Monday, June 8, 2020

URSP Student Javi Talavera Develops a Wheelchair Training Simulation for Wheelchair Users

This semester my project was to develop a wheelchair training simulation that would
automatically generate training scenarios for wheelchair users. The goal of my research was to
find an effective alternative to current wheelchair training methods. The three main methods of
training that my team and I identified was the use of a human coach, self teaching through trial
and error, and video tutorial or instructions manual. Of the three we identified our focus was on
solving limitations including things such as lack in variability of location or time when training
can be completed.

The first step to my project was to create the automatically generated environments in a
software known as Unity. The generation of the scenarios used a cost based approach combined with the Metropolis Hasting Algorithm ​to generate indoor environments with a specified training path for the user to follow. Working on this taught me a lot about a machine learning technique
known as reinforcement learning and how to apply it in my simulation. Before working on this
section I knew very little about acceptance algorithms such as the Metropolis Hasting algorithm
and did a lot of research on the benefits that came with using it in the generation of my training
simulation. By working on this part of the project I gained more experience in the Unity software
and how to apply different abstract concepts in my coding.

After the simulation was created the next step was to create the movement of the virtual
wheelchair. This was accomplished by using trackers that were placed on each wheel of a
manual wheelchair. The rotation of the wheels on the wheelchair were tracked and translated to
movement in the virtual space.

The next step was to perform the user study and collect our data. I was fortunate enough
to perform the user study before everything with COVID-19 took place leaving me with just the
need to compile the data for my research.  I continued to meet with my mentor on a weekly basis
through the use of google hangouts to compile the data. With the data I was able to conclude that
our training method did increase precision and maneuverability of the wheelchair of those put
through the simulation. The next steps to this project are to look at how to include realistic
outdoor environments for the user to train in.

My experience with URSP was a very rewarding one and helped me learn a lot about the
research field and how to adapt to different situations. It also gave me the opportunity to gain
hands-on learning in fields of research that interests me and overall has provided me with a very
beneficial experience.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

URSP Student Leela Yaddanapudi Develops a Hate Speech Detection Algorithm for Political Hate Incidents on Twitter

This semester, I worked on a project related to Twitter data analysis on politically motivated race-related events. This includes the trial for Patrick Crusius’s El Paso shooting at a Walmart in Texas, incidents of hate on college campuses, and other crimes committed by political extremists in 2020. Tweets on each of these incidents were gathered and categorized into non-offensive, offensive, and hate speech categories. The goal of this project was to design a machine-learning algorithm that could effectively determine hate speech from tweets related to politically motivated events. The jargon for political hate speech is constantly changing, which was why I decided to specifically focus on current politics to design the most effective algorithm. Additionally, many studies suggest that a strong correlation exists between online hate speech and offline violence. Researchers are constantly trying to improve machine-learning hate speech algorithms and I attempted to design an algorithm of my own that could pick up on the most concealed variations of political hate speech.

For most of this project, I used python to gather and analyze my tweets, the hate base API for testing, and Octave to compare the accuracy of the results from my algorithm with existing hate speech detectors. I fed the machine-learning algorithm four out of the five incidents of hate, which consisted of 80% of the tweets gathered, and the rest were used for testing. The algorithm had an accuracy of about 81% while the Hate Base API was unable to categorize even the most obvious political hate speech. I also performed some qualitative analysis on the tweets gathered by analyzing how sentiments and popularity of tweets changed following the first few weeks after an incident occurred.

My project was originally geared towards qualitative analyzation of the tweets using the hate base API. However, after discovering that it was not able to detect political hate speech at all, I decided to design my own hate speech algorithm, which took up most of my project. Originally, I planned on performing more testing related to political hate incidents in 2020. However, due to Covid-19 and quarantining, I couldn’t find as many political hate incidents that went viral on Twitter, so I was unable to gather as many tweets and perform the testing I wanted to. Instead, I just worked on further qualitative analysis of the tweets and comparing my hate speech detection algorithm against the most widely used hate speech detection platform, Hate Base. In terms of my next steps for this project, I plan on making my hate speech algorithm broader because it is only able to recognize political hate speech currently. Additionally, I hope to utilize the viral tweets generated by future hate incidents on social media to further teach my machine-learning algorithm and increase its accuracy.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

URSP Student Arielle Rosenberg Creates a Uyghur Genocide and Human Rights Awareness Campaign

As an aspiring human rights attorney, I am always looking for ways to get involved in major social issues and attempt to make a difference. I constantly ponder the questions of “Why do atrocities keep happening?” “What drives people towards involvement in Human Rights issues?” and “How do we best approach this situation to ensure lasting and significant resolutions?” As a Jew, I have always been particularly troubled by the concept of Genocide, intending to focus my career around anti-Genocide and humanitarian efforts. Thus, when I first began hearing about the Uyghur Muslim situation occurring in the Xinjiang region of China today, I could not simply sit idly back and watch things unfold to mimic previous Genocides throughout history. Therefore, I decided to be both proactive in my advocacy and my research in order to understand what drives others to get involved in Human Rights causes and attempt to make a contribution to the human rights and conflict resolution fields. 

With the help of my amazing mentor, Dr. Douglas Irvin-Erickson, and research partner, Quinton Walsh, I was able to articulate the goals and methodology of our potentially groundbreaking research project and earn funding to carry out such research. The road that followed has not been an easy one; between balancing an 18-credit course-load and struggling to obtain IRB approval for my research, we were initially off to a slow start. Just before Spring Break though, we were able to obtain the approval we needed to conduct our research, and things had started looking up as we began coordinating with academic departments for their cooperation in the project. 

