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First-Year Fralin Undergraduate Research Fellowship Student Project List


Read through this list of faculty-led research projects and identify up to three projects you are interested in for Spring 2024. Note the project number, which you will be asked to list on your application form. Projects are organized by academic college for ease of review, but you are welcome to apply to any project, inside or outside your major, college, or discipline. Let your curiosity and interests be your guide!

Agriculture and Life Sciences

Project #1

Communicating About Upcycled Foods: Effects of Message Framing and Information Source on Consumers’ Attitudes and Purchase Intentions (Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education)

Project description: Upcycled foods can reduce global food waste and improve environmental sustainability because they are developed by transforming food by-products and waste into new foods. However, consumers may reject upcycled foods because they are new and unfamiliar. The purpose of the research project is to determine how message frames and information sources influence consumers’ attitudes and purchase intentions toward upcycled foods. We will develop and administer an experimental survey to evaluate how consumers respond to messages about upcycled foods that are delivered via different information sources (e.g., food scientist, nutritionist, food retailer, consumer) and framed strategically (i.e., emotional vs. rational).

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: Students can expect to learn and practice foundational science communication research skills including but not limited to audience analysis and segmentation, survey instrument development, message development and delivery, information framing strategies, visual storytelling, and scholarly writing. The goals for the student involved in the research project are to 1) acquire core knowledge about science communication research and practice that will benefit them in their respective disciplines; 2) develop critical thinking skills; and 3) build professional relationships with faculty studying science communication in contexts of food and agriculture at various top-tier universities.

Special skill requirements/preferences: There are no prior experiences or skills necessary for students to be successful.

Time restrictions: There are no restrictions or time constraints for the research project.

Project #2

Bioinspired shape change (Biological Systems Engineering)

Project description: Plants routinely change shape to proliferate and thrive. Plant tendrils are heterogeneous structures that change shape by lignifying a portion of their cross-section. This causes that half of the cross-section to contract and bend, creating the shape change.  Students will create mimics of the plant tendril structure using gelatin-based gummy candy. The mimics can be stretched and released and the shape change with time recorded on a camera. Students will analyze the videos to quantify the shape change in terms of curvature. The curvature results will be used by the research mentor to validate mechanical models of bioinspired shape change.

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: The specific research goal is to vary the curvature (shape change) dynamics by changing (1) the gummy formulation, (2) the cross-sectional arrangement of the gummy, and (3) how much the structure is stretched. Students will learn simple material mechanics and how to quantify shape as well as some simple biological design principles.

Special skill requirements/preferences: The project is very easy to execute. The gummy candy formulations are safe and easy to make. The testing simply involves pulling the samples and recording their shape changes on a video camera.  Success will be defined as being able to generate usable videos. High success will be defined as being able to also quantify the shape change from the videos (slightly more challenging but not outside of the realm of a motivated student).

Time restrictions: None.

Project #3

Ecological engineered technologies for water quality improvement (Biological Systems Engineering)

Project description: Three of the 14 Grand Challenges for Engineering in the 21st Century are providing access to clean water, managing the nitrogen cycle, and improving urban infrastructure. Ecological engineered technologies, which harness the natural capabilities of plants and microbes to clean water, are effective strategies to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus, and other pollutants from agricultural and urban waters. This lab-scale project will investigate the nitrogen removing capacity of varying designs of woodchip bioreactor columns.

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: The student will gain a better understanding of all phases of an applied research study, and how one study can incrementally contribute to better understanding and solving a real-world problem. They can expect to learn how to collect and analyze water quality samples from a lab-scale ecological engineered design, and how to make sense of the analytical results.

Special skill requirements/preferences: The student should be well-organized, interested in learning new skills, able to work effectively with others, and passionate about solving environmental (specifically water-related) issues.

Time restrictions: We will work together and with the existing undergraduate RA working in my lab to determine the best time for the student to conduct research. Schedule will be flexible.

Project #4

Conversion of food waste materials into bioplastic products (Biological Systems Engineering)

Project description: Globally, unmanaged plastic waste and food waste are responsible for serious environmental degradation in land and sea, economic loss, and climatic impacts. This research project will address these concerns by utilizing food waste as the raw material to develop biodegradable plastic products that will have applications at the consumer level. The project will demonstrate a pilot-scale bioprocessing system for the conversion of food waste into bioplastic materials.

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: The specific research goals for the student can be listed as follows:

  • Characterizing the types of food waste.
  • Carboxylic acid production from food waste through novel Arrested Anaerobic Digestion Process.
  • Bioplastic product (i.e., PHA) fermentation in the pilot-scale bioreactors (e.g., 10L, 50L, 100L) using microorganisms.

The students will be able to get hands-on training in operating a bioprocessing system which will demonstrate the concept of Waste-to-Resource. The specified research goals will help the student to get experienced with a technology that has relevant applications on an industrial scale. In a broader perspective, it will help to understand the linkage of academia with the industry in developing solutions to our pressing problems.

Special skill requirements/preferences: Basic knowledge of biological sciences, high-school chemistry, and general computer software (i.e., Microsoft Office) will be the minimum qualifications to be expected from the student. Good interpersonal skills, clear communication, oral presentation skills, and willingness to work in an inclusive environment will be highly regarded.

Time restrictions: It is expected that the student will participate in regular business days (M-F) and timing will be determined based on the specific research tasks and availability of the student through mutual agreement.

