Friday, April 29, 2016

URSP Student Highlights: Kevin Hennessey

My Spring URSP research project investigates the relationship between soil and plant, particularly potatoes, microbial diversity under different soil treatment types. I initially became interested in this is project through my previous research project on bacterial abundance in the Potomac River and further became interested in working with soils as I explored agricultural science literature last semester for my GCH 360 class. Originally I was going to look into microbial diversity in soils of different land use types only but ultimately ended up investigating entophytic microbes in tubers and soil as a result of a suggestion by my mentor and the linking with another project of a very similar design currently being worked on jointly between VT and GMU.


Since one of my current career goals is to work as researcher either in industry, academia or in governmental facilities this research work serves as an experience building, educational, and resume building opportunity along with an opportunity to investigate a topic for which I have genuine scientific curiosity about.   In the shorter term I hope this project will grant me an opportunity to publish or be a part of published piece of scientific literature before I apply to graduate schools in the fall. Even the findings are never published it will give me a greater amount of independent working experience on a research project in preparation of my summer research project, one that I have been planning on executing for about the past year. Each week I travel to the Prince William County campus and what I do when I get there often varies on what was accomplished last week and the pressing issues that have arisen this week or any change of plans due to unforeseen events like this week I was originally going to be running PCR's but the freezer died temporarily and so we had to postpone the tests. Despite the fact that I have been working on the project for several weeks now I am still amazed by the diversity of life even in the tiny samples of soil and the inside larger living things.

URSP Student Highlights: Jood Al Aswad

I’ve learned of discoveries so strange and so separate from the way we were used to thinking that they made me wonder: why was that man so sure that the planets revolved around the Sun, and not the Earth? How is it that, without even a century between myself and this discovery, we did not know that the Earth grew, millimeter by millimeter every year, from a gas
h in the depths of the sea, and then swallowed itself up again when land collided with land? As an Earth Science student with a concentration in Geology, my education enabled me to learn about every subdivision of geology except for geophysics, which is as of yet not offered as a class. Therefore, I decided to conduct research on a branch of geophysics as a way of teaching myself about it and gaining a hands-on understanding.  

My research focuses on geodetic time series analysis and Earth tides. I use the data recorded by strainmeters from the Plate Boundary Observatory to examine the distribution of Earth tides across latitudes, and their variability based on responses to tectonic regimes of the Earth. This data will help prove or disprove the equilibrium theory of tides, which states that at different locations on Earth, different tidal signal types will be found. These tides are differentiated by their frequency, and are supposedly found uniformly within a geographic area. This will make strainmeters a revolutionary instrument in gathering data on Earth tides.


On a weekly basis, I read books and journal articles on geodesy, and meet with Dr. Linda Hinnov, who has helped me understand how to process the data using programs like Microsoft Excel and Matlab. I use Microsoft Excel to sort data from each gauge in two strainmeters, which are selected based on both latitude and tectonic regime. I then run the data through Matlab, which enables me to graph the data and interpolate the trend of the Earth tides throughout the 10 years in which the data was collected. The graphs also enable me to find the duration and type of Earth tide displayed. After processing and visualizing the data, I’ll then be able to interpret the results to find a conclusion. The knowledge I’ll gain from this project is immeasurable: thanks to OSCAR and the help of Dr. Hinnov, I’ll have an understanding on geophysics and running complex data on programs like Matlab, and the experiences I gained from this research will help me become a successful researcher in the future.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

URSP Student Highlights: Lauren Hirt

People are often curious as to what bioengineers actually do. I’ve gotten some very imaginative assumptions, such as creating human-animal mutants! Bioengineers are actually responsible for creating, designing, and researching to improve the ability of healthcare providers to care for patients. This includes a wide variety of occupations such as designing medical equipment and prosthetics, developing new pharmaceuticals, discovering more effective methods of medical imaging or processing, and statistical analysis of biological data just to name a few.

Currently, I am conducting research to find a correlation between differential pulse transit time and blood pressure. I first became interested in this project while completing a writing assignment for a technical writing class. I needed to interview one of my professors about their research process and after talking with Dr. Vasiliki Ikonomidou I was eager to get involved. She graciously allowed me to learn from her and join her neuroimaging laboratory, and it has been one of the best decisions of my academic career. Not only have I learned more about bioengineering, but I have also gained numerous skills from Dr. Ikonomidou and other undergraduate and graduate students in the lab. In addition, they have advised me on areas to consider for a career and preparing for interviews. We also have a really good time brainstorming, problem solving, or just hanging out in the lab!


A “day in the research of Lauren” consists of preforming experimental trials and analyzing the data I’m receiving. I’m using video footage to observe the differential pulse transit time, or the difference in the pulse of blood flow beneath the skin with each heart beat on two distal locations, by detecting the change in color on the subject’s forehead and palm. I am using statistical analysis to observe whether there is a correlation between this and blood pressure, which I am taking with a traditional blood pressure cuff. In order to cause a rise and fall in blood pressure, the subject does light exercise on an exercise bike. The end goal of the larger project is to create a remote blood pressure detection application. It has been very exciting to work on this project and it is exciting to see different areas I am gaining experience in that I didn’t expect. For instance, this week I have spent a considerable amount of time just learning about cameras and their settings. Research always seems to take me down paths I didn’t expect, but I am really enjoying the adventure!

URSP Student Highlights: Asha Jones

My name is Asha Jones, and I am a global affairs major and a social justice minor. For my research project, I am investigating the effectiveness of social justice curriculums from the perspective of educators, and ways in which we can improve them. I am working under the mentorship of Dr. Paul Gorski, from New Century College, as well as Alex Cromwell, an instructor in Peace Education at American University. I became interested in the field after taking a class here at Mason, NCLC 101, Narratives of Identity. In this course, we learned about different social justice issues, and how our perspectives impacted our understanding of these topics. After seeing how seemingly ignorant many of my classmates were, I became interested in social justice curriculum in high schools, and how we can first make them available for all, and secondly make them better. Ultimately, I aspire to do human rights/advocacy type work, and education is key in both of these tasks, so this research is fitting. At this point, majority of my research is reading. My research question has shifted a bit since my initial proposal, so now my time is consumed by doing additional reading to further pinpoint my question. This week, I finally had a breakthrough in terms of the focus I’d like to hone in on for my research, and as a result I was able to start to developing the interview questions I’d like to use. My study will be qualitative, and for a while I was having difficulty finding a niche within the realm of social justice education, but I believe I have figured it out.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

URSP Student Highlights: Cassandra Kostiuk

My research project is a study on the long distance swimming behaviors in polar bears and whether males or females are driven to undertake these swims more frequently. I became interested in polar bear conservation during a class on marine mammal biology after learning extensively about the numerous threats toward the species as a result of global climate change. To cope with the affects on the Arctic environment, polar bear ecology is changing and by studying these changes, more educated conservation efforts can be enacted. Through another class on marine ecology I became specifically interested in the increasing distances that polar bears were swimming. These swims often result in drowning, which draws attention to the issue of climate change. My long-term goals are to continue my education in graduate school and pursue a career in Arctic conservation. I’d like to attend graduate school in Alaska and continue working on polar bear behavior. On a weekly basis I collect data from published papers about GPS tagged polar bear movements and determine what movements are considered long distance swimming events. From there I organize the data based on sex of the polar bear, distance swam, and date(s) of the swimming event. The data will allow me to draw conclusions about the differences in long distance swimming between sexes of polar bears. I also search for journal articles about new research about polar bear ecology. This week I discovered an explanation for a slight bias in collaring female polar bears more frequently than males. One paper I read simply stated that male polar bears have necks that are just too large for the GPS collars and it results in less data regarding male polar bear movements.