Summer Undergraduate Research Experience – The Citadel Today Thu, 30 Jun 2022 16:18:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Summer Undergraduate Research Experience – The Citadel Today 32 32 144096890 Change-leading Citadel researcher and professor earns accolade from SC governor Wed, 15 Jun 2022 18:43:38 +0000 Weinstein’s research on microplastics, especially the discovery of microscopic tire particles in coastal waters, has gained both national and international attention.]]>

John Weinstein, Ph.D., recipient of Governor’s Award for Excellence in Scientific Research

He is best known for his landmark studies assessing the sources, fate and effects of plastic and microplastic pollution along the South Carolina coast. That work is just part of what led John Weinstein, Ph.D., a professor of Biology at The Citadel, to be the 2022 recipient of the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Scientific Research at a Predominantly Undergraduate Institution.

Dr. Weinstein’s research in the last two decades has been squarely at the epicenter of environmental toxicology, providing scientific insight into some of the most pressing environmental issues that affect our coastal ecosystems.

Darin Zimmerman, Ph.D., dean for the Swain Family School of Mathematics and Science, introducing John Weinstein at the Governor’s award event on May 31, 2022

Zimmerman accompanied Weinstein to the state capitol to accept the honor from South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster.

“This award recognizes Dr. John Weinstein’s record of scientific research excellence as well as his many contributions to teaching and service. He is a highly respected scientist with an impressive record of research accomplishments. Through teaching and mentoring of students, he has expanded our state’s STEM literacy and helped to increase the visibility of its research within the national and international scientific communities,” the Governor’s proclamation read.

Why he stands out

Cadets Jerry Higgins and Douglas Karam, accompanied by Dr. John Weinstein, Biology, deploy an experiment to measure how face masks, rubber gloves and hand wipes decompose in the salt marsh behind Inouye Hall on Thursday, October 14, 2021.

Weinstein’s research on microplastics, especially the discovery of microscopic tire particles in coastal waters, has gained both national and international attention. The national media, including National Geographic, National Public Radio and the National Resources Defense Council have highlighted his research findings. Underscoring the international significance of Weinstein’s research, he was recently invited to participate in hearings at the French Senate in Paris as the Parliamentary Office for Scientific and Technological Assessment were interested in learning more about his findings.

Weinstein’s current national and international grant-funded research projects include:

  • Microplastic abundance in oysters and its impact on human health (funded through a $5.7 million grant through the National Institutes of Health to establish a Center for Oceans and Human Health and Climate Change Interactions at the University of South Carolina)
  • Pathways of Microplastic and Tire Particles through Stormwater Infrastructure (funded by the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium, research being conducted with colleagues from Clemson and College of Charleston)
  • Nuisance Flooding as a Pathway for Microplastic Entry into Coastal Waters (funded through The Citadel Near Center for Climate Studies, research being conducted with colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania)
  • Occurrence and Degradation of Pandemic-Related Plastic PPE in Charleston Harbor (funded by the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium)
  • Application of Standardized Litter Assessment Methodology to Southeastern U.S. Beaches to Compare French and U.S. Plastic Debris (funded by the Global Council for Science and the Environment, research being conducted with French scientists from the Center of Documentation, Research and Experimentation on Accidental Water Pollution)
Dr. John Weinstein studies microplastics at The Citadel (Courtesy: Victoria Hansen, SC Public Radio)
Dr. John Weinstein studies microplastics at The Citadel. (Courtesy: Victoria Hansen, SC Public Radio)

Weinstein, who was recently named assistant provost for research at The Citadel, received his Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina in 1991. He accepted a faculty position with the Department of Biology at The Citadel in 2000, where he has since also served in a variety of administrative roles including department chair, associate dean for accreditation and interim dean. Weinstein has established an impressive record of mentoring both undergraduate and graduate students in his research, many of whom have won presentation awards at local, national and international conferences and have gone on to successful careers in environmental science.

