“It is an honor to be selected for an Undergraduate Research Award, and to have received this award three years in a row is truly incredible,” said Slack. “I cannot thank the University of South Dakota enough for believing in me and my research throughout my undergraduate career. Receiving this award is a testament to the dedication and commitment I have put into this project as well as the support from fellow students, professors and advisors.”

“I’m beyond proud of Alexis for being honored in this manner for three consecutive years; it’s a feat unprecedented at USD,” said Kevin O'Kelley, Ph.D., assistant vice president of research compliance. “Her work combining biology with 3D printing to create pedagogical tools has gone from strength to strength over the past three years.”

While at USD, Slack double majored in biology and neuroscience, both programs in the USD College of Arts & Sciences. She earned her first Undergraduate Research Award in 2022 for her project titled “Using μCT scans to create 3D skull puzzles as open access pedagogical tools for anatomy classes.”

Slack’s research involved using 3D printing and micro-Computed Tomography (µCT) scans to create hands-on learning tools for anatomy classes. She created color-coded 3D puzzles of chameleon skulls that are inexpensive and can be printed on demand, making them ideal for classroom instruction.

Since starting her research in 2021, Slack has expanded upon her project, adding a human skull to the puzzle model lineup. The goal of these models is to be used in classrooms as a comparative model alternative to current model systems, like osteological and plastinated models, which can be very expensive.

Slack, who recently relocated to Florida to pursue a Ph.D. at the University of Florida, hopes to continue this research project into the future.

“I would like to further expand upon the models I created to include additional taxa as well as improve upon the model’s usability,” Slack explained. “I intend to create pre-drilled magnet holes within the files of each model and a designated open-access database to upload the complete files, which would allow instructors and students worldwide to download the files and create their own skull model puzzles.”

In addition to her multiple Undergraduate Research Awards, Slack received several other honors during her time at USD, including 2021 and 2022 CURCS Mini Travel Grants; 2020 and 2022 Nolop Summer Research Scholarships; and a 2021 College of Arts & Sciences Dean’s Opportunity Fund award; among many others.

Slack said that her experiences as a researcher at USD, which led to her multiple achievements and awards, helped her to put together a robust application for graduate school and resulted in a scholarship to help pay for her doctoral program.

“I was very lucky to have started as an undergraduate researcher in my freshman year of college,” Slack said. “My time in that role presented me with numerous opportunities and experiences that have led to the successes I have had. The Office of Undergraduate Research, the Department of Biology, my Honors thesis committee, and specifically my mentor Dr. Chris Anderson, played an instrumental role in guiding and preparing me for my next steps as a researcher.”

Upon completion of her Ph.D. program, Slack is considering either completing a post-doctoral program or applying to veterinary school, both of which she said have great opportunities to continue her interests in 3D modeling and printing.

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