Biomedical Research Series: Dr. Michael Butcher

Within the Department of Biological Sciences at Youngstown State University, there are many areas of research being explored by faculty and students alike. In a monthly series, we will highlight faculty research that covers various aspects of biomedical efforts from DNA to bacteria, fungi, and more.

Dr. Michael Butcher is an Associate Professor of Biological Sciences at YSU. He earned his PhD in Zoology from the University of Calgary. Afterward, he completed a two-year NSF post-doctoral fellowship at Clemson University before becoming a full-time professor at YSU.

At YSU, Dr. Butcher conducts three different types of research with assistance from multiple graduate and undergraduate students. The main focuses of his laboratory research are the mechanical properties and shape of limb bones, fiber architecture and force production in the limb muscles, and development of muscle fiber types. His most recent work involves studies of muscle form and contraction activity in tree sloths.

Every other year, Dr. Butcher has traveled to The Sloth Sanctuary in Limón, Costa Rica. This gives him the opportunity to study species of two-toed and three-toed sloths.

On his most recent trip, he and his research team visualized live muscle contractions of the sloths using implanted fine wire electrodes. They recorded muscle activity while sloths performed combinations of walking, climbing, and hanging exercises. In addition, Dr. Butcher and his team conducted very detailed dissections on cadaver sloths to learn about their muscle architecture.

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“What we do is take geometric measurements of the muscles,” Butcher said. “For example, how long is the muscle belly, how long are the muscle fibers, at what angle are the muscle fibers? Then we apply a couple basic calculations.”

They could then estimate the force, power, and torque (strength) properties of sloth muscles. Dr. Butcher considers this approach to the study of muscle form and function “simple, but elegant.”

To understand his research interests, it is important to know some of the unusual characteristics of a sloth.

“Why a sloth?” Dr. Butcher was asked. “Because they’re old and interesting mammals that do something really different from what humans are capable of doing.”

In a sloth’s body, there is only about 24% muscle mass. Dr. Butcher and his students are finding that their muscles have a high tolerance for lactic acid and rarely fatigue, unlike skeletal muscles in humans. Much to his surprise, Dr. Butcher is also learning that sloths primarily use anaerobic mechanisms to allow them to conserve energy and resist fatigue. This contributes to a sloth’s ability to hang from tree limbs for extended periods of time.

Other factors that relate to the strength and stamina of sloths are lower body temperature, lower metabolism, and slower digestion than most placental mammals.

“Sloths also have a network of blood vessels in their forearms that lowers the temperature of the muscles,” Butcher said. “This allows the muscles to remain strongly contracted for gripping branches while using energy at a slower rate.”

With these distinctive characteristics, sloths can conserve a tremendous amount of energy. For this very reason, Dr. Butcher finds sloth research remarkably insightful.

Dr. Butcher does not simply perform research to learn more about muscle structure-function in sloths, but rather to give further evidence of the performance range of muscles, in general. He wants to continue studying how muscles are put together and how they work, as functionality is diverse for animals depending on their lifestyle.

While this research has medical applications such as bioengineering artificial muscles and limbs, Dr. Butcher remains committed to fundamental science where his findings contribute towards education in the scientific community, future textbooks, and enhancement of the courses that he teaches at YSU.

Dr. Butcher stresses the immense contribution from his students. He believes that they are vital to his research efforts. To further his studies in primitive mammals Dr. Butcher plans to travel to Argentina this fall to investigate muscle properties in rare species of armadillos.

Biomedical Research Series: Dr. Gary Walker

Within the Department of Biological Sciences at Youngstown State University there are many areas of research being explored by faculty and students alike. In a new monthly series, we will highlight faculty research that covers various aspects of biomedical efforts from DNA to bacteria, fungi, and more.

Dr. Gary Walker is a professor and chairperson of Biological Sciences at YSU. He obtained a PhD in Biological Sciences from the Wayne State University of Michigan. He began graduate school with an interest in becoming a developmental biologist with focus on cell division and later in stem cells.

His interest in biomedical research began decades ago but recently changed direction when he collaborated with a local neurologist, Dr. Carl Ansevin. They wrote several papers together and heavily researched muscle proteins. Now he is mainly focusing on the basic molecular programming of muscle tissue with anticipation that he can eventually engineer a functional muscle.

Dr. Walker is currently studying the growth of muscle cell cultures to advance the fundamental understanding of muscle development and function. In addition, he is interested in tissue engineering, specifically 3D-printed structures, which will be used primarily for therapy purposes.

