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STEM Foundry

STEM Foundry Programs

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    STEM Pack

    Undergraduate research communities consisting of authentic, interdisciplinary research experiences in a mentored research community structure.
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    STEM Neighborhood

    Community-based research teams that collaboratively work on local problems in partnership with communities and local organizations in Southern Colorado.
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    STEM Forge

    Paid internship and field experience opportunities for undergraduates with companies, non-profits, and governmental agencies both locally and regionally.
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    STEM Founder

    Structured incubator to help students generate and launch their own STEM ideas. Mentorship support with patent and startup process.

The STEM Foundry delivers hands-on opportunities to STEM undergraduate students, including exciting, engaged, local research opportunities, internships, and entrepreneurial training. Explore the four Foundry programs below. For any questions on the STEM Foundry, please contact Foundry Director Dr. Jim Carsella.

Pending open positions, the Foundry Student Application opens ahead of the start of each semester, and end of spring semester for the summer research intensive. 

STEM FOUNDRY Research Projects

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    STEM PACK Biology Projects

    Nuclear Dynamics: Cajal bodies and their role in different cellular environments
    Dr. Mario Izaguirre Sierra
    Project Description
     The focus of my laboratory centers on elucidating the structural and functional significance of the Cajal body (CB) and the nuclear architecture in the cell. For this, we are using Arabidopsis and the moss Physcomitrella patents as model systems. Both are simple and inexpensive tools to teach basic genetics and molecular biology concepts in the laboratory. Our primary research questions are: how does the Cajal body subnuclear structure shape development and cell architecture in plant cells? how is the Cajal body composition, assembly and dynamics controlled during a/biotic stresses and disease? To answer these questions, we are using a robust molecular genetics, genomics and biophysics approach, combined with in vivo fluorescent microscopy to investigate the structure and function of CBs. Altogether, the educational plan of this application will allow me to: i) train undergraduate students in the laboratory, enabling them to acquire and use requisite skills to perform a variety of meaningful experiments, ii) give them exposure to cutting-edge research in the fields of nuclear dynamics and cell and quantitative molecular biology of plants, iii) to encourage them to pursue careers in the biological field as well as to iv) strengthen the biological research capacity at CSU-P. Ultimately, we would like to use our fundamental discoveries to understand how this intriguing subnuclear compartment regulates basic plant physiology, development and responses to a/biotic stresses. Moreover, we seek to apply our basic research for crop improvement and/or therapeutic benefits to human health.

    Exploring the health benefits of edible plant berries and seeds on preclinical nutrition research animal models (rats and mice)
    Dr. Annette Gabaldon
    Project Description
    The research project’s broad objectives are to provide CSU-Pueblo STEM students with biomedical research training experiences in nutritional physiology research. This first year in MAPS, I have developed two Specific Aims. Specific Aim 1 will investigate the influence of a diet enriched with blueberry, probiotics, and blueberry+probiotics on bone mineral density in the spontaneous hypertensive rat model. This work will be done in collaboration with Dr. Cynthia Blanton at Idaho State University, Pocatello. Dr. Blanton has completed the in vivo part of the study and has one published paper reporting the effects on blood pressure. Our job next will be to determine effects of the various diets on bone mineral density in hindlimb bones (femur and tibia) collected previously. Specific Aim 2 will investigate the influence of a hempseed enriched diet on intestinal morphology in young growing C57BL6 female mice. The in vivo part of the study is completed. We have intestine samples stored that will be prepared for sectioning and H&E staining and then analyzed for morphological properties that are indices of intestinal wall absorptive capacity, including villi number/height and crypt number/depth. Also, we will perform microscopic sediment analysis on urine samples to assess dietary influences on excreted crystals, cells, and casts.

    Projects in Virology, Microbiology and Bioinformatics
    Dr. Amaya Garcia Costas
    Project Description

    Students in my lab will be able to choose from within a variety of projects. In one project we are aiming to characterize the molecular basis of bacteriophage-host interactions, including the bacteriophage lifestyle. A different project seeks to identify microorganisms with high tolerance or resistance to UV radiation and reactive oxygen species. We aim to evaluate this resistance and characterize possible mechanisms of resistance. A third microbiology project involves the development of biosensors (eg. bacteria) to sense pollutants in the environment such as metals or inorganic pollutants such as nitrates. Lastly, a solely bioinformatic project uses comparative genomics to annotate genes in the insulin signaling pathway of Drosophila species as part of a large collaboration. This project aims to better understand the evolution and function of metabolic pathways in eukaryotic organisms.



