Undergraduate Research Consultant Team
The Program also funds Undergraduate Research Consultant Teams (URCT) which are small “strike teams” of students from multiple disciplines who will execute well-defined, one semester projects guided by a faculty advisor. The goals of the URCTs are to: (1) provide students with opportunities for inquiry and discovery in the context of real-world cutting-edge research, and (2) foster interactions between disciplines (e.g. Humanities and Natural and Social Sciences) that reflect the diversity of perspectives necessary to solve society’s problems.
Faculty Mentor: Peter Gordon, Psychology and Neuroscience
Strike Team: Kate Oldham; Natasha Vernooji; Amy Alum; Kalleen Kelly; Anna Ostrowski
Faculty Mentor: Mark Sorensen, Anthropology
Strike Team: India Benson; Carissa Cueva; Darien Campisi; Mallory Happ; Syndney Puerto-Meredith
Faculty Mentor: Daniel Kreiss, Communications Studies
Strike Team: Kate Frauenfelder; Jenni Ciesieliski; Meredith Martinez; Gabrielle Micchia; Brinley Lowe; Abby Rogers; Meredith Randolph; Haley McDougal; Jordan Townsend; Samantha Paisley; Elizabeth Park
See the published manuscript by Dr. Daniel Kriess and Ms. Kirsten Adam.
See the Report by Dr. Kreiss and the Strike Team.
See an article in The Well for more information.
Faculty Mentor: Jordynn Jack, English and Comparative Literature
Strike Team: Maebelle Mathew; Schweta Bhatnagar; Akhila Boyina; Destiny Ho; Pragnya Dontu
Faculty Mentor: Nels Popp, Sports Administration
Strike Team: Elizabeth Farley; Alexander Spaeth; Morgan Donnelly; Isabella Dokall
Faculty Mentor: Paul Weinhold, Orthopedics and Biomedical Engineering
Strike Team: Drew Pierce; Blake Mauro; Thad Creech; Alexander Brown; James Raynor
Faculty Mentor: Don Hornstein, Law
Strike Team: MacKenzie Dion; Emily Galvin; Cameron Champion
We intend to provide an informed resource for farmers and agricultural organizations to reference for evaluating the economic costs and benefits of implementing insect-based feeding techniques. In addition, the study will provide an analysis of various countries’ progress with integrating insect-based feed into their food systems. As the relationship between animal feed and the environment is an important but relatively specific, this research shall serve to expand the base of knowledge and raise awareness for the need to direct more resources to consider this issue. The project will proceed in four parts: (1) a cost-benefit analysis based on existing literature, (2) a compilation of international developments in plant-based feed techniques, (3) consultation with local agriculture experts, and (4) interviews with farmers to gauge public interest.
Faculty Mentor: Marsha Penner, Psychology and Neuroscience
Strike Team: Gabrielle Jeifa; Amanda Kessler; Haley Kirse; Anna Zhao; Brianna Cross
Science communication and outreach is one way that the work of laboratory scientists can be shared with a wide audience of non-experts. Neuroscience is one area of science that is often of interest to the general public, yet there is very little formal education on the nervous system in schools. Neuroscience outreach efforts can help to fill this knowledge, but there is limited research on the kinds of activities that are most effective at communicating neuroscience concepts. The goal of this research project is to assess the effectiveness of neuroscience outreach activities. Specifically, we will determine if neuroscience outreach activities can communicate the fundamental neuroscience concepts and the principles of hypothesis testing to middle-school students. Our research will be of interest to educators in both formal and informal settings.
Faculty Mentor: Glenn Hinson, Anthropology and American Studies
Strike Team: Veronica Chandler, Taylor Gartman, Abbott Ndukwe, Meagan Watson
In 1921, a white mob in Warren County, N.C., lynched two innocent men. In the years since, the county’s “authorized” histories have erased all records of these murders. Sharp memories of the lynchings, though, are still very alive in the region’s Black communities. In fall 2018, a UNC class began collaborating with the Warren County NAACP to foster public awareness of these lynchings, with hopes of creating a memorial to the “victims, and then sparking a broader truth and reconciliation process. The URCT team-who, with the class, had archivally identified, and then interviewed, descendants of the 1921 victims-will extend this process by gathering oral histories from community elders and exploring long-hidden archival materials that document the double-lynching. By compiling the storied and written history, the team will actively contribute to the reconciliation process, and help craft a model that other communities can use to address contested public memories.