I can trace my interest in the field of environmental toxicology all the way back to when I was growing up in New Jersey, where my family would spend summers at the beach. Even at an early age, I used to wonder where marine debris came from and what impacts was it having on sea creatures. These early experiences fostered in me a curiosity of the natural world and an appreciation of how humans can influence natural processes. Equally important is that I thoroughly enjoy training the next generation of scientists by providing guidance and mentorship. The undergraduate and graduate students that I’ve trained in my research laboratory have been truly remarkable. The recognition that I’ve received is really a testament to their hard work and perseverance.

John Weinstein, Ph.D., Biology professor and assistant provost for research at The Citadel
Dr. John Weinstein (center with plaque) posing for a photograph at the South Carolina state capitol with his family and with the Dean of the Swain Family School of Science and Mathematics, Darin Zimmerman (far right), on May 31, 2022.
With summer just around the corner, urban heat island effect is something to consider Tue, 19 Apr 2022 13:59:56 +0000 "We learned the hottest urban heat island areas, in the deep red on the map, are often the most population dense and are as much as 11.1 degrees warmer than neighboring areas on a sweltering summer day."]]>

Learnings from my undergraduate research experience

By Cadet Emma Larsen, The Citadel Class of 2022, Civil and Environmental Engineering major

I was recently introduced to the urban heat island effect, the occurrence of an overall higher temperature being documented in urban areas compared to their rural counterparts, through The Citadel’s Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE).

Much of this temperature difference is a result of infrastructure factors of materials — including asphalt and concrete — absorbing and re-emitting the sun’s rays, urban geometry trapping the energy within the confines of the urban boundary, and large amounts of movement and activity in a small area (roadways) causing an abundance of heat waste. The urban heat island effect directly impacts Charleston, South Carolina, my home for 11 years, piquing my interest.

I wanted to participate in research that is important to my family and me. Additionally, as an undergraduate Civil Engineering major, I was interested in learning more about extreme heat variances to help fellow cadets survive the Charleston heat as we wear grey woolen uniforms and stand outside for hours for our military dress parades and practices. So, I began engaging with HeatWatch through the SURE program and the Near Center for Climate Studies at The Citadel.

HeatWatch is an ongoing, national effort to record temperature and humidity in participating cities on a single day to see how they vary from one area of a city to the next. Through this effort, the data collected about heat within cities around the U.S. can be formed into maps visualizing how the temperature varies throughout the urban area, how the layout of the structures causes this variation and which communities are most vulnerable.

The national HeatWatch campaign is coordinated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and CAPA Strategies, a climate research and data collection company. They provide devices that are heat sensors to local companies, colleges, organizations and volunteers within selected cities to conduct the data collection campaigns themselves, contributing the results to the national project and to local agencies that will find it helpful.

For Charleston, the head of this campaign was Dr. Janice Barnes, of Climate Adaptation Partners. She led a group of local organizations including The Citadel’s James B. Near Center for Climate Studies, the City of Charleston, the Medical University of South Carolina Arboretum, the Institute for Air Quality Studies and Office of Health Promotion, Charleston Resilience Network, Charleston Medical District, South Carolina Interfaith Power and Light, and Carolinas Integrated Science Assessment.

On our assigned collection day, July 31, 2021, about 30 people were needed to drive throughout the city on preplanned routes with the provided heat sensors on their cars to gather the data including temperatures and locations. While members of the organizations participated in the data collection, most volunteers were members of the community interested in helping discover more about Charleston’s urban heat impacts.

This temperature map, released as part of a report months after our data collection day, displays the results of our combined efforts. We learned the hottest urban heat island areas, in the deep red on the map, are often the most population dense and are as much as 11.1 degrees warmer than neighboring areas on a sweltering summer day.

Working with the HeatWatch effort allow me to participate in paid undergraduate research through our SURE program and it offered a highly unique experience of partaking in a much larger, national endeavor.

I was able to interact with Dr. Barnes, who involved those of us representing The Citadel in the planning, video conference calls, organizational emails, volunteer recruiting efforts and the day of data collection for Charleston HeatWatch. On collection day, I was one of the volunteers driving in my car on a pre-planned route of the city with a heat index sensor attached to my window. For my experience in participatory learning, in addition to the in-depth learning I achieved from my research, I gained experience with major project planning, learned how a multi-company endeavor is planned and coordinated, and saw how global climate issues can be addressed within a community.

