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The 2023 summer application is now closed.

SURFS 2023 will run from May 30-July 7 with move in on the morning of May 30 and move out on July 8.

2023 SURFS Faculty

Becky Adams

Analyzing the regulation of mRNA export through the nuclear pore complex in budding yeast

The goal of my group of undergraduate research students is to explore the fundamental process of how the information stored in genes is used to make proteins. During this process, called gene expression, an intermediary molecule between DNA and proteins called mRNA carries this information in the cell. In cells with a nucleus (eukaryotes) mRNA must travel from the nucleus, the storage place of DNA, to the cytoplasm, where ribosomes are located to translate, or decode, the mRNA into protein. This important step of mRNA export from the nucleus to the cytoplasm is the focus of my lab.
The nucleus is surrounded by an envelope that separates the DNA from the rest of the cell. However, embedded in the envelope are little doorways called nuclear pore complexes (NPCs). The NPCs only allow selective transport in and out and specific signals are required for passage through this doorway. We study how this passage occurs for mRNA.
To understand how mRNA is permitted out of the nucleus through the NPC, we use a powerful and favorite organism of molecular biologists: S. cerevisiae, the common baker’s yeast. The fundamental biology of yeast is surprisingly similar to humans, so by studying this simple organism, we can understand more about how human cells function. Our approaches involve engineering DNA sequences through molecular cloning, assessing the effect of these DNA sequences on microbial yeast growth, and visualizing cellular processes through fluorescence microscopy.

Special Skills Taught: molecular cloning, microbiology, microscopy, bioinformatics, research presentations

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Rudolph Bedeley

Data Science for Social Good?: Investigating the Impact of Cognitive Workload Changes on Students Acquiring Data Fluency Skills.

Data Science professionals have for the past half decade, and continues to be, one of the highly sought-after professionals by most industries worldwide. This study examines the changes in cognitive workload and its impact on college students acquiring data fluency skills through data science course(s) they are currently or previously enrolled in. Using mixed method (interview & survey) research approach, both qualitative and quantitative primary data will be collected and analyzed to address key research question: “Do students get burned out taking data Science-related courses?”

Special Skills Taught: Literature Review, Writing, Instrument development, Data Collection and Analysis, Hypotheses development and testing

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Davon Ferrara

Optics of Metal Nanoparticles and Materials

The manipulation of light and its interaction with matter is essential for many modern applications ranging from telecommunications to cancer therapy. Metal nanoparticles are an important tool for controlling the optical properties of macroscopic materials because of a strong resonance between light at particular visible wavelengths and the free electrons in the metal. This makes them highly effective at absorbing or scattering light and concentrating electromagnetic energy. Furthermore, the optical properties – the color – of the nanoparticles are extremely sensitive to the surrounding material. Students working in my research group learn to fabricate gold or silver nanoparticles through either chemical synthesis or ion exchange. Summer projects will utilize these fabrication methods to manipulate the size and shape of the nanoparticles to study how their optical properties can be controlled.

Other projects are also available, including in biophysics, general optics and materials, computational physics, and mechanics (physics of motion). Please discuss these possibilities with me either before applying or upon placement in the spring

Special Skills Taught: UV-Visible spectroscopy, chemical synthesis of Metal nanoparticles, ion exchange using molten salt baths in a furnace, spin coating thin films, data analysis using Python, and more!

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Andrea Florian

Understanding the role of MLL complex members in cancer

Understanding what causes cancer at the cellular level is essential to developing innovative and effective cancer therapies. My group seeks to understand the MLL complex family, a group of protein complexes that remodel chromatin to activate or repress transcription. It is well established that the MLL complex plays a role in leukemia and many other cancers. We will use CRISPR technology to activate or repress specific proteins within the MLL complex in cancer cells and see how it affects their growth and function.

