Scholarly Endeavors of CIT

The College of Innovation and Technology faculty are deeply engaged in research. These scholarly pursuits are diverse in subject matter and explore everything from global issues to matters in Michigan. UM-Flint is uniquely positioned to offer undergraduate and graduate students research opportunities, allowing them to work alongside faculty to pursue new knowledge. Below are some of the current research activities taking place in CIT.


Age and Growth Estimates for Sea Lamprey in the Great Lakes: Status and Future Direction
Led by Dr. Heather Dawson, this research project aims to review the research on measuring the age and growth of Great Lakes sea lamprey populations and provide future directions for improving them. Measuring productivity and recruitment in invasive sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) populations across the Great Lakes requires accurate assessments of sea lamprey age, growth, and survival.

Before and After Hamilton Dam Removal on the Flint River
Led by Dr. Heather Dawson, this project aims to research the river and stream bank morphology, as well as the biological diversity and their contaminant load adjacent to campus. This project aims to highlight the health of the river by determining the diversity of fish species and their abundance, as well as the diversity of aquatic insect species that serve as indicators of the health of the ecosystem.

For-Mar Restoration
For-Mar Nature Preserve in Burton, MI is a gem in Genesee County! Just a 5 min drive from the UM-Flint campus, For-Mar is already the site of many UM-Flint Wildlife courses’ favorite field trips. Located near the back of the 383-acre preserve is a meadow undergoing habitat restoration, to remove invasive and non-native plants. Students from the Tonietto Lab monitor the flowering plants and wild bees at the site in partnership with For-Mar naturalists and Teresa Yoder-Nowak.

Genetic Analysis of Small Mammals in Northern Lower Michigan
Led by Dr. Jo Sucic in collaboration with Dr. Jill Witt, we are using molecular genetic analysis to examine the health of several populations of small mammals in northern lower Michigan.  This project is a great example of the synergy that can exist between molecular biology and wildlife biology!  Dr. Witt’s wildlife students set up “hair snares” in northern lower Michigan, and hairs that are collected are used for DNA extraction. Mitochondrial DNA analysis allows us to identify the species that left the hair; analysis of nuclear sequences called microsatellites, which are the sequences used in DNA fingerprinting, allows us to identify individual animals and to examine the genetic health of the population. This project could help inform decisions on wildlife management in northern Michigan. 

Genetic Variation and Physical Performance
Led by Dr. Joe Sucic in collaboration with Dr. Allon Goldberg of the Department of Physical Therapy. One of the major advances to come from the analysis of the human genome is the role of Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) in a wide variety of diseases and other conditions.  We are doing analysis of SNPs in a number of genes, including those encoding Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme (ACE) and Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), and examining if the presence of specific SNPs correlates with an array of physical performance abilities (i.e., balance, strength, etc.) in elderly physical therapy patients. The examination of the physical therapy patients is done by Dr. Goldberg and his assistants. The patients provide a saliva sample, from which students in my lab extract DNA and do the SNP analysis. This work could inform physical therapy regimens for patients based upon their genotype.

Mictroenvironmental Stress: Trigger for Metastasis?
Led by Dr. Joe Sucic. Cells within a tumor are subject to a variety of stressful conditions, such as acidic pH, low oxygen levels (hypoxia), and, perhaps, elevated temperature, all of which are the result of the high metabolic activity of the cells. We have hypothesized that these stressful conditions could be a trigger for metastasis—they essentially cause cells to look for a “new home” with better conditions. To investigate this hypothesis, we have been examining if stressful conditions can induce and/or enhance metastatic behavior in cultured breast cancer cells. For this experimentation, we expose the cells to a variety of stressful conditions and examine for 1) cell invasiveness, 2) the expression of key proteins that mediate metastasis, and 3) the expression of key miRNAs that mediate metastasis. This project could provide insight into the cause of metastasis and potentially establish molecular targets for therapeutic intervention. 

The Porch Project
The Porch Project is a community-engaged research project in partnership with Megan Heyza and the Eastside Improvement Association of Flint. Our combined goals of neighborhood beautification, landscaping enhancements, porch repairs, increasing neighbor engagement, and outdoor relationship building, and pollinator conservation come together in this project where UM-Flint students in the Tonietto Lab plant gardens in front yards. We provide residents with garden designs using native plants or non-native ornamental plants typically used in formal front yard landscaping and return once a month to observe which garden type better supports our native pollinators.

