Undergraduate Student Research Highlighted at Missouri State Capitol

UMKC students presented their research on hearing loss, ACL injuries, music complexities and more

Each year, undergraduate students from all four UM System schools go to Jefferson City, Missouri and present their research in front of elected officials at Undergraduate Research Day at the Capitol. University of Missouri-Kansas City students who presented are from the Conservatory, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, School of Science and Engineering and the School of Nursing and Health Studies

Research: The Urban Heat Island Effect: Creating an Interactive Model.

Sophia Baugher is a junior from Independence majoring in earth and environmental science.


Baugher's investigation of how natural and manmade surfaces impact the Urban Heat Island Effect has led her to develop an interactive model for educational purposes.

The Urban Heat Island Effect is a phenomenon that affects metropolitan centers across the entire world. With the recent trend of rising temperature thanks to climate change comes an increased risk in heat borne illnesses, and even an increased risk of heat-related death.

Baugher’s Urban Heat Island model involved a model city being crafted from 3-D-printed materials, real roofing and asphalt samples and plants and trees that also show the affects that can mitigate this phenomenon. The project also utilizes a FLIR C5 thermal camera that will be used to demonstrate the temperature effects in real-time, as directed by the user.

Research: Foxg1a is required for hair cell development and regeneration in the zebrafish lateral line

Emily Bledsoe is a junior from Overland Park majoring in biology.


In the human inner ear, hearing and balance are mediated by specialized sensory cells, called hair cells. When damaged, these hair cells cannot regrow, resulting in deafness and balance disorders. In the state of Missouri, one in ten Missourians experience hearing loss or deafness, meaning there is a large population who could benefit from research into hair cell biology.

Aquatic animals, including zebrafish, have specialized hair cells used in their lateral line systems to sense water current. These hair cells are very similar to the inner ear hair cells in humans, but unlike human hair cells, these lateral line hair cells can regrow throughout the lifespan of the fish.

Bledsoe is investigating the foxg1a gene, which is important for inner ear development, and determining if it also plays a role in hair cell development and regeneration in the zebrafish.

Research: Circadian Regulation of Spt Ada Gcn5 Acetyltransferase (SAGA) in Drosophila Melanogaster

Chris Ekengren is a senior from Raytown majoring in biology.

Austin Evans is a freshman from Neosho majoring in biology.


Together, Ekengren and Evans are tracing enzymes in the brain to learn how they affect the dynamics of circadian regulation and its related neurodegenerative diseases.

Spinocerebellar ataxia type 7 (SCA7) is a disease which leads to the degeneration of the retina and cerebellum, causing neurodegeneration, blindness and loss of motor skills. Following the ATXN7 gene, to the Ataxin7 protein, to the transcriptional cofactor called SAGA which is critical for gene expression, Atxn7 polyQ may disrupt the balance bound and free non-stop causing dysregulation.

Ekengren and Evans aim to investigate the dynamics of circadian regulation of SAGA and non-stop in the brain and how their dysfunction may lead to disease.

Research: Unveiling Urban Trauma: The Impact of Design on Community Well-Being

Maryam Oyebamiji is a senior from Kansas City majoring in urban planning and design.

Through her research on community development design, Oyebamiji has discovered how trauma-informed design can promote well-being in diverse populations.

Design is a powerful force that shapes the physical and social fabric of our communities. When wielded responsibly, it has the potential to uplift and enrich the lives of individuals, fostering a sense of belonging and well-being.

Design negligence, a term gaining prominence in contemporary discourse, encapsulates the unintended consequences of ill-informed or negligent design decisions. In the context of community development, design negligence not only fails to address the unique needs and aspirations of diverse populations but can also actively enforce trauma, perpetuating cycles of inequality and marginalization.

Research: Exploring the Molecular Links Between Circadian Rhythm and Neurodegeneration

Sydney Rogers is a sophomore from Blue Springs majoring in health sciences.

Anna Shaw is a sophomore from Independence majoring in biology.

Together, Rogers and Shaw are studying sleep patterns in fruit flies and investigating how loss of sleep affects proteins in the brain. Researching these effects can help us understand the health problems related to sleep deprivation.

Sleep quality is important for every dimension of mental and physical health, and numerous analyses show a correlation with sleep loss and disease. The circadian rhythm is a 24-hour internal biological clock that bodily proteins rely on to determine their level of activity throughout the day. Disruption of this internal cycle causes circadian dysfunction which can be correlated with the onset of a wide spectrum of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Rogers and Shaw’s research identifies sleep patterns using behavioral to investigate how loss of sleep disrupts ubiquitination patterns. SAGA is a protein complex that harbors the deubiquitinating enzyme Non-stop. Non-stop is shown to participate in the regulation of the circadian rhythm and could be a key factor in understanding the effects of sleep disruption.

