First Strong Summer Scholars Hard at Work on Research Projects

The Strong Endowment, established by the late Judy Strong, former Associate Vice President, Dean, and Chemistry Department chair and professor, is supporting nine research projects, involving over 20 Minnesota State University Moorhead students in three departments this summer. 

A brief summary of the projects, which range from the study in microscopic bacteria to distant stars, is below.

Project: Asteroid detection with Python

Student researcher: Andy Block

Project advisors: Dr. Juan Cabanela and Dr. Matthew Craig

This project has two main parts. The first is to develop a python code that looks through a series of images taken over the course of one night and combines them into one image. Then the combined image is subtracted from the initial images, resulting in images that show only the change over the course of the night. Any changes would be objects that move a great deal; these are the potential asteroids. The second part of this project is to install a color camera at the Feder Observatory and image asteroids. The color camera could be used to determine a light curve for the asteroids. This data is potentially useful to NASA, as they have several missions that are in the planning stages involving the study of asteroids.

Project: Understanding aquaponics through changes in cell wall composition

Student researchers: Chase Esslinger and Joe O’flanagan

Advisor: Dr. Andrew Marry

Current agricultural practices have led to some severe consequences for the world we live in, and there is work being done around the world to find more sustainable forms of agriculture. Within the last few decades Aquaponics has emerged as a sustainable form of agriculture that could be suitable for the modern world. Aquaponics is a form of agriculture that combines fish farming with plant farming in a sustainable way. The waste produced by fish, in our case tilapia, serves as the nutrient source for the Cucumber plants in the growth beds. This type of system uses significantly less water than a traditional agriculture system, and produces larger fruit quicker. However, the biochemical differences between plants grown in traditional agriculture and those grown in an aquaponics system are not well understood. We use our system to identify changes in the cell wall of plant cells in the two different systems. This will give us a better understanding of how the plants in the aquaponics system are able to grow much larger and faster than plants grown in a traditional agriculture system.

Project: Lighting the Universe

Student researchers: Dana Koczur and Anthony Woltman

Advisor: Dr. Steve Lindaas

This summer project involves researching, testing, and programming an LED light system for the MSUM planetarium. We are working on being able to control 98 feet or 1800 LEDs around the circumference of the dome. The project demands an understanding of electricity, digital and analog electronics, programming, and 3D printing. The goal is to create an easy way to use the lighting system for several different events. The system will allow for a multimedia functionality for planetarium shows, group gaming and team building using Artemis Spaceship Simulator, and possible outside interests from Escape Room to utilize the new electronics. The possible uses could be endless.

Project: Developing a non-invasive method for measuring cardiac signals in zebrafish

Student researcher: Jamal Ibnelhaj

Advisor: Dr. Ananda Shastri

Considering the growing interest in using Zebrafish at MSUM as an experimental model, we are developing an electrocardiogram (ECG) amplifier design that can measure cardiac signals without the need to restrain and connect wires to the fish. The new amplifier design will allow us to detect slow waveforms such as ECG signals using water conductivity as a medium instead of electrodes in the process. This is particularly important when carefully conducted studies aim to understand the ecophysiology of a species in its natural environment. In addition, present ECG amplifiers are only operational under steady conditions when fish are motionless in the holding chambers, plus they have a short detection range that restrict the fish in relatively narrow spaces. Our project design is meant to overcome the shortcomings of traditional forms in measuring ECG of could potentially have useful applications for humans as well due to the similarity existent between the physiology of Zebrafish and mammals.

Project: Understanding the Biochemistry of Antarctic Bacterial Adaptation to Freeze-thaw Stress

Student researcher: Joe Clayton

Advisor: Dr. Michelle Tigges

The purpose of my project is to study cold-loving microorganisms that have developed mechanisms to successfully survive the icy environments of the Earth, tolerating stresses including cold temperatures and freeze-thaw cycles. I am studying the biochemical properties of the membranes of bacteria from Antarctica to understand how their membrane fluidity and lipid composition influences their ability to survive harsh freezing and thawing events. Learning how these organisms are able to survive in extreme conditions has several useful applications, such as advances in cellular cryopreservation or the increase of microorganism resistance to permafrost in soil organic matter.

Project: Improving behavior and biochemistry Assessments in the zebrafish model

Student researcher: Mikaela Hanson

Advisor: Dr. Shawn Garret

Individuals tend to be consistent in the way they respond to stimuli. For example, when challenged by a competitor for food, mates or space, some individuals are consistently aggressive while others are consistently submissive. What genetic, physiological and environmental factors influence expression of personality traits? Zebrafish, similar to humans, show consistent individual behavioral expression across varying situations. My studies analyze the interactions between behavior and cortisol, the circulating stress hormone. Last year, I was able to establish a significant correlation between exploratory behavior and high cortisol levels. This summer, I hope to improve upon and add to those results. I plan to develop a noninvasive method to measure cortisol from fish holding water, utilize a motion sensing software method for exploratory behavior analysis, and determine if a causative relationship between cortisol and behavior exists. With a functional noninvasive cortisol detection method, we will be able to further test the correlation of cortisol and behavior in individuals multiple times. The findings for these experiments may be able to help us understand ecological variations in our changing waters with global warming and pollution. It may also one day help us better understand behavioral disorders like OCD, ADHD and many others.

Project: Investigating variable stars in the field of Kelt-1

Student researcher: Elias Holte

Advisor: Dr. Matthew Craig

The purpose of this project is to identify and classify undocumented variation in the brightness of stars in the Kelt-1 field. This project uses data taken with the Paul P. Feder Observatory’s 16-inch telescope at the Regional Science Center. In order for the data to be usable it has to undergo image calibration, a process that removes noise from the images. Before data can be meaningfully analyzed the first step is to create an optimal calibration protocol that minimizes noise. Several nights of data for the Kelt-1 field have already been captured and, providing clear skies, additional nights of data will be taken starting late June. Once calibration has been completed the data will be analyzed to determine which stars have periodic variation and then those stars will be classified according to their variation. By early August the research will be submitted for publication.

Project: Long-term study of painted turtle ecology

Student researchers: Jessica Loeffler and the Turtle Team: Sarah Sanderson, Iveta Harner, Breanna Huynh, Jossette Velazquez, Rachel Wavra, Miranda Sater, Jade Schanz, Nancy McGray, Brittney Bruns, Sunny Watanabe

Advisor: Dr. Donna Stockrahm

This year I am the leader of an ongoing project of 15 years. We are monitoring painted turtle movements between 3 different sloughs in Rollag, MN. We have built basking traps in order to live-capture these painted turtles. Our methods include canoeing out to the capture sights, documenting their carapace length, width, and curvature as well as their plastron length, PIT tagging, scute notching, and taking DNA mouth swabs. Once data is collected, the turtles are then released back at their captured site.

Project: Automating photometry with Python

Student researcher: Laura Maixner

Advisor: Dr. Matthew Craig

This project will create a program that can use data from the Feder Observatory to create color-magnitude diagrams of stellar clusters. This is done through matching stars across filter colors and multiple nights of data to create the best average possible of their photometric data, a task not easily accomplished by hand. Once a CMD has been created for a cluster and the diagram has been calibrated to the main sequence of the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, the distance and age of the cluster can be estimated.