Faculty Mentor: Laura Miller, Mathematics and Biology
Strike Team: Maddie Bye, Liam Pongracz, Reagan Howell, Gloria Hope, Abinaw Katuru
Both physical and biological mechanisms affect the movement of zooplankton. These tiny aquatic animals are move with the local flow but·can also bias their distributions actively controlling some aspects of their locomotion. Mathematical models of plankton movement typically assume that the organisms either go passively with the flow or have an additional random motion that can be added to the background flow velocity. These assumptions have not been rigorously tested. We will use brine shrimp as a model organism for studying the movement of plankton given its ease of culturing in the lab. The broad goals of this Undergraduate Research Team are then to (1) determine the relevant fluid dynamics and physics for individual swimming brine shrimp, (2) reveal some of the behaviors of plankton that may drive long distance dispersal, and (3) incorporate fluid physics and behavior into mathematical models and experimentally validate those models.
See the published manuscript by Dr. M. Kemal Ozalp, et al.
Faculty Mentor: Frank Leibfarth, Chemistry
Strike Team: Hayden Dumaw, Megan Ramsey, Charlotte Dorn, Kristopher Lukas, Suraj Pendyala
This project revolves around a recently published manuscript that describes the construction of an open source plastic extruder that can take scrap 3-D printing waste and recycle it into commercial quality 3-D printing filament. Students will construct an improved version of the recyclebot and use it to explore their own sustainability-based research project. Once built, students will use this recyclebot for outreach in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area as well as establish a recycling service for local 3-D printer users.
Faculty Mentor: Mark Sorensen, Anthropology
Strike Team: Supreet Goraya, Vaishnavi Sripurapa, Zachary Cochran, Leva Juzumaite, Michera Gentry
The purpose of this study is to investigate the impact of psychosocial stress on inflammatory profiles of traditional age college students and how this relationship is potentially modified by physical activity. The goals of this study are (1) to identify and map the most prominent cultural domains of stress amongst college students, (2) to understand how these chronic stressors impact inflammatory profiles, (3) to understand the inflammatory response of college students to acute stress, and (4) to illustrate the role of physical activity in moderating against the negative impacts of psychosocial stress on inflammation. Semi-structed interviews, free listing, pile sorts, and risk mapping will be used to identify the cultural domains of stress experienced by college students. Accelerometry and questionnaires will be used to quantify physical activity. Biomarker collection will be used to measure both cortisol and inflammatory profiles for each participant.
Faculty Mentors: Amanda Thompson (Lead Advisor), Anthropology and Nutrition; Margaret (Peggy) Bentley, Nutrition; Jill Stewart, Environmental Studies and Engineering
Strike Team: Don Fefjar, Elijah Watson, Kishan Patel, Nick Badhwa
Students will travel to Isabela, Galapagos, Ecuador to conduct an interdisciplinary study of food and water quality, security, and accessibility on the island. This will be done through GIS and laboratory analysis of water samples, food frequency and diet surveys, and in-depth ethnographic interviews. Results will be shared with residents at an annual research symposium in the Galapagos and create background for potential interventions.
Faculty Mentor: Keely Muscatell, Psychology and Neuroscience
Strike Team: Sophie Joseph, Rahul Mehra, Xeuyang Li, Catherine Young, Ishan Thaker
The Stress and Inflammation Research Project will examine the effects of an acute social stressor on the immune system. Thus far, the immune system has been identified as a biological pathway through which stress can affect physical and mental health; however, the characteristics that make a person’s immune system more vulnerable and/or reactive to stress remain poorly understood. To investigate this, the present study will examine how exposure to a surprise public speaking task impacts levels of inflammation in the body and how responsive our skin is to being stimulated with histamine. We will also explore individual differences (e.g., socioeconomic status, social support, anxiety, and generation is college) that may influence psychological and immune system responses to stress.
Faculty Mentor: Mehul Patel, Emergency Medicine
Strike Team: Alexandra Beja-Glasser, Hannah Asibal, Krishna Patel
Data visualizations can be used to help quickly and effectively communicate health risk information. With the use of visual aids, patients and family members can better understand potential benefits and harms of medical treatments and the inherent uncertainty in this information. Our overall research goal is to develop effective data visualization and communication of health risk information during medical emergencies.
An acute ischemic stroke is a time-sensitive emergency where a clot is lodged in an artery in the brain and blocks critical blood flow to tissue. During this time limited, high stakes medical condition, emergency care providers are ethically bound to inform patients and their families about the potential benefits and harms of treatment. Our interdisciplinary Undergraduate Research Consultant Team will describe patient and family member preferences and expectations for communicating risks of acute stroke treatment and create various data visualizations for future research of risk information communication.