Testing the Effects of Phylogenetic Diversity on Restoration Outcomes in Tallgrass Prairie
Led by Dr. Rebecca Tonietto, The Prairie Plot Experiment at the Morton Arboretum is a broad-scale investigation into the dimensions of diversity used as metrics in prairie restoration. While many restoration plans incorporate diversity targets, we tend to use taxonomic diversity (how many species do we have and how evenly are they represented) as opposed to functional diversity (what types of species are presently based on their traits) or phylogenetic diversity (what proportion of prairie plants from an evolutionary perspective are represented and how closely are they related). 

The Prairie Plot Experiment contains over 120 native species planted in treatment plots of the low, medium, and high functional x low or high phylogenetic diversity; allowing us to tease apart the impact of evolutionary distinct planting arrays.

Chemistry & Biochemistry

Electrochemical Food Research
Dr. Matthew Fhaner’s research involves seeking out and finding new applications for electrochemistry in the analysis of functional food research, primarily involving polyunsaturated fatty acids found in fish oil. These fatty acids are known to have a number of health benefits, so finding ways to preserve them is essential to their inclusion in human diets. In order to preserve these fatty acids, novel antioxidant systems are being investigated to determine if there are potential new antioxidant sources from American agricultural byproducts.  

In the lab, we use differential pulse voltammetry (electrochemistry) and gas-chromatography mass-spectrometry to determine the relationship between antioxidant levels and changes in the fatty acid composition of the oil. The goal is to determine relative antioxidant efficiencies of emerging antioxidants in real-time in the hopes of finding natural sources for commercial product preservation.

Vitamin D and the Immune System
The focus of Dr. Jessica Kelts’s research is the non-classical actions of vitamin D and its action in regulating the immune system. Numerous epidemiological studies show that adequate amounts of vitamin D seem to be preventative in cancer, heart disease, and many autoimmune diseases. While it is acknowledged that many cells in the immune system use vitamin D, the exact mechanism by which vitamin D modulates immunity is unknown and will be the focus of my research.

Exploring New Ligands
Dr. Nicholas Kingsley’s research is focused on the synthesis and characterization of bidentate indolyl and pyrrolyl-based ligands for transition metal coordination. These resulting metal complexes will be used as catalysts for a variety of transformations mainly hydroamination and polymerization of olefins.

With the wide range of bidentate ligands reported in the literature that incorporate oxygen, nitrogen, and phosphorus donors, and the recent interest in pyrrolidone-imine ligands, it is surprising that indolyl and pyrrolyl moieties are still underutilized ligands in inorganic chemistry particularly for the main group metals. The potential utility of chelating ligands incorporating pyrrolyl or indolyl substituents can be appreciated by comparison of tri(pyrrolyl)methane to similar triamidoamine, and triamido ligands. The triamidoamine and triamido ligands have similar electronic and coordination properties but differ significantly in charge, π-donating ability, and bridging ability compared to tri(pyrrolyl)methane. The nitrogen lone pair that remains upon N→M σ-donation is involved in the aromatic π system of the heterocycle and is less available for N→M π-donation or for bridging two metal centers. Despite these advantages, there is little chemistry of chelating ligands containing pyrrolyl or indolyl substituents aside from the extensive chemistry of porphyrins, porphyrinogens, and other macrocycles.

Managing Epigenetic Modifications
Dr. Justin Massing’s research focuses on epigenetic modifications enabling dynamic regulation of gene expression in response to environmental factors without altering the underlying genetic sequence. Known mechanisms include DNA methylation at cytosine and an array of organic modifications to histone N-termini. Such modifications, though necessary (e.g., cellular differentiation), have been implicated in a variety of disease pathologies, including addiction, diabetes, and cancer. Using well-established molecular imaging techniques, we are developing simple, yet innovative tools able to differentiate distinct epigenetic changes noninvasively. The ability to do so will further our understanding regarding these fundamental processes, provide useful prognostic information, and guide future therapeutic designs. 