Our original plan was to utilize surveys of on-campus populations, whether they be students, faculty members, or workers, to understand what was previously known about the Uyghur situation prior to our campaigning efforts, then to enact what we call an “awareness campaign” in which we conduct on campus tabling, speaking events, film screenings, and a congressional letter-writing initiative to measure the change in participant knowledge about and attitude towards the Uyghur situation throughout the semester of activism. But then, COVID-19 struck, and we were unfortunately unable to return to campus to complete our research. Our project, in its fundamental methodology and planning, is dependent on in-person participation and does not have the capability of reaching the audience and results we desire without on-campus activities.

Despite the bleak fate of our project for the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester on campus, I have remained steadfast in my efforts to raise awareness of the Uyghur situation; utilizing my personal social media to spread knowledge of the situation and educating friends and family myself on the situation. Additionally, my teammates and I were able to adapt to the current COVID-19 situation by taking proactive measures to utilize our funding and re-design our project for the Fall 2020 semester. Adapting our project and coming to the ultimate decision to put off our primary efforts until the Fall of 2020 was a difficult decision to make, as we realize our project has the capability to alter the lives of others, if successful. However, we had to realize that our efforts and findings would not be anywhere near as accurate and attainable as we had hoped in our original planning, and thus it was necessary to postpone our project for a semester. Although our hope is to be able to return to campus in the Fall to conduct our project the original way, we will at least know early enough this time around if we need to utilize a “plan b” for conducting our research entirely or partially virtually. We plan on effectively implementing our research and findings in the Fall of 2020 to continue our efforts, even if in a non-traditional way, to contribute to the Human Rights and Conflict Resolution fields and make a positive impact on the lives of others.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

URSP Student Ali Ahmad Investigates the Effects of Lead on Metabotropic Glutamatergic Receptors in the Brain

This semester I conducted research on the effect of lead on metabotropic glutamatergic receptors in the brain. It is widely known that chronic exposure to lead can cause serious neurological damage, potentially causing deficits in cognitive development. The goal of my research was to detail the specific mechanism in which lead affects our brains. Lead targets specific receptors in our brains that control the transmission of glutamate, a neurotransmitter that is vital in cognitive development. The specific receptor my project focuses on is the mGluR7a metabotropic glutamatergic receptor. To test the function of this receptor, Xenopus Laevis oocytes were used as a model system.  

The first objective of my project was to build a fully functioning electrophysiology lab where I could conduct the experiment. This involved purchasing and setting up microscopes, displays, a perfusion-vacuum system, and a two-electrode voltage clamp system. A variety of electrophysiology solutions were also made to be used later on. Prior to actual experimentation, I practiced techniques such as injecting the oocytes to help me during the actual experiment. These skills and materials were to be used to begin recording data and measuring the response of these oocytes in the presence of lead. 

However, before any conclusive data was obtained, COVID-19 forced us to stop our work in the lab. Eager to continue my project, I worked with my mentor Dr. Greta Ann Herin, to find a way to continue researching my topic. Dr. Herin provided me with existing data that gave me a look at how lead impairs the function of these receptors in oocytes. This allowed me to reach a conclusion that lead does indeed impair these glutamatergic receptors in a concentration-dependent manner. 

Overall, my URSP experience allowed me to build on a critical skill in the field of research, which is adaptability. Despite the COVID-19 crisis, I was still able to continue my project and present my research. Moving forward I hope to soon be able to get back into the lab and continue the research process.

Monday, May 11, 2020

URSP Student Paresha Khan Researches Lead Poisoning in Frog Eggs

How does the glycine receptor contribute to the cognitive-behavioral effects that humans experience due to lead poisoning? I am interested to study this research topic because lead poisoning has been an issue for a long time now. Apart from children acquiring lead poison by accidentally eating dirt, some older homes still have lead paint on their walls which also contribute to accumulating in the soil. This can prevent families from planting fruits and vegetables in their gardens. Although lead poisoning has its cures, the detrimental effects left in someone’s brain after getting the disease remains. People with lead poisoning can develop problems to their cognitive ability which can affect motor function, memory, vision, and the ability to make decisions. 

Therefore, I am specifically studying glycine receptors because they are responsible for fast inhibitory neurotransmission in the CNS, predominantly in the spinal cord and brainstem as well as the retina. This receptor in the human body plays a role in allowing neurons to fire so that signals can be sent to our brain in order to complete everyday tasks. By using the glycine receptor, I will be injecting frog eggs with several solutions to see how lead poisoning affects the way they function. 

Apart from conducting the actual research, I play a role in actually building the neuroscience lab from scratch. Dr. Herin is the first professor at George Mason to be studying this topic; our team has put together all of the equipment and protocol necessary for this project every week. We have put together two microscopes, the current and voltage meter needed to measure the frog eggs, a TV in order to see the microscopic images in high definition, making solutions needed for the injections, and setting up the test tubes needed for the solutions. Last week, we started injecting the frog eggs for the first time with DI water. By practicing this technique, we plan on injecting the eggs with RNA after spring break. After our group becomes acclimated to injecting the eggs, we will begin the research project with the glycine receptor. 

In the long-run, I think that this project will give us great results that will show us how lead poisoning can affect frog eggs. We can run multiple trials with various solutions to cure the lead poisoning while also observing the negative cognitive effects it leaves behind. Apart from this project, I strongly believe that we are building a useful lab that future students at George Mason University can use.

