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Research Spotlight

The Utah State University College of Science is home to a tradition of outstanding student researchers. The following stories highlight student research projects across the departments of Biology, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Computer Science, Geosciences, Mathematics and Statistics, and Physics.

Undergraduate Researchers

USU Undergraduate Researcher Rachel Hyman

Rachel Hyman, Biology

Imagine fleeing untenable conditions in your homeland. While you may feel relief, you’re immediately confronted with uncertainty and frustration, as you learn to navigate a new country, a new language and a new culture. Piled on top of your worries are concerns about making a living, creating a home and ensuring a stable environment for your loved ones. Overriding everything is your health and the health of your family.

“Refugees and immigrants are in a vulnerable situation for many reasons and health is always a dimension,” says Utah State University undergraduate researcher Rachel Hyman. “It’s hard to separate health from well-being.”

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USU Undergraduate Research Fellow Rachel Sagers

Rachel Sagers, Biology

The air pollution not only mars the view, but also poses a risk to public health, says Utah State University Undergraduate Research Fellow Rachel Sagers.

“Our valley’s high concentrations of fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5) are among some of the worst reported in the United States,” says Sagers, a USU Honors student majoring in human biology and public health, with an environmental health emphasis. “Exposure to PM2.5 is associated with cancer and a variety of cardiovascular, cardiopulmonary and neurodegenerative diseases, but no long-term studies have been conducted in our valley, so limited data is available.”

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USU Undergraduate Researcher Anna Figgins

Anna Figgins, Biology

Utah State University undergraduate researcher Anna Figgins, one of those intrepid investigators, is exploring the role of small, non-coding RNA in bumble bees.

“Bumble bees exhibit sophisticated forms of cooperative behavior,” says the Payson, Utah native. “The division of labor between queens and workers is associated with large phenotypic differences that emerge from a shared genome. This suggests caste differences stem from changes in how shared genes are regulated.”

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USU Undergraduate Research Fellow Matthew Hogan

Matthew Hogan, Biology and Physics

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

“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.”

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USU Undergraduate Researcher Olivia Brock

Olivia Brock, Mathematics and Statistics

Utah State University 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 reading, writing, and the art and science of airplanes.

“One of my first science fair projects as a child was developing a paper airplane demonstration showing how airplanes fly,” says the West Valley City, Utah native, who graduated from Hunter High School in 2017. “My partner and I won first place.”

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USU Undergraduate Researcher Christian Lange

Christian Lange, Physics

As a pianist, Utah State University undergraduate researcher Christian Lange knows that listening to music is best, when it’s in a quiet setting. A silent atmosphere, where the listener can experience every lyrical nuance, every pause, every richly ornamented passage.

“The same is true when measuring light,” says the USU Honors student and physics major. “You want to eliminate any noise that could interfere with the measurement.”

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USU Undergraduate Researcher Audrey Lidgard

Audrey Lidgard, Biology

“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.

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USU Undergraduate Researcher Madison Taylor

Madison Taylor, Geosciences

Utah State University undergraduate Madison Taylor is learning that most day-to-day research efforts don’t yield heart-stopping breakthroughs. Sometimes, the geology major hits a wall as impenetrable as the rocks she studies.

“But you learn not to throw in the towel,” says Taylor, a Utah Valley native, who entered USU on a Dean’s Scholarship. “Sometimes, you just need to hit the ‘pause’ button and get some fresh perspectives.”

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USU Undergraduate Researcher Tori Bodine

Tori Bodine, Statistics

Firearms constructed with 3D-printed parts aren’t suited for the long haul. After firing a few rounds, barrels warp, break and they’re ready for disposal. And that’s what provides advantages to criminals. Built at home without serial numbers and discarded after use, the untraceable weapons contribute to a larger “ghost gun” problem.

Utah State University undergraduate researcher Tori Bodine wonders just how many of these weapons are in circulation. In the Sacramento, California area alone, she says, ATF agents reported seizure of 270 such firearms in 2017, but those figures may only scratch the surface.

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USU Undergraduate Researcher Matt Armburst

Matt Armburst, Biochemistry

Emerging CRISPR (pronounced “crisper”) technology is “all over the news,” says Utah State University Undergraduate Research Fellow Matt Armbrust.

“Many think of it as a tool for editing DNA and correctly see its potential for curing diseases,” he says. “Simply put, CRISPR is an immune system found in bacteria.”

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USU Undergraduate Researchers Bryce Frederickson and Ethan Hammer

Bryce Frederickson, Mathematics and Ethan Hammer, Statistics

Utah State University Honors students and Undergraduate Research Fellows Bryce Frederickson and Ethan Hammer were named 2019 Goldwater Scholars in a prestigious national competition that recognizes outstanding achievements in science and mathematics.

The awards were announced April 26 by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, which administers the program.

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Graduate Researchers

USU Graduate Researcher Alex DiMonte

Alex DiMonte, Geosciences

DiMonte is pursuing a master’s degree in geology in the Department of Geosciences. With faculty mentor Alexis Ault, she is investigating fault surfaces coated with hematite, a reddish-black mineral consisting of ferric oxide, in southern California’s Mecca Hills mountain range.

“We’re looking at hematite that may have slipped slowly in the past without producing earthquakes and heat,” DiMonte says. “To test this hypothesis, I’m using scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM) to look at the textures of fault rocks that were brought up to the surface from depth and (U-Th)/He thermochronology to date the timing of hematite mineralization and fault activity.”

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USU Graduate Researcher Haixuan Guo

Haixuan Guo, Computer Science

Guo, a master’s student studying data science in the Department of Computer Science, is conducting research on anomaly detection on system logs. With faculty mentor Shuhan Yuan, she proposes to adopt a state-of-the-art learning technique called “Transformer,” to identify the underlying pattern of log sequences that differ from normal behaviors.

“By comparing the performance of our model against RNN-based models, deeplog and loganomaly, we expect thatTransformer for log anomaly detection will help domain users identify abnormal events in logs within a shorter time without decreasing the prediction accuracy,” Guo says.

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USU Graduate Researcher Mallory Hagadorn

Mallory Hagadorn, Biology

Hagadorn is a fifth-year doctoral student in the Department of Biology. Her research emphasis is on brood care in bees.

“My dissertation asks, ‘How does sociality influence neuroplasticity and drive patterns in brain investment?’” says Hagadorn, who conducts research with faculty mentor Karen Kapheim. “Currently, I’m working to characterize the bees’‘maternal brain’—a brain primed for taking care of offspring—by tracking structure-specific volumetric changes and neuromolecular circuitry associated with broodcare behaviors in bumble bees.”

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USU Graduate Researcher Michael Schultz

Michael Schultz, Mathematics

A doctoral student in mathematics, Schultz conducts research with faculty mentor Andreas Malmendier in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics.

“Through this GRCO grant, I will be studying how the differential equations that govern crucial geometric information about K3 surfaces and Calabi-Yau threefolds can produce important arithmetic, topological, and physical information about the quantum field theories obtained by compactifying Type IIB string theory backgrounds on these spaces,” he says. “The main objective is elucidating the relationship between a differential geometric structure associated with these equations and arithmetic data that yields subtle quantum effects on the aforementioned field theories.”

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USU Graduate Researcher Ruidan Shen

Ruidan Shen, Biochemistry

A doctoral student in biochemistry in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Shen pursues research with faculty mentor Alvan Hengge. Her research focuses on molecular details of catalysis, especially of enzymatic reactions.

“My proposal for the GRCO funding is ‘Broadening the perspective on mobile loop dynamics regulating catalysis from the protein tyrosine phosphatase family,’” Shen says.

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