Undergraduate Research

Undergraduate research

Welcome to our undergraduate research page. The purpose of this page is two-fold. We want to introduce students to the wonderful research experience spread across our world class faculty and to also present students with individual undergraduate research opportunities with faculty who are prepared to work with them. 

**Available faculty members willing to consider an undergraduate research opportunity are marked with an asterisk**


James Adams

Research Interests: (that could involve students) include studying the moth faunas of various areas in the state of Georgia and maintaining a list of the Lepidoptera of Georgia (I have a website on the Lepidoptera of Georgia at My research interests also include rearing of Lepidoptera, and it would be easy enough to involve students in rearing out various species of Lepidoptera, to help associate larval stages with adult stages.

**Susan Burran

Area of study: microbiology

Research: Interested in starting research with students.

**Matt Chenoweth

Areas of study: bacterial pathogenesis, genetics, metabolism, and biochemistry

Research: With students – microbial genetics and molecular biology.

**David DesRochers

My teaching interests: include conservation biology, ornithology (the study of birds!), ecology, environmental science, and general biology.  One of my primary goals in teaching is to connect students to the natural world because in this technologically advanced age, we are growing more disconnected from the natural world.  As a result, I am very interested in getting students to think critically about the environment and how our actions can influence the world around us – for better or worse.

My background is in bird ecology and conservation.  I particularly am interested in factors that influence species’ distributions and limit population sizes.  In my research, I have explored how different biotic factors (e.g., competitors and habitat configuration) and abiotic factors (e.g., hydrology and soil quality) influence numbers of three endangered and endemic water birds in Hawaii. I also have explored island-mainland evolutionary patterns in the 12 subspecies of one particular bird species – the Common Moorhen. Other Hawaiian research has involved different aspects of the ecology of the endangered Hawaiian Moorhen, including molt, limitation of numbers by food energy, and breeding. Additional research includes exploring the reliance of endangered species on conservation initiatives and the threat that climate change poses to shorebirds in North America.

Kerry Dunbar

Areas of study:

Research: Collecting plant and fungal samples to be placed in the herbarium.

**Chuck Fink

Research Interests and Current Research:

I received my Ph.D. in Neuroscience. My research had been in the area of cellular and molecular neuroscience. Specifically, my work focused on trying to understand the cellular changes that are occurring that could explain larger scale phenomena such as learning and memory. Techniques that I used were cell culture, fluorescence microscopy, and molecular biology.

Student research with me for the last couple of years has been centered on the cell biology of HeLa cells, a human cell line derived from human cervical epithelia, and fluorescence microscopy. Past projects have been:

1) establishing the HeLa cells at Dalton State (the first time mammalian cell culture has been done here), and using fluorescence to image cellular structures like actin, DNA, and mitochondria

2) Using fluorescence to image calcium ion waves and oscillations in HeLa cells (a key element of intracellular signaling)

3) exploring the mechanism of anti-cancer drugs in HeLa cells, using fluorescence to look at mitochondrial function and the generation of free radicals.

Mammalian cell lines are a model system for exploring a wide variety of topics that have clinical relevance. HeLa cells were initially chosen because of their historical significance, massive literature of use, and relative ease to work with. But there is no reason why any cell line (from a wide variety of organisms, cell types, and/or specific disorders) couldn’t be used.

Fluorescence microscopy is a powerful tool that I first learned how to use as a graduate student, and students have likely seen numerous fluorescent images in textbooks and lectures. Fluorescence allows for specific and distinct labeling of cellular structures in living cells. Fluorescence can be used to measure many physiological events as well: such as ion changes, electrical potential, organelle function, cell cycle, viability assays, just to name a few. While future projects could continue from the earlier ones done with me, I am certainly open to new projects that use cell culture and microscopy.

Leah Howell

Research Interests: I enjoy working on various research projects involving bacteria. Here are some past projects where I have led undergraduates here at DSC:  Testing the antibiotic susceptibility and resistance of several species of bacteria, Testing the susceptibility of bacteria to various cleaning products, Quantifying the amount of bacteria expelled from various hand drying methods: Dyson hand dryers, hot hand dryers, and paper towels. 