    Conservation of Migratory Song Birds
    Dr. Claire Ramos
    Project Description

    Conservation of migratory songbirds can be particularly challenging as it these animals require three distinct habitats for successful completion of their life cycle: breeding habitat, wintering habitat, and migratory habitat. The migratory phase of the life cycle of these animals may be the most critical as migratory behavior is physiologically stressful and dangerous. This was clearly demonstrated by a mass migratory songbird die-off that occurred in early Sept. 2020 the southwestern United States. Thousands of dead migrating birds were found over the span of just a few days. It is thought that this die-off was a result of a lethal combination of drought conditions reducing food availability, poor air quality caused by wildfires, and a freak snow storm. Migratory banding stations can provide valuable information to better understand the threats that migratory birds face on route to and from their breeding grounds. Migratory songbirds will be captured from field sites in areas heavily used by migrating birds in the area. We will use mist-nets to capture the birds and take various measurements to determine overall physiological condition of the birds. Birds will then be released to continue their migration.




    Colorado Checkered Whiptail Lizards in Urban-Natural Areas (PROJECT CURRENTLY FULL)
    Dr. Fran Sandmeier
    Project Description

    This project focuses on mapping the local distribution of a rare lizard, the Colorado Checkered Whiptail (Aspidoscelis neotesselatus), as well as quantifying possible threats to its local persistence. The species is considered a species of conservation priority by the Colorado State Parks and Wildlife department, despite high levels of abundance within urban areas in Pueblo County. Because these urban populations have not previously been documented or studied, potential benefits and threats of urbanization have not been quantified for the persistence of lizard populations. A. neotesselatus is a parthenogenetic, asexually reproducing species. Like many similar, asexual species within the genus Aspidoscelis, it appears to thrive in disturbed areas. However, animals living in disturbed areas which are also highly urban may also be susceptible to anthropogenic stressors, including high levels of mesopredators. Increased predator-pressure in Pueblo County is most likely caused by feral cats, but could also include higher densities of natural predators such as raccoons, ravens, and coyotes that are known to aggregate around areas with increased irrigation and increased food sources. Here, we will quantify numbers of lizards across a gradient of urban-natural areas while also quantifying tail drops as a measure of predator attacks. Similarly, we will quantify external and internal parasite loads and differences in white blood cell profiles, as measures of stress. We hypothesize that the lizards in the most urban areas will exhibit higher levels of predator attacks and physiological stress than lizards in natural areas.

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    STEM PACK Chemistry Projects

    Light emitting thermometers: determining the structure and optical properties of light emitting phosphor compounds at different temperatures
    Dr. Max Wallace
    Project Description
    Within the last decade, various rare-earth doped inorganic materials have been investigated as potential temperature probes, where temperature is correlated to the luminescent properties. Despite recent advances, accurately measuring a small change in the temperature – important for many applications – has not been successful. Rather than using an expensive rare-earth element as the luminescent site, the use of a 3d transition metal - such as Mn4+ or Cr3+ - is of interest. Unlike the rare-earth doped phosphor compounds, the luminescent properties of 3d transition metal doped phosphor compounds are strongly influenced by the structure of the material. If a comprehensive structure-property relation is known, the ability to modify and/or enhance the luminescent properties can potentially be achieved. The aim of this proposed research is twofold: (1) to explore new 3d transition metal doped compounds that might have thermally tunable luminescent properties, and (2) to establish comprehensive structure – luminescent property relationships of novel 3d transition metal doped phosphor materials at different temperatures. Multiple undergraduate/graduate chemistry/physics majors can be involved in the research. Each project will be tailored to the academic level and interests of the student(s) involved with the project. The students will be fully engaged in all aspects of the research including synthesis, property measurements, and data analysis. They will make use of various structural analysis techniques, elemental analysis techniques, and optical spectroscopy methods. This research group will occasionally collaborate with other groups from the University of Alberta and/or Oregon State University and will at times use instruments at the Air Force Academy. It is anticipated that the research will lead to professional presentations and publications.

