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Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships in the Sciences (SURFS) Program at Belmont University

The Department of Chemistry and Physics offered a new opportunity for students AT ALL LEVELS to work on a focused, 6-week original research project during the summer of 2015. Students gained first-hand experience in being part of a research team, interacting with other scientists, including faculty mentors, and working with new state-of-the-art instrumentation. Group meetings and social events were planned for each week in the summer to facilitate research ideas and group discussions. Research fellows presented their results during a special program in September.

The SURFS program has expanded since 2015! It now involves many research areas within the College of Sciences & Mathematics and now includes the College of Pharmacy.

Students Complete Research for Summer Fellowship Program


Now in its 3rd year, Belmont’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURFs) Program is currently hosting 24 students across campus, in a variety of disciplines, who have devoted their summer to scientific research. Started by Chair of the Chemistry and Physics Department Dr. Robert Magruder in 2015, the SURFs program engages students early in their collegiate career and provides participants with housing and a stipend while they work alongside faculty members to complete important research.

When Dean of the College of Sciences and Mathematics Dr. Thom Spence came to Belmont three years ago, he noticed that the University’s Summer Scholars program encouraged juniors and seniors to spend their summers on campus engaging in research. Seeing a need to involve younger students in these same experiences, he worked alongside Magruder to create the SURFs programming. “I was immediately interested in developing a program that would engage students earlier in their academic careers,” Spence said. “SURFs does just that. By targeting early career students, we are able to allow all students the opportunity to experience meaningful research–an opportunity that can be transformative for their education.”

Students in Belmont's SURFs program participate in research.Since the majority of students are early in their Belmont careers, Spence said the fellows are encouraged to work on projects outside their disciplines. “We have had biology students working on material science projects, biochemistry students working on chemical kinetics and even an actuarial studies student working in analytical chemistry.”

This year, students are engaging in variety of projects whose ‘real world’ implications are immense. From cell isolation for illness treatment to comparing the sound differences between old and new guitars to ‘working from the inside out’ to treat cancer cells and understand how medication dosages effect performance, SURF participants are conducting research that could have a significant impact on the scientific community.

Junior neuroscience and pre-med major Crystal Lemus chose to study microfluidics and cell isolation, hoping to gain insight into better treatment options and early detection for infectious diseases or cancer. Having no previous experience with this topic, Lemus said she chose the project intentionally. “Being the curious person that I am, I decided to venture out to the unknown and try to find answers to things not previously known,” she said. “The entire point of conducting research and being vulnerable before the scientific process is to allow yourself to acquire knowledge along the way.”

Looking towards a career in medical research, while also serving as a physician, Lemus said the opportunity to working alongside other students and her faculty advisor this summer has been a significant learning opportunity. “This program is one of the things that sparked my interest in the first place,” she said. “The professors here truly care about our future and have a true love for the scientific process–something that I also aspire to continue giving to younger generations of scientists.”

For chemistry major and junior Claire Holden, the opportunity to participate in the SURFs program has been invaluable — especially given who she had the chance to work under. Interested in pursuing her MD-PhD in pharmacology in the future, Holden took the opportunity to work under Dr. Marilyn Odom, Professor & Chair of Pharmaceutical, Social and Administrative Science in the College of Pharmacy. Having worked with many students who have earned the prestigious degree, Holden was eager to learn from Odom.

“My lab skills, my ability to extrapolate and apply what I learn and my ability to read and synthesize scientific articles have all gotten better because of Dr. Odom and the SURFS program,” Holden said. “Dr. Odom has been immensely helpful and generous enough to help me get where I need to be if I want to succeed in such a rigorous graduate program. I know my time with her will be an asset moving forward.” 

