Overview of conference space during one of the poster sessions at Miami University's 25th Annual Undergraduate Research Forum.

26th Annual Undergraduate Research Forum to be held online

In response to Governor DeWine’s stay-at-home order — and to protect the health of all members of our community — Miami University’s 26th Annual Undergraduate Research Forum will be held online via Webex on April 29.

As with the in-person event, the online event will feature both oral and poster sessions. The 10-minute oral presentations will be held at 9:00am, 10:30am, 1:30pm, and 3:00pm. Each poster session, at 9:30am, 1:30pm, and 3:15pm, respectively, will be divided into five concurrent clusters, with up to 20 posters per cluster. Students presenting posters will each have five minutes to explain their projects. Faculty members have volunteered to moderate all sessions.

In place of the traditional luncheon, there will be a plenary session from 12:15pm to 1:00pm, during which the president and provost are expected to make remarks. The LAURE Award will also be announced during this time.

The Office of Research for Undergraduates (ORU) is partnering with Career Services and University Libraries to provide workshops to prepare the 584 student contributors for presenting their research effectively in the new format. We are also working with presenters to ensure that the online Forum will be accessible to attendees who use assistive technology.

Visit the event website for more information.

Edited 04/27/2020 to provide a link to the event website.

Edited 04/15/2020 to update poster session times.

Photo by Scott Kissell, Miami University Photo Services.

A current and prospective student hold programs from Miamis 25th Annual Undergraduate Research Forum

ORU requests undergrad researchers and their mentors to greet Make It Miami visitors

An undergraduate researcher talks to an accepted student and his mother.

The Office of Research for Undergraduates (ORU) is a stop on the Make It Miami tour for accepted students.

We would love to have undergraduate researchers and graduate student and faculty mentors stop by and chat with accepted students and their parents who will be on campus for Make it Miami events. These events are on Fridays (and some Mondays), from 2:00 to 3:30pm. Come to one or many, but please sign up so we know to expect you.

What: ORU Spring Open House Dates for Make-It-Miami Visitors

Where: King Library AIS Room 134 [2-3:30 pm]

Feb 21 (Fri)
Feb 28 (Mon)
Mar 6 (Fri)
Mar 13 (Fri)
Apr 3 (Fri)
Apr 6 (Mon)
Apr 10 (Fri)
Apr 17 (Mon)

Bring a poster that was presented at the Undergraduate Research Forum. Faculty are invited too.

Last week’s session saw a steady flow of visitors, and our students have been doing a great job. Let us collectively showcase undergraduate research at Miami!

Written by Joyce Fernandes, Director of Undergraduate Research, Office of Research for Undergraduates, Miami University.

Photos by Joyce Fernandes.

Student Selina Davis works on a drawing while her faculty sponsor, Associate Professor of Art Joomi Chung, looks on.

Undergraduate Research Award (URA) applications due March 2

Miami’s Office of Research for Undergraduates provides funding for undergraduate research, like that done by Isabel Held (left) under the mentorship of associate professor of psychology Jennifer Quinn (right).

For over three decades, the Miami University Senate has sponsored the URA to provide Miami undergraduates with a faculty-mentored experience in developing grant applications. The goal of these partnerships is to encourage discovery and stimulate creative activity.

Students with any major can apply for these awards, as long as they have an existing research experience with a faculty mentor. Both individual and team projects are eligible. In 2018-2019, 26 of 49 URAs went to student teams.

Typical awards range from $150 to $500, but individual projects of exceptional merit or projects involving student teams may receive up to $1,000. A faculty sponsor must certify that an individual or team project is worth doing, has educational value to the student(s) and can be accomplished in the proposed time frame. The aim and result of proposed projects may be modest as long as the work can reasonably be interpreted as research or a creative endeavor.

Applications for Fall 2020 projects are due March 2, 2020.  Full program guidelines and application instructions are available here.

Updated February 11 to correct deadline in headline. The original headline listed a deadline of October 14. The correct deadline for projects for Fall 2020 is March 2.

