Summer Researchers Share Experiences

2017 Student Research

This summer, Augustana students embarked on a variety of undergraduate research projects and internships — everything from using genetics to personalize medicine to improving crop rotations.

At the Avera Institute for Human Genetics in Sioux Falls, biology major Jadah Thaemert ’18 of Sioux Falls engaged in pharmacogenomics research, which is the study of how a person’s genetic makeup will affect their response to medicines. It’s a relatively new field and Thaemert loved the opportunity to be a part of groundbreaking research.

She was looking for single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). These are variations at specific points in a strand of DNA that are the genetic roots of how each person’s body responds to diseases and treatments. Using the SNPs that Thaemert identified, Avera’s pharmacogenomics lab can create medicines that are specific to each patient. These personalized drugs increase effectiveness while reducing side effects, leading to significantly improved treatments.

“I have truly enjoyed my time spent here. Being a part of innovative research has been an opportunity that will impact the way I practice medicine.”

— Jadah Thaemert, '18

Thaemert is just one of more than 80 Augustana students who participated in research, internships or volunteer opportunities organized by the University’s Natural Science Division this summer. Supported by agencies such as the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Biomedical Research Infrastructure Network (BRIN), the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), the Sanford Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and more, the Natural Science Division is able to provide students with opportunities for hands-on experience in their fields. These students learned new skills, honed ones they learned in class and explored future career opportunities — experiences that are invaluable to any college student.

On campus, inside the Froiland Science Complex, students also conducted research under the guidance of their professors.

Physics major Shannon Dancler ’21 worked with physics professor Dr. Nathan Grau to build dark boxes used to test silicon photomultipliers (SiPMs). SiPMs are detectors that a can observe light a single photon at a time and are therefore high precision instruments. They are used in applications such as medical imaging and radiation detection.

Dancler collected data from inside her box to determine if it was dark enough. Once she was satisfied, she used it to test a SiPM while fellow researcher Darwin Garcia ’20 analyzed the data it produced.

Also researching in the glass laboratories of the Froiland was biology major Luke Fritsch ‘20. Working with his mentor, exercise science professor Dr. Brittany Gorres-Martens, the Sioux Falls native researched to further understanding of the effect that the presence or lack of estrogen can have on women’s risk and treatment of type 2 diabetes (T2D). After menopause, women are at a higher risk of T2D, which may be caused by lower estrogen levels.

“We know exercise can cure T2D, but what we don’t know is how the estrogens women are losing during menopause can help prevent or treat T2D,” Fritsch said. “The experience is nothing short of amazing, mostly because I am working with such great people.”

On the East Coast, biochemistry and sociology major Reed Ritterbusch ’18 studied the treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS) with Dr. Eric Klawiter ‘00, a neurologist specializing in multiple sclerosis who takes one student each year to his Multiple Sclerosis Neuroimaging Lab at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).

Using MRI imaging, Ritterbusch primarily researched the effects of MS on the part of the brain responsible for coordination and precision, called the cerebellum. He was also involved in trials evaluating the effectiveness of a new MS drug.

This internship also afforded the Sheridan, Wyoming, native opportunities to hear medical professionals present their work. He attended a weekly event called Neurology Grand Rounds where physicians and scientists present their research, as well as “brain cutting seminars” where patients’ cases are reviewed before a brain autopsy is performed.

“The exposure to academic medicine and the learning opportunities available here have been invaluable to me.”

— Reed Ritterbusch '18

Biology major Heidi Bien ’20 got to play in the dirt during her summer research. More specifically, the Brookings, South Dakota, native researched the effects of different crop rotations on the health of the soil.

Different plants use different resources, so farmers change what they grow each year to make sure the nutrients are not depleted from the land. The traditional rotation in South Dakota is an alternating cycle between corn and soybeans. Bien’s research at the North Central Agricultural Research Laboratory in Brookings compared the traditional rotation to a proposed four-crop strategy of corn, peas, winter wheat and soybeans.

Though crop rotation may not be directly related to Bien’s ambitions in the medical field, “Research plays a crucial role in discovering what I want to do in the future,” she said. “Through this experience, I discovered that I enjoy doing research, and I can see myself doing research as a part of my future career.”

Research opportunities like these are important educational experiences that have direct effects on the careers of future scientists.