**Kim Hays

Areas of study: Wildlife toxicology, mammalogy, Natural History Collection management

Research: With students – population demography of small mammals in disturbance and distribution habitats, use of dermestid beetles in Natural History Collection; interested in other areas of student research.

**April Kay

Area of study: microbiology

Research: With students – probiotics and various properties of plant abstract antimicrobials.

**Gina Kertalis-Tartar

Areas of study: Plant and soil science

Research: With students – efficacy of kudzu for phytoremediation and phosphate assessment of Lakeshore Park wetland.

**Elizabeth Lucht

Area of study: genetics

Research: With students – aging of the human populations at Dalton State and surrounding areas; using yeast to look at telomeres length.

**John Lugthart

Research interests: My area of interest is aquatic ecology.  Past research includes an invertebrate survey of the Conasauga River, surveys of turtles, fish, invertebrates, and amphibians at Lakeshore Park. My research students have assessed culverts for fish passage suitability in the Holly Creek watershed and have monitored water quality on the Conasauga River and tributaries. 

Current research:  During 2022, I will be working with students in assessing macroinvertebrate communities and water quality in a section of Mill Creek bordering the property of Park Creek Elementary School and students sampling turtles in a wetland on the same property.  Students who have an interest in streams and rivers, water quality, and aquatic plant and animal communities are welcome to talk with me about research possibilities.

**Chris Manis

Research: I am currently the curator for the TAC and SAFE projects on campus.  These projects emphasize the biodiversity and conservation of endangered turtle/ tortoise species.  I also do seasonal research on aquatic turtle communities in urban settings, primarily around Dalton.  The TAC and SAFE projects are year-round efforts and we are always looking for capable students.

Current Research: TAC and SAFE projects are underway.  Turtle surveys will being this Spring 2022.

**Annabelle McKie-Voerste

Areas of study: evolutionary biology, avian biology, animal behavior, and marine biology

Research: Finishing doctoral work on the evolution of egg color; interested in research with students on feather and egg colors.

Gene Mesco

Area of study: psychophysiology (political physiology)

Research: Using standardized image database for psychological profiles.

**Hussein Mohamed

Area of study: botany with a focus on ecology of plants in extreme environments

Research: With students – using phytoremediation to remove contaminants from the soil.

Kristen Weiss Sanders, M.S.

Research: I am a behavioral and systems neuroscientist with a broad range of research interests. Over the course of my undergraduate (Binghamton University) and graduate (Emory University) work, I have done projects in developmental psychopharmacology, looking at the effects of alcohol on behavior in adolescent and adult rats and the effects of androgens and estrogen on voluntary alcohol intake in rats; behavioral neuroendocrinology, looking at the role of oxytocin in the nucleus accumbens in pair-bonding in female prairie voles; primary neuronal cell culture, investigating various types of viral vectors and their efficacy in transferring genes to dorsal root ganglion neurons in vitro; and finally cellular and systems neurorehabilition, looking at the effects of exercise and neuronal activity in a mouse model of peripheral nerve injury.

Current Research: I am to co-founder of the DSC Biopsychology Lab alongside Dr. Elizabeth Dunaway in the department of psychology. As of Spring 2022, will be using operant chambers (“Skinner boxes”) to investigate a variety of classical and operant conditioning paradigms. As a biologist, I hope to be able to pursue further physiological work with the rats once the lab in firmly established. For the time being, I am hoping to  be able to measure certain hormone levels in rat blood and/or urine. I am also going to be working on expanding our cell culture research opportunities to include additional cell lines and/or primary culture, which I hope to work on in the 2022-2023 academic year. I am very open to student ideas of what THEY would like to work on, either in cell culture or in rodent behavior.

**Marina Smitherman

Area of study: public health and clinical medicine

Research: With students – aging and telomere shortening, childhood obesity, snake venom as an antimicrobial, and health impact of pollutants; Interested in helping students with research of their choice.


Ali Akdeniz

Area of Study: Chemistry

Research: Optical Chemosensors

Rebecca Brosky, Assistant Professor

RESEARCH: I am a heavy metals' soil remediation chemist.  Two current projects: 'construction of silver nanoparticle pencil graphite electrodes for analysis of ion concentrations in cellular solutions' and 'phytoremediation of selenium in hydroponic solutions using Vetiver Grass'.  Both projects need: chemists, biologists, environmental scientists as they are multi-faceted and interdisciplinary.  The first project is ongoing and began in January 2020.  There have been several student presentations at DSC conferences and national/regional conferences. We will eventually test these home-made, green electrodes in the DSC undergraduate Microbiology laboratory, and hope to eventually test them in an overseas lab that studies the mechanics (biophysics) of cellular movement. 

