Friday, February 1, 2019

URSP Student Sarah Richart Compares Sylvia’s Unabridged Journals to the Abridged Version Edited by Ted Hughes

I fell in love with Zelda Fitzgerald after reading her biography when I was sixteen. However, every time I mentioned her to people, they only spoke about her mental illness and partying, and ignore her witty writing. Sylvia Plath, my favorite poet, is constantly linked with her suicide, and her iconic poetry and prose is left by the wayside. These women were so much more than their mental illness and I couldn’t figure out why that rose to the top of the conversation over their achievements. `After reading a lot on the two women, it seemed in both cases, their husbands, Scott Fitzgerald and Ted Hughes, had control in the narrative of their lives. 

My research started off vague, just exploring the two different marriages through letters, diaries, and the fiction and poetry both couples produced. After discussing the information and patterns with my mentor, he suggested the theme of plagiarism, not only as stealing work but misrepresenting personality. After finding this focus, I was able to sharpen my lens. A huge part of my research was comparing Sylvia’s unabridged journals, and the abridged version, edited by Ted. When reading about Fitzgerald, most analysis surrounded Scott’s direct seizure of Zelda’s work and his characterization of her in his prose. 

This semester, OSCAR gave me the opportunity to learn more about two of my role models and educate others about them. How Zelda and Sylvia’s respective husbands plagiarized their work and lives has had an impact on how we talk about them. I discovered a passion for revealing the “behind the scenes” of female narrative. This project started out as literary and historical analysis, but by the end, I realize it also has roots in education. If I were to extend this research, I would want to focus on teaching female narratives in secondary education, especially focusing on how the male narrative has often dominated. Coinciding with #MeToo movement, we must empower women to use their voice, but not forget those silenced in the past. 

Thursday, January 31, 2019

URSP Megan Storkan Aims to Analyze the Link Between Women’s Historical Preservation Efforts in the 1960’s and the Resurgence of the "Lost Cause" Narrative

Some people are lucky enough to grow up thinking they know exactly what they want to do for the rest of their life. Throughout high school I thought I was one of those people, however, I could not have been more wrong. When I first came to George Mason I believed I would get a degree in Political Science and eventually go to law school to become a human rights attorney. It only took a month of government classes for me to promptly switch my major. After interning at a local museum in my hometown of Scandia, Minnesota I discovered a new passion and talent; museum
work. Since then I have been running full force towards a degree in Public History. In May I will be graduating, and in a last-minute effort to check off everything on my “Mason Bucket List” I decided to apply for a USRP grant through OSCAR last April. I knew from the minute I had heard about OSCAR that I wanted to participate somehow, however, as a history major I felt as though my field of study could not possibly produce research valuable enough to be funded. And then I came across my current research topic.

Currently there is a large scholarly conversation within the public history field surrounding the topic of the Civil War’s “Lost Cause” narrative and its effect on today’s society, almost 150 years after General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Rather than remembering the Civil War as a war between brothers, many southerners, especially women, portrayed the Confederate cause as a heroic one despite their overall defeat. This “Lost Cause” narrative was developed immediately after the Civil War, however, its acceptance regained popularity during the 1960’s. Women began to utilize the field of history as a way to enter the workforce and academia, especially through the domestication of historical preservation and the creation of historical house museums, specifically Confederate houses. My research aims to analyze how the efforts of these women in the latter half of the 20th century affected the progression and continuation of the South's "Lost Cause" narrative after the Civil War.

However, unlike much of the current publications on this topic, my research argues that while many women who began to preserve these Confederate houses and convert them into museums did so with the knowledge of what many of these people stood for, many of these women were descendants of the men who they were honoring, thus saving these houses as a way to preserve a family legacy, not a confederate one. These museums were founded by descendants of those who the memorial is in honor of, so the museums look at these Confederate officials through a family lens and not a critical one, thus making it seem synonymous with the “Lost Cause” narrative. Through oral histories, personal documents, and archival research, my research examines two Civil War era museums in Northern Virginia and the women who helped found them; The Arlington House, also known as the Robert E. Lee Memorial in Arlington, Virginia and Eleanor Lee Templeman, and The Stonewall Jackson House in Lexington, Virginia and Julia Jackson Christian Preston. 

Over the past semester I have not only learned a lot about my topic, but also a lot about myself. I have begun to realize how passionate I am about historical research, especially research in regard to historical preservation. While I still may not know exactly what I want to do with the rest of my life I do know this, I want to devote my life to telling the untold stories of people like Eleanor Lee Templeman and Julia Jackson Christian Preston. Before she passed away in 1991, Templeman wrote a manuscript entitled “Meanwhile, I was Busy”in which she documented all of the things she accomplished during her life. I think this perfectly encapsulates what this semester has felt like to me; busy, but so worth every second.

