2020 Projects

David Altman & Michaela Kleinert, Physics

(1 Webber Scholar)

Application Assignment: 1/2 | 2/2

Titanium implants used in dental and orthopedic industries can be altered in many ways including chemical-etching, roughening, and microtexturing. Modifying titanium has proven to have the potential to optimize bone cell adhesion, leading to a shorter recovery time after surgery. This summer, we will continue studies in which we conduct microtexturing of titanium using laser ablation, a method in which a pulsed laser is scanned across the titanium surface using a galvanometric scan lens system. This method has the advantage of allowing us to modify the surface in a highly controlled manner. We will then determine how well a cultured osteosarcoma (bone cancer) cell line adsorbs and grows on these surfaces using fluorescence microscopy. In addition, we will measure the hydrophobicity of the different surfaces to see if there is a correlation between cell adsorption and growth and the wettability of the titanium surface.

Cooper Battle, Chemistry

(2 SCRP students, 1 Webber Scholar)

Application Assignment: 1/1

Research in the Battle lab uses fundamental principles from biochemistry and organic chemistry to make a range of fluorescent sensors with structures and mechanisms inspired by biological systems. In particular, the goal is to create nanoscale devices that are able to turn their fluorescence on or off without changes to their covalent structure. Instead, we make use of non-covalent interactions to design sensors that change how they fold or assemble to control their properties. There are two broad project areas in our lab. The first project focuses on the design and testing of sensors made from DNA strands that we use to sense nucleic acid (RNA or DNA) biomarkers that are associated with diseases. Our current focus is on sensing miRNA (short regulatory RNA strands) as a means of detecting and studying cancer. These sensors function through tightly controlled structural transitions, causing them to fold (or unfold) only when they are exposed to the RNA sequence we want to detect. The second project in our lab designs and synthesizes fluorescent organic dyes that turn on only when they are encapsulated inside of a molecular capsule. These dye/capsule systems function in a fashion similar to fluorescent proteins, and let us develop a better understanding of how the immediate environment around a molecule effects their photochemistry. Additionally, these dyes have the potential to be used as sensors to test the effectiveness of molecular capsules as delivery agents for therapeutic drugs.

Daniel Borrero Echeverry, Physics

(2 SCRP Students)

Application Assignment: 1/1

When a small droplet of liquid is dropped into a pool of the same liquid, it splashes before coalescing with the fluid bath. However, in order to do so the droplet must clear the air layer separating it and fluid bath. It was recently discovered that if the fluid bath is vibrated vertically, the air layer can transfer sufficient momentum to the droplet, so that instead of coalescing it bounces upward and can remain suspended indefinitely. As it bounces, the droplet creates small ripples on the surface of the bath, which affects how the droplet will bounce. Understanding the impact dynamics on a liquid interface has a broad range of applications from industrial applications like spray painting to illuminating process of aerosol formation in the oceans, which is a critical, yet poorly, understood factor in climate modeling. This summer we will use a technique called free-surface synthetic Schlieren to understand the dynamics of surface waves generated by impacting drops and how these interactions can be controlled by optically actuating the system with a laser.  

David Craig, Biology

(1 Webber Scholar)

Application Assignment: 1/4 | 2/4 | 3/4 | 4/4

The Craig team is piloting a new project focused on a unique bird named the slender-billed white-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinenses aculeata). This nuthatch is considered to be rare across most of the Willamette Valley, but can be locally common in stands of Oregon white oak (Quercus garryanna) like those found on our main campus, in Bush Park, and at the Zena campus. Many aspects of the nuthatch’s natural history are unknown, but because they are declining quickly, they have been designated as an Oregon species of concern. Recent genetic discoveries suggest the subspecies will be elevated to a full species, which means in the near future, we may have an officially listed threatened species breeding on campus. Factors causing the decline of nuthatch populations are reported to be loss of large‐diameter oaks. Students need to be ready to spend the majority of their time outdoors and enjoy early morning hikes in all types of weather. If you are curious about birds and trees and are concerned about climate change, no experience is necessary. As a pilot project, there is excellent potential for motivated students to be creative and influence the long-term trajectory of the Craig lab.  

Alison Fisher, Chemistry

(1 student - Webber Scholar or SCRP student - TBD)

Application Assignment: 1/2 | 2/2

Research in Prof. Fisher’s lab focuses on the chemical interactions between Earth’s
biosphere and its atmosphere. Specifically, we study the biochemical mechanisms in
terrestrial plants involved in the production of volatile organic compounds that
impact the chemistry of the atmosphere. And, to better understand how this
biochemistry has evolved in plants, we primarily study these mechanisms in
mosses. This summer, we will continue our efforts to purify and characterize the
first halide methyltransferase enzyme from a moss. Halide methyltransferases
catalyze the production of ozone-depleting methyl halides (methyl chloride, methyl
bromide, and methyl iodide); our goal is to characterize a putative halide
methyltransferase from Physcomitrella patens (spreading earthmoss) and compare
it to other halide methyltransferase enzymes from vascular plants. Students
contributing to this project will be trained in the recombinant protein expression in
Escherichia coli bacteria, protein purification by affinity chromatography, various
protein characterization techniques, enzyme assays, Michaelis-Menten kinetics, and
the quantification of chemical compounds by high performance liquid
chromatography (HPLC).