After being encouraged to read and study deeply into a topic, I have understood more about the urban heat island effect than I could have learned in a regular class. The SURE program created a community of professors and students interested in studying beyond the expected curriculum and encouraged active participation instead of passive. There were not any tests or exams that created parameters of what I was supposed to know. Instead, this is an educational experience without limits, where students are given room to teach themselves and become subject matter experts on a topic. Overall, my research experience made me see the city in a different light and made me more aware of how small design choices around me are directly affecting the climate. I am going to take these experiences with me as I am writing an academic journal article about participatory learning and pursuing a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering.

Now, as I approach graduation this May and with summer just around the corner, I am considering the urban heat effect that will affect so many people in our Charleston community. I hope that my future career as an engineer will include being able to help make a difference in mitigating some of the negative impacts of climate change on local communities.

Cadet Emma Larsen is a Civil and Environmental Engineering major from Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.

Read the full report resulting from the Charleston HeatWatch team’s work at this link.

Cadets and students are “SURE” to continue their investigative studies Thu, 06 Aug 2020 13:41:37 +0000 A select number of cadets and students worked virtually throughout the summer as paid researchers in their areas of interest, guided by expert professors.]]>

An unusual summer is not stopping undergraduate research at The Citadel

Research is an integral part of learning at institutions of higher education. Usually, a select number of cadets and students would remain on campus throughout the summer to work as paid researchers in their areas of interest.

However, with the campus closed, much of the research moved online — but continued, all the same.

This summer’s projects are focused on topics such as preventing spear phishing cyber-attacks, how street trees help cool Charleston, ways to determine human-trafficking hot spots, the migration and evolution of seagrape trees and more.

The undergraduate researchers began their projects after being selected for the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE). The program provides stipends to the cadets and students, allowing them to be entirely focused on their research. Many of the projects are being extended through the fall semester, with extra time needed due to work limitations resulting from the pandemic.

Here are some of the SURE projects underway:

Tracking coastal tree migration and the genetic effects of hurricanes

Cadets Ben Scott, Logan Dix and Derek Webster — led by Biology professor Danny Gustafson, Ph.D. — are researching how a tropical plant spread throughout the Caribbean basin and what affect hurricanes may have had on the plant’s evolution.

A seagrape tree with fruit (Courtesy: Danny Gustafson, Ph.D.)

Coccoloba uvifera (the scientific name for seagrapes) can be found in southern Florida, the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago, and more. The research is based in biogeography — the study of how a species spreads over time to different locations.

The plant grows along the edge of the beach, where it often bears the brunt of hurricanes. The research also looks at how those hurricanes may have affected the genetics, by looking at samples that come from areas with different levels of historical tropical activity.

Seagrape trees growing along the coast (Courtesy: Danny Gustafson, Ph.D.)

The cadets have traced the genetic variances in the plants’ chloroplast, based on location. They helped with DNA extraction, Polymerase chain reactions (or rapidly multiplying the DNA samples for study), and sequencing. The next step is learning how to use software that helps interpret that data.

“The data given through DNA is so massive, it’s nearly impossible for humans alone to understand,” said Scott. “That’s where computers come in. BEAST2 is open-source software for Bayesian Evolutionary Analysis. This means there is an entire community working together from around the world to develop software for phylogenetic analysis of molecular sequences, and it’s free to use.”

Scott says the software has also been used to understand the global migration of viruses, such as influenza and, now, COVID-19.

He’s been learning how to use the software, and will use the program to map how the plant spread out across the Caribbean Basin.

Gustafson has been working on this research for a few years. “My productive undergraduate research laboratory is driven by our exceptional biology students,” he said.

The research was presented at the 2019 SURF Conference and The Citadel’s Student Excellence Day; the abstract was accepted by the Association of Southeastern Biologists.

Jelly made from seagrape fruit (Courtesy: Danny Gustafson, Ph.D.)

