Redefining the Classroom

Research grants assist with e-book sleeper, lake sturgeon studies

Posted: January 25th, 2014

THERE BE GIANTS – Student technicians with Lake Superior State University's Aquatic Research Laboratory release a lake sturgeon after tagging it on the St. Mary's River. LSSU's latest batch of undergraduate research includes funding for a genetic study that might reveal from which part of northern Canada the giant fish got their toehold on the Great Lakes after the last ice age. The fish in this picture is at least 75 years old. (LSSU File/John Shibley)

A print-resolution photo that runs with the caption above can be found by clicking here.

Researcher Haleigh Edgar
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SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – Four Lake Superior State University students have received cash grants to support research into the impact of e-book readers on sleep, how bursts of activity affect attention levels in kids, the oxidizing effects of common industrial compounds on cells, and the genetic history of lake sturgeon in the St. Mary's River.

A generous benefactor started the undergraduate research grant program with a substantial gift in 2007. As the educational impact of student research grows, so does financial support from alumni and friends through the LSSU Foundation Office.

“There are many opportunities for students to collaborate with faculty on research, however there has always been a challenge to help fund such collaborations,” says LSSU Foundation Executive Director Tom Coates. "The benefactor designated their contribution to this initiative and made these opportunities possible. As support for this undergraduate research program increases, we see a great opportunity to expand the students' educational experience within their chosen field of study."

Undergraduate research is a vital part of the student experience at LSSU. In fact, the university mission and vision statements emphasize its role in helping students develop their full potential, as well as contributing to the growth, dissemination and application of knowledge beyond campus.

Researcher Maggie Nelson
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"An area of pride for our university is the incorporation of student research into the academic programs," says Barb Keller Ph.D., dean of the LSSU College of Natural, Mathematical and Health Sciences and also the chair of the committee that awards the undergraduate research grants. "The availability of the undergraduate research funding has given students access to funding for research projects that otherwise may not have been possible."

Students who graduate from Lake State must first demonstrate and apply their knowledge in the form of a senior project that is evaluated by fellow students and faculty. Many of these projects become posters and papers presented at professional conferences. Open sessions held on campus each semester share research results with the public as well.

"For many students, a senior thesis project is their first pass through rigorous university-level research," says Keller. "Now we add another opportunity by making an undergraduate research grant available. The selection process itself provides our students with skills that may not only fund, but steer the research they go on to conduct as post-graduates."

Haleigh Edgar is investigating the effects, if any, of LED-backlit tablets on sleep patterns. Many devices, such as televisions, computers, cell phones, and e-books, use light-emitting diode (LED) backlights. These devices are being used more and more before bedtime, yet little research has been done to investigate the effects they may have on our bodies. Exposure to these backlights before bedtime might decrease sleep quality by reducing alpha brain wave stimulation and decreasing melatonin concentrations in the body. By reducing brain waves associated with relaxing and daydreaming, and by lowering the main hormone that regulates the circadian cycle, sleep problems may ensue. Edgar will be looking for any side effects after her college-student subjects read on tablets an hour before bedtime. She is a pre-medicine senior majoring in biology from Tecumseh, Mich.

Researcher Lilja Strang
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Maggie Nelson looks to measure the effects of short duration, intermittent physical activity on attention levels in children ages 8-10. An area of popular research today is on the effects of physical activity on academic performance in students. Although there are many studies pertaining to memory, few studies examine bursts of activity on attention spans. Nelson's study compares a control (study hall) group of kids with other youths after a five-minute activity, 10-minute activity, and 15-minute activity. A statistical test that measures attention spans will be given before and after activity. Nelson is an exercise science senior from Ossineke, Mich., who is also graduating with a health fitness specialist associate's degree.

Lilja Strang will study the genetics of lake sturgeon in the St. Mary's River. The origins of ancestral lake sturgeon populations in the Lake George region of the St. Mary's River are in question. They do not appear to be related to other populations in the Great Lakes, and may be more closely related to lake sturgeon from further north in Canada. Sturgeon in the St. Mary's also faced a severe decline in the 1900s, so efforts to help them make a comeback are important. Examining DNA from the St. Mary's sturgeon will establish the genetic origins of these fish and answer fundamental questions about the genome's robustness for recovery efforts. Strang is a junior in biology from Carleton, Mich.

Erin Mulroney seeks to measure the effects of two common chemicals on cell enzyme activity. Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) are compounds that do not occur naturally in the environment, but have been manufactured for use in consumer products, including water- and stain-repellent surfaces, adhesives, nonstick coatings and lubricants. As a result of their multiple uses and difficulty to break down, residues of these man-made compounds are now found in all humans and wildlife. Oxidative stress is thought to be induced in cells by PFOA and PFOS, resulting in the production of reactive oxygen species and cellular damage. Mulroney is using a single-cell animal, the bacterium Rhodobacter sphaeroides, to model any effects from the chemicals. The bacterium is good for this study because it demonstrates metabolic processes similar to human cells. Incidentally, preliminary results do show PFC-induced changes in antioxidant activity within the cell. Mulroney is a junior from Thessalon, Ont., majoring in biology with dual minors in chemistry and sociology.

Researcher Erin Mulroney
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The deadline to apply for next semester's award is Feb. 3. Details on the program may be found by running a Web search for "LSSU Undergraduate Research Committee."

Anyone who wishes to support the undergraduate research fund can contact the LSSU Foundation office at (906) 635-2665 or make a contribution through the LSSU Foundation online giving form.


CONTACTS: John Shibley, e-mail, 906-635-2314; Tom Pink, e-mail, 635-2315; Dr. Barb Keller e-mail, 635-2185 ; Sharon Dorrity, LSSU Foundation, e-mail, 635-2665.