1. Project Title: In Vitro profiling of orexin induced MAPK activity within the hypothalamus
Research Description: Our laboratory focuses on brain sites and substrates mediating energy balance
relating to obesity. Our investigations have demonstrated the neuropeptide orexin (hypocretin), a
neuropeptide located in the lateral hypothalamus can increase spontaneous physical activity. This has
been shown to increase obesity resistance in rodents that have higher levels of orexin and its receptors in
various hypothalamic regions. Orexin mediates its response via either of the two orexin G-protein coupled
receptor (GPCR)s, oxrexin receptor-1 (Ox1R) or oxrexin receptor-2 (Ox2R). The complete details
underlying the intercellular mechanisms that follow Ox1/2R within specific hypothalamic nuclei such as
the rostral lateral hypothalamus (rLH) are not fully understood. It has been has been thought that the
activation of mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinases could be important to orexin responses in the rLH.
Understanding the role of orexin activated MAPKs and their downstream target proteins could identify
potential therapeutic targets for the treatment of obesity. The techniques used for these studies include,
immunohistochemistry, radioimmunoassay, cell culture, protein assays and molecular biology techniques.
UROP Project: A student in our laboratory would be responsible for a project involving the evaluation of
MAPKs such as ERK1/2, p38MAPK and their inhibitors MKP-1 in an in vitro hypothalamic cell culture
model following orexin treatment. The student would learn several molecular techniques that include
Western blots, ELISA and assay design. Students will also gain experience in literature reviews, obesity
research, data collection, data analysis, scientific presentations and manuscript preparation.
Cathy Kotz, PhD is the PI
The student would work with the Postdoctoral Associate, Tammy A. Butterick, PhD
Please email application to, Dr. Butterick at firstname.lastname@example.org
2. UROP Research Opportunity - CINRAM
Background: The Center for Integrated Natural Resources and Agricultural Management (CINRAM) is
an interdisciplinary center that has pursued opportunities for landscape change in the Minnesota River
Basin that can provide income for landowners while generating ecosystem services with a focus on
improving water quality in the Minnesota River Basin. CINRAM, working with the Department of
Bioproducts & Biosystems Engineering and outstate partners in Martin County has been carrying out
research on the impact of perennial and agroforestry systems in the Elm Creek Watershed north of
Fairmont since the early 80’s. We are looking for a UROP student to help carry out rainfall interception
studies in one or two of our research areas.
Perennial crops have been found to reduce water yield in agricultural watersheds in many studies. Yet
there is considerable debate still about the relative importance of plant transpiration and interception in
reducing surface runoff and tile flow. Some researchers still believe that corn transpires more water than
perennials, yet corn and other annual crops provide no rainfall interception from April to mid-June when
they start growing. Interception can capture up to 30-40% of annual rainfall, greatly reducing water yield.
The objective of this study would be to quantify the amount of rainfall interception by different perennial
and annual crops including corn, switchgrass, hybrid poplar, and multi-species prairie mixtures. This
would contribute information needed in hydrologic models and decision-making tools to assess the
relative benefits of perennial vegetation and under what scenarios they may have more hydrologic benefit.
The rainfall interception study would be carried out at our Elm Creek agoforestry site and/or at the
Waseca Research and Outreach Center. The UROP student would carry out a literature review in the
early semester and start installing the rain gages and throughfall gages in April. The student would travel
to the site on a biweekly basis from April 1 to September 1, measuring the gages each time. The student
would also conduct some statistical analysis and write a summary report on the total rainfall interception
and seasonal variation.
Contacts: Chris Lenhart (email@example.com )612-624-7736 or Dean Current (firstname.lastname@example.org) 612-
(The student researcher will become part of the CINRAM and BBE team that includes researchers,
graduate students and outstate partners working with hydrology, agronomy, economics and water quality
and storage issues in the Minnesota River Basin)
3. Identifying peanut varieties and production methods for Minnesota.
Problem: Can we find a peanut cultivar that grows well in Minnesota and matures in time to sell at the
State Fair or at Gopher football games? Most peanuts in the USA are grown in the hot, long season
climates of Georgia, Alabama and Texas. The Runner and Virginia types grown in those regions are
inappropriate for Minnesota’s short, cool growing season. Valencia peanuts have a much shorter growing
season, show some tolerance to cool nights, and have been grown commercially as far north as Ontario,
Canada. Could Valencia peanuts grow well in Minnesota?
