Monday, June 15, 2015

URSP Student Highlights: Christina Gabriele


Nothing is more intriguing than seeing something you have been studying, become more relevant. About midway through the semester Yik Yak actually visited Mason on its college tour. At the beginning of last fall, Yik Yak seemed like a small presence on Masons campus and now, mid spring, the bright blue tour bus was humming around Patriot Circle.

My project has turned into many things. After data collection and evaluation I realized that my research needed a lot of work. I collected no demographic data (in order to stick with the theme of complete anonymity) and it disallowed me from doing some of the comparisons based on age or sex that could've resulted in more complete results. However, I also realized some interesting information regarding Mason students.

Although the majority of participants reported never having felt intimidated or threatened while using the application (82%), 12 respondents reported having felt intimidated or threatened rarely (16%) and two indicated feeling intimidated or threatened sometimes (3%). This indicates that there is the potential for negative threats on GMU students. Ideally, everyone who answered my survey would have reported never feeling intimidated or threatened while using the application.

Out of all respondents, 75% of indicated that they use the application for entertainment purposes, 52% to see what other students are posting on campus and 21% because it is anonymous. T-test identified very significant results between opinion regarding the application and posts and use frequency. Frequent users viewed the application (t =4.067, df=81, p=.000) and posts more positively than infrequent users (t =2.379, df=81, p=.020).

One of the most interesting things I discovered was that none of the respondents indicated that profanity, underage drinking or mention of illicit drug use as motivation for down-voting. Out of all respondents, 46% indicated that they would down vote a Yak in order to disagree with a post they do not like. Only 13% said they would down vote a Yak because it involved cyber bullying and 7% said they would down vote a post because it was intimidating or threatening. All the other options listed for this survey question (including “Other”) were selected at least once by one of the 99 respondents, minus profanity, underage drinking or mention of illicit drug use.

This suggests that maybe college students consider profane language a part of their subculture norm and should be considered when evaluating the conclusions of previous research. Sixty one percent of participants reported seeing profanity on the application often or all of the time. Considering how much profanity occurs over online communication, removing it could heavily affect the rate at which flaming behavior occurs and is counted. If college students do not consider profanity or illicit behaviors as a means for disapproval, then future studies need to be modified to account for this difference.

My study was designed to provide the first statistical insight into the experiences of George Mason University students while using Yik Yak. Future research could also attempt to analyze posts on the application. Posts on Yik Yak have varying lifespans depending on how popular or unpopular they become. Analyzing the rate at which posts cycle through the feed for a given college or university could create a greater depth of information regarding what is actually occurring through the application, versus what users are interpreting is happening. For my research, I focused more heavily on the self-reported experiences of students while using the application. I wanted to know, in order to help gauge the threats of the application, what people thought about Yik Yak and their experiences on the application as they remember them.

I will be graduating this semester and thus, done with my research (for now). Having the opportunity to participate in Undergraduate research has been a really cool experience and something that has given me a sense of pride. From the first idea to the final product I have been able to watch my project grow into something that puts Yik Yak in the academic sphere. And I’m one of the first to do so.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Research, Mentorship, Where Innovation Begins: Celebration Speech by Joel Mota


After being asked to do this speech, I dwelled on the idea of what I was going to even talk about. To no surprise, I sat in silence for many nights, not one click on my keyboard. So what did I do? I turned to google. I searched the word “Research”, to see what the internet had to say. Here is what I found, “Research comprises creative work undertaken on a systematic basis in order to increase the stock of knowledge, including knowledge of humans, culture and society, and the use of this stock of knowledge to devise new applications.” I suppose Wikipedia gives a good answer, but it feels a bit off, a little hollow. It didn’t really talk about the sand between your toes when you are walking back to your car from volleyball matches with your lab mates, or the excitement of making your first microelectrode, the horror of the other dozen that broke in the process, or the anxiety of preparing talks you have to give, or the simple pleasure of trying out new foods with the friends you have made along the way. But most critically, it didn’t talk about guidance, or mentorship.