Friday, May 8, 2020

URSP Student Sara Jeffreys Researches Dwarf Galaxies

I am currently pursuing a career as a professor to study Astronomy, and I have found a
passion for Radio Astronomy, specifically. This is the study of the universe in different
wavelengths of light, usually in the Radio frequency, but it can sometimes include others. I have studied galaxies in in the past in my courses, and found myself to be very interested in them from the start. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to pursue my interest in galaxies through this research project. 

Dwarf galaxies are so different from larger galaxies, and very hard to study because of their small size. My research has hopefully enhanced our knowledge of them. Scientists have made the connection that in larger galaxies there is a linear correlation between the Radio continuum and Infrared luminosities. Because dwarf galaxies are so much smaller, their characteristics tend to be different than larger galaxies, and do not follow this relationship for some reason. What will the lack of a linear correlation in dwarf galaxies do to the Radio-Infrared relation plot? Is there even a Radio-Infrared correlation to be found in them? If not, then what makes the dwarf galaxies different? 

 My research has given me the opportunity to study the properties of a group of dwarf galaxies. I have calibrated data of a dwarf galaxy in the Radio frequency and imaged and measured its flux value. Over the past few weeks, I have taken a more programming approach, thanks to the pandemic, and began the plotting phase of the research. I actually created a final plot that compares the dwarf galaxies we studied with a random set of normal sized galaxies in the Infrared vs Radio. The results were not what we expected them to be, and so I am excited to further continue this research in different Radio emissions band, to see if the unexpected trend will continue. Therefore, I will continue to program and do my literary research in order to understand exactly what is going on with dwarf galaxies. I am thoroughly excited.

Monday, April 20, 2020

URSP Student Katie Russell Researches Population Sizes of River Herring in The Potamac River

This semester, in Dr. Kim de Mutsert’s fish ecology lab, I am conducting an OSCAR project where I am researching population sizes of river herring, the collective name for alewife and blueback herring, in three tributaries of the Potomac River. River herring have historically had important commercial and recreational value, but in recent years have experienced population decline. In my research, I utilize field collections and data analysis with the goal of determining differences in population sizes of river herring between three tributaries in the Potomac River. I’m also researching which water quality parameters (such as pH, water temperature, etc.) may have an influence on the river herring population sizes. Each of these tributaries receives different amounts of treated wastewater discharge and runoff from impervious surfaces like streets. Both discharge and runoff can impact water quality, which in turn can impact populations of fish such as river herring.

I became interested in researching river herring after spending the summer of 2019 monitoring a commercially important run of sockeye salmon for the U.S. Forest Service in southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. Upon returning to George Mason in the fall, I wanted to continue working with fish like salmon, so I started to work in Dr. de Mutsert’s lab at the Potomac Science Center and developed an interest in river herring. River herring are similar to salmon in that they are both anadromous, which are fish that spend their adult life in the ocean but return to freshwater tributaries to spawn. Doing research on river herring is preparing me to do a graduate degree in fisheries, where I hope to conduct research on anadromous fish that are important to humans. Eventually, I hope to become a fisheries biologist for the U.S. Forest Service and manage projects aiding in the conservation of fish.

On a weekly basis, I typically spend several hours filtering river herring data collected over the past several years and analyze the data statistically for relationships and trends. Starting in mid-March, I will collect new data for this year by making field collections and observations of river herring and water quality data with other individuals in Dr. de Mutsert’s lab to complete my OSCAR project that will be important in my career pursuits.

Friday, April 17, 2020

URSP Student Alexis Robbins Creates a Data Analysis Platform for Biomarker Identification in Lung Cancer Immune Therapy

The objective of this project is to create a computational platform to be used by researchers to more easily assess histochemical images. The specific application that is being focused on are images of lung cancer tissue biopsies. I became interested in this project because I am deeply passionate about oncology research. The prevalence of cancer is astounding; 1 in 2 American men and 1 in 3 American women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. Research to improve treatment and screening of cancer is imperative. Given my experience in my major, bioengineering, and through past research in data mining, I felt confident that I could do this crucial project justice.

This project related to my long-term goals in many different ways. After I graduate from Mason, I will pursue research in health care. This research experience will give me vital insight and skills that will be valuable and translatable to my future career. On a weekly basis, I am programming to optimize my software platform. There are many design decisions that need to be made on top of getting the software to even work as best as possible. I have learned a lot already this semester. I have gained a greater understanding of the biology behind lung cancer and some treatments associated with this disease. This project is also my first experience with software development which is valuable knowledge in a world becoming more technological by the day.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

USRP Student Jasmine James Investigates The Relationship Between Vitamin A Derivatives and Zebrafish Embryo Development

My name is Jasmine James and I am a junior, biology major and data analysis minor. This semester I am participating in URSP to answer a question I have been wondering about for years. The question stems from something my mother used to tell me a lot, “When I was pregnant with you, I couldn’t get a relaxer”.

There are many factors which can affect pregnancy, one of which is a chemical compound called retinoic acid. It is a naturally occurring chemical, which in regulated doses promotes the development of the spine. However, it is also known to have negative effects when introduced in excess. There are also multiple chemicals which are very similar to retinoic acid, such as retinol and retinol palmitate. Retinol is a major portion of Vitamin A and is how retinoic acid exists prior to its conversion after being taken into the body. Retinol palmitate is the synthetic version of retinoic acid which is used in cosmetics such as sunscreen and hair relaxers. I began to wonder if these two compounds have the same effect on the embryos as retinoic acid. 

