Projects & Mentors

Please contact faculty directly if you have specific questions about individual research projects. 

The SCOPE Mentor Meet and Greet event will be Wednesday, January 24, from 12:30-1:30 pm in FJS 151.  At this event you will have the chance to chat one-on-one with SCOPE faculty and get your questions answered before applications are due on Friday, February 2.

  • Environmental Detective Work: Using eDNA to Detect Aquatic Invasive Species

    Dr. Burks

    This proposal seeks support for research into a novel detection tool (i.e. environmental DNA or eDNA) designed to detect invasive apple snails (genus Pomacea) and their parasites in aquatic systems. Field work will occur in the Houston metropolitan area, with plans to extend the work in the future to other states where apple snails have invaded (i.e. Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, etc. .. ). The collaborative team will investigate how environmental factors, such as temperature and the presence of antimicrobials, along with the interaction of these two factors, alter the likelihood of detecting a species and in doing so link field and laboratory research.


    Identifying Regulatory Factors of the ICE391 SOS Mutagenic Response

    Dr. Gonzalez

    Triggered by the SOS response, the activation of the error-prone polymerase RumA’2B functions as a last resort for cell survival during severe DNA damage. Located on the integrating conjugative element ICE39 l, the highly mobile and mutagenic nature of this genetic element can accelerate the spread of antibiotic resistance across gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria. The mechanisms activating these low fidelity polymerases in the SOS response is widely accepted; however, the factors regulating the· mutagenesis of RumA’2B within ICE39l remain undiscovered. Previous work in our laboratory has involved assessing the regulatory capacity of the entire ICE391 DNA. We have cloned out several regions and found one region that down regulates RumA’2B activity. We look to continue characterization of the remaining Uncharacterized regions of ICE39 l and further delineate any regions of ICE391 found to affect RumA’2B mutagenic activity. 



  • DNA Damage within Alternative DNA Structures 

    Dr. Zewail-Foote

    DNA damage is thought to play a role in many human age-related diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and neurodegeneration and can arise from both exogenous factors and endogenous processes. The most common DNA conformation is the well­known, double-helical B-form; however, DNA can adopt also non-8 DNA structures such as such three­stranded triplex DNA structures. We will examine how damage to intramolecular triplex structures affects structure, stability, and mutation frequency.

  • Developing Artificial Intelligence for Video Games

    Dr. Schrum

    Video games are a popular testbed for many Artificial Intelligence (Al) techniques because they are simulated, controlled environments, but have a level of complexity that makes optimal decision making by in-game entities difficult. Students will work in a team to design intelligent agents for a game or other simulated environment using cutting-edge Al techniques such as Evolutionary Computation and/or (Deep) Reinforcement Learning. Available environments include simulated robot mazes, abstract predator/prey scenarios, and video games such as Ms. Pac-Man, Super Mario, Doom, Unreal Tournament, Tetris, and more. This research is geared toward the writing of a peer-reviewed conference publication. Depending on the game chosen, there is also potential for participation in one of many international game Al competitions. There are also opportunities to develop intelligent agents/artifacts for non-game domains. 


    Solving a Mystery with Data Science

    Dr. Stolper

    Ever been curious if you could use your programming skills to be th􀀛 face of a new crime drama on network TV? Each year, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory organizes the Visual Analytics Science and Technology (VAST) Challenge: a competition for rapidly developing technologies to solve data-driven mysteries. Each May, the lab releases a dataset and a description of the tasks that must be accomplished using the dataset (such as ferreting out the perpetrators or unscrambling the sequence of events). The past few years’ challenges have included corporate espionage, security breaches at a bank, chaos at an amusement park, and identifying the environmental impacts of chemical plants on a bird sanctuary. The goal is both to solve the mystery, but also to build generalized tools to help analysts solve similar problems in the real world. This summer, you’ll be building a multi-user, touchscreen-based tool for exploring this year’s challenge data. This summer, come solve a mystery and, in the process, do science!