By no means is mentorship just guidance. Like research, mentorship does not start or end in a classroom or a lab. Mentorship is constant. It doesn’t work a 9 to 5 shift, but like those who do, mentorship is human. Mentorship makes a researcher’s work tangible. A mentor is someone who helps you find your limits, and pushes you beyond them. Who gives you a question about population dynamics of migratory fish or the interstitial concentration of actylcholine in glial cells in the morning, but by lunch time is giving you suggestions on the best places to eat in Pittsburgh or California.  A mentor will walk over to you, you who has been slaving over an experimental design for days maybe weeks, and can’t get the results you are looking for. Look at your set-up, poke around, maybe shake it a little bit, and then it works. Then your mentor shrugs, walks away, a job well done for the day. Above all, a mentor somehow has the uncanny ability to find people with drive, or potential. To quickly read and understand whether that person would work well with the others on the team. It is this ability that creates friendship and family through research.  This friendship and family is maintained by not just research but inspiration.

Being a mentor, is being a source of inspiration, being able to add a bit of meaning to the actions of a researcher or a student. Take me for example. My first year at George Mason University was uneventful. I did well in my classes, made friends with my floor mates, and enjoyed all the changes that come with starting college. Yet, something felt underwhelming. The days began to drag on and I began to feel lethargic. My motivation was at an all time low. It began to feel like high school round two, the last thing I wanted to happen.  Around this time though, I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to do some research work in a neuroscience laboratory. In this laboratory, I was able to work with a particularly inspiring mentor. Being a mentor, he instilled into me the motivation to not be complacent, to not just achieve, but to actively go out and search for opportunities, and to create my own.  He provided an example of what I could become with dedication and hard work in whatever I end up doing. He also provided me the ability to mentor others, when I was tasked to guide new researchers in our lab that would be working on my project. My own little minions. This was a pivotal moment in understanding what brought me happiness and convinced me that I want to be a mentor. I want to be able to provide the inspiration that defined my undergraduate experience, to future students. I want to be able give someone the opportunity to experience, struggle, or excel at answering a question that hasn’t been answered. To create an environment that facilitates achievement and excellence for students and researchers. To make innovation a commonplace occurrence.

I have been introduced into a community centered on research and mentorship, and am grateful to say that I was able to make my mark on this community at George Mason University. It is the entrance into this community that finally convinced me that when you are at Mason you are home.

FWS Research Assistant Highlights: Iris Stone


This semester I have been unbelievably fortunate to work as an OSCAR Research Assistant with Dr. Patrick Vora, a new professor and experimental physicist who is conducting research in solid state materials and their applications. In the simplest sense, solid state physics focuses on understanding the properties of rigid materials (silicon is one example). Researchers modify the geometry and composition of these materials using quantum mechanics, optics, and electronics measurements, ultimately looking to understand how they can alter the systems’ behavior in useful ways. Graphene is an excellent example; interestingly, the electrons in this two-dimensional crystal of carbon atoms actually behave as if they don’t have mass. And although graphene is only one atom thick, it’s actually stronger than steel! These properties have the potential to revolutionize electronics technology, and I am incredibly excited to be studying both graphene and other nanomaterials with our collaborators at Georgetown University and Trinity College Dublin.

I started my RA position at ground zero when Dr. Vora’s lab was just an empty room. I have enjoyed playing a part in transforming the once vacant space into a fully functional laboratory, complete with an optical table, spectrometer, CCD camera, and cryostat (I can’t describe what all this equipment does in such small space, but just know they are both fun and expensive). Over the past few months I have helped program software, visited the Naval Research Laboratory in D.C., assisted in designing an optical microscope, and placed countless Amazon orders. On any given day, you might find me filling our cryogenically cooled CCD camera with liquid nitrogen, examining wavelength graphs of Neon and Mercury lasers to help calibrate our equipment, or cheering loudly as I successfully program new functions for our software.