To determine the effects, we used the model organism of zebrafish. They are the prime model for studies involving embryo development due to how rapidly they develop, and how easy they are to care for.  I have been working with Dr. Olmo to study the zebrafish embryos until they reach 72 hours of life before imaging them and analyzing the images. We analyze how their tails are bent based upon exposure group: retinoic acid, retinol, retinol palmitate, or negative control. Through this process I hope to delve as far into my research as I can to gain a better understanding of vitamin A derivatives, and the complex nature that is developmental biology.

Friday, March 20, 2020

URSP Student Mitch Martinez Works to Research and Develop a Cyber Reconnaissance Working Dog System

Working dogs often play a niche role in various military operations and investigations. They are are historically recognized for their unique sensory and search capabilities in which humans have vitally depended on. Growing up, working dogs have always been an integral part of my life. My dad was a former explosives canine handler and division specialist. In Fall 2019, I was looking for a course project that I could use to simultaneously further my experience outside of the classroom. So, I decided to look at what I already knew. I discovered that non-line-of-sight (NLOS) canine control was well sought after by handlers and that little research had been conducted involving working dogs in the cyber domain. I initiated a plan of research and began reaching out to canine trainers and relevant researchers. I asked my professor, Dr. Winston, to mentor a project that bridges the gap between working dogs and cybersecurity.

Despite recent developments in artificial intelligence and an increased emphasis on robotics, nothing compares to the to the portability, agility, and trainability of working dogs in mission environments.  By developing a mobile low-power signal and packet gathering sniffer, harness-wearing working dogs would be able to directly contribute to passive reconnaissance operations as the delivery device to areas of interest.  Once the dog reaches the target location and hides, operatives would then be able to remotely execute probing commands and automated scripts utilizing modern hacking software and log analysis tools. However, long distance off leash handler-to-canine communication remains a challenge. 

Nevertheless, based on current canine training practices, this project aiming to solve the dilemma by integrating established lidar, radar, and GPS technologies coupled with wireless signal capturing capabilities. Following a ‘just enough data’ paradigm, fault tolerant NLOS communication between handler and canine may be achieved

By utilizing a smartphone, microcomputer, and software-defined radio, remote communication via audio frequencies and harness vibrations may be established over a peer-to-peer LTE network supported by machine learning detection algorithms and signal engineering techniques. The development of this technology would provide governments and agencies a niche risk averse alternative to unmanned-aerial-vehicles and hardware dead drops. The intended cyber psychical system use-cases are for discrete night operations where human-threatening boundaries are present. Working dogs may be the most reliable and non-invasive weapon for delivering cyber reconnaissance tools in these scenarios.

Monday, March 16, 2020

URSP Student Ellie Carlson Researches the Experiences of Mobile Food Venders in Washington D.C

Last spring, I conducted a research project about the experiences of mobile food vendors in Washington, D.C., through OSCAR’s URSP.  My favorite part of this experience, by far, was the data collection phase.  On a typical day of collecting data, I would canvass food truck hotspots around the city and interview vendors during the downtime before the lunch rush.  Vendors shared their stories, offered tips and tricks of the trade, and gave me the lowdown on what’s happening in the vending community. At one point, I was even recruited on board to help cater to a sudden crowd of tourists!  

While there were many laughs, almost everyone shared their struggles since the city enacted more restrictive vending policies.  Many traditional street vendors disclosed multiple arrests, criminal charges, and excessive fines as a result.  On the other hand, many gourmet food truck drivers shared stories of success and how they expanded their businesses despite the change in policy. This contrast begged the question: why are the experiences of mobile food vendors who operate in the same industry, governed by the same set of rules, so different? As it turns out, my findings from last year raised more questions than answers that I hope to address in continuing my research this semester.  

 Overall, my URSP experience enhanced my education in so many ways. It enabled me to follow my curiosity, challenge myself as a student, and explore a different career path that I would never imagine considering. It also gave me a chance to engage with student researchers from various disciplines.  I found it incredibly inspiring and motivating to join a community where everyone is just as excited about following their curiosities. Finally, this experience fostered a greater appreciation for my education. It offered me a unique vantage point where I could see the culmination of all the knowledge and skill that I’ve worked so hard for throughout my years at Mason. This makes it all worthwhile.  

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

URSP Student Allison Dockum Explores the Differences in the Tibialis Anterior between Able-Bodied and Drop Foot Subjects Using Sonomyography

The goal of my project is to image the muscular differences in the tibialis anterior (located in the shin) between able-bodied and drop foot patients using sonomyography, also referred to as ultrasound. This will be done as a first step in my long-term goal to create an alternative method for the treatment of drop foot. Drop foot (sometimes called foot drop) is a neuromuscular condition that prevents a person from lifting their foot in dorsiflexion during the heel strike phase of the gait cycle. Current treatments include ankle-foot orthosis (AFO) and functional electrical stimulation (FES). However, both treatments are limited in their ability to provide a long-term therapeutic treatment of the condition. A therapeutic treatment improves muscle function over time and helps the patient regain independence. Eventually, I would like to combine the AFO and FES treatments in new, hybrid device, hopefully able to provide a novel therapeutic treatment. 

I am passionate about this research from my own personal experience with drop foot. Frustrated by the inefficiencies with AFO’s, I decided to create my own. I learned along the way how FES was being used to treat drop foot and decided to incorporate it into my design. The mentorship of Dr. Siddhartha Sikdar and PhD student Joseph Madji have helped me explore my interests and taught me how to frame a scientific research project. I am grateful for their guidance.