Given his research background, one of his goals is to create functional muscles. To create a 3D-printed tissue structure, Dr. Walker grows myoblasts in cell cultures that are then mixed with a bio gel. The bio gel aides in the suspension of the cells and maintains the 3D structure throughout the printing process. A computerized 3D fluid printer is then used to create a specific geometric structure allowing the “tissues” to transfer to culture vessels so that the myoblasts can grow.

“As you can see, these myofibers form in all sorts of directions,” said Dr. Walker. “So you can’t make a functional muscle because in a functional muscle all these fibers have to be aligned parallel.”

In the end, once the cells are understood and a live tissue is formed, Dr. Walker wants to tinker with the geometry of the tissue, making it more like a standard muscle tissue.

Once the structure is fit for usage in medical procedures, his personal hope for the 3D-printed muscle tissue is to benefit trauma patients and those who experience muscle diseases. This research project has tied together his love of growing cells and researching how functional tissues are formed. The project is also a great way to show the transition between basic and applied knowledge.

There is great potential for this research and Dr. Walker could be an important part of this advancement of biomedical technology.

Faculty Publication: Dr. Jim Andrews

Daniel Wehrung, Elaheh. A. Chamsaz, James H. Andrews, Abraham Joy, and Moses O. Oyewumi, “Engineering Alkoxyphenacyl-Polycarbonate Nanoparticles for Potential Application in Near-Infrared Light-Modulated Drug Delivery via Photon Up-Conversion Process,” Journal of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology 17, 4867-4881 (2017). 

This publication describes the results of experiments primarily done at NEOMED, but also at YSU’s Dept. of Physics & Astronomy, using nano-crystals to convert near infrared light to ultraviolet light. Typically, ultraviolet light is difficult to apply as a form of medical phototherapy due to its harmful effects to other tissues. Using the materials studied in this paper, the primary exposure would instead be to infrared light that is then converted to ultraviolet at the site of the phototherapy for localized treatment. This work was led by Daniel Wehrung as part of his successful PhD dissertation work at NEOMED under the supervision of Dr. Moses Oyewumi in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences. Dr. Andrews assisted with experiments at YSU as part of this study.


Photoresponsive delivery systems that are activated by high energy photo-triggers have been accorded much attention because of the capability of achieving reliable photoreactions at short irradiation times. However, the application of a high energy photo-trigger (UV light) is not clinically viable. Meanwhile, the process of photon-upconversion is an effective strategy to generate a high energy photo-trigger in-situ through exposure to clinically relevant near-infrared (NIR) light. In this regard, we synthesized photon upconverting nanocrystals (UCNCs) that were subsequently loaded into photoresponsive nanoparticles (NPs) prepared using alkoxyphenacyl-based polycar- bonate homopolymer (UCNC-APP-NPs). UCNC loading affected resultant NP size, size distribu- tion, colloidal stability but not the zeta potential. The efficiency of NIR-modulated drug delivery was impacted by the heterogenetic nature of the resultant UCNC-APP-NPs which was plausibly formed through a combination of UCNC entrapment within the polymeric NP matrix and nucleation of polymer coating on the surface of the UCNCs. The biocompatibility of UCNC-APP-NPs was demonstrated through cytotoxicity, macrophage activation, and red blood cell lysis assays. Studies in tumor-bearing (nu/nu) athymic mice showed a negligible distribution of UCNC-APP-NPs to retic- uloendothelial tissues. Further, distribution of UCNC-APP-NPs to various tissues was in the order (highest to lowest): Lungs > Tumor > Kidneys > Liver > Spleen > Brain > Blood > Heart. In all, the work highlighted some important factors that may influence the effectiveness, reproducibility biocompatibility of drug delivery systems that operate on the process of photon-upconversion.

STEM Faculty Awarded Research Professorships

In accordance with the YSU-OEA Agreement, at least eighteen faculty members shall be designated “Research Professors” each year. The language in the agreement specifies that:

“The Research Professorship Committee may award a minimum of six (6) hours to a maximum of nine (9) hours; the total number of hours distributed will be no less than 162 hours.”

Proposals from thirty-two faculty members, submitted for research professorships, were reviewed and evaluated by a seven-member committee. Graduate faculty members representing all six colleges were on the committee which awarded 22 research professorships for the 2017-2018 academic year. Congratulations to the research professors.

