Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge - College of Engineering & Computer Science

Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge

TU biochemistry professor works to uncover the causes of a debilitating neurodevelopmental disorder

woman standing in a corridor with her arms crossed while smiling and wearing a green cardigan
Assistant Professor Jyoti Iyer

Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Jyoti Iyer is on a quest to understand the genetic causes of autosomal recessive primary microcephaly (MCPH). This rare neurodevelopmental disorder occurs when children are born with abnormally small heads and brains.

Babies born with MCPH display several neurological defects that considerably decrease their quality of life. “Unfortunately,” remarked Jyoti, “there are no treatment options and our mechanistic understanding of how this disease is caused remains limited.”

Genetic mutations and microscopic worms

One important clue on the road to deciphering MCPH’s incidence and progression lies in scientists’ awareness that a mutation in the SAS-6 gene is associated with the incidence of MCPH in humans. Rather than studying this gene and its mutation in humans, however, Iyer is looking to C. elegans – a microscopic worm — for answers.

two women in a laboratory looking at an image on a computer monitor
Jyoti Iyer and undergraduate student Rebecca Kitchen examine an image taken using a spinning disk confocal microscope

Iyer’s research entails determining the mechanistic effects of the SAS-6(L69T) mutation in C. elegans. Her project is funded by a subcontractor award — $394,399 in direct costs and $157,760 in indirect costs — on the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation’s (OMRF) Institutional Development Award (IDeA) Center of Biomedical Research Excellence grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH); funding is provided by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the NIH under award number 5P20GM103636-09.

“Interestingly, the SAS-6 gene in humans and C. elegans is very similar,” noted Iyer. “In fact, it was first identified in C. elegans and later shown to function in much the same way in humans.” When altered, the amino acid of the SAS-6 protein causes MCPH in humans, and this mutation corresponds to SAS-6(L69T) in the worms Iyer studies.

The quest for better diagnosing, prevention and therapies

an image of part of a tapeworm produced using a high-powered microscope
C. elegans gonad exhibiting blue fluorescent protein expression in the nuclei (image acquired using a spinning disk confocal microscope)

In order to carry out this investigation, Iyer and the students assisting her in her lab used CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing to recreate the MCPH-associated SAS-6(L69T) mutation in C. elegans. The expected result of this research is the development of better diagnostic, preventative and therapeutic regimens for MCPH.

Since receiving the first installment of the award in 2021, the bulk of Iyer and her team’s work has involved characterizing the molecular and developmental effects of the SAS-6(L69T) mutation in C. elegans. During the second year of the grant, the researchers plan to submit their findings to a peer-reviewed journal for publication. They also aim to generate additional preliminary data to support an R01 proposal to the NIH.

As Iyer has gathered data during the first year and as she looks to the future, she is thankful for the “solid mentoring team” at the OMRF, comprising Linda Thompson, Dean Dawson, Wan Hee Yoon and Jian Li. “I meet with these experts on a regular basis to discuss my results and to obtain their valuable feedback on my project’s objectives and progress,” noted Iyer.

Developing and mentoring future scientists

Just as Iyer is supported by a cadre of deeply knowledgeable individuals, so too does she help to develop future scientists. In fact, all the research performed in her lab is carried out by University of Tulsa undergraduate students.

One such student, Amy Smith (BS ’21), recalled the excitement and impact of the hands-on research she was able to do in Iyer’s lab as part of the MCPH project. “My friend Mary Bergwell (BS ’21) and I were in the lab whenever we had free time to pick worms, run gels and perform experiments,” commented Smith, who now is using her education as an associate scientist with Pfizer. “Performing real skills in the lab is infinitely more valuable than learning about it in a classroom, and I am confident that if I had not been in this lab or had Dr. Iyer as a mentor, I would not be working for such a great company today.”

two women in a laboratory with the woman in the foreground using a pipette
Jyoti Iyer and her research technician Erin Haastrup

Bergwell, who today works as a research technician in the Kirkland Lab in the Department of Cell Cycle and Cancer Biology at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, echoed Smith’s comments: “Gaining the hands-on experience with research in the Iyer lab imbued me with a deeper appreciation for the concepts I had learned about in my classes as a biology major. Not only was I able to fully understand the intricacies of the scientific process, I have gained invaluable insight into how research is conducted on a broader scale in addition to gaining a true mentor in Dr. Iyer and a friend in Amy. My time participating in undergraduate research in the Iyer lab has propelled me further in my career than I ever could have imagined, and for that I am extremely grateful.”