“These research experiences are probably one of the most valuable elements for their education and future careers,” biology associate professor Dr. Mark Larson said, “Since we can't teach them everything there is to know about science, research helps them to become the problem-solvers.”

Students learn to become more independent and ask their own questions while getting some one-on-one time with their professors, Larson says.

“Getting to watch the students grow in their independence and to link them to a larger community of science is really rewarding. On top of that, working with them is just fun!”

— Dr. Mark Larson
Associate Professor of Biology


2017 Summer Researchers

Manaal Ali, Class of 2020, Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • Major: Biology/Government, International Affairs. Mentor/advisor: Kyle Roux. Funding source: SPUR.
  • Research location: Sanford Research.
  • Project description: “Exploring how the nuclear envelope regulates innate immunity.”

Nicholas Antonson, Class of 2017, Beresford, South Dakota.

  • Major: Biology/Secondary Education. Mentor/advisor: Steven Matzner. Funding source: EPSCoR.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “Determining the relative importance of olfactory versus visual attractive cues by carnivorous plants using olfactory and visual mutant Drosophila.”

Haley Benjamin, Class of 2019, Owatonna, Minnesota.

  • Major: Biology. Mentor/advisor: Cecelia Miles. Funding source: EPSCoR.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “Variation in egg size in Drosopila melanogaster resulting from differing modes of selection.”

Colter Benson, Class of 2018, Harrisburg, South Dakota.

  • Major: Biochemistry/French. Mentor/advisor: Jetty Duffy-Matzner. Funding source: Drs. Boyd and Strandjord.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “Synthesis of difuroDPP-dihexylCT polymers for hybrid solar cells.”

Erica Bien, Class of 2020, Brookings, South Dakota.

  • Major: Biology. Mentor/advisor: Carrie Olson-Manning. Funding source: EPSCoR.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “Determining the gene that controls pathway flux in an anti-herbivore pathway in anadiplosis thalia.”

Heidi Bien, Class of 2020, Brookings, South Dakota.

  • Major: Biology. Mentor/advisor: Shannon Osborne. Funding source: USDA.
  • Research location: South Dakota State University.
  • Project description: “Soil health indicators from diversified crop rotation.”

Trevor Bormann, Class of 2021, Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • Major: Metallurgical Engineering. Mentor/advisor: Drew Alton. Funding source: NASA.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “Signal processing of SiPM's for DarkSide.”

Shannon Dancler, Class of 2021, Tea, South Dakota.

  • Major: Physics. Mentor/advisor: Nathan Grau. Funding source: NASA.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “Building a dark box for testing SiPMs.”

Mark DeSpiegler, Class of 2018, Watertown, South Dakota.

  • Major: Biology. Funding source: BRIN Biotech Fellow.
  • Research location: SAB.

Cortney Dowling, Class of 2020, Pierre, South Dakota.

  • Major: Biochemistry. Mentor/advisor: Shane Scholten. Funding source: BRIN.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “Vitamin D and Physical Performance”

Claire Fanta, Class of 2020, Creighton, Nebraska.

  • Major: Biochemistry. Mentor/advisor: Jared Mays. Funding source: EPSCoR.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “Synthesis of aryl ITC analogues and evaluation of anticancer properties.”

Luke Fritsch, Class of 2020, Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • Major: Biology. Mentor/advisor: Brittany Gorres-Martens. Funding source: EPSCoR.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “Treatment of type two diabetes via exercise and estradiol replacement.”

Darwin Garcia, Class of 2020.

  • Major: Physics. Mentor/advisor: Nathan Grau. Funding source: NSF.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “Developing a SiPM test station for sPHENIX calorimeter readout.”

Katelyn Graber, Class of 2018, Hurley, South Dakota.

  • Major: Biology. Mentor/advisor: Mark Larson. Funding source: BRIN.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “Platelet and ovarian cancer cell interactions.”

Hannah Higgins, Class of 2019, Pierce, Nebraska.

  • Major: Medical lab science. Mentor/advisor: Paul Egland. Funding source: BRIN.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “Characterization of biofilm formation by acid resistant Salmonella enterica.

Marissa Hight, Class of 2019, Belle Fourche, South Dakota.

  • Major: Biology/Art. Mentor/advisor: Cynthia Anderson. Funding source: BRIN.
  • Research location: Black Hills State University.

Troy Hollinsworth, Class of 2019, Aberdeen South Dakota.