URSP Student Mera Shabti Evaluates Wetlands as a Natural Defense Against Storm Surges

Over recent years, countless devastating hurricanes have caused severe destruction to coastal habitats. Traditional methods have proven to be costly and non-sustainable. I joined forces with other engineering students to investigate how wetlands can be constructed along shorelines as a means of natural defense against storm surges. As part of the geotechnical team, I spent the past year characterizing soil at a local wetland, and developing a methodology to conduct erosion tests in a lab that could replicate erosion patterns seen at the wetland. Now, a normal week consists of running two to three erosion tests at the George Mason John Toups Instructional Laboratory for Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering, along with respective data collection and analysis. We predict that when keeping all other factors constant, density and the presence of vegetation have the greatest potential to impact rates of erosion. Thus far, comparing results of tests with vegetation as the varied factor against tests with density as the varied factor shows significant increased reduction of erosion with the presence of vegetation. This means that tangible improvement can be achieved by construction of a wetland.

Getting involved in this research launched me on an enlightening journey where I was able to practice and nourish my out-of-the-box thinking skills. I have become part of a scholarly group of graduate researchers at GMU, allowing me to expand my knowledge of elements such as a typical publication process and to gain general experience in the industry. Since becoming part of OSCAR, I have been able to build on this experience by interacting with researchers in other disciplines, and I’ve learned more about things that can be looked past when diving into a research project of this magnitude, such as proper acknowledgements, avoiding falsification of data, and more. I am excited to continue with my research all the way through, to see how I can ultimately contribute to society by unveiling the practical applications of my studies.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

URSP Student Mahmoud Moukalled Researches Possible Applications of Self-Driven Microparticles

Throughout the semester, I have been researching possible applications of self-driven microparticles. What got me interested in this specific research is the ability of something so small to be able to have such large impact on the world around us. The research was first introduced to me when my mentor, Dr. Jeffery Moran, came to present his research at one of my classes. It was only soon after that I contacted him and eventually became an OSCAR undergraduate research assistant.

When I graduate I want to work in the field of sustainability and focus on the everyday improvement of the quality of human life.  This research provides me with the opportunity to take the essential first steps to pursuing my long-term goals. This is because many of the applications of microparticles can aid the effort of improving the quality of life for humans all over the world. A big example of these applications is wastewater decontamination which could help over a 3rd of the worlds global population. 

On a weekly basis, my mentor holds meetings named “Journal Clubs” in which one of the members of the research group is to find a scholarly article based on the current research they are doing and present it to the rest of us. This helps me understand and learn certain topics at an efficient and relaxed rate. Apart from the Journal Club meetings, weekly one-on-one meetings are conducted as well to ensure the retention of information and also to keep track of how much work each individual has done.  One thing I discovered throughout my semester of doing research is how important and connected research really is. One researcher will never fully understand or make a discovery without the help of hundreds of previous researchers making their own, separate discoveries.
            

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

URSP Student Farbod Moghaddam Supports Research on the Development of Low Cost, Wireless, High Performance Electrochemical Sensors

My name is Farbod Moghaddam and I am senior majoring in Mechanical Engineering. I have been an Undergraduate Research Assistant at the Kang Lab for Micro/Nano Mechanics and Photonics with 2D materials since September 2017 supporting research on the development of low cost, wireless, high performance electrochemical sensors using graphene and radio frequency identification technology. During my freshman year, my research proposal to develop graphene-based supercapacitors as an alternative method of energy storage ranked top three in the inaugural Mechanical Engineering Research Proposal Competition and ever since then I have been fascinated with the wonder material that is graphene. 

My research focuses primarily on developing 3D porous graphene nanostructures with pore sizes of less than 2 nanometers in diameter (the average human hair strand is 100,000 nanometers) to better adsorb gas molecules. The novel method of graphene synthesis practiced at our lab relies on the carbonization of an organic polymer with a favorable composition through a laser process. The resulting material, commonly referred to as laser induced graphene, is transfer and catalyst free making it favorable for electronic applications since the conductivity is not comprised due to defects which typically occur during the synthesis process. Additionally, this method of synthesis allows for engineering of 3D porous structures through adjustment of laser power. There are two methods through which gas molecules interact with graphene: chemical adsorption (chemisorption) and physical adsorption (physiorption). One can think of physiorption as a net that physically entraps the gas molecules, which is why the 3D porous structure is so beneficial due to the high surface area to volume ratio it provides, whereas chemisorption is the chemical interaction causing the graphene to “grab” onto the gas molecules. Although the 3D porous graphene responds to the presence of all polar gases, selectivity towards certain gases can be induced through embedding reactive metals before the carbonization process. Therefore, this project long term goal is to provide the scientific community with a low cost, high performance gas sensing platform to build upon.

Every week, my team and I meet with our mentor to provide updates on recent experimental findings from the work done at the lab during the previous week and to discuss potential steps forward. Throughout this past semester (Fall 2018) I have conducted experiments with various concentrations of palladium functionalized 3D porous graphene and acetone (CH3) to determine general response trends. Palladium is highly reactive with hydrogen gas (H2) and through monitoring the change in resistance before and after exposure to acetone, it was determined that graphene samples with higher concentrations of palladium responded quicker to the presence of gas molecules and had a greater increase in resistance.

Upon graduation in Spring 2019, I hope to pursue my interest in nanotechnology and passion for research by pursuing a PhD in Mechanical Engineering with a particular focus on energy storage methods, heat transfer, and development of biomedical devices. 

Monday, January 28, 2019

URSP Student Donna Imadi Studies the Geopolitical Interdependency between Russian Actions in Influencing the Syrian and Ukranian Conflict

Hello! My name is Donna Imadi, I’m a double major in Global Affairs (concentration in Global Governance) and International Conflict Analysis and Resolution. This semester, I have spent my time studying the geopolitical interdependency between Russian actions in influencing the Syrian and Ukrainian Conflict, and the U.S response to these major international security challenges. My research aims to explore foreign policy options in resolving two of the world’s most perplexing conflicts that have come to represent massive challenges to international law and security, in their paving a new frontier into hybrid warfare.
My interest in this topic heightened after working at the U.S State Department these last two summers on foreign policy issues, and after returning from a research trip to Ukraine this Summer 2018 with the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution. As a result of my broadening perspectives through researching the policy solutions to address emerging sociological and psychological warfare strategies on my trip, I was inspired to utilize my networks in the practitioner realm to conduct in-depth research on pressing political, security, and social issues reflected in the two major global challenges to peace facing the UN Security Council today: the stalemate conflict in Ukraine and Syria. Further, I yearned to find a method to connect my practical “practitioner” experiences to my academic studies—wanting to challenge the gap between theory and practice in the realm of foreign affairs.
On a weekly basis, I read vast arrays of literature on current affairs about the dynamics unfolding in Ukraine and Syria in both energy, military, and political developments. By the end of my term, I am working toward conducting a set of 1-1 interviews with practitioners from U.S govt officials to thinktank academics, in creating the first analysis from a practitioner view point on how policy should be formulated to respond to the international crises within both Ukraine and Syria, while balancing Russian interests.

This semester, I have valued my interdisciplinary approach to research: assessing military, energy, financial, political, and environmental drivers of the current state of affairs. It has vested in me a true appreciation for all disciplines and recognition of how each specialty has immense value in and of itself—but furthermore, demonstrated to me how much stronger policy formulation can be if one brings various academic disciplines within collaboration of each other. Connecting broad concepts and ideas to formulate creative and innovative solutions to complex social problems is at the core of my research. I am thankful for the opportunity that the OSCAR office has granted students in conducting original research on nuanced topics in interdisciplinary fields, such as my own!

Friday, January 25, 2019

URSP Student Laura Hillard Researches the Impacts of Cash Transfers

My undergraduate research project with OSCAR in the Fall of 2018 was one of the most rewarding experiences of my undergraduate career. I chose to research the impacts of cash transfers, programs aimed at reducing poverty by giving low-income families cash stipends, sometimes with attached conditions on things like school enrollment.  The effectiveness of cash transfer programming in meeting education and health goals for low-income populations has gained the attention of international development professionals around the world. I am interested in researching methods in which international development programs can become more impactful so non-profits and international organizations can better utilize limited resources to serve those in need abroad. Since cash transfers have been a proven to be a relatively low-cost method of empowering vulnerable families, I wanted to learn more about the impacts these programs could have. 

My project consisted of  using Baird, Ozler, and McIntosh’s dataset published in Cash or Condition? Evidence from a Cash Transfer Experiment where they collected data on the impact of cash transfer programming on school enrollment, test scores, teenage pregnancy, and marriage rates for school-age girls in Malawi. I spent my time in the DiSC lab at the Fenwick library so I could utilize the STATA software. I first replicated the do-file attached with the data set in order to  learn more about STATA programming and the data I was working with. Then I ran my own analysis to look into the relationship between family dynamics and the effectiveness of conditional and unconditional cash transfer programs. I was curious to see if the household size or if household was headed by a female impacted the results of the cash transfer program.

This research experience taught me about an important program in the field of international development and gave me statistical analysis experience that I hope to utilize later in my career. In the future, I plan to work in the field of international development in order to serve those in need around the world. 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

URSP Student Janine Gaspari Researches Campaign Donations from the Koch Brothers

My name is Janine Gaspari and I am a senior in the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution. I am researching campaign donations from Charles and David Koch’s donor network to Virginia state legislators and those legislators voting records on policies that decrease regulations or resources given to institutions of higher education. This question arose for me while organizing for increased donor transparency with the student-led grassroots organization Transparent GMU. I saw instances of Koch donations coming with strings attached at George Mason University and other universities. Since George Mason University is a state institution, the policies that govern it come from the state legislature. This project will shed light on to what extent the Kochs are involved in higher education policy in the Virginia state legislature. 
I spend a majority of my time digging through online databases looking at bills on the Virginia Legislative Information System and looking at campaign donations on the Virginia Public Access Project. A majority of my time is spent reading through bills and analyzing the policy implications they have on institutions of higher education and their students and employees. My OSCAR experience has taught me that independent research is rigorous and takes patience, experimentation, and discipline. I feel prepared for what I hope will be a lifetime of research-based advocacy with grassroots advocacy organizations and/or within academia.  

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

URSP Student Amanda Dillon Investigates the Use of Visual Aids and Self-Monitoring

My name is Amanda Dillon and I am a senior psychology major graduating in Spring 2019. This semester I have had the pleasure of investigating how teaching the combination of using a customized visual aid and self-monitoring strategies can create better shower hygiene routines for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

My research project was inspired by my time working for the residential component of the Mason LIFE program here on campus. Mason LIFE is a post-secondary education program for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In the residential component I spend much of my time in the dorms with students working to teach independent living skills. I noticed that when it came to individuals with a deficit in shower hygiene we did not have a set way to teach these skills. At this time, I was also taking the research methods class for psychology students and was inspired to write a proposal for a project that would be able to help not only my students, but other post-secondary programs and other individuals of all ages with IDD. 

On a weekly basis I check in with participants and monitor their use of the visual. I sit down with participants and construct individualized visual aids for their personal showering routines. I remind students to send photographic evidence that they have completed their visual by physically checking a box next to each step on the list. I also track the frequency of these reports. The extent of each step that I complete varies based on participant activity for the particular week. 

My long-term goals include getting my master’s degree in special education focusing on an ABA certificate. I plan to continue my work in new improved studies with the Mason LIFE program. I hope to one day practice private ABA therapy with individuals with IDD. 

One constant thing that I have learned over the course of the semester is all of the background work that goes into creating a successful research project. I have learned practical skills like submitting an IRB and data collection strategies. I have also learned how messy research can get and how to be resilient even when everything isn’t necessarily going according to plan. I have found this opportunity to be a great chance to experience firsthand how to execute a research project within my future field. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

URSP Student Catherine Cavanagh Researches Changes in Physical-Performance Tests across College in Dancers

Hi my name is Catherine I am a senior in the Athletic Training Education Program. I have been working on a research project titled “Changes in Physical-Performance Tests across College in Dancers: A Longitudinal Prospective Examination”. The athletic training department has been collecting physical-performance data from dance students at George Mason University during their first semester and their last semester in the program since 2013. There are two complete co-horts (2013-2017, 2014-2018). I have spent time working on data management to match up dancers’ data points from their freshman year and their senior year. After data management was complete my mentor, Dr. Ambegaonkar, and I ran paired t-tests comparing freshman data to senior data. Throughout this time spent in data management and paired t-tests I have learned while researching on a team communication is how you move forward. The second half of this semester my mentor and I will work together to submit abstracts and prepare a paper for publication. It is an amazing opportunity to gain firsthand experience with the development and publication process of research. Completing research my senior year has pushed me to become more comfortable with statistics and reading literature reviews. Through completing research for the dance medicine field, I have a greater appreciation for developing athletic training fields. Traditional athletic training settings include high school and collegiate sports. However, through working with the data on dancers I have a new understanding as to why athletic trainers are needed in the field of dance and performing arts. This semester I discovered I have an appreciation for research and an appreciation for the research process. The term research can be daunting. The night I was running paired t-tests and taking a first look at the results I began to understand the weight of what I was working on. The results of this study will begin to impact dance education, dance performance, and dance medicine. I am excited to continue to work on my project this semester and submit for publication. 

Monday, January 21, 2019

URSP Student Katelyn Bittinger Studies Mason's Program for Students with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Hello! My name is Katelyn Bittinger and I am a Social Work major and Psychology minor. My URSP project for the Fall 2018 semester was focused on Mason’s program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and how the residential component of the program impacts a student’s independence and overall experience at Mason. As a first step, I decided that interviews would be the best way to find and analyze a student’s experience. Yet, before interviewing, the Institutional Review Board (IRB) must approve the study.

For the majority of the semester, I worked closely with my mentors and others from the program’s administration to make sure that my questions were asking what I wanted them to and methods for my study were ethical. This meant submitting for IRB, editing, adding, and amending my project. Even though the process was sometimes frustrating, I was so grateful for all the experience I received. Now, if someone even mutters IRB, I am ready to go. 

I think the most important thing I learned this semester is that research, in theory, seems easy but in practice is sometimes (almost always) difficult. Truthfully, there were numerous times where I felt defeated and did not think I was going to be able to present something at the end of the year. If you are there right now, just keep going. In my journey with research this semester, I gained a great relationship with both of my mentors, learned more about my own work habits, and got a basis of what research looks like in my field. In the future, the things I learned during this process will continue to help me; in Social Work, I am not sure what population I want to focus on, but I know eventually I would like to go more into the policy-side which involves research. The opportunity OSCAR gave me through URSP is unique in its nature and taught me so much and I am forever grateful to them, my mentors, and everyone else who has supported me. This is just the beginning.  

Friday, January 18, 2019

URSP Student Lauren Back Analyzes the Discovery Channel's Shark Week Content Shift from Education to Entertainment an its Affect on Public Perception of the Program

My name is Lauren Back, I’m a senior studying Communication with a double concentration in public relations and journalism and a minor in environmental science. My research project is analyzing Discovery Channel’s Shark Week’s content shift from education to entertainment, and how it is affecting public perception of the program. To do this, I created a survey for the general public who watches Shark Week about things they have noticed or not noticed in recent programming. 

This project started when I was at home with my parents watching new episodes of Shark Week over the summer. Discovery Channel always plays reruns before the new episodes come out, and I noticed a huge difference between the reruns and the new programs. In older episodes, there was an emphasis on facts and new research, highlighting important findings. The newer shows have changed drastically, focusing on sensationalism, mock shark attacks, and false facts. Newer shows feature a lot more celebrities, and less scientists. I wanted to know if I was noticing this because of my background in media, or if this was something the everyday person would pick up on. 

On a weekly basis, I watched at least one and a half seasons of Shark Week, taking notes on things I noticed and changes that were happening. I also worked with the Institutional Review Board (IRB), to create my survey that was sent out to the general public. I had to identify groups and places I could send my survey in order to get enough responses. 

Long-term, I’m hoping to work in science communication. I’m hoping to stay at George Mason to get my master’s in strategic communication. My plan is to research shark ecotourism in the U.S versus in other countries where it’s wildly successful. I want to find ways the U.S. could improve its shark diving industry, and if Shark Week’s programs being mostly abroad has anything to do with people not shark diving in the U.S. as frequently as in places featured on Shark Week. 

I’ve discovered so much through this project. I’ve hit a lot of road blocks, so I learned how to adapt and change things as necessary. I also learned that it’s okay not to be 100% sure before jumping into a project. I had no idea if I was right or wrong when this started, but my mentor Dr. Richard Craig helped me to trust my gut and to push myself. 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

URSP Student Ahmad Alach Tests Common Assays for Detecting Reactive Oxygen Species

Since the beginning of this semester, I have had the privilege of working in Dr. Caroline Hoemann’s Biomaterials and Nanomedicine Laboratory as part of the OSCAR Undergraduate Research Scholars’ Program grant. Our project is focused on testing common assays for detecting reactive oxygen species (ROS) and developing a new, easy, and efficient alternative one. The reason I became interested in this project is its usefulness in finding a way to quantify and rid the body of excess ROS that can become toxic. These ROS are thought to be precursors for many chronic diseases like atherosclerosis and diabetes. I also knew that the skills that I would learn this semester would be vital to my educational development. As a freshman, I worked as a research assistant in a Bioengineering lab that was focused on the neuroscience aspect of the field and I felt like I was lacking the lab bench experience that comes to mind when one hears the word “research.” That’s why when I got the opportunity to work in a much more hard-sciences based laboratory, I jumped at the opportunity.

