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Student Research

WISE RP Students in UROP

Emily Rassel

Major: Aerospace Engineering

Project Title: Laboratory Astrophysics: Target Gas Fill System

Project description and Main Duties: In order to perform high-energy-density target testing in September 2018 at the OMEGA laser facility with more than one gas inside the targets, a new pressurized gas fill system needed to be built. The objective of this research project was to design, build, and test an easily portable system that could withstand 150 psi (over 10 atmospheres) of pressure, allow the mixing of gasses within the target by having two gas lines, and contain storage.

Two things learned so far: I learned that in order to be successful, you need to ask questions and understand what was tried in the past. It keeps you from making the same mistakes as someone else and can help you develop new ideas. In addition, I have learned the basics of high-energy-density testing and feel more prepared to tackle my classes next year.

Most excited about: I am extremely excited to design a system which hasn't been tried before in this lab; I am given the opportunity to create something new and learn the fundamentals of the design-build-test engineering process.

Elizabeth Woelmer

Major: Biology

Project Name: Mechanisms of Genetic Adaption in Streptococcus pneumoniae

Project Description and Main Duties: Streptococcus pneumoniae is a highly adaptable human pathogen that survives in the presence of antibiotics by taking in new DNA fragments. My project is determining molecular pathways involved in this adaption. I am going to make deletion mutants in the bacteria and determine the phenotypes of the mutants. My main duties are performing and interpreting laboratory experiments such as PCR, western blots, DNA cloning, and microscopy.

Two Things Learned So Far: Two things I've learned so far are how to perform and interpret PCR results from gel images and how to perform other lab techniques for microbiology.

Most excited about: I am most excited about the opportunity to learn laboratory techniques for working with bacteria. This experience would help me gain important skills that I can apply to my academics, especially when exploring courses in microbiology. I find it really exciting how antibiotic resistance is changing medical approaches to infectious disease.

Ashley Sin

Ashley Sin

Major: Chemical Engineering, Class of 2020

Project Title: Development of a Targeted Metabolomics Method for Polyamine Analysis

"As part of UROP, I looked for clinical laboratory research that involved chemical techniques and I luckily found this project that applied liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry. I worked as a research assistant under the mentorship of Dr. Stefanie Wernisch and my project was called “Development of a Targeted Metabolomics Method for Polyamine Analysis”. Polyamines are organic compounds essential for normal cell function and the difference in polyamine levels in diabetic and non-diabetic patients can give more insight to the role of these compounds in end stage renal disease. We focused on investigating the effectiveness of derivatization on analyzing these compounds using reversed-phase liquid chromatography.  Doing research my freshman year was such a positive experience and has given me a clearer idea of what being involved in research meant. I discovered that I enjoy working in the lab and in the future, I definitely want to be involved in scientific research. While working surrounded by esteemed faculty and graduate students, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed but this experience has taught me to be confident in my work and remember that I can contribute important findings. Doing research has also taught me that an experiment does not always yield perfect results on the first try, but instead requires multiple trials and rethinking to reach proper and insightful conclusions."

Meike Stoldt

Meike Stoldt

Major: Biochemsitry, Class of 2019

Project Title: Reconstructive Techniques in Craniosynostosis

"Hello! My name is Meike and I am a rising junior studying Biochemistry and German at U of M. My research journey began toward the end of my freshman year, when I realized that after a year of trying out a multitude of organizations on campus, I still hadn’t found one that gave me this true sense of purpose I so longed for. I decided to apply to the undergraduate research opportunities program (UROP) for my sophomore year - and I have never regretted my decision.