Every week I learn something new – not only about the theory behind our research, but also about the commitment and dedication it takes to be a successful experimental physicist. The timelines are long, but the payoff is big. The moment I signed up for Mason’s Physics program I knew I wanted to be a professor and conduct research – I just had no idea what specialty I should choose. I hadn’t considered quantum mechanics or solid state physics before, but today I find the challenge and growth of the field irresistible. Dr. Vora’s passion for his work is infectious, and he will gladly run off on a tangent to share details about the intricate theoretical concepts behind our research.  There are always plenty of tasks in the lab to keep me busy, but these conversations are my favorite. I am excited to continue my work with Dr. Vora over the summer through a URSP grant and discover even more about the incredible potential of this field.     

Thursday, June 11, 2015

URSP Highlights Sameen Yusuf - Stories from Nicaragua

Sameen Yusuf is a junior honors student at Mason, majoring in bioengineering. This summer, she is participating in the Engineering World Health’s Summer Institute in Nicaragua.  She is also receiving funding from OSCAR's Undergraduate Research Scholars Program to continue her design project for a low-cost oxygen analyzer using zinc-air batteries. Here's a snapshot of her experience so far. 

June 7, 2015

Last week we worked on building a variable power supply, and though it was one of the most frustrating labs we’ve done this month, I think it’s been the most beneficial. We built a circuit including a variable resistor and a transformer so that if we find ourselves in the hospital with a piece of equipment that can only use DC voltage, we can convert the AC voltage from wall sockets to the necessary DC voltage (ranging from 2 V – 25 V approximately). I think the most frustrating part was just fitting/laying everything out on the perf board correctly, along with soldering the parts down correctly. My partner and I ended up shorting our circuit the first time…lots of sparks to say the least!

Here are some pictures of the hospital equipment I've helped repair as a part of the Institute. First is the neonatal vital signs monitor we worked on. We didn't actually fix the monitor itself, but I worked on replacing parts of the pulse oximeter and I got to see the NICU too! Didn't get to take pictures but was still awesome to see the inside of the unit (interesting how patient confidentiality/privacy is nonexistent here).
 
  
Neonatal vital signs monitor
   
 
Incubator temperature alarm




















The second is of an incubator temperature alarm; we used a PIC microcontroller to make a standalone alarm. While calibrating it, a group tried placing it in a ziplock bag and then in the hot coffee pot to get a warmer temperature measurement, let's just say the ziplock bag wasn't coffee-proof...but somehow it was still working which was pretty cool.

Developing world "lab"

This is my developing-world "lab." I ran the experiment for the effect of temperature on the battery's accuracy in measuring O2 at atmospheric concentration 8 times now -- turns out my hypothesis was wrong: fluctuation up to 5 degrees +/- the room temperature has not made a difference in the measurements. At 26 degrees C the voltage was .31 V from the battery (which is what it normally is at 20% Concentration). It was the same for 24 degrees C, 28 degreesC, 30 degrees C, 33 degrees C and 35 degrees C (I did these particular numbers by using the hand warmers in a container but instead did not seal it airtight). I'm going to try to get some ice and boiling water for tomorrow to get a wider temperature gradient but overall I'm coming to the conclusion that my original hypothesis was wrong. Now the analyzer happens to have a temperature component, which I think makes it useful for verifying other respiratory equipment (nebulizers, ventilators, neonatal incubators, etc). 

A point of hope: I haven't yet seen oxygen concentrators at the hospital's we've visited so far. However, I spoke to our on the ground coordinator and she said that if I do find concentrators at my hospital in Jinotega I can talk to my technician about using it/open it up and see what's going on inside/possibly running a couple experiments using it. I'm REALLY hoping they have at least one that's broken so I can try repairing one but that'll be a long shot. Luckily my Spanish has improved significantly and since my partner speaks fluently, I think I may have a chance at convincing the technical staff! 

Problem solving in the field

This past weekend, a huge group of us visited the treehouse hostel, which is about 30 minutes away from central park in Granada. Two pick up trucks came by to get a group of 24 of us, and we had about 8 people sitting in the back for each. The ride was pretty fun since it started raining half way there! Once we got there, it was super dark and we didn’t realize how much hiking (or as we say, subrir-ing), we would be doing just to get around the hostel grounds. To summarize, though I didn’t sleep a wink, spending a few hours in a hammock in the middle of a jungle with monkeys for the night was an adventure itself.