Iyer is justifiably proud of the students she has mentored in her lab. Over the past three years, for instance, Smith, Bergwell and another student, Ellie Smith, each won the Best Oral Presentation prize for their research findings at the Gulf Coast Undergraduate Research Symposium.

These and other students who have worked in Iyer’s lab have also received several internal TU awards, including from the Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge (TURC) and Student Research Grant Program. Several have also conducted full-time research during the summer supported by TURC and the Chemistry Summer Undergraduate Research Program.

If you want to get first-hand experience working in state-of-the-art laboratories, then you definitely need to check out the fascinating opportunities available with TU’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

Educating consumers about maintaining lithium-ion batteries

Lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) are in just about every nook and cranny of modern life in the Western world. From mobile phones to electric cars, laptop computers to “smart” watches, these portable, rechargeable units power millions of people’s work and play.

young woman with long dark hair and arms crossed standing outdoors near leafy green trees
Malia Aurigemma

While LIBs are ubiquitous and useful, current processes for mining and processing lithium and other required metals have considerable impact on the natural environment. In addition, LIBs are recycled at a dismally low rate (around 5%). Taken together, mechanical engineering sophomore Malia Aurigemma remarked, “these factors mean it’s vitally important that we learn how to maintain LIBs so that we can slow down the depletion of the planet’s natural resources and reduce our electronic waste.”

Battery Smarts

Auriemma’s foray into this complex field is called Battery Smarts. Undertaken as a Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge (TURC) project mentored by Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering William LePage, Battery Smarts is an online media marketing campaign that aims to educate consumers about how to maintain their smartphone batteries, as well as reaching smartphone companies to request features that simplify battery maintenance.

a graphic element that shows two people hugging the earth under the words "Take care of your planet by taking care of your batteries!"“About half of Americans believe that they should completely drain their battery before charging. This could be because nickel-based batteries, like the NiCd battery, benefit from this practice,” said Aurigemma, who has had a passion for sustainability and natural science ever since she was a high school student in Jenks, Oklahoma. “Smartphone companies have not widely promoted the correct charging practice for their batteries.”

In reality, however, the best practice is to maintain a mid-level charge (20-80%) whenever possible. Draining LIBs and/or keeping them at a full charge for long periods of time shortens the usable battery lifespan and can cause smartphone performance issues. “Not only does this hurt consumers’ wallets by shortening the period between smartphone purchases,” Aurigemma explained, “but it contributes greatly to the massive and perpetual electronic waste stream.”

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Aurigemma’s TURC project, which she is undertaking solo, builds on research carried out in summer 2020 by Evan Isbell, another member of LePage’s Advanced Materials Design Group. Isbell surveyed smartphone users in the U.S. to assess their charging knowledge and habits. Isbell’s survey revealed that approximately 75% of U.S. smartphone users are misinformed about how to best maintain their batteries and are practicing poor charging habits because of this misinformation.

Educating and entertaining for change

a graphic item with information about the optimum charge for a lithium-ion batteryThe education aspect of Battery Smarts entails developing and posting engaging graphics and slideshows to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Aurigemma, who is pursuing a minor in sociology, also created a change.org petition to reach out to smartphone companies and ask them to include a feature that would allow users to choose the level of charge they would like their phone to reach and, when on a charger, to remain at.

Aurigemma launched her social media channels in July and the petition in early August. “Gaining a following has been a slow but steady process, but my social media pages have achieved from 1,100 to 5,100 profile views, and my petition is nearing 200 signatures,” she reported. Her ultimate goal for the petition is to reach 1,000 signatures but, she noted, “I would love to go even further with it.”