    Synthesis of New Organofluorine Compounds of Biological Interest from Phenols and Alkenes
    Dr. David Dillon and Dr. Melvin Druelinger
    Project Description

    The objectives of this proposal are two-fold. First, to explore the synthetic generation of new organofluorine compounds from two important classes of naturally occurring materials, phenols and alkenes and more specifically using resorcinol and limonene and derivatives. The approach will use electrophilic fluorinations to explore these reactions. It is anticipated that these new compounds will be biologically active; this aspect will be explored as appropriate. Secondly, the project will engage two students doing research in the summer and fall semesters. The students will be fully engaged in all aspects of the research including synthesis, isolation, purification, and structural identification. They will make use of many instrumental spectroscopic and chromatographic techniques. Ultimately it is anticipated that the research will lead to professional presentations and publications.


    Tetrazines – Adventures in Colorful Heterocyclic Chemistr
    Dr. Mel Druelinger and Dr. David Dillon
    Project Description
    Tetrazines are colorful organic heterocycles which undergo an array of interesting reactions that lead to the creation of new heterocycles and polymers. Many are of biological interest and some are used as tags in cell studies. This research involves the synthesis and chemistry of these new materials. It will afford students the opportunity to learn many types of spectroscopy (for structure determination) and chromatography (used for isolations and purifications) while also generating new substances, some of which may be biologically active. Students will be co-mentored by two experienced faculty members.

    Development of new methods in organic synthesis: transforming crude oil into medicines via transition metal catalysis
    Dr. Samuel Gockel
    Project Description

    The treatment of human diseases is a major public health concern that relies heavily on the existence of effective and safe medicines. However, the rate at which successful drugs are discovered is often constrained by the availability of synthetic methods capable of generating novel molecular scaffolds. Given this challenge, one of the primary goals of modern organic chemistry is to develop innovative reactions that can be applied in drug discovery. An important consideration in the design of new transformations is the ability to turn inexpensive building blocks into value-added products. Hydrocarbons derived from crude oil, such as alkenes, alkynes, are one such class of building blocks; however, they often lack the requisite polar functional groups that typically dominate interactions between pharmaceutical agents and their biological targets. The primary objective of the proposed research is to develop new carbon–boron (C–B) bond-forming carboboration reactions of alkenes and alkynes. C–B bonds are versatile functional handles that serve as a gateway to polar functional groups commonly found in medicines, such as amines and ethers. Central to the proposal will be the application of transition metal catalysis to achieve the desired transformations. A secondary goal is to study the mechanisms of the new reactions we develop to further our understanding of the underlying catalysis and to provide insight that will be of broad interest in the field. Students joining on this project can expect to learn the fundamentals of organic synthesis and method development, the foundations of catalysis, and key principles in transition metal reactivity. Students will also gain experience with cutting edge instrumentation and lab techniques. It is anticipated that this research will lead to publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals.


    DBF: The solution to preventing or reducing cataracts without surgery?
    Dr. Cassidy Dobson
    Project Description

    The overall scientific goal of this proposal is to investigate if a protein, Disulfide Bond Forming Enzyme (DBF) has the ability to rearrange incorrectly made disulfide bonds within γ-crystallin protein aggregates, the causative agent of cataracts. Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness worldwide and account for over 51% of all visual impairments1. γ-crystallins are the primary structural proteins in the eye lens. Normally these proteins exist as single entities called monomers that have a size of ~20 kDa. However, they can assemble into larger complexes such as dimers (2 proteins, ~40 kDa) or larger complexes known as γ-crystallin aggregates. Cataracts are ultimately caused when these larger protein complexes cannot be reverted back to their monomeric components. One example of the irreversibility of the γ-crystallin proteins are when strong disulfide bonds are formed between different proteins. These intermolecular disulfide bonds are covalent, irreversible interactions between different proteins, that inhibit their ability to disassemble back to their monomeric form. This type of disulfide-mediated aggregation is not unique to cataracts but has also been observed in other diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s as well as certain cancers2.