Exploring the cooling effects of street trees in Charleston

Between the heat and the humidity, a Charleston summer can feel almost unbearable. But part of what makes the city beautiful may also make it feel a little more tolerable.

Cadet Anthony Sands, along with Civil and Environmental Engineering professor Nandan Shetty, Ph.D., are researching the possible cooling, environmental effects from the trees that line the city streets – effects on all of Charleston, beyond just the relief of standing in the shade.

They are receiving data from remote sensors they placed in trees on three different samples — on an oak tree, a crape myrtle and, as a control, a light pole.

Cadet Anthony Sands checking a sensor in Hampton Park

“The sensors that we installed measure temperature and relative humidity,” said Shetty. “Temperature and humidity can be used to calculate a heat index, the measure of how hot it actually feels.”

They hope to expand the project to include twelve sensors on the south side of Hampton Park.

For Sands, the project means more than just scientific exploration.

“I became interested in doing research primarily to get an experience of what graduate school would look like,” he said. “I am thoroughly interested in environmental engineering, and quantifying the effects of street trees is a step further in the direction of where I want to be.”

At the end of the project, Sands and Shetty plan to submit their research abstract to the American Society for Engineering Education-Southeast.

Diversity in the nursing industry

One of the SURE projects combines two of the most important issues of 2020 — the importance of healthcare workers and the national need for expanded diversity and inclusion.

Cadet Mya Dollard, along with Amy Joseph, Ph.D., head of The Swain Department of Nursing at The Citadel, are focused on both of those issues.

Cadet Mya Dollard practicing in the The Swain Department of Nursing Human Simulation Lab in early 2020, before the campus closure

“Our project looks into the different barriers that racial minorities face starting in at the middle and high school levels that may limit them from successfully pursuing careers in STEM fields, like nursing” said Dollard. “We are looking to find ways to help underrepresented minorities succeed early on. This increases diversity in these professions.”

Dollard is conducting a literary review, reading scholarly articles about ways to improve racial diversity. She works to find the best ideas in the research, and then she and Joseph meet virtually each week to go over the findings.

Cadet Mya Dollard meeting virtually with Amy Joseph, Ph.D.

“We hope to write a grant to fund a new program, designed to increase the number of minority students who enter college, seeking health-related degrees,” said Joseph. “This has been something that I have wanted to work on for years and having Mya to help me has really motivated me.”

The team recently wrote a letter for their potential grant donors, and hope to have the grant written by the end of the year.

Other SURE projects include:

Analysing the speed and position of drones
Cadet Alexander Stensland with Pat Briggs, Ph.D.

Analysis of the metathoracic glands of the leaf-footed bug, Leptoglossus zonatus
Cadet Daniel Burckhalter with David Donnell, Ph.D.

Comparison of methods of generating photon radiation in hadron ccattering
Cadet Matthew Dittrich with Scott Yost, Ph.D.

Decision-making biases in preschool children
Cadet Hayley Dettenmayer with Audrey Parrish, Ph.D.

Fecal bacteria in Charleston flood waters
Cadet Malcom Jackson with Claudia Rocha, Ph.D.

Investigation of isometric strength characteristics and jump performance
Cadet Melanie Mikoy with Christopher Sole, Ph.D., CSCS, *D

Mathematical modeling of COVID-19 using regression methods
Cadet Ernest James with Mei Chen, Ph.D.

Pluff mud stability
College Transfer Student Brianna Rice with Simon Ghanat, Ph.D.

Sex work activity analysis of truck stops and human trafficking hot spot identification across the U.S.
Veteran student Ashley Towers with Jordana Navarro, Ph.D.

The Citadel’s Universities Studying Slavery project
Cadet Taylor Diggs with Felice Knight, Ph.D.

The metabolism of Mitragyna speciose
Veteran student Bereasha Washington with Michael Dorko, Ph.D.

Using e-mail DNAs of users to detect spear phishing attacks in the cyberspace
Cadets Jared Johnson and Eric Lilling with Shankar Banik, Ph.D., and Deepti Joshi, Ph.D.