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Research Areas at The Gatton Academy

One of the advantages of attending The Gatton Academy is access to participate in undergraduate-level research in at WKU.  Additionally, participation in a research project is the threshold experience that is required for many of the high-level scholarships and experiences our students compete for.  Being a part of a mentored research project, working in a WKU lab, and developing strong relationships with professors is part of the unique value that can be a part of your Academy experience.  Getting involved in research early can set up a row of opportunities throughout your Gatton experience and beyond.  Participation in research is optional.  However, it should be noted that research is a requirement for all Gatton Academy students who wish to receive the recognition of Gatton Community Scholar at graduation. 


Agriculture: Interests in turf grass and golf course management, swine, veterinary, dairy, beef cattle, equine, agronomy, grapevine/vineyard, and horticulture can be met through this department.  Past projects range from organic fertilizer solutions to Kentucky’s hemp industry.

Interests in ecological and biological plant functions can be met in this department, as well as Biology.

Architecture: A hands-on department that works on actual projects in home design from drafting stage with Auto CAD to the construction site.  Past example projects include the research and conceptualization of architectural designs ranging from bio-mimicry in architecture to the sound design of great music halls to the micro and nano-machining of materials for aerospace applications. 

Astronomy: After finishing a pre-requisite course in the first semester, Academy students are invited to assist in actual research projects with one of WKU’s core astronomy faculty.  Past students have worked with the NASA CANDELS study, on studies of dark matter, and on studies of planetary nebulae.

Biodiversity: Encompasses interests in ecology and conservation.  WKU Biodiversity studies may include in-the-field projects at the Green River Preserve.  Past projects have centered upon blackberry studies, fish, native grassland restoration, restoring forest wildlife corridors, bioacoustics, water studies, endangered mussel species in the Green River, erosion, and field mice.  Another fascinating topic blends mathematics and bio-diversity, researching how matrices and mathematical modeling can predict and illustrate food webs.

Bioinformatics: This emerging field overlaps the fields of biology, computer science, and math to find new ways of analyzing and interpreting collected data.  Students use software tools to study genetic sequences.  All students in the Genome Discovery and Exploration Program spend half of the program immersed in a bioinformatics environment.

Biotechnology: A wide variety of interests can be met in this field, including those who are interested in future medical careers, molecular and cell biology, as well as genetics and genome annotation.  Over the past several years, numerous Gatton Academy students have participated in the Genome Discovery and Exploration Program during their first year of Gatton Academy study.  This year-long research cohort spans the junior year at the Gatton Academy.  The program features sponsorship from the nationally-prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute, features a biotechnology fall semester, a bioinformatics-based spring semester, and results in a citation of authorship on the National Institute of Health’s GenBank database of annotated bacteriophage.

Links to Videos on the Genome Discovery Project

  1. Introduction
  2. Students
  3. Teachers
  4. Successes

Students interested in medicine might also consider research projects in Kinesiology, Recreation and Sport; Public Health; and Chemistry.

Chemistry: Many opportunities are available throughout the department for those with chemistry interests.  Studies in metal organic frameworks, nanomaterials/nanoparticles for targeted pharmaceutical delivery to systems of the body, solar cell development, materials chemistry for optimization of new materials like graphene, and cancer-fighting research are examples from the past.  In this department, you might learn skills like spectroscopy, electrophoresis, and kinetics.  Students with Chemistry interests that overlap with Geography and Geology interests may also want to investigate the Geology department’s mineral analysis lab or the Geography department’s two water resource labs.

Communication Sciences and Communication Disorders: Projects in Communication Sciences and Disorders can include how communication differs across cultures, audiology, hearing, and speech pathology.

Computer Science: Past projects include cryptography, graph theory, knot theory, cyber security, robotics (voice recognition, networking), better manipulation of 3-D viewing, and the creation (conceptualizing, programming/coding) of mobile apps.

Engineering (Civil): Design and construction of large-scale structures are studied.  Expertise of WKU faculty members in this department include stormwater/flood management systems, materials testing, wind forecasting, and the engineering of stronger material.

Engineering (Electrical): Study of electrical and circuitry systems are studied.  Learn skills in networking, circuiting, and robotic systems.  An example project involves optimizing the electrical efficiency of large, household appliances like washers and dryers.  Students must have a pre-requisite course during their first semester before they can begin research.

Engineering (Mechanical): Applies design and theory to the creation of mechanical systems.  Example projects involves the creation of a quad-copter drone for aerial photography applications, studying the haptic responses of wood, and the heating/cooling efficiencies of large scale public buildings.  Students must have a pre-requisite course during their first semester. 

Geography: Includes a variety of projects that center on how humans interact with our planet and its changes.  Projects exist in GIS (Geographic Information Systems), cave mapping, meteorology (analysis of weather data, forecasting, forensic meteorology, and climate change), cave and karst study, water resources, sustainability, climate change, land use studies, and eco-studies.

Geology: Projects can range from planetary geology to volcanism to local studies on Kentucky’s elaborate network of cave and karst.  Students with cave and karst interests and an interest in incorporating occasional field studies should also consider the research work performed by WKU’s Hoffman Environmental Research Institute.

Kinesiology, Recreation and Sport: Projects in the KRS department involve exercise science and how metabolic, musculoskeletal, and cardiorespiratory systems impact human health and disease.

Manufacturing: This department features a fantastic robotics and manufacturing lab to involve students in the design and construction of new products.  Conceptualize and draw out a new product, code it, and then produce it from raw materials.  One past project has involved micro and nano-machining to manipulate materials for aerospace engineering applications.

Mathematics: Past and current Academy projects in this department have included work with mathematical biology (modeling of oxygen therapy on wound healing), studying a particular theory (i.e., knot theory), and finding new ways to alter matrices for teaching purposes.  Students with mathematics interests that overlap with biology and computer science interests may wish to also look at Bioinformatics.  Students with overlapping biodiversity interests may wish to forge their interests to study food webs.

Nursing: Researchers in nursing examine the changing health care needs of a global society.

Physics: Projects in this department may involve materials study, applied physics, or theoretical physics.  WKU is home to the NOVA Center, housing a powerful scanning electron microscope, and the Applied Physics Institute where projects take on the demands of our current world ranging from cyber-security to the creation of long-lasting, small, and lightweight batteries that can be sent with spacecraft. 

Psychology/Psychological Sciences: An ideal department for those students who wish to explore a more social science.  Past projects include examining the social lives of those with autism, cognition studies and developmental/child psychology studies, gender differences on morality, visual perception in three-dimensional spaces, what motivates students, and even sports fan behavior.

Public Health: Projects in Public Health examine existing and emerging health concerns at the local and global levels.  Biostatistics, epidemiology, environmental health, international health, nutrition, and biomedicine can all be studied with mentors from this department.

Don’t see your interest here? 

This list is by no means exhaustive.  If new students’ interests do not fit neatly into the categories above, describe your interests in the New Student Research Survey (which is sent after acceptances have been sent out in March each year).  The options available to our students at WKU are vast.

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 Last Modified 10/9/18