    1. Khairallah, M. et al. Number of People Blind or Visually Impaired by Cataract and in World Regions, 1990 to 2010. Invest Ophth & Vis Scie. 2015, 56: 6762-6769.
        2. Bechtel, T., Weerapan, E., From structure to redox: the diverse functional roles of disulfides and implications in disease. Proteomics. 2017, 17: pmic.201600391.

    Relationships Between In-Class Behavior and Laboratory Tasks
    Dr. Jonathan Velasco
    Project Description

    The broad objective of this project is to find relationships between instructors' as well as students' behaviors and the specific tasks provided by laboratory activities. In addition, the project's specific aims include finding the usefulness of task analysis to create profiles of laboratory activities. Students' involvement in the research will involve becoming familiar with the analytical instruments used to investigate in-class behavior as well as task analyses, and mentoring will include introducing STEM students to chemistry and/or STEM education research regardless of experience in the area, where they will use their subject matter expertise and experience to provide insight into the data. They will also be trained on the use of statistical software as necessary as well as introduced to theoretical frameworks used for the analysis. Their products will include presentations in symposia (in-campus or out-campus as possible) as well as authorship credit in a future publication.


    Investigation of exoskeletal composition, and the surface characteristics Penicillium fellutanum
    Dr. Jim Carsella
    Project Description

    Treatment of Penicillium fellutanum with different metals and sugars changes the expression of enzymes in P. fellutanum. These enzymes are part of a system of energy regulation and storage. The enzymes are also suspected to act on the remodeling of the surface of P. fellutanum. This project uses Atomic Force Imaging and Bioanalytical techniques to determine which enzymes are increased by which metals and sugars. Correlations and models will be developed in the process of determining which factors have the greatest influence on the surface remodeling of the fungus.


    The effects of cadmium and selenium on the formation of cadmium/selenium complexes regulation of gene expression in the model species and Saccharomyces cerevisiae
    Dr. Jim Carsella
    Project Description

    Treatment of Saccharomyces cerevisiae with cadmium and selenite results in the formation of fluorescent complexes in the yeast cells. The mechanism for this formation of "quantum dots" is poorly understood. This research aims to look at the formation of these complexes and determine which enzymes are responsible for the creation of the complexes.

     

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    STEM PACK Civil Engineering Technology Projects

    Plastic applications in Transportation and Civil Engineering Infrastructures
    Dr. Hasan Faisal
    Project Description

    Hot Mix Asphalt (HMA) is one of the primary components of roadway pavement. HMA is a mixture of stone aggregates, asphalt binders, and some additives. On the other hand, in our day-to-day life plastics are an essential component. Every year, human produces over 35 million tons of plastics, where only 10% gets recycled, though the material can be employed as a strong structural component. To this end, in the current research, the students will work in a newly developed technique of employing waste plastics, unusable single-use rPE plastic such as grocery bags and shrink-wrap film that is destined for the landfill, as one of the HMA pavement components. The research going to present the technical aspects of mixing waster plastic in HMA and the pavement performance data. The data from the field, as well as the laboratory, shows that waste plastic can be used as a strong recycled material without reducing the pavement performance indicators.

    As a part of the research, the student will directly work with one/two civil engineering infrastructure industries, like EMC materials or Railway research. The students' tentative duties during the ongoing research are:

    To aid in the construction management during the paving of roads with our plastic

    Responsible for collecting from various sources, and analyzing data from these projects

    Work alongside our engineers for process optimization

    To conduct tests maybe even do some various mixes?

    Analyzing the performance data to identify the mixture susceptibility

    Next-generation transportation systems, materials, safety and engineering
    Dr. MD Islam
    Project Description

    Transportation is the largest branch of civil engineering. It includes all aspects of surface, water, air, marine, and pipe transportation. Highway geometry, pavement materials, traffic analysis, traffic safety, railway engineering, Hyperloop transportation, etc. are the focus areas of research at the CSU Pueblo. The Southern Colorado Institute of Transportation Technology (SCITT) was established in 2022 through a partnership between the state of Colorado and CSU Pueblo. The role of the SCITT is to conduct and facilitate education, training, and research on issues related to the safety, security, and innovation of railroad, ground, and intermodal transportation and general issues related to transportation problems in the state. The institute also serves as an information exchange and depository for the most current information pertaining to transportation education, research, and related issues, including the economic development of transportation technology in Colorado and nationwide. Students are to be educated, trained and exposed to different areas of transportation based on their interests and career focus.