My research group is composed of six highly motivated UROP students and led by the craniofacial surgery fellow at Mott's Children's Hospital. With this group, I had the amazing opportunutiy to shadow in the clinic and became interested in Pierre Robin Sequence, a complex medical condition. PRS is characterized by the triad of micrognathia (small mandible), glossoptosis (posterior displacement of the tongue), and airway obstruction in neonates. The fact that this condition is a sequence (one anomaly leads to the next) and not a syndrome (usually has a genetic basis), makes the patient population very diverse and choosing the most effective treatment option is difficult. Obstruction ranges from mild to severe, each case with different treatments. In infants , it is not always perfectly clear if an obstruction is mild or severe, so the goal of my project was to identify variables that predict whether a child needs a surgical intervention as opposed to non-invasive treatment.

Throughout the entire research process, I definitely realized that I was spending my time working on something impactful, which I personally found very fulfilling. Along the way I learned that clinical research is messy in its own way (maybe not breaking glassware, but having so many confounding variables that one cannot control), and that research is not always about having an “Aha” moment every few days. It’s a lot of work, which taught me to be diligent and remain focused. But as I expected, I found that it is all worth it, because one is truly making a positive difference in the lives of others. I take away from this experience a longing for more, and I’ve also started considering a career in research along with wanting to go to medical school and becoming a physician. I guess I’ll just have to see where life takes me!"

Shannon Wood

Shannon Wood

Major: Biomolecular Science/Gender & Health, Class of 2019

Project Title: Cardiopulmonary Bypass: A novel strategy to minimize systematic inflammatory response syndrome in a porcine model

I joined the Extracorporeal Life Support Research Laboratory, commonly known as the ECMO lab, my freshmen year through the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP). My project was “Cardiopulmonary Bypass: A novel strategy to minimize systematic inflammatory response syndrome in a porcine model.” The purpose of this study is to prevent systematic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS) after cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB) surgery, which develops in 20% of patients. SIRS is caused by the activation of white blood cells (WBC) when the blood enters the heart lung machine. We took a leukocyte modulator and placed it in the CPB circuit after the blood circulated through the heart-lung machine to help lower WBC activation, mitigate capillary leakage, and preserve hemodynamic stability, in hopes of a decreased SIRS response.

Before ECMO, I knew I wanted to become a pediatrician. Becoming a surgeon was only something I thought about every now and again, but quickly dismissed because it just seemed way to scary. For the first couple experiments, I watched, listened, and learned what was going on. The third or fourth experiment, at the end of November, I scrubbed in on the prep since it was a sterile surgery on a pig, for the first time. Within an hour or so, Dr. Rojas called me to the top of the table to hold the heart up, so he could work around it. I went to the top of the table and held a beating heart in my hand for the next little bit. That was the first time I held a working heart and since then I have held other various organs. Whatever fear I had of becoming a surgeon was gone and since that day, my plan to become a pediatric surgeon has not changed. Walking out of the lab that day, I finally understood why everyone said “do not be afraid to try something new.”

I joined the Michigan Center for Hand Outcomes and Innovative Research (M-CHOIR) the summer after my freshmen year by emailing the head of the lab. As a volunteer, I enter data, create patient powerpoints, transcribe and code interviews, and assist various lab members with their projects. The lab has been very welcoming and inclusive. Within a month of being there, I was learning what goes into a research project from the initial idea to the final paper. I did not know much about qualitative research, before joining this lab. However, now that I have spent the last year submerged in it, I find it highly interesting to look at the reasons why an individual selected one treatment option over the other and seeing how an individual’s thought process changes before, during, and after an injury. The biggest lesson I have learned through research is to fully embrace every task given, no matter how small or big it may be, because there is always something to learn from it. A lot of time, the amount of effort put into the task will determine how much is gained through the task.  

Ellen Cealey

Ellen Cealey

Major: Neuroscience, Class of 2017

Project Title: Immunopathogenesis of Rheumatoid Arthritis

"Before even enrolling at Michigan, I knew I wanted to participate in undergraduate research.  I spent the summer before my freshman year in a clinical research experience at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, which only pushed me more towards research.  That same summer, I applied and was accepted to the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) here and found my research experience through that program.  I continued this research throughout undergrad, enrolling in the Research Scholars Program my second year, participating in research for academic credit my third and final year, and am now employed as a research assistant in the lab. The project I started working on is entitled, “Immunopathogenesis of Rheumatoid Arthritis.” This project entailed conducting gene and protein analysis to examine the role of fucosyltransferase 1 in the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammatory autoimmune disease with no cure.  In addition to this project, our lab has been working on other autoimmune diseases, such as scleroderma, to evaluate the disease onset.

