Honors College in Undergraduate Research

 
top image girl in lab doing undergraduate research

The Honors College at Auburn University is beyond proud of the work our students are able to accomplish through undergraduate research. This is an opportunity for students to explore their passions, develop new ideas, and incorporate critical thinking in their lives.

With the guidance of an advising professor, students are able to gain hands-on experience in their particular field. Given the type of research, this could be in the lab, out in nature, or in the archives of the library. Honing these skills help the student not only in the classroom, but after graduation as well. 

Our Honors College students participate in undergraduate research in a variety of disciplines from history and English to engineering, science, and other STEM fields.

We welcome you to meet a few of our past and present undergraduate researchers in the Honors College. 

Honors College Undergraduate Research Participants

Drew Bonner HUGR feature

Alzheimer's disease affects many people across the world. Honors College student Drew Bonner, a Molecular Biology major, is monitoring cellular pathways in order to observe how these cellular pathways are affected by diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.


Research Project:

Development of pH-Dependent Probes that Monitor Cellular Pathways that may be affected by Alzheimer's Disease

Advising Professor:

Douglas Martin at the Veterinary School (Scott-Ritchey Research Center)

Undergraduate Research:

I am helping to develop ways to monitor different systems in the cell that may be affected by diseases like Alzheimer's disease. This mainly involves creating a protein that can localize to membranes of different organelles in the cell, and also giving the protein the ability to fluoresce at varying levels based on the pH of the different cellular environments. The level of fluorescence of these probes can be tracked to monitor whether the different cellular environments have been affected by harmful materials that are introduced to the cell because of Alzheimer's disease.

Why Honors?

I chose to join the Honors College because of the challenges and advantages that it provides to students during their time at Auburn. I've enjoyed my honors classes, and I really appreciate the small class sizes and attention that you can receive from a professor in these classes. I've also greatly appreciated the access to helpful advisors and the prestigious scholarship office as these staff members have been very helpful during my time at Auburn.

Why Auburn?

Both of my older sisters went to Auburn, so as I was growing up, I would come to Auburn to visit them. During those visits and from what I heard from my sisters, I began to really appreciate what Auburn had to offer for students. I felt that Auburn provides great opportunities for students to pursue career goals in almost any field, and it provides great opportunities to develop great friendships during your time here. Auburn sports were also a great selling point.


 

Undergraduate Research Tina Huang

Tina Huang, an Honors College student majoring in Chemical Engineering, spent her summer in the lab learning the finer points of research. Due to her hard work, she was assigned a research project that will impact our everyday lives - roadways.


Research Project:

 Improving the quality of asphalt through polymers.

Advising Professor:

Dr. Bryan Beckingham, Chemical Engineering

Undergraduate Research:

With the ever increasing numbers of vehicles on the road, there is a need to create a polymer-modified asphalt that is more resistant to cracking and rutting in comparison to just asphalt. My research is focuses on improving the quality of asphalt by taking a specific polymer and modifying the polymer using click chemistry. After the modified polymer is successfully made, it will be characterized, and then tested at the National Center of Asphalt Technology which is located in Auburn, AL.

Why Honors?

I chose to join the Honors College to be challenged academically and to be surrounded by like-minded peers. I was attracted by both the social and academic opportunities the Honors College provided. I felt like I had a better chance of success at Auburn by choosing to join the Honors College.

Why Auburn?

The Auburn family really attracted me to Auburn. When I visited Auburn, I met people that were kind, open, and always willing to help out a lost visitor. Auburn was the warm and welcoming college town, full of traditions, that I was looking for. I was excited to experience Saturday game days and be challenged by a nationally ranked engineering school.

Learn More About Tina!

Want to learn more about Tina, her life and her research? Follow her on Instagram:


 

Headshot and graphic of Philip Wang

There is a lot of brilliant research performed at Auburn University, and some can even be as brilliant and colorful as the feathers of a tropical bird. Philip Wang, an Honors College student majoring in Biomedical Sciences with a pre-med concentration, shares his undergraduate research experience with carotenoids, the source of orange and red colors in animals.