“With her Battery Smarts project, Malia is making significant contributions by combining her passion for sustainability with her skills as a mechanical engineering major and sociology minor,” LePage observed. “She worked diligently throughout the summer to make great headway on spreading the message about proper charging of Li-ion batteries. Looking ahead, I’m excited to see Malia’s project really take off and make a difference!”

Follow @batterysmarts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Help save the planet and your money! Sign the Battery Smarts petition today.

Keen to get her sophomore year underway, Aurigemma intends to continue working on Battery Smarts. Her focus will be on producing and finding more content to post and more ways to promote the petition. In addition, “a friend of mine in computer science and I are also looking at potentially developing an app for IOS and the Google Play Store. Our idea for this is to promote healthy battery-charging habits in a fun, game-like way.”

The Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge welcomes your ideas and inspiration. Bring us your plans and we’ll help you energize them.


Military veteran and electrical engineering senior triumphs over adversity

Each University of Tulsa student’s story is unique. Some, though, are clearly more unique than others.

Consider electrical engineering rising senior Benjamin Bozworth. In addition to his formal studies, Bozworth is a member of two prestigious engineering honor societies: Tau Beta Pi and IEEE Eta Kappa Nu. In May, he was elected president of the latter. “Being invited to join these organizations has been astounding to me,” said Bozworth. “Sometimes I worry that if people really knew who I was they wouldn’t accept me or would reject me.”

head and shoulders of a man wearing a red polo shirt standing outdoors
Benjamin Bozworth

So, what is there in Bozworth and his past that might cause such concern?

Being 31 years old in a crowd of early 20-somethings definitely sets him somewhat apart. But getting together with Bozworth for a chat quickly reveals that beyond mere calendar years it’s what he has experienced and accomplished during his three decades that has challenged, scarred, frightened, exhilarated, motivated and forged this determined U.S. Army veteran about to enter the final year of his undergraduate studies.

What doesn’t kill you

Bozworth’s rough and rutted road began when he was placed into foster care at the age of 3 or 4. “I stayed in the system and lived in several parts of Oklahoma until the Bozworth family in Cushing adopted me when I was around 15,” he recalled. “I am beyond grateful for them welcoming me into their home when they did. Not many people are willing to adopt teenagers, but the Bozworths adopted two other boys besides me and have three biological children of their own.” The stability this new environment provided enabled Bozworth to graduate from Cushing High School in 2008.

Halfway through his senior year of high school, Bozworth joined the National Guard, opting to become an infantryman. His plan was to do six years in the guard, get a degree, become an officer and then go on active duty. “I think I had some convoluted idea that by doing those things I could get people’s respect and admiration, like in the movies.”

Even though he had a full-ride scholarship to Oklahoma State University, two days after his high school graduation Bozworth showed up for basic training. While he could have stayed home and attended university, after basic, he volunteered for deployment and was sent to Kuwait in fall 2008. “My time in the Middle East was nothing like I imagined a combat theater would be like,” Bozworth said. “No action, no gunfights, none of the stuff I had signed up to do. It was just hot and boring. Returning stateside in summer 2009, Bozworth married in October and then divorced four months later. “Typical young soldier stuff, really,” he commented.

“Being a veteran gives you a set of tools, but how a person uses those tools is up to them. I used those tools to cause myself a lot of unnecessary pain for many years until I found someone to show me how to use the tools correctly. Things like be early and stay late. Ask questions. Focus on the objective. Work as a team. Respect your peers and superiors.”

Back home, Bozworth also enrolled at OSU. During his third semester, he received word that deployment to Afghanistan was imminent. “I had started drinking and partying around the same time and decided that was – given the propsect of not coming home from battle – certainly more important than school, so I dropped out.”

Arriving in Afghanistan in June 2011, Bozworth’s eyes were opened to the reality of bloody, violent warfare. “This was nothing like my time Kuwait. We were told that the place we were going was a Taliban stronghold and that it would be a hell of a fight. What an understatement! For nearly three months, we took contact every day in some form. Mortars, rockets, ambushes. It was what I had signed up to do, but it quickly got out of hand. This takes a toll on a person.” On Jan. 22, 2012, Bozworth was injured by some shrapnel from an explosion and medevac’d to Germany. From there, he was sent to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio where he spent several months recovering.

