Projects for Summer 2024

We’re still putting together our Summer 2024 programming, and you can see some of the projects we already have lined up.  Check back later to see what other projects we’ll offer.  You can also check out last summer’s projects.


Understanding wild tardigrade extremotolerance in dynamic environments

Mentor:  Dr. Courtney Clark-Hachtel, Biology, UNC Asheville
Project Base: UNC Asheville
Academic Area:  Biology

Animals have evolved tools to deal with extreme conditions to help them outlast their changing environments. Anhydrobiosis or “life without water” is one such tool that specific animals employ to survive periods of extreme drought. Anhydrobiotic capabilities are also associated with other extreme tolerance abilities as well, such as tolerance to extreme temperatures, pressures, and levels of radiation. Tardigrades are microscopic animals, some of which are capable of anhydrobiosis. However, in-depth studies into the extremotolerant mechanisms of tardigrades have been limited to a few lab-reared species. Tardigrades are everywhere, and different species have become adapted to different habitats. For example, some are found in more terrestrial habitats where water availability can be unpredictable, while others are entirely aquatic and live in a water column. The goals of this project are two-fold. The first goal is to survey the local tardigrade populations to see what species are present in the area and what environments they are adapted to. The second goal is to characterize the ionizing radiation (IR) tolerance of various species to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the limits of tardigrade IR tolerance across the phylum and begin to picture how this tolerance ability might relate to natural habitats and the anhydrobiotic ability of some tardigrades. These investigations will help us to understand how wild tardigrades persist in dynamic environments and broaden our understanding of animal stress tolerance in the face of changing environmental conditions.


Emerging affordable metallic nanoparticles for sustainable photocatalysis

Mentor: Dr. Pin Lyu, Chemistry and Biochemistry, UNC Asheville.
Project Base: UNC Asheville
Academic Area: Chemistry

Carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) account for more than 90% of Greenhouse Gases Emissions, posting a threatening challenge to global warming and climate change. Traditional industrial catalysis with expensive noble metals has provided some potential approaches to convert those stable gases into valuable-added chemicals, however, it needs extremely harsh reaction conditions such as high temperatures or pressure. Utilizing solar energy as an alternative driving force for chemical reactions, especially under mild conditions, has provided a promising pathway to match the current renewable energy demand and sustainable view of the chemical production-consumption process. This project aims to develop more affordable metallic nanoparticles (transition-metal-based, Fe, Co and Ni alloyed with boron) and explore the fundamental photocatalysis mechanisms of these catalysts. The undergraduate researchers will be responsible for synthesizing and characterizing those nanoparticles by XRD and SEM(STEM), examining the kinetic traces of model reduction reactions, and proposing the new mechanism scheme. See more relevant research on Lyu’s Lab website:


Quantifying dry spells and drought in the Pigeon and Coweeta River Basins of the Southern Appalachian Mountains

Mentor: Dr. Doug Miller, Atmospheric Sciences, UNC Asheville.
Project Base: UNC Asheville
Academic Area: Atmospheric Sciences

Southern Appalachian Mountain rain gauge networks located in the Pigeon River Basin and Coweeta sub-basin have been used to develop rainfall climatologies and identify causes of outlier events that result in flooding and landslides. To date, these datasets have not yet been investigated to explore the climatology of dry spell (short term) and drought (long term) periods of significantly below normal rainfall. This project will develop these “no rain” climatologies for the two river basins and investigate if a significant trend linked to a changing climate can be detected using observations of the long-record Coweeta Hydrologic Lab sub-basin network.


Designing Recyclable Conjugated Polymers for Solar Panels

Mentor: Dr. Jeromy Rech, Chemistry and Biochemistry, UNC Asheville.
Project Base: UNC Asheville
Academic Area: Chemistry (Organic Synthesis)

Organic Solar Cells (OSCs) are a new and upcoming photovoltaic technology which uses polymers (or plastics) as the active material instead of traditional metal/inorganic semiconductors. Our research sits at the intersection of organic chemistry, materials chemistry, and chemical engineering. OSCs create a new arena for solar technology and have demonstrated potential for their low cost, easy processing, light weight, and flexibility. However, there are still problems which need to be addressed before this technology can be commercialized. One major issue stems from the shortcomings of the traditional polymer/plastic chemistry field, ideal conjugated polymers should be recyclable to avoid further plastic pollution; however, none of the current record conjugated polymers are recyclable. To address this issue, our research group builds in chemical moieties which can cleave under specific triggers – allowing for depolymerization of the polymer at the end of its lifetime. Work on this project will focus on using organic chemistry and synthesis to design new materials which contain building blocks which can allow for the recycling or (bio)degradation of polymers which can be used in OSCs.


Impact of CO2 and Temperature on Nematode Behavior

Mentors: Dr. Camila Filgueiras, Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Caroline Kennedy, Biology, UNC Asheville.
Project Base: UNC Asheville
Academic Area: Biology

A changing climate engenders a cascade of abiotic and biotic consequences for community interactions. Abiotic factors like CO2 concentration and temperature can result in stress for plants with subsequent consequences for soil organisms. Nematodes, tiny roundworms, reside in soil pore spaces, navigate using volatile organic compounds, and travel via water films around soil particles. The CO2 concentration and the temperature in the soil could have direct effects on their ability to navigate their environment and respond to chemical cues. This project will investigate the impacts of CO2 concentration and temperature on the ability of entomopathogenic nematodes to respond to chemical cues.