COURI Symposium Highlights UTEP Undergraduate Research

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Last update on May 06, 2022 at 00:00

Originally published May 06, 2022

By Laura L. Acosta

UTEP Marketing and Communication

The glistening dunes of pure white gypsum sand at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico inspired Mya Valenzuela’s clean hydrogen research at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Sophia Adame, a junior major in biological sciences, received the best presentation in the category of life sciences and biomedical sciences at the spring symposium of the Office of <a class=Undergraduate Research Initiatives (COURI) at UTEP on April 30, 2022. His mentor is Chuan “River” Xiao, Ph.D. , professeur agrégé de biochimie. Photo : Laura Trejo / UTEP Marketing et Communication ” src=”https://www.utep.edu/newsfeed/2022/web_Couri_Winner_Sophia_Adame_8555_lt1.jpg”/>

Sophia Adame, a junior major in biological sciences, received the best presentation in the category of life sciences and biomedical sciences at the spring symposium of the Office of Undergraduate Research Initiatives (COURI) at UTEP on April 30, 2022. His mentor is Chuan “River” Xiao, Ph.D., associate professor of biochemistry. Photo: Laura Trejo / UTEP Marketing and Communication

Valenzuela, a senior environmental science student, won the best presentation in the physical science category for her project: “Clean Hydrogen from Carbon: With a Little Help from Sun and Salt,” during the UTEP Campus Office of Undergraduate Research Initiatives (COURI) Spring Symposium on April 30, 2022.

She was one of 110 undergraduate researchers, scholars and artists who presented their work in four categories: arts, humanities and social sciences; life sciences and biomedical sciences; physical science; and engineering, computer science and applied sciences.

“When I arrived at UTEP, I didn’t think that I would one day give presentations on the research I was working on! said Valenzuela, an 18-year-old graduate of Mission Early College High School. She said a geology class during her second semester at UTEP sparked her interest in studying landforms and geological features in national parks.

Since 2011, COURI has organized two symposia per year, in spring and summer, to offer undergraduate researchers a unique opportunity to present and discuss their research and academic work with professors, experts, peers and the community. Students gain valuable research experience under the guidance of faculty mentors, who help facilitate and enhance their research training.

Karina C. Canaba, Ed.D., associate director of COURI, said the benefits of attending COURI events such as the symposium and workshops are numerous.

“They allow students to develop and practice skills related to research, study, teamwork, networking, and academic presentation of information,” Canaba said. “The result of these experiences is a confident, prepared, and curious student who is a competitive candidate for graduate school, vocational schools, and the job market.”

Valenzuela plans to pursue graduate studies in environmental engineering after earning her Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science in 2024. In the meantime, she plans to continue her research with her mentor, Benjamin Brunner, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Earth, Environmental and Resource Sciences.

After Valenzuela visited White Sands in 2021, she and Brunner came up with the idea of ​​studying the national park’s salt diapirs, or sand domes, which contain gypsum, a soft sulfate mineral made of dehydrated calcium sulfate.

They began researching gypsum as an energy source to obtain hydrogen from carbon dioxide, or CO2.

With help from Brunner, Valenzuela developed a prototype that uses gypsum and cationic and anionic membranes to capture CO2 to produce clean hydrogen.

“Hydrogen is produced by burning fossil fuels,” Valenzuela said. “Once these fossil fuels are burned, they release CO2, which harms our atmosphere and creates global warming. We are trying to create the same results from fossil fuels, which is to get hydrogen, but instead of letting the CO2 escape into the atmosphere, we try to capture it and reduce greenhouse gases.

Brunner said that by engaging students like Valenzuela in his research, he hopes to eliminate any misconceptions they have about science and scientists. He said students experience how he combines skills and knowledge from multiple disciplines in his research. They also see how he searches for information, learns from his mistakes, interacts with other scientists and how research requires passion, creativity and curiosity.

“What I hope all of this does for students is similar to watching a ‘behind the scenes’ documentary of a film being done to the cinematic experience itself,” said Brunner, who was also a student. first generation. “The refined end product (the scientific paper) is the result of many steps, carried out by dedicated and passionate people, but there is no magic: if you want it, you can do it!”

Canaba said students who attend the COURI symposium also realize the impact of their work on El Paso and the greater border region because they can discuss their research with members of the community.

Sophia Adame, junior in biological sciences, obtained the best presentation in the category of life sciences and biomedical for her research on “Optimizing the co-expression and purification of the human circadian proteins CLOCK and BMAL1”. His mentor is Chuan “River” Xiao, Ph.D., associate professor of biochemistry.

His research aims to determine the structure of two circadian proteins called CLOCK and BMAL1, which are associated with sleep-wake cycles.

Adame said determining the structure of these proteins could lead to therapies for different circadian-related diseases. The findings could benefit people who work night shifts, such as nurses, whose body’s circadian rhythms, or internal 24-hour clocks, are disrupted by night shift work.

Adame said she enjoys doing research and also enjoys discussing her work with other people.

“I really enjoy presenting my research because I practice talking about what I do,” said Adame, who plans to graduate in 2023. “It makes me more comfortable and confident in my research, and I really like the feedback I get from graduate students.

Other COURI Symposium Best Presentation winners include Alyssa Parra in Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; and Demetrius Hernandez in engineering, computer science and applied sciences.








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