Back in the United States, Bozworth was fighting another powerful adversary: drug addiction. “I couldn’t keep a job, I was getting into trouble, and life got pretty bad for quite some time.” In 2013, he called Veterans Affairs for help and was sent for treatment. He stayed clean for a couple of months, but then things deteriorated further. That December, Bozworth made his first suicide attempt. “If I ever forget where I came from or how bad my life was I only have to look in the mirror at the scar on my neck from where I slit my throat and had to have 18 stitches put in.”

At that point, Bozworth was medically discharged from the National Guard. “I would like to say that was when I got clean and turned my life around. Unfortunately, it’s not. This went on for several more years: more trips to rehab, more suicide attempts and eventually homelessness.”

That vicious cycle, however, eventually came to an end. “May 21, 2016. That’s the day I got clean, and I have been clean ever since.”

Beginning afresh

Bozworth’s triumph over addiction and self-harm enabled him to resume his academic journey. After about a year, he enrolled at Tulsa Community College, unsure of what major to pursue but energized by his studies. After two years, during which he maintained a consistent 4.0 grade-point average, Bozworth graduated with two associates degrees in math and physics.

During his third semester at TCC, Bozworth applied to study at The University of Tulsa. “Calling myself a nontraditional student is a bit of an understatement, and I certainly didn’t think I would ever get in,” he recalled. “I had a lot of fear coming to a place like TU. I am nearly a decade older than all of my peers, and there is a stigma that goes with being in recovery, even if only in my head.”

One man’s “amazing” TU story

Life at TU has required hard work and, through that, Bozworth has achieved great personal and academic success. “Two or three semesters in, I was invited to join the engineering honor society Tau Beta Pi. This was astounding to me, going from two-time drop out to honor society! And then last semester I was invited to join the IEEE Eta Kappa Nu honor society. Somehow, I am now the president of the TU chapter.”

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Overall, Bozworth says, his time at TU has been amazing. From feeling distant at first and worried about fitting in, he transformed into someone who feels part of a strong community. “I’m still astonished by the inclusivity of the student body, and the faculty are remarkable and always willing to take the time to help. That’s undoubtedly contributed to my success here.”

Bozworth also underscores the role of staff in helping him settle in and move forward, from Electrical and Computer Engineering’s department assistant Marla Zumwalt – “someone who I’ve been able to talk honestly with since I first got to TU” – to Cindy Watts, the university’s director of veterans affairs. In that role, Watts has had ample opportunity to get to know Bozworth. “He is such an amazing person and truly a pleasure to work with,” she said. “After all of his service for our country, Benjamin is now utterly dedicated not only to his studies, but also to supporting other student veterans across the university and to getting involved in the events we put on through the McKee Veterans Success Center.”

For Watts, Bozworth was the natural choice to receive the 2020-21 Chevron Student Veteran Association Engineering Scholarship. “When I called to give him the news, Benjamin was so thankful and honored,” she recounted. “He’s a man who never takes anything for granted.”

Digging into research

A highlight thus far of Bozworth’s academic journey at TU has been getting involved in the Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge (TURC). During summer 2020, Bozworth studied solar panel efficiency as a factor of mounting technology.

“I wouldn’t say that I made any major discoveries that would change the solar industry, but it was still an incredible learning experience for me to work the project through from proposal, design, construction, testing and on to findings,” said Bozworth. “I had to design and build the mount and program the Arduino to control the servo so it was a good use of a lot of the different things I have learned so far.”

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Bozworth’s TURC mentor was Chapman Applied Assistant Professor Nathan Hutchins. “Benjamin works hard and strives for excellence both in the classroom and in his research,” commented Hutchins. “He never complains that something is difficult. He just always does his best. One of the things that impresses me most is that he’s always asking questions in order to gain genuine understanding rather than an easy answer. As a researcher, he never fails to complete work on time and he’s 100% focused on improving whatever system he’s tackling. I am looking forward to seeing where Benjamin winds up after he graduates. I don’t doubt he’ll go on to do extraordinary things.”

