From Sharks to Medicine on Mars: Grants Fund Variety of Student Research

From Sharks to Medicine on Mars: Grants Fund Variety of Student Research

Summer brings so many opportunities for college students. Some of them have full-time jobs. Some travel. Some serve internships while others enroll in classes and study. And still others invest their energies in research.

At the College of Charleston, the Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (URCA) is dedicated to supporting students who engage in serious, hands-on research. Each summer, this office supports faculty-led research projects by providing funds for student researchers in the form of SURF grants (Summer Undergraduate Research with Faculty). Student-recipients can obtain grants of up to $6,500. And this summer, 28 students will be the beneficiaries of the program.

Collectively, these students will work on an array of projects that span the spectrum from examining the role of tires as a source of microplastic pollution to studying the effects of controlled burns on Swallowtail butterflies to analyzing the 43-year correspondence between renowned Southern writer Eudora Welty and her friend Frank Lyell.

According to Elizabeth Meyer-Bernstein, an associate professor of biology who directs the URCA office, these summer research projects can be pivotal for students.

“The research experience these SURF projects provide can be life-changing,” she says. “This kind of immersive experience challenges students to think beyond the classroom and helps them develop disciplinary and professional skills under the guidance of a faculty mentor. In the end, that experience will help each student be a more competitive applicant for graduate school or for roles in the professional world.”

Meyer-Bernstein says that this summer, URCA is funding projects from 13 different academic disciplines housed in four schools across campus. View the full list of SURF Grant projects here.

Here are some of the different SURF projects students will work on this summer:

A Social Network Analysis of Obesity in Northern Peru: An Examination of the Adult Social Networks

Exercise science major Miranda Badolato will investigate the social influences on obesity in Peru, a country that has recently begun to experience the obesity epidemic. Existing research in this field has focused on high-income countries and in the aggregate it indicates that adults who have obese friends or life partners are at greater risk of becoming obese themselves. But research in this area has yet to focus on the populations of low-income countries, so that is what Badolato will do under the direction of public health professor Kathleen McInvale. Working with colleagues in Peru, she will create a social network database that includes information regarding subjects from three villages in coastal Peru. She hopes that this work will ultimately lead to the development of obesity interventions using social networks.

Investigating Meclizine Tablets for NASA Space Mission Planning

Biochemistry major Niamh Cahill plans to become a physician one day. Before that she hopes her research efforts will help lay important groundwork for NASA’s 2033 mission to Mars. This summer she’ll be working in the lab under the guidance of chemistry professor Wendy Cory to test whether certain medications that astronauts need are stable beyond their expiration dates and after being exposed to space radiation. In particular, the duo will conduct chemical analyses of meclizine (also known as Dramamine II) after the tablets have been exposed to high heat, humidity and dangerous radiation.

Potential Herbivory by Bonnethead Sharks in South Carolina and Florida Coastal Habitats  

Marine biology major James Strange intends to explore a new phenomenon in shark behavior. Though sharks have long been considered carnivores, the Bonnethead Shark (Sphyrna tiburo) has recently been discovered to possibly include marine vegetation in its diet. Working under the direction of marine biology professors Gorka Sancho and Bryan Frazier, Strange will investigate the potential ingestion of aquatic plants by Bonnethead Sharks in Florida and South Carolina by examining the stomach contents of previously collected specimens. He hopes his efforts may lead to improved management of the species as a natural resource.

Potential Lifelong Consequences of a Self-Focused Society

Casey Roche, who is majoring in psychology, will be investigating whether members of the current generation of emerging adults are more entitled, lazy and less prepared for adult life than previous generations. Prior research indicates that the self-focused tendencies of emerging adults may influence or correlate with their levels of narcissism, and Roche wants to test that hypothesis. She’ll do so by conducting online surveys of a diverse sample of subjects while working under the direction of psychology professor Amy Kolak.

Horror and Hope: Reproductive Justice in Ireland, Past and Present

Public health major Mackenzie Pelletier will examine the cultural and political contexts surrounding Ireland’s 2018 repeal of the constitutional ban on abortion. She and other social scientists view this change as an emerging reproductive justice movement. Pelletier and her mentors, communication professor Beth Sundstrom and history professor Cara Delay, will use document analysis and in-person interviews with activists to conduct their research.