STEM Summer Research Project Descriptions

Below are some examples of faculty lab opportunities for summer 2022. Some of the faculty listed take part in the early STEM selection process, some do not. Please read carefully. For other STEM faculty members not listed, please see their web pages or contact them via email or in person.

  • Afosah Lab: Glycosaminoglycan (GAG)-based compounds as inhibitors of pro-inflammatory serine proteases
    Research in the Afosah lab will specifically seek to target pro-inflammatory proteases, notably human neutrophil elastase (HNE) and cathepsin G (cat. G). The levels of these enzymes are markedly elevated in inflammatory lung diseases including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis (CF), and non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Small-molecule inhibitors of these enzymes thus hold major promise as therapeutic agents for these conditions, however, no anti-HNE and anti-cat. G agents have been approved for the above three lung diseases, with limitations attributed to challenges with achieving potency, selectivity, and stability. It is also likely that such compounds will reduce inflammation of the lung from viral infections, such as we have observed with COVID-19. Our plan is to develop compounds that selectively inhibit HNE and cat. G, and also possess ideal pharmacokinetic properties.

    By participating in this research, students will gain experience in synthetic organic and medicinal chemistry, biochemical assays, and computer-aided drug design.

  • Blythe lab: Diet and Obesity
    The U.S. adult obesity rate currently stands at 42.4%, the first time the national rate has passed the 40 percent mark, and further evidence of the country's obesity crisis. Obesity is associated with several adverse health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, and even some forms of cancer. Obesity can also impact fertility. Obese women have higher miscarriage rates and less success in in-vitro fertilization and other reproductive treatments. Obese women also have a higher incidence of PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome). Several years ago, our lab created an animal model of diet induced PCOS. We have published several papers on our initial findings, and this summer, we will be starting a new phase of this project. We will be looking at the impact of macronutrient composition and solid vs. liquid calories on our rodent PCOS model. So, in addition to handling rats, we will be doing blood draws and measuring hormone levels. Students will also learn to section tissue, perform immunocytochemistry, and collect and analyze microscope images. Dr Blythe is looking for 2-3 students. Please email her for more information.

  • Cabe lab: Conservation genetics of North American Crayfish
    The main focus of the Cabe lab is currently on describing and documenting the biodiversity of crayfish in eastern North America, the global hotspot for crayfish diversity with over 400 species. Freshwater crayfish are an imperiled group, and realistic plans for the preservation of diversity must include an accurate knowledge of all of the species and their geographic ranges. We use genetic tools (DNA sequence comparisons) to help define the range of known species and to help describe new species-yes, there are still a number of undescribed species! Much of the work is lab-based, with experience in DNA extraction, PCR, and sequence analysis, but we always include at least some field work capturing crayfish from Virginia's streams and rivers.

  • Friend Lab: Investigating how the ribosome moves.
    We'll be working this summer on computational models to simulate mRNA translation and continuing our work on ChemTutor which is designed to help students transition to Gen Chem. We're looking for 2 - 3 students.

  • Finch-Smith lab: Number Theory: fun with numbers!
    Prof. Finch-Smith works on research projects in number theory. In particular, her research group searches for families of positive integers with special properties. The only requirements to work with Prof. Finch are arithmetic skills and a sense of curiosity and wonder. The best part of the Finch-Smith lab is getting to work with Victor!

  • Gray lab: Illuminating New Catalytic Transformations
    The Gray Group designs new catalytic transformations for the synthesis of complex molecules. To identify novel chemical bond-forming methods, we harness the activity of transition metal catalysts and visible light, with the goal of using these reactions to label and study biomolecules.

  • Greer Lab: Habitat assessment of live coral cover of endangered Staghorn coral from Belize.
    If we are able to travel to Belize together, students will help collect photographic data of live coral abundance at Coral Gardens Reef, Belize. Whether or not students can participate in the fieldwork, there will be plenty of photographic data to analyze back in the lab in Lexington.

  • Hamilton Lab: Yellowstone Ecology
    Research in my lab focuses on the effects of grazing by large ungulates (bison and elk) on grassland ecosystem processes in Yellowstone National Park. In partnership with the National Park Service we investigate the tri-trophic interactions between grazers, plants and microbes by quantifying plant productivity, grazing intensity, chemical soil properties (nutrients, pH and soil structure), and biodiversity (Arthropods, plants and microbes). From satellites to DNA, multiple methods are used to quantify responses across the migratory range of bison and elk.

  • Harbor Lab: Experimental flume study of bedrock erosion.
    I seek students to build equipment and run flume experiments to simulate removal of experimental, 3D-printed, plaster bedrock. Requires desire to learn or experience in data capture, programming (arudino, Matlab), electronics and signal processing, fluid mechanics, image processing and videography.

