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How Did You Spend Your Summer?

Twenty-one students at the University of New Haven received $2,500 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) awards that enabled them to conduct in-depth, hands-on research, working in collaboration with a faculty member.

The SURF program is supported by a generous donation from Frank Carrubba '69, ’79 M.S. and his wife, Pat.  Since the program began in 2007, more than 130 students have been selected to participate.

The purpose of the SURF program is to engage students in the experience of applied research. The full process involves crafting a research proposal, conducting a research project and preparing and presenting the results in writing and at a campus research symposium.

The following story originally appeared in UNH Today prior to the fellows beginning their summer work.

Sam Gurr, SURF

Sam Gurr, of Hamden, Conn., will be a senior this fall. He is working with professor Roman Zajac to determine the impact of the sea-level rise on saltmarsh habitats. He is observing saltmarshes on the Connecticut coast for burrows of a specific species of fiddler crab (Uca pugnax). Zajac, a professor of biology and environmental science, has found that in Branford, Conn., this species of fiddler crab burrows farther inland in mid-high marsh zones. Gurr will seek to support the findings in Branford in other marshes.

Gurr participated in the SURF program last summer and in 2011 and worked at Schooner Inc., a nonprofit marine science educational camp in New Haven during the summer of 2011. He hopes to do applied marine science research and would like to work at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Monika Mierzejewski, SURF

Monika Mierzejewski, of Woodbridge, Conn., a rising senior, is spending the summer examining the effectiveness of honey, propolis and royal jelly against certain types of bacteria and comparing their effectiveness  to commonly prescribed antibiotics.

“I am amazed by the complexity and elegance of the honey bee,” she said. 

Mierzejewski has been a microbiology lab assistant at UNH since fall 2012 and hopes to pursue a master’s degree or Ph.D. in microbiology.

Tristan Cowan, SURF

Tristan Cowan, of Gaylordsville, Conn., is a rising senior. She is working in the mechanical engineering department at UNH to design a small underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) for marine science education.

Cowan also was awarded a SURF grant in 2011 and has worked in UNH's Solar Testing and Training Laboratory (STTL). She has worked as an assembler for Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics.

She hopes to work in robotics after graduation.

Jessica Norstog, SURF

Jessica Norstog, of Fargo, N.D. is a rising junior studying how much energy is required for a euryhaline fish – one that lives in both salt and fresh water – to maintain the salt held within its body. “It's important to maintain salt levels in a body because salt affects muscle movement, neuron transmission, hydration and blood pH,” she said. “Humans are able to regulate how much salt their bodies hold by using their kidneys. Fish are able to regulate their salt levels by using their gills, intestines and kidneys.”

In freshwater, the water tends to flow into the fish through the gills in an attempt to decrease the concentration of salt to obtain equilibrium. In saltwater, fish have a lower salt concentration than the environment, so water tends to flow out of the body through the gills.

A euryhaline fish is exposed to both fresh and salt water, usually in an estuary system where river freshwater enters saltwater. As a result, the fish needs to be able to regulate the water flow in and out of its body. It takes energy for the fish to be able to maintain the salt levels. “My mentor, professor John Kelly, and I are trying to determine how much energy a specific euryhaline fish, the hogchoker, uses to maintain these levels.” Norstog said.

Norstog, who was awarded a prestigious two-year Ernest F. Hollings Scholarship by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) this year, has been volunteering at the NOAA laboratory in Milford, Conn.

Danielle Perry, of Hazlet, N.J., is a rising junior at UNH studying marine biology and biology.

She is studying how climate change and tidal inundation is affecting the reproduction of the salt marsh snail, Melampus bidenatatus.  Climate change is producing higher tides, which are changing the salt marsh environment. 

“By understanding these effects, methods of conservation can be determined,” she said. “This project is a good opportunity to start this type of research.”

Scott Alpizar, from Columbia, Maryland, is a rising senior studying biology and forensic science. He is examining indoor carpet, a common piece of evidence collected at crime scenes and examined by forensic scientists.

Carpet often contains blood that can have  DNA, the best way to link a person to a crime, he said. This is done by taking the small amount of DNA that the blood sample may contain and amplifying it through Polymerase Chain Reactions (PCR).  It has already been determined that there are chemicals present within the adhesive layer of carpet backing, which inhibits PCR from occurring completely, leading to poor profiles – or none at all – and making it much more difficult to know who committed  the crime, he said.  His project will investigate various methods of testing the adhesive layer to determine the best way to get a DNA sample.

“I've enjoyed forensics since I was younger and began watching CSI with my grandparents,” Alpizar said. “Research within the field of forensics is where I want to go.”

Alpizar is active in the UNH Forensic Science and Chemistry Club and is a biology tutor in the University’s Center for Learning Resources.

Kristen Fowble, SURF

Kristen Fowble, from Owings, Md., is a rising senior in the UNH Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences. Her SURF project is exploring the effectiveness of various types of casting materials that are applied to the bullet and left to dry. The material is then pulled off and the striations on the bullet are analyzed.  She is also attempting to reconstruct a fragmented bullet and make a casting of the reassembled projectile.  