Research Title:

An in vivo test of the biologically relevant roles of carotenoids as antioxidants in animals

Advising Professor:

Dr. Geoffrey Hill in the Department of Biological Sciences

Undergraduate Research:

My research is a very small piece of the larger fundamental question—why are animals colorful? Animals like birds and fish must spend valuable energy and resources to deposit pigments into their integument. Carotenoids, the source of orange and red colors in many animals, have been shown to act as antioxidants outside of living systems; however, evidence that they serve as antioxidants in living systems is contentious. We used the marine zooplankton Tigriopus californicus to test the antioxidant capacity of carotenoids in living systems.

Why Honors?

I chose to join the Honors College at Auburn because of the resources it provided. From the Undergraduate Research to the prestigious scholarship program to the faculty advisors, I have found the Honors College extremely useful in my college experience.

Why Auburn?

When I visited Auburn University, I noticed that professors and advisors were much more personally invested in seeing me do well than other schools I visited. This trend wasn't just for show either. I've found my teaching and research professors along with my advisors to me incredibly accessible, and both have pushed me towards opportunities I wouldn't have known about otherwise.

Learn More About Philip!

Want to learn more about Philip, his life and his research? Follow him on Instagram:


 

Undergraduate research graphic for Kevin Wyss

Kevin is a graduating senior in Chemistry, as well as an athlete. When he is not on the track, Kevin can be found in the chemistry lab exploring ways to quickly detect and bind uranium or other radioactive and toxic heavy metals in drinking water after a nuclear contamination event.


Research Title:

Exploring thorium, uranium, and lanthanide fluorescence in Schiff base sandwich complexes

Advising Professor:

Dr. Anne Gorden within the chemistry & biochemistry department in the College of Sciences and Mathematics

Undergraduate Research:

Although nuclear power is extremely efficient, generates no harmful greenhouse gasses, and uses no fossil fuels, the increased use of nuclear power for civilian energy has been met with much skepticism. This is largely due to fears of radioactivity and contamination as a result of nuclear waste or a disaster related event such as a dirty bomb or power plant accident. Radioactivity cannot be easily detected, and cannot be seen, tasted, smelled, or felt. Most modern detection methods require the use of technical machinery or training, and would not be feasible or time effective to use in disaster situation.

My past two years of research has tried to develop new strategies to remedy this problem. Along with PhD candidate Emily Hardy, I have worked to develop molecules that will be able to detect and bind Uuranium or other radioactive and toxic heavy metals in a nuclear contamination event. The end goal is that a small amount of powder can simply be stirred into a sample of drinking water, and within seconds it will be possible to determine if the water is contaminated or not by simply watching the color change of the mixture. Some of the challenges associated with this project include the fact that many dissolved metals have similar properties, whether they are toxic and radioactive, or not. Making the molecule sensitive to the presence of uranium and not iron, for example, is central in creating a dependable sensor. Another important quality of an effective sensor is the ability for the sensor to indicate extremely low concentrations of hazardous materials, as extremely small amounts can still be harmful to humans. By tweaking, synthesizing, testing, and analyzing (then repeating this process many times) the sensor molecule has been greatly improved.

Why Honors?

I chose to join the honors college because the smaller class sizes, ability to take graduate level classes, and the emphasis on research all appealed to me.

Why Auburn?

I chose to come to Auburn because I was recruited to be part of the Track team.  After taking my official visits to Auburn and 4 other D1 programs, I was drawn to Auburn because of the academic resources, scholarship, coach, and overall feel of the university.


 

undergraduate research graphic of Madison Schoeberl

Staphylococcus aureu, or more commonly known as a staph infection, is a highly contagious skin infection that is typically transferred from person-to-person. Honors College student and undergraduate researcher Madison Schoeberl is investigating some interesting ways of tracking the bacteria. Madison will use her undergraduate research experience towards her Honors College Senior-Year Experience, and will receive her University Honors Scholar designation at graduation.