Throughout the week, I spend my time reading various journal articles and modifying my research approach and questions. I collect data using pulse echo ultrasound and continuous wave doppler of the tibialis anterior, and then perform some preliminary data analysis in Matlab and LabView. 
From this experience, I have learned everything is not always as straight forward as it would seem. There are often multiple sub-questions that must be answered before reaching the end goal, and sometimes you may have to back track or perform the experiment again. Patience is key.

Monday, March 2, 2020

URSP Student Maggie Walker Researches AZE Threatened species

The Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) identifies the world’s most vulnerable species. These species are considered endangered or critically endangered and only have one remaining population in one location. These locations are known as AZE sites, a designation which allows them to be prioritized for conservation efforts. AZE species are all considered endangered or critically endangered. However, threatened species can also be listed as near threatened, vulnerable, or extinct in the wild by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). 

For my URSP project, I am working with Dr. Luther and the Biology Department using Geographic Information Systems to compare a global map of AZE sites with global data on all categories of threatened species. We will analyze the data to determine how many other non-AZE threatened species exist at each site, what percentage of threatened species are and are not covered by AZE sites, and how many are already in protected areas, along with other breakdowns. Since AZE sites already receive special conservation attention, we are hoping to demonstrate that by protecting these sites, other threatened species would also be protected. This project is very timely as this year the global Convention on Biological Diversity is expected to adopt a Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework in its efforts to work towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. As decisions are made for the future of conservation, it is important that world leaders have all the information necessary to do what is best for our planet and its species.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

URSP Student Julie Demyanovich Researches the Factors Associated with Student Game Development Success

In Spring 2019, I was selected for undergraduate funding, and I conducted an exploratory study about the factors associated with student game development team success. Students in team projects were asked to fill out surveys at three different points of the game development process. This project was founded on the idea of finding creative ways to take a multi-disciplinary approach that blend the fields of psychology and computer game design in an academic setting. An interesting finding was the progression of skill confidence between the beginning, middle, and end of team projects. The continuing research this semester is an investigation into the relationship between experience, confidence, and expectations of obtaining a job upon graduation. The biggest difference between this study and similar studies is that the participants are undergraduates, graduate students, and alumni from 4-year game design programs within the past 5 years. 

As a game producer and psychology researcher, I want to find creative ways to engage others and motivate them towards achieving higher levels of success. Through this study, I am gaining insight on how game design students view their skills before and after graduation in a cross-sectional study. I will use this knowledge to contribute to the game design program here at the university and continue to enhance my experience in working with others through organizational leadership.

Every Week, I communicate with my mentor, Dr. Seth Hudson. I am also working with the professors in the game design program and recent graduates to gather responses to the survey. Upon receiving the responses, I analyze and write-up the data for publication. This semester, I have become better acquainted with research methodology and publishing findings. I have also become familiar with the process of applying to conferences. I would like to thank Dr. Seth Hudson, the Computer Game Design program, and OSCAR for their continued support throughout my studies.

Monday, February 24, 2020

URSP Student Julia Baines Explores the Relationship between Advice-Seeking Propensity and Self-Efficacy at Work

My enthusiasm for industrial and organizational psychology and my work with my advisor Dr. Dalal and PhD student Balca Alaybek helped inform the topic of my OSCAR project. The goal of this study is to expand research on advice-seeking by providing necessary insight into the relationship between advice-seeking propensity and self-efficacy (self-perceived competence) at work. My research will examine the conditions under which asking for advice from others results in people feeling more versus less confident about their own abilities. I hope to address the concern that habitually asking other for advice might lead to lower perceptions of one’s own efficacy at work. My study will examine employees in jobs of varying levels of complexity and employees with different lengths of job experience (i.e., tenure). These two variables are likely to have considerable moderating effects on the relationship between advice-seeking and self-efficacy (self-perceived competence) in the workplace. 

This project is closely related to my long-term goals in that I would love to further pursue the topic of advice-seeking or related topics in a PhD program. Conducting this project has allowed me to develop my passion for research and explore my specific research interests in greater detail. I meet with my advisor to discuss my project and go over status updates weekly. Since I am currently collecting data, there is a lot to talk about! My daily schedule includes checking incoming data to make sure there are no (or minimal) abnormalities and trying to stay up to date on relevant literature. On a large scale, this project has impressed upon me the value of organization! When conducting research, it is important to have a name and a place for every document, paper, and data set. Staying organized is instrumental in productive and successful research. 

Saturday, January 11, 2020

URSP Student Hannah Johns Explores the Connection Between the Cost of the War in Colombia and the Value of the Biodiversity Present in the Country

I study the environment, through the perspective of analyzing the impacts it can relay on people. Studying people and culture is the most striking topic to me, and I knew my goal for research was to study the vulnerabilities the environment can project upon people, especially vulnerable populations such as indigenous people. Through my process in OSCAR, I became more interested in the study of environmental security, which utilizes people in planning and mediating the effects that war and violence can impose on the environment and natural resources, and which in turn will have larger effects on all people. I decided to study environmental security in Latin America, and if there is a connection between the cost of the war in Colombia and the value of the biodiversity present in the country.

To stay weekly engaged with my project I would find new sources, through the Mason Library databases, to contribute to the background, and context necessary for my research on the country of Colombia and its 50-year war. I also continued to learn more about the field of environmental security and the theories involved. During this time, I also received approval for my interview process from the Institutional Review Board, so that I would be able to include interviews in my project from indigenous people, and environmental scholars from Colombia that I would meet at the Nature for Climate Hub conference.

