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From the Fall 2019 Edition of Discovery

‘A’ Day of Giving

USU Alumni Association Fundraiser during 2019 Homecoming Festivities Encourages Aggies Around the World to ‘Give Back’

Undergraduate Research Fellow Audrey Lidgard, faculty mentor Susannah French, and doctoral student Spencer Hudson

Undergraduate Research Fellow Audrey Lidgard, center, works with faculty mentor Susannah French, left, and doctoral student Spencer Hudson in their research laboratory

Photo courtesy Mary-Ann Muffoletto

The College of Science sends a sincere message of “Thank You” to all Aggies who participated in the USU Alumni Association’s ‘A’ Day of Giving Sept. 27 during USU’s 2019 Homecoming festivities.

This was a new venture for the university and the College of Science was excited to take part. Colleges and university units participating in the one-day fundraiser were invited to select an “Area of Impact” to which donors could give. Our college selected “Undergraduate Research” as our area of impact. Proceeds from the fundraiser will support student travel to present research at conferences and other opportunities to promote undergraduate research.

Undergraduate Research Spotlight

Our college’s participation in this year’s ‘A’ Day of Giving gave us an opportunity to highlight outstanding student researchers and share their diverse experiences. We invite you to enjoy a glimpse of these outstanding scholars:

Leafy Social Network: Matthew Hogan, Physics

As part of a research project, physics major Matthew Hogan sits in a lab and watches plants grow. And it’s a far-from-boring exercise.

“It’s a new learning experience every day,” says the Undergraduate Research Fellow of his efforts which, upon further investigation, involve much more than passively observing flora. “This project continually challenges my brain.”

Hogan, an Honors student, who is minoring in computer science and mathematics, spent this past summer writing more than 3,500 lines of code. That’s because he’s studying the function of pores or “stomata” in the leaves of plants, as they continually open to take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen and water vapor, and close to prevent too much water loss.

Undergraduate Research Fellow and Honors student Matthew Hogan

Undergraduate Research Fellow and Honors student Matthew Hogan exposes a banana plant to light to measure and record gas exchange along the surface of its leaves. His faculty research mentors are Biology Professor Keith Mott and Physics Professor David Peak.

Photo courtesy Mary-Ann Muffoletto

“I’m writing computer programs to create theoretical models of plant stomata, so we can develop hypotheses to observe how stomata react in varying conditions, says Hogan, who is conducting research with faculty mentors Keith Mott, professor in USU’s Department of Biology and David Peak, professor in USU’s Department of Physics.

“Plants must solve a central problem of adjusting stomatal apertures a just the right time, for just the right amount of time, to allow gas exchange, yet prevent the plant from losing too much water,” Hogan says. “With our data, we get to watch this dynamic computational process, which shows ebbing and flowing ‘patches’ of activity.”

An amazing aspect of ths cooperative networking is plants have no central processing unit.

"Yet the stomata are reacting and working toether to solve an optimization problem,” he says. “They’re functioning in what amounts to a very sophisticated network.”

Catching Stars: Olivia Brock, Mathematics and Statistics

Undergraduate Research Fellow Olivia Brock loves solving jigsaw and logic puzzles, as well as the congeneric grace and physics of bowling and ice skating. She loves the art and science of airplanes, admitting she could spend hours watching planes take off and land.

A USU Writing Fellow, Brock wrote about an intriguing area of interest that led to a successful Undergraduate Research and Creative Opportunities (URCO) grant proposal: The West Valley City, Utah native is researching astrolabes, instruments that originated in antiquity and traverse math, religion, art, geography and history.

“Astrolabes are used to determine how the sky looks at a specific place at a given time,” says the USU Honors student. “They range from simple to elaborate and, as I’m discovering, they represent a complex combination of art, religion, science and astrology.”

As part of her research, Brock ventured to New York City’s American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art to view each institution’s rare collections of astrolabes.

Honors student Olivia Brock

Honors student Olivia Brock, who is majoring in mathematics and statistics, as well as art history, demonstrates the use of an astrolabe.

Photo courtesy Mary-Ann Muffoletto

“It was fascinating to observe the evolution of these oddly specific instruments, which changed through history and culture to meet different needs,” Brock says. “Some astrolabes were intricate works of art, while others, as time progressed, lost their beauty and were more utilitarian.”

She says the instruments, early inclinometers and forerunners of the sextant, grew out of Islamic civilizations in the 9th and 10th centuries. Initially used to determine times and direction for ritual prayer, astrolabes became tools for astronomy, astrology and navigation. In the pre-satellite/GPS world, astrolabes laid the groundwork for intrepid global exploration.

Want to make your own astrolabe? Brock recommends this website: in-the-sky.org/astrolabe

“I printed mine out, used some cardboard from a shoebox and a bit of twine,” she says.

Leapin’ Lizards: Audrey Lidgard, Biology

When Undergraduate Research Fellow Audrey Lidgard entered Utah State University, she envisioned a career as a large animal veterinarian. After a few semesters at USU, the Salt Lake City native turned her attention to research and much smaller animals: lizards, to be exact.

“I fell in love with Utah State and with research,” says the 2017 graduate of Utah’s Skyline High School and recipient of a USU Presidential Scholarship, who is majoring in molecular and cellular biology. “Pursuing a question and being able to explore it. That’s where I thrive.”

Awarded a USU Undergraduate Research and Creative Opportunities (URCO) grant, Lidgard is investigating the effects of human-induced environmental changes on side-blotched lizards, a species found in abundance in the deserts of western North America.

With guidance from faculty mentor Susannah French, associate professor in USU’s Department of Biology and the USU Ecology Center, and doctoral student Spencer Hudson, Lidgard is examining how the lizards, which measure between two and four inches in length, react to changes in temperature.

“We capture the lizards, conduct a stress test by holding them for 10 minutes and draw a tiny sample of blood, from which we measure the amount of the hormone corticosterone,” Lidgard says. “We’re finding the higher the air temperatures, the more corticosterone the lizards secrete.”

Undergraduate Research Fellow and College of Science Ambassador Audrey Lidgard

Undergraduate Research Fellow and College of Science Ambassador Audrey Lidgard studies lizards in southern Utah. The biology major works in the lab of Biology faculty mentor Susannah French.

Photo courtesy Spencer Hudson

Lidgard is helping with the university’s Connections program for new Aggies and serving as a College of Science Ambassador, while pursuing an ambitious 19-credit course load.

That’s in addition to her research, which she approaches with enthusiasm.

“One of the best parts of research is the teamwork,” Lidgard says. “Whether it’s four of you chasing a tiny lizard and getting so excited when you’re successful, or having the perseverance to process 106 plasma samples. It’s so cool of be part of something bigger than yourself.”

Read more about the College of Science’s outstanding undergraduate researchers online at “Undergraduate Research Spotlight” at usu.edu/science/students/undergraduate/research-spotlight.


By Mary-Ann Muffoletto

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