Students Help Advance a Rich and Varied World of Academic Research

In Focus
Natural & Applied Sciences
By Jill Fishbaugh


Mount Mercy prides itself on the experiential learning opportunities afforded to its students on and off campus.

The following seven examples of undergraduate students working on faculty-led research projects demonstrate the scope of science topics being tackled. ■

Junior Zachariah Devine and Sophomore Gabriela Kreinz worked with Anna Waterman, assistant professor of biology, to identify and analyze faunal remains recovered from the prehistoric Bruggeman Cave archaeological site in Jones County, Iowa. They hope to understand more about hunting strategies and dietary practices during the Middle to Late Woodland period (1–1000 CE).

Senior Whitney Christiansen and Sophomore Zach Steffen worked with Alesia Hruska, associate professor of biology, in Professor Robert Piper’s lab at the University of Iowa to create a screening technique that will help better understand what the SH3PXD2b protein does in the cell. People with a mutation in the gene that encodes this protein develop glaucoma as part of a larger disease known as Frank-ter Haar Syndrome.

Jordyn Lehman ’18 and Joe Nguyen, associate professor of chemistry, are studying how wine decomposes so methods can be developed to prevent it—such as one that a Cedar Rapids entrepreneur and chemist developed, prolonging its use and reducing waste in general.

Aly Schultz ’17 and Elizabeth Kleiman, associate professor of computer science, developed a parallel version of Kruskal’s algorithm for finding a minimum spanning tree of a graph. Schultz presented her work at the Nebraska Conference for Undergraduate Women in Mathematics.

Meleah Baloch ’18 and Jessica Hiney ’18 worked with Neil Bernstein, professor of biology, on his home range studies of hatchling and juvenile ornate box turtles. Baloch continued studies with Robert Todd, associate professor of mathematics, on a paper studying growth models on ornate box turtles as part of a McElroy Grant. Alexandria (Rene) Young ’18 and Senior Jennifer Hill are analyzing data on Bernstein’s sand prairie succession study by organizing microclimate and plant data.

Junior Josh Long worked with Ryan Bezy, associate professor of biology, to complete genetic screenings to identify new genes and proteins involved in Escherichia coli cell division. These screens took place in two different E. coli genetic backgrounds that are defective for cell division, and mutant isolates that suppressed division defects were identified. Isolates from both genetic screens will have their genomes sequenced in order to identify the specific mutations and genes responsible for suppression of the original division phenotypes. These genes and their role in bacterial division will then be a focus of future studies.

Senior Wyatt O’Conner and Robert Todd, associate professor of mathematics, studied how to use a mathematical object called a Stochastic Petri Net in order to model the behavior of genetic switches in the Lambda Phage bacteria. Todd and Sophomore Quinn Jamork did a computational study of Random Boolean Networks, which are related to statistical physics.