While I was attending the conference in September, I learned more about the solutions and projects that were being achieved by the scholars featured. These studies expanded on everything I had originally learned in the classroom, which caused me to be able to synthesize and connect the fields of environmental science, conflict analysis, and of anthropology. I also met many renowned scholars and individuals who talked about impactful topics such as Laudato Si, which is a very influential religious writing on the need for human action and care during the time of climate change and human degradation. The more I have spent time with my topic and talking to people living in the conflict, the more I become interested in being able to one day to travel to Colombia and to learn everything I can.

Friday, January 10, 2020

URSP Student Hannah Harmison Represents Queer Community in Children's Media

As a queer storyteller, I feel it is important to represent queer people in media, including children’s media. I had an idea for a children’s web series in my in my back pocket for two years, so when I decided I was in a position to produce it, I brought it to OSCAR. In my web series, I specifically set out to present kids with characters who were not cisgender, because at that time, children’s content exclusively featured cisgender characters. I knew from personal experience that gender is not an ‘adult’ topic, even young children think about gender. My two closest friends are not cisgender and they both work with children professionally. Their students have little to no issue using correct pronouns and accepting their gender identities. First, I needed to determine which age group would find this representation relevant, appropriate, and meaningful. Through my research, I found that the ideal age range is three to six years old. Thus, 25 Dandelion Drive, a web series for a preschool audience, began preproduction.

On this web series I served as writer, producer, and director. This production fits into my career goals because I would like to eventually work as a television writer. I have always enjoyed writing children’s content, so that is one genre I am considering pursuing. I will be able to use this series to demonstrate to production companies, potential employers, that I am a conscientious and capable writer and producer. The skills I have sharpened as a producer are relevant to may positions I could pursue in film development.

On a weekly basis, I meet with my mentor professor and check in with different members of my crew. Beyond that, the tasks vary from week to week. In the beginning of the semester, I was writing the episodes. Now at the end of the semester, I’m organizing receipts, making sure everyone gets reimbursed, and giving directors notes to my animators.

This term I discovered some of my strengths and weaknesses as a producer and as a director. For example, I’m good at coordinating and organizing people, but I need improvement in articulating my artistic vision to my director of photography. In general, this project gave me an opportunity to improve my skills as a filmmaker.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

URSP Student Maanvi Vij Uses Magnetic Nanoparticles and Neurons in Hopes of Controlling Neuronal Firing

Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers present in the body that continuously work together to keep us functioning. Many neurodegenerative and mental disorders’ root cause are the absence or delayed firing of neurotransmitters. Since Spring of 2019, I have been working with magnetic nanoparticles and neurons with the end goal of being able to control neuronal firing. I was introduced to this project when I joined Dr. Peixoto’s lab but later I was able to make a deeper connection with my work. My family has a long history of mental disorders, and on my last trip to India, I was able to see my grandparents after five years. Unfortunately, my grandmother has been diagnosed with Schizophrenia since before I was born, and recently it has taken a complete toll on her life. Turning my frustration into fuel, I am driven to use these personal experiences as motivation for the challenges I face in the lab.

This semester I chose to focus specifically on the process of the uptake of nanoparticles by the neurons via phagocytosis. Prefrontal cortex cells were harvested from embryonic mice through a surgery performed in the lab and then were plated on microelectrode arrays that are able to track the production of action potentials by the neurons. After a week in vitro, two different types of nanoparticles were used. The first being iron oxide gold-capped nanoparticles and the second being the same except coated with poly(ethylene)glycol (PEG), in hopes of increasing the chances of uptake by the cells. High imaging and videos of the nanoparticles interacting with the neurons when induced by a strong magnetic field by imposing strong magnets are the methods of data retrieval. Results showed that the nanoparticles coated with PEG were more likely to be up taken by the cells. Moving forward, I hope to view these interactions with greater magnification to observe the nanoparticles in the cells in greater detail.

Working in Dr. Peixoto’s lab and on this project has enabled me to push myself in ways that I could not have before and become more comfortable with taking risks. I have developed my passions of inquisitiveness and investigation here which are qualities that will serve to be ever so purposeful throughout my academic and professional career.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

URSP Student Renata Urbina De La Flor Investigates the Impact of Healthcare and Education Costs on Poverty

During the 2018 fall semester I took INTS 300: Law and Justice, a course which taught students how to read Supreme Court cases and better understand the law. One of the cases we read was San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez(1973), a case on wealth inequality and equal opportunity to education for the poor. Our professor asked us “what would the U.S. be like today if the Court had sided with Rodriguez and protected wealth?”. She told us that things like health care and education would be free. Her commentary made me curious to know more about the legal status of wealth so that I could base my arguments on facts instead of beliefs or opinions.

The goal of my research project is to change the current perspective of the law on poverty—as of right now, in the United States, discriminating against the poor is legal. I would like to one day have a book on wealth inequality which would explain all the ways in which the current system structurally discriminates against the poor citizens of the United States. Once having received my B.S. degree from George Mason University, I hope to continue my studies at law school. There, I plan to continue my research and find methods to reduce discrimination against the poor. In the future, my goal is to have a business law firm with the purpose of supporting individuals in creating and protecting their own business—I believe that owning your own business, not only supports the economy, but also connects the individual to the economy and to the society.

