research

High school seniors perform cutting-edge research as TURC Junior Scholars

This summer, The University of Tulsa is hosting 13 rising high school seniors from the Tulsa area and surrounding communities as TURC Junior Scholars. The program stems from the nationally recognized Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge (TURC), which allows standout high school students to engage with tenured and tenure-track faculty in the university’s state-of-the-art laboratories. The Junior TURC program has hosted more than 70 high school students since its establishment in 2012.

Researching workout supplements

Seerut Parmar, a senior at Holland Hall, has been working with Gordon Purser, a TU chemistry professor. The two have taken on a project to determine whether a workout supplement is providing the extra boost that it claims.

Junior TURC
Professor Purser and Parmar

Purser explained that the supplement, l-arginine ethyl ester, has been endorsed by athletes for several years, but “we haven’t found any evidence in the literature to support that position.”

As a TURC Junior Scholar, Parmar has the opportunity to look for such evidence or disprove the claims altogether. The high schooler was not shaken by being thrust into an academic environment at the university level.

“I felt prepared coming in,” she said. “I had to adapt and learn things about arginine that I didn’t know, but the people at TU helped me feel included and engaged from the first day. They made the transition from an AP Chem classroom to an actual research project a comfortable one.”

Purser, likewise, had nothing but good things to say about Parmar and the Junior TURC program.

“The high school students do not have the preparation of TU students – they haven’t had organic chemistry here, for example. But they’re also exceptional students from around the Tulsa area, so with very little guidance, they can come into the program and make a big impact. Working with Seerut this summer has been a pleasure. Nobody has been more eager to help and driven to learn.”

As the team continues researching, Parmar is laying the foundation for a potential career. She wants to double major in chemistry and journalism in college, planning a future where she can explore “writing with chemistry, or doing chemistry with writing.”

Studying disease in cotton

In the Department of Biological Sciences, Junior TURC scholar David Steichen is working with TU Associate Professor Akhtar Ali on a project about mycoviruses, or viruses that infect fungi.

Junior TURC
Professor Ali and Steichen

One of these fungi, Fusarium oxysporum, has destroyed large percentages of cotton crops in Texas and will only continue to spread if no remedy is found. Since cotton is a major cash crop of the southwest, a deadly fungi could significantly damage the economy.

Steichen and Ali are working to prevent this. Their research with mycoviruses is aimed at using these mycoviruses as a control agent to stop the spread of the fungal disease.

As Steichen explained, “We are trying to isolate the virus and purify it, find its specific RNA, DNA and genetic material, then eventually get that into sequencing.”

Doing so would make the cure achievable.

“After sequencing, we would have to make a solution to drip near the root of every plant,” Ali added. “The virus would be transferred by nature. It would be a solution with no pesticides, no environmental pollution and positive long-term effects.”

In other words, Steichen has spent the summer focusing on research that can help the Midwest economy. Come August, he will return to high school at Bishop Kelley to focus on AP tests and choosing a university to attend next year.

Steichen spoke on this dichotomy of high school life versus college research, saying that he finds joy in both and values them for different things.

Junior TURC
Ali studies a field of cotton infected by the fungi.

“I recently took AP Bio and learned about DNA and how it’s sequenced,” he said, “But never had I actually sequenced it. At TU, after watching, learning and asking a lot of questions, I was able to dive into the research, and being immersed in what I’ve studied helped me truly understand it.”

Ali, regarding the Junior TURC program, said, “It’s a pleasure to work with such bright, intelligent high school students that want to engage with a research project such as this.”

While Steichen hopes to pursue more research or a career as a medical doctor, Ali will continue his research on crops, and both of them will certainly help advance their fields.

“This is a great experience to learn as much as I can to work with college research while in high school,” Steichen said. “I’m seeing how research works and getting a clear path of where I want to go.”

Learn more about the Junior TURC program.

Three faculty named TU Outstanding Researchers

The University of Tulsa honored its inaugural group of Outstanding Researchers at spring commencement on May 4. The Outstanding Researcher Award is a lifetime distinction, received only once in an individual’s career. It is intended to honor career-spanning achievements that have been validated in the scholar’s professional field.

