At TLU, any student has the opportunity to participate in faculty-led undergraduate research.
Undergraduate Research Opportunities
Undergraduate Research Opportunities
- Develop critical thinking skills
- Foster teamwork and collaboration
- Increase marketability to potential employers
- Serve as career preparation
In addition to research done during the school year, TLU’s summer research programs give students hands-on experiences in specialized areas ranging from lab work, to the intersection of theology and gender, to diabetes education in local communities.
These independent studies allow students the opportunity to work closely with professors and gain valuable experience in their prospective fields.
TLU is a Council On Undergraduate Research (CUR) Affiliate
CUR provides support and professional development opportunities for faculty, staff, administrators, and students. Our publications and outreach activities are designed to share successful models and strategies for establishing, nurturing, and institutionalizing undergraduate research programs. They assist administrators and faculty members in improving and assessing the research environment at their institutions.
CUR recognizes institutions that have exemplary undergraduate research programs and faculty who have facilitated undergraduate research at their institutions through their mentorship and leadership. They also provide information on the importance of undergraduate research to private foundations, government agencies, state legislatures, and the U.S. Congress. Faculty, staff, administrators, students, and colleagues from all types of academic institutions and organizations form the dynamic CUR membership.
Faculty-Led Summer Research
Chemistry Department Chair Dr. Michael Ruane, along with students Loan Vu and Asia Fernandez, oversaw research supported by the Welch Foundation. Many natural products contain six-membered rings known as pyranones. Drugs containing pyranones have been used in compounds fighting Type II diabetes, COPD, and asthma.
Due to their nature, pyranones can have different 3-D arrangements which give different shapes of molecules found in natural products of medicinal interest.The group is attempting to develop a fast method to generate pyranones with controlled shapes. While this research will not generate a drug per se, the synthesis will open the door to the generation of millions of new medicinal compounds with high degrees of structural control.
Drugs that are more enantiomerically pure have less potential for side effects and can have greater efficacy in prescribed drugs. Currently, researchers are making progress on the synthesis and refining the process to optimize yields.
The sixth generation of TLU’s agricultural and environmental chemistry group Team Rice 6.0, worked with Assistant Chemistry Professor Dr. Alison Bray on a continuing experiment to examine rice plants grown in soil containing arsenic and cadmium. The group has continued to study arsenic and cadmium as they are both carcinogens and at high concentrations can be toxic. The popular press has reported many studies of elevated concentrations of arsenic in rice as well as rice containing products like baby cereal. This crop of plants were grown under different conditions with some plants flooded like a typical rice paddy and others in moist but not flooded conditions.
Students Casey Martin, Cat Ramos, and Mark Mainez worked with plants grown by Team Rice 5.0 over the academic year to determine the elemental concentration of these two contaminants in the stems, leaves, leaf tips, and seeds in order to gain a better understanding of how these elements distribute through the plant under different growing conditions.
Using Optical Emission Spectrometry and Mass Spectrometry, the students found that we were unable to detect any uptake of cadmium by the plants and that the plants grown in arsenic soil were extremely stunted. Unlike their previous data, the students found that most of the arsenic collected in the plant stems, but this likely reflects the very poor growth of the plants grown in arsenic contaminated soil.
Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Danielle Grove and junior biology student Alyssa Schneider grew mouse hippocampal neurons in sterile cell culture. Schneider exposed the neurons to a suspected endocrine disrupting chemical and environmental estrogen, bisphenol S (BPS), which is the compound used to manufacture many “BPA-free” plastics. Her goal was to determine the effects of BPS on neurons at the molecular level.