Project #5

Systematic Characterization of Variability in Municipal Solid Waste Streams to Identify Critical Material Attributes for Fuel Production (Biological Systems Engineering)

Project description: The project/research attempts to determine the features essential to converting cheap and abundant Municipal Solid Waste into conversion-ready feedstocks for biofuels production using gasification and solid-state anaerobic digestion

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: The specific research goals include:

  • To learn standard methods involved in the sampling and sorting of municipal solid waste
  • To learn the physical, biological and chemical characterization/analysis of municipal solid waste
  • To learn the processes involved in extracting biofuels from municipal solid waste
  • To learn the roles/impact of each characteristic in the biofuel production process
  • To learn/develop machine learning model for the prediction of the biofuels production path and the digestible components of municipal solid waste.

Special skill requirements/preferences: Not much experience/skill is required. However, having a basic knowledge of some computer applications such as Microsoft excel, word, etc., is necessary.

Time restrictions: There is no specific day or time but will be based on mutual convenience between Monday to Friday. However, the student must be responsive and time conscious.

Project #6

Machine vision based clam sorting (Department of Biological Systems Engineering)

Project description: This project aims to develop a machine vision algorithm to classify surf clams and ocean quahogs in the manufacturing line.

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: The student will be involved in the data labeling, algorithm development and results validation.

Special skill requirements/preferences: No required skills needed but coding background will be a plus.

Time restrictions: No restrictions.

Project #7

Cholinergic role in the mosquito salivary gland (Entomology)

Project description: Several cholinergic enzymes and proteins are invovled in the regulation of salivary production, release, and transfer in the salivary of insects. However, their role is not well understood.

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: Saliva production in different mosquito species when exposed to cholinergic drugs

Special skill requirements/preferences: Experience in a laboratory setting, formulating a hypothesis, and executing an approach to test the hypothesis.

Time restrictions: NA

Project #8

Ticks as vectors of disease (Entomology)

Project description: Identification of ticks as vector

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: The students will focus on ticks that can serve as arthropod vectors of diseases such as Lyme disease or tick-borne viruses.  Initially (due to the start of the Spring semester being in winter months) this will be lab-based, with specific research goals aimed at competency using a microscope, dichotamous keys, and learning to identify biobanked specimens of different species and life-stage, and understand how we process them.  Into the warmer months of the Spring semester, the student will be involved in field collections of ticks from the environment, with the specific research goal of basic field skills, understanding the principles of biological survey and sample recording and storage.   The labwork will be conducted in a BSL-2 laboratory, and thus appropriate online training for Environmental Health and Safety should expected and competency of the student to work safely demonstrated..

Special skill requirements/preferences: Attention to detail, Reliability, Interest in biology/ecology, bugs, and both laboratory and outdoor fieldwork

Time restrictions: Not specifically

Project #9

Improving in silico serotype prediction tools to enhance surveillance of the foodborne pathogen Salmonella (Food Science and Technology)

Project description: Serotyping is an important component of surveillance of foodborne pathogens such as Salmonella. In silico prediction of serotypes is faster, cheaper, and more accurate than traditional serology, however some serogroups (based on LPS) are challenging to differentiate between using in silico methods, thereby hindering surveillance efforts. This project will characterize the genes involved in the production of the O22 and O23 antigens of Salmonella to develop better methods to predict the serotype of these isolates.

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: Goal I: Use the lambda red recombinase method to knockout genes involved in production of the O22/O23 antigen. Goal II: Perform serological testing on the isolates to determine the resulting serotype of the knockout mutants.

Special skill requirements/preferences: I: Good organizational skills; II: Good time management skills; III: Effective written and oral communication

Time restrictions: Student will need to work in a shared BSL-2 lab space

Project #10

Mechano-bactericidal Stainless Steel: what surface nanofeatures inhibit bacterial cell growth? (Food Science and Technology)

Project description: Mechano-bactericidal Stainless Steel (MB-SS) has the potential to inactivate adhered bacteria by physical-mechanical, rather than chemical, mechanisms. Thus, they have lower risk of inducing antimicrobial resistance and have wide applications in food processing and biomedical implants.

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: The undergrad researcher will learn to develop machine learning algorithms to extract structure information from atomic force microscopy (AFM) images and use that to predict microbial fitness on the MB SS.

Special skill requirements/preferences: Prior computer programming experience will be helpful but not essential. Students with high curiosity and persistence are preferred.

Time restrictions: No specific time constraints for this project. I will sit down with the student to design a plan that best suits the student's particular situation at the beginning of the program.

Project #11

Genetic control of body weight, fertility, and exercise (HNFE)

Project description: After speaking with a student, we usually design a project around their interests and related to our laboratory's goals.  These projects can be molecular biology-based, genetics-based, animal-based studies etc, related to the role of genetics in body weight regulation, fertility and exercise.

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: The specific laboratory skills will depend on their project, but students in general can expect to learn about good laboratory practices, teamwork, organizing a laboratory notebook among other skills. They will also learn more about Prader-Willi syndrome and the genetic basis of body weight control, fertility, and exercise levels.

Special skill requirements/preferences: I like students to be observant, and organized, but I can teach the lab skills

Time restrictions: regular business hours

Project #12

Investigating planting methods of improved St. Augustinegrass and Centipedegrass cultivars (School of Plant and Environmental Sciences)

Project description: This project will investigate vegetative-propagation methods for improved cold-tolerant, cultivars of St. Augustinegrass (Stenotaphrum secundatum) and Centipedegrass (Eremochloa ophiuroides) to identify successful strategies for establishment. These two species are warm-season turfgrasses, like bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon) which is already widely-utilized in lawns throughout the Mid-Atlantic, but they exhibit greater shade tolerance and lower maintenance requirements. New, improved varieties of St. Augustinegrass and Centipedegrass, at maturity, have demonstrated improved winterhardiness, similar to that of bermudagrass. This project will evaluate improved cultivars of these species to identify how propagative methods and the timing of planting impacts successful lawn establishment in the mid-Atlantic region.