My participation in research has impacted my undergraduate education.  In classes, I often encountered situations in which I had deeper knowledge of a subject than would be covered by the professor, which allowed me to contribute more fully to discussion.  Research also helped me gain the skills and some of the experience I need to become a physician.  But first and foremost, my research experience has taught me how to communicate with those I work with and how to problem solve when things don’t go as planned."

WISE RP Summer Research Scholarships

The WISE RP offers scholarships annualy to WISE RP students seeking to participate in research for the Spring/Summer terms. Recipients have a research commitment of at least 20-30 hours per week for 10 weeks. The scholarship offers financial support for students to work and live in Ann Arbor over the summer.

2017 Summer Research Scholars

Anna Li Aguirre

Elaine R. Feldman Scholar

Major: Chemistry, Class of 2019

I have dreamt of being a scientist for longer than I can remember. From getting science kits every holiday and going to science camps whenever I get the chance, I can't get enough of it.

When I declared chemistry major, I knew I wanted to be in a chemistry lab. This year, I joined an inorganic, organometallic chemistry lab where I design catalysts to functionalize different bonds that weren’t accessible beforehand. Being in charge of my own project, with guidance, of course, has been probably one of the mostfulfilling things I have done so far. It has been very stressful but also extremely rewarding.

The Elaine R. Feldman Scholarship let me continue my research over the summer. This summer, not only have I been able to do and find what I really love, but I also got to learn a ton about grad school. I always had assumed I’d be getting my PhD, but now I know that it is really what I want to do. I've learned how to be a better individual. Research has taught me to be more focused and to not be afraid to ask questions. Research is my solace and my happy place where I know I can succeed. 

Hope Norris

Elaine R. Feldman Scholar

Major: Neuroscience & Gender and Health, Class of 2020

This summer I volunteered in Dr. Sari van Anders’ social neuroendocrinology research lab. The lab’s research focuses on examining hormones and intimacy in social contexts, particularly concerning pair bonds in connection with the social modulation of testosterone.

The main study that was running was for a senior student’s honors thesis. It was a series of interviews about how individuals may use a new diagram for depicting their sexualities and gender identities. I helped transcribe the interviews for that project, which was an extremely rewarding task because I learned a valuable qualitative research skill as well as listened to people’s life stories. It amazed me that participants were able to trust the researchers enough to share such personal experiences.

With this study, I was involved with putting up posters to recruit for the study, setting up the testing environment, running participants through the study, and processing the hormone samples that the participants provided. It was an incredible experience to be able to help with so much of a research study, as I learned a lot about research practices, ethics, and problem solving when events didn’t go according to plan.

Thanks to my experiences in the van Anders lab this summer, I’ve decided to pursue a senior honors thesis of my own when I am entering my senior year. I believe that the resources I have used during my research experience will not only benefit my research in the future, but will also benefit me during the rest of my time here at Michigan. 

Lindsay Rasmussen

WISE RP Alumni Scholar

Major: Environmental Engineering, Class of 2019

I am very excited that I was able to stay over the summer, continue my research and build stronger connections. I would not have been able to afford living in Ann Arbor on my own, so I am extremely thankful!

The research that I have been doing is for sustainable shrimp cultivation. Currently, shrimp farms release large amounts of ammonia which cause algal blooms. Our shrimp are in a recirculating tank, which reuses the same water. In order for the shrimp to survive (as they cannot live in large amounts of ammonia), the water goes through a bio-filter. In the future, I am hoping to take a closer look at the shrimp themselves and see what we can do to make cultivating them more efficient.

