Faculty and Projects Summer 2023

Below is a selection of faculty and research projects that are open for the summer of 2023. Please include the name of any faculty member(s) that you are interested in working with on your application. This list is not exhaustive, so if you don't see an exact project matching your interests, don't hesitate to reach out to our program coordinators to see if we may have a fit for you.

More information about Research Opportunities for Undergraduates

Jump to:

Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics| Animal Sciences

Entomology | Food Science and Technology

Food, Agricultural, and Biological Engineering | Plant Pathology

Horticulture and Crop Sciences | Environment and Natural Resources


Michael Sword (Wooster based)
Research operations, crop systems

Michael Sword serves as the Superintendent of Farm Operations at the Bioproducts/ Bioenergy Lab Facility in Wooster, Ohio. While not within an academic department, students would get exposure to a wide variety of projects, crop types and cultural practices. Students would be embedded in either our Specialty crops, Agronomic Crops or Organic research teams that support the field research efforts on Wooster campus. They would get an experience to understand what it takes to get our land resources prepared and implement the research projects successfully. They may additionally get exposure to farm equipment operation and learn many crop cultural practices. 

Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics

Brian Roe (Columbus based)
National Household Food Waste Tracking Survey: Data Analysis and Survey Testing

Dr. Roe works broadly in the areas of agricultural and environmental economics focusing on issues including agricultural marketing, information policy, behavioral economics, and product quality. He also helped form and currently leads the Ohio State Food Waste Collaborative, a collection of researchers, practitioners, and students working together to promote the reduction and redirection of food waste as an integral part of a healthy and sustainable food system. In addition to research on food waste, his other recent research includes a USDA funded project focused on local foods and school lunch programs and participation in an NSF-funded multidisciplinary team seeking to understand human-ecosystem feedbacks in the Western Lake Erie basin, including understanding how farms and agribusinesses respond to voluntary environmental programs and how Ohio residents respond to different options to manage Lake Erie water quality. View a video presentation of Dr. Roe's Research.

Animal Sciences

Benjamin Bohrer (Columbus based)
Meat science and evaluation

The Bohrer research group focuses on several research themes within the meat science and muscle biology. Dr. Bohrer has expertise in animal products, specifically the evaluation of meat products, eggs, and dairy products. Summer interns may work on projects that relate to fresh meat quality, processed meat manufacture and evaluation, meat sensory work, or meat tenderness evaluation. Dr. Bohrer encourages independence of team members while also facilitating an environment conducive to the development of technical and interpersonal skills. He has worked with research groups from many different countries and hopes to continue to explore ways to strategically collaborate and connect with more researchers in the future.

Ali Nazmi (Wooster based)
Poultry immune response and gut health

Dr. Nazmi's research focuses on characterization and understanding the poultry immune response to enteric diseases to improve gut health. His research lab works to translate mucosal immunology research in the rodent model into farm animals, particularly poultry and pigs. Current research projects include host immune responses against coccidiosis, necrotic enteritis, and pathogenic Escherichia coli. In addition, the lab is investigating how intestinal immune cells, particularly intraepithelial cells, affect the development of wooden breast syndrome in broiler chickens.

Scott Kenney (Wooster based)
Zoonotic viruses and transmission
Dr. Kenney is a part of the Center for Food Animal Health, a group specializing in the intersection of animal models and pathogens. The focus of his research program is molecular virology of emerging viruses with specific emphasis on zoonotic pathogens. Current research includes SARS-CoV-2, porcine deltacoronavirus, hepatitis E virus, African swine fever virus, porcine reproductive respiratory syndrome virus, and others. We use molecular techniques to genetically alter viruses in the lab environment and depending on the results can place these viruses into their cognate host species to observe the effects during actual infection. We have worked with animal models including pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, cows, hamsters, rabbits, mice, and ferrets. Our current USDA NIFA grant is utilizing genomic CRISPR knockout and functional bioinformatic approaches to understanding cross species transmission of coronaviruses in swine. We have additional collaborative projects evaluating nanoparticle and other vaccine platforms for SARS-CoV-2 and African swine fever. 

