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Aggie Scientists Present Research on Utah’s Capitol Hill | 2020

Six undergraduate researchers from USU’s College of Science are among about 30 Aggies selected to present research posters to state legislators and visitors to Utah’s Capitol Hill in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, February 18, from 8 a.m.-1 pm. The scholars serve as ambassadors for USU, present cutting-edge studies and highlight the importance of undergraduate research experiences for students, local communities and the State of Utah. Learn more about these exemplary scholars:

Distribution of 76 Organic Compounds and their Emission Composition throughout the Uintah Basin

Makenzie Breitenbach

Hometown:Vernal, Utah

High School: Uintah High School (2007)

Major: Integrated Studies: Biological and Environmental Sciences


  • Undergraduate Researcher of the Year (2019)
  • USU Undergraduate Research and Creative Opportunities (URCO) Grant (2019)
  • Anadarko Student Fellowship (2017)
  • Licensed Practical Nurse (2009)

Researcher's Statement: The main goal of my research is to aid in producing useful data in updating emissions inventories used in Utah’s Uintah Basin and throughout the nation to better understand and predict air quality during winter inversions.

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Seth Lyman, research associate professor, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, USU Uintah Basin, and director, Bingham Research Center, Vernal, Utah

Understanding the Role of Small, Non-coding RNA in Bumble Bee Social Behavior

Anna Figgins

Hometown: Payson, Utah

High School: Payson High School (2014)

Major: Biology


  • Undergraduate Research and Creative Opportunities (URCO) Grant (2020)
  • College of Science Ambassador (2019-2020)
  • Sedley and Pearl Stanford Memorial Scholarship

Researcher's Statement: “The goal of my study is to identify the physiological and behavioral role of microRNAs in bumble bees. In Dr. Kapheim’s Lab, I’ve assisted graduate students and participated in five different projects focused on understanding the evolution of social behavior in bees. I plan to pursue a master’s degree and study pollinators.”

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Karen Kapheim, Assistant Professor, Department of Biology and USU Ecology Center, USU

Addressing Refugee Health Disparities and Outcomes through Community-Based Participatory Research: Toward the Development of Refugee-Led Community Health Board

Rachel Hyman

Hometown: West Stockbridge, Massachusetts

High School: Berkshire Country Day Secondary School (2006)

Major: Biology


  • Peak Summer Research Fellow (2019)
  • USU Diversity Council Grant
  • Wise Award in Environmental Studies and Human Rights
  • Lifetime Learning Institute Senior-to-Senior Fellowship
  • Alice P. Doyle Award in Environmental Studies
  • Mellon Grant for Conservation and Environment

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Jessica Lucero, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Social Work and Anthropology, USU

Use of a Portable, Handheld X-Ray Fluorescence Unit (pXRF) to Measure Alteration in Exhumed Fault Zones: Implications for Hydrological Rock Properties and Injection-Induced Seismicity

Anna Paulding

Hometown: Salt Lake City, Utah

High School: Skyline High School (2016)

Major: Geology


  • Evan Millsap Memorial Undergraduate Research and Creative Opportunities (URCO) Grant (Inaugural Recipient, 2020)
  • College of Science Undergraduate Research Minigrant (2019)

Researcher's Statement: “I am using a portable handheld X-ray fluorescence unit (pXRF) as a rapid and inexpensive tool to measure whole-rock major and minor trace elements in an outcrop analog site near Gunnison, Colorado.”

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Kelly Bradbury, Professional Practice Assistant Professor, Department of Geosciences, USU

Akt and Inflammatory Pathways Activation by Cache Valley Particulate Air Pollution

Rachel Sagers

Hometown: Normal, Illinois

High School: Normal Community High School (2016)

Major: Human Biology and Public Health, Environmental Health emphasis


  • College of Science Undergraduate Research Minigrant
  • Sedley and Pearl Stanford Memorial Scholarship
  • Honors Scholar
  • Undergraduate Research Fellow
  • USU Presidential Scholarship

Researcher's Statement: “With my faculty mentor and fellow researchers, I’m investigating the effects of particulate air pollution on human lung cells. My project directly studies the impact of air pollution on the health and longevity of Cache Valley residents.”

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Roger Coulombe, Professor, Department of Animal, Dairy and Veterinary Sciences, USU

Hematite Microtextures and (U-Th)/He Thermochronometry of the Hurricane Fault, Southwestern Utah: Evidence for a Paleoearthquake?

Madison Taylor

Hometown: Saratoga Springs, Utah

High School: Westlake High School (2015)

Major: Geology


  • Peak Summer Research Fellow
  • Undergraduate Research and Creative Opportunities (URCO) Grant
  • College of Science Undergraduate Research Minigrant
  • USU Dean’s Scholarship

Researcher's Statement: “I’m investigating hematite, a reddish-black iron ore found in southwestern Utah’s Hurricane fault zone. The Hurricane Fault is seismically active and hosted an M5.8 earthquake in 1992. I’m using a technique called Uranium-Thorium-Helium or “(U-Th)/He” dating to determine the time when the hematite formed on the fault or was deformed by an earthquake.”

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Alexis Ault, Assistant Professor, Department of Geosciences, USU