Monday, March 31, 2014

URSP Student Bradley Strylowski Researches Canvas a Touchscreen Inspired Musical Instrument

In my final year of high school, I began teaching myself guitar and learning music in my free time, and soon began exploring musical applications for my smartphone. However, many of these disappointed me, as I found them either more difficult to control than actual instruments or offering too little control of the computer-generated audio. Last summer I participated in a research program at Louisiana State University, where I researched Mobile Music under Dr. Jesse Allison. We decided to build a non-skeuomorphic musical instrument for the touchscreen which we chose to call Pitch Canvas. By the end of the summer, we had completed a stable version of the interface, which with its hexagonal layout and gesture-based interaction, offers a means of producing music difficult to replicate even with traditional interfaces. Upon returning to George Mason at the end of the summer, I wanted to continue adding functionality to the interface, and applied for the URSP with the help of Dr. Jesse Guessford. I’m excited by the opportunity to explore novel ways of creating music, and also by the project’s further applications in fields such as music therapy, music education, and music visualization.

I plan to pursue a career in computational science research, and through this project I have learned much about the nature of interdisciplinary research. Also, I have gained skills in mobile development which will be useful later in my career, and have also learned about efficient programming methodology and processing multiple sources of information.

Most of my work is limited to programming in its various forms, whether encoding general algorithmic design, building the graphical representation of the interface, or translating between various environments. However, I am also growing acquainted with playing the instrument, and will be performing an improvisation later in the spring. Just this week, I discovered a way of playing the instrument that varies the volume of sustained notes, allowing the tracing of a melody by gently pulling the individual notes from the background.

URSP Student Bradley Boeji Researches Dynamic Changes in Muscle Length in Osteoarthritis Patients

I’m doing my research project on osteoarthritis (OA) patients as the title suggests, more specifically I’m working with osteoarthritis patients that are post-ACL reconstruction surgery. I got into this project through a friend in one of Mason’s graduate programs. He thought it may be something I was interested in so he suggested I come in and help him out with his research. His project is very similar to the work I am doing only he is looking at different variables that can be linked to OA in post-ACL reconstructions. After helping him do one data collection I had to see more and know more about his work. I have always been interested in injuries (rehabilitation and prevention), being a hopeful physical therapist in the making, but I had never thought about looking at injuries in a research frame. It has been my first true application of some of the skills and knowledge I have learned from the Kinesiology program and that has been the real hook for me. This project is going to help me tremendously with my long term goals because I will have a leg up on my studies in graduate school. I will be able to bring a different perception to the other students and the material in general that I think will help me master the art of rehabilitation. At the essence of rehab is correcting biomechanics and to do that you need to have a full and complete understanding of the mechanics of human movement. Starting out now working with technology in the SMART lab I can gain a huge lesson in applied biomechanics by having data right in front of me on a screen to manipulate and experiment with. This will carry over into the clinical realm where the main source of technology comes from your own mind’s analytical processes. During an average week, with no data collections, I’m mainly working with Visual 3D (Biomechanical analysis software) to code the commands I will run once all of my data has been collected and reading research studies. In reading a few studies this week I learned that where it is well understood that muscle influence knee joint loading and impairments in muscle function have been observed in knee OA patients there is actually very little evidence that suggests these may precede OA. So my focus may shift to better understanding these impairments as a means to further the understanding of knee OA and help establish better preventative measures.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

URSP Student Bethany Larson Explores the Use of Polaroid Photography as a Tool for Empowerment for Dementia Residents in Long-term Care Settings

URSP Highlights: Bethany Larson

My name is Bethany Larson and I am a junior in the Social Work program at George Mason University. My grant project focus is exploring the use of Polaroid photography as a tool for empowerment for dementia residents in a long-term care setting. Some outcomes I hope to see are a positive association for photography as a creative outlet and art therapy method tool, a positive emotional response for the photography sessions from the residents, and possibly seeing a need for a creative art requirement in residents personalize care plans. I was interested in the project after being approached my mentor, Dr. Emily Ihara. She saw value in my extensive art background and wanted to know if I was interested in working with the older population. I accepted the challenge and chose to intern at Birmingham Green (BG) for one of my social work classes to get more experience with the older population. I enjoyed working with the adults at BG; I asked the one of the social workers if she would be interested in supervising my project this semester, and she agreed. This project relates to my long-term goals of being comfortable with conducting research, building up my resume before I graduate with different experiences, and separating myself from the crowd by getting out of my comfort zone. On a weekly basis I meet with mentor every Monday night after school, I am regularly reviewing the literature on related topics, and I am regularly corresponding with the administration at Birmingham Green. One thing I discovered this week was the IRB (Institutional Review Board) approved my project! IRB is the human subjects review board that requires certain documents to make sure I will not be harming the vulnerable population involved with my project. This approval allows me to move forward and start the process of getting consent from residents to participate at BG! This project has been and continues to be a valuable learning process!

