The Global Change Center remains dedicated to fostering the research endeavors of undergraduate students through our Undergraduate Research Grant program. Our 2023 recipients are engaged in remarkable research projects, delving into topics such as bacterial and viral pathogens, arboviral diseases, microplastic contamination, antibiotic resistance, and more, in collaboration with GCC faculty. The research grants for this year, with funding totals over $9,000, are supporting thirteen projects led by fourteen exceptional undergraduate students representing nine different undergraduate majors.

We extend our congratulations to the following students for being awarded this year's GCC undergraduate research grants!


UGRG student

The Effect of Environmental Factors on Faxonius cristavarius in Stroubles Creek. 

Claire Beasley, Freshwater Fish Conservation

Working with Dr. Bryan Brown

This project will investigate the invasive spiny stream crayfish, Faxonius cristavarius, in Stroubles Creek, a highly urbanized stream in Blacksburg, VA. A previous study identified unusual changes in crayfish morphology over a short downstream distance, which were unexplained. This study aims to determine if these morphological variations in F. cristavarius are linked to environmental factors like water temperature, pH, conductivity, and turbidity, which change along the stream.
UGRG student

Vector competence of Aedes albopictus for vertical transmission of La Crosse virus.

Natalie Cann,  Microbiology

Working with Dr. Gillian Eastwood

This study focuses on the impact of temperature on the transmission of La Crosse virus (LACV) by invasive mosquito, Aedes albopictus. With increasing temperatures, the geographic ranges of vectors have increased, which could lead to changes in the transmission of vector-borne diseases. LACV is one such pathogen that is prevalent in the Midwest and Appalachian regions of the US. LACV is generally transmitted by the native mosquito, Aedes triseriatus, but there is evidence that Aedes albopictus, an invasive vector, is implicated in transmission.
UGRG student

Investigating Effects of Increasing Salinity on Monitoring for Waterborne Pathogen Risk

Liz Eroshenko, Environmental Science

Working with Dr. Brian Badgley

The goal of this project is to determine a threshold for salinity effects on the survival of Escherichia coli, an indicator bacterium for waterborne pathogens, inenvironmental waters such as streams, rivers, and bays. Historically, E. coli has not been used as an indicator bacterium in brackish or marine water because previous research have shown decreased E. coli survival at higher salinity. However, recent research has shown that as freshwater salinity increases due to human activities such as deicing, urbanization, and agriculture, the survival rate of E. coli also increases. This study seeks to pinpoint the salinity range where the effect on E. coli shifts from positive to negative.
UGRG student

Prevalence of tick-borne pathogens in field-collected ticks

Jeehyun Ghang, Biological Sciences

Working with Dr. Gillian Eastwood

This experiment aims to investigate infection rates of various bacterial and viral pathogens on tick species Amblyomma americanum and Ixodes scapularis.  Globalization, international movement, habitat alteration, and changing climates, can affect the geographical range and size of populations of ticks and the disease-causing pathogens they can carry. The study seeks to establish a correlation between county regions and pathogen prevalence, serving as an early warning system for the spread of known diseases into new areas, which is crucial for both public and animal health.
UGRG student

Evidence of Arboviral Circulation in New York and Virginia via Serosurveillance in Wildlife

Erika Mathov, Biological Sciences

Working with Dr. Gillian Eastwood

The objective of this experiment is to enhance our understanding of the geographical distribution and host exposure rates of arboviral diseases in the Eastern U.S. By testing blood samples from a variety of wildlife species in Upstate NY and western VA, the study aims to determine the presence of neutralizing antibodies against emerging arboviral pathogens, including tick-borne and mosquito-borne viruses. This research will provide valuable insights into the seroprevalence of pathogen exposure among different wildlife types and the geographic spread of these emerging arboviruses.
UGRG student

Assessing the Role of Phytoplankton on Biogeochemistry in Isolated Wetlands

Emily Mulcahy, Biological Sciences

Working with Dr. Erin Hotchkiss

The aim of this experiment is to investigate the role of phytoplankton in the primary productivity of geographically isolated wetlands and assess the dynamics of dissolved oxygen (DO) over the course of a year. The research seeks to build on previous research and expand its scope to cover three bays of varying sizes and hydrologic connectivity, aiming to understand how phytoplankton dynamics relate to seasonal water level changes, establish connections between phytoplankton and wetland biogeochemistry, and integrate these findings with ongoing work on carbon emissions from the wetlands.
UGRG student

