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Symbi Fellows

Iowa State University Grad Students in the Symbi Program

Each Fellow works collaboratively with a selected middle school science teacher to leverage the Fellow's research experiences as they develop innovative and engaging science activities for middle school students. The Fellows spend one full day every week throughout the public school year in a Des Moines middle school science classroom performing the duties of a "resident scientist" as they interact with their partner teacher and students.

Aaron Bertram

Mechanical Engineering

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Matthew Fischels

Aerospace Engineering

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Kiva Forsmark

Cemical & Biological Engineering

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Carmen Gott

Chemistry

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Garrett Janzen

Ecology, Evolution & Organsimal Biology

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Michael Johnson

Chemical & Biological Engineering

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Sarah Mitchell

Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology

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Jacob Nuhn

Chemical & Biological Engineering

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Rebecca Polich

Ecology, Evolution & Organismal Biology

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Brian Voas

Materials Science & Engineering

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Fellow Profiles

Aaron Bertram

Email: bertram@iastate.edu

Institution: Iowa State University

Degree Level: Ph.D. Candidate

Research Mentor: Dr. Song-Charng Kong

Department: Mechanical Engineering

Research Title: Heuristic Optimization of Diesel Engines for Biofuel Operation

Research Summary: Diesel engine operation is optimized to reduce emissions and maximize fuel economy, specifically for the application of biofuel mixtures. My research uses models found in nature and applies them abstractly to parameters in the engine to reduce emissions to manageable and legal levels while maintaining high fuel economy. New biofuel mixtures have provided opportunities to improve emissions and this optimization work is an important tool which allows a fair comparison between different fuel choices.

Research Connection: Particulate emissions, NOx gas, and greenhouse gas emissions are all substantially important to the health of humans and the quality of the environment. Particulate matter has been implicated in millions of deaths each year and reducing those emissions is critical. Similarly, reducing the other emissions is also important for the health and safety of a great number of people.

Diesel engines have many tuning parameters and adjusting them, even slightly, can have a great impact on the types of emissions produced. Using the bio-inspired models for improvement engines can be tuned more rapidly and to higher performance levels than previously discovered by more simple techniques. As more technology is applied to an engine the more difficult optimizing that engines tune becomes. Thus, in order to take full advantage of new technology and new fuels this rapid optimization is necessary.

Career Aspiration: Teaching students about thermodynamics, mathematics, and combustion, and energy systems has always been a passion of mine. I want to make an impact on the engine manufacturing industry, either through research or directly through partnerships. My goal is to improve our environment by changing the way we view the environment and use energy.

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Matthew Fischels

Email: fischels@iastate.edu

Institution: Iowa State University

Degree Level: Ph.D. Candidate

Research Mentor: Dr. Ganesh Rajagopalan

Department: Department of Aerospace Engineering

Research Title: Simulation of wind turbine and wind farm aerodynamics

Research Summary: Development and implementation of computational methods which allow efficient and accurate tools to simulate wind turbine and wind farm aerodynamics. Focus on methods that will reduce the simulation time and improve the ability to accurately predict wind farm aerodynamics and wind turbine interactions.

Research Connection: Wind energy today is growing due to its low environmental impact and its ability to produce electricity at competitive prices. The aerodynamics involved in a wind farm are complex and require simulations or experiments to accurately predict the power that will be generated. By improving the simulation methods the ability of researchers to design and lay out wind farms will improve, resulting in more efficient wind farms and lower electricity prices.

Career Aspiration: Matthew hopes to be involved in research at a national lab or industrial company which develops tools to simulate and design wind turbines and wind farms.

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Kiva Forsmark

Email: kivad@iastate.edu

Institution: Iowa State University

Degree Level: Ph.D. Candidate

Research Mentor: Dr. Kaitlin Bratlie

Department: Chemical & Biological Engineering

Research Title: Modulating the innate immune response to implanted materials for tissue engineering

Research Summary: We use materials to affect cellular phenotype in the context of the foreign body response (FBR) that is mounted against implants. Often, the result of the FBR is a fibrotic capsule, or excessive scarring, that surrounds the implant. In the case of therapeutics for tissue engineering, cells in the implant die due to a lack of oxygen. It is our goal to design materials that can reduce the thickness of the scar by affecting the cells involved in the wound healing process. These cells are known as macrophages and fibroblasts.