Special Skills Taught: molecular cloning, cell culture, CRISPR, research presentations

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Amy Ham

The role of complex protein changes in extracellular vesicles in the progression of colon cancer

Exosomes are extracellular vesicles (containing protein, RNA and other molecules) that are released from cells and participate in cell-to-cell communication. They have been shown to be involved in the progression and metastasis of cancer and increase resistance to certain chemotherapies. Proteomics utilizes mass spectrometry to analyze complex mixtures of proteins and can be used to compare differences in protein composition in various biological systems, including vesicles, through bioinformatics. The analysis of these proteins may produce biomarkers or targets for therapy that can be used to develop treatments for cancer. We will be studying protein changes in extracellular vesicles from cancer cells using mass spectrometry.

Special Skills Taught: gel electrophoresis, cell culture, mass spectrometry, proteomics, bioinformatics, UV-Vis spectroscopy

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Duane Hatch

Synthesis of unnatural amino acids

Selenium or tellurium containing amino acids will be synthesized via multi-step reactions for the purpose of protein structure/function elucidation. Students will help to optimize each step in the reaction sequence and identify Lewis acid catalysts for a key cyclization step.

Special Skills Taught: Basic lab skills, multi-step organic synthesis, purification of organic compounds, NMR analysis of organic compounds

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Abigail Heller

Stress and Health in Adolescents and Emerging Adults during the Pandemic

Project 1 will already have data collection finished and focuses on stressors, health outcomes, and self-compassion in online college students ages 18-25. For this project, SURFS participants can learn data analysis through SPSS, as well as writing up results and discussion portions of a scientific paper. Project 2 will be to adapt the previous project to do with adolescents in subsequent semesters. For this project, SURFS participants can learn the earlier stages of the research process such as doing literature searches and writing introductions, creating a proposal/protocol, and creating surveys.

Special Skills Taught: Literature searching, data analysis (specifically moderation, mediation, and some factor analysis to look at the structure of a scale and its underlying constructs), scientific writing, getting IRB approval to work with minors, building rapport with schools to start the projects, building surveys.

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Hua Mei

  1. Perfluorinated monomers/polymers for Proton exchange membrane fuel cells

A series of diazonium (perfluoroalkyl)aryl sulfonyimide (PFSI) zwitterionic monomers have been synthesized from perfluoro-3, 6-dioxa-4-methyl-7-octene-sulfonyl fluoride (Nafion®), and perfluoro-3-oxa-4-pentenesulfonyl fluoride (POPF) monomers for the first time. With trifluorovinyl ether and diazonium precursors, the partially-fluorinated diazonium monomers can be further polymerized and will provide chemically bonding with carbon electrode in proton exchange membrane fuel cells. A systematic study of the synthesis and characterization of these diazonium PFSI monomers will be conducted.

Special Skills Taught: organic lab synthesis skills, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy, Infrared Spectroscope

2. Theranostic nanoparticles incorporating carbon folic acid (FA)- carbon dots(CDs)- anticancer drugs 

The long-term goal is to develop the theranostic nanoparticles (NPs) that will improve diagnostic and therapeutic efficacy for cancer. Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Two of the major challenges in cancer therapy are enhancing detection methods to diagnose early-stage cancer and increasing drug specificity to spare healthy cells. Our hypothesis is that the NPs incorporating CDs, FA, and anticancer drugs can provide the novel theranostic solutions for the simultaneous diagnosis and targeted treatment of cancers. 

Special Skills Taught: organic lab synthesis skills,  Infrared Spectroscopy, Ultraviolet–visible spectroscopy, Fluorometer, 

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Michael Oliver

Brain wave Activity and Cognitive Performance

In this work, we will explore the neurophysiological underpinnings of individual differences in cognitive performance. We will use electroencephalography (EEG) to assess brain wave activity in response to various cognitive stimuli. Cognitive domains explored include: memory, attention, language, visuospatial navigation, and more.

Special Skills Taught: EEG net application, EEG experiment setup, ERP data processing, coding, etc.