Research Professorship Committee
Dr. Rebecca Badawy
Mr. Michael Hripko (Chair)
Dr. Daniel Keown
Dr. Mary LaVine
Dr. Susan Lisko
Dr. Dolores Sisco
Dr. Tom Wakefield

STEM Research Professors

Dr. Snjezana Balaz, Physics and Astronomy – Awarded 6 Hours
“Investigation of Charge Transfer in Organic Interfaces”

Dr. Ganesaratnam Balendiran, Chemistry – Awarded 9 Hours
“Role of Fibrates and Like Molecules in Diabetes and Metabolic Diseases”

Dr. Kyosung Choo, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering – Awarded 6 Hours
“Heat Transfer Enhancement of Steel Pipe”

Dr. Douglas Genna, Chemistry – Awarded 9 Hours
“Removal of Common Water Contaminants using Select Porous Materials”

Dr. Johanna Krontiris-Litowitz, Biology – Awarded 9 Hours
“Inserting Quantitative Literacy into the Human Physiology Lab Curriculum”

Dr. Xiangjia Min, Biological Sciences – Awarded 6 Hours
“Expanding the plant alternative splicing database”

Dr. Moon Nguyen, Mathematics and Statistics – Awarded 6 Hours
“Ohio Extreme Weather Forecast using Hidden Markov Model”

Dr. Jae Joong Ryu, Mechanical Engineering – Awarded 9 Hours
“Influence of biochemical environment on synovial lubrication and surface wear of prosthetic knee joints”

Dr. Bonita Sharif, CSIS – Awarded 9 Hours
“An eye tracking experiment summarizing API elements using code and documentation”

Dr. Suresh Sharma, Civil/Environmental and Chemical Engineering – Awarded 9 Hours
“Investigating Temporal and Spatial Variability of Flow and Salinity Level in the Mentor Marsh Watershed”

Faculty Research – Dr. Suresh Sharma

Dr. Suresh SharmaOriginally from Nepal, Dr. Suresh Sharma is an assistant professor in the Civil/Environmental and Chemical Engineering Department at Youngstown State University.

He worked for several years in Nepal as a government engineer before joining a PhD study in 2008. In 2012, he completed his PhD in Civil Engineering (Water Resources) from Auburn University, USA. Dr. Sharma worked as a Post-doctoral Research Associate at Purdue University for a year before joining the faculty ranks at YSU in 2013.

Dr. Sharma is interested both in hydrologic and water quality modeling. He has diverse research experiences working with data-driven modelling such as wavelet analysis, neural network, fuzzy logic, and semi-distributed and distributed watershed models.

Currently, Dr. Sharma is working on research projects including hydrologic investigation in wetlands, climate change impact on flooding, low flows, ice jams and snow fall in the northern belt of the United States. He is also conducting field-based research by collecting data from wetlands to develop various scenarios using a watershed model.

Dr. Sharma teaches graduate and undergraduate level courses such as Water Quality Modeling (graduate level), Hydrology (graduate level), Hydraulic Design, Fluid Mechanics and Statics. He will also teach Watershed Modelling (graduate level) beginning in spring 2017.

Dr. Sharma participates in regional and international conferences, typically 2 to 3 times a year. He is involved in various scientific committees and also represents the college as an editorial board member of some peer-reviewed journals.

In addition to his academic pursuits, Dr. Sharma is interested in social service such as donating blood, which he tries to do every two to three months. Dr. Sharma hopes to serve society in a unique way after retirement. For more information on Dr. Sharma’s research and publications, visit his page on the YSU website.

Faculty Research: Dr. Caguiat

Dr. CaguiatDr. Jonathan Caguiat, an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Youngstown State University, can trace his research on metal-resistant bacteria back to his time spent as a graduate student at Michigan State University.

He explained the history of the Y-12 plant in Oakridge, TN, and how toxic metals like uranium and mercury contaminated the soil and water there during World War II and the Cold War.

“My PhD advisor went down to Oakridge in 1989 and he dug up some soil samples right next to the plant and then a mile downstream,” said Dr. Caguiat. “So I work with bacteria that has been isolated from this creek. I look at different metal resistances.”

After his PhD advisor brought back the samples, Dr. Caguiat added a growth medium and spread the samples on plates. He froze the bacteria that grew to preserve them for later study.