As a student hoping to enter medical school after graduating, this semester has really helped me hone the skills that I hope to use as a researcher later on in my career. I see this semester as the foundation upon which I can build on during my time as a medical student and beyond. Much of my weekly routine is spent doing the same things I’ll hopefully be doing a lot of in a few years. I do literature searches, write and edit study protocols, and carry out the experiment of the day either with or without the help of my mentor, Dr. Hoemann, depending on the difficulty of the test at hand.

One thing I discovered this term is that research is much more of a give and take process than I originally thought. I can’t even count the number of times I took one step forward and then two steps backward. Sure, it’s frustrating but it’s what makes the process that much more rewardable when things go right.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

URSP Student James Erickson Examines How to Study Ebola VP40 Exosomes Part II

This past summer, I work on an OSCAR program ion Ebola VP40 and exosome research in Dr. Fatah Kashanchi’s molecular virology lab.  During this internship, I was mentored a bright Ph.D. candidate, Michelle Pleet, who taught me over the past 2 and half years various lab protocols and skills that I use to do my project today. In the fall of 2017, we had received plasmids from a collaborator who is well-established in the field. These plasmids are designed to produce a mutated form of the Ebola matrix protein (VP40), and we planned to test them in a series of experiments targeted towards determining the confirmations of VP40 necessary to enter into exosomes and have physiological effects in recipient cells. These experiments, however, were put on the back-burner until after our most recent Ebola VP40 and exosome review paper, on which I am a co-author, that is currently in progess. After learning about the URSP/OSCAR program, it became clear that the next step to advance me further in my scientific career was to head the start of the research into the Ebola VP40 mutant plasmids, and how the mutations in the VP40’s structure would affect the protein’s ability to become packaged into exosomes and affect recipient cells. As our recent Ebola paper was submitted earlier this year, we started the new research project by transfecting 293T cells with the 5 mutant VP40-producing plasmids. This was followed by Western blotting for intracellular VP40 protein levels to confirm that the cells took up the plasmids. The exosomes from these cells were next characterized by ZetaView analysis, which measures the size and concentration of extracellular vesicles by using the principles of Brownian motion. We also checked for the presence and levels of VP40 protein in the exosomes produced from the transfected cells, as well as other confirmatory exosomal markers by doing special Western blots using nanoparticles in order to concentrate the extracellular material. Ultimately, this led to 1- 2 Western blots being performed weekly to probe for and confirm the presence and levels of various host cell and mutant VP40 proteins. As at this point, I am fairly used to rigorous wet lab bench work, the experiments themselves were not difficult or particularly complicated to perform. Instead, the most eye-opening thing I learned this term was how much work is actually done to publish a paper, as all the time that wasn’t going to my OSCAR was spent on responding to the comments of reviewers from our recently submitted paper. This involved intensely researching the pre-existing literature as well as designing and running intricate control experiments to answer the reviewers’ pressing questions and concerns. All in all, I have learned a great deal this term, not only in terms of the biology we have explored in my project, but also in terms of gaining an overall better understanding of what it takes to become a successful independent researcher and scientific writer.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

URSP Student Maria Cowen Investigates the Role of Antiretroviral Treated Extracellular Vesicles on Recipient Cells

Hello! My name is Maria Cowen and I currently work in the laboratory molecular virology lab on the Prince William County Mason campus. My Fall 2018 OSCAR project is an extension of my Summer 2018 OSCAR project. This research involves examining exosomes from virally infected cells impact different types of cells in the CNS and researching potential cellular pathways to prevent damage normally made from a cell. A little bit about my project: exosomes are small nanosized extracellular vesicles (EVs) that are normally made from a cell. They carry all sorts of cargo, such as RNA, DNA and proteins, to other recipient cells. There’s an awareness of HIV associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND) in virally infected patients and many believe that exosomes have an important impact in these disorders. In my previous summer OSCAR, we discovered that there were significant changes in brain cells when treated with EVs released from infected cells treated with antiretrovirals.  The reason why I am doing this project is to potentially identify a way to mitigate cellular death.

What got me interested in this project was my role in the lab and research that I was working on previously, which involves HIV, antiretroviral drugs and exosomes. There’s a need for knowledge in the growing field of extracellular vesicles and that thirst for knowledge kept me excited to learn more things. I see this project as a fundamental part of my life; I have learned several new research techniques and practiced other skills, like submitting a grant, time management, presenting at scientific research conferences, writing manuscripts and working with fellow lab mates, all of which is an integral part of scientific research. What I have been doing in the lab involves growing millions of virally infected cells, monitoring them in the microscope, several of calculations, treating the cells with drugs, isolating and treating the exosomes onto CNS cells, doing assays for characterization and functional analysis, and impacts on the recipient cells. One thing I discovered was this semester was the importance of time management, especially when working with biological materials and the importance of the depth of research concepts.