Fowble, who is also the captain of the UNH dance team, hopes to become a firearm evidence examiner when she graduates.

Jessica Nancy Imperato, of Thiells, N.Y, is a rising junior studying forensic biology, who is using her SURF award to improve the method of detecting mutations causing Phenylketonuria  and Neurofibromatosis in humans.  

“Tests such as these will help to more accurately determine whether or not a person has one of these mutations within their genome,” she said.

Eventually, she hopes to attend medical school and specialize in pathology.  “My ultimate goal is to become a forensic pathologist or medical examiner for the FBI,” she said.

Jaclyn Kubala, of Poughquag, N.Y, is a rising senior in the forensic science program at UNH.  She is using computational models to explore prebiotic chemistry

“This could potentially give insight to the origin of life,” she said. “The project is a continuation of one she began during the academic year.  She also was awarded SURF funding in 2011 and 2012.

After graduation, Kubala hopes to work in drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry.

Shican Li, of Zhengzhou, China, is a rising senior who is working to synthesize cadiolides in the laboratory. Cadiolides are secondary metabolites of marine tunicates and ascidians. They have the potential to fight Gram positive bacteria, including MRSA (Methycillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus).

Li, who hopes to eventually earn an M.D. degree and work for Doctors without Borders, is interested in learning how to use various chemical compounds and organic synthesis procedures to make chemical compounds in the laboratory, instead of extracting them from natural organisms.

William Putnam, of Old Saybrook, Conn., is a rising junior who is working to develop a computerized application that will allow data server processors to consume less power. He was inspired by a New York Times article on the subject. A double major in computer science and computer engineering, he hopes to start his own video game company one day.

Kasey Cargill, SURF

Kasey Cargill, of Acworth, Ga, is a rising junior.  She is working on a project that will help identify controlled substances through chemical processes. The project uses chemical processes that adhere to common scientific practices and would be admissible in court, where they are used to identify drugs seized by law enforcement.       

The processes she is testing have not been researched as much as other leading methods of drug analysis in the field of forensic science. 

Cargill plans to earn a doctorate in genetics and hopes to focus on DNA profiling and genetic research, specifically in the field of forensics.

Robin Willick, SURF

Robin Willick of Lima, N.Y., is a rising sophomore.  (She is pictured at the U.S.S. Intrepid Museum in New York City.)  Her project involves measuring and understanding the energy efficiency of the buildings on the UNH campus through energy benchmarking.

“Benchmarking allows us to see which buildings are the most and least energy efficient, so we can then create a plan for improvement,” she said. “The project will also promote increased campus awareness of energy usage and sustainability.”

Willick said she plans to pursue post-graduate education and become a teacher. “Ultimately, I hope  to improve our quality of life through sustainable and energy-conscious practices and promote involvement in and celebration of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields,” she said.

Christian Ruiz and Matthew Ciarletto - SURF

Christian Ruiz, of Temecula, Calif., is working with Matthew Ciarletto of Fairfield, Conn., to design a wearable device, such as a wristband,  that will analyze music and sound and convert it to something someone can feel using different forms of vibrations and/or minor electric shocks. The goal of the project is to provide a listener with a new level of depth of music.

“Our goal is to help a person feel engulfed by the music they listen to,” said Ruiz, a rising senior. “This is not meant to change the way people listen to music but intensify that experience.”

Ruiz, who has been interested in music since high school, hopes to be a computer engineer one day.

Ciarletto will begin his junior year in the fall.  He said the wristband will have vibrating motors in it. Those motors will vibrate according to the sounds being played, he said.

“Programs like iTunes have music visualizers built into them, and I figured that rather than just hearing and seeing music, it would be interesting to feel it as well,” he said.

Ciarletto said he loves computer programming and intends to pursue a career in the field. “I like writing programs and doing web design work,” he said. “If I can one day point to a popular piece of software and say that I helped write it, I will consider my career a success,” he said.

Lauren Kircher of Rochester, N.Y., is a rising junior who will be studying the behavior of fiddler crabs in the salt marsh. She is a marine biology major with a psychology minor.  Kircher is also president of the Honors Student Council and a First-Year Success Center coach. She is interested in studying animal behavior and hopes to pursue a career in marine biology.

Jessica R. Zielinski - SURF

Born in Little Rock, Ark., Jessica R. Zielinski, of Madison, Conn.  a sophomore, is working to study and improve how the UNH community generates and disposes of waste.  The waste includes non-recyclable trash, as well as recyclables and items that could be reused or donated, especially at the end of the semester when people move out, she said.   

Zielinski is the daughter of David and Sherri Zielinski of Dunkirk, N.Y.

“We hope to learn what the student body, staff, and faculty at UNH feel about current waste generating and handling practices,” she said. “By the end of the project, we aim to kick start some projects that will involve other students, staff and faculty in a waste awareness and minimization campaign on campus,” she said. 

She was a member of the UNH Green Team last fall and is a member of the Undergraduate Student Government Association’s Sustainability Committee. 

She did an internship in the spring with the United Illuminating Clean Energy Communities. After graduation, Zielinski hopes to work in urban planning.