Research Project: A trial of 19 Valencia type peanut cultivars was planted on the St. Paul Experiment
Station in May 2011. Peanuts were planted as seeds and also as 3-week-old transplants. Pods will be
hand harvested in September 2011. We seek a UROP student to shell and collect pod and seed data,
analyze and summarize the data, assist with identifying potential peanut cultivars for Minnesota
production and determining whether transplanting results in earlier maturity than direct seeding.
4. Modeling GIS data to enhance public understanding of the threat to a rare butterfly
There is a plethora of GIS data available about the distribution and abundance of the Powesheik
skipperling. Indeed it is so much that the general public and policy makers cannot fully understand the
threat to this suddenly rare Lepidopteran. The proposed research is to develop models to convert data into
readily understood displays. This will require computer skills, including GIS and web site construction, in
addition to interest and coursework related to conservation biology.
Please contact David Andow <email@example.com> and Elise Rosengren <firstname.lastname@example.org>
5. Using PCR to detect prey DNA in predaceous invasive ladybird beetles
The rates of predation on other insects, including harmful aphids and beneficial organisms, such as native
ladybird beetles, can be measured using PCR, if species specific primers can be identified and tested. The
proposed research is to develop and test species-specific primers that can be used to estimate these
predation rates. This will require some laboratory skills, including some work with PCR in a classroom
setting, and some background in entomology.
Please contact David Andow <email@example.com> and Kristina Prescott <firstname.lastname@example.org>
6. Project Title: Blenny systematics and morphology
Research Description: My laboratory studies fish systematics, theory and practice of phylogenetic
systematics using morphological and molecular data, and evolution of complex morphological character
systems. We use molecular (DNA) data to construct evolutionary trees, or phylogenetic hypothesis,
which can then be used as a scaffold for testing various morphological or phylogeographic hypotheses.
UROP Project: A new project in my lab is investigating the evolution of teeth and jaw shape in
blennies, a group of reef dwelling, marine fishes. Blennies have unique jaws and teeth, which range from
15 to as many as 350 depending on the species. The teeth vary in their shape, attachment to the jaw, the
way they are replaced, and include small incisors used for feeding and large canine-like teeth, used only
in antagonistic or defensive behavior.
A UROP student would help design their own project on blennies incorporating any of the
following skills he/she would want to learn or practice: molecular (PCR, Gel electrophoresis, and
sequencing preparation), histological (specimen preparation, sectioning, slide preparation), Alcian Blue/
Alazirin Red clearing and staining, and molecular and/or morphological data analysis.
7. Research Description: People buy red potatoes because they look pretty and the pigments responsible
for the red color, anthocyanins, are thought to have antioxidant and therefore, health benefits. If the
potatoes lose their redness, they're not as attractive and lose their value. There are two potential projects
on anthocyanins - 1) the synthesis and degradation of anthocyanins in different red potato varieties, and 2)
how 2,4-D effects on potato color vary based on soil type and potato variety. Both projects would involve
growing potato plants in the greenhouse, and sampling tubers at different times after planting, measuring
color and anthocyanin content, and depending on student interest, molecular and biochemical
Contact Cindy Tong
434 Alderman Hall
8. A Novel Microalgae Cultivation Method to Facilitate Cell Harvest
A UROP Proposal
Research Description: We are developing an innovative microalgae 8. cultivation approach that can
enable individual microalgae cells to aggregate together and form pellets during the cell growth. These
algae pellets are much easier to harvest from pond water than individual algae cells. This innovative
approach can be applied to biofuel production, wastewater treatment process and other microalgae
UROP Project: An undergraduate student will be recruited to study the microalgae cultivation conditions
and how to induce them to form cell pellets. UROP students are welcome to join this research project and
it will provides them great opportunities to practice their lab skills and knowledge in biology, chemistry
and engineering to solve the real problem.
Bo Hu, Ph.D.
Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering
316 Bio AgEng, 1390 Eckles Ave.
University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108-6005
9. Topic: Soil Biogeochemical Cycling, Organic Agriculture, Sustainable Agriculture, Crop
Nutrient Management, Nutrient Cycling, Water Resources, Land and Atmospheric Sciences
Project Title: Evaluating alfalfa mulch as a nitrogen source for corn production
Research description: Organic producers who do not own livestock often have limited options for use of
forages, and if they are grown, they are typically sold off-farm. This practice represents a major loss of
exported nutrients. Therefore, we examined the use of alfalfa produced on-farm as a mulch to supply N
and other nutrients for corn production. Alfalfa will be harvested by green chopping and applied to corn.
Throughout this study, we will characterize the corn yield, soil and plant nitrogen status, and weed
population densities as affected by rate and application timing of alfalfa mulch.
Potential UROP opportunities with our project:
a) Evaluation of the weed suppressive capabilities of varying rates of a surface applied alfalfa mulch
b) Measure nitrogen leaching rates from surface applied alfalfa mulch
Contact: Professor: Deborah Allan Student Researcher: Laura Fernandez
10. Title: Effects of Plant Defenses on Predatory Insects
Research description: Many plants, including milkweeds, produce toxins and other traits that are
thought to be defenses against herbivory. In some cases, however, herbivores become adapted to these
defenses and may use them to protect themselves against predators. For example, monarch butterfly
larvae sequester the toxins from milkweed plants, which protects them from predation by birds. Other
herbivores, including aphids, show similar adaptations. Under these conditions, we hypothesize that plant
defenses may negatively affect predatory insects, reducing the ability of predators to suppress herbivore
populations. Understanding the effects of plant defenses on predatory insects may have implications for
controlling insect pests.
Research Project: Preliminary evidence shows that differences between milkweed species can affect the
performance of aphid predators. Now, we are interested in manipulating specific defensive traits in order
to identify which traits may be responsible for altering the performance of predatory insects. Research
will be conducted primarily in the greenhouse or in growth chambers with insects and milkweed plants.
A highly motivated student should be able to successfully test the effects of several plant defensive traits
on a single predator.
Dr. George Heimpel; email@example.com; 612-624-3480
Emily Mohl, PhD student; firstname.lastname@example.org; 773-729-0617
11. UROP Research Description: Bird-Building Collisions in an Urban Landscape
Urban landscapes are rapidly expanding worldwide, fast becoming a dominant habitat on this planet.
Buildings are an ideal feature of urban landscapes to study as they affect organisms through a variety of
mechanisms. One such mechanism is building collisions by birds; birds are known to fly into buildings in
huge numbers every year; estimates of annual mortality from building collisions range from 0.1 to 1.0
billion birds, and one building in New York City had over 900 birds fly into it in one year (Klem 1990;
Drewitt and Langston 2008; Gelb and Delacretaz 2009). In an effort to reduce these collisions, we need to
better understand the features of buildings and landscapes that contribute to avian mortality from
collisions. Volunteers with Project BirdSafe have been collecting birds from collisions in the Twin Cities
since 2007. Help with ongoing analysis and research to help guide conservation efforts.
- Identifying, cataloging, and analyzing possible landscape features contributing to building collisions.
- Consider physical characteristics of birds collected and possible relationship to risk for collision.
- Consider behavioral characteristics of birds collected and possible relationship to risk for collision.
- A different, related topic of your choosing
K. Sami Nichols
186 McNeal Hall
Saint Paul, MN 55108
12. Genotypic and Environmental Factors Influence Productivity and Activity of Antimicrobial
Compounds Obtained from Wild Plant Species.
