The Auburn University Research Blog

Home » 2015 » February

Monthly Archives: February 2015


Auburn Experts Pave the Way

David TimmDavid Timm, Brasfield & Gorrie professor in Auburn University’s Department of Civil Engineering, served as a keynote speaker at the 2nd International Conference on Sustainable Urbanization in Hong Kong in December.

Timm’s keynote address, “Pavement Design: Past, Present and a Sustainable Future,” provided a comprehensive view of pavement design in the U.S. and featured perpetual pavement research findings from the National Center for Asphalt Technology Pavement Test Track in Opelika, Ala.

In his presentation, Timm stressed the importance of pavements in healthy infrastructure. The growing demand for higher-performing, longer-lasting pavements has led pavement engineers to embrace mechanistic-empirical approaches. Timm’s presentation evaluated these approaches which more readily accommodate innovation in construction, materials and better prediction of pavement performance over time.

The international conference, hosted by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, included 300 presentations representing 30 countries. The conference aimed to provide an international forum for the scientific and engineering community to examine the challenges arising from the massive urbanization programs underway throughout the world and to find effective solutions to ensure stable urbanization globally. 

by Valerie Cashin


Auburn Speaks SERIES Now Available Print-On-Demand


As a land-grant university, Auburn University serves the state and its people as a discoverer of new knowledge and ideas, and as a repository of science, literature, history, art, and culture. Every day, Auburn experts add to that store of knowledge–developing new processes, materials, and technologies along the way. They then take this expertise and focus it on real-world challenges and problems. In putting good ideas to work, Auburn researchers improve quality of life, strengthen the economy, and help keep us safe and secure.

Because this aspect of Auburn University is little known and often not well understood, Auburn Speaks seeks to translate and make accessible the sometimes dense and mysterious language of research, and to capture Auburn’s role in addressing the increasingly complex issues facing our state, nation and world. Produced by the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development, Auburn Speaks is an annual book series focusing on a specific research topic of interest to a public audience.

To date, we have produced three issues in the series. Released in April of 2012, the inaugural issue, Auburn Speaks: The Oil Spill of 2010 is devoted to chronicling Auburn University’s research related to the catastrophic oil spill in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. Released in the spring of 2013, the second issue, Auburn Speaks: On Water, seeks to provide readers with insight into the breadth and depth of water-related research and creative scholarship at Auburn. The third issue, Auburn Speaks: On Food Systems was released in the spring of 2014 and focuses on food, food-related topics, and hunger.

We are pleased to announce that we have partnered with EBSCO Media to make each issue of Auburn Speaks available through their print-on-demand service.  Each issue is now newly available in the same beautiful form and style as its initial release.

It is a privilege to share our research story with you. Through Auburn Speaks you are able to see firsthand what motivates our talented experts, to hear about the challenges they face, and gain an understanding of how their commitment and perseverance have led to innovation and discovery.  With your purchase of Auburn Speaks, you help fuel the engines of innovation and foster opportunities for partnership by sharing the work of Auburn experts throughout the state and region.

To purchase copies for yourself or to share with friends, visit the new Auburn Speaks store at:

Auburn University and the University of Massachusetts Medical School team with French Biotech Company to treat neurologic disorder in children

Cat and Child

Auburn University and the University of Massachusetts Medical (UMMS) school have partnered with Paris-based biotech firm, Lysogene, in studies related to GM1 glandliosidosis.

GM1 gangliosidosis is a member of a group of about 40 related disorders that result from dysfunction of lysosomal enzymes or related proteins. GM1 is a neurologic condition of children that is typically fatal by two years of age. An inherited disorder, GM1 progressively destroys nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, and is a neurodegenerative disease much like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. There is no cure or effective treatment available and it affects one in every 100,000 to 200,000 newborns.

For more than 40 years, Scott Richey Research Center  (SRRC) in Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine has researched GM1 gangliosidosis in felines, as GM1 also occurs naturally in cats. The goal of SRRC’s GM1 research is to find a cure for feline GM1 and, through research partners, successfully apply similar therapies for application in humans.

