Budding Undergraduate Researchers Present Projects at Contest

  • Matthew Carpenter (center), a molecular biology sophomore and McDermott Scholar, took the $500 first prize at the annual Undergraduate Research Poster Contest. Biology freshman Sanjana Ravi (right) earned second place and biology junior Prerana Ramadurgum took third.

Thirteen UT Dallas students competed in the annual Undergraduate Research Poster Contest in April, with three research projects deemed the best by a panel of industry judges.

Matthew Carpenter, a molecular biology sophomore and McDermott Scholar, won first place for his research involving the design and construction of a protein engineered to deactivate specific immunoglobin G antibodies bound to the surface of engineered cells.

“If successful, this project could play an important role in the development of novel therapeutics for autoimmune disease and the growth of cellular engineering,” Carpenter said.

Second place went to Sanjana Ravi, a biology freshman, whose research project focused on the creation of a nanoparticle that can be used for localized drug delivery to cancer patients.

Ravi explained that blood vessels surrounding tumorous tissue are usually porous and ill-equipped for delivering chemotherapy and radiation treatments to patients. Thus, researchers are working to create nanoparticles small enough — about 50 to 200 nanometers in size — to permeate the blood vessels and deliver the drugs.

Undergraduate Research Poster Contest Finals

First Place: Matthew Carpenter, School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics

Second Place: Sanjana Ravi, School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics

Third Place: Prerana Ramadurgum, School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics

Contest Judges

Steve Coutoumanos, director of product management, Dell

Denise Provencher, director, Fujitsu Network Communications

Dr. David Brown, president of medical affairs, Baylor Heart Hospital

Dave Williamson, founding member and vice president, Monadnock Resources, LLC

Alfonso Lopez, cybersecurity engineer, Raytheon

Mallory Powlen, procurement specialist, Raytheon

Dr. Aaron Lazarus, technical manager, Pioneer National Resources

John Ellis, vice president of strategic planning, NEC

Steve Zimmel, vice president of Integration Center of Excellence, Ericsson

“The drug we are using is cisplatin, which is a radiosensitizer — meaning it makes the tumorous cells more sensitive to radiation therapy,” she said. “This makes our nanoparticle the optimal system in terms of treatment options since you need less radiation, less of the drug, and the effects are not widespread since the treatment is localized.”

Alfonso Lopez, a cybersecurity engineer for Raytheon and one of the contest judges, said he was looking for students to strike a balance between technical know-how and the presentation pitch.

“If you are able to effectively communicate both sides, then you will be able to convince your stakeholders to trust in your vision of the future,” Lopez said. “From new nano-drug delivery methods to the positive psychological effects of parent-child interaction in video games, all of the projects have a similar theme — to enhance the quality of life for everyone.”  

Biomedical engineering senior Jennifer Burns has spent two years working in the Advanced Polymer Research Lab of Dr. Walter Voit BS'05, MS'06, where she has been studying the use of shape memory polymers in improving nerve cuffs.

Nerve cuffs, small strips that can record neural activity and be electrically stimulated to repair nerve damage, are equipped with shape memory polymers because the material has a glassy state at room temperature, making it stiff and easy to handle. Once in the body, the increase in temperature makes the polymer rubbery and flexible. 

Burns said the lab is incorporating the use of a hydrogel bilayer, a polymer with swelling properties, which will help more reliably secure the nerve cuff to the shape memory polymer and to the nerve.

Audon Archibald, an arts and technology and psychology senior, has focused on parent-child communication during video game play.

“There is a wide pool of research that shows parent mediation of media use actually has positive developmental and social outcomes for kids,” he said. “The pool for this research on traditional media like books is very deep, but it’s quite shallow for video games.”

Working with Dr. Kristin Drogos, Archibald conducted a pilot study to address the gap in the research.  

Archibald observed mother-child pairs playing an educational video game in a controlled lab space, and he assessed the science learning outcomes of the children by conducting a pre- and post-video game test. Surprisingly, all of the participants received a high score on the post-test, and Archibald said a revised study must be conducted to garner any significant statistics.

The poster contest is part of the annual Undergraduate Research Scholar Awards cycle, a competitive, one-time award given out by the Office of Undergraduate Education. Students present research in any field, and the best are awarded a cash prize and an additional stipend to support their research. Recipients of the grant display their research during the poster contest every spring semester.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].