Research Title:

 Tracking Staphylococcus aureus infections in vivo

Advising Professor:

Dr. Panizzi in the Department of Drug Discovery and Development of the Auburn University Harrison School of Pharmacy

Undergraduate Research:

The purpose of this project is to track Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) infections [staph infections] in a living organism over time. We choose a bioluminescent strain of S. aureus called Xen-36 to use. To determine whether this strain can be tracked in a mammalian model, we injected the pathogen retro-orbitally [that is behind the orbit of the eye] at a sublethal dose into mice. The distribution and kinetics of the infection are analyzed using the In Vivo [taking place in a living organism] Imaging System (IVIS) Lumina XRMS maintained in the Auburn Laboratory for Imaging Animal Systems. Collectively, the study closes the current gaps that exist in the understanding of the best ways to track S. aureus in a host. This is relevant considering the growing threat of methicillin [antibiotic used to treat staph infections] resistant S. aureus infections in hospitals.

Why Honors?

I chose the Honors College because I wanted the opportunity to work with some of the best advisors on campus. I also have really enjoyed all the Honors participation courses especially Dr. Thomas’ Caribbean book club. I feel that they have given me a more well rounded education and allowed me to meet many students who are not in my major.

Why Auburn?

Being from Texas, I really had no idea what Auburn was before I had come to visit. When I was a senior, I visited campus and I toured Dr. Panizzi’s lab. I fell in love with the small town, family feel but also with Auburn’s dedication to research. Even before I came I knew I really wanted to be involved in a project as an undergraduate, so that is what really drew me to Auburn.


 

graphic and headshot of Emma Hale

The infamous West Nile Fever Virus continues to make headlines worldwide. Emma Hale, a rising senior in the Honors College and member of the AU Marching Band, hopes to understand the virus better through her undergraduate research. Her work with mouse lemurs from Madagascar may provide insight to possible source of human outbreaks of the disease. Emma will use her undergraduate research experience to write her Honors College thesis, and receive her University Honors Scholar designation.


Research Title:

Quantifying the prevalence of the West Nile, Rift Valley Fever, and Dengue Fever Viruses across Mouse Lemurs Populations from Madagascar

Advising Professor:

Dr. Tonia Schwartz, Department of Biological Sciences, College of Sciences and Mathematics

Undergraduate Research:

Wildlife, non-human primates in particular, can serve as reservoirs for arboviruses that can be transferred to humans via mosquitoes. Spillover of pathogens from wildlife to humans is correlated with habitat degradation. West Nile Fever Virus, Rift Valley Fever Virus, and Dengue Fever Virus have all been identified in humans in Madagascar, where deforestation has been extensive. Mouse lemurs (Microcebus spp.) are primates endemic to Madagascar that may be reservoirs for these viruses although this has not yet been investigated. With this study we aim to (1) develop a method to detect all three of these viruses from a small amount of blood dried on TropBio cards that can be used in the field; (2) use this method to quantify the prevalence of these viruses in mouse lemurs of Madagascar; and (3) test if there is a correlation between the presence of these viruses in lemurs and habitat degradation.

Detection of these viruses in mouse lemurs could provide insight to the possible source of human outbreaks of these diseases. Furthermore, if found, a correlation between habitat fragmentation and virus presence can show the effect of habitat degradation on virus presence in endemic species.

Why Honors?

I was attracted to the Honors College here because of the small class sizes, personal advising, and opportunities to expand my education. I have had the best experiences getting to know students in the honors classes I have taken. I am most grateful for my chances to further my research through the Honors College and I am very excited to start on my Honors thesis in the fall.

Why Auburn?

Auburn was not originally on my college radar, however after some nudging from a friend I decided to visit. After speaking with a successful upperclassman from my hometown and exploring the campus and town I fell in love. I immediately knew that the opportunities and experiences that Auburn could give me meant that this is where I was meant to be. Everyday I am reminded that I made the correct choice!

Learn More About Emma!

Want to learn more about Emma, her life and her research? Follow her on Instagram:


 

undergraduate research graphic for David schartung

David is a chemical engineering student from Decatur, Alabama. His undergraduate research will find a way to save time and money for the crude oil industry by developing on-site testing methods through spectroscopy, which is the measurement of spectra produced when matter interacts with or emits electromagnetic radiation. Let's learn more about David and his undergraduate research experience.


