From Cancer to Cool Roofs: Undergraduate Research at UMKC Produces Results

Examples available online all week
Scofield hall

Even a pandemic cannot stop undergraduate students from pursuing significant research projects at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Starting April 12, students will present their research projects publicly during the University of Missouri System Undergraduate Research Day, along with students from the other three UM System campuses.

This annual event at the Capitol is typically a single day devoted to demonstrate to lawmakers in Jefferson City, as well as the public, the unique opportunities undergraduate students have to participate in faculty-mentored research at the four UM System universities. Due to the pandemic, this year’s event will be held virtually over the course of a week, which gives the students more opportunities to engage lawmakers and other key audiences.

This year, 15 UMKC students are presenting their work, the most of any school in the University of Missouri System.

Those featured research projects this year are:

Increasing STEM Engagement in Underrepresented Minority Groups

Student: Alynah Adams

Faculty mentor: Shin Moteki, assistant professor of chemistry

Adams acknowledges and encourages greater equity within the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics to reinforce and support minority students in the Midwestern United States in order to encourage economic growth. These students face barriers that range from a general lack of representation and mentorship, unequal opportunity, limited perception of potential career paths and disproportionate access to materials, all the way to the perpetual biases and stereotyping that begins early and continues on throughout a minority student’s career. The research emphasizes the steps that can be taken to mitigate these barriers and encourage Missouri students from a variety of backgrounds to engage in STEM higher education.

Adams is studying biology.

Development of Implementation of Physical Activity and Nutrition Interventions for Adolescent Youth

Student: Maya Baughn

Faculty mentors: Amanda Grimes and Joseph Lightner, assistant professors of nursing and health studies

This study aims to provide better implementation of physical activity and nutrition interventions in order to positively increase the overall health status for all adolescent youth with mindfulness toward underserved female youth. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2019 there was a 18.5% prevalence for obesity in individuals aged 2-19. One possible solution for reducing the occurrence of chronic health issues like obesity is physical activity. Kansas City, Missouri was selected by the Department of Health and Human Services as one of eighteen sites to deliver a physical activity and nutrition intervention to adolescents. Move More, Get More (formally known as Youth Engagement in Sports) is an initiative that targets students in grades 6-8 who attend select Kansas City public middle schools.

Baughn is studying health sciences.

Smart Catalysts – Green and Sustainable Synthetic Approach Mimicking Living Cells

Student: Ashley Cole

Faculty mentor: Shin Moteki, assistant professor of chemistry

Chemical manufacturing is one of the largest industries in Missouri. Cole’s research is dedicated to green/sustainable production, with a product that will be highly competitive in price through a reduction in manufacturing costs.

Catalysis is a process that accelerates chemical reactions which would otherwise be extremely slow. Enzymes are biological catalysts which transform many materials (food) into essential products critical for sustaining life. Outside of biological systems, catalytic processes are involved in the industrial chemical processing of over 80% of all manufactured products. The purpose of this research is to design and prepare artificial enzymes or “smart catalysts,” which are applicable toward one-pot multi-step reactions that mimic biological systems.

Cole is studying biology.

Predator Avoidance Behavior of Dubia Cockroaches

Student: Sahla Esam

Faculty mentor: Rachel Allen, assistant teaching professor of biology

This study focuses on observing and analyzing the different behavioral patterns Dubia cockroaches use to avoid potential predation. There is considerable variation in terms of habitats occupied by insect groups and how they avoid detection by predators in those locations including camouflage or taking cover. Because of the close phylogenetic relationship between the Dubia cockroach (one of the most preferred feeder insect options available in Missouri) and the German cockroach (which is the most abundant domestic pest cockroach in Missouri) it may be possible to extend the reach of this study to find ways to dissuade domestic infestations of this widespread household pest.

Esam is studying biology.

Promoting Better Sleep: Studying Eye Physiology at the Cellular Level in Fruit Flies

Students: Connor Flathers and Anthony Reddick

Faculty mentor: Jeffrey Price, professor of biology

Flather’s and Reddick’s research on mechanisms affecting circadian rhythms will assist in the understanding of sleep-related disorders including insomnia, narcolepsy and Alzheimer’s disease. The circadian rhythm, which is produced by an internal biological clock and drives the sleep/wake cycle as well as changes in eye physiology, is driven by a nuclear accumulation of several proteins in the eyes. Understanding the circadian rhythm can lead to the development of treatments for these disorders, as well as mechanisms for changes in eye physiology.

Flathers is studying biology. Reddick is a chemistry major.

Comparisons of Support Among K-12 Music Teachers in Missouri and Kansas

Student: Jacob Furry

Faculty mentor: Lani Hamilton, assistant professor of music education

The purpose of this study is to examine correlations between various personal/situational factors and music teachers’ perceptions of support received from administration, colleagues and students’ parents. This descriptive study will help us better understand teachers’ perceptions of the music education environment in rural, urban and suburban school locations as well as perceptions held by participants located across the Missouri/Kansas state line. Furry developed a survey for music teachers in the states of Missouri and Kansas, inquiring about participants’ demographic information, educational experiences, teaching history, future teaching plans and perceptions of support.