Not only have I learned what goes into a research project, but I have also been introduced to many people in my area of interest. I am getting a major in environmental engineering and a minor in earth science, so this is a perfect fit for me.

Past Summer Research Scholars

Emma Kilbane

I come from Hopkins, MI, which is near Grand Rapids. I am a freshman this year so I haven’t declared a major yet, but I am considering a Neuroscience and Spanish double major. Ultimately, I would like to attend medical school.This summer, I have the incredible opportunity to work in the Neurodevelopment and Regeneration Laboratory under Dr. Jack Parent. The team is working to understand the biology of neural stem cells in the neonatal and adult brain, and the response of neural stem cells to brain injury.  The goal is to advance knowledge of how brain injury and neural stem cells interact, to use to devise brain repair strategies based on the manipulation of endogenous or transplanted neural precursors. This would aid in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, as well as epilepsy, among other things. I am very interested in this project and I hope to continue it throughout my undergraduate career.I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to start doing research this summer, thanks to the generous scholarship. The scholarship is also making it possible for me to live in Ann Arbor and take a class while I’m here. 

Christina Tang

My name is Christina Tang and I'm from New York City. I am a rising sophomore in the college of Literature, Science, and the Arts looking to major in either Neuroscience or Cell and Molecular Biology with future plans of attending pharmacy school.This past summer I was able to work in Dr. Neamati's Design and Discovery of Small Molecule Anti-Cancer Drugs research laboratory. The research mainly focused on discovering inhibitors for the GRP 78 protein, a protein that's over-expressed in several types of cancer and knocking it down has been shown to have therapeutic benefit. The main goal is to develop any drug leads we discover for cancer, in particular breast cancer.As a freshman, I did not have the opportunity to work in a research lab so being able to work full-time in a Dr. Neamati's research lab allowed me to quickly adapt to the everyday procedures of working in a lab. Although at first it was hard to adapt since everyone else in the lab had prior research experience, all the personnel in the lab were friendly and they patiently taught me research techniques and concepts. Our final goal was to get results and to collaborate with other labs in the complex to develop a drug that would help patients in the affiliated University of Michigan hospital afflicted with rare types of diseases. But to get to this point much preparation was needed and I had start from learning how to pipette correctly to protein purification and then finally I was able to run screens and cell-based assays by myself.Thanks to the Elaine R. Feldman summer research scholarship, I was able to stay in Ann Arbor for the summer and experience research as a full-time career. Though I do not think that I will continue this as my future career, I have gained many things from this experience and throughout the next academic year I will continue to stay with Dr. Neamati's lab. I think being able to learn about drug development and the work that goes into it will definitely help me in my future career as a pharmacist and I look forward to continuing my research in the upcoming year.

Laima Augustaitis

Hello! My name is Laima and I’m a second year student studying human movement science with additional concentration in surgical neuromonitoring (IONM program). How the body functions at the cellular level, as well neurophysiological movement articulation, fascinates me. I know that my future is in healthcare, although I have not yet decided in what capacity that place is.  

This generous fellowship contribution from the WISE RP alumni captures an essence of what makes WISE RP the program it is. I am going to spend the summer working in the Stem Cell Core on a project observing potential mitochondrial functional differences in patients with Bipolar Disorder compared to individuals without the disease.  Although we mimic research methods in laboratory courses, we don’t experience the fun part of getting interesting results and I’m really excited to finally have that opportunity.

I have been a work-study student in the lab this semester, doing office work and cleaning lab supplies. Through this, I’ve been able to see the important research being done and asked my lab manager if there were any possibilities of staying over the summer to gain research experience. I learned that there are so many potential facets of Bipolar Disorder to tackle, and the lab manager mentioned using the glial cell astrocytes. The cool thing about the research done in the lab is the stem cells we are using to create astrocytes are non-embryonic (iPSC cells). They are undifferentiated and then re-differentiated somatic cells from skin biopsies. The connection of the project to my courses in neurophysiology make this not only an introduction to investigative design, but also a practice of my course material in a real-life setting.

