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Millikin University students and faculty are hard at work in Millikin University’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program. The program teams a student with a faculty member to perform an in-depth research project over the summer months. The one-on-one research is a clear example of the type of “graduate level” opportunities undergraduates enjoy at Millikin.

The 2012 SURF program features several Millikin students and faculty across multiple disciplines conducting research and collaboratively forging new academic ground. This summer, five SURF fellowships were granted.

“Millikin's summer undergraduate research program provides our students with an incredibly rich experience doing primary research that they can continue to build on during the regular academic year,” remarked Barry Pearson, Vice President of Academic Affairs. “The research also provides them with opportunities to partner with full-time faculty in important research that reaches beyond the University and extends to a full range of performance learning outcomes, from product research to environmental and health sciences.”

Dr. Jeffrey Hughes, professor of biology, and Matt Alward, a junior biology major from Decatur, are analyzing and testing a recently developed genetic tool for their studies of the metabolism of S-adenosylmethionine (SAM) in bacterial cells. Alward developed plasmids containing genes for variable expression of the enzyme that Hughes has been using over the past two decades to study the metabolism of SAM. These plasmids allow the team to not only add exogenous SAM to cells, but also to deplete it internally by activating or inactivating the SAM enzyme inside cells with a sudden change in incubation temperature. The goals of their research is to verify the identity of a DNA insert in the plasmids that have the SAM gene, to determine the DNA sequence of the mutant gene to verify that it is different from the original in a way that explains temperature sensitivity, to determine the conditions under which temperature best regulates in vivo SAM activity, and to conduct the cell rescue experiment.

Dr. Bobbi Gentry, assistant professor of political science, and Maddison Harner, a sophomore political science and psychology double major from Lovington, are researching how we communicate politics to children. This research builds on Gentry’s previous research with political socialization. Political socialization is the process by which we become accustomed to our political environment. This research will answer questions about who makes the decisions on what to tell children in times of crisis, what times during a child’s life we discuss politics, and who makes decisions on curriculum. Research will be conducted through interviews with teachers, and former teachers will provide data on curriculum design, coverage of topics, and use of classroom materials.

Dr. Joe Stickles, professor of mathematics, and Hailee Peck, a sophomore mathematics major from Mahomet, are investigating zero-divisor graphs of commutative rings. A commutative ring is a mathematical structure in which you can add, subtract, and multiply, but not divide. The goal for this research project is to investigate what connections there are between the center of a zero-divisor graph and properties of the zero-divisor lattice.

“The main difficulty in studying zero-divisors is that this set typically lacks a certain amount of algebraic structure,” remarked Stickles. “The field of zero-divisor graphs is a relatively new field, so there are many results that can be obtained with just a few months of hard work.”

Dr. Travis Wilcoxen, assistant professor of biology, and Sarah Huber, a junior biology major from West Dundee, are investigating the effects of human-provided food on the health of wild birds. Huber is evaluating if the availability of such a constant, predictable food source reduces stress and improves feeder user’s ability to fight disease. Wilcoxen and Huber are also monitoring transmission of disease among birds. Their research is being conducted at six study sites, three of which have bird feeders. The properties used in their study are owned and operated by the Macon County Conservation District, the Piatt County Forest Preserve, and the University of Illinois. Wilcoxen and Huber will present their work from this research project and related projects at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology National Meeting in San Francisco, Calif. in January 2013.

Dr. Timothy Kovalcik, assistant professor of history, and Kalee Mitchelson, a sophomore history major from Chatham, will begin the initial stages of archival work at the Eureka Springs Historical Museum in Eureka Springs, Ark. The goal of the project is to analyze and archive nearly 10,000 artifacts and documents. The project is divided into two phases over two years. Phase one is initial research on archival “best practices” and assessing the archival needs. Phase two is digitally cataloguing and archiving. Mitchelson will assist in bibliographic work and she will provide the necessary cataloguing work at the museum. The specific goals for the project are to build a comprehensive bibliography on Eureka Springs public history and arrival methods, to assess the records and artifacts housed at the Eureka Springs Historical Museum, and to plan a course of action for future archival needs.
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Millikin University - Decatur, IL
Millikin University - Decatur, IL