Eight students participate in NSF research program

Eight Western Carolina University students are participating in the Research Experiences for Undergraduates program this summer.

The program is funded and sponsored by the National Science Foundation and takes place at REU sites across the country. All the students are associated with specific research projects in which they work closely with faculty and other researchers.

“Some of the most powerful elements of a WCU education are the opportunities we provide for our students to think critically, to solve complex problems, and to apply and synthesize their learning,” said Carol Burton, WCU associate provost for undergraduate students. “The Research Experiences for Undergraduates program affords students a formal, nationally recognized mechanism to hone their research skills by helping them to develop probing questions, identify hypotheses and create new solutions.

“A practice with a strong impact on the learner, undergraduate research is a steeple of excellence in the makeup of many WCU degree programs, and we will continue to support students and faculty as they engage in the form of experiential learning. We are delighted that we have such a strong cohort of students who are participating in an REU this summer,” Burton said.

Jacob Spurling, a senior electrical engineering major from Boiling Springs, recently began his 10-week REU at Clemson University where he is working with Goutam Kouley, professor of electrical and computer engineering, on research projects related to compound semiconductor materials and devices. Spurling is researching the use of nanosensors for volatile organic compound detection. He currently is collaborating with an undergraduate student from Clemson to design a circuit from scratch that will measure changes in current from a sensor as it increases or decreases the voltage that is applied to the sensor. His REU also will include a variety of workshops aimed at improving his writing, oral communication and professionalism. Spurling will have to write a technical paper based on his research, as well as make a poster and present his research at the end of the program.

Kyle Corcoran, a senior geology major from Lake Toxaway, will be conducting research in Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire where he will be part of a group of four REU students focusing on hydrology. They will work on a project in two Hubbard Brook watersheds, mapping stream networks classified by the geomorphology and biological characteristics present in each stream. Then, Corcoran will conduct an individual project that will be used as his senior thesis at WCU. It will compare dissolved organic carbon variations in headwater streams and their sources at Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest and WCU’s research watershed, Upper Long Branch.

Other WCU students participating in the REU program are:

Nancy Wiebelhaus, a senior chemistry major from Hickory, will be at Florida International University where her research will expose her to interdisciplinary research in the chemistry of sensing, monitoring and detection.

Alma Plaza-Rodriguez, a junior chemistry major from Bunnlevel, will be at Purdue University receiving advanced training in the manipulation and analysis of proteins that will facilitate a deeper understanding of experimental lab research, insights into protein biochemistry and contemplation of the broader context of research.

Elizabeth Erwin, a junior geology major from Canton, is going to Virginia Tech where she will be working with Vinod Lohani, an engineering professor, and Randel Dymond, a professor of environmental and water resources engineering, to establish a relationship between phosphorous and nitrogen levels in an urban watershed with specific conductivity.

Adam Gropp, a senior double major in electrical engineering and math from Enka, is involved in research at Johns Hopkins University where he is part of team looking to develop a model for the brain that will both process information in real time and is re-configurable. His project is led by Ralph Etienne-Cummings, a professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering.

Joseph Michael Lee, a senior chemistry major from Marion, is involved in research at the University of South Florida. His project, led by Randy Larsen, chemistry chair and professor at USF, involves understanding the fundamentals and the potential biomedical properties of photo-sensitive complexes while they are encapsulated in metal organic frames.

Laney Browder, a junior chemistry major from Wilkesboro, is doing research at the University of Tennessee. Browder is working with Michael D. Best, associate professor of chemistry and life sciences, studying the functions of lipid cells using probes that are activated by click-chemistry.

“Undergraduate research opportunities like the National Science Foundation’s REU program present terrific educational experiences for our students,” said Brandon Schwab, WCU associate provost for academic affairs. “I can attest to how meaningful it is to work alongside faculty performing true research and attribute a large part of my career path to my own undergraduate research experience. The REU program also is incredibly competitive and the fact we have eight students selected this year speaks volumes to the high caliber of WCU students and the preparation and support that our faculty provide them.”

For more information on the Research Experiences for Undergraduates program, visit http://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm.