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CURCA mini-grants focus on student-led projects

2020-12-11-TaylorBerry CURCA mini-grant
Taylor Berry was one of a dozen students who won a Center for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities grant to conduct research. Berry is a sophomore from Villa Rica, Georgia, pursuing a degree in chemistry with a concentration in biochemistry.

University of North Georgia (UNG) students conducting research are trained to solve problems. Faced with delays and other obstacles caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, students searched for another way to continue research.

More than a dozen UNG students found the answer through the Center for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (CURCA) at UNG. Its mission is to promote learning through students' active engagement in undergraduate research and creative activities during their collegiate career.

Previously, CURCA awarded its annual mini-grants to faculty members. This year, mini-grants were revamped and awarded to student-led teams with faculty support.

"We realized UNG lacked a mechanism to support student research projects directly, so we decided to refocus the mini-grant awards on students," said Dr. Anastasia Lin, assistant vice president of Research & Engagement. "The grants will allow students to learn about professionalism and prepare for graduate school and the workforce. Though each student must apply with a mentor, the students get the experience of writing a grant and potentially adding it to their resume."

Students wrote research proposals, and UNG faculty and staff members awarded 10 projects. 

  • Haley Shea Barfield with Jim Shimkus: Adventures in Transhumanism Demo v3.0: Developing a brain-computer interface (BCI)-controlled interactive hypertext fiction game to educate players on potential issues of emerging technologies and cyber-augmentation.
  • Taylor Berry with Alison Kanak: Characterization of pleomorphic bacteriophage using Arthrobacter globiformis.
  • Rebecca Corley with Sonny Mantry: Probing Nuclear Structure and Dynamics at the Electron-Ion Collider.
  • Alexandra Correa with William Balco: Rice Farm Grant Proposal.
  • Jose Izaguirre Garcia, Lilia Saber and Briana Sargent with Ghulam Hasnain: Side directed mutagenesis studies of PyrD and PyrR genes involved in riboflavin biosynthesis.
  • William Loudermilk and Veronica McClanahan with Dr. Wei-Lun Sun: Studying the Behavioral and Neurochemical Effects of Long-Term Exposure to Carbaryl in Male and Female C57BL/6J Mice.
  • Neil Patel and Melanie Majors with Linda Purvis: Molecular characterization and bacterial strain differentiation of songbird Mycoplasma gallisepticum isolates.
  • Isabelle Pobanz with L. Zane Miller and Dr. Eric Huddleston: Forming a Copper Peptide-Based Hydrogel Through Flow Chemistry.
  • Meghan Richter with Ryan Meier: N-Heterocyclic Carbene Complexes of Nickel: An Examination of Synthetic Options and Targets.
  • Tamara "Tami" Stroup with Joanna Kim-Doyle: Effective Virtual Music Lessons: Investigating and Adapting Piano Teaching to the Online Setting.

Taylor Berry said winning the mini-grant confirmed her choice in major.

"I wasn't sure I was supposed to be majoring in chemistry with a concentration in biochemistry," said the sophomore from Villa Rica, Georgia. "It was a confirmation that I was doing the right thing."

Now, Berry is looking forward to isolating a protein produced by a bacteriophage and determining its effect on antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

 "I'm looking forward to successful results, because if we can get protein to kill bacteria, it could replace antibiotics," she said.

Neil Patel's research project also will focus on bacteria, but it targets pathogens in songbirds. However, he will not see the research project to completion since the 22-year-old from Commerce, Georgia, graduated in December.

"I was still ecstatic that we won the grant," said Patel, who earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biology. "Now, I have everything in place with people ready to hand off the torch. I'm excited to see work they uncover."

Meghan Richter's research stems from previous students' projects from the past nine years, but she plans to explore the use of a previously made chemical compound belonging to a class of compounds called N-heterocyclic carbenes (NHCs). The senior pursuing a degree in chemistry is pleased the grant will give her that chance.

"Undergraduate research has taught me an important life lesson," she said. "When one route does not work, keep trying different routes, over and over again, until it does. Never give up."

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