Potential Research Projects

Here is a list of potential thesis topics that are currently available.  Please contact the professor associated with each project for more information.

Dr. Aaron Pierce (aaron.pierce@nicholls.edu):

  1. Barrier Island Research: The study will focus on mammalian predators and their impacts on the reproductive success of breeding waterbirds. This will involve survey techniques for both mammals and waterbirds, nest monitoring, and possible mammalian predator removal.  The study will be conducted on the Isles Derenieres Barrier Island Refuge, approximately 20 miles by boat from Cocodrie, LA. The graduate student is expected to live at the temporary camp built on the refuge for weeks at a time during the field season. Living conditions are primitive and the conditions include high heat, humidity, and insects.  Applicants should be physically fit, willing to endure harsh field conditions, have experience in avian/mammalian research, and boating experience is recommended.

Dr. Gary LaFleur (gary.lafleur@nicholls.edu):

  1. Isolation of the neurotoxin from gar ooplasm
  2. A comparison of frog reproductive behavior in upper and lower Barataria Estuary
  3. Effects of environmental hormones on frog calls
  4. Determining the Vtg cDNA sequence of gar vitellogenins
  5. A comparison of Barrier Island Resources using unmanned aerial vehicles

Dr. Raj Boopathy (Ramaraj.Boopathy@nicholls.edu):

  1. Cellulosic Ethanol Production:  Research in this grant is focused on producing bio-ethanol from sugarcane crop residues such as bagasse and sugarcane leaf.  Students will be involved in pre-treatment of biomass, enzymatic saccharification, selection of microbial cultures, and optimization of fermentation for maximum ethanol yield.  This project is funded by the Department of Energy (DOE).
  2. Anaerobic Digestion of Shrimp Wastewater: Anaerobic digestion is one of the oldest processes used for the stablization of sludges.  It involves the decomposition of organic and inorganic matter in the absence of molecular oxygen.  In this process, the organic materials and biological sludges are converted to methane and CO2 under anaerobic condition.  The research is specifically to treat shrimp aquaculture wastewater for reduction of nutrients, solids, and salts in the shrimp sludge.  Students will be trained on microbiology, analytical chemistry, wastewater system design, water quality, and shrimp aquaculture.  This project is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Dr. Rajkumar Nathanial (Rajkumar.nathanial@nicholls.edu):

  1. Isolating and characterizing anti-microbial peptides from fish blood: Anti-microbial peptides are ubiquitous and have the potential to be used as therapeutics. This project aims to isolate and characterize some of these peptides.
  2. Characterizing fish complement activity: Complement proteins are effectors of the immune system that help control infections by causing bacterial cell lysis.  While mammalian complement is well studied, very little is known about complement from fish. This project aims to characterize complement activity in various fish.
  3. Determining colonization rates of Staphylococcus aureus in Nasal Samples of Nursing students during Clinical rotation: It is known that Staphylococcus aureus can be problematic as a nosocomial infection.  This is an ongoing study that follows the colonization pattern of Nicholls Nursing students as they rotate through various clinical units to determine high risk areas as well as factors that may contribute to colonization by this organism.
  4. Characterizing Staphylococcus virulence mechanism: Antibiotic resistance can be transferred by specific genetic markers such as methicillin resistance in Staphylococcus being transferred by the movement of the SCCmec mobile element.  This is an ongoing study to track the movement of such elements within a given population over time.
  5. Microbial source tracking of environmental waters: Human associated sewage contamination of environmental waters is difficult to perform as many of the indicator organisms are also found in the gut of other species.  This project aims to evaluate 3 potentially new markers for possible use as indicators of anthropogenic sewage.

Dr. Quenton Fontenot (quenton.fontenot@nicholls.edu)

Larval Fish Ecology:  The study will focus on the distribution of larval and juvenile fishes of the upper Barataria Estuary.  Results of this study will be compared to a previous study conducted in 2007.  The project will involve the use of several Plexiglas light traps during night time hours.  The applicant should be physically fit and able to endure long nights, inclement weather, and insects.  Boat experience preferred.