Monday, November 18, 2019

STIP Student Ian Morrison Explored the Impact of the Size of Carcasses to the Types of Succeeding Species that are Attracted to it

This summer I participated in the “Ecology Meets Forensic Science Summer Team Impact Project” supervised by Dr. Joris van der Ham. I was initially attracted to this project because of my desire to potentially pursue lab work in the future. This project focused on the application of forensic entomology to both legal and criminal matters. One application for forensic entomology is the use of succession ecology to estimate the age of cadavers (postmortem interval–PMI) by determining the presence and absence of early and late succession species of insects. This project focused on how different sized carcasses impact the succession species that are attracted to the carcass.

A typical week primarily consisted of identifying and sorting the samples of insects that were collected from the carcasses during the first week of the project. The samples were sorted into flies, beetles and wasps, and from there into their respective genus and species.The samples were sorted using microscopes, tweezers and dichotomous keys. The sorted samples were then reviewed by the supervisor for accuracy. After all the samples were sorted, the number of each insects per species present in the sample were counted and compiled in an excel file for data analysis. While I don’t have a desire to continue to a pursue a career in forensic entomology moving forward, this project has taught me a lot about the application of the scientific method and how it can be effectively used in research. Being able to apply the scientific method is very important in scientific fields, especially in the field of forensic science because using the scientific method provides an objective, standardized approach to conducting experiments and, in doing so, improves their results. This improves the confidence the researcher can feel in their results and limits the influence of personal, preconceived notions.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to participate in this research project, and I believe it has been beneficial for preparing me for graduate school research as well as for any career that I pursue moving forward .In the forensic science field, having lab skills and lab experience are invaluable and set you apart from other candidates when looking for employment.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

STIP Student Jesse McCandlish Explores American Sign Language Recognition Softwares

In high school, I worked with my robotics team to demonstrate our robots in Richmond’s Maker Fest. While teaching the kids to build engineering toys, a small boy came up to build. Initially, he was unperceptive to instruction and ignored our help. It wasn’t until the mother came over and signed in American Sign Language (ASL) did I realize the child could not hear us. At that point, I was unfamiliar with ASL and unable to communicate with the mother or her son. I regret to say that child wasn’t able to ask questions about robots and get answers because we were unable to sign to him.

My freshman year of college, I signed up for an ASL class. I wanted to be able to work with all people and I wasn’t going to let a language barrier stop me. Since then, I have had little chance to use ASL outside of class until my professor approached me about OSCAR’s Summer Impact Project researching ASL recognition software. I was immediately ready to use my new ASL knowledge as well as my coding skills to help research a bridge across the communication gap.

When my team meets, it is often a mix of work and fun. We all get along wonderfully and enjoy helping each other out. We tend to start with a run-down of what needs to get done each day and a check-in toward our long-term goals. I then spend my time either recording ASL hand movements, coding scripts to transform or read collected data, or explaining the technical code to the other team members who are unfamiliar with Python and its libraries. My team often will end up repeating tasks like moving or combining files and ask me to automate the process. While I am coding, my team might have a great idea or discovery and we take to the white board for them to explain what I missed.

It has been wonderful working with OSCAR. I have learned how to work with a team and work towards a larger goal in small steps. I also am faster now at finding relevant research material both in and outside the lab. Overall, I am just overjoyed that I have been able to make communication easier for future generations.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

STIP Student Natalia Gutierrez Ribera Assists in Eye-Tracking Technology to Analyze how Youth View Alcohol Product Packaging

This summer I was assisting in a multidisciplinary research team using eye-tracking technology to investigate and analyze how the youth view alcohol product packaging. The results of this study could have public health and safety regulatory implications. Due to the nature of the research project, my day to day looks different every day. Some days I might be visiting classes at GMU to recruit participants. When visiting these places, I provide a verbal summary of what the study is about to the entire classroom and hand out flyers to students interested in participating. Other days when there are participants scheduled, I meet them at the specified assessment center and perform eye-tracking sensory evaluation. Prior to their arrival, I prepare the assessment by ensuring proper functionality of all equipment utilized in the experiments and looking at the log and record of participants to assign the respective ID number. When the participant arrives, I start first with the informed consent, then proceed with the different tests to make sure that the participant is qualified for the study. After that, I set up the eye-tracking machine and begin with the task. Lastly, I administer a survey and compensate the participant with a gift card and record it in the laboratory log. As a graduating senior I’m interested in getting practical experience in research related to health and this position is a great opportunity for me to do so. From my experience this Summer I expect to gain new skills that will be valuable for my future career in research as I consider graduate school.