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: The student will learn the fundamental basics of experimental design and the implementation of the scientific method. They will also learn how turfgrasses are significantly, impacted by environmental conditions and how investigating planting methods can positively contribute to the green-industry in terms of promoting sustainability, reducing inputs, and conserving natural resources.

Special skill requirements/preferences: The student needs no prior knowledge of turfgrasses nor prior experience in the turfgrass industry. Students possessing good organizational skills (i.e., data collection), exceptional communication skills (engagement with me and in disseminating findings with fellow VT Turf Team and turf practitioners in VA), and a strong work ethic will be excellent candidates for this research opportunity!

Time restrictions: There are no specific time constraints, however the student will be expected to work outside in the field (along with my assistance and that of other VT Turfgrass Science faculty/staff). Most of the work will be outside in the elements (much colder in Jan / Feb / March than late March through early May).

Project #13

Culturing microbes from old cultivars of crops; Diversity hidden by time (School of Plant and Environmental Sciences)

Project description: Determine if cultivation of crops over the last 125 years has changed the plant associated microbiome.  Do older races of a crop (e.g. soybean) have greater bacterial diversity?

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: You will grow your own crop in a small managable systems (glass tubes). You will be taught to culture and identify them, all in the laboratory. You will be exposed to lab methods and equipment. This will be fun and help you begin to ask your own questions related to microbiome composition and diversity. You also do a target literature review to see what others have found, and write short report on your findings relative to that of the literature. The focusing on the writing will be on what you/we have learned and what we want to learn more about in next batch of experiments. This work will thus help set the stage for more research by others, or possibly yourself.

Special skill requirements/preferences: See microbial diversity first hand. Be able to ask questions, first. Then be able ask partially informed questions. Then, be able ask highly informed questions. Questions are the root of all science based objectives and hypotheses.

Time restrictions: There is flexibility. The student will work with GRA and professor to find a schedule and determine the a good schedule.

Project #14

Legacy effects of urban stream burial (School of Plant and Environmental Sciences)

Project description: This project is researching buried streams in Roanoke.  We are using GIS approaches in combination with historical maps and documentation.  This is a collaborative interdisciplinary project between an urban ecosystem ecologist and an environmental historian.  The objectives are to 1) build a geospatial database and mapped timeline of stream burial and loss, 2) understand the critical decisions and drivers of change, and 3) connect those changes to current flooding events.  Ultimately, we are trying to understand how legacy effects of past decisions will shape the hydrology and water quality of Roanoke.

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: Research goals for the student are to further develop the geospatial database.  Student will gain both geospatial skills using ESRI ArcPro and approaches to historical research.

Special skill requirements/preferences: Most important is to have enthusiasm and excitement for the project and willingness to learn GIS!  We will teach all other skills needed.

Time restrictions: No time restrictions.


Project #15

Remote Water Sampling System (Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics)

Project description: Remote Water Sampling System

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: Previous studies have demonstrated that samples up to 1.0 l can be obtained using a collection chamber that functions in a way similar to the Vacutainer™ used for drawing a predetermined volume of blood. The goal of this project is to integrate a system that can be deployed with a drone:

  1. Create a negative pressure atmosphere in a 1.0 liter clear PET Plastic Media Bottle.
  2. Design an electronic system to control a solenoid valve, permitting water sampling.
  3. Integrate the control system with the communications/control system of the drone.

The student will collaborate with an innovations team in Malawi, Africa, at the African Drone and Data Academy based at the Malawi University of Science and Technology; and there may be the opportunity for travel to Malawi if the project is successful.

Special skill requirements/preferences: Many students bring technical skills with them as they enter the university.  I am looking for a student that is familiar with drone technology, primarily to understand how they can integrate the controls for water sampling with flight operations.  The student should understand basic electronics design and fabrication, and programing of microcontrollers such as Raspberry Pi or Arduino.

Time restrictions: My Spring 2024 teaching schedule is not available, but I generally prefer Tues/Thur for mentoring.

Project #16

Biomechanics of animals (Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics)

Project description: Our lab studies how animals work from a biomechanical perspective. That means that we use fundamental tools of engineering, physics, and math to understand how an animal’s form relates to its function. Our main focus is on snakes and insects, but we also study other animals: for instance, we are currently trying to understand how flying squid jump out of the water and fly the air. We do lots of research on snakes, centered on flying snakes and their relatives: how do they fly through the air? How do they jump? What limits other snakes from gliding?

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: We understand that most first year students don’t have a lot of research experience, if any. Our goal is to expose the student to the types of things that are involved in research, including experimental data collection, data analysis, problem solving, and presenting. In working on animal biomechanics, typically a student will learn to handle animals as well as technical equipment like high-speed cameras and motion capture systems.

Special skill requirements/preferences: For first year students, we don’t expect much in terms of prior skills: you’ll learn in the lab. But students who have combined interests in physics or engineering and biology and a curiosity to understand how animals work usually fit best here.

Time restrictions: No specific restrictions. Just a willingness to be curious and work hard!

Project #17

Particle anchored cytokine for cancer immunotherapy (Chemical Engineering)

Project description: The project aims to develop a novel formulation to anchor potent cytokine molecules to the surface of large-sized particles for local cancer immunotherapy. The cytokines will be confined in tumors and have minimal systemic exposure over a few days following local injection, thereby eliciting anti-tumor immunity while avoiding the systemic toxicities caused by the circulating cytokines.

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: The student will study and learn the particle formulation of various cytokines, and help on in vivo data organization and analysis. The student will learn basic concepts of cancer immunotherapy, nanomedicine, and data analysis techniques for in vivo data interpretation.