Faculty Mentor: Erik Wikstrom, Exercise and Sports Science
Strike Team: Gabriella Diaz, Rima Patel, Nikhil Vytla, Caelan Eckard, Sameer Bhatti
The goal of the project is to create a durable vibration based feedback device to improve walking biomechanics in those with chronic ankle instability. This population is known to walk on the outside of their foot, which predisposes them to additional ankle sprains leading to long term pain and disability. The feedback device will detect excess pressure under the outside of the foot and provide a vibration stimulus to the lower leg to notify the user of an incorrect step and facilitate an improved foot position on the subsequent step. The research team will be responsible for improving upon the current prototype regarding its durability, efficiency, and weight, and begin developing a mobile app to interface with device and track its use.
Faculty Mentor: Jane Cooley Fruehwirth, Economics
Strike Team: Luke Hargraves, Benjamin Gorman, Susan Huynh, Sarah Parker, Brittany-Diana Wiafe
America’s colleges are struggling to respond to what is widely-perceived to be a growing mental health crisis on their campuses. This project will study determinants of anxiety and depression in first-year students at UNC-Chapel Hill both through surveys and interviews. Members of the Undergraduate Research Consultant Team (URCT) will help design the qualitative interview protocol and analyze the qualitative interview data. They will also help design, collect, and analyze the survey data. Finally, they will assist the PI and her team with writing policy briefs on findings and disseminating to key stakeholders at UNC.
Faculty Mentor: Yong Cai, Sociology
Strike Team: Abhishek Shankar, Anum Imran, Deepak Venkatasubramanian, Preeyanka Rao
Epidemiological analysis of Asian Indian linked infant birth/death certificate files in California has revealed that “although [Asian Indians were] seemingly of low sociodemographic risk,” they “had high levels of LBW [low birth weight], growth retardation, and fetal mortality” (Gould et al. 2003). Recent revisions of this study have supported this claim (Madan et al. 2006, Kurtyka et al. 2015). Socioeconomic status (SES) has been directly correlated to health by virtue of being a fundamental cause of disease and inequality, so for the highest presenting SES population to have such poor birth outcomes represents a significant anomaly, deserving of further exploration. This project seeks to conduct an updated literature review of this health trend, provide an in-depth analysis of Asian Indian birth outcomes from the most recently available CDC data set and compare any trends to other racial groups, and provide potential public policy suggestions to help reduce and amend any disparities.
Faculty Mentor: John Caldwell, Asian Studies; Donald Lauria, Environmental Science and Engineering
Strike Team: Mehal Churiwal, Lauren McCormick, Naijha Nsehti, Hannah Feinsilber, Annika Alicardi
This project aims to advance the knowledge of Indian doctors, local health workers, and others about the impact of environmental and community conditions on diarrhea levels in Bokaro, Jharkhand, India. There are several potential factors causing high diarrhea levels including pollution from the Bokaro Steel Plant, plant worker communities, and unsanitary behaviors of local residents. Research and data collection will involve working with local doctors and others to collect historical data on diarrhea cases and reviewing reports on environmental and health factors in Bokaro Steel City. Later this year, the team will conduct fieldwork within the communities. The team will analyze the data by stratifying based on demographic information and creating maps of diarrhea case locations. The results of this study will help to inform future research directions in the area.
Faculty Mentor: Alecia Septer, Marine Science
Strike Team: Hannah Wilkins, Emily Clarch, Mady Krueger, Timothy Hall, Alexander Warwick
Our lab uses the symbiosis between bioluminescent bacteria and the Hawaiian bobtail squid to understand how bacterial symbionts interact with each other as they colonize a host. Each squid harbors multiple strains of the bacterium Vibrio fischeri in a structure called a light organ. We recently published a paper showing that each animal contains a mix of lethal and non-lethal strain types that fight to compete for a limited number of host colonization sites. IDST195 students will use wild-caught squid specimens to perform a series of experimental “modules” to answer the following questions: (1) How many strain types are found in each squid? (2) What proportion of strains from each adult have the ability to kill other symbionts? The answers to these questions will inform our understanding of the ecological function and evolution of interbacterial killing and its prevalence in a natural symbiosis.