Friday, November 15, 2019

STIP Student Nora Malatinszky Mapping Magyar Media:A Survey of Transitioned Power, Influence, and Impact through Post-Regime Change Hungarian Media

I came to begin this project because as an undergraduate research assistant, I have strong interests in formulating research questions and striving to find answers, not only for academic purposes, but also to apply them to real-world situations. During the fall semester of 2018, I began an independent study project pertaining to the culture of corruption in Eastern Europe. Shortly thereafter, I began working on a research project involving electoral behavior in Hungary as a result of populism, nativism, and economic uncertainty under the direction of Dr. Delton Daigle with the Schar School of Public Policy and Government. While this has always theoretically interested me, I was even more intrigued by how the results of my research could impact the people who are directly affected by structural problems in the region. Thus, I began wondering about another way in which Hungarians are directly touched by political problems: the media.

I found that media shapes perceptions of society, impacts beliefs on policy, and influences social and political behavior. However, I could not determine quite how. There was no source I could find that explained which news sources are funded by government cronies, what biases each media outlet holds, nor which cities have limited media accessibility. Then, I realized a potential solution: a database of Hungarian media that acts as a one-stop shop for analyzing these inquiries. It would help answer my questions of who controls media, and where it is made intentionally accessible or inaccessible.

Mapping the Hungarian media landscape has been a project that involves creating a dynamic database that will constantly develop and be updated after its inception, and can be actively used in future research pertaining to the influence of European media or case studies between different nations. As Hungarian citizens, this issue impacts myself and my family directly. Throughout the time I have spent in the nation, I have observed how individuals’ perceptions of Hungarian politics have been influenced by the media they are exposed to. Seeing first-hand how corruption can negatively impact one’s life and deteriorate one’s belief in a democracy, I have found that these issues must be acknowledged.

This research is especially important to me because I am a firm believer that everyone deserves a fair shot at life. I do not think society can expect everyone to achieve highly through hard work if some classes are pushing others down. This ties back to my studies at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, where we follow the teachings of Johan Galtung: he theorized that structural violence is a violence felt in people who are set up in systems of oppression, which can often be influenced by cultural violence and lead to physical violence. The lack of freedom felt by those in Hungary threatens the structures in which Hungarians reside and run the risk of deeply rooted structural violence.

Throughout the summer, I have been actively building a database on an online platform I created ( ). I have also spent time in Hungary researching these problems empirically, especially through contacting media directors and writers from a variety of Hungarian news organizations. This has provided me with further insight on the history of power exchange in Hungarian media which contributes to my knowledge of the root causes of the problem.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

STIP Student Grace Loonam Investigates Unknown Invasive Species of Snails in Woodbridge, Virginia

This summer, I have been working at the Potomac Science Center in Woodbridge, Virginia. I have been studying an invasive species of snails―termed mystery snails―and by collecting samples of these invaders and their native counterparts, I aim to learn more about the mystery snails overall, as well as how their parasitology differs from that of the native snails. This research is important because both invasive species and parasites threaten the biodiversity of an ecosystem, and biodiversity is important for ensuring that the ecosystem can withstand stressors and catastrophic events that would otherwise destabilize the ecological balance. The overarching project is focused on aquatic communities as bioindicators of change, and although the other members of my team specifically focus on the Potomac River for their research, I also sample from other rivers in the Northern Virginia area.

It’s been very exciting to take part in research that allows me to experience lab-based research as well as fieldwork. The amount that I’ve learned in both settings is unreal (pro-tip: it’s a lot easier to find and collect snails at low tide), and the following picture was taken of me while collecting snails from a site on the Rappahannock for the second time, as we could hardly find anything the first time around.

In the lab, I’ve been measuring the size of all of the snails I collect, and dissecting them to examine their gonads for parasites. I also record the gender and number of babies (if applicable) of the mystery snails. One of the characteristics I find most interesting about these snails is that they are brooders, meaning that they have embryos in a brood chamber at varying stages of development.

At the beginning of the research, it was expected that the invasive snails would have comparably less parasites than the native snails, as they are not from the region and thus they are not always susceptible to the parasites or recognized as potential hosts. For the first two sites, this trend was observed, but the Rappahannock site yielded mystery snails that were parasitized with an organism that is native to the Northern Virginia region, which could suggest further implications of parasite spillover and spillback. I’m eager to analyze my results to see if some of these results can be observed, as there’s not much literature regarding mystery snails, and it will be exciting to see what this project can add to it.