UT Summer Research Scholars present novel research

Alay Shah

From glowing tracker molecules to 120 students of the Summer Research Scholars Program presented their original research in science, math, and engineering on August 2 in Welch Hall.

The Summer Research Scholars Program, organized by the UT’s Office of Undergraduate Research and funded by the National Science Foundation, gives students professional development opportunities through workshops and this end-of-summer research poster session.

Senior program coordinator Robert Reichle added that the workshops focus on attending conferences, academic publishing, research poster design and other topics.

“It’s important for us to make these students feel welcome in Austin and at the University, and we also see this as a perfect moment to help them on their path toward becoming researchers,” Reichle said.  

During the fair, we interviewed eight students to learn more about their projects and motivation for pursuing STEM research:

Nkengasong Ntonghanwah, environmental engineering senior from Southwestern Oklahoma State University, based his project on how climate change affects water quality, particularly water treatment processes. He said many rivers in Texas contain magnesium and calcium minerals that can be harmful to the environment, and by measuring levels of calcium carbonate in the water, his team determined that limestone plays a big role in affecting water treatment quality. Ntonghanwah said his favorite aspect of the research was repetition and collecting many data trials.

Mackenzie Thibodeaux, civil and environmental engineering senior from Prairie View A&M University, researched geopolymer based solutions of coal combustion products. Thibodeaux said they tested various geopolymer solutions to prevent leaching of metals, which can drain into groundwater. The goal of his research was to characterize the products’ metallic properties and minimize leaching. Thibodeaux said whe wanted to help make working with coal sustainable and help the environment.

Allison Rerick, chemistry sophomore from Baylor University, studied making fluorescence molecules for tracking carbonic anhydrase, an enzyme in cells. She said some of the probes she tested were successful.

“These molecules are fluorescent on one side and have metal binding groups on the other, so they are able to enter active site of this enzyme and bind to it,” Rerick said.

She said the important thing about binding to the active site, is that they are only fluorescent in an organic environment, but not in water.

“We are able to image how much carbonic anhydrase is in cells, by seeing the change of fluorescence,” Rerick said.

Ronald Palomares, a senior electrical engineering major from UT Rio Grande Valley, focussed on analog self interference cancelation control signal for his project. Palomares was tasked with designing a multi control system that would operate an analog self interference cancellation electrical circuit that can produce one distinct frequency. Currently in our era, communication happens on multiple frequencies, he said.

“We want wireless transceivers, or devices, that operate on the same frequency to save power and be efficient,” Palomares said. “(The) communication industry is fast growing, and I wanted to be a part of that.”

Diego Hernandez, mechanical engineering senior at UT Austin, researched retrogression heat treatment of aluminum alloy. In his experiment, Hernandez treated the alloy, or mixture, with increasing temperatures, which are necessary during certain automotive industry processes. He said another aspect of his project was looking at how the alloy can return back to its original form.

“At what temperatures can we heat the alloy, to become malleable enough, but “recuperate back its durability? At what point is too malleable?” he said.

Jillian Ortner, biomedical engineering sophomore from Georgia Tech, studied the effects of short nucleic acid hybridization in live cells.

“How fast DNA molecules bind and unbind to each other to become single and double stranded,”Ortner said.

She said her research shows the influence of how genes are processed after they have been transcribed Ortner said the research she did has the potential for future medicine.  

“Hopefully down the line, it will influence gene therapies for a wide range of diseases,” she said.  

Kavya Rajesh, UT Austin chemistry sophomore,  researched lysozyme denaturation in DMSO mixtures.

“DMSO acts as a cryoprotectant, which can form a glass state and prevent ice formation, so it is possible we can preserve cells and organs in the future.” Rajesh said.

When a lysozyme, or an enzyme that forms parts of the immune system, is treated with DMSO, it acts a cryoprotectant toxicity neutralizer. Rajesh used temperature-dependent spectroscopy to study the melting of lysozymes in various concentrations of DMSO. Rajesh worked in the same lab last semester, and said she hopes to continue find interesting results.