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Gloved hands performing a dissection of an insect in a lab

Undergraduate research: SURE making a difference

By Cari Longman

Over 11 weeks in 2022, 40 College of Science students worked with faculty mentors to design their own experiments, learn to use new lab equipment, get out in the field and draft papers for publication. In short, they got to be full-time research scientists.

These students did all this through the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience, or SURE Science program, which provides 11 weeks of paid research to College of Science students.

“This scholarship means that I will be able to graduate debt free, work in a place I love and gain experience in my field.”

The many opportunities to participate in research as an undergraduate is what sets Oregon State University apart. Half of the students in the College of Science choose to work in research labs across the university during the school year. The SURE Science program provides the unique opportunity to get paid to participate in full-time research in any lab on campus.

“This scholarship is an opportunity for me to pursue what I am passionate about,” said Caroline Rice, integrative biology major focusing on marine biology. Working with her faculty mentor Sarah Gravem, Cross’s project focused on means of reducing sea urchin populations to help restore kelp forests. “Ocean conservation has always been something that I am passionate about, so having the opportunity to gain hands-on experience related to a conservation project and to work with the researchers leading the effort has been inspiring. I am very thankful to have the support of this program so that I can gain the experience and skills that will allow me to pursue a career in research.”

“I enjoyed writing my own protocol and conducting my own experiment with little oversight.”

Several SURE Science participants explored topics in new areas of science. Biochemistry and molecular biology major Abigail Pung worked with faculty mentor Ryan Mehl to use genetic code expansion to explore the optimization of protein production. A fusion of synthetic and chemical biology, GCE enables researchers to modify the genetic code of an organism so it can produce designer proteins that have built into them one or a few special building blocks which contain novel chemical groups. 

Oregon State has gained a reputation over the last decade as a world leader in improving GCE technologies, and in 2021, received funding from the National Institutes of Health to establish the world’s first genetic code expansion center, called GCE4All. “It is inspiring to be involved in something so new and powerful. It is incredible that people have found a way to unlock the potential of unnatural amino acids and I'm excited to play a part in that.”

Kavi Vaidya, Honors biochemistry and molecular biology major, spent his summer exploring a new technology to help automate mammal cell preparation to allow for more cell sample processing. “The technology I am getting the opportunity to work with has the chance to change the way we study cell-type specific diseases, such as neurodegenerative diseases, and I am excited to get to be a part of its development.”

For other participants, their passion to improve the health and well-being of people and the planet drove their research projects.

"Getting the opportunity to do research that has never been done before and helps to contribute to the search for better treatments is a very exciting and inspiring experience."

Becca Bingham (Honors biochemistry and molecular biology) spent her summer exploring a potential new therapeutic target for Glioblastoma, the most common and deadly type of brain cancer. “Both of my grandmothers died of cancer, and it is such a notorious and frequent killer in today's society,” she said. “Getting the opportunity to do research that has never been done before and helps to contribute to the search for better treatments is a very exciting and inspiring experience.” A transfer student, Bingham chose Oregon State University specifically for the abundant research opportunities available to undergraduate students.

Most of all, the SURE Science program provides students the opportunity to work independently, learn new skills and gain in confidence as scientists.

For integrative biology major Spencer Loring, the entire process of developing his project was a worthwhile experience. “Working with my mentor on the brainstorming of the experiment, writing the proposal, making an experimental procedure, then actually performing data collection and eventually translating it into results and a conclusion. I'm just really excited to have the opportunity to perform my own research project that I will eventually present on and may even get significant results that can be used by fellow scientists in the future.”

Honors microbiology major Aaron Maves also appreciated the independence he was granted in this project. “I enjoyed writing my own protocol and conducting my own experiment with little oversight.”

SURE Science awards are made possible by generous donations from College of Science alumni, faculty and friends. For many students, SURE Science relieves the burden of needing to get a job over the summer. “This scholarship means that I will be able to graduate debt free, work in a place I love and gain experience in my field,” said chemistry major Timothy Walz.

2022 SURE Science Scholars

Ramzy Al-Mulla, Biochemistry and Biophysics

Electrophysiological Characterization of Amygdalae in Osteoarthritic Mice  
Mentored by Heidi Kloefkorn

Sullivan Bailey-Darland, Physics      

A Dynamic Network Model of Spoken-Word Recognition    
Mentored by Kevin Brown    

Rebecca Bingham, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Investigating the role of nitrated Hsp90 in glioblastoma multiforme migration   
Mentored by Maria Franco   

Katrina Brown, Chemistry

Identification and Evaluation of highly polar contaminants in surface waters from the Portland Harbor Superfund Site (PHSS)  
Mentored by Manuel Garcia-Jaramillo 

Evan DuVivier, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology 

Role of Cathelicidin Gene Expression in Alzheimer's Development   
Mentored by Adrian Gombart       

Mathew Frischman, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Determining Expression of Neuronal N-Methyl-D-Aspartate Receptor proteins in 5xFAD Alzheimer’s Disease Model Mice    
Mentored by Kathy Magnusson

