Faculty Name:
Amanda Bakian


Faculty College:


Project Description:

**This project is a part of the Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR), which provides undergraduate students with an intensive 10-week research experience under the mentorship of a University of Utah faculty member. SPUR 2021 begins on May 26 and ends on August 5. If you are interested in this project, please review all program information on the SPUR site. If you wish to apply to this project, you must apply using the SPUR 2021 application.**

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States with the national economic costs of suicide approximated to be $53 billion annually. While suicide’s causes are complex, suicide clusters in families and it is widely hypothesized that interactions between an underlying genetic predisposition and environmental factors are in suicide’s causal pathway. We recently reported a heightened risk of suicide following short-term exposure to fine particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide among all suicides in Salt Lake County, Utah from 2000-2010. Similar findings have been replicated in culturally, meteorologically, and geographically diverse regions of the world including Japan, China, Korea, and Belgium. While the biological mechanisms underlying ambient air pollution exposure’s association with suicide have yet to be well-elucidated, growing evidence implicates a role for inflammation and oxidative stress. In addition to ambient air pollution, aeropollens (i.e. pollen grains located in the air) are another potential environmental exposure linked to suicide mortality that may elicit an inflammatory response to increase risk. If so, then both ambient air pollution and aeropollens represent modifiable risk factors for suicide mortality thereby providing opportunities for intervention. If so, it is important to understand comprehensively the association between aeropollens and suicide death. The relationship between aeropollens and suicide mortality, however, has yet to be investigated in a U.S. population.

This project is funded by a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (PIs: Sara Grineski and Tim Collins). In addition to being part of SPUR, it is also part of the HAPPIEST programTHIS MEANS THAT IT IS OPEN ONLY TO UNIVERSITY OF UTAH APPLICANTS FROM RACIAL/ETHNIC MINORITY BACKGROUNDS. Two students will be selected to work on this project together.

Opportunity Type:

This is a paid research position

Student Role:

The data elements required to conduct this project are currently available including suicide deaths from 2000-2019, measures of aeropollens from 2000-2019, ambient air pollutant concentrations from 2000-2019, and meteorological variables from 2000-2019. As this project is in the early stages, the student can expect to: conduct a literature review on the topic of aeropollens and suicidal behavior and mortality, assist with data preparation and management, assist with study design, conduct or assist with conducting descriptive analyses investigating changes in aeropollen levels and suicide death overtime in Utah, and conduct or assist with conducting a more complex case-crossover or time-series study to examine the relationship between aeropollen concentrations and risk of suicide mortality. The student will also have the opportunity to participate in weekly lab meetings with other faculty, staff, and students. Remote Contingency Plan: The proposed project will be conducted using existing data; no in-person contact is required. The student must have access to a computer and be willing to meet regularly over the Zoom.

Student Benefits:

At the conclusion of the summer program, the student will have completed a thorough literature review on the topic of aeroallergens and suicidal behavior and mortality, which will serve as the foundation of an introduction paper for a future journal article. The student will have gained a comprehensive understanding of what is known about aeropollens and suicide as well as current knowledge gaps. Further, the student will have gained experience with some statistical analysis approaches and with the interpretation of results. Most importantly, participation on this project will result in improvement in foundational skills for career development including writing and analytical skills.

Project Duration:

35-40 hours per week on research and program-related activities, begins May 26, 2021, and ends August 5, 2021

Minimum Requirements:

In addition to being part of SPUR, this project is also part of the HAPPIEST program. THIS MEANS THAT IT IS OPEN ONLY TO UNIVERSITY OF UTAH APPLICANTS FROM RACIAL/ETHNIC MINORITY BACKGROUNDS. Admission to the program is competitive. Applicants must meet all of the following criteria: 1) be a matriculated, degree-seeking undergraduate student in the Fall 2021 semester (beginning or continuing college career in Fall 2021 and not graduating before December 2021; concurrent enrollment while in high school does not meet this eligibility requirement). Applicants do not need to be a University of Utah student. 2) eligible to work in the United States: If you are a University of Utah Dreamer (with or without DACA), you are eligible to participate. If you are a Dreamer from a different institution: If you have DACA, you are eligible to participate. If you do not have DACA, you are able to participate and gain research experience, but might not be able to be compensated. For more information, please contact Megan Shannahan at megan.shannahan@utah.edu or 801-581-2478. If you are an international student or scholar, you must either a) be a degree-seeking undergraduate student at an American institution of higher education and verify with your institution’s international center that your visa allows you to participate in this program, OR b) possess documentation that establishes your eligibility to work in the United States (if you hold US citizenship, it is likely you have these documents). 3) able to commit to approximately 35-40 hours per week of employment at the University of Utah for the entire duration of the program (May 26-August 5, 2021). 4) at least 18 years old by May 24, 2021 (required if you wish to use on-campus housing; preferred if you will not be using on-campus housing). Please note that no previous college coursework or previous research experience is required.