UAB couple individually place first in undergraduate research categories at the 100th annual Alabama Academy of Science Conference

Dating since October of 2021, UAB juniors Burnett and Criswell placed first in their respective research categories at the 100th annual Alabama Academy of Science Conference.

Allyson and Logan 1Logan Burnett and Allyson Criswell
Photo credit: Allyson Criswell
A University of Alabama at Birmingham couple placed first, among other UAB award winners, at the 100th Annual Alabama Academy of Science Conference, held at Samford University on March 9.

Logan Burnett and Allyson Criswell met at UAB during their freshman year in Honors Calculus II. Both members of the UAB Honors College, Burnett and Criswell have been together since October 2021.

Burnett is a first-generation college student majoring in physics with minors in mathematics, chemistry and mechanical engineering. A native of Helena, Alabama, Burnett was awarded first-place undergraduate presenter/speaker for his research presentation on calculating the Hubbard U parameter, which is used to help account for the effects of strongly correlated electrons in materials.

“There is extremely limited literature on the Hubbard U values for rare-earth metals,” Burnett said. “My goal is to calculate these values and make them available to other researchers so that they can improve their own DFT calculations for rare-earth metals.”

Burnett accredits much of his success in research to his professors Cheng-Chien Chen, Ph.D., and Renato Camata, Ph.D., who serve as his principal investigator and undergraduate physics adviser, respectively. Burnett recognizes his friend and mentor Adam Smith, a graduate student under Chen who Burnett says has had a crucial role in his development as a researcher.

“The UAB Physics Department has given me the opportunity to pursue research in a way that I never knew was possible as an undergraduate,” Burnett said. “It felt very rewarding to see all the long hours of research and preparation come to fruition.”

Burnett is vice president of the UAB Society of Physics. In mid-April, Burnett will be attending another conference, the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, where he will be presenting his work to research professionals from all over the United States. This summer, he will be participating in the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology Summer Research Program.

Learn more about opportunities in the UAB Department of Physics here.

Burnett acknowledges just how much his relationship with Criswell has aided in his scholastic achievements.

“There are often times when most people would be irritated with the amount of work I try to squeeze into every day, but Allyson has been nothing but supportive of my ambitions,” Burnett said. “She was a very important part of my preparation for the presentation, and practicing my presentation with her over and over again helped immensely.”

Criswell is a junior majoring in biomedical sciences with a minor in mathematics. A native of Huntsville, Alabama, Criswell was awarded first place in the Biological Sciences Undergraduate Poster Competition.

Criswell’s research focuses on ovarian cancer and the CD44-HA pathway. She says ovarian cancer has an only 50 percent five-year survival rate, and tens of thousands of women will be diagnosed with this disease every year. Criswell says cancer has impacted her family deeply, which ignited her interest in the research on how to confront the dangerous disease.

“The large-scale focus is to understand how this pathway plays a role in making a tumor more aggressive and how it relates to developing chemoresistance,” Criswell said. “We hope to identify potential targets to enhance treatment and build up the understanding of this disease so it can be better fought.”

A member of the Sewell-Loftin Lab in the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center, Criswell works predominantly under her principal investigator, Mary Kathryn Sewell-Loftin, Ph.D., and predoctoral student Maranda Tidwell. Criswell says the research is helping contribute to Tidwell’s thesis project surrounding the CD44-HA response to mechanical strain and ligand presentation.

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“The faculty at UAB have been the most helpful and integral piece of my journey thus far,” Criswell said. “I have appreciated the level of dedication the faculty has to their students and have benefited greatly from their attention to detail and to my success.”

Criswell also acknowledges just how much her relationship with Burnett has helped propel her to success.

“While making our presentations for AAS, we were able to turn practicing these presentations into a hilarious and helpful night of fun and constructive criticism,” Criswell said. “I know that, even when he is pointing out a flaw on my research or with my delivery, he is doing it so he can help me and push me to be my best, and I think I do the same for him.”

Among the other UAB award recipients were:

  • Curdajah Bonner, a senior criminal justice major from Butler, Alabama, won first place in the podium presentations section for her research on "Social Distribution of Direct and Indirect Exposure to Major Discrimination among Black Adults.” Bonner hopes to continue to do research in the realm of racial disparities, crime control, and incarceration. Bonner is also a member of the UAB Honors College.
  • Jordin Payton, a native of Hoover, Alabama, won the poster competition in the STEM Education Section. Payton is currently pursuing a master's and bachelor's degree as a part of the Accelerated Bachelor's/Master's Program in Biology at UAB. Payton is a member of the UAB Honors College.
  • Jade Mellor, a native of Arlington, Virginia, is a Ph.D. student in the biology department. Mellor won the Graduate Student Poster Award with her poster titled "Examining the Presence and Distribution of a Potent Neurotoxin in Rock Rattlesnakes (Crotalus lepidus)."
  • Sloan Almehmi, a native of New Cumberland, is a Ph.D. in the Department of Biology who won first place for posters in the STEM education division.
  • Renjith Rajan, an international student from India, currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Materials Engineering received the second-place prize for paper presentation in the Environmental and Earth Sciences session, and the third for his poster presentation in the Materials Science and Engineering Special Symposium.
  • Green, a graduate student in the paper presentation in biological sciences category
  • David McMahan, a graduate student in the poster presentation environment and earth science category.