Special skill requirements/preferences: A basic knowledge of biology. We will teach the student most background knowledge before really starting hands-on experiments.

Time restrictions: Regular business hours.

Project #18

The influence of climate change on the social disparities in the risk of AMR exposure from the soil (Civil and Environmental Engineering)

Project description: Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in the environment has emerged as a significant global health challenge in recent years. Importantly, human exposure to environmental AMR may increase as a result of the impact of climate change, for example through increased soil erosion caused by excessive rainfall and subsequent dispersal of antibiotic resistant pathogens. The overarching goal of this project is to investigate the influence of climate change on sociodemographic disparities associated with the risks of exposure to environmental AMR using an innovative systems biology approach.

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: Learn to extract sociodemographic data from U.S. Census Bureau and perform data analysis to understand the relationships among climate change, the risk of exposure to environmental antimicrobial resistance, and sociodemographic status.

Special skill requirements/preferences: No prior experience or skills are required. Just curiosity and strong interests in the interdisciplinary research, particularly at the intersections of environmental microbiology, social science, and public health.

Time restrictions: No restrictions or time constraints.

Project #19

Development of Low Cost, Austenitic, Ductile Irons (Materials Science and Engineering)

Project description: Ductile irons can be easily cast into complex shapes.  Austenitic ductile irons have numerous desirable properties, such as excellent fatigue life and high energy absorbing capability.  Nickel is typically used to produce austenitic ductile iron but is expensive.  This projects aims to  replace nickel with manganese and aluminum.

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: The research goal is to develop a low cost, austenitic, ductile iron.  Preliminary experiments have been performed to validate the concept but much more work is needed.  Students will work at the Kroehling Advanced Materials Foundry (making molds, melting and treating ductile iron, and pouring ductile iron) and in the materials characterization labs in Holden Hall and the NCFL (mechanical testing, X-ray diffraction, optical microscopy, and scanning electron microscopy).

Special skill requirements/preferences: Students must be willing to work in a foundry (training and safety equipment will be provided) to produce material for characterization and willing to work in very clean environments to perform characterization.  Some of the characterization equipment is very expensive and appears to be difficult to operate so the students must be serious about learning.  As with most specialized skills, the equipment is not really that hard to operate if you are provided with good instruction and have a knowledgeable person available to answer questions.  This project will provide skills in materials characterization that would benefit anyone that is interested in design (ME, AOE, CEE) or materials science/engineering (MSE, Chemistry).

Time restrictions: No time constraints.

Project #20

Advanced High Strength Steel (Materials Science and Engineering)

Project description: Advanced high steel steels are being developed for automotive applications. These steels must have high yield strength, high ductility, and low cost since they are primarily used in applications that require high energy absorption, such as vehicle crush zones.

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: The specific research goals are to understand the relationship between chemistry, processing, microstructure, and mechanical properties. The students will need to produce new steel chemistries at the Kroehling Advanced Materials Foundry and hen characterize these materials in the labs in Holden Hall and at the NCFL. Characterization may include hardness testing, tensile testing, impact testing, X-ray diffraction, optical microscopy, and scanning electron microscopy.

Special skill requirements/preferences: Students that like hands-on activities are required. There will be a lot to learn and some of the equipment is very specialized, however, given appropriate training and support from me and my undergraduate student team, it's very doable. This project is ideal for any student that has an interest in automotive materials development and/or any student that has an interest in working in the steel making industry.

Time restrictions: No time restrictions.

Project #21

Tribocorrosion Behaviors of Biodegradable WE43 Magnesium Alloys Treated via Laser Shock Peening (Materials Science and Engineering)

Project description: Biodegradable magnesium (Mg) alloys are promising candidates for use as nextgeneration implants due to their similar mechanical properties to natural bones, excellent biocompatibility, and the ability to completely degrade in vivo. However, a great challenge of Mg alloys in physiological environments is their fast corrosion rate and low tribocorrosion resistance, which makes it difficult to ensure adequate structural integrity over the required time for complete tissue and bone healing. In this study, student will investigate the effects of laser shock peening (LSP) processing parameters on the surface tribocorrosion resistance of WE43 Mg alloys.

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: The primary goals of this research project are: 1. Evaluation of Existing Corrosion Testing Techniques. 2. Perform Tribocorrosion Measurement.  The students are expected to focus on two aspects: 1) Conduct an in-depth review of established tribocorrosion testing methods, such as weight loss analysis, electrochemical techniques (potentiodynamic and electrochemical impedance spectroscopy), and accelerated corrosion tests (salt spray, cyclic corrosion testing). Compare their advantages, limitations, and applicability to different materials and environments. 2) Assess the tribocorrosion resistance of LSP treated Mg alloys under the guidance of the faculty and graduate student mentor.

Special skill requirements/preferences: A genuine interest in materials science, corrosion, biomedical devices, and the research process is essential. Student applicants should demonstrate a willingness to commit time and effort to the project, meet deadlines, and persevere through setbacks. Corrosion experiments require careful attention to detail to ensure accurate data collection and analysis. Students should have a natural inclination for precision and accuracy. In addition, a willingness to learn and adapt to new concepts, techniques, and methodologies is key for students who are entering a field with no prior experience.

Time restrictions: There is no specific time restrictions. The experiments proposed can be conducted based on the student's own schedule.

Project #22

Applying natural language processing to understand perspectives of generative AI (Engineering Education)

Project description: In this project, we aim to map changes in public discourse of generative AI, particularly focused on ethical concerns. We will utilize natural language processing to scale our analysis of thousands of social media posts and articles about the impacts of generative AI on various sectors in society (e.g., education, healthcare).