High-voltage internship

In summer 2021, Bozworth packed his bags and headed to Borger, Texas, to take up an internship with Phillips 66 at the refinery. Working on high-voltage power systems, his main project entailed designing an automatic transfer scheme for all four of the facility’s main substations in the event of a power failure. The other part of this project has been critical motor analysis and protection.

David McCauley, an electrical engineer with Phillips 66, supervised Bozworth during his internship. “Benjamin has been making great progress on the projects we’ve assigned to him,” McCauley commented. “He’s a really quick learner and likes to get right in the middle of things. Added to that, his positive attitude and interesting sense of humor makes Benjamin really easy to work with. There’s no doubt this guy has a rewarding career ahead.”

“I cannot overstate how much I have learned through this experience,” Bozworth enthused. “From high-voltage distribution systems to motor controls and schematics to load analysis, it’s all been an incredible experience.” The fact that he has been assured that his automatic transfer solution will be implemented in 2023 underscores both Bozworth’s growing expertise and the company’s trust in him.

Looking forward to a smoother road ahead

As he looks to his final year of undergraduate studies, Bozworth is particularly keen on the senior design course: “I enjoy a good challenge, and I feel like it will be a great opportunity to put all the knowledge I’ve gained to practical use.”

After graduation, Bozworth hopes to find employment in the renewable energy sector. “There’s going to be an ever-increasing demand for energy across the U.S. and the globe,” he observed, “and I believe that to meet that need we’re going to rely more and more on renewable resources.”

“I really want to stress the importance of asking for help. No matter what you may be going through there is ALWAYS help available. In in my own experience, the strongest and most courageous people are the ones who ask for help, not the other way around.

“I did not do any of this on my own. I am only here as a result of the support of my friends and family. I especially want to thank my mentor, Richard Wolfe Jr., who saved my life by showing me that there is a different way to live. Richard always says it’s better to live with failure than regret.

“So, do the hard thing. Do the thing that you don’t think you can do because you may just be surprised at what you can accomplish. I know I am.”

Outside of work, he plans to continue lifting up other people who have struggled in ways similar to himself. Currently, Bozworth mentors a couple of veterans, helping to provide guidance and support. His efforts extend beyond former military, however, as he is active in the Tulsa recovery community, “just helping in whatever way I can.” Despite taking up about eight hours a week on average, this work “is something I’m really passionate about. It’s a small way to make a big difference in someone’s life. We all just need someone who understands our struggles. Kind people did the same for me when I was down.”

You’ve served your country, now write the next chapter of your story with a TU degree. Get in touch with the McKee Veterans Success Center today.


What are pre-med and pre-health professions?

So, you want to be a physician.  

Or a nurse. Or an epidemiologist. Or a veterinarian. Or a physical therapist. 

You can get into these careers, and many others, through the pre-health professions program at the University of Tulsa. 

What can I do with a pre-med degree? 

Now is an ideal time to consider a health care career. Employment in health care-related professions is expected to grow by 15% through 2029, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  

close-up shot of three people in hospital scrubs with arms crossedAnd while “physician” may be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a medical career and a pre-med program, there’s a lot more to health care than being a doctor. If you love working with patients, but aren’t up for four years of med school on top of four years of college (and then residency to boot), you can pursue dozens of avenues that can be just as fulfilling. 

As a student on a pre-health track, your pre-health advisor will work with you to ensure you’re taking the classes you need to reach whatever career you’re interested in. With your degree, you can go on to be a pharmacist, physician assistant, public health worker, dentist, optometrist or many more different health professions. 

Before we go on, let’s clear one thing up: If “doctor” is your dream job, you may be wondering about getting a pre-med major. But at most colleges, there’s no such thing. In fact, whether you want to be a doctor or go into another health profession, you can major in whatever you want as long as you take all the prerequisite courses you need to qualify. Because so many of those courses are science-related, students on a pre-health track often find science degrees attractive. 