Assistant Biology Professor Kevin Tate and students Ellie Culverhouse, Chloe Gallegos, and Natasha Porras investigated two projects: The impact of temperature on lizard embryo physiology and the impact of temperature and food resources on land snail physiology. Both research projects focus on the impact of increasing environmental temperature. Lizard embryo development occurs externally therefore during incubation will be exposed to environmental variation, including changes in temperature. As a secondary project to learn valuable skills and to add to the existing scientific literature, the also spent time on snail research. Students measured cardiovascular activity and metabolic rate in local snails using traditional physiological techniques. While they might appear to be very simple creatures, snails are able to withstand high heat and drought-like conditions, essentially by creating a mucous door on their shell and keeping it shut until conditions support them coming out of hiding. Physiological measurements haven’t been collected on many land snails, so collecting more information will provide a better idea of the diverse responses animals use to survive harsh conditions and the environmental triggers that initiate protective responses.
Department Chair Dr. Robert Jonas supervised two junior pre-med Biology majors, Damilola Fagade and Jeffrey Angell, in microbiological research. The projects involve evolution of microbes, specifically the studying of bacterial cells that had been separated from each other for over 2000 generations. The group continued the serial passage and studied the growth characteristics of these strains. The team also investigated how the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae might adapt to different types of malt. They had two strains of the brewer’s yeast, one for wheat beers, and one for general ales, and grew them in either wheat-based malt or a dark malt. They will see if the flavor components they produce change by being sub-cultured over the course of two summers now. Eventually, the group may gather genetic data on the yeasts. Damilola is also working with BioBrick plasmids in a synthetic biology project. A third student, the Biology and Math double major Loan Vu, joined their research team after completing her organic chemistry research. She continued her project characterizing Staphylococcusisolated from normal subjects, which she started in summer of 2018.
Professors Dr. Alan Lievens, Dr. Mark Gustafson, and Associate Professor Dr. Stephanie Perez led student researchers Jim Babcock, Mason Bishop, Yasmin Perez, and Chassety Raines on the Weston Ranch project. The group collected plant and insect specimens from the Weston Ranch and other areas and created scientific voucher specimens. They also established permanent study plots for an experiment on the effects on grassland plant diversity of removing invasive shrubs. They also collected tissue samples and analyzed DNA barcodes, which were contributed to an international database of DNA sequences.
Department Chair Dr. Toni Sauncy worked with students Paris Foster and Johari Dramiga in the TLU Optical Materials Lab. Dramiga worked on developing computational models for understanding the temperature dependence of quantum well photoluminescence. His contribution is in designing a flexible and user-friendly Python code that will allow us to compare three models found in the literature with experimental data from a particular quantum well system, InGaAs/GaAs.
He also investigated the role of strain-induced shifts in emission energy in these strained systems. Foster investigated the fabrication and characterization of porous Silicon (p-Si) thin films using a non-contact laser-assisted Hydrofluoric-acid based etching technique. Silicon, the most ubiquitous of all semiconductor materials, serves as the foundation for nearly all microelectronic devices. The p-Si thin film material is of interest, since it may serve as the way to produce innovative silicon-based optoelectronic devices.
Dramiga compared the non-contact method, possible only due to the photovoltaic properties of Silicon, with the more common anodic etching technique, as well as investigate the role of oxidizers during the etching process. Both these projects have direct application to the development of improved optoelectronic materials and device design.
Assistant Physics Professor Dr. Calvin Berggren and student Wade Cookston built a small enclosure that allowed them to measure the heat flow through a roof and the effect of various types of insulation and weather conditions on the heat flow. The measurements were compared to a heat transfer model, and the data will be analyzed to gain insight into the most important factors to consider when designing a roof for energy efficiency.
Assistant Physics Professor Dr. Josh Fuchs and student Nolan Tenpas spent the summer searching for new members of a new class of white dwarf stars called low accretion-rate polars. By comparing data of known low accretion-rate polars to over half a million stars in the All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae catalog, they hope to identify new candidates of this rare type of star. They are using advanced data science techniques to search this data. This work will help astronomers understand the evolution and structure of stars that have evolved together.