  • Major: Biochemistry. Mentor/advisor: Barrett Eichler. Funding source: EPSCoR.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “Detection of prostate cancer using fluorescent nanoparticles.”

Kirby Hora, Class of 2018, Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • Major: Biology. Mentor/advisor: Mark Larson. Funding source: BRIN.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “Platelet and ovarian cancer cell interactions.”

Stephanie Jahnz, Class of 2019, Lewisville, Minnesota.

  • Major: Biochemistry. Mentor/advisor: Kristi England. Funding source: SPUR.
  • Research location: Sanford Research.

Cameron Jensen, Class of 2019, Owatonna, Minnesota.

  • Major: Chemistry. Mentor/advisor: Jetty Duffy-Matzner. Funding source: BRIN.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “Synthesis and antimicrobial studies of novel isoxazolines.”

Julia Johnson, Class of 2019.

  • Mentor/advisor: James Wahl.
  • Research location: University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Emily Kaufman, Class of 2017, Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • Major: Physics/Biochemistry. Mentor/advisor: Eric Wells. Funding source: NSF.
  • Research location: Augustana University/Kansas State University.
  • Project description: “Bond rearrangement during Coulomb explosion of water molecules.”

Alexis Knutson, Class of 2019, Magnolia, Minnesota.

  • Major: Biology. Mentor/advisor: Michelle Baack. Funding source: SPUR.
  • Research location: Sanford Research.
  • Project description: “The role of mitochondrial dynamism on cardiac development and function.”

Austin Kroeger, Class of 2019, Hartford, South Dakota.

  • Major: Chemistry. Mentor/advisor: Barrett Eichler. Funding source: BRIN.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “Detection of prostate cancer using fluorescent nanoparticles.”

Sydney Kreutzmann, Class of 2018, Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • Major: Biology. Mentor/advisor: Carrie Olson-Manning. Funding source: EPSCoR.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “Determining whether allosteric regulation in the corticosteroir pathway is mediated through a physical interaction.”

Cody Kujawa, Class of 2019, Waukesha, Wisconsin.

  • Major: Chemistry/Engineering Physics. Mentor/advisor: Andrew Klose. Funding source: BRIN.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “Characterization and testing of a cavity-enhances laser spectroscopic setup.”

Carl Lang, Class of 2018, Lennox, South Dakota.

  • Major: Chemistry. Mentor/advisor: Jared Mays. Funding source: BRIN.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “Photochemical generation of ITCs.”

Caitlyn Larson, Class of 2020, Rapid city, South Dakota.

  • Major: Biochemistry/Sign Language Interpreting. Mentor/advisor: Barrett Eichler. Funding source: SURF.
  • Research location: Black Hills State University.

Thomas Lauer, Class of 2021, Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • Major: Computer Programming. Mentor/advisor: Drew Alton. Funding source: NASA.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “Using Muons to understand position in DarkSide.”

Hayley Masching, Class of 2020, Alton, Illinois.

  • Major: Chemistry/Spanish. Mentor/advisor: Jetty Duffy-Matzner. Funding source: BRIN/Augustana Research & Artist Fund.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “Synthesis of difuroDPP-dihexylCT polymers for hybrid solar cells.”

Hope Maunders, Class of 2019, Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • Major: Chemistry/Anthropology. Mentor/advisor: Duane Weisshaar, Funding source: Chemistry Department/Lofthus.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “XRF Analysis of quantum dots.”

Matthew Moe, Class of 2019, Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • Major: Biology/Business Administration. Mentor/advisor: Seasson Vitiello. Funding source: SPUR.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “The genetic origin of a rare mitochondrial disorder.”

Madigan Moore, Class of 2020, Watertown, South Dakota.

  • Major: Biology. Mentor/advisor: Seasson Vitiello. Funding source: BRIN.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “The genetic origin of a rare mitochondrial disorder.”

Joe Napierala, Class of 2017, Alta, Iowa.

  • Major: Physics/Biology. Mentor/advisor: Eric Wells. Funding source: NASA/SD space grant.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “Computer control for adaptive femtosecond control.”

Alexandra Peterson, Class of 2018, Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • Major: Biology. Mentor/advisor: Carrie Olson-Manning. Funding source: BRIN.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “Determining the gene that controls pathway flux in an anti-herbivore pathway in Arabdiopsis thanliana.”

Branden Pfaff, Class of 2018, Watertown, South Dakota.