One of the most successful experimental treatments found to date is gene therapy, using a non-harmful viral vector (AAV) to produce missing enzymes, in this case beta-galactosidase. In feline trials at SRRC, it has successfully restored beta-galactosidase levels to normal, prevented storage of GM1 ganglioside, and quadrupled the lifespan of GM1 cats as survival benefits continue to increase.

Auburn University, Lysogene, and the UMMS will work together on preclinical studies related to AAV gene therapy.   According to a press release from Lysogene, the collaboration will combine Lysogene’s outstanding translational and clinic expertise in gene therapy for central nervous system disorders with the unique preclinical expertise and infrastructure of UMMS and with Auburn’s ability to design and text innovative AAV-based gene therapy approaches to treatment.

To learn more about this collaboration, visit:

To learn more about Auburn’s Scott Richey Research Center, visit:

Alabama Oyster Social a celebration of state’s oyster industry and Auburn research

oyster research

“This event was a collaborative effort to support those who make their living from the Gulf and the Auburn researchers who help them succeed.”

Chef David Bancroft is tireless in his efforts to find the best ingredients for the fresh, new interpretations of Southern classics he cooks up in his kitchen at Acre restaurant in Auburn. He’s so committed to sourcing those ingredients as close to his kitchen as possible that he grows as many as he can on the one-acre parcel the restaurant occupies on Glenn Avenue. However, in a complex, modern food system, it can sometimes be difficult to access, say, Alabama seafood, just in time to introduce a special dish to his restaurant’s hip, ever-evolving menu.

This is a lesson he learned the hard way last winter when he decided to throw a party in honor of the lowly oyster. Hoping to take advantage of the peak in oyster flavor and texture that occurs when Alabama’s coastal waters cool down in winter, and knowing that a handful of folks on the coast were farming the salty bivalves, Bancroft attempted to procure thousands of them for his event. To his disappointment, the system wasn’t in place to bring in the number he needed just in time for his first oyster social, and he resorted to sourcing the main ingredient from Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay.

Regardless of their provenance, the oysters were a hit, and the social was such a success that the chef decided to host a reprise – the Alabama Oyster Social – a sold out event at Acre restaurant Jan. 30. Obviously, Alabama-farmed oysters were the stars of the show.

Thanks to a long-time family connection, Bancroft knew just where to find the help he needed to get a ton of oysters from the coast to his kitchen for this year’s event: the Auburn University School of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences. Bancroft’s family and SFAAS Interim Director John Jensen go way back, 35 years to be exact, to the beginning of Jensen’s work with Paul Kennedy, Bancroft’s maternal grandfather and a catfish and tilapia farmer in Hartford, Alabama. Having witnessed SFAAS researchers’ work on his granddad’s farm, Bancroft knew the value of their efforts to establish new markets for sustainably grown products and to streamline processes for the Alabamians who produce them. He also knew about the researchers’ efforts to get oyster farming off the ground – literally and figuratively – in communities long dependent on the state’s wild fisheries.

One of the leaders in Auburn’s oyster farming efforts is Bill Walton, a fisheries and aquaculture expert and former part-time Cape Cod oyster farmer who relocated to the Gulf Coast five years ago. As leader of the Auburn University Shellfish Laboratory on Dauphin Island and a specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Walton hopes to one day see “branded” oysters coming from each of the farms he’s working with – each known for a unique taste, texture, appearance or some other characteristic, and each sought after by chefs like Bancroft and those who will join him in serving up the shellfish at the social. The social will feature a variety of Alabama premium oysters, including Isle Dauphines, Mon Louis’, Murder Points, Point aux Pins and Southern Pearls, and a number of the oyster farmers and their families will be a part of the festivities.

So, what exactly is an oyster social?

“It’s not a sit-down meal,” said Bancroft, who has recruited some of the South’s most acclaimed young chefs to develop a menu that will not disappoint. “It’s a party for a purpose.”

Chef Adam Evans of Atlanta’s The Optimist, Chef Jason Stanhope of FIG in Charleston and fellow Alabama chefs Rob McDaniel and Wesley True helped Bancroft transform the farm-fresh delicacies into bite-sized dishes deserving of celebration.

