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Six Student Scientists: 2013 Bioenergy Research Experience for Undergraduates

For 10 weeks, six students participated in GLBRC's Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at UW-Madison. Each student worked with a mentor to run experiments, analyze results, and present their work during a final research symposium.
by Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center on 30 August 2013

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Transcript of Six Student Scientists: 2013 Bioenergy Research Experience for Undergraduates

GLBRC Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU)
Meet the students
Anna Herzberger
Grace Klinger
Alex Rhyner
Jamison Watson
Karla M. Dumeng
Scott L.A. Johnson
Students from all over the country applied to the 2013 Bioenergy Integrated Biological Sciences Summer Research Program, hosted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
In the end, six talented and motivated young men and women converged in July at the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) facilities at the Wisconsin Energy Institute.
Eastern Illinois University
Studied in Randy Jackson's lab with mentor David Duncan.
associated soil microbes respond rapidly to prairie restoration"
Project: "Bouncing Back: Plant-
Wright State University
Studied in Haibo Lia and Yaoping Zhang's lab with mentor Alex La Reau.
Project: "Analysis of switchgrass
and corn stover hydrolysate fermentations for feedstock comparison"
LeTorneau University
Studied in Patrick Masson's lab with mentor Allison Strohm.
Project: "Testing a possible effect of retrograde signaling on gravitropism in Arabidopsis thaliana"
St. Olaf College
Studied in Troy Runge's lab with mentor Zhouyang Xiang.
Project: "Valorization of DG
through hemicellulose film production."
University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez
Studied in Brian Pfleger's lab with mentor Travis Korosh.
Project: "Determination of optimal conditions for cyanobacteria growth and nutrient removal"
University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Studied in Brian Fox's lab with mentor Johnnie Walker.
Project: "Engineering consolidated
bioprocessing (CBP) organisms with
cell-surface enzyme display and free enzyme systems"
For the next six weeks, these students immersed themselves in lab and field research to complete their projects in each of the GLBRC's four research areas: Sustainability, Plants, Deconstruction and Conversion.
"I get the opportunity to work with the Bioenergy REU students each summer, and it's always a highlight of my year. This group has been exceptional
- John Greenler, REU Bioenergy Coordinator and GLBRC Education and Outreach Director
Starting the REU
Growing through REU
Crossing the REU Finish Line!
To kick off the summer program, students attended a poster session on the UW-Madison campus where they presented their research project plans and goals.
Learning Ahead
Grace: "Martin Schwartz sums it up pretty well in his article on stupidity in scientific research. Research is complex and hard and it is not until you acknowledge the scope of ignorance in not only yourself but in the subject you're researching that you make headway into new discoveries."
Grace: "The largest challenge in the lab so far is setting up the acid-base lines of bioreactor vessels, but knowing how to set up and work a bioreactor vessel is a fantastic skill set to have on my way to a bioenergy graduate program."

Anna: "...One of the best parts of doing research [is that] you are completely in charge of your project and how you complete that project. You have the freedom to work in a way that is most efficient for you."
Labwork
Hey, Grace - what three items can't you do without on a typical day in the lab?
Anna: "Our lab has been collecting soil samples at restored grasslands, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Waterfowl Production Areas.

On these trips we look for areas where switchgrass grows, and randomly lay quadrats about 10 meters apart. We take a number of soil samples at each site. We also test the soil moisture content and spend time identifying native plants. The sites are often far apart, allowing me to see different kind of soil and plant communities.

Afterward, we process the soil by sieving, removing the roots and getting it ready to analyze for mycorrhizal colonization rates!"
Fieldwork
Research Conclusions
Congratulations, 2013 REU Students!
REU Lessons Learned
Making friends
Anna: "I feel more confident in my ability to plan and execute research and think critically; I even mastered the Rubik's cube as an exercise this summer!

...It doesn't matter where I end up - academia, industry or government - I know that I will be working within the interdisciplinary field of sustainability."
Grace: "Since coming to UW-Madison, my interest in biofuels has been cemented... I am so thankful to the GLBRC for giving me this experience and to the Experimental Fermentation Lab.
"This experience solidified my passion for sustainable energy." -Anna
Research Progress

Anna: "A challenge I have encountered is working with [the statistics program] R, which as any biologist will tell you, is difficult to master...and I haven't even taken a statistics class yet. To overcome this challenge I am reading books, spending a lot of time correcting my mistakes, and meeting with my mentor daily."

"Aluminum foil, tape, and a sense of humor!"

Featuring: Scott Johnson, who worked in the GLBRC Deconstruction Research Area.

At the GLBRC, researchers are interested in making overall cellulosic ethanol production more efficient. In one approach, researchers seek to decrease the number of individual steps in the pipeline. This method is called consolidated bioprocessing (CBP).
Researchers hope to find, or develop, organisms that have: a) the enzymes needed to break down sugar-storing plant polymers, and b) the ability to ferment those sugars to ethanol. This would combine what are currently two separate steps in the biofuels pipeline, making the process more efficient.
Exploring Madison
Anna: "I really enjoy going on long runs to relax after stressful days of work, or really just any day honestly. While exploring the expansive bike trails of Madison, I came across a spot that has a view
of the downtown area, mainly the capital, from across the lake.
It's truly breathtaking, and I now make time to stop there and appreciate just how lucky I am to spend the summer in such a beautiful city."
...I have been so thrilled to talk to others who are in the bioenergy field and who love what I love. I can't wait to get started in my career in biofuels."
Anna: "We all hung out a lot, we'd play volleyball, eat together... Our subgroup was small and very interdisciplinary... we were so different from each other that we all added something different to the group.
Featuring: Alex Rhyner, who worked in the GLBRC Plants Research Area.

Alex studied the genetics that control how plants “know” in which direction to grow their roots - a phenomenon called gravitropism.

After growing, manipulating, and measuring many seedlings, Alex found that subjecting the plant to certain chemicals influenced its cytoskeleton during growth. The result was increased root tip straightness and altered root skewing behavior.

Alex’s findings help shed light on how plants grow and develop from a genetic perspective. This knowledge could be useful for the development of bioenergy feedstocks.


For example [Alex] is actually an engineer, so that was really beneficial because when we were talking about data analysis or statistics or understanding conversions, he was always able to help us with that."

Alex: "We had people in ecology, microbes, and then we had another chemical engineer who worked with bioreactors...so I think we definitely had the most diverse group, and that was really interesting."
and it has really been an honor to work with them."
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