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USU CAAS Students Present Research on Utah's Capitol Hill

Three students from Utah State University’s College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences traveled to Salt Lake City to present their research at the Research on Capitol Hill event on February 28.

Boston Swan, Tess Armbrust and Canyon Neal shared results from their research projects with legislators at this annual celebration of undergraduate research at USU and the University of Utah, held in the rotunda of the Utah State Capitol.

As a freshman in the Department of Plants, Soils, and Climate, Swan became interested in research that examines how different types of light affect the growth of plants. She did a major overhaul of the photobiology research system on campus, resulting in a state-of-the-art system that has become the home of several experimental studies. She designed and constructed the growth chambers herself and has continued her research work throughout her time at USU.

Swan presented the research she completed with Professor Bruce Bugbee, who is known internationally for his work on growing plants in controlled environments, including aboard spacecraft. Swan’s project demonstrates that when blue light increases, plant growth decreases. These findings could have implications for growing food in space, urban farming and vertical farming.

“The discoveries I am making will have consequences for food production now and in the future,” Swan said. “That is why I find research so captivating. It has long-term implications for the world food supply.”

Swan was honored as the 2017-18 CAAS Undergraduate Researcher of the Year. See a short video about her research and the lab at

Armbrust’s and Neal’s research focuses on how diet can affect inflammation and cancer in the gut. The project they are currently working on with Associate Professor Abby Benninghoff, in the Department of Animal, Dairy and Veterinary Sciences, explores specifically how blackberries could decrease the risk of colorectal cancer.

Working in a research lab has been the highlight of Armbrust’s college experience. Along with exploring new topics and gaining valuable hands-on experience, she also met lifelong friends and mentors in her research lab. Armbrust’s research projects have also helped shape her future career decisions.

“I have experienced and heard about the pain and heartbreak that families go through when someone has cancer,” Armbrust said. “I love the research that I am a part of because every day that I go into the lab I feel like I am contributing to finding a way to fight cancer.”

Neal first became involved in undergraduate research by helping a PhD student with the general maintenance of her mouse study, which included the day-to-day tasks of feeding mice and

cleaning cages. This work spiked Neal’s curiosity and eventually led to her collaborating with Armbrust. Neal said her work has been incredibly rewarding and she looks forward to contributing to a project that can help improve human health.

Armbrust’s and Neal’s research involves feeding black raspberry powder to mouse models who are eating a diet that resembles the nutrition and fat content of an average American’s diet. Neal hopes the results of their research will guide the food choices people are making and help them understand the impacts of those decisions.

“Diet plays a critical role in our health, including our risk of developing diabetes, colitis and colorectal cancer,” Neal said. “The third most commonly diagnosed cancer, according to the American Cancer Society, is colorectal cancer so being able to understand potential preventatives or even things that may increase risk can save lives.”


Armbrust’s and Neal’s research on blackberries is one facet of the cancer research in Benninghoff’s lab. Learn more about the work in the lab in Utah Science magazine.

Writer: Shelby Ruud