Skip to content

Past Research Projects

Past Projects

Research Projects by RET participants

The following are examples of research projects that RET participants may be involved with during the program. This is not intended to be a complete list. Projects vary from year to year depending on participant interest and faculty availability.

Past Projects

Dr. Madan Bhattacharyya Lab

Engineering of soybean for synthesis of pyrrolnitrin to improve resistance against Fusarium virguliforme that causes SDS in soybean: The participant tranfered the construct to Agrobacterium rhizogenes, which will be used to generate composite soybean plants that are chimera of transgenic roots and non-transgenic shoots. During the summer, they worked on the inoculation of soybean seedlings, generation, and characterization of composite plants by both molecular analysis (DNA, RNA, protein) and evaluation of resistance against F. virguliforme.

Dr. Thomas Lubberstedt lab

The REU participant’s research project helped us understand if maize grows differently in fields with perennial ground cover, compared to conventional management systems. They worked with a PhD student to collect data for a set of maize hybrids, grown at both a cover crop and a conventional location.  

Dr. Marshall McDaniel lab

The RET & REU participants looked at various ways corn has adapted to different environmental conditions and used genetic data from different types of corn to understand this.

Dr. Ken Moore lab

The REU participant conducted research to answer the question: What is the nature of the competition between perennial groundcover and the cropping growing in it?

Dr. Adina Howe lab

The project the RET participant worked on aims to use genomic data from soil samples obtained from bioenergy cropping systems to formulate conditions targeting bacteria that are thought to have a critical role in regulating the nitrogen cycle. As a part of our team, they gained a wide range of experiences from isolating microbial organisms from soil to computational techniques to guide laboratory discovery. They learned about the principles of microbiology, including bacterial physiology, ecology, and fungal biology, and foundational skills in computational biology. They got hands on experience of how biology, engineering, and data science merge to enhance discovery of the biological world around us. Most importantly, they contributed to building a road to a sustainable future.

Dr. Amy Kaleita lab

The RET participant conducted research to explore how  computer simulation models can be used to estimate if and how much perennial groundcover in between corn rows could reduce runoff and soil erosion from farm fields?

Dr. Raj Raman lab

Our lab looks at making reliable pictures of the perennial cover. The REUs a “light box” to help block the sun and take reliable picture. The tested the new light box on many different plants under various conditions, and then used a computer to analyze the images. They looked to see if the computer could tell where there is groundcover and where there is bare soil. They also looked to see if the computer could detect how green or brown the groundcover is.

Dr. Michelle Soupir lab

The main project was looking at the impact of combined field management/ conservation practices on crop yield, water quality, and soil health in a corn-soybean rotation. The specific question the RET participant address with this portion of the project was if there are measurable differences in the soybean and cover crop growth with poultry manure vs chemical fertilizer treatment. Our 27 quarter-acre research plots receive one of 9 treatment combinations. Treatments included a combination of chemical (urea ammonium nitrate) or poultry manure fertilization, with either cover crops or no cover crops. All plots were managed with strip till. They collected plant samples (above and below ground biomass and soybean root nodules) and other field data to evaluate plant growth at various stages.


Our lab focuses on the following questions: 1) How do eukaryotic cells recycle ribosomes? 2) What are the molecular bases of compatible and incompatible interactions between plants and insects? 

Dr. Eric Underbakke lab

The RET participant aimed to understand the molecular-scale communications between proteins involved in tuning brain neuron connections.


The RET partcipant researched cotton fiber quality and growth. They used glycome profiling of cotton cell walls. The participant was involved in cotton fibers disection, fractionation and compositional analyses.

Dr. George Kraus Lab

The aim of this project wasto explore the transformations of TAL, a pyrone produced through biocatalysis. The teacher helped to design new transformations of TAL and learned practical organic chemistry laboratory techniques. Their goal was to expand the TAL platform and hopefully synthesize a specialty chemical. The teacher participated in twice-weekly group meetings.

Dr. Young-Jin Lee lab

The RET Participant participated in Mass Spectrometry imaging of isotope-labeled plant metabolites.

