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Research Opportunities

Augsburg University has a strong commitment to training undergraduates in research. The University funds or administers several research-intensive training programs both in the summer and during the academic year. Students majoring in biology work with one of several research mentors in the department as well as with mentors in physics, chemistry, mathematics and psychology. Students are encouraged to being their research training early in their undergraduate careers so as to whenever possible remain engaged for a sustained period either on campus or at research universities.

For more information about on campus support and resources, visit the Undergraduate Research and Graduate Opportunity site.

Ongoing faculty research projects are listed below.

Jennifer Bankers-Fulbright

AIR-labDr. Bankers-Fulbright’s research in the Airway Inflammation Research (AIR) Lab focuses on the interactions of human airway cells with pathogens and immune cells.

Currently, Dr. B is focusing on testing the effects of human airway lung secretions on Pseudomonas aeruginosa.  P. aeruginosa is a common bacteria that often contaminates hospitals but usually doesn’t cause serious disease. However, the lungs of patients with the genetic disorder cystic fibrosis (CF) are extremely susceptible to P. aeruginosa colonization and often die from these lung infections.

Dr. B’s hypothesis is that secretions from normal airway cells inhibit this colonization by decreasing P. aeruginosa survival, motility, and biofilm formation. Conversely, she predicts that secretions from CF airway cells are altered in such a way that P. aeruginosa survival, motility and biofilm formation are unaffected which allows for colonization of CF lungs.  To test this hypothesis, AIR Lab students are examining the effects of harvested secretions from normal and CF airway cells on P. aerugionsa growth, flagellar motility, and biofilm formation in vitro.

Ideal for: Sophomores and juniors who are interested in graduate school and thinking about pursuing an M.S. or Ph.D. in the biomedical sciences. (Research students must have completed Bio253 before working in the AIR Lab)

  • Basic Lab Techniques
  • General lab safety and accurate lab notebook use
  • General Lab Techniques (pipetting, making solutions, pH)
  • Mammalian cell tissue culture w/light microscopy
  • Microbiological culture and assays
  • Data analysis and graphing

 Matthew Beckman


The broad goal of our work is to study neural development, neural control of movement, and neurodegeneration using the model organism, Daphnia, the water flea. We have created tools to reliably record and quantify swimming behavior and the movement of the post-abdominal claw. Current work aims to define the role of dopamine in Daphnia movement and to discover the effect on Daphnia movement of pharmacologically manipulating or destroying dopamine neurons. Further, this project aims to clone and characterize key genes involved in dopamine neuron function in Daphnia. Initial studies show that perturbation of the dopamine neurotransmitter system has a robust effect on Daphnia swimming behavior. Our data suggest that Daphnia is a useful model system to evaluate the pathophysiology of dopamine neuron degeneration as well as potential neuroprotective agents.  Additional subprojects include: 1) immunohistochemical and in situ hybridization studies of the developmental expression of key dopaminergic genes, 2) a large scale mutagenesis screen, and 3) continued development of 3D imaging and force transduction tools to study the naturalistic swimming behavior and forces produced by swimming daphnids.

Bill Capman

Dodder is a parasitic non-photosynthetic flowering plant that attaches to host plants of various species, deriving all water, mineral nutrients, and energy from its host.  There are several different projects that would be possible, depending on how much growing space there is available in the lab this summer.

One possible project would look at the efficiency of energy transfer between host plants and the parasitic dodder plants.  Energy transfer in food webs is typically quite inefficient (on average, approximately 10% of the energy in one trophic level is assimilated into the biomass in the next higher trophic level), but preliminary evidence suggests that this transfer of energy is much more efficient in the case of dodder.  In our project we would attempt to quantify this energy transfer.

If growing space is more limited, an alternative project would investigate patterns of resistance to dodder in some individuals of velvetleaf plants (Abutilon theophrasti).  Past studies have found that some velvetleaf plants show resistance to attack by dodder.  In our project we would observe the initial attachment behavior of dodder seedlings or cuttings encountering susceptible vs. resistant host plants to try to gain insights into the mechanisms underlying resistance.