Psychology Professor Dr. Tiffiny Sia worked with two psychology majors this summer examining how various types of student involvement can affect who remains at TLU (i.e. retention), and what academic benefits might come from involvement as well.
Student Jillian Breeden investigated the impact of being employed as a student library worker on their student success and retention rates compared to ethnically and academically matched non-worker. Kody Clements focused on the link between TLU baseball players, and their student success and retention rates compared to ethnically and academically matched non-baseball-players.
He also looked at the link between TLU baseball player’s performance on the field and their academic performance by reviewing the statistics from respective years.
Findings from these studies will be shared with the library staff and the baseball coaching staff to maximize success for students who may benefit from these types of involvement.
English & Communication Studies
At TLU’s new Student Communication Center, peer consultants help their fellow students improve papers, speeches, and posters. How well is this new center working and how can it improve? Assessing the effectiveness of the Student Communication Center was the summer project for student Lauren Riley, working with Associate Professor and Composition Program Director Margaret Gonzales and Associate Professor and Outreach and Information Literacy Librarian Amelia Koford. Riley's qualitative and quantitative data analysis will be used to improve the Student Communication Center, which was launched as part of TLU’s 2018-2023 Quality Enhancement Plan, a part of reaffirmation of accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS-COC).
Led by Math, Computer Science, and Information Systems Department Chair Dr. Reza O. Abbasian and student Oakley Saint-Vincent worked on their project, “Application of the First Order Grey Model to Predict the Results of Olympic Track and Field Events.” Due to the wide spread use of performance enhancing drugs, the 1988 Seoul Olympics was followed by considerable anti-doping measures, leading to diminished performances in the subsequent Olympics, specifically in track and field events.
In fact, approximately 50 percent of track and field winners in Seoul would still have won 24 years later at the London Olympics. In 2014, student Melissa Johnson (who recently completed her Ph.D. in statistics) and Dr. Abbasian used a somewhat crude discrete exponential model to predict the Olympics track and field records and thus show the anomaly of the results in 1988 Olympics.
Their goal in this project is to use the so-called “Grey model” to conduct a similar but more accurate study. Grey System Theory was developed in 1982 and refers to a system where part of the information is known and clear and part of the information is unknown, inaccurate, or fuzzy. The quantity and quality of the information constitute a continuum from zero information to complete information. Grey System theory is inherently interdisciplinary and has been applied as a predictive tool in various fields such as study of air pollution and study of the output and growth of countries.
Their objective is to validate and enhance our results from 2014 and use the new model to predict the track and field results for the 2020 Olympics.
Students Christina Resendez, Ezrael Powell, Kelly Jurden, and Cullen Barry all participated in an interdisciplinary project between Sociology, Computer Science, and Math, to research voting rights and city council district lines in Seguin, Texas, during the past 50 years. Working under Associate Sociology Professor Dr. Corinne Castro, Resendez provided the sociological context and framework to identify key forces and pivotal events shaping voter suppression and participation over this time frame.
Using those dates identified by Resendez, Powell and Jurden worked under Associate Math Professor Dr. Will Hager using the opensource Gerrychain software (from the Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group) to perform an outlier analysis on the Seguin city council districts and evaluate whether there has been a fair number of opportunity districts for Hispanic citizens, at various points in time. Finally, Barry and Jurden worked under Associate Math Professor Dr. Betseygail Rand to determine new methods to represent the degree of difficulty of fair map-drawing which is inherent to the geography.
Annual Student Academic Symposium
Started in 2009, the annual Student Academic Symposium (SAS) allows students to share the culmination of their senior thesis or capstone project with the campus community. From conducting and artwork to research on type 2 diabetes and higher education funding in Texas, students have the opportunity to showcase their talent, skills, and knowledge in various academic areas. Over the years, presentations have ranged from "A Review of Three Lactobacillus Species and Their Ability to Reduce the Antigenicity of Cow's Milk Protein" to “Black Masculinity and Responses to the Moynihan Report in Ebony Magazine.”