Follow Sameen on her journey in Nicaragua by reading her blog.

FWS Research Assistant Highlights: Linda Lim


After coming back from a summer course abroad in Peru that focused on primate behavior and conservation, I knew I wanted to continue learning more about conservation. I was able to find an opening for two undergraduate conservation biologists through OSCAR. The job description included camera trap identifications that are based in the Peruvian jungle. This job required its employee to watch video clips from their motion-sensor camera traps set all around the Maijuna’s land and to identify the mammals that were seen. I was exposed to camera trappings and videos from these electronics from my time spent in Peru which helped me throughout this job. The one summer course in Peru on primates really prepared me in the beginning of applying and working on this project.
I currently work under Michael Gilmore and his partner, Mark Bowler on multiple researches. From the data collected by these video identifications, the researchers would then be able to analyze the data. Some of the research projects that I was able to help out include which mammal is feeding on a rich fruit called the aguaje or how the population of specific species differs from the past to now. When I first started working under Michael Gilmore in the Fall of 2014 I worked alongside, Kathleen Copeland-Fish an Environmental Science major and a volunteer John Probert who is part of the New Century College (NCC) Integrative Studies Program.
My responsibilities entitle me to spend ten hours a week looking at the videos that are ten seconds to one minute long. The basic identifications include observing the number, type of species, and the sex of the mammals. Since the past week I was able to watch a short clip of a short-eared dog with a shrew inside its mouth. I know that even though I may not be doing exactly what I am doing now in the future, the experience and knowledge I was able to gain from my mentor Dr. Gilmore and watching these videos will help me in my future education or job.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

FWS Research Assistant Highlights: Deirdre Jones


I had just starting nursing school and I heard about a potential for a work-study program that involved being a research assistant. A friend from school had recently become involved in the study, and it sounded like something I would be interested in. The project involves working with Latino mothers and their babies and investigating the causes of childhood obesity. Studies have been done in the past to examine the correlation between feeding, activity level and childhood obesity, but there has never been a focused study on this population. This is especially important because Latino people have a higher obesity rate than the total National obesity rate. I have always had an interest in working with the Latino population, having spoken Spanish since I was 6 years old. After being selected to work on the project by Dr. Gaffney, I started going to meetings with other students working on the same project. As a group we worked on getting the project off the ground.
During the first month or two a lot of time I spent 1-2 days a week shadowing the doctors and the nurses to gain an understanding of the flow of the clinic. The research assistants working under Dr. Gaffney, including myself, met weekly. In the beginning we were very focused on making sure our interview questions for the mothers, which were in Spanish, made sense. These had all been translated from a study done in English, and then back-translated to check for accuracy. We spent lots of time double checking the interview questions and making sure our questions had the intended meaning. The interview questions continued being changed even after we started conducting the interviews, and were told by the interviewees that a question did not make sense. After getting clearance to proceed with the interviews for the internal review board at George Mason and INOVA, and after completing several training modules, we were ready to begin interviews.
The study aims to look at the feeding and activity of babies who range from 2 months to 1 year. The mothers answer questions relating to the amount, frequency and type of feeding (breast, bottle, formula or other), and if the baby is being fed solid foods such as fruit or vegetables or rice cereal. I also investigate the activity level of the babies by asking about how much “tummy time” the baby gets a day and how much time is spent in different seats including car seats, swings and other restraints. To qualify for the study the mother needs to be born in non-US country, self-identify as Latina/Hispanic, and be at least 18 years old. The baby needs to be a full-term, singleton birth, and at least 5 lbs at birth. The interviews were conducted at the baby’s 2 month, 4 month and 6 month visits to the clinic.
I really enjoyed doing the interviews. I was nervous at first, but after one or two, I felt much more comfortable conducting the interviews. There were some surprises for me during the interviews. Many of the babies, even at 2 months, spent a lot of time in front of a TV. Others were being given juice, or solid foods. The study also had measures to check for post-partum depression, and if they answered the questions in a way that indicated possible depression, they were referred for further evaluation. There have been many interesting experiences during my time spent conducting the interviews. I have also conducted phone interviews for the 4 or 6 month visits if the baby’s appointment was on a day that none of the research assistants available. This has been a great experience so far and I look forward to continuing it!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