Research Title:

Following the Flocculation of Crude Oil Asphaltenes Using Ultrasound and Electrochemical Impedance Spectroscopy

Advising Professor:

Dr. Carlos Carrero in the Chemical Engineering Department.

Undergraduate Research:

Asphaltenes consist of the largest, most polar organic molecules in heavy crude oil. They are especially prevalent in unconventional crude oil, which many industries are turning to as the supply of conventional crude oil declines. Due to their high polarity, these asphaltenes tend to aggregate, which can cause problems such as pipe blockages in industry. As such, it is important to determine the stability of this fraction. Currently the most common way of doing this is through ex-situ [off-site] methods based on optical spectroscopy. However, because the optical methods face difficulties functioning in nearly or totally black systems, they require sample dilution outside of the system, which means extra work, which means loss of time and money. My research focuses on developing an in-situ [on-site] method for characterizing asphaltene flocculation (when the asphaltenes begin to fall out of the solution) using electrochemical impedance spectroscopy (EIS) paired with ultrasound. This would eliminate the need for costly and laborious ex-situ operations.

Why Honors?

I joined the Honors College because I found the benefits and prestige appealing. Those in the Honors College get an excellent study room in the library, have access to smaller, more rigorous classes, and, of course, can graduate with honors, which is something that can definitely put a student ahead after graduation.

Why Auburn?

My older sister and older brother both went to Auburn and graduated with degrees in chemical engineering and electrical engineering respectively. When I was in high school I would come down from Decatur to visit them on occasion, and each time the campus felt a little more like home. I was always amazed by the fact that the Auburn could have so many students yet would never give me the crowded feeling I got from so many other places. The campus would always have an air of calmness, and I felt like I could be relaxed no matter what I had going on. So of course, when it was time to apply for colleges, Auburn was my top choice.

Learn More About David!

Want to learn more about David, his life and his research? Follow him on Instagram:


 

Elise Mann Undergraduate honors research graphic

Elise is a spring graduate who earned her degree in both Biomedical Sciences and Nutrition Sciences. Her research investigates the timeline of chemicals in the body during DOMS [Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness]. DOMS often occurs after strenuous and unaccustomed exercise, something we have all felt before. Elise used her undergraduate research experience to write her Honors College thesis.

Research Title:

The Time Course of Interleukin-6 (IL-6), dipeptidyl peptidase-IV (DPP-IV), and CD26+ T-cells in Response to Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)

Advising Professor:

Dr. Heidi Kluess in the School of Kinesiology

Undergraduate Research:

DOMS [Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness] often occurs after strenuous and unaccustomed exercise and results in the release of many chemicals such as potassium, histamines, and cytokines such as IL-6. It is known that IL-6 significantly increases in response to DOMS, but IL-6 quickly returns to baseline around 24 hours post DOMS. The mechanism for this return to baseline is unknown, but it can be reasoned that DPP-IV is responsible. DPP-IV is a serine protease that is present in the plasma or as a translocatable enzyme on T-cells (CD26+ T-cells). DPP-IV cleaves and inactivates IL-6 and our recent study found that as IL-6 returns to baseline after DOMS is induced, DPP-IV significantly increases. These results support our theory that DPP-IV is responsible for altering the time course of IL-6 after DOMS.

Exercising can cause you to become sore and sometimes results in myofibril tearing, which can elicit an immune response. Part of this immune response is an increase in IL-6, which is a pro-inflammatory cytokine. After DOMS (which is exercising that results in soreness), IL-6 is known to increase immediately, but then quickly return to baseline. Since IL-6 is a substrate for DPP-IV, we reasoned that DPP-IV is the responsible mechanism for this return to baseline. Our recent research study support this theory because as IL-6 declines, DPP-IV activity increases in DOMS induced patients.

Why Honors?

I wanted to enroll in Honors College courses because the class sizes were smaller and the professors seemed more engaged. I felt like I would be pushed harder academically if I was in the Honors College. I also wanted to take advantage of honors academic advising. It's been extremely helpful to have an advisor who knows me and is engaged with my Auburn academic experience.