Background: Extracts obtained from a wide range of both wild and crop plant species possess antioxidant
or antimicrobial activity. In previous research conducted on a subsample of the extracts from plant stems,
leaves, and roots of three plant species our group demonstrated that these extracts are effective agents for
inhibiting the growth of the oomycetes, Pythium spp. and Phytophthora sojae, which are widespread
soilborne pathogens of soybean.
Research Objectives: Plant productivity is influenced by both genotypic and environmental effects.
Similarly synthesis of compounds by plants of a single species may be influenced by both plant genetics
and by environmental conditions occurring as plants develop. The objective of this research is 1) to
determine if productivity and activity of antimicrobial compounds found in plant extracts differs among
individual plants within a species known to produce these compounds or 2) if activity and productivity of
antimicrobial compounds is influenced by environmental factors such as temperature, moisture stress, or
soil fertility present during the growing season.
Justification: The results obtained in this research will facilitate efforts to obtain antimicrobial compounds
from wild plant species. Genotypic variation in antimicrobial compound concentration and activity would
indicate that planting breeding can be used to increase productivity or activity of antimicrobial
compounds. If environmental conditions influence productivity or activity of antimicrobial compounds,
cultural practices could be designed to favor production of these compounds.
Contact: Jim Kurle, email@example.com
13. ON-FARM RESEARCH OF ALFALFA-CORN ROTATION
Each year, corn is grown after alfalfa on an estimated 250,000 acres in Minnesota.
Upon termination of alfalfa, nitrogen (N) from soil organic matter and alfalfa plants becomes available for
at least two years of subsequent corn crops. Thus, N fertilizer applications to corn need to be reduced (N
credit) when corn is grown for at least two years after alfalfa. Surveys suggest that farmers still hesitate to
fully accept first-year corn N credits, and even more neglect second-year N credits from alfalfa to corn.
The hesitation in reducing N fertilizer applications may be due to wide differences in published “book
value” N credits. To build confidence in second-year corn N credits, farmers need independent and
economic measurements to predict N availability and to apply accurate N credits. Even though there is a
wide array of soil and crop tests available, farmers and agronomists often lack the confidence in knowing
which tests are most reliable and likely to produce an economic return on investment. Multiple plant
tissue and soil tests need to be evaluated to determine what combination of tests should be used to
accurately and economically predict second-year N credits from alfalfa to corn.
Experiments are being established in 8 farmer fields throughout central and southern Minnesota this fall
and will continue until the fall of 2012. Opportunities exist for a student interested in either field or lab-
based research or the combination of both. Student can assist in an objective already outlined in the
research project or can develop their own objective if desired.
Matt Yost (Graduate research assistant)
Dr. Michael Russelle
Department of Soil, Water, Climate
14. A New, Methodology to Reliably Harness Gas Chromatography Retention for Metabolite
Background: Samples from living organisms can contain hundreds of thousands of small molecules (or
“metabolites”). While large molecules like DNA and protein direct the function of cells, most of the time,
it’s the metabolites that actually do stuff. If we could comprehensively measure their concentration and
distribution throughout an organism, we could make great advances in our understanding of diseases and
design effective treatments for them. Unfortunately, even with state-of-the-art analytical techniques, we
can identify only a small fraction of them.
Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS) is one of those state-of-the-art techniques. GC-MS is
composed of two parts: the GC, which separates compounds by their chemical properties, and MS, which
separates compounds by their mass. Right now, only the MS (mass) information is used to identify
compounds because differences between gas chromatographs make the information gained from it
irreproducible between labs. Therefore, the information gained from GC is mostly discarded, but our
calculations show that that information could drastically improve the rate of identification when
combined with the MS information. A reliable means to identify compounds from GC information has
been a holy grail of analytical chemistry for nearly 60 years.
We recently developed a new, simple methodology that will finally realize this goal. We have
successfully applied it to liquid chromatography (see www.retentionprediction.org) and now intend to
explore its use in gas chromatography. In this methodology, we spike our samples with a homologous
series of alkanes and based on their retention behavior in the GC, we can back-calculate all of the
important instrument-related properties of a user’s GC instrument that are influencing retention. From
those back-calculated properties, we can calculate retention on their instrument with high accuracy.