The second project has just begun and is a collaboration with Dr. Hussein, Biology.  Phytoremediation is a current green technology which is used to clean soil/water environments of anthropogenic or sometimes natural heavy metals or organic contaminants.

John Shim, Ph.D.

Research Interests: For more than two decades I have been using computational modeling methods and molecular dynamics simulations to understand the structure activity relationship (SAR) and the mechanisms of action of many biomedically important proteins, with the overall goal of developing therapeutically beneficial agents. My most recent publication is found in the following link:

Current research: my current research focus is upon understanding the modulation of the brain cannabinoid (CB1) receptor functions by ligand binding, which may alter its pharmacological profile.

Christopher Wozny, Associate Professor

My current academic research interests lie both in the field of science education and acid-base equilibria. As a science educator, my focus is on the development of new curricula for the teaching of chemistry and physics. For students intending to become science teachers, we could work together on the development of new resources and analysis of student data.

In the field of acid-base equilibrium, I am interested in using spectrophotometry to determine the acid dissociation constants of acid-base indictors. I am also interested in solvent effects on the equilibrium constants.


Sharlonne R. Smith, Assistant Professor


A Tale of Mentoring: A Journey Towards Development, Learning and Collaboration

The focus of this research study is to discuss the initial process of developing mentorship practices during the training of nontraditional secondary STEM teachers.  The study will explore the following questions: 1) What process creates an effective mentoring program?  2) How will the mentoring program look in year one?  3) How are mentors selected?  4) What supports are provided for mentors/scholars?  5)  How are mentors/scholars matched?  6)  What are the characteristics of a good mentor?  Findings from the study will impact future practices and decisions in the development of the mentoring program.  In addition, as the mentoring program advances, the researcher will seek to investigate the effectiveness of mentoring relationships on instructional methods, practices, and pedagogy of NOYCE scholars, and bring insight into structures and support of mentoring relationships.

Ryan Hoffpauir, Assistant Professor

RESEARCH: I work with research in education, predominantly focused on mathematics curriculum and instruction.  I also work with education more broadly some such as care and community in the classroom.

Brian Hibbs, Associate Professor

RESEARCH: My scholarship centers on several issues connected to language teaching and learning, including using a variety of methodologies for teaching language/culture, developing students’ linguistic and intercultural understandings through children’s literature and study abroad programs, and helping educators investigate their own teaching practices.


Mike Hilgemann

Research Interests: I am interested in areas of abstract algebra (group theory, ring theory) and linear algebra. Specifically, I am interested in generalizations of groups, such as Hopf algebras and quasigroups, and in representations of groups and other algebraic structures using matrices.  I have supervised students who did research projects in the areas related to exact factorizations of groups (how groups can be constructed from smaller groups or broken down into more basic pieces) and to the construction of Moufang loops using Zorn vector matrices.

Current research: N/A


Elizabeth Dunaway, Associate Professor

RESEARCH:  Dr. Dunaway’s research interests are focused on the mechanisms involved in learning.  Her research is centered on studying these mechanisms through Pavlovian fear conditioning procedures in rats using conditioned emotional responding.  Dr. Dunaway is particularly interested in assessing the effects of different environmental conditions in increasing the efficacy of treatments intended to attenuate conditioned fear.  Dr.  Dunaway is also interested in the role time as it relates to both associative and operant learning.  In addition to working with rats, Dr. Dunaway also has a fish lab, where she trains betta fish using using both Pavlovian and operant conditioning.


**Jenny Crisp

RESEARCH: My research with students involves the new Appalachian Studies minor; past students have worked on dialect, quilting, bluegrass, shape notes in traditional singing schools, and heirloom vegetables and seeds. I’m particularly interested in the collection of stories and oral history as part of building a corpus of speech samples from the various peoples of our area. We are studying stories and language patterns from people across the region with a particular focus on minority communities whose speech is less represented in historical research on Appalachian dialect.