Page content

Denman Forum celebrates its 20th anniversary

March 23, 2015

More than 600 Ohio State students presented their work at this year’s Denman Undergraduate Research Forum.
From discovering new medical technologies to exploring the health of military families, their research seeks to answer questions and solve problems.

At the Denman Undergraduate Research Forum, hundreds of young students showcase their work to Ohio State faculty and the corporate world. One of the largest events of its kind in the country, the forum has been an academic tradition at Ohio State for 20 years.

The wide range of topics presented at the Denman Forum span 11 categories and hundreds of subcategories. Below, five students share their research and findings.

Undergrad researcher: Darcy Doran-Myers 

Major: Evolution and ecology
Project: “Distribution and ecology of bobcats in Ohio: inferences from camera trapping data”

In other words: Darcy Doran-Myers used motion-activated cameras to study the
distribution of bobcats in Ohio. Bobcats have been absent from Ohio for about 150 years, only beginning to establish new populations around the year 2000.

“I have a broad interest in predator ecology and the top-down effects of predators on the ecosystem,” explains Darcy Doran-Myers. She is especially interested in the movement of predators back into their historical habitats.

In 2014, bobcats were removed from the endangered species list in Ohio. This removal of protection for Ohio’s growing bobcat population furthered Doran-Myers' interest in the study of bobcats. Suzie Prange, wildlife research biologist at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, helped Doran-Myers with her camera trapping research by donating over 20 motion-activated cameras and by providing guidance on where to set up the cameras.

Doran-Myers was able to confirm that bobcats are expanding their range into Ohio and documented bobcat presence in three forests in which they had not previously been found. “I was also able to show that relative bobcat abundance varies significantly between sites, indicating that bobcats are choosing some sites over others.”

Despite everything she learned, Doran-Myers says her project was not without setbacks.

“Overall, my undergraduate research experience was fraught with difficulty. However, fighting through the challenges became the most valuable part of my education. Through the struggle came the best ideas and the best lessons.”

Graduating this May, Doran-Myers would like to continue her education, hopefully as a graduate student studying bobcat ecology.

“I am interested in the movement of North American predators back into their historical ranges.  Bobcats are the first to come back, but black bears are coming in as well. Wolves and cougars are next.”

Undergrad researcher: James (Riley) DeBacker

Major: Speech and hearing science
“Long-term effects of the synergistic interaction of Cisplatin and noise”

In other words: Cisplatin is a chemotherapy drug that per dose, and in combination
with noise, carries a side effect of hearing loss. Debacker wanted to test the effects of
Cisplatin on long-term hearing loss.

Highly effective for several cancer types, Cisplatin carries notable side effects, among them damage to the auditory system. This damage is caused in a synergistic manner. The drug on its own causes a small amount of damage to the inner ear; however, exposure to noise in synergy with Cisplatin causes greater damage to the inner ear, more than Cisplatin on its own.

James (Riley) Debacker wanted to know if noise-induced hearing loss would occur several months after a patient stops taking Cisplatin. To test his theory, Debacker conducted research using a rodent model. His results indicate that, in some cases, noise injury from Cisplatin exposure is a long-term or permanent consequence of Cisplatin treatment. Further experimentation is needed to confirm these finding and determine their relevance to cancer patients.

Debacker says he owes many thanks to his advisor Dr. Eric Bielefeld, assistant professor in the Department of Speech and Hearing Science.

“Dr. B has provided me with guidance throughout every step of this process, from proposal writing to thesis drafting. Without his incredibly patient guidance, I would likely be down in the lab now sobbing and wondering why I thought I could undertake such a venture.”

Graduating this spring, Debacker plans to continue his education by pursuing a PhD/AuD. “I'm incredibly excited to combine my love for teaching with a love for this field of study.”

Undergrad researcher: Quinn Bailey

Major: Human development and family science
Project: “Experiences of adolescents participating in Operation: Military Kids (OMK)”

In other words: Bailey wanted to gain a better understanding of the struggles military adolescents face and how organizations such as Operation: Military Kids (OMK)
can better help military families.

Today, more service members are married with children than in any previous wartime conflict. Recognizing that adolescents in particular may be vulnerable to the stress of their parent’s deployment, Bailey wanted to explore the experiences and program needs of adolescents in military families.

A program designed to address the needs of military youth, families in OMK are offered recreational, social and educational programming. Before conducting research, Bailey worked as an OMK intern and volunteer. She explains, “There is a strong need for military family life to be recognized and supported.”