Synthetic Iron(IV)-Oxo Complexes
Dr. Justin Massing’s research focuses on mononuclear nonheme iron enzymes that activate molecular oxygen catalyze crucial oxidative transformations (e.g., DNA demethylation). Despite their diverse chemistries, these metalloenzymes share a characteristic 2-His-1-carboxylate facial triad that supports a high-spin iron(IV)-oxo intermediate responsible for substrate oxidation. Synthetic strategies to generate this electronic structure include enforcing a trigonal bipyramidal geometry and sterically weakening a pseudo-octahedral ligand field about the metal center. These approaches, however, utilize nitrogen-rich ligand platforms that omit the 2-His-1-carboxylate structural motif. To better understand the features controlling iron(IV)-oxo reactivity, we are constructing weak-field oxygen-rich ligands that will structurally mimic mononuclear nonheme iron enzyme active sites. Select candidates will be applied to the fields of C-H activation and sustainable catalysis.

Investigating Molecular Properties 
Dr. Jie Song’s research focuses on computational applications to real chemical systems of interest. Included in my current research interests are the highly accurate descriptions of the electronic structures of small- to moderate-sized molecules and molecular ions, the application of the hybrid quantum/molecular mechanics (QM/MM) to the large-sized system, and the Quantitative Structure-Activity Relationship (QSAR). Current research programs include: (i) using accurate and ultrahigh accurate multi-reference methods to investigate potential energy surfaces of smaller molecules as well as the low-lying excited states, and using ab initio methods to predict molecular properties as well electronic structures of mid-sized molecules. The undergoing projects focus on systems like transitional metal carbide/oxide, dioxirane and its derivatives, and fullerenes; (ii) using hybrid quantum mechanics/molecular mechanic methods or the molecular mechanic methods to investigate reactions in aqueous solutions and on the surfaces; (iii) using statistical methods (combined with computational methods) to investigate the QSAR for agrochemicals.

Finding Green Solutions, Exploring Cancer Treatments
Dr. Jessica Tischler is currently involved in several areas of research. Following the principles of green chemistry, we are trying to develop alternative reaction conditions for traditional organic reactions. For example, we are using hot, pressurized water (subcritical water) to both solvates and catalyze a reaction that traditionally is done in organic solvents with catalysts that require subsequent disposal.

Finding a targeted drug to fight cancer with limited side effects would be a magic bullet in the fight against cancer versus the shotgun approach of traditional chemotherapeutics. In my research, we are targeting the histone deacetylase enzyme. This enzyme is involved in regulating gene expression in cells and could be one of the mechanisms that “goes wrong” in a cancer cell. We are investigating simple, easy to synthesize compounds and testing their ability to inhibit this enzyme, thus restoring the cell’s natural regulation process.

Chemicals’ Effects in Human Development
Dr. Besa Xhabija’s research focus is to study the effects of environmental toxins, nanomaterials, and drugs in human development utilizing embryonic stem (ES) cells. ES cells lines are established from the inner cell mass of the 3.5-day old mouse blastocyst and they have the ability to maintain their pluripotency indefinitely. Under tightly controlled conditions, ES cells will spontaneously give rise to more specialized cells of the ectodermal, mesodermal, and endodermal lineages, such as neuronal cells, heart, liver, blood vessel, and pancreatic islet on the addition or removal of certain growth factors.

We plan on treating the ESC cells with various environmental toxins, nanomaterials, or drugs and evaluating their effectiveness in the formation of the pre-implantation embryo development. We would utilize quantitative real-time PCR, cell cycle analysis, immunofluorescence assay, colony formation, and other techniques in order to measure the change in various aspects of organismal development.

Computer Science & Information Systems

Model-Driven Software Development, Smartgrid, Intelligent Agents, UAVs
Dr. Allison’s study of the “A Resilient Cooperative Localization Strategy for Autonomous Underwater Vehicles in Swarms,” was recently published in the 2020 10th Annual Computing and Communication Workshop and Conference (CCWC). 

Dr. Allison is part of the faculty team that leads the Intelligent Systems Research Group at UM-Flint pursues research in the areas of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Controlled Systems. Their goals are to promote the advancement of the theory and applications of AI.

Semantic Web, Fault Management and Wireless Network
Dr. Alhosban’s study of the “Discovering a New Correlations and Patterns related to Educational Programs in Web Development,” was recently published in the 2018 8th International Conference on Computer Science and Information Technology (CSIT).