Machine Learning Predictions for Embeddedness in Virginia Watersheds

Reilly Oare, Biological Systems Engineering

Working with Dr. Jonathan Czuba

The objective of this experiment is to create a machine learning (ML) regression model that can more accurately predict the level of embeddedness values with remotely sensed data and field data that can be collected quickly. Ecologists have used embeddedness measurements to assess habitat quality because the surface area and pore spaces available to macroinvertebrates and fish decrease as embeddedness increases. By using widely available, remotely sensed data, the model aims to reduce the time and resources required to identify highly embedded streams that may need restoration, with the final model intended for public access.
UGRG student

Development of a Surface-Enhanced Raman Scattering (SERS) based Nanoprobe for Leaf pH Detection

Nicole Odibo, Public Health

Working with Dr. Peter Vikesland

This experiment aims to develop a non-destructive and efficient method for measuring pH in both liquid and solid materials, with a particular focus on assessing the pH of plant leaves. The research seeks to provide instant feedback on plant health by revolutionizing pH detection in solid materials, such as crop leaves, without compromising their integrity. This advancement could be valuable in agriculture, allowing for the rapid identification of pH changes due to factors like fertilizers and pesticides.
UGRG student
UGRG student

Antibiotic Resistance and its Genomic Effects on Asian Clams

Kathryn Ouimet, Biological Sciences and 

Allison Montgomery, Ecological Restoration

Working with Dr. Austin Gray

The aim of this experiment is to investigate antibiotic resistance in freshwater biota, with a focus on the prevalent invasive Corbicula fulmiunea (Asian Clam) in Stroubles Creek, Virginia. Asian clams are a species of interest for this study due to their unique feeding modes from both water and sediment, where antibiotics can accumulate. Over time, the consumption of antibiotic- infested waters leads to antibiotic resistance in organisms. This research seeks to understand how antibiotic pollution in freshwater ecosystems impacts the development of antibiotic resistance in organisms, potentially leading to the spread of resistance genes from aquatic to terrestrial ecosystems. Additionally, the project aims to examine the influence of microplastics on antibiotic resistance in these clams.
UGRG student

Using pond breeding Anurans amphibians to quantify the exposure effects from pollutants trapped in stormwater retention ponds

Sam Purvis, Biological Sciences

Working with Dr. Austin Gray

The goal of this experiment is to assess the ecological risks associated with emerging contaminants like microplastics (MP) and tire wear particles (TWP) introduced into stormwater retention ponds due to human activities. Using anurans amphibians as a model organism, the study aims to investigate the potential impacts of these pollutants on amphibian mortality, activity, and developmental stages, considering their complex life cycles that span aquatic and terrestrial environments. The research seeks to fill the existing knowledge gap in understanding how these contaminants affect pond-breeding organisms like amphibians.
UGRG student

The effects of triclosan (TCS) on mitochondrial gene expression in the brains of Xenopus laevis tadpoles

Tre Ridgway-Davis, Psychology & Neuroscience

Working with Dr. Christopher Thompson

The aim of this experiment is to investigate the toxic effects of Triclosan (TCS), a common antimicrobial agent, on the expression of mitochondrial genes related to oxidative stress and mitophagy in the developing brains of Xenopus laevis tadpoles. This research seeks to better understand how TCS affects mitochondrial function and may pose health risks to both humans and the ecosystem, serving as a foundation for future studies and potentially guiding public health measures.


UGRG student

Can crops of the future be productive and resilient? Investigating trade-offs in Brassica rapa

Ben Shettel, Biological Sciences

Working with Dr. Susan Whitehead

The aim of this experiment is to study the trade-offs between crop yield and defense traits in Brassica rapa plants. By investigating the mechanisms behind these trade-offs and developing new methods for analyzing defensive compounds like glucosinolates, the research aims to provide insights that can help develop crop varieties with both high yield and improved resistance to herbivores, contributing to innovations in agriculture that protect ecosystems and human health.
UGRG student

Quantifying changes in stream embeddedness and macroinvertebrates due to the Mountain Valley Pipeline in Virginia

Sam Weatherly, Biological Systems Engineering

Working with Dr. Jonathan Czuba

The aim of this experiment is to investigate the impact of stream embeddedness on aquatic macroinvertebrate populations in the context of the construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). The research will predict changes in embeddedness using remotely sensed data and assess these predictions by conducting field surveys at downstream MVP sites. Additionally, the study aims to analyze the effects of MVP-related changes in embeddedness on macroinvertebrates, providing insights into the ecological health of the streams affected.
The Global Change Center at Virginia Tech, with support from the Fralin Life Sciences Institute, is proud to sponsor undergraduate students and their research projects that align with our mission for advancing collaborative, interdisciplinary approaches to address critical global changes impacting the environment and society. Supported projects address basic and/or applied aspects of global change science, engineering, social science and the humanities and are sponsored by a GCC Faculty mentor.