Dr. Javier Vela Lab

Perovskite-based solar cells have high power conversion efficiencies that increased from 4% to 15% in the last four years (they are expected to reach 20% in 2014-2015). Perovskites provide wide absorption profiles, high absorption coefficients and long carrier diffusion lengths at relatively low cost. However, there problems that restrict the commercial application of these materials: Perovskites are sensitive to humidity and decompose when exposed to moisture. In order to improve their stability, the solar cell device could be sealed by polymers, or blended with hydrophobic polymers

Dr. Eric Cochran Lab

The teacher/undergraduate pair was charged with the investigation of a potential hard segment, e.g., L-lactic acid or acrylated isosorbide. The teacher learned new synthetic chemistry skills, and achieved an appreciation of the challenges and dedication required to successfully master a polymer synthesis. The teacher learned about thermal and rheological analyses used to characterize the properties (glass transition and crystallization) of a “hard segment”. In the final weeks of the internship the pair designed the chemical steps needed to integrate the hard segment polymer into poly(soybean oil) chain architecture to yield a thermoplastic elastomer.

Dr.Zengyi Shao Lab

The RET participant used genetic engineering to modify microbes (yeasts) to produce high-value compounds such as polymer precursors and nutraceuticals.

Dr. Jean-Philippe Tessonnier Lab

The teacher will have the opportunity to synthesize carbon-based heterogeneous catalysts bearing desired Brønsted acid or base functionalities and he/she will test them for significant carbohydrate isomerization and dehydration reactions. In this project, the participant will learn about the effect of temperature and pH on the chemistry of sugars. Specifically, he/she will co-carbonize carbohydrates and desired organic molecular active sites at 200-300 °C in hot pressurized water; the obtained carbon-based nanocatalysts will be tested for the low temperature (< 150 °C) conversion of biomass-derived glucose to renewable chemicals in liquid water.

Dr. Shauna Hallmark Lab

The objectives of this research was to i) evaluate driver behavior at mainline and stop-controlled approaches for intersections with and without ICWS ii) develop an assessment of the traffic volume range and limits where the system is nearly continuously activated and is likely to lose its effectiveness

Dr. Dean Adams Lab

The RET participant engaged in digital biology and use of photogrammetry for developing 3D digital models of biological organisms.  

Dr. Lynn Clark Lab

Key questions the RET answered revolved around recognizing and distinguishing species (a decision to recognize a particular species as distinct is essentially a hypothesis) and formulation hypotheses of their relationships (evolutionary trees).

Dr. Corrinne Grover Lab

The RET participant looked at how plants change over time by looking at their historical changes. They used relationships among plants along with their DNA and RNA to see how they are different and what changes have lead to these differences. Our lab generally works on cotton, which is an agronomically important plant. Interestingly, the cotton that we wear comes from two different species (one for “regular” textiles and one for the expensive stuff), and these species were domesticated independently. There appear to be many changes in their RNA (i.e., which genes are used and when/how) that contribute to their differences.

Dr. Steven Hall Lab

The RET participant conducted research to answer the question: How can we best measure the availability of food to microbes in soil, an important measure of soil health?

Dr. Matthew Hufford Lab

How do plants growing next to each other compete for resources in the soil? The RET participant measured soil and plant root properties in corn planted between rows of perennial grasses. We want to see how perennial grasses are affecting soil resources (nutrients & water) and distribution of roots.

Dr. Jeanne Serb Lab

It is assumed that eyes and associated neural tissue take a lot of energy to use and maintain. That means in environments without a lot of light or food would have organisms with reduced eyes. We want to understand what types of visual and ecological changes that drive eye regression.

Dr. Amy Toth Lab

This project focuses on the epigenetic effects of maternal behavior on developing offspring. To do this we will be behaviorally manipulating wasp nests, and quantifying gene expression of adult wasps that experienced our treatment as developing larvae. The RET will assist us in setting up the experiement, which will be conducted both in the lab and in the field. He will also help collect behavioral data of wasps interacting with larvae on the nest. If we collect samples for gene expression analysis before the end of the teachers time, we may also have him/her assist in qRT-PCR.

Dr. Nicole Valenzuela Lab

The RET participant participated in a research project of a PhD student of Prof. Valenzuela, investigating the effect of floating vegetation on turtle habitat preferences, to test whether turtle behavior might offset the negative effects of excessive floating vegetation by actively avoiding the area covered in floating vegetation. This study will provide new insights into how turtles interact with macrophyte cover related to light availability and will help us better understand the impact of habitat changes on turtle populations.

Dr. Sarah Anderson Lab

Our lab studies how genetic variation among maize varieties influences gene expression and downstream phenotypes of crop plants. This year we experimented to understand how nitrogen stress leads to variation in root growth angle, influencing plant growth and yields. We also used many computational tools to understand the genomic differences underlying these traits.

Dr. Dior Kelley Lab

Our lab studies hormone regulated plant growth and development, genetics and genomics.  

Dr. Martin Spalding Lab

This work centered around developing TALENs. This is the latest in engineered nuclease mediated recombination technology. The teacher learned what recombination is, why it is useful, how to induce it, how to control it in a living cell, what a TALEN is and how to engineer these proteins. The goal was to design a TALEN pair, assemble parts from a library to form a complete TALEN pair and then test for activity in a yeast based assay. This work supported on-going research in the lab that is designed to evaluate the effectiveness of TALEN technology in soybean.

Dr. Yanhai Yin Lab

Our lab tries to understand how plants grow under drought and salt stress conditions.

Dr. Shuizhang Fei Lab

The REU participant focused on research to identify and develop perennial groundcovers for maize production in the field in the Sorenson Farm west of Ames, IA.  The goal was to identify the best perennial groundcover species/cultivar that will result in minimal or no grain yield reduction while providing ecological services.  They also investigated soil moisture and nutrient status in conventional maize production and PGC-based maize production systems. 

Dr. Ludovico Cademartiri Lab
The teacher participated in developing a plant growth platform that allows for the growth of root systems in controlled droplets. The structural and chemical characteristics of these droplets can be controlled. They worked with us to improve the design of the setup in order to allow for the growth of plants for periods longer than 1 week, thereby avoiding excessive evaporation of the droplets and consequent deleterious accumulation of nutrient concentrations.
Dr. James Michael Lab

The Multiphase Reacting Flow Laboratory uses optical and spectroscopic techniques to investigate energy harnessing systems, including liquid sprays, detonation, and other propulsion systems.  Our work is multidisciplinary – combining physics (optics), chemistry, and engineering approaches to understand the underlying mechanisms as energy (temperature) moves through these systems.  

Dr. Mark Wright Lab

The RET participant’s project consisted of gaining experience in a thermochemical laboratory. The project focused on converting lignocellulosic biomass into fuels and chemicals via a process called fast pyrolysis. The operated a lab-scale pyrolysis reactor to convert biomass, such as red oak, into a liquid (bio-oil), solid (biochar), and gas product. These products were analyzed in our lab to understand their chemical and elemental composition. The mentee gained an understanding of the process and broader significance of pyrolysis. Along with this understanding, the mentee got hands on experience with the operation of lab-scale reactors and analytical equipment.

Dr. Larry Halverson Lab

The RET participant looked understand how bacteria interact with other members of a community. They used model bacterial communities to understand these interactions and how those interactions benefit plant health. They also explored how bacterial can be used to decrease nitrogen fertilizer use.

Dr. Roger Wise Lab

The RET participant looked at host and pathogen signaling in cereal fungal interactions.

Dr. Alicia Carriquiry Lab

The RET participant’s research focused on building a statistically sound and scientifically solid foundation for analyzing and interpreting forensic evidence and improving quantitative literacy among forensic practitioners, legal professionals, and other stakeholders through educational opportunities. 

Want to know more?

To learn more about Biotechnology Outreach Education Center at Iowa State contact us today!