David Crowe


The general question my research addresses is: how does the activity of neurons in the brain relate to cognitive processes?  Currently, I am interested in how the brain generates the perception of visual stimuli, abstracted from the pattern of light that falls on the retina and is represented in early visual areas.  Specifically, I study how patterns of neural activity across the brain differ between states of perceptual awareness, and over time.  One method I currently use is a brain imaging technique (magnetoencephalography, or MEG) which can capture quickly-changing neural events.  With this technique, neural activity can be recorded with a high temporal resolution across 248 channels.  These neural time courses provide the basis for data analysis, which is performed using computer programming.

Ann Impullitti

When looking at a field or forest of plants, it is easy to overlook the microbial community within the plant. My research focuses on the interaction of fungal pathogens, beneficial symbionts, and endophytes (neutral fungi, which neither benefit nor harm the plant) in agro-ecosystems.  The long-term goal of my lab is to use a combination of biological control and conventional methods to reduce plant disease while increasing sustainability of our food production system.

Potential projects

  1. Currently, we have idAshley fieldentified multiple endophytes that reduce growth of two soybean pathogens that are known to reduce yield in Minnesota. We have identified these endophytes using in vitro approaches by doing Petri-plate duels to determine the antagonistic potential of several species of endophytes.  We are now trying to develop an in vivo approach in which we study the interaction of the antagonistic endophytes with the pathogens within plants.
  1. Endophytes are also thought to improve plant growth. Cladosporium sp. is a common endophyte in soybean and is hypothesized to improve the shoot length and biomass of soybean.  This project would involve the screening of fungal culture filtrates for their plant growth promotion, determining successful procedures to infect soybean with Cladosporium, and determining if plant growth and physiology is modified due to infection by Cladosporium.
  1. Many pathogens live in the plant for a period of time without causing symptoms of disease (latent infection).  We are currently collaborating on multiple projects with the UMN to determine if latent infection is reducing photosynthesis and plant productivity.

Kevin Potts


I am a wildlife ecologist with broad interests in population dynamics, management, and conservation of wild mammals. My research focuses generally on investigating habitat relationships in mammalian populations occupying landscapes under threat from natural and anthropogenic environmental change, and to predict responses of populations to these changes. I am also working on the development and modification of techniques to enable wildlife managers to efficiently monitor mammal populations and communities. My work is primarily field-based, but also includes statistical modeling approaches. Some of the projects I am currently working on include:

  1. Modeling the impact of various external threats on the long-term viability of a population of chimpanzees in Kibale National Park, Uganda
  2.  Modeling future distributions of chimpanzees in Kibale National Park according to changes in the spatial and temporal distribution of food resources
  3. Using long-term data on habitat use, population dynamics, and demography to construct management initiatives aimed at the recovery of Canada lynx populations in northeastern Minnesota.
  4.  Developing a protocol for monitoring mammal populations in the Vermillion Highlands Wildlife Management area in southern Dakota County, MN

Emily Schilling

Freshwater ecosystems are among the most threatened on Earth. My research addresses a pressing need to understand how these ecosystems function in natural and human-altered landscapes. Much of my work has specifically focused on understanding both natural and anthropogenic factors that influence freshwater species’ distributions and community structure. To do this, I have often used geospatial analytical tools like GIS for exploring biogeographic patterns in freshwater species’ distributions and answering questions related to freshwater species movement. I examine ways that humans interrupt biogeographic barriers to species movement, for example by stocking non-native gamefish to provide wilderness fishing opportunities, and how this affects native freshwater communities. This work has application beyond the wilderness, to places closer to home in our local urban lakes and streams. These places that might be familiar to the public have historically been under-represented in ecology, and their role in environmental resiliency is gaining attention.