    Impact Wall Design and Testing at the Transportation Technology Center
    Dr. MD Islam
    Project Description

    In the 1990’s a portion of one guide way was selected to be the location of a new impact wall at the Transportation Technology Center, which would allow testing to be done on the crashworthiness of rail vehicles. The impact wall itself is a large reinforced concrete barrier that was built directly on top of an existing guideway in order to use the guideway structure to sustain forces from impacts. This guideway track is approximately 2,500 feet long and slopes down toward the impact wall with a gradient of 0.86 percent. The guideway leading to the impact wall has had a railroad track built on it to allow rail vehicles enough space to gain speed before reaching the impact wall. Many different types of impact tests can be conducted using the impact wall at the TTC. Some of these tests include:

    • Passenger rail vehicle crashworthiness testing
    • Crash Energy Management (CEM) component testing
    • Tank car puncture resistance testing
    • Fuel tank puncture resistance testing

    In an effort to expand the testing capabilities of the TTC, this project aims to modify the impact track to allow road vehicles to run along the guideway into the impact wall. This will allow impact testing of road vehicles to be done in addition to rail vehicles. Students working on this project will gain analysis and design experience of the impact wall. In addition, the abovementioned testing and research of different impact testing will also be explored.

    An engineering investigation on a dynamic load test frame on rail trucks
    Dr. MD Islam
    Project Description

    The Transportation Testing Center (TTC) in Pueblo is the only federally-owned railway research and testing center in the country. It is also the largest railway testing facility in the world with over 50 miles (80 km) of test tracks. Test tracks are used for rolling stock prototype testing, type testing, homologation, and research. The site is planning for a dynamic load test frame of 1500 kip structural capacity with 2 hydraulic actuators. This frame will be used for high-impact dynamic load that may occur in high-speed rail truck. The project consists of engineering investigation of possible load, structural materials, possible distresses, and finally designing the structural components of the frame capable of running dynamic load tests on rail trucks. Student will gain research skill as well as real-life engineering analysis and design skill.

    Investigating the condition index of wooded tie in rail trucks
    Dr. MD Islam
    Project Description

    Wooden is the most popular option considering the different tying options in railroad construction. Wooden ties are hardwood and offers sturdiness and durability. Untreated hardwood rots somewhat easily when exposed to the elements. To prevent this, suppliers typically treat wooden ties with creosote. Still though, wooden tie in rail tracks undergo continuous degradation due to fatigue loading and aging. MxV Rails (one of the most famous railway-based research companies in the nation) already developed a numerical index rating protocol. This research aims to use the protocol to monitor the health of wooded tie over a 5-year period. Another aim of the research is to understand how a wood tie in the middle of a railway track may or may not affect the surrounding 5 wood ties in each direction. This research will help the rail agency to decide how to keep these wooded ties in better condition to support the overall quality of the railway track.

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    STEM PACK Engineering Projects

    Lower Extremities Exoskeleton for Humans
    Dr. Nebojsa Jaksic, Dr. Bahaa Ansaf, Dr. Jude Depalma, Dr. Trung Duong
    Project Description

    Creating a viable low-cost alternative to existing lower extremities exoskeletons. Namely, such commercially available exoskeletons cost from $80K to $180K. We are trying to create such devices for much less. We have a first prototype that may need to be fully redesigned. There are a few directions that this project can take. Including dealing with the hardware design, control system, and AI in decision making and how long and fast the next step is.

    Effect of Fluid Polarity on IPMC performance
    Dr. Bahaa Ansaf, Dr. Jude Depalma, Dr. Nebojsa Jaksic, Dr. Trung Duong
    Project Description

    The Ionic Polymer Metal Composite (IPMC) is a synthetic composite material that can exhibit extreme part deformation under a low electric field. The applications of these artificial muscles range from robotics and biomedical to environmental sciences. These polymeric muscles work in air, underwater, or any polar fluid such as blood. The proposed work is to study the response of IPMC in different work environments (Examples of polar molecules include):

    Water - H2O

    Ammonia - NH3

    Sulfur dioxide - SO2

    Hydrogen sulfide - H2S 

    Ethanol - C2H6O

    This work includes an experimentally studying the effect of work environment polarity on the IPMC strip deflection. In addition, this study will also consider the effect of the concertation of polar fluids.