Research Opportunity: Acquire preliminary data to determine the efficacy of the back-calculation
technique when applied to gas chromatography. This will involve gaining in-depth knowledge of GC-MS
instrumentation and then testing the accuracy of retention predictions under a variety of situations faced
by regular GC users (e.g. testing with different batches of GC columns, under different temperature
programs, with different flow rates, with different column lengths, with different sample matrices, etc.).
Contact: Paul Boswell
328 Alderman Hall
1970 Folwell Ave.
15. Project: The Southeast Minnesota Foodshed Planning Initiative—Applied Economics Analysis
The SE Foodshed Planning Initiative is a multi-disciplinary effort to assess the agronomic production
potential, economic impact, distribution and aggregation of local foods in Southeast Minnesota.
The UROP student will utilize a pre-designed framework for compiling data on consumer expenditures of
19 food categories at the county level for counties in the southeast region of Minnesota. The research
assistant will utilize American Community Survey data, Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer
Expenditure Survey data, and the recently developed framework to revise estimated food expenditures in
the region. The research assistant will also use various data sources to estimate (1) gross weights of foods
purchased and (2) expenditures on local foods in the region. Results will be useful for estimating the
capacity of local growers and producers to meet the market demand for foods consumed in the region.
Greg Schweser, Assoc. Director of Sustainable Local Foods, U of M Regional Sustainable Development
Partnerships 612-625-9707, firstname.lastname@example.org
Erin Meier, Executive Director, U of M Southeast Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships 507-
16. Project Name: UM Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships' Central Minnesota
Sustainable Development Project (CMSDP)
Project Website: http://www.rsdp.umn.edu/Central_MN_Sustainable_Development/index.htm
Project Contact: Jean Coleman, Project Sustainability Coordinator, email@example.com, 612-588-4904
or Kathy Draeger, Statewide Director, U of M Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships
Project Description: The Central Minnesota Sustainable Development Plan project is a collaborative
regional planning effort for the long-term, social, economic and environmental sustainability of
communities in five counties in central Minnesota. The project is a first-of-its-kind HUD/EPA/DOT
planning effort that integrates natural resources, land use, housing, transportation, and economic
development under the umbrella of sustainability. The “community-driven, University assisted” project is
one of only 17 located in a rural area. The goal of the project is create an integrated Regional Plan for
Sustainable Development. This is a two-year project designed to create a long-term sustainable
transportation, housing, and economic development plan for the region.
Three Potential UROP Research Topics:
1. Creating Sustainable Development Policy - The adoption of policy supporting local sustainable
development goals is a primary outcome of our project. A student could create a research project
investigating existing local, state, and federal policies on one or more environmental sustainability issues
to determine the effectiveness of current policies in achieving local sustainability goals. The result of the
research would be to identify effective policies and, more importantly, to suggest policy changes that
would better achieve goals. Issues could include: water quality, habitat protection, sustainable land use
choices, green economy, alternative energy, affordable housing, or alternative transportation options.
2. The Impact of Design and Communication on Public Understanding of Sustainability Concepts - Our
project success relies to a great degree on communicating sustainability concepts to a very diverse
audience. The project offers the opportunity to connect with over 200 citizens representing the ethnic,
economic, and age diversity of central Minnesota. The project also offers the opportunity to work with a
variety of communication tools including websites, webinars, face-to-face meetings, documents, media,
and theatre. Research could include evaluation of the success of various communication tools in
conveying concepts of sustainability.
3. What is Sustainable Economic Development? - Our project will create a long-term sustainable
development vision for Central Minnesota, but how does the region choose which economic sectors to
support to achieve this vision? The student will bring applied economic research to bear on what
information is available and identify information gaps for making public and private investment decisions
that support sustainability in Central Minnesota.