In the early stages of her analysis, broad themes emerged, including absence of military parents during important events, fear concerning the welfare of a parent and increased responsibility during deployments. Bailey also found that participants continually reinforced that the support from OMK has been essential to handling difficult circumstances relating to military life.

Throughout the process, Bailey was supported by her advisors and Ohio State’s Undergraduate Research Office. “I feel so blessed for how my advisors have helped me,” says Bailey. Dr. Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, professor in the Human Development and Family Science program, encouraged Bailey from the very beginning. “I would not have done research if it wasn’t for her.”

“This has been the highlight of my undergraduate education,” says Bailey. After graduation, she plans to go to law school to study family law or enter the workforce.

“Research has prepared me so well, for whatever direction I take.”

Undergrad researcher: Archie Tram

Major: Biomedical engineering
“Simulation of mechanical compression of bone tissue engineering scaffolds”

In other words: Tram wanted to investigate more useful designs for bone tissue engineering grafts. Using computer-aided design, he ran compression simulations to determine the mechanical properties of TPMS scaffolds, a component of grafts.

Archie Tram is passionate about creating and developing new medical technology. In fall of 2013, he had the opportunity to work with bone tissue engineering at Dr. David Dean’s laboratory. The experience, combined with Archie’s interest in coding and working with computers, led him to work with Dr. Jason Walker, postdoctoral investigator at Dean’s laboratory, in developing scaffold architecture using Schoen’s Gyroid Triply Periodic Minimal Surfaces (TPMS).

Scaffolds are a component of bone tissue engineering grafts, most commonly used for skin and blood vessel regrowth. Tram explains, "Stem cells need a surface to attach to so they can grow; scaffolds provide that surface." Similar to dissolving stitches, scaffolds must degrade in the body for complete healing.

"Current scaffolds are generally made using salt leaching or foaming techniques," explains Tram. Repeating experiments on current scaffolds is difficult because each scaffold cannot be made identically. Using computer-aided design (CAD) allows the scaffolds to be tightly controlled and created identically.

For the Denman Forum, Tram assessed the compression behavior of the TPMS scaffold design versus a typical design. CAD models of the TPMS scaffolds were created, and compression simulations were run using a finite element analysis software, ABAQUS.

“I am very fortunate to have the chance to use advanced science concepts and computer technology to conduct research as an undergraduate.”

Over typical scaffolds, TPMS scaffolds show promise in having better mechanical integrity. Tram’s research revealed that G-surface scaffolds, a type of TPMS scaffold, provide more stable mechanics in comparison with orthogonal scaffolds. In the future, this could mean that less non-biological material would need to be manufactured and implanted into patients.

Tram, who graduates in spring of 2016, plans to continue his research. “I am working towards an honors thesis to earn the honors research distinction on my bachelor's degree.”

Undergrad researcher: Annelise Del Rio

Major: Zoology
Project: “The evolution of heat shock protein 70 in sea anemones”

In other words: Del Rio sought to understand how sea anemones react to environmental stressors like elevated temperature. To do this, she looked at the evolution of heat shock protein 70 (Hsp70), a key indicator of stress response in organisms.

For Annelise Del Rio, it’s important to understand how marine organisms may respond to climate change. As environmental conditions of our oceans change, understanding the stress response of marine organisms is increasingly important.

Based on data collected from 20 species, she created a phylogenetic tree, which is a branching diagram used to show the evolutionary relationships among a group of organisms. Del Rio was interested in the diversity of the protein in sea anemones and wanted to look for patterns relating to the ecology and evolutionary relationships of the species.

After gathering genetic data, Del Rio stored it in a database that uses various coding and bioinformatics methods to analyze the data.

“I had no prior experience with computer coding and many of the genetic analysis programs, so it was a challenge to learn how to use some of these techniques. Bioinformatics is a growing field, so I am very grateful that I could learn these new skills and apply them to my project.”

The results of Del Rio’s project show that Hsp70 has a lot of variation among the species of anemones studied. Some genes follow an expected phylogenetic pattern, but many do not. She did not find any obvious connections between Hsp70 and the ecology of the species. “We are still analyzing and interpreting our data, but so far our results have been really interesting from an evolutionary perspective.”

Del Rio graduates this May and plans to start a PhD in ecology at the University of California, Davis, in the fall. There, she will continue to study the physiological ecology of aquatic and marine organisms.

“My ultimate goal is to work for a government agency as a researcher focused on marine conservation.”