Specific summer research projects may include molecular virology projects pertaining to zoonotic virus transmission such as porcine deltacoronavirus, hepatitis E virus, or other viruses. Students can participate in a large number of projects to unravel how viruses interact with their host in either tissue culture or animal model systems. 


Reed Johnson (Wooster based)
Pollinator health and pesticide toxicology

Insect pollinators are vital for the production of many fruits, nuts, and vegetables, including apples, blueberries, almonds, tomatoes, and pumpkins. In our lab we are seeking to understand how to protect pollinators from the pesticides and other toxins they encounter. The managed European honey bee, Apis mellifera, serves as a model pollinator for toxicological testing. While the honey bee is the most economically important pollinator in the U.S. and serves as an excellent model species, we are also interested in understanding pesticide toxicity in other pollinating insects as well. Summer research projects may focus on the toxicology of pesticides and pesticide combinations in bees or bioacoustics methods to detect bee activity.

Ashley Leach (Wooster based)
Integrated pest management

Dr. Leach joined the OSU Entomology Department after completing a postdoctoral research associateship at Purdue University. She is an applied entomologist specializing in the development of integrated pest management in specialty cropping systems, broadly interested in optimizing agricultural production systems, including understanding the biology and ecology of these systems and the tactics that can improve their efficiency. Summer research projects may focus on assessing the impact of integrated pest and pollinator management in pumpkin production or scouting and monitoring for Spotted Lanternfly in urban and rural systems. 

Kayla Perry (Wooster based)
Forest insect ecology and urban ecology

Dr. Perry graduated from The Ohio State University with her PhD in 2016, joining the faculty ranks in 2022. Her research aims to understand how disturbances influence the structure and function of insect communities in natural and urban forests. Natural disturbances such as fire and wind are integral components of forest ecosystems, but human-induced disturbances such as exotic species, habitat degradation, and climate change impact forest health and management. Research areas include forest entomology, biodiversity and conservation of insects, insect ecology, invasive species, disturbance ecology, and soil ecology.

Summer projects may include:
1. Assessment of ground-dwelling arthropod communities in response to disturbance caused by a tornado and salvage logging
2. Survey of ground-dwelling arthropod communities and/or exotic plant communities in forest fragments
3. Patterns of bumble bee traits along an urban-rural gradient
4. Response of ground beetle species and traits to levels of heavy metal contamination in urban ecosystems

Peter Piermarini (Wooster based)
Molecular physiology and toxicology of mosquitos

Dr. Piermarini laboratory studies the molecular physiology and toxicology of the most dangerous animals on Earth (i.e., mosquitoes). Students will have an opportunity to learn basic molecular biology, mosquito rearing, and a range of physiological, behavioral, and toxicological bioassays within the context of discovering and developing novel chemical control tools for mosquitoes (e.g., insecticides, repellents). His research investigates the molecular mechanisms of fluid secretion by the renal (Malpighian) tubules of mosquitoes (Aedes aegypti and Anopheles gambiae). Aedes mosquitoes are one of the most important vectors for spreading the viral-based illnesses of yellow fever and dengue fever to humans, whereas Anopheles mosquitoes are the primary vectors of malaria. If we can identify key genes/proteins involved with urine production by mosquito Malpighian tubules, then we may be able to interfere with this process via genetic disruption or pharmacological agents, thereby making it less likely for a mosquito to bite another person and spread disease.

Food Science and Technology

Sheryl Barringer (Columbus based)
Flavor and sensory processing

Dr. Barringer has a wide expertise in food science and teaches courses in fruit and vegetable processing, technical problem solving, and chocolate science. Summer projects could focus on improving the flavor of chocolate by adding sugar or amino acids to the cacao beans before roasting. This should increase the Maillard reaction, which will produce more of the desirable chocolate aroma. Research would involve different treatments of the beans, measuring the flavor volatiles produced when beans are roasting, and performing a sensory evaluation.