  • Major: Biology/Athletic training. Mentor/advisor: Paul Egland/Fernson. Funding source: BRIN.
  • Research location: Fernson.
  • Project description: “Developing use of local microbes for commercial brewing.”

Skyy Pineda, Class of 2018, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.

  • Major: Biochemistry. Mentor/advisor: Andrew Klose. Funding source: Dr. Viste/NASA.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “Construction and characterization of an iodine saturated absorption.”

McKayla Poppens, Class of 2020, Tea, South Dakota.

  • Major: Biology. Mentor/advisor: Jill Weimer. Funding source: SPUR.
  • Research location: Sanford Research.
  • Project description: “Screening therapies for Cln3 and Cln6 Batten Disease in mouse fibroblasts.”

Reed Ritterbusch, Class of 2018, Sheridan, Wyoming.

  • Major: Biochemistry/Sociology. Mentor/advisor: Eric Klawiter. Funding source: Fellowship from Dr. Klawiter's lab.
  • Research location: NIH/Mass General Hospital.
  • Project description: “Multiple Sclerosis neuroimaging.”

Hunter Robinson, Class of 2018, Luverne, Minnesota.

  • Major: Chemistry. Funding source: BRIN.
  • Research location: Antimicrobial Materials, Inc.

Tania Rodenzo, Class of 2019, Honduras.

  • Major: Biology/Psychology. Mentor/advisor: Mark Larson. Funding source: American Physics Society.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “Platelet and ovarian cancer cell interactions.”

Jess Roetman, Class of 2017, Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • Major: Biology. Mentor/advisor: Jennifer Gubbels. Funding source: EPSCoR.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “Platelet and ovarian cancer cell interactions.”

Tristan Roy, Class of 2019, Yankton, South Dakota.

  • Major: Biology. Mentor/advisor: Cecelia Miles. Funding source: BRIN.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “Variation in egg size in Drosophila melanogaster resulting from differing modes of selection.”

Alissa Runia, Class of 2018, Montevideo, Minnesota.

  • Major: Chemistry. Mentor/advisor: Duane Weisshaar. Funding source: Chemistry Department/Lofthus.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “XRF analysis of quantum dots.”

Emma Schmidt, Class of 2018, Mitchell, South Dakota.

  • Major: Exercise science. Mentor/advisor: Brittany Gorres-Martens. Funding source: BRIN.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “Metabolic alterations due to diet and OVX-induced insulin resistance.”

Gabriella Schmidt-Gimminger, Class of 2019, Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • Major: Biology/German. Mentor/advisor: Jill Weimer. Funding source: SPUR.
  • Research location: Sanford Research.
  • Project description: “MARCKS molecular interactions necessary for axonal outgrowth.”

Avery Selberg, Class of 2018, Moorhead, Minnesota.

  • Major: Biology/Mathematics. Mentor/advisor: Steve Matzner. Funding source: BRIN.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “Regulation of water-related genes in tomatoes.”

Abel Soloman, Class of 2019, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

  • Major: Engineering physics/Mathematics. Mentor/advisor: Eric Wells. Funding source: NSF.
  • Research location: Augustana University/Kansas State University.
  • Project description: “Use of a liquid-crystal-on-silicon spatial light modulcator (LCoS-SLM) for adaptive control of photoelectrons.”

Dallas Soyland, Class of 2020, Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • Major: Biology. Mentor/advisor: Kevin Francis Funding source: SPUR.
  • Research location: Sanford Research.
  • Project description: “Analysis of hormonal and estrogen signaling in cholesterol synthesis disorders.”

Taylor Stacey, Class of 2018, Watertown, South Dakota.

  • Major: Mathematics. Mentor/advisor: Carl Olimb. Funding source: Augustana Research & Artist Fund.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “Development of a secondary education tierd model used to teach math modeling practices in a variety of high school courses.”

Sarah Stein, Class of 2020, Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • Major: Biology. Mentor/advisor: Mark Larson. Funding source: SPUR.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “Platelet and ovarian cancer cell interactions.”

Katelyn Stevens, Class of 2019, Elk River, Minnesota.

  • Major: Chemistry. Mentor/advisor: Jetty Duffy-Matzner. Funding source: Dr. Earl.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “Synthesis and antimicrobial studies of novel isoxazolines.”

Trevor Tecklenberg, Class of 2018, Harrisburg, South Dakota.