During the week, I spend an average of 49 hours between reading legal cases, books from social and economic theorists, watching TEDx talks, and organizing all the work I have collected—since I am using similar materials and resources for my capstone project, I am constantly reading and analyzing material on wealth inequality. Conducting my research has made me aware of many things and of many theorists I did not know of before—theorists like Dr. Cornel West, a theorist who has amazing work on the American society and on social movements. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to conduct my own independent research at GMU and am excited to see where it takes me.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

URSP Student Daniel Sovine Tests an Alarm that Would Recognize the Unique Sound of a Gun and Set It Off Using FFT

When I began my first semester as an electrical engineering student, I took Calculus I which was being taught by my future mentor. There was a day in class when he had a small tangent and mentioned a project that might interest any student in ECE or engineering students. It was an alarm that would recognize the unique sound of a gun and set it off using FFT. I wasn’t too interested at the time but I kept it in the back of my head. After the months of terrible news coverage of gun violence, it was brought to my attention again by my future partner in the project. We met with my professor and he introduced us to the URSP program. 

Before this project, I was not involved in any large research project. As I’ve progressed through our project, I became more familiar with the research process as a whole. Although all research projects are different and an engineering project is drastically different from a biology project or a sociology project, I feel like I would enjoy this environment for a while. I really went into this curious to see how I would feel about research and if I could pursue it further for the rest of my college career. I hope as I continue on to other projects, I remember what I did for my Shooting Detection Alarm System this semester.

This semester was a very stressful one for my course load. I had to learn how to balance my URSP project with my projects from classes and work. It taught me a lot about time management and what I am capable of. I normally contact my partner, whos in Pennsylvania, through Facetime and we discuss the research that we did between the time of the last talk. I would have all of the materials for the hardware base system and he would take care of most of the software. We had to find a better way of working together, so we used a VNC server to connect the system across networks. If we weren’t waiting for the parts or took a break for midterms, we’d be working on the project each week. We spent most of September waiting on parts to come in the mail. We did most of the fast fourier transform Matlab work in October. In November, we hit a dead end with the audio neural network. However, now we are working with the image of the frequency domain in the neural networks and it’s settling much better than the audio neural networks.

If there was one thing that this term taught me, it would be that plans are never concrete. Things don’t always go as you expect them to. This is especially true in any research project. You may not get approval for your project in time, or you might not get your parts in time. The ability to mold to the circumstances that are out of your hands is a skill that I have gained from this project. That is not to say that you should change your plan too much, it just means that you have to work with how things are.

Monday, January 6, 2020

URSP Student Cole Price Studies the Experiences of Sexual Minorities in Social Fraternities

This semester I conducted a USRP project studying the experiences of sexual minorities in social fraternities, specifically how they navigate their identities and self-presentations in a traditionally heterosexual environment. As a junior majoring in Psychology with a concentration in Clinical Psychology, I have always been interested in the intersections between inequality, social environment and mental processes. I hope to continue my work shining light on underrepresented and under-researched populations, such as gay and bisexual men in fraternities, throughout my undergraduate and graduate careers. The majority of this past semester was spent recruiting subjects for the study and collecting data in the form of roughly hour-long interviews. Participants were found through word of mouth and advertisements I put up around campus, and after contact, we would set up a time to meet at Fenwick for a sit down. I learned a lot doing this kind of qualitative research, and I feel my interviewing skills have improved exponentially since my first interview. I also learned a lot from the men I talked to; their interests, goals, the bonds they share with their brothers, and their experiences as sexual minorities at George Mason University, just to start.

After completing around seven interviews, they were transcribed, and I began coding them, looking for examples of themes I have derived from literature related to the subject, as well as new patterns I have seen emerge in my conversations. This process has given me the opportunity to engage with previous works written on Greek life and the fraternity system, sexual orientation, and social psychology at a depth I never had the chance to before in my classes.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

URSP Student John Perkins Researches the Further Characterizing Genomes of Bacteriophage Discovered at Mason

My name is John Perkins, and I am a Senior here at George Mason, finishing my second-to-last semester this Fall. In the Spring, I will be graduating with a BS in Biology with a concentration in Bioinformatics and a minor in Computational and Data Sciences. My OSCAR URSP project involves further understanding bacteriophages that we discovered in BIOL-401 in the Fall of 2018. Bacteriophages are viruses that exclusively infect bacteria, and even though there are an enormous number of them, they have been relatively understudied. I isolated one of these phages myself from a soil sample I had taken, purified it, and extracted its DNA. After its genome was sequenced, we found the genes in the DNA and tried to figure out what they each did. This “annotation” used several different types of computer techniques, so while we could make strong and supported hypotheses, there was an opportunity to confirm them by studying the phages experimentally and seeing if our annotations were correct. One of the things that interested me the most was an idiosyncratic feature of one type of phage gene.

During our annotation, I had developed a bioinformatic method that helped identify the likely site of an ORF shift within the Tail Assembly Chaperone (TAC) gene. These genes frequently contain an unusual feature called a Programmed Translational Frameshift (PTF) that makes them difficult to annotate. Using the python script, I wrote, we were able to determine where we thought the PTF was in the TAC gene. For my URSP project, I wanted to characterize the gene expression proteomic ally using a technique called Tandem Mass Spectrometry. This would confirm whether or not we made the right calls in our annotations, as well as in our TAC gene. This project interested me because of the combination of hands-on work in a lab as well as computational analysis. OSCAR also gave me a chance to continue the work I had started in the phage classes last year. I have a very real sense of ownership over this project; I discovered the phage, I wrote the software, and I did the work to further the annotation. Having a project like this under my belt will help me stand out in the future.