  • Hinkle Lab: Environmental Geochemistry and contaminant remediation
    Our lab investigates contaminant remediation by both abiotic and biogenic minerals, with special focus on the bioremediation of manganese and other heavy metals by biomineralizing fungi. Potential research projects can focus on either fungal or abiotic systems, depending on the student's interests. If you are interested in joining this lab please contact Dr. Hinkle. Students who would like to collaborate with Geology faculty can apply through the regular SRS application (January 25th is the deadline).

  • I'Anson lab: Snacking and obesity development
    The I'Anson research team studies the role of snacking using a developing rat model to understand the mechanisms involved in childhood snacking and obesity onset. This summer we will be investigating the role of the GI tract, and abdominal fat in development of obesity and related metabolic problems.

    I am looking for 2 students to join the team.

  • Marsh lab: Conservation Biology of Mountaintop Salamanders
    Plans are not set for next summer but will likely involve a mix of field research and data compilation. Opportunities are available for students who are interested in environmental biology or statistics. No specific background is necessary, though students should be comfortable hiking off trail, getting dirty, and so forth. Contact Dr. Marsh if you want to learn more.

  • Matthews lab: Video game design and human interactionProfessor
    Matthews's lab is interested in understanding how design decisions in video games affects and impacts the experiences of the player. The current focus is on measuring gaming demographics and procedural generation. Projects will involve some coding, user study design, running user studies, and statistical analysis. Additional options for a focus are video game projects with either an innovative mechanic or intended story experience.

    Looking for 2 students. Experience in video game concepts and R are helpful.
  • Mengying Liu lab: Investigating mechanical behavior of Ni based super alloys at corrosive environment by digital image correlation
    Ni-based superalloys have been widely used as structural materials in industries. However, when exposing to corrosive environments, these alloys can experience unexpected failure. Understanding how those alloys perform at different corrosive environment is very helpful for the lifespan prediction of the materials. Student will characterize the microstructure with optical and scanning electron microscope and analyze the surface deformation through an advanced method - digital image correlation. Correlating the microstructural features and the mechanical response, one can investigate the root cause of corrosion behaviors. Through this research, students can practice their electrochemistry and solid mechanics knowledge, as well as get hands-on experience of corrosion and material mechanics, which are crucial for working at aerospace and oil & gas industry.

  • Prince Nelson lab: Benford's Law in Music
    Benford's Law, or the First Digit Law, shows that the frequency distribution of leading digits in a set of data follows a specific logarithmic pattern. A connection has already been shown for note duration in Classical music. Our goal for the summer is to look for connections in modern music.

  • Sprenkle lab: Modern web applications and their development
    Professor Sprenkle's lab is interested in understanding how modern web applications are developed, used, and tested. The current focus is on how we can develop representative, cost-effective test cases from actual usage and how we can create test cases that emulate bad guys. The application will either pass the test cases (yea!) or will fail, thus revealing faults in the application that must be found and fixed.

    To understand the underlying challenges of testing web applications, it helps to be experienced Web developers. Therefore, our parallel focus is on developing user-friendly online tools for chemists. We can then use the Web applications we develop to learn more about how people use them and apply what we learn to improve automated Web application testing techniques.

    Looking for 2 students. CSCI112 required; for Chemistry web application project, CSCI209 is required.

  • Toporikova lab: Biological time keeping
    This summer our lab will be using Data Science tools to understand the biological time keeping. We will be using data collected by our collaborators to analyze behavioral activity of spiders. By conducting analysis of locomotor activity at different times of day, we will build a model of biological clock in spider and predict how those clocks are affected by light. No previous programming experience is necessary, but familiarity or interest in data science software will be a huge plus. 1-2 students are expected to work on this project.

  • Uffelman lab: Noninvasive examination of old master paintings

  • Watson lab: Innovative A.I. Applications and Software 2.0 (IAAS)
    Professor Watson's lab is interested in investigative the applications of Software 2.0 to various software engineering and cross disciplinary fields. The current focus of our lab is to develop neural machine translation methods for various software generation problems. Specifically, how can we learn from source code changes to automatically fix issues related to software development. Additionally, projects are running in deep learning applications to the cross discipline areas of biomedical science, geology, art history and online gaming.

    To develop an automatic solution to these problems, we rely on the implementation of deep neural networks to represent structured and unstructured data. Our process involves extracting data from online repositories through a mining or scraping technique, preprocessing that data in preparation for the deep learning model, and lastly, training the model for a classification or regression prediction.

    Looking for 2 students. Experience with software development and TensorFlow is preferred.

  • Whitworth lab: Regulation of cellular molecular mechanics
    Description: We use bioinformatics, genetics, biochemistry, and microscopy to study the regulation of cellular molecular mechanics in model organisms like yeast and rodents. Current projects include a study of the regulation of programmed cell death, gene expression in models of obesity, and diet-induced changes in the gut microbiome.