These are the 2018-19 recipients:

outstanding researchersRose F. Gamble, Tandy Professor of Computer Science Engineering. Gamble developed a safety and security requirements model that can be embedded and used by a self-adaptive system to intelligently determine the least risky adaptation to deploy at runtime.

outstanding researchersJamie L. Rhudy, Director of the Psychophysiology Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience and Professor of Psychology. Rhudy’s research identifies mechanisms that contribute to and/or maintain chronic pain (particularly in Native Americans) and seeks to develop non-invasive methods for assessing individuals at risk for developing chronic pain.

Outstanding ResearchersCem Sarica, F.H. “Mick” Merelli/Cimarex Energy Professor of Petroleum Engineering. Sarica’s research has been disseminated to the public at large through more than 240 publications and incorporated in various software. He has been recognized internationally with several awards by the Society of Petroleum Engineers, most notably with an SPE John Franklin Carll Award in 2015.

Candidates for the Outstanding Researcher awards were nominated by deans from the Kendall College of Arts and Sciences, College of Engineering and Natural Sciences, Collins College of Business and the Oxley College of Health Sciences. Nominees were selected for their recognition of outstanding research and scholarship achievements based on a single project or a cumulative contribution.

Other considerations included pedagogical awards, honors from scholarly societies, grants, publication citation counts or other forms of public recognition. External recognition of a faculty member’s work also factored into the selection process.

Learn more about this year’s distinguished faculty awards, including the 2018-19 Outstanding Teachers and Medicine Wheel Award recipients.

TU students place first and second at statewide research competition

Two students from The University of Tulsa College of Engineering and Natural Sciences received top honors at the 2019 Research Day at the Capitol in Oklahoma City.

sarah gutierrez
Gutierrez with Chancellor Glen D. Johnson

Chemical engineering junior Sarah A. Gutierrez of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and chemistry junior Marjorie Sheaff of Owasso, Oklahoma, were among 22 undergraduate students representing 16 Oklahoma colleges and universities at the event in March. Gutierrez won first place in the research-intensive campus category for her plasma catalysis research. Sheaff earned second place in the research-intensive campus category for her conductive 3D printing research.

marjorie sheaff
Sheaff with Chancellor Glen D. Johnson

They presented competitive research posters to the State Legislature and the public during the annual event, sponsored by Oklahoma NSF EPSCoR, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education and the National Science Foundation. The event is designed to raise awareness of the outstanding research that is taking place at Oklahoma’s colleges and universities.

TU receives more than $1M in DoD funding

roger maillerThe University of Tulsa will soon improve its interdisciplinary research and training with a new Department of Defense award received by Associate Professor of Computer Science Roger Mailler. The Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP) award, totaling more than $1 million, will allow faculty working in neuroscience to purchase a state-of-the-art scanning confocal microscope that can provide a clearer picture of individual neurons.

“The system will be used like an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), similar to the one used to study humans,” Mailler said. “Instead of measuring how a nervous system produces behavior on a scale of tens of thousands of neurons, this system does it on the scale of individual neurons.”

The microscope will be used to reverse engineer the nervous system of roundworms in ongoing research titled “Choosing a Direction: Neural Models of Decision Making.” In this study, Mailler and a group of TU scientists will investigate how these creatures regulate their speed and direction. Roundworms, or specifically Caenorhabditis elegans, exhibit qualities of autonomy and adaptability. Researchers in this project hope that it will be a stepping stone toward developing advanced, adaptive machines that can recognize and respond to the outside world, also known as intelligent systems.

According to Mailler, “The technology is the most sophisticated technique available, relying on the fusion of genetic engineering, cutting-edge optics and advanced image processing and data analysis.”

The technology can essentially analyze individual neurons and reverse engineer nervous systems using light. This empowers more than just current research projects, but also opens the door to pioneering discoveries in multiple disciplines.

In addition to the benefits to TU researchers, it also affords students the opportunity to train on cutting-edge technology that will set them apart in science, technology, engineering and math fields. This award opens access to one-of-a-kind tools exceeding anything available in the southcentral United States, distinguishing TU as a True Blue institution for faculty and student-researchers alike.