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UNG graduates continue their research

Tim Kennell UAB
Tim Kennell, a 2013 graduate of UNG, works in a lab at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he is pursuing a medical degree and a doctorate while continuing medical research he began at UNG.

Whether working to understand the creation and behavior of stars or learning how viruses bond to antibodies to potentially help in the fight against cancer, graduates of the University of North Georgia (UNG) are taking strides in research begun as undergraduates at UNG.

UNG places great emphasis on undergraduate research through myriad programs and initiatives designed to challenge and grow students' abilities and horizons.

Tim Kennell ('13) is conducting research on viruses while simultaneously pursuing a medical degree and a doctorate at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Kennell is enrolled in the Medical Scientist Training Program, which was created and funded by the National Institutes of Health and is offered at only 43 institutions across the nation. The combined M.D./Ph.D. program melds the practice of clinical medicine in an academic setting with laboratory investigation of diseases and their mechanisms.

Kennell is researching how viruses bond to antibodies, which could lead to improved methods of modified gene introduction into cells and allow scientists to "reprogram" the cell. This process could be used as a cancer treatment by activating or shutting off certain genes within the cell that cause or fight cancer.

"This is very similar to the undergraduate research I performed while at UNG," Kennel said. "North Georgia provided critical preparation for what I am working on now, and my classes there are a large part of what steered me to the path I'm following."

Kennell plans to pursue a surgical focus or genetic focus for his medical degree.

Clark Casarella, ('11) a graduate student at the University of Notre Dame, is working with the nuclei of elements that exhibit strong vibrations, such as Gadolinium-160, an element important to nuclear structure physics and understanding how stars are made.

"Once we are able to understand the vibrations of stable elements and nuclei, we can extrapolate these behaviors to unstable nuclei. These unstable nuclei are important in the nucleosynthesis of elements in stars, because element formation occurs in regions of unstable nuclei that eventually decay to the stable isotopes that we see today," Casarella said. "Additionally, the stable isotopes of Gadolinium have been under scrutiny by nuclear physicists for the past few decades, so it has been a pleasure to be a part of such ongoing, historic research."

Casarella is working with many influential researchers and has collaborated with representatives from several other major universities.

"The Department of Physics at UNG provided me with an intimate environment to expand my interest and knowledge of physics," Casarella said. "It was through my experiences guided by the department and its faculty that I found my true passion for nuclear physics."

Lee Allison ('12) is researching the energy properties of gamma rays at Old Dominion University and has built a calorimeter — a device used to detect the rays as they are produced during a process called deeply virtual Compton scattering. He has worked with simulations of the calorimeter to research what happens when gamma rays enter the device.

"Once a gamma ray enters the calorimeter it will travel a short distance before converting into an electron and positron. These particles then also travel a short distance before emitting another gamma ray and losing energy," Allison said. "The process then starts over, and this cascade is known as an electromagnetic shower. The bulk of my research is in understanding how many particles leak out of the calorimeter during this process, how much energy was deposited inside the device, and how much of that deposited energy was detectable."

At UNG, undergraduate research is used for high-impact instruction, giving students the opportunity to approach subjects of their choice in immersive, guided study. These experiences provide students with an enriched learning experience and lead to better-prepared graduates, many of whom continue their research in graduate programs.

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