  • Segmental Contributions to Angular Momentum Generated During a Competitive Swimming Start

    Dr. McLean

    Vint et al. (2008) found that use of the swimming start block design that incorporates a
    “wedge” on the block surface can benefit the swimmer. However, they found that use of these wedges causes the swimmer to leave the block on a more downward trajectory which negatively impacts overall start performance. It is possible to mitigate this effect with movements that reduce the angular momentum that is forcing the swimmer to rotate downward off the block. While a number of articles in trade journals have described such movements, there is still debate as to whether the use of a rear leg kick and/or lifting the head during the start are effective. This project will use an approach previously used by Holthe and McLean (2001) to compute segmental contributions to whole body angular momentum. Different start techniques will be employed to evaluate how segmental movement·s (e.g., rear leg kick) affect the overall angular momentum of the start. 


    Histological and Molecular Analysis of Skeletal Muscle Regeneration in Animal Models of Peripheral Artery Disease and Resistance Exercise Training

    Dr. Merritt

    When many people think of kinesiology, they think of physical education teachers, coaches, and athletes. However, one large area of kiriesiology often overlooked is that of the kinesiologist as a medical scientist or molecular biologist aiming to understand the basic cellular mechanisms that contribute to overall health. The proposed SCOPE research project’s goal is to get students involved in the latter. Morphologic and molecular analysis of skeletal muscle tissue is an important component of more than just making body builders bigger and stronger. These analysis techniques are important for our understanding of muscle health as it relates to many conditions from aging to injury to genetic diseases such as Muscular Dystrophy. In this project, students will be intimately involved in the analysis of skeletal muscle tissue subjected to two different conditions: resistance training and ischemia/reperfusion injury. Collaborators at the University of Texas have agreed to let our SCOPE students analyze muscle tissue that they have collected to help us better understand how skeletal muscle hypertrophy occurs at the cellular level, and how to effectively utilize adult stem cell treatments to help regenerate muscle which has been damaged by disorders like peripheral artery disease. Students will learn several histological and biochemical techniques commonly used in cell and molecular biology. The data that the students collect will be compiled with the data obtained by our collaborators and used to advance our understanding of skeletal muscle in both health and disease. Students will present their research findings locally at Southwestern, but also internationally at the Experimental Biology annual meeting in 2019. This project will be a truly transformative experience for the students involved, and will no doubt help them make the connections we hope they have made as graduates of Southwestern University. 

  • Creating a Self-Navigating Robot for the Ocean

    Dr. Alexander

    Marine robotic vehicles allow scientists to measure and better understand ocean conditions. As a result, these devices have become essential to a wide variety of applications including environmental monitoring. One problem with such vehicles, however, is that they require significant amounts of power to move and this often limits their range or time at sea. Last year, my students and I built a robot that uses the energy from waves to move. In o􀀪der for this robot to measure ocean conditions, it will need to have the ability to know where it is, to steer towards where it wants to go and to collect data. Adding those three functions is my goal for this summer project.

  • Understanding the Side-Effects of A New Treatment for Depression: Ketamine Miracle Drug or Nightmare Waiting to Happen

    Dr. Guarraci

    Ketamine is an N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA)_ receptor antagonist. Ketamine is currently under consideration as an alternative treatment for depression. However, the side-effect profile of ketamine needs to be more fully investigated. This study will continue to characterize the effects of ketamine on a range of behavioral effects in female rats. For example, we will measure the effects of ketamine on sexual behavior, anxiety and locomotor behavior. Our previous studies have investigated the effects of acute treatment of ketamine on behavior. These new studies will investigate a protocol for repeated administration of ketamine. Given the observation that ketamine has been shown to relieve depressive symptoms for 3 - 21 days, a more chronic protocol needs to be studied. Adult female rats will receive either ketamine (10.0 mg/kg i.p.) or the vehicle saline once per week. Thirty minutes after each injection, weekly behavioral tests we be conducted. We will observe sexual behavior, anxiety, and locomotor behavior during each test.


    Expectations of Understanding and Physical Health

    Dr. Crockett

    As part of the SCOPE program, I will continue a research project started in my capstone course this year. In my lab, students are investigating the physiological consequences (i.e., cortisol responses) of feeling misunderstood while discussing interpersonal conflicts. We will spend the academic year collecting all the data necessary for the project. The summer spent conducting secondary analysis on interview data from the study (see project description in the narrative for more details), analyzing remaining cortisol samples we collected, and working on a manuscript. By the end of the summer, our goal is to have a student-co-authored manuscript that we will submit for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. We will also have an abstract ready to submit to a national conference.