Summer 2014 is the summer of undergraduate research. College of Charleston students andsummer undergraduate research faculty have received 37 Summer Undergraduate Research with Faculty (SURF) grants – the most in five years – and they plan to use their grants to advance cutting-edge research in the fields of biology, biochemistry, mathematics, anthropology and communication among others.

Check out eight of the many incredible projects taking place at the College this summer.

 1. Creating an Educational iPad App on Black Holes

Student: Winslow DiBona (computer science)
Mentor: Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy P. Chris Fragile
Department: physics and astronomy


DiBona and Fragile will spend the summer working on an educational iPad app about black holes targeted for grades K-12. The app will be segmented with age-appropriate modules for a range of participants.

The app’s theme will be “Journey to the Center of the Galaxy: Sagittarius A*,” which is the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. It will contain general information, animations and simulations about black holes to provide a hands-on approach to understanding complicated astrophysical phenomena.

2. Social Complexity and Control of Female Sexuality: Cross-Cultural and Evolutionary Perspectives

Student: Kelsey Fervier (anthropology)
Mentor: Professor of Anthropology Brad R. Huber
Department: sociology and anthropology

Fervier and Huber’s research will investigate the negative sanctions used in 60 nonindustrial societies to restrict female premarital and extramarital sex. They define five major types of sanctions: corporal sanctions, such as mutilation; property sanctions, such as fines; social sanctions, such as imprisonment; reproductive sanctions, such as barring remarriage; and supernatural sanctions, such as threats that the gods will impose death.

Fervier and Huber hope to shed light on how socially stratified and egalitarian societies differ in the kinds of sanctions they employ.

 3. The Synthesis of Unnatural Amino Acids

Student: Avigeet Gupta (biochemistry)
Mentor: Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Timothy Barker
Department: chemistry and biochemistry


Gupta and Barker will spend this summer attempting to synthesize completely original, or “unnatural,” amino acids and link them with naturally occurring amino acids for potential study of the function of amino acids chains in different life forms. Their study will focus on synthesizing the unnatural amino acids and analyzing them to determine their structure and other properties.

4. Investigating the Composition of Dark Matter

Student: William Hester (physics)
Mentor: Instructor of Physics and Astronomy Gardner Marshall
Department: physics and astronomy


Hester and Marshall will research dark matter, which is the invisible form of matter found throughout the universe that interacts gravitationally with ordinary matter (i.e. anything made of atoms). According to one theory, dark matter particles can collide into other dark matter particles and the collision results in new particles that decay into positrons and electrons over time, resulting in an excess of positrons and electrons in the universe.

Hester and Marshall will develop a particle physics model to account for this excess and determine if the predicted flux in positrons and electrons will match existing data.

5. Understanding Knowledge, Attitudes and Behavioral Determinants for Contraceptive Use Decision Making Among Reproductive-Aged Women

Students: Stephanie Meier (biology) and Grace Moxley (biology)
Mentors: Assistant Professor of Communication Beth Sundstrom and Assistant Professor of Health and Human Performance Andrea DeMaria
Departments: communication and health and human performance


This summer, Meier, Sundstrom and DeMaria will investigate reproductive-aged women’s attitudes, knowledge and decision making processes regarding contraception. They hope to provide recommendations to improve women’s access to more effective, nondaily contraceptive options, such as the intrauterine device (IUD), implant, injection, vaginal ring and patch. Long-acting reversible contraception (LARC), including the IUD and the implant are included in the first-line of contraception recommendations from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Their study will conduct formative research including focus groups, in-depth interviews and a web-based survey to develop a contraceptive access campaign and to stimulate a positive behavior change in women toward LARC options. Meier, Sundstrom and DeMaria will use findings from this study to propose theoretical and practical opportunities to reduce unplanned pregnancies among women.

6. The Development and Senescence of Flight Performance in Honey Bees

Student: Aaron Moriarity (biology)
Mentor: Professor of biology Jason Vance
Department: biology


Moriarity and Vance will study flight performance in foraging and nurse honey bees over a 40-day period, and investigate the relationship between flight performance and muscle composition. They hypothesize that forager bees’ flight performance will improve between days 10-20, plateau between days 20-30 and decline after day 30.

After measuring flight performance, Moriarity and Vance will freeze the bees and send them to the Southgate Lab for muscle composition analysis. Their study will be the first known attempt to correlate individual variation in maximal flight performance to changes in muscle composition thought to affect flight performance.

7. The Humility Project: Text Analysis for Character Linguistic Patterns

Student: Tyler Perini (mathematics)
Mentor: Associate Professor of Mathematics Amy Langville
Department: mathematics


This summer, Perini and Langville will work to develop a method for quantifying humility (or the lack of humility) in written language. They will use the data they collect to create a database of written samples with their associated humility scores. Then, a modified search engine will be used to predict the humility of an incoming query document.

Perini and Langville will accomplish this by employing several text analysis methods to identify linguistic patterns between high-humility and low-humility groups based on written essays. They will use mathematics to assign weight values to specific text features – including individual terms, parts of speech, and semantic categories – to create matrices, which will be used to recognize characteristic patterns within the data they collect.

8. Designing Novel Dual-Action Anticancer Agents Targeting Two Specific Sites of Cell Division

Student: Alexis Violette (chemistry)
Mentor: Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Justin Wyatt
Department: chemistry and biochemistry


A popular topic of research for the treatment of cancer is creating compounds that interrupt the cancer cell’s division process, making the cancer unable to spread and better yet, kill it. Current methods affect one target involved in cancer cell division and have high cytotoxicity (i.e. these methods are toxic to cells). To make treating cancer more effective, compounds can be created to interact with two or more targets within the cell division process. Because these new compounds can, in theory, be twice as effective, the cytotoxicity would be half that of the current compounds.

Reducing the toxicity of treatment compounds would be very beneficial to cancer patients, as chemotherapy, which is unable to distinguish healthy cells from cancer cells, causes painful and uncomfortable side effects for some cancer patients. The aims of this research are to design, create, and test new dual-action anticancer compounds that are tailored to target two specific sites in cell division.

These compounds will be tested on cancer and “healthy cells” to determine their levels of effectiveness to kill cancer and their levels to not kill “healthy cells.” Undergraduate students will synthesize and test these compounds and if successful, second and third generation derivatives will be created to increase their effectiveness in the treatment of cancer.