Science & Technology

By the Numbers: USU Undergrad Researcher Applies IT Principles to Diverse Disciplines

By Mary-Ann Muffoletto |

USU Blanding undergrad Antonio Richards, center, learns from biology/ecology doctoral candidate Jack Phillips, left, and faculty member Molly Womack, right, how the USU scientists use 3D modeling software to study amphibians.

Utah State University Blanding scholar Antonio Richards spends a lot of time thinking about coding, data analysis and how to distill big numbers into usable, helpful information.

“I’d like to pursue a degree in business and study marketing analysis to better understand economics and other subjects,” says Richards, who is currently working toward an associate degree in Information Technology Support and Web Development.

The southeastern Utah resident is among nine undergraduates participating in USU’s 2023 Native American Summer Program this past month in Logan. The annual gathering provides an immersive introduction to four-year degree programs in a range of disciplines.

Among those disciplines is physical chemistry, introduced to the NASMP participants by USU Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry faculty member Tuan Trinh, who taught Richards and his peers about quantum dots.

Quantum dots, Richards says, are semiconductor particles a few nanometers in size studied in nanotechnology and materials science.

“We were just beginning to learn about Dr. Trinh’s research in functional nanomaterials,” he says. “It’s a complex topic.”

In Department of Biology faculty member Molly Womack’s lab, Richards was introduced to 3D Slicer, a free, open-source image computing platform initially designed to provide visualization and analysis of medical and biomedical images; now used for many life science images.

“The software allows us to create 3D images of varied organisms,” says Biology/Ecology doctoral candidate Jack Phillips, a member of the Womack Lab, who demonstrated the software to Richards and helped him prepare to print a 3D-printed model of one of the lab’s study subjects: The Mexican burrowing toad.

Such models, Phillips explained, allow the scientists to study the morphology of a particular organism, which provides insights into its evolutionary journey.

Alas, the printing of the uniquely flat and round amphibian didn’t succeed on the first try — a common lesson in research — but Richards says the experience was a computational endeavor he didn’t expect.

“I didn’t anticipate using my IT skills in an ecology lab,” he says. “There are so many different applications that coding, visualization and data analysis can be used for. It’s really interesting.”

Outside of the lab, Richards says he’s enjoyed exploring the Logan campus and community on foot — as well as more distant forays around Logan aboard the zero-fare Cache Valley Transit District bus system.

“The bus drivers are very friendly,” he says. “It’s been a great way to explore the area.”

Richards says he’s also spent his free time weightlifting in the Aggie Recreation Center, along with sampling the varied Aggie Ice Cream flavors.

“I’m aiming to give each flavor a try,” he says.

Richards and his fellow NASMP participants will share their research experiences Tuesday, June 13, from 9-10:30 a.m. in the Biology-Natural Resources Lecture Hall, BNR 102. All are welcome.


Mary-Ann Muffoletto
Public Relations Specialist
College of Science


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