If you wanted, though, you could major in accounting or chemical engineering and apply to med school. You simply need to work with your advisors to ensure you meet your degree requirements and the prerequisites for admission to your target health professions school. 

As part of the pre-med program, we’ll start advising you in your freshman year about what courses you’ll need to take. If you do want to go to medical school, our health professions committee will look at your grades to give you an idea whether you’re likely to be a good candidate. Medical schools are notoriously selective; fortunately for you, TU students have had a lot of success getting in. On average, 70% of TU students who apply to med school are accepted. 

A pre-health degree gives you a wide array of options. Some require further education; for some, you can find job opportunities right out of college.  

If you’re on a pre-health track at TU, we recommend you take: 

  • One year of chemistry 
  • One year of organic chemistry 
  • One year of physics 
  • One year of biology (Intro to Molecular and Cellular Biology, then Introduction to Organismal and Evolutionary Biology) 

If med school is your goal, you should also take classes in biochemistry, psychology and sociology; if you’re headed to a professional school, a class in genetics may also be required. Certain programs need a year of calculus. Ethics and sociology classes may also be a good idea. 

We know that’s a lot. Yet, in this competitive field, you may want to go even further. Admissions committees love to see students who really got into their work, either by taking as many relevant classes as possible, or by working on a student research project.  

Student research at TU 

At TU, you’ll get the chance to do real, meaningful work in the lab. Undergraduate research is a hallmark of our program. In the past, TU students have won Goldwater and National Science Foundation scholarships and awards. And the experience has served countless students who have gone on to grad schools and beyond. 

Some of these opportunities include: 

Experiences like these do more than round out a résumé. They lead to even bigger opportunities down the road, and give you a head start on finding the health science career that fits your goals. 

TURC program demonstrates benefits of undergrad research

The Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge (TURC) is one of The University of Tulsa’s most celebrated programs for providing undergraduate students with dynamic projects that advance research, support scholarship and enrich the community. Students from every college participate in year-round TURC research endeavors that fuel the curiosity of their minds and challenge the possibilities of discovery.

The following student projects showcase the diversity and value of TURC research and mentorship.

Maureen Haynes, senior, sociology and biology

TURC programMaureen Haynes of Tulsa began her freshman year at TU as a mechanical engineering student, but an intro-level sociology class persuaded her to switch majors. Later, as a sociology student, she realized she missed studying the natural sciences and working in a laboratory, so she added biology as a second major. Haynes conducted research with Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Michael Keller in high school as a Junior TURC student and then as a TU student. She worked with graduate students to develop and rigorously test methods for the synthesis of microencapsulated magnetic nanoparticles designed to self-sense damage in synthetics.

Haynes’ sociology TURC research involved researching the narrative experiences of Oklahoma’s public school teachers, which ultimately evolved into her senior thesis. She conducted in-depth interviews with teachers from across the state before and after Oklahoma’s historic teacher walkout in 2018. She coded for similarities and analyzed how they presented their profession, work and politics surrounding the education field. Haynes presented her research findings in a 2019 TEDxUTulsa talk “What Oklahoma’s Protesting Teachers Can Teach Us.”

TURC programHer third TURC research component included an independent research project with Assistant Professor of Biology Matthew Toomey to study the metabolic conversion of yellow and red carotenoids in the avian visual system. Haynes also participated in the 2019 National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (NSF REU) program by examining the metagenomics of animal mortality composting through sophisticated sequencing platforms in genomics.

While her research has spanned a broad scope of subject matters, Haynes explained there are common themes. “These experiences solidified my adoration for the research process and how collaboration across people, disciplines and students yields powerful scientific findings. I love the research process and the research community here at TU.”