VM Bala Balasubramian (Columbus based)
Food processing and sanitation technology

Dr Bala's research spans both areas of food science and technology as well as food, agricultural, and biological engineering. His focus has been on food process design, development and validation of various clean food manufacturing technologies that satisfy consumer demand for minimally processed foods with health promoting nutrients preserved. Recent laboratory efforts have focused on various innovative applications of high pressure based technologies in the food industry. Students can participate in various projects including ultrashear technology for liquid food processing and superheated steam for dry food plant sanitation.

Laboratory website: https://u.osu.edu/foodsafetyeng/.

Food, Agricultural, and Biological Engineering

Frederick Michel (Wooster based)
Composting, biofuel, and bioprocessing

Dr. Michel's group conducts research in three  areas: (1) Composting, focused on the recycling of food scraps, yard trimmings and manure, understanding and mitigating the impacts of contaminants such as herbicides, plastics and pathogens and understanding the effects of composts on the microbial ecology of soils and plant growing media, (2) Pretreatments to improve bioethanol production from corn and cellulosic feed stocks and biogas production during anaerobic digestion, (3) Bioprocessing for the extraction and purification of natural rubber and inulin from the roots of Taraxacum kok Sagyhz (TK), the Russian dandelion. Summer projects may focus on analysis of microbial communities in home composting systems or compositional analysis of plant growing media.

Ryan Winston (Columbus based)
Water quality, stormwater control, and drainage

Dr. Winston's research is focused on water quality, as well as performance of stormwater control measures (often with focus in urban environments). His current broad and applied research program spans runoff hydrology, water quality, stream and drainage management, stormwater control measure performance, modeling of urban runoff and water quality, field-scale monitoring at small and large scales, and quantifying ecosystem services. Broadly, he is interested in economical solutions to environmental problems. Summer research projects may focus on the following areas:

1. Watershed-scale green infrastructure for stormwater management
2. Performance evaluation of bioretention / permeable pavement
3. Developing a novel pretreatment system for stormwater control
4. Acid mine drainage treatment using pervious concrete

Katrina Cornish (Wooster based)
Bio-emergent materials and biofuels

Dr. Cornish leads a program in alternate rubber production and bio-emergent materials including food processing wastes for value-added products and biofuels. She is the leading U.S. scientific expert and an internationally recognized authority on alternative natural rubber production, properties, and products, and on natural rubber biosynthesis. Summer research interns may work on a variety of projects including:

1. Selection and production of hydroponically grown clonal rubber dandelions with enhanced rubber yield
2. Further development of latex extraction methods from rubber dandelion roots
3. Development of single use radiation attenuation medical gloves

Horticulture and Crop Sciences

Joshua Blakeslee (Columbus based)
Biochemistry, signaling, and plant responses

Dr. Blakeslee’s laboratory researches the biochemical physiology of plant responses to the environment. One primary area of focus is membrane signaling and transport in plant responses to abiotic stresses, including salt drought, and light or heat stress. Current research has also expanded to investigate the composition, function, and regulation of membrane-bound multiprotein complexes in the metabolism/production of terpenoid compounds, including sterols/steroids, sesquiterpene bio-fuel molecules, bioactive medicinal poly-terpenoids, and rubber molecules. Students will receive training in metabolomic techniques including mass spectrometry, capillary electrophoresis, and gas and liquid chromatography. Summer projects may include:

1. Measurement of herbicide drift onto sensitive crops; and quantitation of the impact of herbicide drift
2. Metabolic engineering of crops to create drop-in replacement biofuels
3. Investigation of the lipid signaling pathways involved in plant stress responses.

Imed Dami (Wooster based)
Viticulture and cold hardiness in grapes

Dr. Dami studies plant stress physiology, particularly the negative impact of cold temperatures on grapes. Applications of this research include improving vineyard efficiency and improving wine quality. Specific research areas include viticulture (grape growing), impact of cultural practices on grapevine performance, cold hardiness and dormancy of grapevines, variety evaluation, sustainable and IPM practices, and grapevine metabolomics and transcriptomics.