“So we’ll expose them to different types of metal like mercury, maybe cadmium or zinc, looking for genes that are involved in [metal resistance],” said Dr. Caguiat. “We have isolated some bacterial metal resistance genes and can search for them in other bacterial strains.”

Some of the practical outcomes of this research are bioremediation—“cleaning up” in nature—and human medicine. Different metal resistances have different applications, and much of this is still being studied.

Dr. Caguiat earned his bachelor’s degree in biology with a concentration in molecular biology, and his PhD is in microbiology.

He uses his research as a valuable classroom tool to get students working hands-on and prepared for their own future research.

Dr. Crescimanno is Awarded a Materials Research Grant

Youngstown State University’s Dr. Michael Crescimanno, in conjunction with Dr. Kenneth Singer at Case Western Reserve University, has been awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation Division of Materials Research.

The grant is to fund faculty and students from both universities on the project, “OP: Nonlinear Optical Properties of Organic Cavity Polaritons,” for three years.

Non-technical description:

The interaction of light with matter is of fundamental and long-standing scientific and technological interest. This interaction can be enhanced by using very small structures in which the light bounces back and forth multiple times, such as miniature optical cavities made of two mirrors between which is placed the light absorbing or emitting material. This structure is the basis of the laser and, at sub-wavelength thickness, the cavity polariton. The interaction between organic dyes in such a cavity and light is particularly interesting as the enhancement can be very strong, even at room temperature, leading, for example, to unusually large color changes for the dye. These same organic materials also exhibit pronounced reversible changes with light intensity.

This project is aimed at studying nonlinear optical effects in cavity polaritons in which the aforementioned enhancements in the interaction are very strong. The designed structures and special optical materials having these exceptionally strong light-matter interactions will also lead to useful changes in the temporal response, and provide the possibility of dynamically tuning the linear and nonlinear optical response. The phenomena addressed in this project have potential applications in photonic information processing and communication, and in such technologies as dynamic holographic displays.

The graduate and undergraduate students involved in this project are also involved in mentoring and outreach programs for students from underrepresented groups in the inner cities in northeast Ohio.

The official information for the award can be found on the NSF website.

Faculty Research: Dr. Jill Tall

Dr. Jill TallDr. Jill Tall is an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Youngstown State University. She earned her PhD in biomedicine from Kent State and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Johns Hopkins.

Dr. Tall’s research has mainly focused on the effects that environment has on behavior in preclinical studies. Recently, however, she has found an opportunity to conduct clinical studies while also getting more students involved in research.

“What started it all off was, I was invited to give a talk to the new residents that came into St. Joseph Hospital in Warren about trying to demystify research,” said Dr. Tall.

New standards are being put into place that will mandate that resident physicians be required to conduct research during their residencies. Because of this, Dr. Tall has spoken with the attending physicians about residents collaborating with students on research projects.

“I had a demand and I had a supply,” said Dr. Tall, “so I had to figure out how to bring these two parties together, and that’s why I developed the Certificate in Biomedical Research.”

This new certificate, piloted in the spring semester of 2016, offers a course specifically dedicated to biomedical research as well as two consecutive semesters of a biomedical research internship.

“The fall of ’16 this is going to launch officially,” said Dr. Tall, “and essentially it’s a one-year certificate that’s designed to be obtained concurrently with the Bachelor of Science in Biology.”

In addition to working with students at YSU in her lab and in the classroom, Dr. Tall now has research ongoing with local physicians, and her students are getting hands-on experience in both research and hospital work.

“We’re all very excited and Mercy Health is extremely supportive of this,” she said.

For more information about the new certificate or her research, contact Dr. Tall at

Faculty Publication: Michael Crescimanno and Jim Andrews

Michael Crescimanno and Jim Andrews, Professors in Physics & Astronomy, co-authored the paper “Experimental Realization of Coherent Perfect Polarization Rotation” in the May 15 issue of Optics Letters, a rapid dissemination, peer-reviewed journal of the Optical Society of America. This work was funded through a National Science Foundation EAGER grant awarded to Drs. Crescimanno, PI, and Andrews, co-PI, and which supported co-author Dr. Chuanhong Zhou as a post-doctoral researcher at YSU.

Coherent perfect processes enable high optical efficiencies in optical conversion phenomena such as coherent perfect absorption or coherent perfect polarization rotation. A linear optical coherent perfect process based on Faraday rotation has been evaluated experimentally, achieving contrast limited by other optical components of the system and demonstrating like-parity resonance doublets above threshold.