Nathan Blue, senior, English

TURC programNathan Blue’s TURC research project involves helping with cleaning, rehousing, digitizing and documenting the metadata of fan letters sent to musician Bob Dylan. Many of the letters have never been opened and were written at a pivotal time in Dylan’s career — following a motorcycle crash the singer survived in the summer of 1966. “These letters are an unprecedented glimpse into pop and rock fandoms at a time before magazines dedicated to rock music criticism like Rolling Stone came about,” Blue said. “Through our metadata documentation, these letters will become a wellspring of insight into mass fandom in the 1960s.”

Blue became infatuated with Dylan’s music and its cultural impact in high school, eventually transferring from Tulsa Community College to TU in hopes of getting involved with the TU Institute for Bob Dylan Studies. He works closely with Sean Latham, institute director and English professor; Kate Blalack, lead archivist at the Woody Guthrie Center; and Mark Davidson, manager of the Bob Dylan Archive at TU’s Helmerich Center for American Research. “My research has taught me more about music fandom than I thought possible,” Blue commented.

He plans to continue studying the Dylan fan letters while pursuing a master’s in English literature at TU.

Luis Juarez, senior, chemical engineering

TURC programFor the past two summers, Luis Juarez has studied silicon dioxide (SiO2), the main component of sand, for potential new optoelectronic technologies. He and Associate Professor of Chemistry Gabriel LeBlanc explored how the electrodeposition method for obtaining purity c-Si from SiO2, coupled with temperature ionic liquids, could significantly reduce the cost of obtaining c-Si necessary for the production of solar cells, computer chips and smartphone chips. The process could also reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“What caught my attention with this project was the impact it could have on the world,” Juarez explained. “We could increase the production of solar cells/panels as well as other new technologies that required c-Si while reducing the amount of energy required for c-Si production and pollutants.”

The project has taught him the importance of green chemistry and how new methods of obtaining c-Si for solar panels will help incorporate solar energy into our daily lives. After graduation, he plans to work in the pharmaceutical, environmental or energy sectors of the chemical engineering industry.

Andrew Helt, senior, psychology

TURC programFor his TURC project, Andrew Helt partnered with Associate Professor of Psychology Lisa Cromer and a group of graduate students to develop new forms of therapy to treat nightmares in children. He and doctoral student Mollie Rischard found that inhibition and set-shifting may improve with treatment. “Helping kids cope with nightmares through relaxation strategies, helpful sleep habits and changing the script of their dreams to make them less scary could also potentially help them change from recess to math class more effectively or suppress an impulse to distract their classmates,” Helt stated.

After screening for children’s nightmares at a local psychiatry clinic, he also began to wonder why more families were not taking advantage of free sleep treatment. Helt and doctoral student Jack Stimson interviewed caregivers via phone to learn why more children did not seek treatment; for some, the nightmares subsided on their own while others chose to learn more about their options. “Thanks to ownership of a project as an undergraduate, I’ve come to enjoy research far more than I expected, and I’ve started thinking about a career in research,” Helt explained. “I’m grateful for the role TURC has played in that journey.”

Learn more about how to support TURC students by contacting Natalie Adams at natalie-adams@utulsa.edu.

Gaming students take interdisciplinary approach to summer TURC projects

Students Courtney Spivey and Cheyanne Wheat, enrolled in one of the College of Engineering and Natural Science’s fastest growing majors, are spending their summer diving into computer simulation and gaming development – with a humanities twist.

A career of creativity

Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge (TURC) student Courtney Spivey wants to create video games. As an artist, drawing and being creative is all she’s ever wanted to do.

“I’ve always loved to imagine. My interests have expanded and changed form vastly over the years, but at the end of the day I want to be involved in a career where I can be creative and share my creativity with as many people as possible,” she said.

computer simulationSpivey is laying the groundwork for her future by triple majoring in applied mathematics, computer simulation and gaming and art (emphasis on graphic design) in the Kendall College of Arts and Sciences. The University of Tulsa’s computer simulation and gaming degree begins with core computer science classes in the fundamentals of programming and understanding computer systems, and then gives students the freedom to choose a specialization. As an example, the areas of design and development focus more on the artistic aspects of creating, screenwriting and drawing and also offer electives such as video editing and 3D modeling.