FWS Research Assistant Highlights: Rebecca Lee

Hi, my name is Rebecca Lee and I’m a junior majoring in Global Affairs while also pursuing minors in Information Technology and Japanese Studies. I’m currently working for Professor Woolsey in conducting analysis of technical geospatial understandings in the country of Haiti following the earthquake that occurred in 2010. I meet with Professor Woolsey every other week to discuss the work I’ve been assigned to do and the research progress. When I’m not meeting with Professor Woolsey, I work from my computer or at the library in completing the research.  I’m currently working on researching different international development agencies and non-governmental organizations such as the United Nations Development Program and Haiti Innovation in seeing how they portray geographical pictures of Haiti to support their material regarding the issue of deforestation. As I’ve read information found online released by different organizations, I have noticed that their use of images showing Haiti have been used in different ways explain the issue. This particular observation from reading information from a number of organizations and non-profit environmental organizations have led me to realize the importance of images in conveying information to the public which is what I discovered recently. Before working on this assignment, I was working on collecting aerial and satellite images of Haiti from January 11th, 2010 to January 15th, 2011 and then collecting more images from January 11th to the 13th of this year from the AP Images database. The reason of going through the AP Images database was to gather before and after images of the earthquake during the time the earthquake struck Haiti. Then gather any images of Haiti that showed the damage the earthquake caused in Haiti five years after the natural disaster occurred. My position as a research assistant helping Professor Woolsey in the area of Cultural Studies will help me in strengthening my skills in research and analysis. Furthermore, I believe the work I am doing through this position will help me to prepare for graduate school in the area of Global Affairs.

Monday, June 8, 2015

FWS Research Assistant Highlights: Kathleen Copeland-Fish


My name is Kathleen Copeland-Fish, and I am a senior graduating this spring. I am working as a Conservation Biologist with Dr. Mike Gilmore from the New Century Learning College on a project based in Peru.  In the Sucarsari River Basin, a tributary of the Amazon River, live a small tribe of indigenous Indians, the Maijuna.  In the 19080’s and 90’s, their ancestral lands were threatened with logging and many of the animals they depended on for hunting had disappeared with the onset of the loggers. Dr. Gilmore helped lead the efforts to protect Maijuna lands and set them aside as a permanent sanctuary, acting as a go-between for the Maijuna, logging companies, and the Peruvian government.  Since then, he has kept in contact with the Maijuna and done research with their approval in their lands and with their people.
My part in this research is that of data analysis. There are one hundred camera traps set in 273 square kilometer range, 40 of which are set in the rainforest canopy and 60 are set at the bases of trees. The goal of setting the camera traps is to record animal movement through the rainforest.  The ten second video clips and pictures have been put on an external hard drive, which I then go through and score. I identify and tally the species that pass in front of the camera traps, and enter the data into a database. As I go through and watch the videos I have seen some of the most amazing animals in Peru. Jaguars, giant ant eaters, pumas, the rare short eared dog, and toucans are just a small sample of what I have seen.  This research has taught me patients and perseverance when analyzing data, and taught me how to identify animals by fur patterns, the end of a tail, and a glimpse of a head. This will help me with data entry later in my career and has been a great way to get involved in research during my senior year.

Friday, June 5, 2015

FWS Research Assistant Highlights: Maggie Greer


I am currently an Undergraduate Neuroscience major at Mason and a Research Assistant at the Krasnow Institute in the laboratory of Dr. Ted Dumas.

Dr. Dumas is mentoring me on a project designed to enable visual measurement of neuronal activity in hundreds to thousands of neurons simultaneously in behaving animals with genetically encoded optical voltage sensors.  This approach involves fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) interaction between a fluorescent protein (XFP) tagged to the cell membrane and an exogenous chemical, dipicrylamine (DPA), that intercalates into the cell membrane. We will optimize this system to observe fluorescent signals produced by single action potentials in hippocampal neurons. Genetically encoded voltage probes will enable us to image and record electrical activity in real time, linking temporal and spatial properties of hippocampal neuronal ensemble activation patterns to spatial cognition and episodic memory.

I am gaining skills in molecular biology, including plasmid transformation into bacteria and amplification/purification of plasmid from bacteria, restriction digests, and gel electrophoresis, along with cloning techniques such as vector design, polymerase chain reaction, restriction digests, and ligation reactions.  Gaining expertise in these skills will broaden my perspective on scientific inquiry and will improve my chances of acceptance into the graduate program of my choosing. This project is important to me because it will enable us to image and record the spiking activity of neurons in a revolutionary way; far exceeding the electrophysiological approaches standardly practiced. Improvement of voltage sensor technology points toward significant advancements in neuroscience.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

FWS Research Assistant Highlights: Eduardo Roca


My work is a research assistant is mostly computational, as it mostly involves data analysis and modeling. I work with data taken from satellites such as MAVEN, processing it and visualizing it. Data analysis and done using the Fortran programming language, a language used for scientific computing since the 1960's. Modeling and plotting data is done using IDL (Interactive Data Language).

A typical day in research is spent reading articles on atmospheric science, and programming. My platform of choice is Ubuntu Linux, and many programmers will tell you that Linux is the platform of choice for programming. The process of installing the appropriate libraries to program in is very important for data analysis and modeling. In particular installing all the packages to access the data from the HIRDLS satellite device proved to be challenging, so I had to learn much this week about building software in a Unix environment.

My actual research involves investigating the wave characteristics of the atmosphere. Much of the research into this subject is around investigating the types of waves known as solar tides, planetary (Rossby) waves, and Kelvin waves. These are caused by larger-scale effects such as the varying proximity of the Earth to the Sun (solar tides) and the air seeking equilibrium from the Coriolis force (Rossy, Kelvin waves). What me and my mentor, Dr. Erdal Yigit, study is the small-scale gravity waves that are caused by weather fronts in the lower atmosphere and airflow over the topology of the Earth. In order to study this we use temperature, density, and pressure profiles (values at different heights) at specific latitudes and longitudes, and analyze them to produce gravity wave momentum fluxes and information about the harmonics (wave characteristics).

My long-term goals of becoming a great physicist and programmer are obviously aided by this experience. The sort of computational work I do regularly help me become a better data analyst and modeler. The research itself aids me in further understanding the dynamics of Earth’s climate as well as other planets (Mars in particular).

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

FWS Research Assistant Highlights: Mariam Hanna


I am a Criminology, Law, and Society major at GMU working with Ace! (Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence), which is an ideal way for me to use my skills and education to broaden my experience and expand my horizons, and to do so in a way that will promote justice. I am also a Psychology minor and am very interested in the impact that punishment/corrections has on a person and what can be done to improve the system all around and reduce recidivism rates. 

I currently work on both the Prison Project and the Jail Project with Dr. Brandy Blasko. The Prison Project involves mass data entry from inmates incarcerated in different Pennsylvania prisons. And, for the Jail Project, I mainly interview inmates at the Fairfax County Jail to determine what kind of effect incarceration has on them. Both are very interesting and eye opening.

This week, I discovered what it is like for inmates in jail to file complaints against other inmates and/or correctional officers. Overall, this job has been very exciting and rewarding. I have learned so much about prison and jail policies and procedures while getting a lot of direct hands-on experience. In the near future, I want to use my studies and practical experience to ensure fairness and safety for my country and its people, and want to apply my degree to a career where I can help combat crime and terrorism, as well as helping all members of the community, including those who might commit a crime. Most importantly, I want to always enjoy what I do and feel that I am truly making a difference and helping others. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

FWS Research Assistant Highlights: Faysal Shaikh

I am an undergraduate Neuroscience major, Mathematics minor, and self-identified pre-MD-PhD student at Mason. My primary research endeavor this semester was as an OSCAR Undergraduate Research Assistant for Dr. Blackwell,the Principal Investigator for the Computational and Experimental Neuroplasticity Laboratory (CENLab) at the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study. This semester I have aided Dr. Blackwell in the process of consolidating two computational models that, individually, modeled the systems biology within Medium Spiny Projection Neurons (MSPNs); while one model focused mainly on pathways following from a specific type of G-protein coupled dopamine receptor, and the other model focused mainly on pathways connected to a specific type of G-protein coupled glutamate receptor, the combined model will include major molecular species and pathways from both the aforementioned G-protein coupled dopamine receptors and G-protein coupled glutamate receptors.

My weekly activities in the lab generally build from progress completed in the week prior. However, I start my day at the lab by logging into the Linux computers (specifically, they are running a version of Red Hat's Fedora OS), 'pulling' (essentially syncing) the project's git repository (git is a service that can be likened to Dropbox or Google Drive), loading up my task objectives on emacs (a customizable Linux text editor), and flipping through my lab notepad for any information I need to continue my objectives. In the earlier phases of my assistantship with Dr. Blackwell, I had to learn, from online Linux tutorials, how Linux OS differs from Windows OS and how to utilize the terminal to accomplish tasks. I then had to read through past publications and map out the pathways from each of the previous models (as partially shown in the embedded picture). I was then tasked with parsing through the reaction xml files used in the model, and evaluating them for the principal of microscopic reversibility, a particular principal in chemical kinetics. In this process, I was also able to add a few reactions to the model myself!

My most recent progress with the project has been in regards to totaling the concentrations of molecular species used in the model in order to provide information for comparison with values from literature. My most recent discovery had actually been an accident in terms of my use of the LibreOffice Calc (Fedora's native equivalent program to Microsoft Excel) spreadsheet to total species: I had used incorrect volumes for the different regions of the MSPN in the model; I will need to correct the volume numbers according to the model, and establish a correct total concentration of species within the model MSPN. After this is completed, I am excited to begin simulation of the reactions in the neuron, with the goal in mind of establishing proper values for the initial conditions of the system!

Monday, June 1, 2015

URSP Student Highlights: Amber Winsor


My first experience with psychological research was as a research assistant on a large team of people through the Human Emotions Research Lab at GMU. That work allowed me to see a lot of what I had been learning in classes being used in real life and further fueled my interest in psychological research. When I began looking for new research to pursue about a year later, I stumbled across an article on the GMU Psychology home page about some animal communication research that my then professor and now mentor, Doris Bitler Davis, had been conducting. I reached out to her to see if she needed a research assistant, and luckily for me she had a project in mind. The goal of our research is to determine whether goats have the ability to fast-map, a language acquisition process found in both humans and dogs. It will tell us a lot about the extent of fast-mapping in the animal kingdom as well as the cognitive capacity of goats. Each week, I spend 2 or 3 days training three adorable miniature fainting goats the names of 3 different toys. I’ve had to alter training styles and reward methods countless times because no studies of the kind have been conducted with goats before, so there is no formula to follow. What seems to work the best is to call out the name of a toy, wait for the goat to make a choice by tapping one toy with their nose, and then rewarding them with raisins for correct toy choices. Working with animals has tested my patience with the unpredictability of research and the need to be flexible when necessary- whether it be that the goats are sick, unmotivated, or the weather prevents me from making it out to the farm where they are housed. This upcoming we will be conducting experimental trials rather than just training trials. In these, we will introduce a new toy to the group of familiar toys, call out the name of the new toy without training the goat its name, and then record their choice. If they choose the correct new toy, it may be evidence that they were able to form a rough idea of what the new word means, also known as fast-mapping. In the future I want to attend graduate school for psychology and continue doing research in the field. This particular study has been especially valuable since I have had so much freedom in the design and facilitation of the study. I’ve had the opportunity to experience many of the pains that come along with research projects as well as the rewarding feeling of success after many failed attempts. I know that this research is setting me up to be successful in research in the future.