Students participate in SURFs experiences. Spence points to research as one of the most important activities students can participate in during their undergraduate careers. “As important as teaching labs are, they can not teach all of the creative and critical thinking skills needed to be successful in a research setting,” he said. “It is our aim to get these students up and running with a project as independently as possible, as quickly as possible. It is so important that undergraduate students are given the opportunity engage in research early in their academic careers, and we are so happy to provide SURFs as one of the many opportunities students have to experience meaningful research.”



Here is a list of the faculty and their projects planned for Summer 2017:

Dr. Patrick Morse          E-mail:
Personality Development & Change

I am interested in exploring whether people are motivated to change aspects of their personality, how successful they are in changing their personality, and what strategies they use to change their personality.  As it turns out, many people do have intentions to change their personality, particularly if they rate themselves as low on a certain trait (e.g., extraversion, emotional stability). Further, people tend to employ both cognitive and behavioral strategies in the pursuit of their personality change. I plan to continue research on this topic and to explore additional questions concerning people's interest in altering aspects of their personality and their success in doing so.

Pharmacy – Dr. Marilyn Odom          E-mail:

Differential Effects of Selinexor on Breast Cancer Cell Lines

Selinexor is a drug that is currently in multiple clinical trials for the treatment of a variety of cancer types, including breast cancer.  The drug is an inhibitor of nuclear export and prevents proteins that would normally shuttle between the nucleus and cytoplasm of the cell from leaving the nucleus, thereby disrupting the normal dynamic processes within the cell.  In cultured breast cancer cell lines, selinexor has been shown to induce apoptosis in a dose-dependent manner.  In my laboratory, we see a differential effect of the drug on similar breast cancer cell lines.  It causes cell death in some cells, but other cell lines are resistant to the drug.  We are currently investigating differences in signaling molecules between the cells in an effort to learn more about the potential mechanism(s) of resistance to the drug.  

Dr. Robert Magruder          E-mail:


Metal nanocrystals have been shown to strongly effect the linear and nonlinear optical properties of silica.  The ability to control the optical properties of metal nanocrystal in silica composites is of interest because of the recent demonstration of these materials for a wide of variety of optical and optoelectronic devices that include magneto-optic effects in thin films, optical recording medium, sensitizers in erbium doped fibers, fast nonlinear optical materials, layered composites, and enhanced photoconductors.

In this research we study the effects of the modifying the high purity silica with transition metal ions and other ions by changes in the guest host interaction of the dopant ions with the silica matrix to control the formation, size, size distribution and proximity of the metal nanoparticles and their subsequent effect on the linear and nonlinear optical properties of the composite material.

With a better understanding of processes to control the nanocrystal microstructure it maybe possible to fabricate more tailored optical properties.  This will give optical design engineers more flexibility in designing new optoelectronic devices for a variety of applications including the possible of quantum switching devices.  The students working on this research will be involved in interdisciplinary research involving physics, chemistry and materials science.  

Dr. Scott Hawley          Email:
  • Mobile App Development for Science Education Applications

With the release of Xcode 7, Apple has removed the restriction that private developers need to pay for a commercial license to write their own apps and put them on their own devices: Now anyone can write apps and use them immediately. The prospect of “developing apps” is one which many students find appealing and exciting (see anecdotal evidence below), and we intend to harness this enthusiasm as a boon to student engagement. Several commercial "physics" apps are available for various purposes, however often one wants to perform custom functions.   Furthermore the experience of writing the app itself offers a rewarding instructional experience.  With this in mind, we intend to teach students how to write their own apps that exploit the physics sensors of their mobile devices, and then to use these apps in conducting (i.e. measuring and analyzing data for) introductory physics experiments.  Students should come with some familiarity with programming concepts; they will leave with a working knowledge of relevant aspects of the Swift programming language, app design, and with apps of their own making on their devices.