In addition to oysters, the event featured tastings from Southern beverage makers Cathead Vodka, Back Forty Beer, Sazerac and others. While enjoying food, drink and live country music from Mobile natives BB Palmer and Kudzu, guests may not realized exactly what the purpose of the party was. But Bancroft stressed that the whole idea was to highlight the quality of Alabama-farmed oysters and the value of related research Auburn fisheries is doing.

“This event was a collaborative effort to support those who make their living from the Gulf and the Auburn researchers who help them succeed,” Bancroft said. “These colleagues and I in the food and beverage industry understand the ecological and economic value of sustainable fisheries, and in particular, we wanted to highlight the quality of sustainably farmed oysters being produced on Alabama’s coast.”

by Mary Catherine Gaston

Auburn University program promotes worldwide mathematics research in southern Africa

Overtoun Jenda made a promise that he would increase the presence of American mathematical research in Africa and capitalize on an opportunity to create U.S.-Africa collaboration through Auburn University and Southern Africa Mathematical Sciences Association, or SAMSA.

When Jenda, associate provost for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs and professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, attended a conference in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 2009 held by SAMSA, he was the only representative from the United States.

When he returned to Auburn, Jenda, along with Ash Abebe, A.J. Meir and Peter Johnson of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, together with southern Africa mathematicians, began to brainstorm and developed what would become the Masamu Program, meaning mathematics in the southern African region.

The group submitted a proposal for funding to the National Science Foundation and received a grant for a two-year pilot program. The first Masamu Advanced Study Institute, or MASI, was held in 2011 in Livingstone, Zambia.

The program was so successful that the department approached the NSF for more support and was granted funding for an additional five years. The NSF funding covers the cost of U.S. participants, while African mathematicians use their own sources of funding and sponsorships.

“The main purpose of the program is to promote U.S.-African collaboration on research,” said Jenda. “There are very good mathematicians in Africa, and the Masamu Program offers several research areas for faculty and students to work together.”

Each year, a MASI event is held in one of the 15 participating countries: Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar and Uganda.

The institutes allow students and faculty from around the world to form teams and share research in the areas of algebra and geometry, analysis and topology, coding theory and information theory, graph theory, epidemiological modeling, numerical approximation of solutions of partial differential equations, mathematics of finance and statistics.

Faculty including Abebe, Jenda, Johnson, Erkan Nane and Kevin Phelps, from the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, serve as research team co-leaders alongside mathematicians from Africa.

“In some areas such as epidemiological modeling, the Africans have different approaches, so it’s very exciting to see how these researchers work together on problems,” said Jenda.

At its start, the program consisted of 41 research faculty, but has grown to 57 and includes Africans, Canadians, Europeans and Americans.

“Our 2014 MASI in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, was the biggest yet, and more than half of the keynote speakers there were from Auburn,” said Jenda. “A large group of Auburn students attended, and there is definitely an increase in participation from promising female mathematicians, too.”

Masamu Program participants have published research findings, completed dissertations and theses, and received appointments to fellowship, postdoctoral and faculty positions in the United States and Africa all while making new academic connections across the world.

Jenda, director of the program along with Abebe and Johnson, co-directors, organize and plan all facets of the Masamu Program through the business office of the Office Diversity and Multicultural Affairs.

The 2015 MASI will be held Nov. 20-29 in Swakopmund, Namibia, and the directors anticipate more participation than ever.

“For the future, the biggest thing is how we can sustain this great program. We hope to make this a permanent part of the College of Sciences and Mathematics and Auburn University,” said Jenda. “We’re also working to come up with new and innovative ideas so we can get continued support from NSF and other sources.”

For more information about the Masamu Program, go to

By Lindsay Miles

Pharmacy faculty, engineering student find common ground in research collaboration

Research Collaboration

Rusty Arnold, an associate professor in Auburn’s Harrison School of Pharmacy, believes in academic units working together and crossing departmental lines to further research.

That collaboration does not stop at the faculty level as Arnold, a recipient of the President’s Collaborative Units Award, also benefits from the work of undergraduate students such as chemical engineering major Christy Pickering.