Friday, January 3, 2020

URSP Student Durwood Moore works on the Validation of Mouse Models through the Scoring of Fibrosis in Histological Sections and the Identification of Fibroblast Infiltration of Murine Alveolar Tissue using Immunocytochemistry

My name is Durwood Moore and I am a senior Biology student here at George Mason. In the Fall of 2018, I participated in the Biology Department’s Fall Research Semester, where I was able to work with Dr. Geraldine Grant, a phenomenal biology professor. Dr. Grant’s lab focuses on researching a lung disease known as Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, or IPF.IPF is an interstitial lung disease characterized by the unregulated build-up of scar tissue and over-abundance of fibroblasts. During that semester, I gained valuable technical and analytical skills that I will carry with me through graduate school and into my future career as a medical researcher. As that semester came to a close, I decided that I wanted to continue researching IPF, so I volunteered in Dr. Grant’s lab in the Spring of 2019 and applied for OSCAR funding for the Fall of 2019. 

This semester, I am validating a mouse model that our lab has been developing, as well as investigating the role of cellular senescence in the progression of IPF. Through a variety of staining techniques, I was able to observe the changes to the mouse lung architecture. My semester started by troubleshooting the different techniques that I would be using. After making sure that the protocols were optimized, I would prepare the lungs samples, stain them, and then image the samples. Often, my day involved sitting in front of a microscope for hours on end and carefully searching each sample for evidence of fibrosis. One of the most exciting things that I learned to do this semester was to quantify the fluorescence of certain stains and normalize the data before comparing treatment groups. I hope to apply the technical and analytical skills that I have learned during my time here at George Mason to create new knowledge and to improve the lives of other people.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

URSP Student Dina Michel Investigates the Anomalous Hall Effect to Find Materials Which Overcome Silicon’s Limitations in Order to Push Technology Forward

I am a senior in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, and I participated in condensed matter physics research this semester thanks to my URSP funding. In my project, I investigated how the Anomalous Hall Effect (AHE) seen inCoNb3S6was affected when I doped the compound with 10% iron (Fe) in order to create Co0.9Fe0.1Nb3S6. I first got interested in this project when I saw a presentation that my now-mentor Dr. Nirmal Ghimire gave about the importance of researching quantum materials. The technologies that govern our everyday lives rely on silicon, which will soon reach its limit. The solution is to find materials which overcome silicon’s limitations in order to push technology forward–the applications of research in this field would eventually make quantum computers a reality!

I hope to pursue graduate studies in physics, so participating in this project has helped me to prepare for that next step in my academic career by allowing me to conduct an impactful and innovative research project as an undergraduate. On a weekly basis, I worked in the lab almost daily to synthesize crystals, prepare suitable samples for measurement, and measure their properties –in particular, the Hall effect. At the same time, I continued reading papers and books relevant to the subject of my research in order to build a solid foundation of knowledge of the topic. Over the course of the semester, I learned that conducting research is unpredictable–often we end up doing work that is different than what we had originally set out to do. I have also improved my time management and my ability to communicate scientific topics to a general audience –skills that I will find useful in any professional as well as academic setting in the future.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

URSP Student Lucia Bautista Researches the Informal Employment of Syrian Refugees in Turkey’s Textile and Garment Industry

My name is Lucia Bautista, and I am a senior majoring in Global Affairs with a concentration in Global Inequalities &Responses. For my GLOA Honors project, I am researching Turkey’s lucrative textile and garment industry, where hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees labor under exploitative conditions as uncontracted employees. More specifically, I examine how Turkey’s government and private sector interact to shape working conditions and precarious livelihoods for vulnerable Syrian workers. What sparked this idea was a course I took while studying abroad last semester at Oxford University. My professor at the time, Dr. Emre Korkmaz, inspired my project idea through one of my assignments that concerned low wages and poor working conditions in informal economies. When I arrived back at Mason and began my project, I noticed that two prominent themes across the literature I was reading were the concepts ‘precarity’ and ‘state-capital nexus.’ I have chosen process tracing as my principal methodology, which, in essence, is a qualitative method that determines the strength of evidence for causal relationships through probability testing. Within a single-case design, process tracing explains how different variables caused an outcome and confronts rival hypotheses to legitimize its case. I am systematizing data from the Turkish Government, UNHCR, and the World Integrated Trade Solution (among a few others) and testing for precarious labor, a contested state belonging and shared state and capital pursuits. In doing so, I will propose linkages between the implementation, reinforcement, and intentionality of informal labor in the textile and garment industry.

Each week varies in terms of what I do, but reading and re-reading is a must. It is essential that I fully understand the pre-existing scholarship so that I can probably analyze the quantitative aspects of my project, validate the trends I am testing for, and pair each part with its complementary literature. For a few weeks in the middle of the semester, I shifted my focus also to include researching statistics from the past few decades. The statistics I have gathered have provided insight into the working permits Turkey has issued to Syrian refugees and the industrial impact of Turkey’s textile & garment sector. Now, in the final weeks of this semester, I am focusing on creating the line graphs and other infographics for my poster. I am excited to share the findings of my project, as I believe that they address numerous gaps in the discussion of the global garment industry and the comparative advantage that a vulnerable working class of people provides. This project has deepened my knowledge of the garment industry. As I continue to work towards becoming a labor rights lawyer, it has enabled me to develop better analysis skills.