Faculty Mentor: Wayne Rosemond, Epidemiology
Strike Team: Andrew Reiter, Neil Rowan, Daniel Kim, Hannah Rayala
Cardiovascular Disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, constituting an astounding 1 in every 4 deaths nationwide. The financial burden of cardiovascular disease from the cost of healthcare services, medications, and lost productivity, reaches over $200 billion annually. Although progress has been made in diagnosis and prevention, the exact causes of abnormally high rates of morbidity remain largely unexplored. This investigation aims to fill this gap in knowledge by examining the environmental determinants of cardiovascular disease through a case-control study in North Carolina. The goals of this study are (1) to examine differences in food behaviors, diet intake, and food policies between two NC counties, (2) to construct a profile of environmental level risk factors for each county, and (3) to identify and evaluate the relative contribution of each of these factors to overall cardiovascular health risk in the region. In doing so, we hope to provide insights with the potential to inform regional health policies and prevention-based programs.
Faculty Mentor: Marissa Domino, Health Policy Management
Strike Team: Niyanta Patel, Emma Caponigro, Joanna Kuang
UNC-Chapel Hill faces a growing demand for mental health services, yet Counseling and Psychological Services remains under-resourced. The UNC Peer-Based Support Network (PBSN) aims to help non-crisis students struggling with academic, social, or transitional issues. The program empowers students to create a community in support of mental wellness. This study will follow fifty UNC-Chapel Hill students entering the support network and assess changes in their behavior. The data will also help shape PBSN trainings for facilitators, group topics, and support services offered to participants. By targeting measures of self-efficacy and social support, we hope to foster long-lasting habits towards self-care and mental health.
Faculty Mentor: Drew Coleman, Geological Sciences
Strike Team: Ava Broadway, Eli Parker, Jin Kang, Hannah Brown, Mike Viola
We will be trying to determine, via a pilot research project, the possibility of H. neandertalensis’ social structure following the theory of female dispersal, currently being proposed on suggestive evidence found at the El Sidron site located in Spain. We will be looking at male and female Sr86/87 analysis from samples taken either from 1st or 3rd molars from adult fossilized remains. This should tell us who among them are local and are not.
Faculty Mentor: Elizabeth Havice, Geography
Strike Team: Katie McMahon, Isabelle Smith, Katelyn Cline, Florence Brooks, Alexis Tammi, Leslie Alanis
Our team will assess sustainability goals for UNC’s food system, and identify third party standards that will help UNC to meet goals. Carolina Dining Services (CDS) has been using a third party certification called the ‘Real Food Challenge’ (RFC) to guide its sustainability practices, but is identifying limitations of the current system and considering alternatives. To inform this process and help ensure that the UNC food system is sustainable and supports local rural economies in the state, our research team will:
- Conduct interviews with stakeholder groups at UNC and in the broader community
- Review of how peer-institutions are defining and addressing sustainability concerns in their dining systems
- Organize a day-long symposium to develop a dialog among experts to inform UNC’s ongoing planning on food systems sustainability
- Develop a final report and poster to share with stakeholder and at the Annual Celebration of Undergraduate Research.
Faculty Mentor: Claudio Battaglini, Exercise and Sports Science
Strike Team: Jordan Kirby, Valerie Nguyen, Kaitlyn Nichole Barham, Michael Byrd
Our URCT project involves the inauguration of a new exercise oncology research program at the Catholic University of Brasilia in Brazil. This project is a continuation of Dr. Battaglini’s Get Real and HEEL Breast Cancer rehabilitation program. This program uses exercise interventions to improve the quality of life of breast cancer patients before, during, and after their treatment. While this is a well-established and effective program at Chapel Hill, our team will be assisting our Brasilian partners in creating a new exercise oncology program at their university. The purpose of our team is to conduct the initial research to evaluate the effectiveness of the exercise intervention on the program’s first participants.
Faculty Mentor: Geoffrey Bell, Environmental, Ecology, & Energy
Strike Team: Emi Mcgeady, Felix Evans, Lennon Kuhl-Chimera
This project blends undergraduates in environmental science, communications, and engineering for an interdisciplinary exploration of how drones can be used for environmental conservation. We will collect aerial imagery of Chapel Hill forests with a DJI Phantom-4 drone to produce high resolution maps and 3D models of forest structure. We will pair these remote sensing data with traditional forest surveys, which provide the actual structural attributes of these sites and will ground truth the drone data. Communications undergraduates will participate in the research to gain an in-depth view of how science works and appreciate the value of drones in conservation to produce an outreach video about this project and how drones help solve environmental problems. Lastly, engineering students will design and build a drone mount for a 360° camera for producing virtual reality videos of our sites and research activities that will be used for teaching in conservation courses at UNC.