Furry is studying music education.

Internet of Things (IoT) and Public Space: The Case of ShotSpotter

Student: Rachel Moreno

Faculty mentor: Shannon Jackson, associate professor of anthropology

The purpose of the Smart City is to help public officials and innovators respond to the needs of residents more efficiently and effectively by using Internet of Things (IoT) to gather data about user behavior and the urban environment. The belief is that devices and more automatic data collection will create a safer and more efficient city. Moreno’s research focuses on ShotSpotter (SST), an IoT gunshot detection system that uses acoustic sensors to locate and determine gunfire. ShotSpotter is one of many publicly deployed systems that is privately owned. Its integration with public infrastructure further blurs the boundaries separating public and private decision-making.

Moreno is studying sociology and history.

A Knowledge Graph for Managing and Analyzing Spanish American Notary Records

Students: Ryan Rowland and Adam Sisk

Faculty mentor: Viviana Grieco, associate professor of history

Rowland and Sisk’s research follows the changes in modern Spanish spelling and phonetics to show that modifications pioneered by prominent Spanish writers and poets transferred to the notarial scripts and focuses on how public notaries and the deeds they drafted promoted the expansion of trade and credit in seventeenth century Buenos Aires beyond the boundaries of family networks. Since advances in deep learning are transferrable to other fields, this software could be used in the management of documentary collections available in Missouri.

Rowland is studying history and Spanish. Sisk is a Spanish major.

The Intercalation of Cancer Drug Doxorubicin in Various DNA Sequences

Student: Shanya San Namiq

Faculty mentor: Wai-Yim Ching, professor of physics and astronomy

Doxorubicin is a cancer drug that treats a wide range of cancers including leukemia, lymphoma and cancers in internal organs, tissues and skins. This drug damages the cancerous cells and prevents them from growing and reproducing. This research project focuses on studying different DNA sequences that would generate the highest yield for the insertion of doxorubicin. This is determined by analyzing chemical and physical properties of the cancer drug incorporated into the various studied base pairs in the DNA.

San Namiq is studying biology.

Protective Factors and Their Relationship with Attachment in Preschoolers

Student: Kaia Schott

Faculty mentor: Erin Hambrick, professor of psychology

Attachment in the context of child development is defined as the emotional bond between a child and their parent or caregiving figure. Adverse experiences, such as a lack of consistency in parenting, can affect attachment because they may influence the child’s perception that caregivers are consistently available to provide a safe base from which they can explore their world. This can negatively affect regulation, adaptability, and resilience. This project will investigate factors that may have protected children who experienced adversity from experiencing low attachment.

Schott is studying psychology and sociology.

Cool Roofs’ Potential to Mitigate Heat-Induced Health Risks in the Kansas City Metro Area

Student: Shreya Suri

Faculty mentor: Fengpeng Sun, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences

An urban heat island (UHI) refers to an urban area that is significantly warmer than surrounding rural and suburban regions due to human activity, sparse vegetation, and the use of heat-retaining materials in infrastructure. This increase in temperature is associated with an increased risk of heat stress and heat-related illness, such as heat stroke. A potential solution to mitigate the UHI effect in urban areas is the implementation of cool roofs, which absorb less heat and reflect a greater percentage of solar radiation compared to traditional roofs due to their reflective color and/or material. In addition to reducing local air temperatures, cool roofs can improve indoor comfort, reduce energy costs associated with air conditioning, and extend roof life due to decreased heat absorption.

Suri is studying biology and environmental science.

Real-time Prediction of Water Quality in Kansas City Urban Lakes

Student: Grant Verhulst

Faculty mentor: Jujung Lee, professor of geosciences

The expense of traditional water quality monitoring systems has limited community accessibility, giving rise to public health concerns about harmful algal blooms. Availability of reliable, affordable and real-time water quality data is not an option for most communities due to technical and financial limitations. The purpose of this project is to develop a cost-effective approach to monitoring the water quality of lakes.

Verhulst is studying environmental science.

Keeping it Together: Unlocking the Causes of Infertility and Genetic Disorders

Student: Emily Wesley

Faculty mentors: Scott Hawley, adjunct professor of biology, and Katie Billmyre

Meiosis is a complex process that most organisms use to generate germ cells (eggs and sperm) for sexual reproduction. Successful meiosis requires the correct amount of genetic material (i.e. chromosomes) to be packaged in each egg or sperm. A failure in this process results in aneuploidy (the incorrect number of chromosomes), which can cause genetic disorders such as Down syndrome, Klinefelter syndrome, infertility or miscarriage. Wesley used the fruit fly to study multiple aspects of the synaptonemal complex.

Wesley is studying biology.


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