Photo of Isabel Held and Associate Professor Jennifer Quinn by Scott Kissell, Miami University Photo Services. Photo of Selina Davis and Associate Professor Joomi Chung by Ricardo Trevino, Miami University Photo Services.

Portrait of Andrew Jones

Miami researchers discover process to sustainably produce psilocybin — a drug candidate that could help treat depression

Alexandra Adams working in the Jones Lab.
Junior Alexandra (Lexie) Adams is the lead author in a published article of the Jones Lab’s findings in a scientific journal.

A team of undergraduate students author published article

Andrew Jones at Miami University and his team of students may have developed a research first.

Through metabolic engineering, they discovered a way to sustainably produce a promising drug candidate to help patients with treatment-resistant depression.

Their findings, titled “In vivo production of psilocybin in E. coli,” are published in the journal Metabolic Engineering.

Psilocybin is now in clinical trials, and medical professionals see promising results for its use in treating addiction, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder in humans.

Jones, assistant professor in Miami’s Department of Chemical, Paper, and Biomedical Engineering, believed he could come up with a process using genetically engineered bacteria to produce the drug candidate.

The chemical, psilocybin, is naturally found in a specific mushroom, Psilocybe cubensis. Jones said to mass produce psilocybin from its natural mushroom host would require extensive real estate and time. Currently, alternative synthetic chemical production methods are used but are very expensive. Jones, the principal investigator of this research, wanted a solution that maintains biological integrity and reduces production costs.

Finding an optimal organic host

Through metabolic engineering, which finds ways to increase a cell’s ability to produce a compound of interest, his team of students developed a series of experiments to identify optimal psilocybin production conditions. The recently published article describes their work to optimize the production of psilocybin in the Escherichia coli bacteria. The team is using a well-known E. coli strain that is engineered for safe lab production.

“We are taking the DNA from the mushroom that encodes its ability to make this product and putting it in E. coli,” he said. “It’s similar to the way you make beer, through a fermentation process. We are effectively taking the technology that allows for scale and speed of production and applying it to our psilocybin-producing E. coli.”

Their end result is a significant step toward demonstrating the feasibility of producing this drug economically from a biological source.

“What’s exciting is the speed at which we were able to achieve our high production. Over the course of this study we improved production from only a few milligrams per liter to over a gram per liter, a near 500-fold increase,” Jones said.

He gives much credit and praise to his students who designed many of the experiments performed during the 18-month-long study.

“A big part of my job is training undergraduates to do this work. The basic idea was mine, but much of the experimental design fell on the students. Early on, I would help guide them in the experimental design process. Toward the end, they were becoming more independent. That’s the type of student we want as they near graduation,” Jones said.

Learning to run laboratory experiments

Lead author Alexandra (Lexie) Adams, a junior chemical engineering major, became a member of the research team her freshman year, just as the Jones Lab was getting started. Patient and meticulous, Jones worked with the admittedly nervous Adams on the basics of laboratory research. It paid off.

The initial work was done in the summer of 2018 as Adams and another undergraduate student co-author, Nicholas Kaplan, took part in Miami’s Undergraduate Summer Scholars Program. The program provides funding to students for undergraduate research.

Both students, working on separate studies, learned the ins and outs of research, gaining confidence and learning lessons as the summer progressed.

Kaplan, a junior chemical engineering major, studied the feasibility of cyanobacteria as another potential metabolic engineering host. His findings showed mixed results, and it was decided that the lab team would focus on Adams’ psilocybin in E. coli project.

Celebrating a research breakthrough

Adams remembers when they saw the breakthrough in their research. Their goal was to transfer the DNA from the mushroom and see activity in the E. coli host.

“Once we transferred the DNA, we saw [a tiny] peak emerge in our data. We knew we had done something huge,” she said.

Other members of the team included graduate Zhangyue ‘Tom’ Wei (Miami ’19), graduate John ‘Jack’ Brinton (BS Miami ’17, MS Miami ’19), junior Chantal Monnier, senior Alexis Enacopol, and staff member Theresa Ramelot, instrumentation specialist.

Both Adams and Kaplan continue to work with Jones. The students are leading projects that build on the recent success of the psilocybin work. Each of them is starting to pass down what they have learned in the lab by mentoring new undergraduate students who join the Jones Lab.

“It’s important for [the new students] to understand the big picture so they see the reasons for the different steps of the experiments,” Kaplan said.

Jones is pursuing the next phase of this research by studying ways to make the E. coli bacteria a better host — the next step toward enabling sustainable production at levels required by the pharmaceutical industry.

Written by Carole Johnson, Miami University News and Communications. Originally appeared as a “Top Story” on  Miami University’s News and Events website.

Photos by Miami University Photo Services.

An undergraduate student researcher discusses his poster with an Undergraduate Research Forum attendee.

Save the date: 26th Annual Undergraduate Research Forum

An undergraduate student researcher discusses her work with attendees at the 25th Annual Undergraduate Research Forum

Miami University’s 26th Annual Undergraduate Research Forum will be held Wednesday, April 22, 2020. This showcase of faculty-mentored student research and scholarly and creative activities by Miami undergraduate students will feature poster sessions and 10-minute talks. The Miami University community and the public are encouraged to save the date for this free event.

Registration for undergraduate student presenters opens Monday, January 27, 2020 and remains available through Friday, March 6.

Photos by Miami University Photo Services.

Kevin Ruiz works with equipment in the lab of Andrea Kravats

NSF-funded program gives students from around the country access to Miami faculty and state-of-the-art resources

Miami sophomore zoology major Ty Cooley searches for amphibians at Shaker Trace Wetlands in Harrison, Ohio.

They ventured from Iowa, North Carolina, Puerto Rico and other communities to study at Miami University during the summer as part of the NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. Miami students also are eligible to apply to the program. Some undergraduate researchers came to take advantage of equipment and resources that might not be available at their universities. Others came to be mentored by a specific faculty member. They all gained valuable research experiences, connections and the thrill of scientific adventure.

Here are a few of their stories.

Laser mystique

Samir Bali looks back fondly to 2006 when his baby, of sorts, was born. You won’t find arms, legs or even a stray hair on Penelope. Think more twisting wires, camera lenses and laser beams.

Despite the seemingly breakneck speed of technological advancement, current methods of measuring turbid (opaque) substances’ properties are not foolproof. With the help of his dad, Bali, a physics professor at Miami, built and refined a laser-based sensor to solve this problem.

“I was introduced to a physics research lab at the age of 19, and I’ll never forget the sights and sounds when I first walked in — the green, red and orange colors of the lasers, the quiet humming of the vacuum pumps. I remember feeling this powerful sense of intrigue. I enjoy recreating those moments for myself by reliving them with my undergraduate researchers.

— Samir Bali

A prototype like this doesn’t come with an instruction manual.

Before visiting undergraduates Menaka Kumar, from North Carolina State University, and Sydney Rollins, from Whitman College in Washington, could begin investigating turbid media, they first needed to understand how the device works and develop a standard process for using it.

“She [the sensor] was kind of making us mad. We gave her a name so we could call her something,” said Rollins.

Penelope, they quickly realized, requires extensive cleaning. Even the smallest speck of dust skews the results.

After weeks of testing, Kumar and Rollins hoped to turn their attention to melamine – a compound that is virtually indistinguishable from milk when diluted in water. It’s used to produce glues, adhesives and other plastics.

In 2008, melamine was discovered in a Chinese company’s infant milk. Melamine artificially inflates the protein content of a substance and has nearly the same particle size as milk, making it hard to detect. Infants across China who consumed the melamine-contaminated milk developed bladder stones, and several died. The scandal shocked the world and pointed to a need for better contamination detection methods.

“Chemical detection methods are very targeted,” Bali explained, “but you need to know what you’re looking for.”

As with many opaque substances, it’s challenging to determine the properties of liquid melamine. Penelope, they hope, can shine light on this substance to prevent future contamination.

Chemical change

REU student Echo DeVries, a senior at Clarke University in Iowa, was mentored by Hang Ren, Miami assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry this summer. Their project: measuring the distribution of surface charge on electrodes.