Michelle Jones (Wooster based)
Molecular and biochemical regulation, floriculture crops

Michelle is a Professor and Extension Specialist in the Department of Horticulture and Crop Science at the Ohio State University. Her research studies microbe-containing products for enhancement of floriculture crops as well as the molecular and biochemical regulation of senescence in plants. Summer research students will help evaluate the use of beneficial bacteria to grow greenhouse crops with lower fertilizer inputs to improve environmental sustainability by reducing fertilizer applications and nutrient leaching. 

Eric Stockinger (Wooster based)
Cold tolerance and cereal crops (barley, wheat & rye) 

The Stockinger lab has two major research interests and focus areas: the mechanistic understanding of freezing tolerance of cereals and the development of winter malting barley adapted to Ohio and surrounding states. Expertise includes genetics of winter-hardiness in the cereal grain crops wheat, barley, and rye. The breeding project is now a major focus of the lab and has resulted in the lab transitioning to a full-fledged winter malting barley breeding program. Students will participate in a breeding project, with the goal to develop winter-hardy barley for the malting and brewing industry. Specific aspects include lab time, greenhouse work, and field studies.

David Mackey (Columbus based)
Molecular and cellular biology

Dr. Mackey's lab is investigating molecular and genetic factors of both bacterial pathogens and their potential plant hosts that determine the outcome of infections. Bacterial proliferation and virulence depend on manipulation of plant physiology to convert the leaf apoplast (intercellular space between cells) into a hydrated and nutrient-rich environment. Research in the lab aims to understand how bacterial virulence factors perturb host signaling, metabolic, and physiological processes to create a favorable apoplast environment as well as how bacteria tolerate and exploit that host environment. Projects in the lab combine plant genetics and bacterial genetics and genomics with assessment of infection outcomes, including pathology and bacterial proliferation, to gain mechanistic insight into fundamental processes influencing the outcome of plant-microbe interactions.

Uttara Samarakoon (Wooster based)
Nutrient management and controlled environment agriculture

Dr. Samarakoon specializes in nutrient management, particularly related to hydroponic crops. Her lab also studies organic production using soilless growing media and developing protocols for microgreen production. Research topics may include introduction of new crops to controlled environment agriculture (CEA) aiming to optimize crop yield, quality, and flavor. Students may work on projects relating to any of these topics.

Plant Pathology

Soledad Benitez Ponce (Wooster based)
Beneficial plant-microbe interactions, microbial ecology

Dr. Benitez Ponce's research is focused on two cropping systems: field crops and hydroponic production. Her lab specializes in studies of diversity and function of plant-associated microbial communities in agricultural systems and their contributions to plant growth. Agricultural management practices affect the structure and diversity of plant-associated and soil microbial communities, however, we are still trying to understand how to best incorporate measures of microbial diversity, activity, and function to guide the choice of agricultural management practices. Summer research project topics may include:

1. Characterization of biofilms in hydroponic production systems
2. Genome characteristics of bacteria recovered from soil-less production systems
3. Measuring microbial activity and function in agricultural systems

Francesca Hand (Columbus based)
Integrated Pest Management, disease epidemiology, and ornamental pathology

Dr. Hand's research program focuses on the development of sustainable strategies for plant disease management in ornamental crops. In her lab, students use a combination of conventional and molecular techniques, combined with field studies, to investigate disease epidemiology, biology, and ecology of fungal and oomycete pathogens. This preliminary research informs which detection and control strategies are developed. Summer researchers will help to evaluate the use of Anaerobic Soil Disinfestation (ASD) for managing soilborne pathogens in specialty cut flowers. The availability of environmentally sound disease management options that can be integrated in sustainable farming is of great interest to the specialty cut flower industry. This project will evaluate the use of a non-pesticide-based soil disinfestation technique, known as anaerobic soil disinfestation (ASD), for its potential to reduce soilborne disease damage in specialty cut flower production. This is a combined lab and field research experience. 