Jenna Gaston, Biochemistry and Biophysics

Impact of the Gut-Brain Axis in a Model of Autism Spectrum Disorder    
Mentored by Kenton Hokanson     

Aleen Golla, BioHealth Sciences

Characterization of phages toward creation of probiotic-like preparations against Johne's disease  
Mentored by Lia Danelishvili         

Khushi Gupta, BioHealth Sciences

COVID-19 Anti-Viral Drug Design & Optimization     
Mentored by Manoj Pastey

Elena Hart, Biology

Phytoplankton abundance and California mussel reproduction       
Mentored by Sarah Gravem

Minh Triet Ho, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Phylogenetic analysis of Bodhi tree samples from biodiversity network iNaturalist
Mentored by Dee Denver

Johan Huurman, Physics

Electronegativity of organic molecules         
Mentored by (Paul) Ha-Yeon Cheong

Kaitlyn Kim, Biochemistry Biophysics

Early changes in physiology, activit, and memory of 5xFAD mice using non-invasive cage technology      
Mentored by Kathy Magnusson

Finn Lawless, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

The role of antiactivators in quorum sensing of pathogenic bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa    
Mentored by Martin Schuster

Michelle Le, BioHealth Sciences

Can alternative methods of pasteurization of donor milk improve lipid absorption and growth in preterm infants compared with Holder pasteurization?          
Mentored by David Dallas

Auria Lee, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Impact of novel pseudo-sugar on secondary metabolite production      
Mentored by Taifo Mahmud      

Jacob Lessard, Chemistry

Deuteration of drug molecules using metal-organic framework photocatalysts   
Mentored by Kyriakos Stylianou     

Spencer Loring, Biology

Identification of calanus species through genetic testing     
Mentored by Felipe Barreto

Aaron Maves, Biology 

Potential benefits of phage-driven immune responses against Mycobacterium abscessus infection          
Mentored by Lia Danelishvili

Ebunoluwa Morakinyo, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Analyzing the role of gene expression regulator CTIP1 and vitamin D signaling on skin wound healing     
Mentored by Gitali Indra

Matthew Nguyen, Chemistry

Water harvesting using a metal-organic framework possessing open metal sites
Mentored by Kyriakos Stylianou     

Julia Pavlosek, BioHealth Sciences

Effectiveness and scalability of a home health navigator program to reduce environmental hazards    
Mentored by Veronica Irvin        

Annalee Pelayo-Ortega, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Improving gene targeting by gene deletion of double-stranded DNA repair
Mentored by Michael Freitag

Abigail Pung, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Tetrazine-linked protein optimization via Tet-MbRS enzyme alteration      
Mentored by Ryan Mehl 

Lydia Pung, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Structure and assembly of YAP regulatory complex in hippo signaling        
Mentored by Afua Nyarko

Rachel Pung, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Exploring the benefits of alternative pasteurization techniques to maintain bioactive proteins for premature infants’ health
Mentored by David Dallas

Rebekka Purcell, Biochemistry Biophysics

Exploration of electrophysiological properties of immortalized hypothalamic kisspeptin neurons in vitro 
Mentored by Patrick Chappell

Caroline Rice, Biology

Restoring kelp forests via experimental urchin culling methods    
Mentored by Sarah Gravem   

Ai Ana Richmond, Zoology

The impact of inclement weather on the foraging behavior of red crossbills (Loxia curvirostra)       
Mentored by Jaime Cornelius

Jake Roetcisoender, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

PCR-based sequencing of Chlamydia trachomatis strains using non-viable clinical samples           
Mentored by Daniel Rockey

Brenna Rothman, Biology

Evaluating the return of Pycnopodia helianthoides in Holmes Harbor, Washington to inform species recovery strategies
Mentored by Sarah Gravem

Alexis Schwartz, Biochemistry and Biophysics

Studying the electrophysiology of malignant U87 glioblastoma cancer cells        
Mentored by Kenton Hokanson    

Gabriella Sewell, Biology

Effects of stream intermittency on macroinvertebrates and steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) in central Oregon 
Mentored by Matt Orr

Kavi Vaidya, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Qualitative and quantitative comparison of mass spectrometry-based proteomic profiles of samples generated by manual and automated bulk cell dispensing    
Mentored by Claudia Maier

Anusha Vasudevan, BioHealth Sciences

Investigating the interplay of aging, zinc status, and the gut microbiome on gut health    
Mentored by Emily Ho

Timothy Walz, Chemistry

Hydrogen sulfide adsorption in amino-functionalized metal-organic frameworks  
Mentored by Kyriakos Stylianou   

Michelle Wambui, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Understanding the mechanisms of phage-mycobacteria interaction           
Mentored by Lia Danelishvili

Jasmine Weaver, Biology

Measuring allele proportion in hybrid cross of Tigriopus californicus after heat stress exposure    
Mentored by Felipe Barreto

Alice Welch, Biology

Development of foraging behavior in red crossbills  
Mentored by Jamie Cornelius

Owen Williamson, Physics

Engineering a kinesin-14 motor protein        
Mentored by Weihong Qiu