Monday, January 14, 2019

URSP Student Sheryne Zeitoun Conducts Vector-borne Disease Surveillance, Control, and Pathogen Discovery

My name is Sheryne Zeitoun, I am a senior majoring in Community Health, and my long-term goal is to pursue a career in medicine. The journey into the enthralling, never-ending world of scientific research and medicine has been a passion and desire of mine for the majority of my life. My time as an undergraduate researcher has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my academic career, as it has allowed me to apply theoretical knowledge from the classroom to the real world. My URSP project is part of my mentor's (Dr. von Fricken) ongoing research on vector-borne disease surveillance, control, and pathogen discovery, spanning from Virginia, to Mongolia, to Kenya. 

Ticksare notorious vectors of human and animal pathogens. These arthropods play an important role in the spillover of emerging zoonotic diseases, which represent a growing global threat as humans increase contact with wildlife and the diseases they carry. Consistentfield research and surveillance on tick-borne diseases is particularly important to monitor changes in tick populations that may be caused by globalization, changing climates, and increased international/domestic travel. Our project looks to explore and tackle these problems. 

This past summer, we conducted tick-borne disease surveillance in Virginia, and this prepared me for active field surveillance of ticks in Kenya. After we collected the ticks by dragging and/or flagging a cotton cloth on a dowel, samples were separated by their respective species, sampling location, and tick life stage. Representative ticks were then preserved in ethanol. Once we finish conducting an analysis of tick data, the relative threat of different bacterial illnesses can be estimated based on prevalence of each tick species. We expect our results to show us what infectious agents the collected ticks carry, which geographical areas had the highest density of infected ticks, and which species were most likely to be infected with which bacteria. 

Throughout my time spent doing research with Dr. von Fricken, I have truly engaged with the intricacies of the research process. Having the opportunity to work both locally and directly in an international setting improved my cultural competency, expanded my research confidence, and reiterated the importance of understanding the drivers behind emerging diseases.

Friday, January 11, 2019

URSP Student Thy Vo Studies the Effect of Irradiation and Autophagy Drugs in HIV-1 Treatment

My interest in HIV research started in the Summer of 2017 when I did the Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program (ASSIP) at Dr. Fatah Kashanchi’s lab. I studied the autophagy pathway in HIV-infected cells over the summer. Autophagy is the pathway regulating the degradation of unnecessary cellular components. After the summer, Dr. Kashanchi was kind enough to let me stay in his lab to do further research. The more I learn about these viruses, the more fascinating they are to me. I feel very fortunate to gain the research experience like this as an undergrad since this would be very helpful for my future education in graduate school. My OSCAR project is about the use of irradiation (IR) in HIV treatment. 
I go to the lab 3 – 4 days to work on my Fall OSCAR project. The first thing I do when I get into the lab is to look at my calendar and see what I need to do that day, and the last thing before I leave the lab is to write down a to-do list for my next day. Typically, there is always at least one day in a week that I would do data analysis and subculture my cells. On the other days, I either work on the experiment or discuss the next steps of the experiment with my mentor.
One thing I discovered this semester is that even though the experiment may not go as planned sometimes, there is always a new thing for us to learn no matter how the experiment turns out. At first, we planned to study only the effect of IR in the vesicles released by HIV-infected cells. However, as the experiment went on, we think that we can have better effect by combining Rapamycin (an autophagy inducer) with IR. We also use another autophagy inducer called INK128, but we put a lot more hope into Rapamycin since it is a more popular drug and has been used for a much long time than INK128. However, the result is not what we expected, and INK128 turns out to be a better candidate than Rapamycin. We were quite disappointed at first since we put our focus on Rapamycin. However, we were delighted later to find that our data consistently support INK128 throughout the experiment. 