Jason Slot (Columbus based)
Mycology, genomics, and molecular ecology

Fungi are critical players in functioning terrestrial ecosystems, from forests to agriculture. Almost all plants rely on fungi for nutrient acquisition, and many rely upon them for defense against disease and stress. Occasionally, fungi emerge as formidable pathogens of plants and animals, and as toxic agents of food spoilage. In Dr. Slot's lab, researchers investigate fungal adaptation to these ecological roles at the genomic level. 

Guo-Liang Wang (Columbus based)
Plant disease resistance and functional genomics

Dr. Wang's lab researches the molecular mechanisms of host resistance to pathogens using genetic and genomic approaches. The main focus is to understand the mechanisms of plant-pathogen interaction, and the signal transduction pathways leading to the induction of disease resistance responses. We are currently using rice as the model plant to clone disease resistance genes and genes involved in resistance responses to rice fungal and bacterial pathogens. Our long-term goal is to genetically engineer plants for disease resistance in such a way as to reduce reliance on the environmentally damaging pesticides.

Nina Ward (Wooster based)
Chestnut grafting for non-consumable products

We are currently looking for an undergraduate research assistant to help us with a chestnut grafting project. Chestnuts can be processed into multiple different consumable products and the chestnut wood can be produced into valuable non-consumable products. Tree crops are generally grown via clonal propagation techniques such as grafting but chestnut trees are not routinely grafted because of high graft failure rates. The causes of graft failure remain unknown, but there are two likely possibilities that could explain this issue: 1) Improper healing processes at microscopic levels due to the tree's physiological structure and innate wound response mechanisms, and 2) Opportunistic pathogen(s) present in rootstocks and scion wood detriment the healing processes at the graft union. The undergraduate student would be tasked with greenhouse maintenance, grafting techniques, aid in SEM processing, and basic lab benchwork. 

Ye Xia (Columbus based)
Plant disease resistance and plant-microbe interactions

Dr. Xia's research interests are focused on the biochemical, genetic, and molecular mechanisms as well as application of plant disease resistance and beneficial plant-microbe/microbiome interactions to improve plant health and yield for sustainable agriculture. One area includes plant surface (cell wall, stomata, and cuticle) mediated plant immunity against diverse pathogens and the other looks at improvement of plant immunity and yield by beneficial microbes from phytobiome. Summer research students will get the opportunity to study how beneficial microbes could help plants to defend themselves against microbial pathogen infections by using physiological, biochemical, and molecular approaches. 

Environment and Natural Resources

Steven Lyon (Wooster based)
Water chemistry and hydrological modeling

Dr. Lyon’s research uses innovative approaches to characterize hydrological processes and engage people across scales to improve resource management in the face of coupled climate and land-use change. His lab works at the intersection of water chemistry and hydrometric observations often leveraging geographical information systems, remote sensing products, and geostatistical approaches. Students will also work with hydrological and natural resources models for hypothesis testing connected to real-world data. Summer research students will assist in measuring interactions of soil and water properties under variations in agricultural practices at across field sites connected with an ongoing USDA project. 

Nicholas Basta (Columbus based)
Soil remediation, urban agriculture, public health

Dr. Basta is the co-director of the Environmental Sciences Graduate Program. His research program focuses on environmental soil chemistry including remediation of soil chemicals and public health applications. Topics including environmental fate of toxic substances, contaminant bioavailability, water quality, and remediation of contaminated soil. 

Douglas Jackson-Smith (Wooster based)

Dr. Jackson Smith is trained as a sociologist, with significant background in geography, economics, political science, and anthropology. His research uses social science theory and mixed methods to address pressing problems in the United States and abroad. His lab utilizes a wide range of quantitative and qualitative methods to collect data, including extensive use of secondary data, mail and internet surveys, key informant interviews, and focus groups. Nearly all of my research is deeply collaborative and interdisciplinary, and he is increasingly interested in participatory and engaged models of scholarship that seek opportunities to integrate the voices and experiences of farmers, citizens, and stakeholders in the design and use of scientific research. Most of his active research program is focused on topics related to agriculture, water, and the dynamics of working landscapes.