Faculty Mentor: Daniel M. Cobb, American Studies
Strike Team: Mackenzie Collura-Repp, Samara Perez Labra, Gabrielle Walton, Lauren Grace Yannotta
Drawing on innovative methodologies, neglected sources, cutting edge scholarship, and traditional and digital means of communication, “Born in the Opposition: The Experiential World of D’Arey McNickle” reimagines the remarkable life of D’Arcy McNickle (1904-1977), one of the most important Native writers, intellectuals, and political figures of the twentieth century. Four undergraduate students will collaborate with the faculty advisor to complete a transcription of McNickle’s handwritten diary during the spring 2020 semester. This will be followed by a week of research during the summer of 2020 in one of three locations chosen by the team. The research will be used to contextual a portion of the diary the team selects and contribute to the construction of a digital representation of that portion of the diary during the fall 2020 semester. The team will also have the opportunity to co-author with the faculty advisor an essay for submission to a peer-reviewed journal.
Faculty Mentor: Shauna Cooper, Psychology and Neuroscience
Strike Team: Anabelle Maya, Alexandia Organ, Jaxmine Bunch
Racial and economic inequities continue to impact the health and well-being of women and girls in North Carolina and across the nation (NC Child Health Report Card, 2018). Much of the existing information has centered on implications for women’s (adult) health outcomes and not fully understood impacts during the early lifespan (childhood; adolescence). An important area of focus is identifying critical areas of inequity that impact girls’ health outcomes, with a developmental focus. Further, understanding how girls begin to make sense of health assets, resources, and barriers within their communities is an opportunity to highlight assets and areas of resilience. Utilizing a community-based participatory framework, this research will identify health assets and barriers that shape well-being among girls and women in the city and county of Durham.
Faculty Mentor: Robert Maile and Shannon Wallet, Surgery/Dentistry
Strike Team: Bharath Biyyala, Delane Dixon, Kalyani Manian, Robin Ni, Parsa Pazooki
Patients with severe burn injury experience an acute systemic immune dysfunction. This results in increased susceptibility to potentially devastating hospital-acquired infections. Females affected by burn injury have significantly higher inpatient mortality rates than male counterparts. The function of many cells involved in early responses to burn injury, including barrier and immune cells, are influenced by estrogen-induced signaling. Therefore, we hypothesize that estrogen signaling contributes to sex differences in physiological responses and outcomes after burn injury. In the Spring of 2020, the Burn Lab Undergraduate Research Team (URCT) will address this hypothesis through a series of experiments designed to uncover how estrogen affects the ability of epithelial cells, the body’s primary barrier cells, to respond to and recover from injury.
Faculty Mentor: Noreen MacDonald, City & Regional Planning
Strike Team: Caroline Le, Daniel Bonomo, Meredith Chambers, Grayson Hinnant, Maria Rita Furtado
This project will analyze the health impacts of Barcelona’s Superblock urban planning model. The Superblock model describes the redesigning of a city in which one in which approximately nine city blocks are converted into a Superblock. In this model, only residential traffic is permitted within the superblock, with all through traffic and public transit being routed around the area. Through this design, city blocks become more pedestrian-oriented. Our project examines the effects of the Superblock model on environmental factors that are known to affect residents’ health, such as levels of air, noise, and heat pollution, traffic congestion, and the incidence of automobile accidents. Additionally, this project examines residents’ attitudes and acceptance towards the Superblock model in order to determine if the model has become an accepted part of Barcelona’s social fabric.
Faculty Mentor: Cori Dauber and Mark Robinson, Communications
Strike Team: Dominick Antonietti, Mary Bennett Doty, Christina Oh, Amanda Sin, Sofia Triana
There is an extensive literature on the propaganda produced by violent extremist groups. But this material is studied because of the assumption it contributes to radicalization, (ultimately to acts of violence). But much of the research studies the propaganda in isolation from understanding who, if anyone, actually looked at it. We will start there. In conjunction with the FBI Behavioral Assessment Unit we are developing a data set of the videos in possession of those arrested for acts of terrorism in the US: we will then analyze those videos. On the white supremacist side this is more difficult: there is no federal law for “domestic terrorism,” but a patchwork of federal and state laws. Working with an alumnus currently at the US Department of Justice we will develop that data set, (doing that will be a major contribution), then develop an understanding of the materials they were exposed to.