Thursday, January 10, 2019

URSP Student Jalah Townsend Researches the Experience of Black Students at George Mason

This semester, I have had the opportunity to complete a research project on the experience of Black students at George Mason. This project specifically explores the impact that identity centered organizations have on the transition of first year Black students in order to find effective ways to support these students. I became interested in this topic after realizing that the term “diverse” now appears in every university’s mission statement. However, as universities are transitioning to include minority populations, employees are often unprepared to support these students, especially within a student’s transition from high school into college. As a result, many colleges and universities rely on the support given to students through their peers through identity centered organizations that pertain to a student’s race or ethnicity such as organizations like the Black Student Alliance, the Caribbean Student Association and the African Student Association. Through these organizations, many first-year students have the opportunity to find a community that gives them a positive experience which often contributes to their successful transition into college.
I am grateful for this opportunity as it will help me prepare for the future. I am hoping to receive my master’s degree in Higher Education where I will essentially study the experiences of students at various universities in America. In order to complete research such as this, having the experience in completing multiple interviews each week, like I have this semester is invaluable. This semester, I have learned so much- what works and what doesn’t and from this experience, I have truly learned that my passion lies in student affairs.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

URSP Student Holly To Researches How Water Quality is Affected by Land Use

During the winter break of 2017, I assisted my professor on learning about a new equipment known as the ion chromatogram in the lab. I learned how to use the ion chromatograph as well as create necessary components for the data acquisition process. I would investigate the ion levels in local stream water. From there, my interest in finding out how water quality is affected by land use developed. Participating in this project has been allowed me to see the overall impact of land use across different seasons on the quality of water. 
When I think about my long-term goals, I believe it will play a large role in the direction I am aiming towards. I hope to one day attend medical school and laboratory experience is a necessity. This project has not only given me an opportunity to research something I enjoy but also provide me with laboratory experience that I may share when I apply to medical school. 
On a weekly basis, I run lab tests that include finding pH, turbidity, conductivity, alkalinity, and total suspended mass. In addition, I would run each sample collected- which is collected biweekly- through the ion chromatogram. 
What I discovered this term is that there are always set backs with researching. Through my research process, I have experienced multiple set backs that keep me incapable of moving ahead until the problem is resolved. While I realize that these issues do hold me from finishing my research in a timely manner, it allows me to learn that research doesn’t follow a timely schedule and that patients areimportant in the research process. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

URSP Student Karen Therrien Studies the NMDA Receptor

Throughout the semester I am studying a protein called the NMDA receptor, assessing how it operates in mouse spinal cord neurons. This receptor can be found throughout the brain and spinal cord in mammals and is crucial to information storage within the nervous system. The NMDA receptor is perhaps best known as a facilitator of memory formation and learning, two processes that require the connections between individual neurons to be both strengthened and weakened throughout development. 

However, I became interested in this topic due a lesser-known aspect of NMDA receptor function. My cousin has a rare genetic condition called the Phelan-McDermid Syndrome, which generally results in speech delay, intellectual disability, and varied physical complications such as epilepsy. Recent work with mouse models of this condition has shown a direct link between the Phelan-McDermid Syndrome and reduced NMDA receptor activity. This inspired me to search for a way to study this receptor in isolation, using the techniques I had learned from my work in Dr. Peixoto’s Neural Engineering Lab. 

At the beginning of the semester I had the opportunity to perform an animal surgery for the first time, removing the spinal cords from tiny, embryonic mice. I then spent several weeks monitoring the spinal cord neurons I had removed and recording neural firing from individual cultures. Although many of the neurons began to die midway through the semester, preventing me from performing most of the experiments I had originally planned, I adapted to the setback and have shifted gears. Currently I’m working on using targeted fluorescent stains to tag protein markers within spinal cord and prefrontal cortex mouse neurons, in order to better visualize the cells. This experience overall has strengthened my drive to continue research while at Mason, possibly leading to graduate work in neuroscience and genetics.     

Monday, January 7, 2019

URSP Student Jeremy Schimmel Researches Kinesiophobia and its Connections to Chronic Ankle Instability

My project is focused on researching kinesiophobia and if there is connection to chronic ankle instability (CAI). The main impetus for this project was when I was working with one athlete who had a history of lateral ankle sprains (LAS). This athlete was experiencing pain despite the ankle being structurally sound. I applied so that I could research this gap in literature to help athletes in similar situations.

In relation to my long-term goals this project helps me see firsthand what goes in to creating original research. This project is helping me to strengthen my writing for graduate school. It also provides a great stepping stone for future research as my desired focus for graduate school is sports psychology. This project has been great in helping me realize what I want to continue to study in the future.

Since the study is a survey, my tasks can vary week by week. They have ranged from handing out and posting flyers for prospective participants to assisting in abstract writing for conferences. It has been an amazing experience where truly no one week is the same. 

I discovered that research is not always going to be easy. There will be bumps in the road and you cannot get distracted by them. Often you must keep moving forward in order to achieve the overall goal. Failure can happen and should not be a moment of despair. Every mistake is an oppurtunity to learn and become better from it. Oscar has taught me that there is always something you can learn.