The only remaining hurdle after that conversation was to find funding to be able to stay in Ann Arbor. This fellowship provides me that, and I’m so grateful.

Kayla Dinshaw

I’m currently a freshman from Des Moines, Iowa here at the University of Michigan. I plan on majoring in either Neuroscience or Cellular and Molecular Biology.  As of now, I am unsure about my future plans, but I am hoping that engaging in research will allow me to decide if I would like to continue it as a career.This summer, I will be working in the Miller Lab under the Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology. The research focuses on a protein called small Rho GTPase that helps form a contractile ring during cytokinesis. The lab investigates mechanisms that affect the Rho formation and how problems during cell division lead to tumor and cancer formation. I will be using frog embryos as models and confocal imaging to view the embryos.I am grateful for this opportunity to engage in full-time research. Through this great opportunity, I will be able to learn what full-time research is really like and see if it is a future career path for me. Without this scholarship, I would not have the opportunity to stay here in Ann Arbor.

Christina Pu

This summer, I worked with Dr. John Wolfe on the synthesis of tropanes, which are a class of organic compounds with biological activity. This biological activity is what makes tropanes important and interesting to organic chemists: tropanes have been used in antitumor, glucose disposal, and anticonvulsant drugs and have the potential to be used in many more. My project was based on the work of Danielle Schultz, a former graduate student in Dr. Wolfe's lab. She published an article about the tropanes that she made using starting materials containing aldehydes, and the goal of my project was to expand on the database of tropanes that are available to be used in pharmaceuticals. Another goal was to optimize reaction conditions to best suit the compounds I was using in order to produce the highest yield of product possible.

In general, my research process consisted of measuring out starting materials, combining them in a flask, and stirring them for several hours until the reaction was complete. Next, I purified the product using column chromatography, and analyzed the purity of the product using nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR). NMR allowed me to see which chemical I was getting by showing peaks at different places on a grid for each chemical. Finally, I weighed the pure product that I had obtained and calculated the percent yield. For me, I was able to make tropanes from both compounds that I started with, although the yields were relatively low, at seventeen to thirty percent. Therefore, one of my future steps is to continue optimization of reaction conditions. I also plan on starting the synthesis of more tropanes, with different starting materials, once I return to the Wolfe lab in the fall.

Doing research this summer was a great experience, and I felt much more connected to my project and the lab than during the school year, because in the summer I could just focus on research and not have to worry about classes and other activities. I became much more independent and did not have to ask my graduate student for help around the lab all the time. I was also able to analyze my own data and give my own input about why an experiment worked or did not work. I could not have asked for a better way to spend the summer after my freshman year, and I am very grateful to the Women in Science and Engineering Residence Program for giving me this opportunity.

Emily Lancaster

My name is Emily Lancaster and I’m from Petoskey, Michigan. I am a biology major and currently involved in a biopsychology lab here at U of M. The project I am a part of involves Parkinson’s disease, something very personal to me as my grandfather suffered from the disease, using genetically modified rats and their dopamine receptors to discover more about the disease and potential cures. Thanks to the Elaine R. Feldman Summer Research Fellowship scholarship I was able to continue to be a part of this research project in summer 2013. I would not have been able to afford to stay in Ann Arbor and continue my research involvement without the help of this scholarship. I was able to start training my own rats which were born in lab in April and continue to be involved with the rats we trained over the winter. I was able to watch surgeries on the rats to implant guide channels into the rats’ brains so we could insert electrodes later and register dopamine release during experiments. I also was able to help make the electrodes and the optic fibers that were used to direct a laser into the rats’ brain to stimulate dopamine release during the experiments. I learned a great deal during my research involvement and look forward to continuing to be a part of this research lab in the fall.