Research Connection: We use materials to affect cellular phenotype in the context of the foreign body response (FBR) that is mounted against implants. Often, the result of the FBR is a fibrotic capsule, or excessive scarring, that surrounds the implant. In the case of therapeutics for tissue engineering, cells in the implant die due to a lack of oxygen. It is our goal to design materials that can reduce the thickness of the scar by affecting the cells involved in the wound healing process. These cells are known as macrophages and fibroblasts.

Career Aspiration: I aspire to improve human health and disease by dedicating my career to understanding and modulating the interactions between biomaterials and the body. In my opinion, the understanding of biomaterials is severely deficient in comparison to the rate that biomaterials are being implemented into devices and implanted into the human body. I know there is a limit to what I can do to impact the healthcare field through my research on biomaterials; but if I can inspire and prepare others to do the same I know I can have a great affect on society. For these reasons I hope to stand with one foot in the biomedical device industry and the other in academia through mentoring and teaching.

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Carmen Gott

Email: clgott@iastate.edu

Institution: Iowa State University

Degree Level: Ph.D. Candidate

Research Mentor: Dr. Malika Jeffries-EL

Department: Department of Chemistry

 

 

 

 

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Garrett Janzen

Email: gjanzen@iastate.edu

Institution: Iowa State University

Degree Level: Ph.D. Candidate

Research Mentor: Dr. Matthew Hufford

Department: Department of Ecology, Evolution, & Organismal Biology

Research Title: Gene network expression and ecological niche patterns underlying local adaptation in Mexican maize landraces

Research Summary: Mexican farmer-maintained maize landraces exhibit unique adaptations to local environments. Garrett studies the gene expression patterns that give rise to these local adaptations, as well as the environmental variables (climatic and anthropogenic) that influence landrace distribution.

Research Connection: Corn is one of the most economically important crops in the world. Although it is grown all around the globe, maize was domesticated in Mexico, and the Mexican landraces still exhibit interesting and potentially agronomically valuable genetic material. A greater understanding of how the genetic variability of landraces gives rise to local adaptation may direct maize breeding programs in the future, as well shed light on the processes of domestication and speciation.

Career Aspiration: Garrett is pursing a gainful career in genetic research, studying the history and mechanisms of evolution. Maize serves as a fantastic model organism for academic investigation of these questions, but also as a bridge to careers in industry.

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Michael Johnson

Email: mbeche@iastate.edu

Institution: Iowa State University

Degree Level: Ph.D. Candidate

Research Mentor: Dr. Andrew Hillier

Department: Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering

Research Title: Surface Plasmon Resonanace Enhancement of Spectroscopic Techniques

Research Summary: My research involves investigating how light interacts with matter. Light, as an electromagnetic wave, can cause electrons in metals like gold and silver to oscillate at the same frequency (a.k.a. wavelength or color) as the incoming light. This results in an enhanced electric field at the surface. This enhanced field can basically be thought of as highly condensed light at the surface. This phenomenon is called surface plasmon resonance (SPR) and can be used in a variety of ways.

Research Connection: Surface plasmon resonance (SPR) is largely applied in biosensing and biotechnology, allowing for sophisticated diagnostics of pathogens, heart and autoimmune diseases, and cancers, as well as aiding in new drug discovery. It can also be used to enhance spectroscopic techniques, which is a fancy term for investigation with light. This can be done by measuring how much a sample absorbs, reflects or transmits light. These investigation techniques are used to identify and characterize crime scene evidence and newly engineered materials. SPR also has promising applications in solar energy conversion and communication technology.

Career Aspiration: I have long dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur in the biotech industry, but recently have been investigating community organizing. I hope to start initiatives with entrepreneurs and their start ups to direct money towards nonprofit organizations that fight for living wages, social justice, safe communities, and equal access to education, health care and other basic necessities. Outside of providing higher standards of living, these initiatives will give small start ups a competitive edge over big business and help shift the public view from a profit driven to a socially responsible economy.

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Sarah Mitchell

Email: sarahmit@iastate.edu

Institution: Iowa State University

Degree Level: Ph.D. Candidate

Research Mentor: Dr. Fredric Janzen

Department: Department of Evolution, Ecology & Organsimal Biology

Research Title: Preventing the Second Reptilian Extintion: Building Accurate Population Models for Reptiles

Research Summary: As more land is altered for human uses, climate patterns change, and non-native species colonize new regions, it becomes harder for species numbers to remain stable. Conservation programs are can be successful at restoring healthy populations of animals such as the bald eagle, black-footed ferret, and the grey wolf. However, efforts to preserve reptile species have generally been unsuccessful. My research involves updating conservation models to fit traits unique to reptiles, in order to protect these charismatic and environmentally important species.