Dr. Alhosban is part of the faculty team that leads the Intelligent Systems Research Group at UM-Flint pursues research in the areas of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Controlled Systems. Their goals are to promote the advancement of the theory and applications of AI. 

Data Mining & Machine Learning, Social Computing, Biomedical Informatics & Bioinformatics, Parallel Computing
Dr. Bisgin’s study of the “Targeted Metabolic Profiling of Urine Highlights a Potential Biomarker Panel for the Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease and Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Pilot Study,” recently published in by the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute. 

Another recent publication from Dr. Bisgin includes research into the causes and development of epilepsy in the brain, read more about it.

Database Systems, Processing of Streaming Data, Data Lineage, Big Data, Secure Query Processing in the Cloud, Effective Computer Science Education, Women and Minorities in Computer Science
Dr. Mani’s study in exploring query resents, “IPAW 2020 Preprint: Efficient Computation of Provenance for Query Result Exploration.

He also leads the Database Management Systems research team, which pursues studies into the general area of computer science. 

Misinformation in Social Media, Coalition Formation, Game Theory, Complexity Theory, Social Networks
Dr. Spradling’s study of the “Introducing & Evaluating ‘Nutrition Facts’ for Online Content,” recently published in the 2020 International Conference on Cyber Security and Protection of Digital Services (Cyber Security).

Computer & Mobile Security, Behavioral Biometrics, Data Mining
Dr. Syed’s study of the “Touch gesture-based authentication on mobile devices: The effects of user posture, device size, configuration, and inter-session variability, ” recently published in the Journal of Systems and Software.

Dr. Syed is part of the faculty team that leads the Intelligent Systems Research Group at UM-Flint pursues research in the areas of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Controlled Systems. Their goals are to promote the advancement of the theory and applications of AI. 

Designing for Real People with Real Needs
Dr. Tang’s study of the “New to a Country: Barriers for International Students to Access Health Services and Opportunities for Design,” recently published in the book, Proceedings of the 12th EAI International Conference on Pervasive Computing Technologies for Healthcare.

Smart Grid communications, smart meter data collection, security & privacy in the Smart Grid, Cybersecurity education & curriculum development; Routing in Wireless Mesh Networks; Quality-of-Service routing in networks
Dr. Uludag’s study of the “A Survey of Denial-of-Service Attacks and Solutions in the Smart Grid,” recently published in by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Another of his recent publications includes research into the detection and reduction of stealthy DDos attacks via Internet-of-Things (IoT) networks.

Dr. Uludag also leads the Lab for Advanced Networks and Systems (LANS) research group, which pursues studies into the general area of computer network systems. 


Detecting Stress Through Thermal Imaging
Dr. Mihai Burzo, along with researchers from the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, developed an artificial intelligence system to detect acute stress in human subjects via thermal imaging. 

Introduction to Engineering: An Assessment and Problem Solving Approach
Professor of Mechanical Engineering Quamrul Mazumder authored the textbook Introduction to Engineering: An Assessment and Problem Solving Approach. Published by Routledge the book begins with an overview of the assessment theory, presents examples of the real world. 

Active Learning
Dr. Na (Linda) Zhu published a paper in the International Journal of Mechanical Engineering Education that explores more effective teaching methods in courses that deal with noise and vibration. Since this content relies heavily on differential equations and linear algebra, students can often struggle to apply the math to solving issues with noise and vibration. This paper explains a more effective method of introducing students to these concepts. 


Black Holes as Condensed Tools, Orbital Mechanics
Dr. Alsup’s study of the “Holographic Fermi Liquids in a Spontaneously Generated Lattice,” was recently published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry.

Optical Spectroscopy of Semiconductor Nanostructures at Low Temperatures and High Magnetic Fields 
Dr. Barman’s May 2020 study of the “Circular Polarization Dynamics during Magnetic Polaron Formation in Type-II Magnetic Quantum Dots,” recently published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry.

Supermassive Black Hole growth, Active Galaxies, Quasar Absorption Lines, Quasar Outflows
Check out Dr. Ganguly’s co-authored October 2019 study of “Probing quasar winds using intrinsic narrow absorption lines,” recently published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.