Students from across the U.S. come SDSU for science research


Promising undergraduate students in science and engineering fields came to South Dakota State University from colleges and universities across the country to participate in a 10-week bioenergy research program.

The program matched 10 students with SDSU faculty mentors to advise them on cutting-edge research projects in three specific areas of bioenergy, including feedstock development, bioprocessing and environmental sustainability of bioenergy production. One of the goals of the program was to encourage students to continue with graduate study and to expose them to conducting research with state-of-the-art equipment.

The Research Experiences for Undergraduates program was made possible by a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation. The NSF funded individual research projects and provided stipends, travel expenses, food allowance and on-campus housing. This was the second year of the program.

Heike Bücking, associate professor in the SDSU Department of Biology and Microbiology, and Jose Gonzalez, associate professor in the SDSU Department of Plant Science, wrote the grant for funding, organized the program and served as mentors for students.

Participants were chosen based on merit and interest in fields of bioenergy research. The selection also considered gender, cultural and geographic diversity. Students traveled from as close as Sisseton Wahpeton College and as far away as Puerto Rico.

At a concluding BioEnergy Day, Aug. 5, students presented posters highlighting their research to judges, other mentors and their peers. Those who gathered to view research posters also heard from speakers in the industry, including Jim Sturdevant, project director at POET in Sioux Falls, and Denichro Otsuga, director of the Office of Technology Transfer at SDSU. The speakers described the impact of research on the marketplace and the importance of capturing innovation at the university or corporate levels.

“It’s about your ability to innovate that is valued no matter where you work,” said Otsuga. “Pursuing education and training in science and engineering fields will best prepare students to participate in the knowledge economy of the 21st century,” Otsuga assured the students.

Antoinette Bullitt, a biology and education major from Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, conducted her research on soil characteristics and the impact on biomass production of prairie cordgrass in eastern South Dakota. Bullitt’s research, under mentorship of SDSU Professors Tom Schumacher and Doug Malo, catalogued crops being produced in Miner County. Her results showed where else the studied crops could be grown and where a particular crop might be more productive for bioenergy production.

“The research I’ve done during this program is going to be published,” said Bullitt. “I hope that it will help farmers to be more productive. That would be great.” After she finishes her undergraduate degree, Bullitt said she plans to pursue graduate education in biology research.

Other participating students came from Mississippi State University to work with Ruanbao Zhou in feedstock development; Baylor University in Texas to work with Bill Gibbons in microbiological bioprocessing; Sisseton Wahpeton College to work with Lin Wei in chemical bioprocessing; University of Puerto Rico to work with Heike Bücking on arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and their effect on environmental sustainability; Allegheny College in Pennsylvania to work with Bruce Bleakley in screening of microorganisms for bioprocessing; Utah Valley University to work with Vance Owens and Arvid Boe in feedstock development and environmental sustainability; Newman University in Kansas to work with Tom West in bioprocessing; SDSU to work with Susan Rupp and Mike Miller on the effect of harvesting bioenergy crops on wildlife and environmental sustainability; and University of Wisconsin-River Falls to work with Jose Gonzalez on tissue culture techniques of prairie cordgrass for feedstock development.

Adeola Adebiyi from Mississippi State University won the final poster presentation for effectively showing how her project on metabolic engineering of cyanobacteria to produce myrcene, a drop-in biofuel, gives promise to the future of bioenergy innovation. This award, funded by the Sun Grant Initiative, will include an invitation to attend and to present at the national Sun Grant Initiative meeting in Indianapolis in January.