Research Connection: In mammals, an individual is made male or female based on the information in its DNA; however, for many reptiles, the sex of an individual is due to the effect of temperature. For instance, during a cold year, most baby painted turtles will be male, while females are produced in warmer years. If many warm years happen in a row, female painted turtles could greatly outnumber males; due to climate change, this effect will be more important for reptile populations. I incorporate this change in relative numbers of males to females into models that predict the growth and decline of populations, with the goal of making conservation efforts of these animals more effective.

Career Aspiration: In the future, I hope to pursue my passion for education and outreach, either through teaching at a small liberal arts college or through a non-profit environmental organization. I am particularly enthusiastic about careers that allow for a lot of time outside and interaction with students and members of other professions. My dream job would be to direct nature documentaries with an organization like the BBC!

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Jacob Nuhn

Email: januhn@iastate.edu

Institution: Iowa State University

Degree Level: Ph.D. Candidate

Research Mentor: Dr. Ian Schneider

Department: Department of Chemical & Biological Engineering

Research Title: Cell decisions in engineered, multi-cue 3D tumor microenvironments

Research Summary: We are working to understand what extracellular cues direct cancer cells out of the primary tumor which is the first step of metastasis. My research revolves around suspending cancer cells in 3D gels and subjecting them to chemical and physical stimuli. We then can observe how the cells react and draw conclusions to what is happening within the body.

Research Connection: The overall goal of this project is to develop better cancer screening techniques by examining the tissue surrounding the primary tumor. Through understand how extracellular cues affect the development of metastasis, doctors will be able to develop more effective treatment plans.

Career Aspiration: My chemical engineering background gives me a unique perspective and enhanced problem solving skills which I hope to continue to apply to the biological field. Specifically I want to pursue a career working for a biotech company continuing to further develop and understand cutting edge technology which will make a difference to people everywhere.

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Rebecca Polich

Email: rlpolich@iastate.edu

Institution: Iowa State University

Degree Level: Ph.D. Candidate

Research Mentor: Dr. Fredric Janzen

Department: Department of Ecology, Evolution & Organismal Biology

Research Title: Exploring the impact of human recreation on freshwater turtles, contemporary and potential long-term effects

Research Summary: I am broadly interested in conservation endocrinology of ectotherms, especially the differences in hormonal levels and behaviors across the urban-rural gradient. My Ph.D. research concerns differences in behavior and stress hormone levels (specifically, corticosterone) between populations of rural and urban painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) and the potential phenotypic and fitness effects of chronically elevated corticosterone levels.

Research Connection: I intend to use my research to make meaningful contributions to the conservation and management of wild reptiles and amphibians.

Career Aspiration: I am driven to become a professor at a smaller, liberal arts college where I can focus on teaching and performing undergraduate driven research. I believe that this will unite my love of teaching with my desire to contribute to the conservation issues I find so meaningful.

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Brian Voas

Email: bkvoas@iastate.edu

Institution: Iowa State University

Degree Level: Ph.D. Candidate

Research Mentor: Dr. Scott Beckman

DEPARTMENT: Department of Material Science & Engineering

Research Title: Alloy Theoretical Methods in Density Functional Theory Calculations of Lead-Free Ferroelectric Materials

Research Summary: I use density functional theory (DFT) to predict new materials and their properties. DFT is a quantum mechanical approach that mathematically describes nuclei and the cloud of electrons surrounding them. Armed with this mathematical representation, I can then create a 'virtual laboratory' to run my experiments.

Research Connection:Ferroelectrics are all around us. One very special property of ferroelectrics is called piezoelectricity, which refers to electricity that is derived from pressure: Squeeze a piezoelectric object and you can generate a current; conversely, send an electrical signal to the object and you can change its shape. These materials are therefore often used as sensors (ultrasound machines; microphones), actuators (inkjet printers; diesel fuel injectors), and for numerous other applications.

One of the most widely used materials in modern ferroelectric applications is lead zirconate titanate. Due to the biological and environmental hazards linked to products containing lead, I am joining many scientists in the search for materials that offer similar or superior properties to those found in current devices, without the toxicity inherent in lead.

Career Aspiration: I would like to solve real-world problems using my background in theoretical and big data methods. Throughout my graduate career, I have not only enjoyed the freedom to educate at many levels (graduate, undergraduate and K-12), I have also gained crucial experience while being mentored at national laboratories. My desire is to apply my research skills while sharing my knowledge with others as I meet the challenges of the day to make this world better for successive generations.

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