Research: Physical Activity, Sleep, and Demographic Patterns in Urban Missouri Youth: A Quasi-Experimental Study 

Olivia Sours is a senior from Independence majoring in nursing.

With data collected from accelerometers worn by adolescent youth, Sours is looking for correlations between physical activity levels and sleep patterns. In her research, Sours utilizes Garmin VivoFit4 health tracking wrist-worn devices to monitor sleep time and daily step counts in her primary focus group of adolescents in Kansas City Public School systems.

Connections between sleep and physical activity are vital components of growth and development, especially in adolescence. Lack of adequate sleep and sleep quality has been known to affect mood, school performance, as well as health in general.

Middle school students in urban areas also face complexities that may cause increased complications in sleep and physical activity, calling for a comprehensive intervention approach that allows students to engage in physical activity safely and learn about how to take care of themselves with productive strategies.

Research: The Humorous Disability Rhetoric of Jess Thom

Emily Stauffer is a senior from Kansas City majoring in English.

Stauffer's rhetorical analysis of comedian Jess Thom aims to show how humor can educate and promote understanding of disabilities. Thom was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome in her early 20s, and now in her 40s, is working to break down barriers for people with disabilities.

Tourette’s Syndrome is a neurological condition that causes tics, which are sudden movements or sounds a person makes and cannot control. Tourette’s is extremely common, yet still a highly stigmatized condition.

Stauffer’s work focuses on Thom’s use of humor to educate her audiences on her disability and promote understanding.

Research: Characterizing Lava Flow Behavior Using Digital Models of Small Tubes from Flows at Askja, Iceland

Mya Thomas is a junior from Columbia majoring in earth and environmental science.

The low-cost photogrammetry technique that Mya Thomas developed to create digital models of small lava tubes from flows at Askja Volcano in Iceland has wide applications, from modeling caves in Missouri to modeling geographic features on the moon.

Caves are a large part of Missouri’s natural heritage and the state’s tourism. Creating digital models of geologic features using this photogrammetry technique increases accessibility and enables detailed study of their characteristics.

Research: A Perfect Tuning System?

Brady Wolff is a senior from Lake Winnebago majoring in music composition and music theory.

Wolff has developed a new visual aid to represent the complexities of musical pieces composed with a "just intonation" tuning system. This tool not only provides theoretical insight into modern compositions, but also has implications for music education.

Research on just intonation explores the practical applications of pure harmonic ratios in composed music, fostering innovative harmonic possibilities. Current research delves into the tuning systems utilized by specific composers but lacks a comprehensive overview for individual compositions.

To address this gap, Wolff developed a visual aid capable of displaying the tuning center, harmonic reach, and harmonic complexity of numerous compositions composed with just intonation. Inspired by the lattice structures employed by Ben Johnston, Wolff’s visual aid provides insight to other notable composers, including Catherine Lamb and Sean Archibald (Sevish).

Research: The Growth Plate and Its Role in Youth ACL Injuries

Isaac Woodward is a junior from Riverside majoring in mechanical engineering.

The anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, is a ligament in the knee joint that is commonly injured during athletic activities. ACL injuries often have long recovery times and can cause lifelong knee problems.  Using computer modeling, Isaac Woodward's research seeks to understand the role that the adolescent growth plate plays in ACL injuries.

Recent research has shown that, from the ages of 14-18 in particular, female athletes are much more likely to suffer an ACL injury than male athletes. One possible cause of this trend is the adolescent growth plate: a soft, cartilage-like segment in an adolescent’s leg bones that allows the adolescent leg to grow until it reaches maturity, at which point the growth plate hardens into bone. Due to the softer, springier properties of the growth plate, some have hypothesized that the growth plate may act as a shock absorber for the knee.

Because the female growth plate hardens into bone several years earlier than in males, such a shock absorbing effect of the growth plate may explain this strange spike in teenage female ACL injuries.

To investigate the role of the growth plate in ACL injury, Woodward used computer modeling software to create two software models of the same knee joint: one with a growth plate and one without. Tests were then run on these two models to investigate the impact of the growth plate on ACL stress. The test results indicate that the growth plate does have a shock absorbing effect on the ACL in certain modes of knee loading, thus offering a potential explanation for this strange trend in adolescent ACL injuries.


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