Faculty and Projects Summer 2024

Below is a selection of faculty and research projects that are open for the summer of 2024. 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

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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

 

Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics

None

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. Areas of current interest include live animal growth/development, fresh meat quality, processed meats, and novel protein foods. Summer interns may work on projects that relate to 

  • Discovering novel protein and enzymatic biomarkers for tenderness of meat.
  • Discovering novel protein and enzymatic biomarkers for water holding capacity of meat.
  • Nonthermal processing techniques for fermented meats.
  • Discovering novel ingredients to improve water retention and textural properties of plant-based meat analogues.

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.

Marília Chiavegato (Columbus based)
Crop & livestock management

Dr. Chiavegato holds a split appointment at OSU - 60% of her time is spent here in HCS & 40% is spent in Animal Sciences. Her research stems from system complexity - aka how do plants, animals & soil interact. She especially enjoys the complexity an animal brings to the ecosystem & how it impacts everything else. Potential summer projects include: 

  • Diversification of forage species associated with strategic grazing management to improve profitability and resilience of Ohio farms
  • Greenhouse gas emissions from flood-prone grazed pastures
  • Finding economic and soil health balance in grazing beef
  • Carbon sequestration potential of grazed and hayfields across Ohio farms 
  • Effects of biochar on vegetables-cover crop- grazing integration soil health and greenhouse gas emissions 

Benjamin Enger (Wooster based)
Dairy, Mastitis, Mammary Physiology

Dr. Enger has led the OARDC Mastitis and Mammary Physiology Laboratory since 2018. The long-terms goals of the laboratory are to reduce the occurrence and impact that mastitis has on mammary gland productivity and delineate fundamental aspects of mammary gland biology that affect mammary gland growth, development, and milk production. Summer projects in the lab of Dr. Enger will involve helping conduct a dairy cow feeding trial that also involves the use of an immune challenge model (causing mastitis) to assess how different ration formulations influence mastitis outcomes.

Thaddeus Ezeji (Wooster based)
Fermentation biology, Microbiology

Dr. Ezeji is a professor in the departments of Animal Sciences and Food, Agricultural, and Biological Engineering as well as Departmental Associate Chair. Dr. Ezeji's research program focuses on the following areas:

  • Development of processes for extracting sugars from lignocellulosic biomass
  • Understanding the generation of lignocellulose-derived microbial inhibitory compounds (LDMICs) during the hydrolysis of lignocellulosic biomass and their effects on fermenting microorganisms
  • Understanding and developing strategies to ameliorate the undesirable effects of lignocellulose LDMICs on fermenting microorganisms
  • Design of fermentation systems compatible with agricultural, food and industrial wastes
  • Development of effective strategies for the biological treatment of agricultural, food and industrial wastes (bioremediation)

Summer projects may include: (1) production of biofuels using agricultural and industrial wastes, (2) biological treatments of chemicals in water, soil or industrial wastes, (3) metabolic engineering of bacteria of biotechnological significance.

Aradhya Gourapura (Wooster based)
Vaccines, Influenza, Salmonella, and Zoonotic Diseases

Dr. Gourapura is the director of the Center for Food Animal Health, a group specializing in the intersection of animal models and pathogens. The Gourapura lab's research is focused on mucosal immunology in food animals infected with infectious and zoonotic diseases. Research projects for summer 2024 will include investigating the combined effect of in ovo and oral probiotic Lactobacilli inoculation on mannose-chitosan nanoparticle Salmonella vaccine in controlling SE food poisoning. Salmonella enterica serovar Enteritidis (SE) is a major cause of foodborne illnesses. The study in the lab is a comprehensive approach that combines advanced vaccination techniques with probiotic supplementation, aiming to revolutionize the prevention of SE infection in poultry and thereby reduce its transmission to humans through food chain. Their laboratory has been investigating the development and evaluation of an orally deliverable mannose-conjugated chitosan nanoparticle (mCS-NP)-based Salmonella subunit vaccine to mitigate Salmonella food poisoning in 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. 

Chanhee Lee (Wooster based)
Sustainability in ruminant operations

Dr. Lee's research interest involes environmentally sustainable nutrient management in ruminant operations. The major goal of his research is to find a strategy to improve production and mitigate environmental impacts from the ruminant operation system. To achieve the goal, nutrient utilization efficiency for animals and crops must be improved. Therefore, nutrient losses from the system are minimized to lower environmental impacts (air, soil, and water). For summer 2024, there will be multiple projects about dairy nutrition in the lab. The ultimate goal of the projects is to improve the sustainability of dairy production. The specific goals are:

  1. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by diet manipulation
  2. Improving dietary nutrient utilization efficiency to reduce nutrient excretion without negatively affecting production. 
  3. Feeding byproducts to reduce the feed cost 

Kichoon Lee (Columbus based)
Muscle growth and development

Dr. Kichoon Lee's research interests are to identify and define genetic and metabolic networks that regulate adipose and muscle development. His research interests focus on: 1) Discovery of genes or proteins that are involved in adipose and muscle development using RNAseq technologies, and 2) Functional genomics approaches to study the functions and roles of genes using in vitro and in vivo systems, including cell cultures and transgenic or CRISPR/Cas9-mediated gene-edited poultry. Student interns in Dr. Less lab will have the opportunity to assist with the execution of experiment and the collection of data during poultry research trials in the area of Molecular and Developmental Biology, and data analysis and interpretation of results. Students will also prepare a poster for the CFAES Undergraduate Research Forum during the Spring term and a manuscript for publication in high impact journals. 

