2023 Undergraduate Summer Research Institute

Participants spend six weeks working closely with faculty mentors and other undergraduate research students.

Students and faculty meet weekly for lunch and discussion about their projects.

Stipends of up to $1,000 are available for some students, and on-campus housing is available to students who perform 10 hours/week of additional work for an on-campus department.

For more information, contact Dr. Kathleen Trujillo or 563-333-6197.

Apply online
16 undergraduate student researchers will deliver the final results of their work on Friday, July 21 from 1:00-4:00 p.m. in McCarthy 002.


(not an exhaustive list)

Dr. Dennis Tarasi, Biology
Title: An evaluation of invasive and endangered plant communities of Scott County Roadsides  
Short Description: Some of the best remaining prairie habitat in Iowa is along county and state roadsides. Scott County is in dire need of more data about the quality and condition of their roadsides, particularly about the presence of endangered and invasive species. Student researchers will sample plant communities around the county to identify those sites that should be of highest priority for management and conservation.  
Overall statement of purpose/description of project:Iowa's landscape, once dominated by natural prairies and grasslands, is the most altered of any state in the U.S. Critical for the long term health of bird and mammal populations, as well as nutrient cycling and erosion control, over 99% of the state's natural prairie has been converted to agriculture or urban structures. The small tracts of land adjacent to state and county roads often represent some of the few remaining areas of "prairie" in the state. These plant communities are heavily managed to provide a buffer between the roads and surrounding natural areas, to reduce concerns of tree encroachment and air and water pollution. Recently, Scott County has begun to manage these areas in an "Integrated Roadside Vegetation Management" (IRVM) plan, in an effort to protect the rare and endangered species that once flourished in the state, as well as to prevent the invasion of unwanted exotic species. As this IRVM began in 2016, Scott County is in dire need of more data about the quality and condition of their roadsides, particularly about the most at-risk species. Student researchers will sample plant communities around the county to identify those sites that should be of highest priority for management and conservation. With the help of local experts, students will identify plant species in each plot and provide an estimate of the quantity of that species in a local plot. Across the six weeks, students will evaluate and prioritize 60 plots, primarily in the SW of the county, to complement the 170 collected in northern Scott County in 2020-2022.  

Carol Alkhouri
Luke Auge
Son Hoang
Noah Maske
Hannah Reynolds
Blake Tyler
Kate Walters

Dr. Junyi Dong, Mathematics  
Title: Applications of machine learning in R  
Short Description: We will apply different machine learning techniques to the real-world data and compare the performances of methods.   

Student(s):    Robert McVey  

Dr. Kelly Giddens, Chemistry
Title: Developing Environmental Chemistry Lab Experiments for Use in Outreach to High School Students  
Short Description: In this project we will develop a set of hands-on laboratory experiments that can be used to excite local high school students about the field of chemistry. This summer we will focus on the application of chemistry to environmental topics with the goal of developing experiments related specifically to the chemistry of air, soil, and/or water.  Each experiment will require background research, development and evaluation of lab protocols, as well as preparation of supporting materials.   

Student(s): Amber Rose  

Dr. Joseph Hebert, Political Science
Title: Politics, Pride, and Humility   
Short Description: This project will explore St. Augustine's contention that humility is the key to personal, political, and spiritual flourishing, and its implications for understanding the destructive tendencies of certain modern ideologies.  
Overall statement of purpose/description of project: In his City of God, St. Augustine (354-430 AD) defends Christianity from critics who claim that its teachings undermine the virtues that make political society flourish. At the core of his argument is the contention that humility is the key to personal, political, and spiritual flourishing, whereas pride is a cause of injustice, self-destruction, and degradation. With the help of a recent study by Notre Dame scholar Mary Keys, we will examine the historical, philosophical, and theological evidence Augustine marshals to support this thesis. We will then consider the implications of his insights for understanding the destructive tendencies of certain modern ideologies, as explored by Eric Voegelin (1901-1985) in his Science, Politics, and Gnosticism. Our group will work together on these readings and themes as students develop and complete related independent research projects.  

MacKenzie Kent
Truitt Landolt
Nadia Okba
Noah Salamon

 Dr. Robert Mitchell, Physics and Engineering (Astronomy is his specialization)
Title: Determining the Distances to Stripped-Envelope Supernovae Using the Expanding Photosphere Method.  
Overall statement of purpose/description of project: This project uses the Expanding Photosphere Method (EPM) to calculate distances to supernovae and thus to the galaxies in which they occur.  Several different types of supernovae have been observed.  Earlier research used a specific set of calculation parameters tailored for just one type of supernova.  Other researchers have proposed a different set of parameters for use with other types, known as stripped-envelope supernovae (SE SNe).  This project will test the accuracies of distances calculated for SE SNe with the new set of parameters.  If successful, this will increase the numbers of supernovae that can be used to measure distances across the universe. This project will additionally give students hands-on experience with writing and running code, especially for use in plotting spectra, performing the bulk of the EPM calculations, and graphically comparing the results.  If students do not have prior experience, they will be introduced to MATLAB, the programming language used in this project, during the first week.  

ReedIV, Richard  
Zamudio, Diego  

Dr. Katrina Okerstrom-Jezewski , Psychology
Title:Individual and External Factors that Influence Risk Perception to Neuroscience Research Techniques  
Short Description: This research study uses online data collection to study individual differences and external factors that influence risk perception in neuroscience research. This project will focus on formation of testable hypotheses, data collection, data analysis, and data interpretation.  
Overall statement of purpose/description of project: Understanding the risks and benefits of research studies can be challenging. The purpose of this research is to examine individual and external factors that influence risk-benefit assessment for different neuroscience methods. Neuroscience research relies on methods that vary in level of risk from noninvasive techniques with minimal physical risk, such as electroencephalography (EEG), to invasive techniques with high physical risk, such as deep brain stimulation (DBS). It is unknown how these more well-known neuroscience tools compare in perceived risk to others that are likely less well known, such as MRI-guided high-intensity focused ultrasound therapy (MRI-HIFU) and transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). This work explores the risk perceptions of these different neuroscience tools.    This work will study factors that may influence risk perceptions of neuroscience tools. Better understanding of factors that influence risk perceptions may provide guide improvements to the research consent process for studies using these tools. Previous research has characterized risk perception and therapeutic misconception in the use of DBS in research for treatment-resistant depression (Leykin et al., 2011). Others have found that perceived risk was negatively associated with willingness to participate in the psychiatric research protocols (Tsungmey et al., 2020). With new advancing techniques there is need to further characterize risk perceptions of these techniques as well as the factors that influence them. For example, advertising of MRI-HIFU on medical center's websites suggest the benefits of MRI-HIFU include no anesthesia or implantable devices (UT Southwestern Medical Center). However, researchers have not characterized whether this method is perceived by those who are not patients as being less invasive or risky compared to DBS or pharmacological interventions. External factors, such as using or omitting the word "invasive" in descriptions, and individual factors, such as personality traits, will be explored in this project.   

Student(s): Barbarian Adkins


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