    Deep learning-based semantic segmentation and applications
    Dr. Trung Duong, Dr. Jude DePalma, Dr. Bahaa Ansaf, and Dr. Nebojsa Jaksic
    Project Description

    In the field of computer vision, semantic segmentation is one of the key problems to understanding the scene at a high-level. Inferring knowledge from imagery has many applications, such as autonomous driving, human-computer interaction, virtual reality, etc. In this project, a special deep learning architecture based on the state-of-the-art semantic segmentation algorithm U-net is developed. One application will be the detection, localization, and classification of (asphalt paving or concrete) road cracks. Other applications of image segmentation will be investigated.

    AI-Based Forest Fire Alert System Using Satellite Imagery
    Dr. Bahaa Ansaf
    Project Description

    This project suggests developing an AI-based model to recognize fire in the forest using Satellite imagery. A supervised Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) will be designed and trained to classify images into two classes (Fire and NoFire). The training patterns (Images) will be created using the imagery captured by satellite forest images with superimposed synthetic fire images to create an adequate number of training patterns (examples). To more accurately depict the behavior of potential fires, we need to study wind patterns, fire behavior, and seasonal changes in selected test areas along with gathering the base images.

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    STEM PACK Math Projects

    The Science, Mathematics and Context of the Struve Geodetic Arc Survey of 1816-1855
    Dr. Bruce Lundberg
    Project Description

    This project will explore the scientific and mathematical determination of the shape of the earth, still ongoing. It will focus on the data collection and analysis in the Struve Geodetic Arc Survey. This Survey was led by astronomer Frederick Wilhelm Struve over the years 1816-1855 and over 2820 kilometers through 10 countries from Ukraine to Norway. Thirty-four of the 265 station points in 258 main measured triangles are designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These sites honor the outstanding international cooperation leading to great advances in knowledge of the earth's shape and size and topographical mapping techniques. The mentor visited two of these sites in 2021-22.

STEM NEIGHBORHOOD Research Projects

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    Current Neighborhood Projects

    Fountain Creek: Investigations of Selenium, Sulfur, and Iron species: The effects on the regulation of gene expression in the model species Physcomitrella Patens
    Dr. Carsella
    Project Description 
    Speciation plays an important role in the toxicology of elements in natural systems but due to the complexity of determining chemical species in the environment it is often overlooked. Selenium (Se) is an essential micronutrient that is supplied by diet to higher animals but presents a problem with toxicity if the dietary levels get too high. This is largely due to the lack of a fast detox mechanism in higher animals. The regulation of Se in plants is therefore of great interest as it is a control point for dietary availability of Se. Selenium also exists in two primary forms in natural lotic fresh water systems with the dominant form being selenate (Se(VI)) and the minor form being selenite (Se(IV)). This study explores the bioavailability of Se species in Physcomytrella patens. P. patens with respect to other trace metals.

     

    Superfund Project: Cancer Project - Collaborative work with University of Colorado
    Dr. Moussa Diawara, Dr. Rick Farrer, Dr. Carsella
    Project Description

    Collaboration with University of Colorado Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology Department and CSU-Pueblo. The objective of this project is to study the effects of lead, arsenic and cadmium exposure from soils found on the Pueblo Superfund site. Lead has been shown to have neurological effects; there has not been as much research to illustrate the role of lead in the development of cancer. Cadmium and arsenic have had extensive research illustrating their roles in cancer formation and little is known about the potential synergistic activity of all lead with cadmium and arsenic. This project will expose cells and insects to the elements present at the superfund site to determine the risks of residents near the superfund site – most of whom are lower income and minority community members.

    Joint funding and collaboration provided by Mentoring Access Platforms in STEM, University of Colorado Boulder Office of Outreach and Engagement and University of Colorado Cancer Center.

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