David Griffith, Chemistry

(1 SCRP student, 1 NSF student)

Application Assignment: 1/1

In the Griffith research group, we are focused on understanding the chemical processes that control the fate of estrogens in aquatic environments. Estrogens are potent hormones that are excreted by vertebrates (e.g., humans and fish) and can enter natural waters through the discharge of treated and raw sewage. Estrogens disrupt the growth and proper development of aquatic organisms at extremely low (sub-ng L–1) concentrations. Yet, we know very little about the distribution and fate of estrogens in rivers, lakes, and oceans. To address this gap, my research group conducts fieldwork, laboratory, and modeling experiments to better understand environmental removal processes, characterize the primary mechanisms driving estrogen distributions, and develop methods to accurately measure estrogen concentrations in complex environments. We utilize a variety of analytical techniques, including high performance liquid chromatography, degradation kinetics experiments, tandem mass spectrometry, and high-resolution mass spectrometry. The results of our work will be used to mitigate the associated risk to aquatic organisms and human health. Projects this summer will focus on 1) measuring estrogen biodegradation rates in the Willamette River, 2) isolating and identifying estrogen photo-transformation products, and 3) characterizing the fate of estrogens in the Willamette and Tualatin Rivers using transect data and predictive modeling.  

Briana Lindh, Biology

(1 student, Webber or Wilson-TBD)

Application Assignment:

The Lindh lab group is working on how bee communities are impacted by urbanization and climate change. We conduct field surveys, recording bees visits to flowering plant species at urban and rural sites. Bees are identified on the wing where possible, but we also collect specimens and key them out in the lab. Current projects also involve isolating DNA from bees and identifying specimens using DNA sequences. Projects in summer 2020 will involve both field work with bees and plants and lab work, but the balance of the two will be driven partly by student interest.

Melissa Marks, Biology

(1 student, Webber or Wilson-TBD)

Application Assignment: 1/1

In the Marks lab, we study Caulobacter crescentus, a Gram negative bacteria that lives in freshwater lakes and streams.  We use a variety of genetic, molecular, biochemical, and cell biological tools to investigate how they survive and thrive in their natural environments. In particular, this summer, we will be working to better understand how differences in the ability of cells to acquire and use nutrients may contribute to their survival in stressful conditions. Many projects in the lab are technically quite simple (I've taught 4th and 5th graders to use them) and there are no specific course prerequisites for participation in my research program.  You will learn all of the techniques and scientific background as we go.  Successful students in my research program are curious, hard-working, willing to ask questions, observant, and self-directed.  

Katja Meyer, Environmental Science

(1 SCRP Student)

Application Assignment: 1/1

Biogeochemistry describes the investigation of the chemical, physical, and biological processes and reactions that control the makeup of the Earth system. This discipline has historically focused on examination of unimpacted (“natural”) systems across many scales, neglecting urban environments. More recently, however, there has been acknowledgement that the built environment changes biogeochemical cycling through alterations such as stormwater infrastructure, impervious surfaces, and the application of salts and fertilizers.

 This summer the Meyer lab is beginning a new project focused on urban biogeochemistry in the Salem area. Students will familiarize themselves with relevant literature, use GIS to examine urban watersheds, and learn to collect and analyze water and soil samples.

Brandi Row Lazzarini, Exercise and Health Science

(2 SCRP Students)

Application Assignment: 1/2 | 2/2

This project is a part of my overall research program aimed at improving the methods available in the clinic for identifying older adults at a risk of falling or descending into mobility impairment. The specific objective of my research program is to create a clinically-feasible version of a lab-based measure of the mediolateral control of motion. The purpose of recent projects have been to associate performance on the clinical test to lab-based measures of function and to carefully examine the repeatability of the test. The next phase of the project is to consider whether modifications to simplify the test procedures have changed the relationship with lab-based measures of mediolateral motion, and to evaluate whether this test can improve the ability to detect fall risk and other threats to mobility function in older adults. 

Joint Project at Zena, Biology & Environmental Science

(4-5 students)

Application Assignment:

ZERI - Zena Ecological Restoration Initiative

At Willamette University’s Zena property we have been engaged in ecological restoration and sustainable forestry practices over the past 10 years to address the loss of critical oak and prairie habitat.  Over the next 4 years (2020-2023) we will expand quantitative monitoring of our restoration and forestry activities to include wildlife, watershed health and quality, stream flow, wildfire risk, and forest insects and disease (in addition to the pollinator and vegetation monitoring that is currently in progress).  We will also employ the monitoring data to model watershed benefits of ongoing and future restoration work. 

Monitoring project


# of positions*

Anticipated dates

GIS/watershed modeling

Dr. Halama (ENVS)

2 (full time)

June and July

Avian/reptile/mammal surveys

Dr. Craig (BIOL)

1 (full time)

mid-May to mid- August

Pollinator and praire vegetation surveys

Dr. Lindh (BIOL)

1 (full time)

mid-May to mid- August

Sustainable forestry surveys

Dr. Bowersox (ENVS)

2 (half time)

mid-May to mid-June

*Note that full time positions are for 9 weeks and ½ time positions are for 4.5 weeks


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