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: Students can expect to learn novel techniques in computational social science and exploratory data analysis. Students will also learn how to design and conduct social science research studies. The primary research goal for the student is to answer two research questions and, if the student continues with the project beyond FY FURF, co-author at least one conference paper and one journal article to submit to PLoS One.

Special skill requirements/preferences: I would like student applicants to have some prior programming experience, good time management skills, good communication skills, and an openness to learning new skills and techniques.

Time restrictions: No restrictions or time constraints.

Liberal Arts and Human Sciences

Project #23

Understanding the Experiences of Undergraduate Students from Rural Communities (Center for Rural Education)

Project description: This research project will investigate the experiences of undergraduate students at Virginia Tech who come from rural communities and small towns. Specifically, the undergraduate researcher will work as a Rural Scholar in the Center for Rural Education and carry out a research project that will include a survey and interviews for data collection, analysis, and a presentation for suggested programming for the Center to better meet the needs of rural Hokies.

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: The student will learn how to think critically about a complete research project including theory, research design, survey development, recruitment strategy, interviewing, data analysis, and presenting findings. The student will not only gain research skills but also become more engaged with the Center for Rural Education and the unique needs of rural students.

Special skill requirements/preferences: Ideally, the student will be from a rural community or small town. This will be an important aspect of the study, and I will mentor the student on thinking critically about how our subjectivities and positionalities influence our research.

Time restrictions: There are no time restrictions or constraints.

Project #24

Crossing Oceans with Voices (English)

Project description: Investigating factors that contribute to second dialect acquisition in the speech of English migrants (specifically, Americans who move to England, and English speakers who move to US)

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: * Speech data preparation (transcription, coding, correction) * Speech data analysis (statistics, graphics) * Background research (reading)

Special skill requirements/preferences: I'm more interested in attitude - I want to work with people who are intellectually curious and who take pride in their work.

Time restrictions: Regular business hours.

Project #25

What visualization and documentation strategies do data scientists use during machine-learning projects? A case of data science notebooks on (English)

Project description: This study extends previous research (Berger, 2020; Bhat et al., 2022; Chang & Custis, 2022; Hutchinson et al., 2021; Mitchell et al., 2019; Wang et al., 2021) to discern what documentation practices data scientists use to communicate their machine-learning (ML) process. This study contributes a closer investigation about the relationship between what text and data visualizations data scientists use to communicate their process and build their ML models.

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: Qualitative/inductive analytical coding; Basic use of Jupyter notebooks to query the data; Basic data management; Basic analytical memoing and reporting

Special skill requirements/preferences: Basic computer organization skills; If possible, any student with some working knowledge of Google Drive and Google Sheets.

Time restrictions: No specific days/times. If possible, I am more available on MWFs, but I still have availability on TuThs as well.

Project #26

Connecting Roanoke to its Watery Past (History)

Project description: This project is researching buried streams in Roanoke. We are using GIS approaches in combination with historical maps and documentation. This is a collaborative interdisciplinary project between an urban ecosystem ecologist and an environmental historian. The objectives are to 1) build a geospatial database and mapped timeline of stream burial and loss, 2) understand the critical decisions and drivers of change, and 3) connect those changes to current flooding events. Ultimately, we are trying to understand how legacy effects of past decisions will shape the hydrology and water quality of Roanoke.

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: The student working with me will conduct research in historical sources that document Roanoke's waterways and their uses. Students can expect to learn how to navigate physical archives (such as Special Collections) and digitized primary sources, how to organize research finds and share them in interdisciplinary collaborations. The student will also gain experience in story-telling in written and graphic (mapping) formats.

Special skill requirements/preferences: Enthusiasm about history and/or the environment is desirable, but not required. No prior experience or research skills are necessary.

Time restrictions: There are no restrictions, but some of the research will be conducted in Roanoke, VA (which can be accessed via the Smartway Express between Blacksburg's campus and VTC).

Project #27

Who Serves on School Boards? (Political Science)

Project description: As school boards have become a major focus point in national politics, due to battles over COVID-19 policies, book bans, and curriculum control, school boards have also been the subject of renewed attention in scholarly research. The impact of school board policymaking on public education is well documented, but we do not have extensive individual level data on who school board members are and how they view their role as local elected officials. Even identifying school boards members is difficult; very few states have any centralized systems to identify school board members. This project is to better understand who serves on school boards.

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: The goal is to collect information on school board members from one state. The students can expect to learn more about the political influences in public education.

Special skill requirements/preferences: Students should be familiar with excel. I'll teach students the basics of data collection.

Time restrictions: None

Project #28

"This is not a scam!!" Interactive theatre production to raise awareness of scams against older individuals. An interdisciplinary, mixed modality research project. (Sociology)

Project description: This research aims at collecting data from the audience of the interactive theatre play with multiple methods: survey, semi-structured observation, and follow-up interviews. The goal is to find evidence of impact of the play as a crime prevention program.

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: Students can learn programming and analyzing survey (quantitative), as well as ethnographic observations and interviews (qualitative methods).

Special skill requirements/preferences: Working in research teams; be interested in learning about different research methods in the social sciences.

Time restrictions: Students are expected to be present at the actual theatre plays. The play might be showcased in evenings (6-8pm) and over weekends. The play will be showcased in locations in Central and Southwest Virginia. Traveling is provided, but the students must be present at the shows in order to engage with data collection.

Project #29

Interactive story circle workshops against scams targeting the international community (Sociology)

Project description: This project seeks to understand fraud/cyberscam activities targeting international and first generation immigrant academic communities. In the Fall of 2023 we will organize storytelling workshops where participants will be required to submit metaphoric photo journals. The data will be analyzed beginning of Spring 2024.

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: Students will learn qualitative data cleaning and analyzing. Specifically, they will (1) clean transcribed data of audio-recorded workshops, and (2) learn how to analyze qualitative data (photo-journals) using Atlas.ti software (VT approved).

Special skill requirements/preferences: Be an enthusiastic learner. Read the assigned material necessary to understand research steps. Be rigorous, apply professional ethics in research. Be autonomous. Excellent time management.

Time restrictions: N/A

Project #30

Comparative Analysis of Political Opportunities for Interracial Organizing in the Progressive Era (Sociology)

Project description: As part of a larger project on the Kansas City labor movement in the 1910s, I am analyzing the political opportunities for interracial organizing in politics and at work that developed in Kansas City. This involves comparisons to other industrial cities with large Black populations, who were able to exercise the vote. The cities being compared to Kansas City include Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and St. Louis, for which I already have a great deal of information. I would like help in gathering information about Baltimore and Louisville.

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: The student can expect to gain research skills using various databases to track down published research over the last 100 years. Much of this research may come from older books, articles, dissertations, and reports that are not readily available in a few clicks. The student will learn how to be resourceful and persistent in finding these sources. Students with an interest in historical research will particularly benefit.

Special skill requirements/preferences: The main thing is communication about how many hours they are putting in and if any stumbling blocks arise. Other than that, a general interest in historical research or social movements or interracial political coalitions is preferable.

Time restrictions: We will need to coordinate a time that works for each of us to meet on a regular basis, in person or via zoom. Tuesdays and Thursdays usually work best for me.

Project #31

Community perceptions of service (VT Engage: The Center for Leadership & Service-Learning)

Project description: What does Ut Prosim mean to students? What does it mean to Blacksburg and our surrounding community? This research project seeks to find out

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: Design research questions. Examine and pick appropriate methods of research. Implement and facilitate those methods, for example designing and conducting interviews, surveys or focus groups.

Special skill requirements/preferences: Curiosity! A little knowledge of Blacksburg or the NRV would be great, but not required.

Time restrictions: Regular business hours for us.

Project #32

Pulaski County Land Use and Preference Survey (Honors College & SPIA)

Project description: This survey project aims to address Pulaski County officials’ questions about land use, understanding of local land management, and desired activities on county lands. The target population is members of the public using Pulaski County lands, and results will be analyzed and compiled into a professional report to share with Pulaski County and will also be used to help them develop a public education campaign in Randolph Park about prescribed burns. As of August 2023 the survey is active; data analysis will begin in Spring 2024, with the goal of a draft report by the end of the spring semester.

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: Goals for the student are to interpret basic survey results and graphics produced by survey software and interpret those results in relation to research questions and stakeholder interests, as well as refine writing skills to communicate research findings in plain everyday language and simple graphics for the general public. They will also learn about transdisciplinary research and collaboration, as this project involves a faculty member from CNRE as well.

Special skill requirements/preferences: For success on this project students should have good writing skills, be able to adapt to new tasks in new contexts quickly, and have very good attention to detail. An understanding of basic descriptive statistics is also needed, although students will not be responsible for using any software for analysis, just helping with writing up results.

Time restrictions: There are no restrictions, but meeting days will likely be scheduled for Mondays.

University Libraries

Project #33. Evidence Synthesis Reviews (multiple project opportunities) (University Libraries, Research Collaboration and Engagement (Evidence Synthesis Services))

Project description: Evidence synthesis (ES), such as systematic reviews, are intended to provide practitioners, policy-, and decision-makers with comprehensive, critical summaries of evidence to answer real-life questions. The ES Services at the University Libraries partner with researchers across disciplines on ES reviews, leading the collection of literature and providing guidance for review, appraisal, extraction, and synthesis. This opportunity is not specific to a single project and exact topics and responsibilities will vary. Past projects relate to the following disciplines and many are interdisciplinary in nature: health, medicine, building construction, computer science, education, psychology, food sciences, agricultural sciences, criminology, and public management

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: A student in this position will learn fundamental skills required to conduct a comprehensive, systematic search tactfully aligned with a clearly defined scope, and to report that search transparently, such that it could be replicated by another team. This student will also learn how to use reference management tools, such as Zotero or EndNote, and review software, such as Covidence. The student will also learn about the whole systematic review process and will be included in all project meetings, gaining practical experience in effective team science practices. This student may also have the opportunity to experience the review and consensus building process. If the disciplinary interests of the student align with disciplinary needs for available projects, the student may also have an opportunity to partake in the review process itself.

Special skill requirements/preferences: No prior research experience is necessary. However, it would be great if the student has experience searching in academic databases. More importantly, we seek students who are passionate about contributing to high-quality research in an ethical, critically reflective, and transparent manner.

Time restrictions: Schedule for this project can be flexible. However, the student is expected to fill the majority of the agreed upon hours per week.

Natural Resources and Environment

Project #34

Seasonal Detections of the World’s Smallest Carnivore, the Least Weasel (Mustela nivalis), on the Virginia Tech Campus (Fish and Wildlife Conservation)

Project description: Least Weasels are the world’s smallest carnivore and reside on the Virginia Tech campus. Little is known about Least Weasels in the southern portion of their North American range, and climate change is predicted to impact them negatively. This project will utilize new sampling technology to photograph weasels entering a small wooden box in an attempt to search for food. Images will allow the students to determine activity patterns of Least Weasels and their main prey species, meadow voles, throughout the year. We anticipate that the results of this project will be publishable and presented at a conference.

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: The student will recognize Least Weasels and at least 5 species of other small mammals that are potential prey items from camera photographs. The student will demonstrate constructing, deploying, maintaining, and checking weasel camera stations. Based on the time and date images were obtained, the student will analyze detection data to create detection probabilities, with my guidance. Lastly, the student will generate a plan for mowing and managing the Stroubles Creek Riparian area that could lessen impacts on Least Weasels. In addition to the actual project, the student will present their findings. Our project was the first in North America to use camera boxes to sample Least Weasels. Last year, an undergraduate student working on the project was invited to speak at an International Meeting and won the best student presentation at the Virginia Wildlife Society Meeting.

Special skill requirements/preferences: The Least Weasel project is ideal for a first-year student. The greatest skills a student will possess are a desire to learn and a passion for wildlife. During the project, the student will need to be able to identify not only weasels but other species of small mammals. I will train the student to recognize all mammal species that could be observed. Therefore, no background knowledge is needed. I will also provide background knowledge and guidance to help the student analyze data and prepare presentations.

Time restrictions: There are no set schedules for the student to participate, which will allow a first-year student to work around their academic and personal commitments. We will check cameras on the Virginia Tech campus monthly, and then the student will work with me to identify the species of mammals observed. Both camera checks and photograph identification can occur when the student is available. Typically, an undergraduate student can view and categorize images within 15 hours (3 weeks), which allows another 5 hours each month for analysis. We usually acquire over 500 pictures each month, and a student should be able to categorize videos before the next camera check.


Project #35

How do naturally-resident bacteriophages in the gut microbiome benefit human health (Biological Sciences)

Project description: Students will work with a graduate student or postdoc mentor to characterize the products produced by phage during lysis of bacteria and characterize their biological impact.

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: Hands on laboratory experience; develop scientific communication and thinking; learning time management; meet and discuss science

Special skill requirements/preferences: Attention to detail, scientific curiosity, interest in puzzles, and determination and focus.

Time restrictions: Would prefer that the student can dedicate multi-hour blocks of time a couple of times a week instead of an hour or so everyday.

Project #36

Bacteriophages of the soybean symbiont Bradyrhizobium diazoefficiens (Biological Sciences)

Project description: Soybean is an important crop and the most common source for vegetable oil. The symbiotic bacterium Bradyrhizobium diazoefficiens is found in leguminous root nodules, where it fixes atmospheric nitrogen and ultimately stimulates soybean growth. Bacteriophages, viruses that infect bacteria, are the most abundant biological entity on earth and important factors in shaping ecosystems including during bacteria-host interactions. However, very little is known about bacteriophages infecting symbiotic rhizobia. This is particularly true for the soybean symbiont and only a few Bradyrhizobium phages have been described. We will isolate B. diazoefficiens phages from soybean nodules and characterize their interaction with their host.

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: The student will isolate lytic phages from soybean nodules that have been collected in August 2023. The student will use published protocols to extract phages from crushed nodule material and propagate them on the B. diazoefficiens host. The student will then characterize the phage host range and also analyze the host’s requirements by performing infectivity assays with different host mutant strains. The student will also be able to analyze the phage microscopically in collaboration with the Egelman lab at UVA. Overall, the student will be learning basic and advanced microbiological techniques.

Special skill requirements/preferences: No prior experience is required, just genuine interest in science and a sense of curiosity.

Time restrictions: Research will be typically conducted during regular business hours. However, due to the nature of the research and availability of the mentoring graduate student, research will also be conducted after 5 PM and occasionally on weekends.

Project #37

Understanding how proteins transduce signals from cell membranes (Biological Sciences)

Project description: Students will express recombinant human proteins in Escherichia coli. They will isolate them and learn how to handle them during the purification process. Once purified, students will test their activity using a variety of structural and biochemical assays.

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: The goal is to understand how protein interact with specific lipids at the membrane in order to transduce cell signaling.

Special skill requirements/preferences: No skills. Just motivation and curiosity to make new discoveries in cell signaling!

Time restrictions: I expect students to work at least 5 h/week. Since students have to be supervised and properly trained, they have to overlap their times with me and graduate students from my group.

Project #38

How do cells know their size? (Biological Sciences)

Project description: Each cell type has a specific size, which they manage to keep by only dividing once they have reached their proper size. How cells know which size they have is still mysterious. One of our projects examines how an activator of cell division (cyclin B) responds to cell size. You will contribute to this project by editing the genome of yeast cells to introduce interesting mutations that will shed light on this question. You will then film cells by fluorescence microscopy to observe how cyclin B responds. You will analyze your images through custom-built software packages, some including AI algorithms.

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: You will be an integral member of our dynamic research team, with the opportunity to contribute intellectually to your project and be fully engaged in the project. You will gain practical experience in fundamental molecular techniques, such as PCR, CRISPR/Cas9-based genome editing, transformations, and sequencing. You will also learn about the latest image recognition software and be able to get started with coding in R or Python, or to sharpen your skills.

Special skill requirements/preferences: You do not need to have prior experience with research or lab techniques. We will introduce you to general procedures, such as lab book keeping, and to the techniques that you will need. It will be helpful if you have time management skills, and if you have a little bit of affinity for coding or maths.

Time restrictions: You will have to have two time slots of at least three hours available during the week. If you are very busy during weekdays and would prefer to work weekends, we can arrange that. It will speed up your project if you are open to occasionally coming in briefly on the weekend, but it is not essential.

Project #39

Antibiotic diffusion rate studies (Chemistry)

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: The research goals for this project is to test the hypothesis that polarity and charge density correlate with diffusion rates in antibiotic assays.  Students will focus on techniques to dilute and prepare antibiotic solutions, prepare bacteria for assays, and graph and analyze results.

Special skill requirements/preferences: No particular skills are needed as the dilutions, microbiology, and graphing are straightforward and can be quickly taught.