  • Major: Mechanical Engineering. Mentor/advisor: Drew Alton. Funding source: NASA.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “SiPM studies to reduce noise below 10mV.”

Jadah Thaemert, Class of 2019, Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • Major: Biology. Mentor/advisor: Trish Lauterbach. Funding source: Avera.
  • Research location: Avera Genomics.
  • Project description: “Clinical trials and pharmacogenomics.”

Alex Tietz, Class of 2019, Fort Calhoun, Nebraska.

  • Major: Biochemistry. Mentor/advisor: Duane Weisshaar. Funding source: Chemistry department/Lofthus.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “XRF Analysis of Quantum Dots.”

Katie Tlusty, Class of 2019, Waseca, Minnesota.

  • Major: Biology. Mentor/advisor: Jared Mays. Funding source: BRIN.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “Synthesis of aryl ITC analogues and evaluation of anticancer properties.”

Eduardo Turcois, Class of 2019, Honduras.

  • Major: Biochemistry. Mentor/advisor: Pete Vitiello. Funding source: SPUR.
  • Research location: Sanford Research.
  • Project description: “Monitoring activation of stress responses during cell exposure to synthetic isothiocyanates.”

Samantha Vaverka, Class of 2019, Milford, Nebraska.

  • Major: Biology. Mentor/advisor: Paul Egland. Funding source: BRIN.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “Characterization of biofilm formation by acid resistant Salmonella enterica.

Kyle Widman, Class of 2018, Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • Major: Mathematics/Computer Science. Mentor/advisor: Lindsay Erickson. Funding source: NASA.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “R data analysis of Nim on the $K_{3,3}$.”

John White, Class of 2019.

  • Major: Physics/Computer science. Mentor/advisor: Nathan Grau. Funding source: NASA.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “Comparison of rapidly-separated pi0-h correlations in p+p data and PYTHIA.”

Trey Waldrop, Class of 2020, Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • Major: Physics/Chemistry. Mentor/advisor: Drew Alton. Funding source: NSF.
  • Research location: Augustana University.
  • Project description: “Data quality for DarkSide detector.”

Shitong Zhao, Class of 2019, Beijing, China.

  • Major: Physics/Chemistry/Mathematics. Mentor/advisor: Eric Wells. Funding source: NSF.
  • Research location: Kansas State University.
  • Project description: “Ultrafast laser pulse shaping for adaptive femtosecond control.”

2017 Summer Internships and Volunteer Positions

Emily Aanenson, class of 2018, internship, Avera Health, Sioux Falls

Rachel Challes, class of 2018, internship, Sanford Health, Sioux Falls

Lydia Enderson, class of 2018, internship, Avera Health, Sioux Falls

Sara Fisher, class of 2018, internship, Sanford Health, Sioux Falls

Carter Gronseth, class of 2018, internship, Avera Health, Sioux Falls

Alison Hasvold, class of 2018, internship, Sanford Health, Sioux Falls

Abbigail Hatch, class of 2018, internship, Sanford Health, Sioux Falls

Loghan Huiskes, class of 2018, internship, Sanford Health, Sioux Falls

Brody Jorensen, class of 2018, internship, Sanford Health, Sioux Falls

Kyle Kettler, class of 2018, biology/medicine internship, Mandeville Regional Hospital, Jamaica

Eleanor Knowles, class of 2018, internship, Sanford Health, Sioux Falls

Kayla Knutson, class of 2018, biology/medicine internship, Universidad Veritas, Costa Rica

Hannah Krauter, class of 2018, internship, Avera Health, Sioux Falls

Abby Lusk, class of 2018, internship, Avera Health, Sioux Falls

Ryan Menssen, class of 2018, internship, Sanford Health, Sioux Falls

Allison Roberts, class of 2018, internship, Avera Health, Sioux Falls

Haley Schoenecker, class of 2018, internship, Sanford Health, Sioux Falls

Kara Schroeder, class of 2018, internship, Sanford Health, Sioux Falls

Abby Schulte, class of 2018, internship, Avera Health, Sioux Falls

Summer Smith, class of 2018, internship, Sanford Health, Sioux Falls

Lindsey Taft, class of 2018, internship, Avera Health, Sioux Falls

Stephanie Tuschen, class of 2018, internship, Avera Health, Sioux Falls

Carter Wevik, class of 2018, internship, Sanford Health, Sioux Falls


Mike Shafer '18
Intern, Augustana Marketing and Communications