UNLV's NSF REU Sites Shine a Bright Light

Photo: REU Smart Cities students and PI's
Aug. 18, 2021

On Friday, August 6, undergraduate researchers presented at the Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) Summer 2021 Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Showcase. The inaugural, transdisciplinary showcase celebrated the research of twenty-six outstanding undergraduate researchers representing both the College of Sciences and the Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering. 

Throughout the summer, these twenty-six undergraduate researchers from UNLV and institutions across the nation received scholarships to conduct research through two competitive National Science Foundation (NSF) REU sites: Mechanisms of Evolution and Smart Cities. These programs provide opportunities for undergraduate students to learn about the research process through various OUR Research Skills Academy workshops, collaborate with peer undergraduate researchers, conduct research under the guidance of a UNLV faculty research mentor, and present their summer research projects to the public. 

REU: Mechanisms of Evolution program, led by Principal Investigators, Drs. Kurt Regner and Eduardo Robleto of UNLV’s School of Life Sciences, aims to provide undergraduates with hypothesis-based projects that investigate one or more mechanisms of evolution, promote careers in science, reinforce the connection between genetics and evolution, and highlight the accomplishments of evolutionary scholars. 

REU: Smart Cities program, led by Principal Investigators, Drs. Brendan Morris and Sarah Harris of UNLV’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, aims to educate and inspire undergraduate researchers to address the challenges of building intelligent, safe, and secure Smart Cities with a focus on mobility. Through training undergraduate researchers in specific skills and broadening their world views, the program aims to inspire engagement in research that will solve the most challenging and critical problems facing the discipline and the global community.

Both programs connect undergraduate researchers with UNLV faculty research mentors and facilitate their summer research projects. Throughout the summer, the OUR collaborated with the two REU programs and provided the student researchers with weekly Research Skills Academy webinars. This program included OUR’s signature workshops: Active Reading: How to Effectively Interrogate Text, Research Ethics, How to Navigate the Digital Information Landscape and Document Research, How to Write an Abstract and Annotate, How to Write a Research Manuscript, and How to Craft a Research Presentation. 

Abraham Castaneda Jr., REU: Smart Cities participant and senior studying electrical engineering in the Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering, notes that these interesting and insightful workshops made conducting research during a pandemic easier because they helped him hone many of the skills essential for conducting research including collecting and organizing data, designing professional research posters, writing abstracts, interpreting research papers, and much, much more. 

As a culminating experience, undergraduate researchers presented research posters during the OUR Summer 2021 REU Showcase. Students, faculty, and staff attended the in-person event to learn about the exciting research conducted at UNLV, ask questions, and provide feedback.

The REU poster presentations showcased during this event include: 

  • Abraham Castaneda Jr., Benchmarking the Wally RISC-V Processor
  • Ana Maria Smith, Modeling Human Walking Dynamics
  • Cole Moreno, Vehicle to Everything (V2X) Communications using Software Defined Radio to Demodulate Signals
  • Dinh Hoang, Pedestrian Detection in Autonomous Vehicles Using AI and Computer Vision
  • Edgar Sanchez, Software Defined Radio Interface
  • Erin Searcy, Visualizing Highway Sensor Data
  • Gabrielle King, Solar and Load Forecasting
  • Andres Graterol, U.S. Traffic Sign Recognition - Can We Bridge the Gap?
  • Marco Infantado, Video Capture and Streaming for Neural Network Training
  • Michael Lazeroff, Smart Parking System with Time Prediction
  • Mae Kjaer, Design & Analysis of Quantum Dot/Plasmonic Enhanced Solar Cells
  • Kyla Sannadan, Traffic Congestion Prediction Using Multi-Source Historical and Real-Time Traffic Flow Data
  • Michael Stepzinski, Autonomous Accident Detection and Assessment
  • Ethan Curran, Effects of Mfd on Transcription of Coding Sequences in Genes Containing G4 DNA Motifs in Baccillus subtilis
  • Bam Carr, Differential Gene Expression in Starvation Selected Drosophila melanogaster
  • Belen Gutierrez, Regulation of Eye Regrowth in Xenopus laevis
  • Allison Cook, Investigating the Activity of ME-8, a Cellulolytic Enzyme Found in the Cow Rumen Microbiome
  • Jordan Chastain, Microbiological Implications for Potential Life on Mars
  • Vanessa Meza-Perez, Ameliorating Toxicity of Unfolded Proteins Due to High Activation of Envelope Stress Response in Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • Stephanie Teng, Mechanisms Driving Phylosymbiosis in Rodents of the Mojave Desert
  • Adreanna Perez, Cytotoxic and Genotoxic Effects of Fluorophores in Bacillus subtilis
  • Dena S. Baughn, The Role of OprF in Surface Attachment of Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • Jessica Grifaldo, MDF Modulates Gene Expression of Motility Genes in Bacillus subtillus
  • Julian X. Duran, Recovery from Starvation in Drosophila Melanogaster
  • Rayne Ecret, DNA Barcoding and Metabarcoding to Identify Plant Species and Assess Biodiversity in the Mojave Desert
  • Venus Cruz, Water/Rock Interactions with Mars Relevant Surface Materials to Release Resources Important for Microbial Life

Belen Gutierrez, REU: Mechanisms of Evolution participant and junior studying biological sciences with a concentration in cellular and molecular in the College of Sciences, reflects on her research experience and offers advice for future researchers. Gutierrez states that research was an interest of hers for some time, but she had not understood the scope of what research exactly entailed. Working in Dr. Kelly Tseng’s lab, she gained first-hand research experience, including learning how to conduct experiments and how to think like a scientist. Gutierrez adds that the time in the lab also helped her further understand what she truly wants to pursue career-wise.

Castaneda Jr. says that getting involved with research at UNLV has taught him the importance of networking with professionals within his field and has equipped him with technical experience that would have been difficult to gain from classes alone. He adds that research has also helped him garner confidence when it comes to stepping out of his comfort zone since oftentimes, researchers are trying to solve and study issues no one has ever tackled before.

For students interested in becoming involved in undergraduate research, both Gutierrez and Castaneda Jr. advise future researchers to ask questions, even when they seem simple or obvious. Gutierrez states that without asking such questions, future researchers may prevent themselves from moving forward when instead, they could be learning and advancing much quicker. Castaneda Jr. adds that he has learned that the pursuit of knowledge is done on the shoulders of giants and any progress made will build from the work of the ambitious scholars that came before. Additionally, he says though undergraduate researchers won't always have all the answers, there are many professionals who will often be more than eager to share their expertise and research findings. Lastly, he advises to remain humble, be open to others' ideas, and ask questions!
Regner and Robleto state that they are proud of the REU: Mechanisms of Evolution researchers for their dedication during a difficult time. They add that they all did a great job presenting their research during the Showcase and that this experience is a great start to their scientific careers.

Morris and Harris say that it has been wonderful to facilitate the inaugural year of the REU: Smart Cities and watch students from different institutions around the country learn not only about how to do research, but also how to collaborate and help each other throughout the process. Despite COVID-related challenges forcing a remote program, they note that it was impressive to see how everyone bonded. The students not only got a lot of work done, but also had a lot of fun. Morris and Harris are excited to see the students’ future trajectories as they continue in research, entrepreneurship, and industry.

To participate in OUR’s upcoming Fall 2021 Research Skills Academy workshops, visit: unlv.edu/our/rsa

To present undergraduate research at OUR’s upcoming Fall 2021 Virtual Undergraduate Research Symposium at: unlv.edu/our/symposia