likely the result of repetitive overhand motions (e.g. hitting and serving). This pain has long-term implications for these women so our project's long-term goal is to understand the likely causes of this pain and to recommend ways to reduce its prevalence. We hope to accomplish this through a variety of player-surveys, practice observations, and biomechanical studies of the hitting/serving motions.

The goal of this summer’s project is two-fold. One aim is to further develop the pain-history survey instrument, with the intent of creating a study plan to survey pain and shoulder mechanics in GPAC women’s volleyball players during the 2016 season. The second aim is to develop the research facilities and procedures necessary for studying the biomechanics of hitting and serving; this work will primarily involve integrating a wearable force sensor designed by engineering senior design teams during the past few years with other motion capture lab equipment primarily motion capture and developing some basic testing protocols.


Histological Studies of a Mouse Model for the Neurodegenerative Disease Batten Disease

Mentor: Tony Jelsma, Biology

Batten disease is an incurable and progressive genetic disease that causes an accumulation of protein and lipid deposits within neurons in the brain. Although the gene mutations that cause this disease have been identified, the functions of these genes, collectively known as ceroid-lipofuscinosis neuronal protein genes, are not understood. To address this problem, Dr. Jill Weimer of the Sanford Research Institute in Sioux Falls has developed a genetically modified mouse that recapitulates this disease.

We are beginning a collaboration with Dr. Weimer’s lab to examine other organs in these mice to see how they may be affected by this gene mutation. The research student will use various histological stains and antibodies to compare organs of normal mice with those of these mutant mice. By understanding how other organs are affected in these mice, we may gain clues to the function of this gene and be able to develop strategies for treatment of this condition.


Dante in Science Fiction, Dante as Science Fiction

Mentor: Joshua Matthews, English

In this project we will read and research Dante’s impact and influence on science fiction (sf). Of course, Dante Alighieri famously wrote the Divine Comedy, a medieval Catholic poem about a pilgrim’s journey through the entire universe. No one to my knowledge has discussed Dante as a proto-science fiction writer, nor has anyone discussed his impact on the genre. Yet his name appears in many major science fiction works; there’s even a deliberate retelling of the Inferno by prolific sf writers Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. Our project goals are to see whether and how Dante can be classified as proto-science-fiction, and what Dante’s influence on the Golden Age and the New Wave is (i.e., science fiction in the 1950s- 1980s). Along with scholarly research, we will read, study, and discuss books and their ideas all summer. Our goal is to produce a good working draft of a publishable academic paper. Students who apply should appreciate the challenges of complex reading and discussions that combine philosophy, history, politics, science, and language. Readings and authors will likely include Dante’s Comedy, Gene Wolfe, Philip K. Dick, Stanislaw Lem, and Peter Watts.


Preparing for a Loss of Tax Exemption / Operative Metaphore and Exegesis

Mentor: Donald Roth, Interdisciplinary

Operative Metaphor and Exegesis - Expanding on my work in the article I published in Pro Rege this fall, research students will help me research further into the ways that certain metaphors guide our understanding of Christian discipleship. Specifically, students will be researching the work of different theologians both to determine which operative metaphors those authors resonate with and how this affects the way that those authors read Scripture and speak about discipleship.

Preparing for the Nuclear Option: How can Christian Colleges Plan to Survive the Loss of Tax-Exempt Status? – This project will involve research into a variety of different aspects of the overarching question, depending on student background, interest, and expertise. This would involve research into trusts, corporate law, tax law, college administration, college finance, and analogous institutions who have lost tax exemption. Particular interest would be research into Bob Jones University and the subsequent developments surrounding its survival as an institution.


Corroboration and Improvement of Computer Simulation of Vertical Seismic Acceleration on Bridge Structures

Mentor: Justin Vander Werff, Engineering

Analytical work has been conducted related to the seismic performance of certain precast connections when subjected to combined vertical and horizontal earthquake ground motions. This work has included time-history analyses using the computer software framework OpenSees, which is an open source earthquake simulation tool that was developed at the University of California-Berkeley. While the analytical work thus far has appeared to corroborate experimental results that verified the performance of the connection details, more work is needed to improve confidence in the analytical results. Going further with the OpenSees simulations will help to clarify questions in the current models. In addition, independent static analyses based on first principles and utilizing other analytical structural analysis software tools such as RISA and Autodesk’s Robot Structural Analysis (both of which are already included in Dordt’s suite of engineering software and are used in engineering coursework at Dordt) will help to determine the viability of the analytical results thus far. Results from this work will likely be published in a scholarly structural journal and included in subsequent reports to the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) as part of ongoing parallel work at Iowa State University. 


Biostatistics/Statistical Genetics

Mentor: Nathan Tintle, Statistics

Click here for an external link to this project.





Sharing Expertise in the Structural Performance of truck Frames

Mentor: Justin Vander Werff, Engineering

Vander Haag’s, Inc., is a local company that is recognized nationwide as a leader in used truck sales, parts, service, and equipment. One service they provide is the lengthening or shortening of truck frames. While they have proven methods to provide structural sufficiency to the modified frames, no engineering analysis of these methods have been conducted. Vander Haag’s and Dordt College have partnered together to provide engineering expertise to the frame modifications and to provide careful communication of the structural integrity of the modifications to non-engineers. The student on this project will have the opportunity to work with Vander Haag’s to experience the modification work and gather the appropriate information to conduct an engineering analysis and then work at Dordt with engineering faculty to perform necessary calculations and develop appropriate communication. Assisting with business and management aspects at Vander Haag’s may also be part of the experience, depending on the student’s background and preference.

Spanish Language Translator for Special Education Resource Materials

Mentors: Kathleen VanTol, Education

VanTol is writing materials related to implementation of special education in Latin American countries. The research student will assist with translating the materials into Spanish this summer. This position is for 160 hours (approximately 20 hours per week for 8 weeks), is flexible, and can be combined with another part-time position on campus. The research student should have excellent Spanish language skills and a background in education, though the student does not necessarily need to be in the Teacher Education Program.