An electrode conducts electricity and allows reactions to occur on its surface when electricity is applied. These electrodes play a key role in electrocatalysis, the process of using electricity to drive chemical reactions. For example, an electrode can be used to convert water to hydrogen fuel. Hydrogen is a clean fuel, which produces no CO2 emissions – the same fuel NASA uses to launch rockets. However, the generation of hydrogen on the electrode surface is not uniform. Hot spots exist that efficiently catalyze this reaction.

That’s where Ren and DeVries’ research comes in.

Different electrode surface charges could cause electrochemical reactions to behave differently. That’s why Ren and DeVries analyzed electrodes’ properties and surface charges.

Down the hall from Ren’s lab, Kevin Ruiz, an REU student from the University of Puerto Rico, explored a different area of chemistry research. Alongside his mentor Andrea Kravats, Miami assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and graduate student Yaa Amankwah, Ruiz studied molecular chaperones, which are proteins that assist in maintaining cellular integrity by folding and unfolding proteins that are misfolded. Incorrect folding of proteins has been linked to degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer and Type 2 diabetes. Kravats hopes her lab’s work can one day be used to establish new cancer treatments or therapies.

“ Students are eager to learn and tend to get involved early in their undergraduate careers here, giving them an excellent opportunity to excel in their studies.

— Andrea Kravats

At the University of Puerto Rico, Ruiz is a chemical engineering major, but his goal is to become a biochemical engineer. His summer at Miami provided an opportunity to dig into research he’s excited about.

“I already work with protein purification in Puerto Rico, but not the background of why the protein purifies, how it purifies, how we can separate proteins from others. It has been a really good experience,” he said.

Wetland wonders

Ty Cooley, a Miami University sophomore zoology major, hunched eagerly over a bucket filled with pond water from Shaker Trace Wetlands in Harrison, Ohio, about 20 miles southwest of Oxford. Cooley, originally from New York, gently swirled the bucket’s contents, revealing a host of creatures swimming beneath the algae: mayflies, water mites, water boatmen, glass worms, water scorpions. His eyes lit up as he dug deeper into the bucket and pulled out a large dragonfly larva.

“You see this?” he said, pointing near the arm. “This is where the mouth is located. Let me see if I can get him to- Whoa!” The dragonfly suddenly expanded and thrust an arm-like tongue outward.

Cooley maintained his grip.

“They will shoot out like that, grab stuff, and pull it in. It’s like an alien!”

He’s been bitten by water scorpions. Poked by dragonfly larva. Burned in the scorching July sun. Such is the life of a field researcher, but it is, without question, one chosen gleefully.

Cooley and his mentor, graduate student Jess McQuigg from Mount Vernon, Ohio, are both researchers in biology associate professor Michelle Boone’s amphibian lab. This summer they studied different types of macroinvertebrates in 21 different wetland systems around Hamilton, Butler and Preble counties. Macroinvertebrates are visible to the naked eye but lack a spine. As part of the lab’s larger project, they wanted to see how certain macroinvertebrates affect the density of a pathogen called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd or amphibian chytrid fungus for short) in a given wetland.

Bd is responsible for a significant number of amphibian declines and extinctions, and many sources call it the most devastating pathogen in wildlife history. According to research in Boone’s lab, this pathogen exists in about 30% of wetlands in southwest Ohio.

But the team is optimistic that they’ll discover a method for controlling the pathogen. One of the lab’s big goals is to understand how wetlands can be created that are more naturally resistant to Bd.

As the weather turns colder, Cooley and McQuigg will be back in the lab performing DNA analysis to determine the locations and quantities of the pathogen – what McQuigg refers to as their “fall and winter sport.”

Written by Alicia Auhagen, Miami University Marketing and Creative Services. Originally appeared as a “Top Story” on  Miami University’s News and Events website.

Photos by Jeff Sabo, Miami University Photo Services.

Two student researchers hold a piece of scientific equipment partially submerged in a large pool of water at Miami Univesity's Ecology Research Center. The part of the equipment that is underwater can be seen in the bottom of the frame. At the top of the frame, a net that covers the pool is propped up so that the researchers can access the pool.

Organization focuses on undergraduate research

CUR logo with text announcing Miami University's Enhanced Institutional Membership. Text: CUR. Miami University is an enhanced institutional member of the Council on Undergraduate Research. Learning Through Research.

The Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) focuses on providing and enhancing undergraduate research opportunities for both faculty and students. CUR is one of the few professional organizations that focuses on all areas of academic research, including the arts and humanities, biology, chemistry, geosciences, health sciences, mathematics and computer science, physics and astronomy, psychology and social sciences. This allows for high-quality collaboration between undergraduate students and faculty, regardless of discipline.

CUR exists to support undergraduate research by providing networking opportunities and other resources to faculty. Broadly defined, undergraduate research is an inquiry or investigation conducted by an undergraduate student that makes an original intellectual or creative contribution to the discipline. By including undergraduates in their research projects, faculty members develop professionally while also serving the academic community.

Miami University values and supports CUR’s mission through its enhanced institutional membership, which covers all Miami affiliates’ membership costs.

Membership offers the following benefits to faculty:

Academic service

  • By writing articles for CUR publications and listservs, faculty members can share their ideas via these media and can gather new ideas by reading colleagues’ articles.
  • Faculty members can also contribute to Miami’s strong reputation with undergraduate research. By joining the CUR, faculty members are declaring their involvement with such programs.

Faculty development

  • CUR offers a chance to interact and connect with other professionals interested in advancing undergraduate research.
  • Through CUR publications and outreach activities, faculty share successful models and strategies, adapting ideas to their own research processes.
  • Faculty members can build their professional skills by attending a CUR conference, which gives them the opportunity to actively engage with other faculty and discuss issues relevant to undergraduate research.

Improved opportunities and environment

  • CUR’s mentor network is beneficial to faculty members who are interested in initiating or sustaining undergraduate research programs.
  • Through its consulting services, CUR assists colleges and universities in a range of activities, including assessing undergraduate research programs, designing fundraising programs and organizing faculty retreats with guest speakers.
  • Funding opportunities and fellowships are provided to undergrads through the CUR website.

Miami affiliates can join CUR for free

Simply follow these steps:

  • Visit cur.org.
  • Click the Join CUR link.
  • Click on Individual Membership.
  • Fill in your personal information.
  • Choose Miami University (OH) as your institution.
  • Click OK in the pop-up window confirming Miami’s enhanced institutional membership; this makes your individual membership free.

For more information about CUR, contact Martha Weber, Miami’s CUR liaison (513-529-1775).

Photo by Jeff Sabo, Miami University Photo Services.

Student Selina Davis works on a drawing while her faculty sponsor, Associate Professor of Art Joomi Chung, looks on.

Undergraduate Research Award (URA) applications due October 14

Miami’s Office of Research for Undergraduates provides funding for undergraduate research, like that done by Isabel Held (left) under the mentorship of associate professor of psychology Jennifer Quinn (right).

For over three decades, the Miami University Senate has sponsored the URA to provide Miami undergraduates with a faculty-mentored experience in developing grant applications. The goal of these partnerships is to encourage discovery and stimulate creative activity.

Students with any major can apply for these awards, as long as they have an existing research experience with a faculty mentor. Both individual and team projects are eligible. In 2018-2019, 26 of 49 URAs went to student teams.

Typical awards range from $150 to $500, but individual projects of exceptional merit or projects involving student teams may receive up to $1,000. A faculty sponsor must certify that an individual or team project is worth doing, has educational value to the student(s) and can be accomplished in the proposed time frame. The aim and result of proposed projects may be modest as long as the work can reasonably be interpreted as research or a creative endeavor.

Applications for Spring 2020 projects are due October 14, 2019.  Full program guidelines and application instructions are available here.

Photo of Isabel Held and Associate Professor Jennifer Quinn by Scott Kissell, Miami University Photo Services. Photo of Selina Davis and Associate Professor Joomi Chung by Ricardo Trevina, Miami University Photo Services.

Image of Miami University's Office of Research for Undergraduates (ORU). Visible are a wall with "ORU" painted on it and three people standing in a circle in a glass-walled office.

Guest post: Undergraduate experiences enhanced by participating in research

In this post, guest posters Grace Chaney and Micailah Guthrie share their experiences as undergraduate researchers.

Grace Chaney

Kinesiology and pre-medical sciences major; molecular biology minor

Grace Chaney poses with fellow members of Randal Claytor's Muscle Fatigue Lab.
Grace Chaney (front row, second from left) conducts research in the Muscle Fatigue Lab, under the supervision of associate professor of kinesiology and health Randal Claytor (back row, second from right).

There is a quote that says the squat is the perfect analogy for life: “It’s about standing back up after something heavy takes you down.”

During my junior year of high school I had two partial knee reconstructions which resulted in the end of my soccer career. After 13 months of physical rehabilitation, I became fascinated with the body’s ability to heal. Furthermore, its ability to come back from an injury even stronger than it was before.

Fitness became an area of my life where curiosity was welcomed, change was sought out and innovation was abundant. The ability to alter variables in physical activity or nutritional intake and obtain significant and measurable results is astounding to me. I quickly became mesmerized by exercise science research and its applications in exercise programming. In my senior year of high school, I pursued and completed my certification in personal training and small group fitness through the American College of Sports Medicine. Through my certification I am able to help people reach their goals through science-backed research, customized programming and compassion.

My involvement in undergraduate research at Miami University has undoubtedly been one of the most influential experiences of my academic career. It has reinforced my passion for hypothesis driven research while also expanding my interests in translational research exponentially. I have had the privilege to be a part of the Muscle Fatigue Lab in the Department of Kinesiology and Health, under Dr. Randal Claytor. We have been studying acute, local muscle fatigue and muscle fiber activation adaptation patterns from a neuromuscular and external mechanical perspective. We utilize a dynamic single-leg extension model and drop-set training template in order to better understand the muscle fatigue and muscle activation processes. According to The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, time constraints are one of the leading reasons people give as to why they do not partake in regular physical activity. My current research interests during my undergraduate career are to study training methodologies that minimize time spent exercising while maximizing the health benefits of physical movement.

Through the Undergraduate Summer Scholars program, and with faculty mentorship, I will have the opportunity this summer to pursue a research proposal of my own creation. The Undergraduate Summer Scholars program allows students to explore the depths of their passion for research while also providing a unique and focused learning opportunity. I am sure it will be a pivotal experience in my time here at Miami. In my remaining years left here as a student I hope to be an Ambassador for the Office of Research for Undergraduates (ORU). I hope to encourage other students to engage in and explore research opportunities both on and off campus. I also want to help current student researchers further develop their involvement with and passion for their field of study. I am excited to be working with the ORU, with individuals who share my passion for research and with an institution dedicated towards cultivating and encouraging investigators in so many different fields of study.

In the future, I hope to pursue a career in medicine. The medical field is the perfect culmination of everything I am looking for in a career. A career in which I can focus on compassion, service, innovation and translational research. My research interests are in intraoperative and postoperative research specifically in the field of orthopedics and sports medicine. I am particularly drawn to studying surgical repair techniques and postoperative protocol and how those can be altered to improve patient outcomes.

My love for hypothesis driven research was born out of a terrible experience but that experience built the foundation for who I am today and the kind of doctor I want to become in the future. I am forever grateful for my injuries — they are a constant reminder that you can stand back up after something heavy takes you down.

Micailah Guthrie

Public health major;  medical sociology and individualized studies minor

Undergraduate student Micailah Guthrie conducted research on the career aspirations of Black South African adolescents as part of a study abroad experience in Durban, South Africa.

This spring semester, I had the amazing opportunity to study in Durban, South Africa with the School for International Training (SIT) through their Community Health and Social Policy program. One of the main features of the SIT’s study abroad programs is that each student is able to conduct research as part of an independent study project (ISP). Based off of my experiences here in South Africa and my personal experiences, I’ve focused my ISP on understanding the personal career aspirations of Black South African adolescents and the pathways of support that they may or may not receive. This qualitative research will be conducted using the method of body mapping, which is an art-based method of data collection that serves as a reflective tool for a person to tell their narrative using their bodies. As I am currently in the ISP period of my study aboard program, I am very excited to review and share my findings.

Also this summer, I’ve have the great opportunity to participate in the Summer Research Opportunity Program at Penn State University, which is a graduate research internship and mentorship for undergraduates. There, I will be working with the College of Health and Human Development’s Dr. Jennifer Graham-Engeland, who directs the Stress & Health lab. I’ll be assisting one of her graduate students on their dissertation project, which focuses on understanding the knowledge gaps of both low and high arousal positive affect in everyday life. I will also be able to explore my own research interests, which lie within health behavior, stress, racial disparities, and personal and familial development.

Photo of Miami University Office of Research for Undergraduates by Miami University Photo Services. Photo of members of the Muscle Fatigue Lab courtesy of Grace Chaney. Photo of Micailah Guthrie courtesy of Michailah Guthrie.

Annette Bollmann explains equipment to a student in her lab.

$5.2 million funds four microbiologists’ research from Acton Lake to Antarctica

DJ Ferguson and Jyoti Kashyap work with liquid in a flask in Ferguson's lab.
Ferguson (right) and doctoral student Jyoti Kashyap

Four Miami University microbiologists — who make up the department’s new microbiology physiology research cluster — collaborate on projects with each other and with more than a dozen researchers from other universities.

Together, they are working on five projects funded by more than $5.2 million in recent grants from three national agencies. Study sites range from nearby Acton Lake to Antarctica.

Microbes — the first living creatures on Earth — are microscopic, single-celled organisms found almost everywhere on Earth including on and inside you.

  • Microbes make up more than 60 percent of Earth’s biomass.
  • An estimated 2-3 billion species of microbes share our planet — but fewer than 0.5 percent (that’s still 10 million) have been identified.
  • Microbes generate at least half of the oxygen we breathe.

From the human gut to the atmosphere

The research projects of Rachael Morgan-Kiss, Annette Bollmann and D.J. Ferguson, associate professors of microbiology, and Xin Wang, assistant professor, explore microbes in projects including:

  • Microbial engineering for the production of biofuels.
  • Manipulating microbial communities to function more efficiently for wastewater treatment.
  • Studying extremophiles to create new engineering targets for artificial photosynthesis.
  • Contributing to long-term research on climate variation in the South Pole.
  • Human gut microbes.

By the numbers:

  • Four faculty mentor nine graduate and 11 undergraduate students on these projects.
  • They collaborate with 13 researchers from 11 universities.
  • One internationally-known artist, Xavier Cortada, is working with students and researchers.

Read their stories:

Click on the links to read their stories in Miami’s Campus News.

Rachael Morgan-Kiss and Xin Wang: “Antarctic algae, alternative photosynthesis and art.”

D.J. Ferguson and Xin Wang: “Microbes, QAs, methane: Top to bottom.”

Annette Bollmann: “Microbial ‘neighbors’ improve ammonia removal in wastewater.”

Xin Wang: “Engineering microbes.”

Spotlight on undergraduate research:

These faculty each mentor several undergraduate research students. Learn more about their research at Miami’s 25th Annual Undergraduate Research Forum, April 23-24.

Morgan-Kiss: All students in her Microbial Ecology (MBI 475/575) class will present posters about their work with samples from Antarctica.

Xavier Cortada, an internationally-known environmental artist based in Miami, Florida, will meet with the class to help them design posters for a broad, general audience.

Ferguson’s lab group: Sarah Soppe, senior microbiology major and Spanish double major, and Claire Papamarcos, senior microbiology major and environmental science co-major.

Bollmann’s lab group: Conor Dolson, senior microbiology major and premedical studies co-major.

Wang’s lab group: Kaya Mernitz, senior microbiology major and premedical studies co-major.

Written by Susan Meikle, University News Writer/Editor, University Communications and Marketing, Miami University. Originally appeared as a “Top Story” on Miami University’s News and Events website.

Photos of D.J. Ferguson and Annette Bollmann by Scott Kissell, Miami University Photo Services.