Sara Mastellar (Wooster based)
Equine science

Dr. Mastellar's science spans all things equine. Her summer 2024 research project is centered around the question, "does stress influence the fecal pH of horses?" The fecal pH of horses is influenced by diet and can provide some insight into the condition of the gastrointestinal tract. Horses defecate when stressed, such as when they are loaded onto a trailer for transport, and it is unknown if the fecal pH from manure passed in response to stress is different from manure passed under normal conditions. This data would inform research protocols for future projects evaluating the impact of diet and management on fecal pH. This project would involve working with live horses for the collection of samples. Potential opportunities to work on other related projects.

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 chararacterization of the mucosal immune response of chickens to enteric diseases and manipulation of intestinal development and homeostasis by milk osteopontin supplementation in chickens host immune responses against coccidiosis, necrotic enteritis, and pathogenic Escherichia coli.

Grazyne Tresoldi (Columbus based)
Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Dairy Science

Dr. Tresoldi's research mission is to improve dairy cattle welfare, production, and farm sustainability. Her research provides opportunities for collaboration with researchers across campus and beyond. She is particularly interested in examining how Ohio's dairy industry addresses challenges posed by adverse weather conditions and in developing strategies to mitigate potential risks in the future, and identifying the barriers to implementing better animal welfare practices. Additionally, she is committed to raising awareness and knowledge about food animal welfare among students and dairy industry allies, by equipping them to address challenges in responsible food production. My goal is to inspire positive change in the dairy industry to benefit both animals and those who rely on them for sustenance.

Hui Yu (Columbus based)
Animal Genetics, Molecular and Cellular Biology, Muscle and Adipose Tissue Biology, Neuroscience

The overall aim of Dr Yu’s research projects is to integrate computational methods and well-controlled biochemical, molecular, cellular and genetic experimental approaches to decipher the intricate biological puzzles underlying disorders in both human and farm animals. Research interests include: 

  • Identifying novel molecular targets in the central nervous system that respond to hunger and satiety signals through the use of spatial- and single-cell omics technology.
  • Characterizing important genetic regulations that respond to hunger and satiety signals and evaluating their systematic effects on controlling energy homeostasis and eating behaviors.
  • Exploring the neuronal circuits linked to metabolic homeostasis to unravel the intricate interplay of signals that regulate the body's energy balance
  • Unraveling the genetic foundations of the central regulation of metabolic disorders associated with human diseases, such as Prader-Willi Syndrome.
  • Exploration on the cellular and genetic factors that contributing to the Wooden-Breast syndrome in broiler chicken.
Entomology

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:

  1. Using bioaccoustics, the sound produced by living organisms, to detect the presence of honey bees and other pollinators visiting crop flowers in bloom. We will be recording bee activity in soybeans and pumpkins and using a machine learning based tool to identify bee buzzes. One goal for this project is to see if we can train the machine learning model to distinguish between bee species using only sound.
  2. Improved methods for controlling Varroa mites, devastating parasites of honey bees, in managed bee hives. This project will involve performing laboratory bioassays on honey bees and mites to identify promising compounds for mite control, as well as deployment of promising compounds in whole honey bee colonies to assess effectiveness.

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:

  1. Tracking the spread of a new invasive insect, Spotted Lanternfly, as it moves throughout Ohio. Using a combination of techniques including environmental DNA, the student will pinpoint the location and movement of this pest in vineyard systems. 
  2. Pollinators are critical to pollinator-dependent systems, but pest management is equally important. In this project, the student will help assess the efficacy of Integrated pest and pollinator management practices to improve vegetable production. 

Maggie Lewis (Columbus based)
Integrated pest management

Dr. Lewis has worked to advance integrated pest management in a variety of fruit and vegetable cropping systems. Global climate change is expected to impose major constraints on agricultural crop production. In addition to altering crop yields, abiotic stressors and extreme weather events can also impact insect pest dynamics. For example, higher temperatures can accelerate insect population growth rates, while water stress might alter insect herbivore interactions with their host plants. Dr. Lewis's research uses soybeans as a model system to examine how flooding, an abiotic stressor predicted to intensify under global climate change, impacts the invasive pestiferous soybean aphid and its natural predators. Potential summer projects include evaluating how flooding affects the quality of aphids as a host for parasitoid wasps or quantifying how water stress impacts insecticide seed treatment efficacy. Most of this work would be conducted in laboratories or in greenhouse facilities, although there would be opportunities to assist with field work periodically depending on student interest. 

Megan Meuti (Columbus based)
Insect overwintering/diapause, Circadian clock genes

Dr. Meuti's lab investigates how females of the Northern house mosquito survive the winter. This is important because this species transmits West Nile virus to birds, horses and humans during the spring, summer and winter. They have several ongoing projects where undergraduate student researchers could make significant contributions.

  1. Determining how mosquitoes distinguish long summer days from short winter days. Previous work in their lab has demonstrated that the circadian clock, which tells mosquitoes what time of day it is, is involved in measuring daylength. They have used CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing to generate a line of Culex mosquitoes that have a permanently broken circadian clock so that they can further investigate how the circadian clock regulates seasonal changes in mosquito biology. Undergraduate student researchers could assist with ongoing experiments or design an independent project with the mutant mosquitoes to further characterize elements of their reproductive or circadian biology.
  2. How male mosquitoes change the composition of their ejaculate to either stimulate blood feeding and egg-laying in summer mosquitoes, or to enhance sperm storage and longevity in short-day reared, overwintering mosquitoes. The Meuti lab would welcome the opportunity to work with undergraduate students to design molecular and behavioral studies in the lab to further investigate how males influence female blood feeding, female survival and fecudnity.
  3. How urbanization, including higher temperatures in cities, light pollution and urban greening are affecting mosquito abundance and behavior. They are currently conducting field and semi-field studies to investigate this, where undergraduate researchers could make several meaningful contributions. Dr. Meuti would be delighted to work with undergraduate student researchers to develop their own projects related to this work.

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) Response of ground-dwelling arthropods to forest management strategies to support ecosystem services
2) Assess long-term effects of emerald ash borer on forest structure and composition
3) Arthropod surveys across forest fragments
4) Impacts of understory plant removal on decomposer communities in forests
5) Use of ground beetles to assess forest recovery processes
6) Changes in bumble bee traits along an urban-agricultural gradient, with a focus on the value of forest habitat in the landscape

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.

Sarah Short (Columbus based)
Mosquito- and tick-microbe interactions

Dr. Short's research is primarily focused on mosquito- and tick-microbe interactions, especially the mosquito/tick microbiome, mosquito immune defense, and novel pathogens of disease vector mosquitoes. Her extension program focuses on ticks, tick-borne disease, and tick bite prevention. Potential summer projects in Dr. Short's lab include:

  1. Investigating the impacts of different bacteria on male mosquito life history traits: Aedes aegypti mosquitoes transmit multiple viruses that collectively make hundreds of millions of people sick each year. Male mosquitoes are mass-reared in many different operations around the world. They are then sterilized in various ways and released into the wild to mate with native females, preventing them from having viable offspring. This serves as effective population control for these pernicious pests. We are on a quest to identify bacteria that can be used as "probiotics" in these rearing facilities to make laboratory-reared males more effective when released into the field. Students will culture bacteria, treat male mosquitoes with each isolate, and measure traits in the male. 
  2. Investigating the mosquito species found in storm water control measures and tree holes around Franklin County. We are collecting a longitudinal dataset to determine the presence/absence of mosquito species in different types of storm water control measures. We are also collecting samples of the Eastern tree hole mosquito (Ae. triseriatus) which will be used for whole genome sequencing and screening of La Crosse virus. Students will conduct field sampling, larval ID, and specimen preservation. 

Jamie Strange (Columbus based)
Pollinator Health and Genetics

Dr. Jamie Strange has studied bee health and genetics for over 20 years. The Bumble Bee Health and Genetics lab primarily focuses research on the aspects of management, conservation, and biology of native North American bumble bees. Summer projects may include:

  1. Bumble bee nutrition and pathogen resistance: we are conducting research to construct an artificial diet for bumble bees raised in captivity. In captive rearing, bumble bees are generally fed a diet of pollen collected from honey bee hives which creates a path for introduction of pathogens to the bumble bee nests. We are developing a diet off plant-based (non-pollen) and fungal-derived proteins. 
  2. Bumble bee pathogen dynamics in wild bee communites: we are conducting research to study the epidemiology of bumble bee pathogens across the growing season. Through monitoring pathogens in the bumble bee community at various time points through the summer we seek to understand when bee diseases are present in populations.

Samuel Ward (Columbus based)
Ecology and management of forest insects

Sam’s research group (Landscaped Ecosystem and Forest Entomology Lab; LEAFE Lab) studies the ecology and management of insects that feed on trees. They work on a variety of topics across multiple spatial and temporal scales, ranging from biological control of ornamental pests to macroscale ecology of invading forest insects. Dr. Ward's lab does a lot of quantitative work, so students will get experience with R statistical software. Summer projects may include: 

  1. Evaluating the role of community science in detecting newly invading insect species
  2. Phenology of box tree moth (a new invader in Ohio) in urban landscapes of Ohio
  3. Natural enemies associated with elm zigzag sawfly (a new invader in Ohio)
  4. Health of lingering ash trees in urban forest fragments
  5. Host selection by ambrosia beetle species in the laboratory

Shaohui Wu (Columbus based)
Turfgrass Health

Dr. Wu's research interest is focused on integrated management of arthropod pests and diseases in turfgrass. Research areas in her lab include but are not limited to chemical control, biological control, microbial control (with entomopathogenic nematodes, fungi, bacteria, or viruses), and pesticide resistance diagnosis and management. For summer 2024, Dr. Wu is looking for two undergraduate students:

  • One student, preferably with background in entomology, is going to assist a graduate student in a funded USDA-NIFA project on the potential use of bacterial toxins as novel biopesticides using pecan as a model crop system, investigating both target pests and non-target arthropods (natural enemies) via laboratory bioassays. The research will be conducted at USDA-ARS, SE Fruit and Tree Nut Research Unit at Byron, GA.
  • One student, preferably with background in plant pathology, will work on the management of turfgrass diseases, including testing host plant resistance and/or potential suppression of bacterial toxins against plant pathogens causing turfgrass diseases in the laboratory and greenhouse. The work will be conducted at OSU Columbus campus.
Food Science and Technology

Farnaz Maleky (Columbus based)
Material science of food

Dr. Maleky's research focuses on material science of food systems, particularly fatty food. By developing new techniques for structuring and nano-engineering of food micronutrients, and understanding their functional properties in food systems, her research establishes structure-function relationships for food products. This will propose new insights for better selection of raw materials, improve food processing and eventually enhancing human health. Projects for summer 2024 may include Protein solubility analysis, lipids physical properties, and emulsions for foods. 

Melvin Pascall (Columbus based)
Food safety

Dr. Pascall's research is centered on food packaging with emphasis on integrity, modified atmospheric packaging, nano technology and plastics, migration/scalping, edible packaging, packaging material sanitization and food safety.

Food, Agricultural, and Biological Engineering

Miralha Lorrayne (Columbus based)
Water Quality and watershed modeling

Dr. Miralha is a water quality researcher in the Great Lakes region, working to develop models of several different water systems to understand the power of data and leverage it to mitigate climate change. In the future, she wants to build up these models to take nationwide and even globally. Students interested in topics linked to environmental justice, environmental and community health, and using data-driven approaches (machine learning and/or AI) to address water management and environmental policy issues would strongly benefit from what my laboratory can offer in mentorship.

All the projects Dr. Miralha's Geospatial Hydrology Lab include data analytics and modeling techniques in hydrology. Most specifically, she would like to mentor students interested in mapping and remote sensing technologies, data management, and water quality monitoring and modeling. They will work to improve our understanding of the intertwined impacts of anthropogenic (agriculture) and natural (wildfire) disturbance events in water quality in the US, Brazil, and Spain. Projects of interest include:

  1. Effectiveness of restoration practices on stream ecosystems in riparian forests between Brazil and the United States.
  2. Post-fire water quality and landscape characteristics in the western United States
  3. Influence of Climate and wildfires on Reservoirs in Semiarid Environments
  4. Improving the Simulation of Streamflow and Water Quality by Watershed Models with Satellite-Based Precipitation Products: an Evaluation in the Maumee Watershed

Ajay Shah (Wooster based)
Bioenergy

Research conducted in the Shah lab revolves around improving the efficiency, economics and emissions of plant-based food, material, and energy production systems. Research areas of interest include: (1) systems-level techno-economic and life cycle enrivonmental modeling and analyses, (2) biomass supply system and logistics, (3) harvest and post-harvest engineering, (4) solid fuel conversion and handling, (5) global food security with focus on providing solutions to smallholder farmers.

The Shah laboratory offers engaging internship opportunities across three diverse research areas:
1.    Biomass logistics and preprocessing for bioenergy and bioproducts
2.    Valorization of organic wastes through hydrothermal carbonization and exploring different applications
3.    Sustainability assessment

Interns will immerse themselves in hands-on experiences, conducting experiments in a variety of settings such as laboratories, greenhouses, and fields. Their responsibilities include collecting and analyzing data, as well as presenting research findings. Depending on their interests, interns may also collaborate with graduate students and staff in systems modeling for evaluating the sustainability of different systems. These multifaceted experiences are designed to equip interns with valuable skills for future interdisciplinary research.

Dr. Shah's research team is particularly seeking students with backgrounds in engineering, agriculture, or environmental sciences, as their expertise aligns well with the demands of the position. Interns will delve into research concepts and actively participate in experiments related to various applied technologies and systems. Their focus extends to enhancing agricultural productivity in both field and processing facilities, as well as optimizing the utilization and value addition of agricultural wastes.

Vinayak Shedekar (Columbus based)
Agricultural water management, soil health

Dr. Shedekar serves as the Director of the International Program for Water Management in Agriculture and the Overholt Drainage Education and Research Program in FABE. His current research is focused on agricultural water management, and involves monitoring and modeling of soil health, hydrology, and water quality from field- to watershed-scales. His team works at the intersection of soil health and agricultural water management for water quality and agricultural sustainability.

Potential Summer Research Projects:

  1. Exploring connections between soil health and water quality in fields under long-term cover crop and no-till practices 
  2. Studying the soil moisture and water table dynamics under "smart drainage systems" in Northwest Ohio 
  3. Too much or too little - exploring the water management challenges for Ohio's grain crops 
  4. Assessing ecosystem services in agricultural systems (greenhouse gas emissions, carbon sequestration, water quality benefits)

Patrick Sours (Columbus based)
Engineering for Sustainable Development

Dr. Sours's MS research focused on codesign with rural communities on the construction and optimization of water storage and his Ph.D. / research efforts focus on the impacts of Humanitarian Engineering with an emphasis on Engineering Education and development of intercultural competency skills. Dr. Sours's research includes hands on capabilities and meaningful work to which students will actively contribute. Potential summer projects may involve research in Humanitarian Engineering and Engineering for Sustainable Development: Specifically: Passive Gravity Water Treatment in collaboration with AguaClara Reach. 

Examples: 

  • Investigation of prefabrication of water treatment plants.
  • Investigation of removal of dissolved organic solids.
  • Investigation of alternative energy devices for inclusion in AguaClara water treatment plants.  
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. Developing tools to detect of off-target herbicide drift onto sensitive crops (vineyards, orchards, etc.).
  2. Exploring the biochemistry of rubber synthesis in dandelion and guayule.
  3. Identifying medicinal compounds from burdock.

Jyan-Chyun Jang (Columbus based)
Applied Plant Science

Dr. Jang's lab is interested in understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying sugar sensing and signal transduction in plants. With recent findings on another group of sugar responsive transcription factors, their current research is focused on: 1) The functional analysis of Arabidopsis thaliana Tandem Zinc Finger (TZF) genes; and 2) Revealing the role of AtTZFs in plant P-body and stress granule function and assembly. Summer research projects will be involved with the following award: 

Title: Engineering crops that are resilient to climate change through regulation of cellular RNA metabolism   

Project description: The goal of the proposed work is to gain new insights into fundamental mechanisms pertaining to RNA turnover in plants, knowledge that is central to improving crop yield and fitness, which in turn is a critical advance necessary to establish global food security.

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. The production of greenhouse ornamental and vegetable plants requires high fertilizer inputs to maximize yields and crop quality. Much of these fertilizer nutrients are unavailable for plant uptake and may be lost to the environment in leachate or runoff. We are using beneficial bacteria that can improve nutrient availability and allow for the production of quality greenhouse crops with lower fertilizers. This research involves lab work to identify bacteria that can solubilize phosphorus (and other nutrients) or produce growth promoting hormones like auxins as well as genomic investigations to identity bacterial genes involved in promoting plant growth and stress tolerance. All research projects also will involve greenhouse studies in which students will gain hands on experience conducting replicated trials in the greenhouse using a digital plant phenotyping platform. 

Fernanda Krupek (Wooster based)
Urban Food Systems

Through her research, Dr. Krupek hopes to establish an integrated program that yields a greater understanding of the capacity to positively influence horticultural food production systems in urban and urbanizing environments and communities in the Midwest-Great Lakes region. In her extension efforts she hopes to engage with farmers, non-profit organizations, stakeholders, schools, and centers to advance the science and practice of urban food systems horticulture. Summer research projects include: 

  1. Designing urban agricultural enterprises with farmers in mind through the lens of sustainable intensification. This research project directly addresses 3 sustainable agriculture challenges in Ohio and the North Central Region more broadly: 1) Increased interest in urban agriculture, which plays a central role in economic viability, but due to limited research on appropriate systems is at risk of meeting the needs of growing specialty crops more sustainably; 2) The challenges urban agriculturalists face in sustainably intensifying their farm operation to meet local food demand in response to trends in population growth and urban development; 3) The needs for workforce development and peer learning opportunities among urban agriculturalists. In the context of these challenges and through recent interactions with Ohio urban agriculturalists, a central question on sustainable intensification of existing farms emerged: How to produce more with less and maximize space utilization for year-round crop production when one has to choose from a very intensive list of management packages? This project addresses this question through on-farm trials testing farming systems based on crop diversity (e.g., vegetable, cut flower, cover crop) and input management (e.g., seed, water, and nutrient) representing the complexities that an entry-level, intermediate, and experienced farmer could consider as part of their operation.
  2. Don't Farm Alone: Developing a Decision Support Tool for Resource Management of Collaborative Urban Farms. From economic viability to labor shortages to quality of life, entering the food system and staying in farming is not easy. It is especially onerous for small-scale and urban farmers. In the context of these challenges, how can decision support tools help improve urban grower's profitability by providing real-time crop and harvest data, automated inventory tracking, optimized production and distribution processes, and informed decision-making capabilities? This project will partner with farmer cooperatives and their member farmers operating urban-to- peri urban areas to track the entire lifecycle of food production from seed, cultivation, harvest, processing, and packaging to distribution and sales. Specific objectives include: 1) Understand key information and resources that would help urban and small-scale farmers track data and resources, 2) Understand how resource inventory of the farms (including content and functional design elements) could make a seed-to-sale decision support tools useful to urban growers, 3) Investigate existing platforms used to track farm activities, resource efficiencies, and food flows, and 4) Use information obtained from previous objectives to inform design and development of a Seed-to-Sale Decision Support Tool useful to urban growers. Analysis of qualitative (farmer and co-op personnel interviews) and quantitative data (resource inventory of the farms and cooperative food hub) will result in case studies for piloting what functionality and information would make this decision-support tool useful to collaborative urban food hubs.
  3. Farming without borders: Empowering urban refugee and immigrant farmers through language-appropriate crop and pest management tools. This research addresses the following integrated pest management (IPM) challenges in Ohio and the North Central region: 1) Increased interest in urban agriculture, which plays a central role in economic viability, but due to limited research and education on scale- and language-appropriate systems is at risk of meeting the needs of growing specialty crops sustainably, 2) Increased number of refugee and immigrant farmer communities, who often bring generations of farming traditions and an appetite to survive and thrive in urban spaces, but lack access to the same set of tools to manage crop production and pest challenges compared to their English-speaker-farmer counterparts; 3) The need to reduce language barriers so that an expanding, diversifying, and innovative community of agricultural practitioners can manage pests safely and economically. In the context of these challenges and through recent interactions with Ohio and North Central region urban agriculturalists, a central question emerged: how to enhance IPM literacy among urban farm communities that are geographically and linguistically diverse? This proposal addresses this question through English-Nepali translation of several handy pest-specific information cards to provide resources to immigrant and refugee urban farmers in their native language and relevant context. The materials generated by this project will provide a practical resource for often conflict-displaced former agricultural professionals arriving in the North Central region on a daily basis, who are looking to learn how to be entrepreneurs and grow food crops in a new challenging urban agricultural production space.

Eugene Law (Columbus based)
Weed Ecology

Dr. Law is an assistant professor in the Department of Horticulture and Crop Science. Law is also an expert on the Agronomic Crops Team which provides accurate and timely information, provides educational opportunities, and conducts research projects addressing the needs of Ohio's agronomic crop industry. Potential summer research projects may include:

  1. Precision integrated weed management in soybeans. Multi-state project examining effects of regional weather patterns, crop rotations, cover cropping, and herbicide programs on cover crop and soybean performance, weed population dynamics, and water management. Includes use of computer vision systems for automated mapping of weed and crop plants, and water sensors to track soil moisture dynamics. 
  2. Development of automated weed, crop, and cover crop mapping systems, including field calibration and generating big datasets of plant imagery to train AI models for plant classification at the species level. There are multiple ongoing projects in this area through a large collaborative network of public and private partners.

Yu Ma (Columbus based)
Plant Biology

Dr. Ma is an Assistant Professor of Plant Biology and the Director of the Ornamental Plant Germplasm Center (OPGC) at The Ohio State University. Dr. Ma's research focuses on addressing the needs of the floriculture and nursery industries, associated scientific and breeding communities, germplasm acquisition, augmentation and preservation of genetic diversity within select species for future use benefitting humankind. Her research program centers on population genetics, seed biology, plant stress response, and ornamental plant breeding. Summer research projects: 

  • Project 1
    This project will focus on evaluating ploidy level and genome size using flow cytometer on the ornamental plants preserved at the Ornamental Plant Germplasm Center (OPGC). OPGC is part of the National Plant Germplasm System and is one of the 20 gene banks in the U.S. The mission of OPGC is to conserve genetically-diverse herbaceous plant germplasm and associated information, conduct germplasm-related research, and encourage the use of germplasm and associated information for research, crop improvement and product development. Information on ploidy level and DNA content is a critical step in exploiting its full potential for new ornamental plant development as more divergent interspecific crosses are attempted.
  • Project 2
    This project will aim at evaluating cold resilience of ornamental plants. Ohio is one of the top five states in floricultural crop production making notable contributions to the state's agriculture economy. Unlike Florida and California, the two largest floriculture crop-producing states, Ohio has less favorable and cold climates for growing a wide variety of flowers and plants. It also faces challenges in achieving sustainable economic viability due to high energy consumption and costly greenhouse production. To boost the competitiveness of Ohio's floriculture market, it is essential to develop crops well adapted to the local regions. In this project, we will characterize genetic variation of cold tolerance to identify potential breeding parents.

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 examines the interaction of plants with bacterial pathogens. They use molecular genetic approaches to probe both plant and bacterial genes and determine their mechanisms of action during infections. Projects available for summer students include:

  • using a bacterial mutant library to identify genes needed for bacteria to exploit their niche in planta
  • characterize a panel of plant mutants (in genes encoding proteins known or suspected to be targeted by bacterial virulence factors) for alterations in susceptibility to infection
  • characterize perturbation to a key host protein by a bacterial virulence factor that is widely conserved among plant pathogenic bacteria

Kristin Mercer (Columbus based)
Ecology & evolution of plants in agricultural systems

In the Mercer Lab, researchers are studying plant evolutionary ecology within agricultural systems. Of primary focus are the ways ecological processes and evolutionary forces influence important issues in agricultural sustainability, such as conservation of crop genetic resources and climate change adaptation. Summer research opportunities: 

  • Program A: Recently, scientists have come to understand that aerial roots on the stem of landraces of maize from Mexico can support microbes that fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and provide it to the plant. A better understanding of the distribution of this capacity in maize can clarify how this trait evolved over the domestication, spread, and improvement of maize in the Americas.
    • Project A1. Assessing the nitrogen fixation ability of corn from across the Americas. You will be growing wild, landrace, heirloom, and improved maize in the field as part of a larger study. You will take data on aerial root and mucilage production so that you can compare the accessions of maize for their ability to support a symbiosis with nitrogen fixing microbes.
    • Project A2. Assessing the nitrogen fixation ability of wild corn species. You will be growing a handful of species of wild maize (both crop progenitors and other wild relatives) as part of a larger study. You will take data on aerial root and mucilage production so that you can compare the accessions of maize for their ability to support a symbiosis with nitrogen fixing microbes.
  • Program B: Wild relatives and landraces of crops growing in the crop's center of origin have evolved over time to be adapted to their local environment and may express variation in disease resistance. 
    • Project B1. Assessing disease resistance in chile peppers from Mexico. You will be growing landraces of chile in the greenhouse infected with root rot to see how they tolerate it. You will take data on disease progression and plant performance to assess differences in their responses and identify resistance individuals.

Florence Sessoms (Wooster based)
Plant Microbe Interaction, Mycorrhizae, Biological Nitrification Inhibition

Dr. Sessoms's research program studies the relationship between plant roots, mycorrhizae establishment, and biological nitrification inhibition in turfgrass and other agricultural crops. Summer research will involve evaluating gene expression of cysteine protease inhibitor in cold acclimated perennial ryegrass cultivars. 

Plant Pathology

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

Dr. Benitez Ponce and her team study plant-associated bacteria, and communities of other microorganisms, within agricultural systems. The team focuses on two production systems of relevance to Ohio agriculture, corn and soybean and hydroponic leafy greens. Specifically, they answer questions related to 1) management effects on plant-associated microbial communities and their relationships with plant health; 2) dynamics of microbiome establishment, and c) microbe-microbe interactions. As part of this research, the team aims to contribute with knowledge that can increase our ability to manage microorganisms in agricultural systems, through application of microbial inoculants or system manipulation. To this extent, her laboratory applies high throughput molecular techniques and bioinformatic approaches to characterize the diversity and function of microbial communities in plants and the environment in which they grow. They combine this with field and greenhouse experimentation, on-farm surveys, and single isolate characterization. 

Potential Summer Project Topics:

  • Characterization of biofilms in hydroponic production systems 
  • Bacterial genomics and plant growth promotion
  • Evaluating methods to study 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. 

Melanie Ivey (Wooster based)
Fruit Crop Pathology; Fresh Produce Safety

Dr. Ivey leads the Fruit and Vegetable Safety Program and the Fruit Pathology Lab at OSU. 

Fresh produce is the leading cause of foodborne illnesses in the country and Ohio growers must meet federal food safety standards to ensure that their produce is safe. Understanding regulatory requirements, awareness of safe agricultural practices, and developing and following written food safety plans (FSP) are critical steps toward minimizing the risk of on-farm produce contamination. Dr. Ivey's team of Food Safety State Specialists, Extension educators, OSU students, community organizations, and industry partners provide a diverse group of Ohio growers with the tools and resources needed to supply consumers with a safe product. In order to achieve their goal of improving fresh produce safety and sustaining the fresh produce industry, they have formed a fresh produce safety education and training cooperative with participating food safety experts from Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky.

Fruit production in Ohio is diverse and contributes over 22 million dollars annually to Ohio’s economy. Apples, strawberries, grapes and peaches are the leading fruit crops produced in Ohio in terms of acreage. Ohio also produces blueberries, brambles, pears, cherries, plums, and pawpaw (Ohio’s official native fruit) using a range of production systems. The Fruit Pathology Program at OSU serves commercial and backyard fruit growers as well as other interested clientele. The Fruit Pathology Program focuses on developing sustainable management practices for fruit diseases that benefit the grower, the consumer and the environment. Their goal is to provide science-based information that will allow fruit growers to produce a high quality and safe product.

Potential summer projects:

  1. Plant disease and human pathogen mitigation strategies in hydroponic leafy greens
  2. Efficacy of anaerobic soil disinfestation (ASD) for control of soilborne diseases of strawberry transplants
  3. Strategies to improve graft success in culinary chestnuts

Jonathan Jacobs (Columbus based)
Emerging infectious disease ecology

Plant diseases have important economic consequences for agriculture and ultimately humanity’s food sources. Dr. Jonathan M. Jacobs is a plant pathologist interested the basic and applied biology of plant-associated microbes that cause diseases on plants. The long-term goal of Dr. Jacobs' lab is to improve global food security through research, education and mentorship by developing and communicating useful scientific knowledge of important plant disease problems in agriculture. 

His team overall investigates the biological and evolutionary basis for microbial colonization of plants. The factors that contribute to pathogen evolution for niche-specific behavior remain unclear. His team is focused on understanding how pathogenic bacteria evolve and adapt to colonize different plant tissues. Their research uses novel, high-throughput technologies to determine the basis of tissue-specific behaviors in and host colonization by plant pathogenic bacteria. 

Summer research opportunities: 

  • The effects of resistance on transmission of bacterial pathogens of tomato. This project will include experience in plant and microbial research. Students will gain skills in microbial culturing and genetic identification of bacteria.
  • The regulation of ice nucleation in bacteria that colonize plants. The goal of this project will be to define genetic determinants of ice nucleation in bacteria. 
  • Host range of bacteria of multiple crops. This project will provide experience using comparative genomics and basic plant pathology to define host range of microbial pathogens. 

Feng Qu (Wooster based) 
Molecular plant virology, plant resistance

Dr. Qu's research areas include: 

  • Plant antiviral defenses, including RNA silencing and resistance gene-mediated defense
  • Interactions between different plant gene products (e.g. DCLs, AGOs, and RDRs)
  • Engineering virus resistance in crop plants by enhancing antiviral RNA silencing
  • Mechanism of viral cross protection

An undergraduate student who is honest, self-motivated, and likes to work in a team would fit well in Dr. Qu's lab. Summer research projects include:

  1. Dissect soybean gene functions using a plant virus vector;
  2. Determine the mechanism used by viruses to expel other closely related viruses.

Francesca Rotondo (Wooster based)
Bacterial diseases of tomato

Dr. Rotondo's current research focuses mainly on bacterial diseases of tomato and their management, specifically bacterial leaf spot caused by Xanthomonas spp in the lab of Dr. Sally Miller. Under the leadership of Dr. Miller, Dr. Rotondo coordinates the Ohio State Vegetable Pathology Lab’s diagnostics services by being actively involved in the diagnostic process and interactions with growers and Extension Educators. Summer research projects include (1) in vitro fungicide sensitivity of fungal pathogens and (2) detection of seed pathogens on infested seed through molecular analysis. 

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. Summer research opportunities will involve application of novel cell penetrating peptides for plant protection in sustainable agriculture. 

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. Dr. Xia's summer internship research will involve studying the applications and functional mechanisms of beneficial microbes in promoting plant growth and enhancing plant disease resistance against diverse pathogen infections. Students will have the opportunity to acquire techniques and skills in microbiology, plant physiology, molecular biology, genetics, and biochemistry.

Environment and Natural Resources

Jeffrey Jacquet (Columbus based)
Rural sociology

Dr. Jacquet's research revolves around rural and natural resource sociology with a focus on energy development, including social impacts from the development of renewables and fossil fuels. Other focus areas include rural community development, social impact assessment and the social-psychology of environmental change. Currently, Dr. Jacquet's lab have an EPA-funded drop-off/pick up survey they will be implementing in neighborhoods and communities across Columbus to measure respondents' understandings and perceptions of electric vehicle adoption. Researchers will talk with respondents about EVs and transportation, and assist them in distributing and filling out the survey. 

Nicole Sintov (Columbus based)
Environmental psychology

As an environmental psychologist, Dr. Sintov's work strives to advance psychological theory while producing insights that can be applied to benefit the environment and society. Broadly, she is interested in: (1) illuminating the psychological, social, and contextual factors that influence individual-level behavior pertaining to environmental resource consumption, (2) developing and evaluating interventions aimed at promoting sustainable behavior and (3) investigating the cognitive, emotional, and social factors that influence intervention effectiveness. 

Douglas Jackson-Smith (Wooster based)
Agroecological Management 

Dr. Jackson-Smith's work has spanned multiple, overlapping scales to better understand the relative contributions of individual, household, community, institutional, and national/global drivers of farm structural change, land use transformations, and environmentally-relevant behaviors. Most of his active research program is focused on topics related to agriculture, water, and the dynamics of working landscapes. Summer projects in the Jackson-Smith lab may include: 

  1. Analysis of survey data from the 2023 Ohio Farm Poll. Opportunity to frame questions, learn data analysis methods, and write up results to explore social science questions related to farming.
  2. Analysis and dissemination in applied settings of interdisciplinary field data from an on-farm livestock-crop integration study in Ohio. Can involve data cleaning, data analysis, and writing for either academic or applied audiences.  
  3. Interview and make outreach videos to highlight innovative farmers' approaches to managing crops and livestock. Great for communications focused research and extension interns.