Why Auburn?

Most of my family went to Auburn, so I've grown up coming to Auburn football games and spending time on Auburn's campus. I loved it growing up and couldn't imagine going anywhere else.

Learn More About Elise!

Want to learn more about Elise, her life and her research? Follow her on Instagram:


 

undergraduate research flyer for Jonathan dismukes

Jonathan, a graduating senior in Biomedical Sciences with a pre-med concentration, is a third-generation Auburn student and an active member in the Honors College. His research investigates the mechanisms of canine breast cancer in order to enhance human health and well-being.

Research Title:

Expression of the INK4AB/ARF Tumor Suppressor Transcription Factor MSK1 in Canine Breast Cancer

Advising Professor:

R. Curtis Bird, Ph.D., Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine, Department of Pathobiology

Undergraduate Research:

This translational research investigates canine breast cancer in order to inform us about the mechanism of the disease in humans. We are hoping to find the specific genetic mutations that allow cancer to escape the cell’s regulation of the cell cycle causing out-of-control cell proliferation. If we find the precise location of these mutations, we could then target therapy to correct the broken mechanism.

 

Why Honors?

I joined the Honors College because it allows students to supplement their traditional college education with smaller class sizes, volunteer opportunities such as K(no)w Poverty? Week of Service, and unique classes like the Book Club, Lyceum, Forum. Looking back, I have gained friends, mentors, and vital life experiences due to my involvement with the Honors College that I couldn’t have gained otherwise.

Why Auburn?

Auburn offered not only a welcoming atmosphere, but an opportunity for me to pursue a great education while also being involved in various organizations that would give me the professional development needed prior to medical school and my career. Despite attending football games growing up and being a third-generation Auburn student, Auburn still allowed for a unique experience and an ability to carve my own path. My choice to come to Auburn was one that I do not regret and one that actually exceeded my expectations.

Learn More About Jonathan!

Want to learn more about Jonathan, his life and his research? Follow him on Instagram:


 

undergraduate test

Gabby, a graduating senior in Chemical Engineering, is one of our first Honors College undergraduate research spotlights. She is currently evaluating relationship risk factors for ACL injuries, in part due to tearing her own ACL while playing on the soccer pitch. Gabby is using her experiences in research to write her Honors thesis. 

Research Title:

Evaluation of the relationship between hormonal, biomechanical, and neuromuscular risk factors for anterior cruciate ligament injury 

Advising Professor:

Dr. Gretchen Oliver, Department of Kinesiology 

Undergraduate Research:

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the ligaments in the knee that is key to stabilizing it. Approximately 10% of female athletes tear their ACL, and females are 2-9 times more likely to tear their ACL then males.

Over the past 20 years, research has focused on creating clinical tests and injury prevention programs to help identify and prevent injury in at risks athletes. However, even though these programs are widely implemented, the ACL injury rates remain high in female athletes. This has led researchers to believe that perhaps these identifiable risk factors are not independent of each other.

So, my research seeks to identify the relationship between these risk factors. My results have shown that biomechanical, neuromuscular, and hormonal risk factors are not independent of each other, meaning when creating injury prevention programs and clinical tests, a more holistic approach is needed to determine how at risk an athlete is and how to treat them. 

Why Honors?

As a freshman, I liked the idea of having smaller classes, and I was told by an upperclassman that Honors professors tend to care more about student learning then regular professors. I chose to stay in the Honors College because I learned to love the classes I was taken and the opportunities presented for me. Even though I wasn't selected for the Goldwater nomination, I enjoyed that process, and my Honors thesis has honestly been my favorite part about Auburn.

Why Auburn?

I would say Auburn chose me. I played soccer throughout high school and signed to play at Emory my senior year. Three days after signing, I tore my ACL for the third time (hence why I do the research that I do), and my doctor highly advised I discontinue playing soccer. I only had an athletic scholarship to Emory, but I had a full academic scholarship to Auburn, so I chose to preserve my knees as best I could and come to Auburn. 

Learn More About Gabby!

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Last modified: October 9, 2018