Dr. Maria Danielle Garrett        Email:
  • An Application of Calorimetry to the Thermal Properties of Bleaching Natural Pigments

Due to an increasing shift towards environmentally “green” manufacturing processes over the last several decades, many industries have begun practical implementation of the concepts of green chemistry.  One such area in which this paradigm shift can be seen is in textile production.  From the large textile manufacturing plant to the local textile entrepreneur, an understanding of the chemical properties of fabrics, including dying and bleaching processes is essential.   This project will focus on using calorimetric techniques to explore the enthalpic characteristics of the bleaching process of natural pigments. 

  •  The Effect of Processing Techniques and Temperature Dependence on the Degradation of Vitamin C:  A Kinetic Study

Vitamin C is an essential nutrient and antioxidant.  Not only is it necessary for maintaining healthy tissues, bones and teeth, but it also plays a vital role in the healing of wounds and in helping to fight off infection.  It is also thought that Vitamin C may help reduce the risk for many health conditions including high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes and some cancers.  Vitamin C, being water-soluble, is not stored by the body.  As such, this nutrient must be obtained through food and dietary supplements.  While the recommended daily dose of Vitamin C is 60 mg, numerous nutritionists and health care specialists believe the amount should be higher, perhaps even on the order of several thousand milligrams, in order to optimize the health benefits that Vitamin C affords.  This makes it increasingly important to be aware of the effective Vitamin C content in the food products that one consumes.

Most processing techniques deplete the amount of nutrients in food.  However, the degree to which food is affected varies based on the processing technique.   Upon both storage and increase in temperature, the degradation of Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) in food products has been observed.  However, there is limited comprehensive data concerning the effect of different processing techniques on the temperature-dependent degradation of Vitamin C in juice products. This project will focus on using various titrimetric methods to determine the rate of decay of Vitamin C in juice samples processed by various methods including traditional and flash pasteurized, unpasteurized, cold-pressed and high pressure processed organic, and raw.

  • Going Green in Secondary Chemistry Education

Green chemistry labs can be adapted for use in any type of science classroom and can be incorporated into any level physical science or chemistry curriculum.  Fundamental chemistry topics that are typically covered by traditional labs can be made greener while still covering standards for physical science and multiple levels of chemistry.  Not only are green chemistry labs safer, but they are also more economically viable.  Many chemicals used for green labs are less expensive than more traditional chemicals and some materials can even be purchased from local stores, allowing school systems with limited budgets access to quality labs.  Using chemicals that can be more easily disposed of provides the added benefit of reducing or eliminating the need for chemical disposal service, which can cost several thousand dollars. This project will focus on developing practical, environmentally friendly, low-budget lab activities that can address multiple curriculum standards for physical science and chemistry teachers. 

Dr.  Krista McBride          E-mail:
  • Microfluidics Research at Belmont

Currently, biotechnology and nanotechnology have combined to provide “lab-on-a chip” technology. This is high-impact technology that is transforming how researchers in biophysics and bioengineering, as well as pharmacology, perform their research.  Microfluidic devices have the ability to provide researchers with tiny, cell-sized channels, chambers, traps, electrochemical sensors and actuators. Microfluidic devices use minimal reagent or sample and provide a well-controlled microenvironment. This allows researchers the ability to manipulate and study of individual cells.  Due to the ease and versatility of the design, we have the technology to develop devices that can apply to many biological applications.

One biological application of this project is to design, test, and evaluate different variations of microfluidic device fabrication with the intent to create a single cell trap fabrication scheme using the minimal resources available in a classroom setting.  This would allow classes to observe cell activity in a single cell environment, as well as enable classes to monitor cell reactions to stimuli in real time on a one dimensional plane and avoid cell to cell interaction.  One of those of great interest is observing the growth rate of a single yeast cell.

Another biological application of this project is to create a device that could help in future studies for drug delivery known a cell sorter. We are interested in constructing a device using an easy and cheap methodology called foil embossing, previously investigated by Kevin T. Seale and Ronald S. Reiserer. A dual pump, dual binning microfluidic system is to be developed in order to sort cells. In this process, fluid flow will be studied through control and imaging.