17. Project: Building Capacity for Local Foods Infrastructure Development (USDA NCR-SARE
funded) Up to two positions available
This newly launched project will identify community-level information and resource needs to increase
access to healthy, local foods in rural areas of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. This will lead
to the creation of curriculum and on-line modules for Extension and Colleges of Agriculture to use in
supporting community-based food systems initiatives. We can work with student to write up UROP
applications that pertain to work on this project, including:
1) Using initial community focus group information (three communities at various levels of maturity
in developing a local food system) and assist in analysis of the qualitative data. This information
will be translated into Design Thinking for Action charettes that will be held in each of the three
communities and conducted by faculty/staff from the College of Design.
2) Increasing attention is being placed on the importance of Regional Food Hubs as a core
component to building vibrant local foods systems. This project is focuses on rural, sometimes
sparsely populated and/or isolated areas. Special attention is needed to the conceptualization of
Regional Food Hubs in these situations.
Contact: Greg Schweser, Assoc. Director of Sustainable Local Foods, U of M Regional Sustainable
Development Partnerships 612-625-9707, firstname.lastname@example.org
18. Wild turkey response to urban landscape fragmentation
1. Research Description: My laboratory will be conducting research to investigate the behavioral
response of wild turkey to urban habitat fragmentation and human disturbance. Our current focus is on
the potential behavioral response and adaptive strategies that contributed to the successful colonization of
the urban landscape by this species. Understanding the adaptive strategies used by the wild turkey will
provide additional insight into the ecology of fragmented systems, as well as provide a greater
understanding of wildlife management on urban landscapes.
UROP Project: The research project involves a mixture of field (75%) and laboratory work (25%), but
may depend on the skill set of the applicant. Duties may include: assisting with capture and radio
equipping of study subjects, monitoring life history traits (e.g., nest site characteristics, home range and
core use size, habitat usage) through radio telemetry techniques and visual observations, and documenting
and analyzing relevant field data. We hypothesize that wild turkey colonization of the urban landscape
has led to a behavioral response and possible adaptation of urban individuals.
Study questions include:
How is wild turkey use of the urban matrix determined by resource availability?
Do wild turkeys in urban areas use greenspace habitat at a higher percentage than percentage
available on the landscape?
Do successful urban nests have different characteristics from unsuccessful urban nesting sites or
nesting sites in other habitat?
Radio telemetry monitoring will likely require two or three days of work per week for 8 to 12 weeks,
starting in mid-January. The work requires collecting bird location data from random hours between early
morning and early evening. Depending on sites to be covered that day, this process may take 2 to 4 hours
to complete. Assistance in capture events will require late evening capture site preparation, with a pre-
dawn start during the mid-January to mid-March time frame. Data analysis will be performed using
LOAS, Biotas, ArcGIS, and MS office software. Applicant must have reliable transportation to and from
study sites (Battle Creek County Park, St. Paul; Lake Elmo County Park, Lake Elmo; Snail Lake County
Supervisor on project: Karl Tinsley
Faculty Member: Rob Blair
19. UROP: Study of Soil Erosion and Soil Organic Matter in Agricultural and Grassland
Problem Description: It is commonly asserted that land cover conversion from native prairies to
agricultural land use has resulted in broad-scale losses of soil organic carbon (SOC) through increased
respiration of SOC resulting from disturbance and losses due to wind and water erosion. Recently, that
conceptual framework has been challenged; in part, because downslope deposition of eroded soil can be
an effective sink for SOC. This research focuses on characterizing and quantifying these processes in
Minnesota cropland and grassland ecosystems.
Research Opportunity: A large set of soil samples from a suite of agricultural and grassland sites in
Southern Minnesota have been collected over the past 2 years. Students will have the opportunity to select
a subset of these samples for further study of soil organic matter, soil erosion, and/or additional areas of
interest to the student. Students will learn about analytical techniques related to elemental analysis of soil
carbon and nitrogen as well as measurement of 137Cesium for determining rates of erosion.
Brent Dalzell (Research Associate – Soil, Water, and Climate)
Ed Nater (Professor – Soil, Water, and Climate)