Time restrictions: Because of the nature of setting the assays and then analyzing them, time on two sequential days is ideal. A gap of a day may be acceptable as we should be able to preserve results by refrigerating tests for the student.

Project #40

Investigating the active magma plumbing system of Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano in Tanzania (Geosciences)

Project description: Use numerical modeling to simulate a variety of magma plumbing system scenarios that match observations of surface motions.

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: The research goals are: 1) Learn how to use the numerical modeling code Coulomb 3.4 and 2) Test hypotheses about what magma sources are active using Coulomb 3.4 for Ol Doinyo Lengai. The student(s) can expect to focus on a science project related to volcanology that has societal implications for the people living near Ol Doinyo Lengai.

Special skill requirements/preferences: No experience is necessary.

Time restrictions: Ideally, the student would be able to join my research group meetings, which take place Mondays from 4-5 pm. These are hybrid meetings held in Derring 4060 or online.

Project #41

Biological evolution across a critical transition in Earth history (Geosciences)

Project description: In this project, we examine the fossil record across the Proterozoic-Phanerozoic boundary at ~540 million years ago to understand the extinction of Ediacaran organisms and the evolutionary radiation of skeletal animals.

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: The main goal is to process and analyze geological samples that have been collected from Mongolia and Canada, to sort and identify microfossils, and to analyze the evolutionary pattern across the Proterozoic-Phanerozoic boundary. The main focus is the extract, sort, and identify microfossils; to photograph them using light and electron microscopy; and to carry out statistical analysis of these microfossils. A student may focus on one particular aspect of the research.

Special skill requirements/preferences: Prior experience with rocks and fossils is not required, but an inquisitive mind and good work ethics are key to be successful in this project.

Time restrictions: Students can have a very flexible schedule after they have been trained.

Project #42

Glycomaterial binding interaction kinetics and thermodynamics (GlycoMIP - Fralin Life Sciences Institute)

Project description: Glycomaterials or materials composed of sugars are useful bio-based products in several industries including foods, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals.  Understanding the strength of glycomaterial binding interactions is crucial to determining their applicability.  This project will use two instruments to measure glycomaterial binding interactions via the techniques of surface plasmon resonance and microscale thermophoresis. Initial tests will include standards in the field, but will then expand to additional molecules of interest that are likely to bind glycomaterials and would be relevant for these industries.

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: The student will learn how to measure and understand binding interactions including the kinetics and thermodynamics of binding.  This will also cover techniques to modify or immobilize binding molecules to allow for testing.  An overview of the various tools and approaches for binding measurements will be addressed.  The major goal of this project is to utilize these two instruments for binding analyses, which sets up the process to expand into various directions with molecules that have not been tested to bind glycomaterials previously.

Special skill requirements/preferences: None necessary

Time restrictions: No

Project #43

Effects of PFAS on thyroid hormone-mediated changes in neurogenesis in the developing tadpole brain (Neuroscience)

Project description: PFAS and related compounds are known as "forever chemicals" that persist in the environment for decades. Some are also known to interfere with thyroid hormone physiology, but not as much is known about their impacts on brain development. Given the importance of thyroid hormone in regulating brain development, we will evaluate PFAS’s for their effects on thyroid hormone mediated changes in brain development in Xenopus laevis tadpoles.

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: The student will learn how to conduct an experiment from start to end, learning valuable skills such as brain dissection, immunohistochemistry, confocal imaging, image analysis, and statistics.

Special skill requirements/preferences: Ideally students would have some background using spreadsheet software.

Time restrictions: There are not specific time constraints.

Project #46

Breeding biology of Tree Swallows (Biological Sciences)

Project description: We have an established breeding population of tree swallows at Kentland Farm, which is part of Virginia Tech. Over the past decade, we have used to population to study various aspects of breeding biology including parental behavior, sexually transmitted diseases, and reproductive success. Most recently we have used the population to investigate orientation and nest choice in these birds. We are planning further observational and experimental studies to determine how birds choose where to nest.

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: Students will learn how to identify and develop research questions and conduct studies to address those questions.

Special skill requirements/preferences: Curiosity and an interest in science.

Time restrictions: The spring semester is good for this project. For the first few months we will develop a plan and then implement it in the later months of the semester. Schedule is very flexible.

College of Veterinary Medicine

Project #44

Epidemiology of gastrointestinal parasites in hunting dogs (DBSP)

Project description: We will study the prevalence of and risk factors associated to gastrointestinal parasites in hunting dogs.

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: The student assigned to this project will perform fecal flotation test and will learn how to identify eggs and cysts of gastrointestinal parasites in dogs. The student will also learn the importance of each parasite species that infect dogs.

Special skill requirements/preferences: No experience is needed. The only skills I need from my students are responsibility and reliability. They will learn many other skills during their experience in my lab.

Time restrictions: The schedule will be negotiated based on student availability.

Project #45

The Dog Aging Project: how genes, lifestyle, and environment influence aging (Population Health Sciences)

Project description: This is a large data science project that includes longitudinal information about more than 45,000 dogs. In my lab, we are primarily interested in examining the role that environment influences (physical, chemical, diet, exercise, etc.) play in health outcomes. We use epidemiologic approaches to perform data analytics and produce research outcomes.

What students can expect to learn or do in this project: The goal will be to examine a specific research question that the student will help to decide on. They will then be mentored through the process of analyzing data and producing research results. Our goal would be to publish these results in a peer reviewed journal.

Special skill requirements/preferences: Any coding our data analytic experience would be a plus. This project might also be of interest to a pre-vet or pre-med student.

Time restrictions: Flexibility around student schedules is expected.