Areas of Research

Projects under the Guidance of Dr. Joseph Horzempa:

The research opportunity Dr. Horzempa can afford TOPPER-SURE research students involves work which will provide an understanding of a previously uncharacterized phenomenon by a Category A biodefense agent – namely erythrocyte invasion by F. tularensis.  Students working in Dr. Horzempa’s lab will be able to investigate the mechanisms that mediate erythrocyte invasion by F. tularensis.

A second line of investigation in the Horzempa lab will focus on the investigation of bacterial antibiotic resistance.  Dr. Horzempa’s previous investigations revealed that bacteria utilize temperature to regulate their resistance to antimicrobial compounds.

Finally, student’s in the Horzempa laboratory will be able to work on a project dealing with the design and testing of novel vaccines that target opportunistic pathogens.

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Projects under the guidance of Dr. Zachary Loughman:

Introduced crayfishes are recognized as one of the major sources of imperilment for crayfishes globally; understanding their biology in their native range, and comparing that to biological attributes in streams they are introduced to is one strategy for developing control strategies for their eradication. In the fall of 2011, Dr. Loughman discovered an introduced population of Orconectes punctimanus (Spot Handed crayfish) in the headwaters of the James River in Virginia. Since its discovery, Dr. Loughman and WLU students have completed a survey of the Upper James and determined the invaders range within the system. At each site where O. punctimanus was encountered, a field data sheet composed of 31 ecological variables was completed in order to complete a niche modeling project to compare O. pucnitmanus ecological requirements to native Va crayfishes. The VA Boat and Fish commission now is pursuing Dr. Loughman’s lab to sample O. punctimanus in Missouri and Arkansas’s Ozarks, gather the same data, and compare niche requirements for O. punctimanus in its native and introduced range. This project is on the forefront of crayfish conservation biology, and could lead to important insights of biological control for invasive crayfish species.

Finally, beginning in 2009, the Loughman laboratory has attempted to sample C. robustus across its extremely broad range, which encompasses the northeast, mid-Atlantic, and central and southern Appalachians. Several unique morphologic and genetic populations have been discovered that warrant formal description. To date Dr. Loughman and his students have published two species descriptions (Cambarus smilax and Cambarus theepiensis), working towards a revision of the species taxonomy. Two undescribed members of the complex were discovered in 2012, one in central Kentucky and another in western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee. Funds have been acquired to describe both species pending field work in the region.

Through working on all of the above projects, the TOPPER-SURE student will experience firsthand field work, conservation biology, and taxonomy, and witness the synergy of these three fields. All of the above projects currently are either funded (Projects 1 & 4), or have proposals submitted currently that are likely to be funded (Projects 2&3). Loughman TOPPER-SURE lab members will participate in all of the above projects, but ultimately choose a specific aspect of one project for their personal research project of the summer. This model has proven quite successful for Dr. Loughman over the past 7 years, and ultimately results in students receiving broad training in conservation and taxonomic disciplines, as well as specific, detailed instruction in an area they personally are interested in. Resultant of this strategy, 6 of Dr. Loughmans former students currently are enrolled in graduate programs pursuing either masters or doctorates in organismal biology, and in 2013 Dr. Loughman published four journal articles with six of his former students as coauthors.

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Projects under the guidance of Dr. Douglas Swartz:

The hydraulic fracturing of shale gas deposits throughout the United States to extract natural gas has provided the country with a cleaner energy source, stimulated job growth, and led the U.S. towards domestic energy independence.  Since hydraulic fracturing was first demonstrated in the 1940s, this methodology has progressed in its efficacy and efficiency to provide a valuable natural fuel source to consumers, however concerns pertaining to the impact on ecosystems, human health, and surrounding communities is still under constant scrutiny.

Marcellus Shale, located in the northern panhandle of West Virginia, is a main geological target for hydraulic fracturing given the vast number of trapped natural gas deposits. Hydraulic fracturing fluid is composed mainly of water and sand (98 – 99%), but also includes a variety of chemical additives. Fracturing fluid is engineered to meet the specific needs of each drilling area, therefore the amount of additives varies based on the well environment. While the overall percentage of chemical additives is relatively low, the sheer volume used in hydraulic fracturing can be cause for concern.

TOPPER-SURE student researchers under the guidance of Dr. Swartz will be responsible for the detection and monitoring of specific chemicals linked to the hydraulic fracturing process from water sources around the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia. Student researchers working on this project will be guided by Dr. Swartz to learn standard techniques for sampling and analyzing data and build a great deal of research independence and confidence as they will be responsible for sample collection, preparation, and management of all the data. This project serves as an excellent platform for students pursuing a career in the environmental science.

Projects under the guidance of Dr. Matthew Zdilla:

                Understanding craniofacial morphological characteristics among various populations has implications spanning to the fields including, but not limited to, dentistry, orofacial surgery, ophthalmology, neurosurgery, and neuroradiology.  Understanding craniofacial morphological differences among diverse demographics may aid the physician in clinical assessment and impression as well as improving treatment and clinical outcomes.  Unfortunately, because of such great variety in the anatomy of the human skull, the morphology of the skull requires further exploration.

                A TOPPER-SURE student, under the guidance of Dr. Matthew Zdilla, will have the opportunity to learn advanced craniofacial anatomy and take morphological measurements of skulls held in the collections of surrounding universities.  Measurements will focus on the foramina of the skull and proper documentation of anatomical variations. The research student will be guided in descriptive and inferential statistical analysis of their data.  Results of their research may influence advanced imaging methods and treatment approaches in microsurgical procedures.

                Undergraduate research students under the guidance of Dr. Zdilla have shared their research at national conferences; have received national-level awards for their research; and have proceeded to advance their education in medical schools.  Just this year, two undergraduates have submitted research to the International Journal of Anatomical Variation and Surgical and Radiographic Anatomy. The results of their research have uncovered a new technique for reconstructive surgery as well as new considerations in neurosurgery that can prevent blindness and death as a result of operation. Likewise, findings from TOPPER-SURE are likely to have implications spanning beyond the benefit of the undergraduate researcher’s learning experience.

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Sound like fun? Apply!

  • To apply, send a cover letter containing your preferred research project(s), CV, contact information for three references and unofficial transcripts to:
    [email protected]
  • Application deadline, February 20
  • Successful applicants will be notified by March 31
  • Questions? Send an email to: [email protected]