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Tim Schoenfeld

Modeling Anxiety and Memory in Rats and Humans

We study anxiety and memory (and other things) in rodents and humans using different approaches. In rodents, we model anxiety and memory using both behavior and neuroscience techniques. In humans, we use psychophysiology to study the physiological effects of these processes.

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Thom Spence

Bad stuff in the environment: Is it there?

We are developing novel electrochemical systems to detect heavy metal contamination in drinking water, food, and other environmental samples. Currently, the device developed by Belmont students has demonstrated detection sensitivities for lead at the 500 parts per trillion level, sufficient for drinking water and food testing. Further development is needed to detect other heavy metals like cadmium, chromium, and mercury. This project involves advanced analytical chemistry techniques, circuit design, and programming and can be focused to best fit student’s interests.

Looking for students interested in environmental chemistry, analytical chemistry, circuit design, or programming. An introductory course in Chemistry, Physics, or Programming is all that is required.

Special Skills Taught: Advanced electrochemical techniques, programming, circuit design

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Justin Stace

Investigations into Potential Terbium(III)-Based Chemical Sensors

Many of the metals found in the f-block, neglected at the bottom of the periodic table, exhibit remarkable visible luminescence when excited by broad-band ultraviolet light. The intensity of this luminescence is increased by attachment of strongly-absorbing organic “ligands,” molecules bound to the metal center. While the mechanism of this luminescence is well understood in the literature, we have discovered two molecules where the size and shape of the ligand preclude bonding, seemingly inhibiting the luminescent behavior. The reasons for this “quenching” are not immediately clear and we are attempting to unravel why.

Special Skills Taught: In addition to getting a lot of practice refining your general laboratory skills, the student can expect to receive instruction (and more practice) with: UV-visible, IR, luminescence, and NMR (1H, 13C) spectroscopy. Depending on where a student’s project leads, they may also be exposed to: inert-atmosphere synthesis techniques, chromatography, rapid-mixing spectroscopy, electrochemical measurements, and broadband NMR.

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Jordyn Wilcox

Targeting the exposome in neurodevelopment

The exposome is defined as the sum of everything we are exposed to: our nutritional status, environmental pollutants, our metabolism, genetics and more. Dr. Wilcox’s research uses rodent models to understand how these exposures influence both neurodevelopment and neurodegeneration. The brain needs all of the right nutritional components to develop properly, and is also simultaneously susceptible to negative effects of toxins. One project will be geared toward early-life nutrition, examining the role of developmental vitamin D deficiency in neurodevelopmental disorders including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). A second project will focus on neurotoxicity, evaluating early-life exposure to the heavy metal manganese. Other possible projects include examining nutritional deficiencies and toxin exposure in neurodegenerative disease (Huntington’s Disease) using previously collected brain and liver tissue from mouse models. These projects will involve: hands-on work with rodent models, performing rodent behavioral tasks, molecular biology techniques and more!

Special Skills Taught: Hands-on work with rodent models, rodent behavioral task administration and coding, molecular biology techniques (pipetting, making up solutions, etc.), brain tissue processing, Western Blot to measure protein expression, manganese measurement and quantification, data analysis and making attractive and effective figures

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Matthew Zeh

Acoustic Monitoring in Nashville, Documenting Soundscapes in Local Parks

We will be documenting the acoustic soundscapes in several different city- and state-owned parks through use of passive acoustic recorders. Initially, we will deploy several outdoor recorders to continuously monitor local urban, suburban, and rural parks for several days. We will then analyze these finely sampled recordings for their acoustic content, including both anthropogenic (traffic, music, talking) and natural (biological, weather, etc.) sources, to determine an appropriate recording schedule to detect sources of interest (i.e. birds, insects, or something else!). Using our determined recording schedule, we will then re-deploy our recorders for a couple weeks and then recover our recorders again. Using these recordings, we will compare their content to our earlier continuous recordings.

Special Skills Taught: Data analysis, including synthesis of “big data” into communicable results. Sampling strategies. Environmental impacts.

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