Courtney says she likes learning about code and the development side of the computer simulation and gaming program. In January, she began her TURC research exploring deep learning, artificial neuro networks (ANNs) and the capabilities and current limitations of artificial intelligence (AI). In addition to machine learning and AI, Spivey’s work has grown to include the study of human behavior in psychology in an attempt to find connections between the similarities of the creators and their methods for approaching deep learning.

“The human side is more flexible. When you look at why humans prefer one thing over another, you have to consider the validity of the research,” she said.

Gaming goals and future endeavors

In June, Spivey attended the International Computational Creativity Conference (ICCC) in Charlotte, North Carolina, to learn about mixing AI and machine learning with creative channels such as music and drawing. Her TURC adviser, TU School of Art, Design and Art History Director Teresa Valero, encouraged her to pursue the opportunity. Spivey will complete the community engagement portion of her TURC project later this summer when she visits Tulsa Public School sites to teach students about ANNs.

“The cool thing about TURC is that because I’m interested in media and art and how we perceive AI from a normal point of view, I can combine that with computer science analytics,” she said. “I find this research fascinating.”

computer simulationSpivey, who is from Jenks, Oklahoma, begins her senior year at TU this fall. After graduation, she hopes to work in game development as a creative manager for new projects.

In the meantime, Spivey is open to detours along her career path that pique her interest and challenge her skillset. Ironically, she is “not that much of a gamer” but credits video games like Detroit: Become Human and Legend of Zelda for leading her to this summer’s TURC project.

Gilcrease connections assist with museum technology

computer simulationFellow computer simulation and gaming major Cheyanne Wheat sits at a computer across TU’s campus in Rayzor Hall working on a similar project that also involves collaboration with TU arts and sciences programming. A junior originally from the Tulsa area, she has teamed up with TU anthropology Professor Bob Pickering to create a simulated time progression of an Indian burial mound’s construction. The interactive video game will benefit curators and preservationists at cultural institutions, such as Gilcrease Museum, where anthropologists are eager to incorporate more technology into interactive learning.

“I want to know how we can use games or game-like activities based on a museum collection to engage a younger audience,” Pickering explained. “Gilcrease has 10,000 years of human history objects from the Americas, but if you’re a 9-year-old, you don’t know these objects, you don’t have any connection to them and you don’t know why they’re important.”

According to Pickering, the museum video game concept is an experiment on every level, but collaboration with computer simulation and gaming students on a “museum forward” idea is important for the next generation of museum professionals. “This partnership is a way to start the process — to figure out what kind of technology we need and how much time it will require,” he said.

computer simulationPickering and JC Diaz, a professor in the TU Tandy School of Computer Science, have worked together on a few other museum technology projects in the past that have resulted in published papers presented at scholarly events such as the Electronic Visualization in the Arts Conference in London. The unexpected collaboration between TU’s anthropology and computer simulation and gaming programs is, Pickering noted, one of the first of its kind and sparks many interdisciplinary possibilities for curious students.

The TURC partnership weaves Pickering’s experience as an archaeologist, Gilcrease artifacts recovered from burial mounds of the Hopewell Tribe in Illinois and Wheat’s expertise as a computer simulation and gaming student. “He’s giving me the historical, accurate information, and as a developer, I’m building all of it into a museum context,” she said.

computer simulation
Cheyanne Wheat’s community service component of TURC involves volunteering for Animal Aid in Tulsa.

Wheat uses an Intel RealSense 3D camera to photograph models of Hopewell Tribe artifacts placed on a turntable. The hundreds of images are then plugged into a computer program called Unreal to develop a game that is fun and informative. Players will explore a landscape full of nature, animals and artifacts from the Hopewell Tribe 250 BCE to 250 CE while learning about history and civilization. The objective is to tell the story behind historical objects and discuss how museum-goers of all ages can learn from a video game feature.

“I’m hoping to complete development by the end of the summer and start testing it with real individuals to see how it captures people’s interest — if they like it and think it belongs in a museum,” Wheat said. “I’m focused on integrating more technology into museum culture. There’s so much technology the anthropology field hasn’t tackled yet.”