Pickering, a senior from Hazel Green, Alabama, was recently awarded a $5,000 Gateway to Research Scholarship from the American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education for her work in Arnold’s lab, called “Development and Application of Gold‐Lipidic Nanocomposites to Enhance Chemotherapeutic Delivery and Release.” She was one of seven recipients nationally.

The purpose of the scholarship is to support faculty-mentored research in the pharmaceutical sciences. For Pickering, an active student who has been a member of the Auburn University Marching Band the last four years, the funding will assist with tuition and research expenses in her final year at Auburn.

“Christy is very intelligent, extremely motivated and very thorough. What is unique about her is that most of the undergraduate honor students that I work with are pre-med and she is chemical engineering,” said Arnold. “She has a clear vision that she wants to go into research, she wants to go into academia.”

Pickering is in her second year in Arnold’s lab, coming on board shortly after he arrived on campus. For someone who knew she wanted to work in the medical field, it was a perfect match.

“I applied because I thought what Dr. Arnold did sounded really cool – working with cancer, looking at chemo – it just sounded like a project I would really be interested in,” said Pickering. “So I sat down with him and talked about the project, and he took on me and four other undergrads. My project, from the start, was set up to be a very engineering-based pharmaceutical project. It has been a really neat experience getting to work with him.”

For Arnold, Pickering stood out right away as someone who would bring a new approach and think outside of the box in his lab. Bringing on someone with a chemical engineering background has added a new perspective to his research.

“What immediately caught my interest in Christy is when I described some of the challenges with the formulations, she was asking have you tried composites, have you tried these other things. She was immediately thinking about how to solve the problems,” said Arnold. “She has been able to take a system we are working with and propose changes that are actually going to allow us to deliver more than one drug, use more than one imaging modality, and hopefully be able to improve therapy. Using her background in engineering, she is able to add value in an area that my lab did not have expertise in. Even though she is an undergraduate, some of the ideas she has are very different than some of the approaches we would use.”

Part of Pickering’s research is working with liposomes, small spherical particles commonly used for chemotherapeutic delivery because they capitalize on a unique quality of tumors called the enhanced permeability and retention effect, or the EPR Effect. In order for tumors to grow quickly, they stimulate the production of blood vessels, but the quick growth causes them to not be as organized as they are in the rest of the body and the cell wall is more porous.

“The cells aren’t fully connected in some places, which means there are holes that things can transport through,” said Pickering. “The holes are very small, but big enough that liposomes or drugs can pass through into the tumor cells.”

Liposomes, like the ones that Pickering works with in Arnold’s lab, can circulate the body for a long time. When they get to a tumor, holes in the tumor vessels allow the liposomes to pass from the blood into the space outside the blood vessel where the tumor is located.

“We can put these long-circulating liposomes into the body and just let them go through the blood stream until they passively accumulate in the tumor site,” said Pickering. “The treatment called Doxil is a liposome with the chemotherapeutic drug doxorubicin encapsulated within it.

“So, using the EPR Effect is a passive means of targeting a tumor because you are just relying on the liposomes to naturally accumulate there by passing through the blood vessel. What we are trying to do is use active targeting where there will be something on the liposomes that actually targets the cancer cell and not the other cells in the body.”

Specifically, what Pickering has been working on is using the liposomes with the doxorubicin as a treatment method, but also incorporating gold nanoparticles as an imaging contrast agent to be able to look at the tumors.

“If we can put drug and gold nanoparticles in a liposome at the same time and send it to the tumor cell, then we can image the tumor cell at the same time as we are killing the tumor cell, so it gives us combined diagnostic and therapeutic capabilities in one particle,” said Pickering.

“It is an exciting experience to work on a project that has the potential to help people fighting cancer, and I have learned so much though the challenges involved with this research. I am very grateful to Dr. Arnold for the opportunity to work in his lab and to AFPE and the Office of Undergraduate Research for the fellowships that allow me to continue my research.”

By: Matt Crouch

To learn more about the Office of Undergraduate Research, visit: