Research projects this summer involve cancer cells, Alzheimer’s disease, virtual reality and more.
HIGH POINT, N.C., July 18, 2022 – It may be summertime at High Point University, but campus is buzzing with students and faculty collaborating on innovative research through three unique programs.
Students representing all academic schools are participating in these programs, which they applied for during the spring semester. The programs are SuRPS (Summer Research Programs in the Sciences), SuRI (Summer Research Institute) and SuRF (Summer Research Fellowship). Each program pairs students with professors who guide them through projects in a variety of fields. The opportunity provides students with a range of opportunities, from learning new lab technology to working together as a team.
“I’ve enjoyed research and getting more hands-on experience with my professors so much this summer,” says Jenna Mastropolo, a sophomore chemistry and physics major. “Getting to do research as an undergraduate student is the reason I chose HPU. Not many people can say they spent their whole summer as a sophomore conducting research that could be published.”
“Having the opportunity to conduct research at HPU has helped me narrow in on what I want to pursue as a career,” says Isaac Shaw, a senior exercise science and math major. “This summer, I’m working on a project that I am passionate about and that I want to pursue post-graduation. Talking with athletes and people in the community with amputations has given me insight on how to help people with prosthetics continue physical activity.”
Summer Research Institute (SuRI)
Students in SuRI come from all majors on campus to study specific projects. Dr. Joanne Altman, director of HPU’s Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Works, leads the program to collaborate with students and faculty from a variety of majors. This year, Brian Heagney, instructor of game design, is leading media production and game design students in creating a virtual production studio that could be used in the future of film and television production.
In Smith Library, Heagney and three students have a green screen, virtual reality set, and a desktop computer running Unreal Engine V, among other equipment, set up to create a high-resolution virtual environment as a backdrop.
“In our field, technology is changing every day,” says Heagney. “This helps our students navigate problems without a guide or a textbook. A lot of what we are doing this summer is new to all of us and is a great learning experience with reacting to and solving problems.”
Summer Research Programs in the Sciences (SuRPS)
In SuRPS, students are studying with professors in the Wanek School of Natural Sciences, testing research in the fields of biology, physics and chemistry.
Dr. Kevin Suh, a biology professor at HPU, and his group are testing natural compounds on human cervical and breast cancer cells they are culturing in their cell culture lab. The goal through their research is to find compounds that can kill cancer cells. Suh and his students measure the cells post treatment and run tests to determine their anti-cancer effects.
Sophomore Taylor Galavotti says she has a personal connection to the research after her aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer. But she also wants to navigate research within the biology field.
“I knew going into college that I wanted to get experience with research, and I was able to start working in the cancer cell lab last semester,” says Galavotti, a double major in neuroscience and English. “It’s a rare opportunity in undergrad to conduct research, especially cancer cell research. I’ve learned so much this summer with the different tools to assess what’s happening to your body at a cellular level.”
Dr. Andrew Wommack, associate professor of chemistry, is working with students to synthetically construct natural products from botanical sources. Wommack says they are trying to better understand how plants regulate and protect themselves. This research is funded by the National Science Foundation.
Dr. Briana Fiser, chair of the physics department, is working with two students this summer on engineering artificial cilia structures that are capable of moving fluids and also have the potential to serve as antibacterial or antifouling surfaces.
“HPU is unique in that we allow and, in fact, highly encourage first – and second-year students to participate in our summer research programs,” says Fiser. “This summer program helps students develop their skills and passions early in their college careers, which is quite valuable in helping them learn more about what they might ultimately want to do in life.”
Summer Research Fellowship (SuRF)
Dr. Lisa Zukowski is working with two SuRF students on research they are continuing from the spring semester. Her research is focused on identifying early biomarkers that indicate a risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, which can be apparent when people perform complex everyday tasks. This research looks at the gait, visual attention and cognition during the tasks, which was measured in the spring.
Zukowski says their research used gait sensors, eye-tracking glasses and cognitive testing software to test participants as they performed a grocery shopping test, a walking test on different surfaces and other challenging walking tasks.
Dr. Paul Kline’s group is also using the Virtual Reality and Clinical Gait Analysis Laboratory to conduct their research on participants who have lost limbs. He and his students also analyze cognition with visual tasks to measure how that impacts movement and could improve accomplishing everyday tasks.
“Previously, I worked with individuals with amputations to become more physically active,” says Kline, assistant professor of physical therapy. “What patients with prosthetics told us is that they can walk fine when they are in a controlled environment, but not in an environment like a grocery store or mall. This summer, we’re looking at ways to make improvements to make physical activity less overwhelming for these patients.”
At the culmination of the summer, student researchers will present their work to fellow students and professors through different events, including the elevator pitch and poster presentations.