URSP Student Anastashia Cuddihy Conducts a Collection of Oral Histories Concerning the Trujillo Regime

Thursday, February 20:

I had a long night last night. I was dropped off at the airport at about midnight

and spent most of the evening trying to find a comfortable position to sleep on the plane, drinking Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and waiting for the 6:20 am flight to JFK. Finally, at around 4:00 am, we were able to drop off our luggage and make our way through security to board our flight at 5:55. In the security line, something happened which made me realize just how much my research will be appreciated and how much it is needed. My mother and I were talking about the coming trip, everything I needed to get done in such a short period of time and about my research in general. As we were chatting, a man whom my mother had pointed out in the luggage line as being Dominican turned around and asked if we were headed to the Dominican Republic. We answered him in Spanish that we were and that we were headed to La Vega so I could do research on victims of Trujillo’s dictatorship and collect oral histories, something which I have always been interested in as it is so relatively unknown in the United States. At once, he began nodding and squared his shoulders in a way that would become familiar to me during my time in the Dominican Republic. The same behavior would preceded almost every conversation I would have regarding the Trujillato. El Jefe so impacted the small nation that this man before me, not even alive when Trujillo was assassinated, expressed the same thoughts and emotions voiced by those who had lived through the dictatorship. As we spoke in line, he began to recommend books for me to read and movies to watch to better acquaint myself with the Trujillo Era. I began to take notes when another voice chimed in from behind us. This second man, with whom we later enjoyed breakfast, was from Honduras and was alive during the Trujillo years. Before his flight to Houston began boarding, he told me what he knew about the Trujillo dictatorship and began to talk about other Latin American dictatorships from the same era. I was shocked at the interest my project was getting, even before I boarded my flight and before most people were even out of bed. The rest of the flight was relatively mundane, running for our connecting flight to Santiago, Dominican Republic, getting picked up at the airport by family, and enjoying a home-cooked meal and then a trip to the local watering hole before collapsing in bed, waiting for the next day.

Saturday, February 22.

Today was my first interview. Yesterday was the Friday before the last weekend of Carnaval street celebrations, so it was difficult to talk to anyone about my project. This worked out pretty nicely, as I was able to get my preliminary research together, organize my thoughts and really prepare for my first interview with the principal of a local school. One thing I have noticed in my short time in this country is that driving seems to be a full-contact sport with next to no rules. Red lights, stop signs, and pedestrians seem to be mere suggestions to stop, not requirements. It is not uncommon to see three Vespas joined together by each drivers putting one foot on the scooter closest to them. This makes it so people can still talk while on the move. Needless to say, we did not get in a car here without some level of trepidation! I was also able to witness an incredibly interesting ceremony in which a baby was baptized with his godparents present in his own home. It is called a ‘water party’ and it was quite similar to baptism ceremonies I have been to in the States, except for the fact that it was in a home instead of a church.

Sunday, February 23.

One of the greatest things about anthropological research is the requirement that you immerse yourself in the local culture to understand better the people you are researching. Being in La Vega for this weekend is incredibly lucky, since I am able to witness and participate in Carnaval. Every Sunday in the month of February, La Vega is turned into the cultural capital of the Dominican Republic. Parades and partying take over the streets, which are clogged with people and demon costumes wielding large beanbag footballs on ropes, which they use to hit Carnaval-goers in punishment for the sins they have committed in the past year. It was painful when I turned my back to the “demons” and got a surprise attack! After leaving Carnaval and the music of the party behind, I was able to conduct another interview despite the loud music outside. I was pretty exhausted by the end of the long, fun day. It was almost impossible to sleep through the continuing music and yelling filtering in through the bedroom window!

Monday, February 24.

Today was quite productive and exciting! Not only was I able to get two interviews done, one in the morning and one in the early evening, but I was able to explore more of the island. After my first interview, we headed out to see a museum dedicated to the Mirabal sisters. These sisters were murdered during the Trujillo regime and are remembered as heroines and near saints all over the island. They are even featured on 200 peso bills. Unfortunately, the museum is closed on Mondays, so we were unable to take a tour. Fortunately, the sisters’ birthplace was nearby and we were able to talk our way into a tour of the grounds. It is now a cacao farm, as it was then, and the home is nearly the same as it was when the sisters lived there. We were able to try some fresh cacao seeds (white and fleshy, I thought they tasted like watermelons) and some sundried ones which were incredibly bitter but unmistakably chocolate. After leaving home, we visited the memorial across the street that was erected for the sisters. It was an incredible experience I can only hope to repeat. The last wonderful part of the day was the interview I had this evening with a local hero and entrepreneur. Today exceed my every expectation and I cannot express my gratitude for this amazing country.

Tuesday, February 25.

My last interview was today, and it was a bittersweet experience. The interview was with the owner of the oldest operating restaurant in the city, who was incredibly kind and intelligent; it was a joy to talk with him about my project and to hear his story. While I cannot wait to get home and begin to put together my research and present it, I am going to miss this country and city greatly. The people have been incredibly welcoming and kind, and I have never experienced such hospitality. Tomorrow is going to be my last full day here, and it is looking like it will be spent packing and resting up for our early flight and return trip home. I really hope I can return here again, to incorporate these amazing stories into my graduate studies in a bioarchaeological context and to better understand what happened to the amazing people of this nation under one of the most brutal dictators in the history of Latin America.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

URSP Student Abbas Idris Researches Graphene

My name is Abbas Idris, I currently do work on graphene and my dream is to develop single molecule sequencing technology further than its current
limitations. I first got interested in this field after doing a Genomics project my junior year of high school. At the time and up until my senior year, I was enrolled in the Governor's School at George Mason's Price William campus. I had been working on a graphic user interface for genomic analyses when I realized how wonderful it would be to sequence an entire human genome. After the project (my senior year), I became more interested in this idea and dreamt of creating an efficient sequencing tool so that I could do my own personal genomics work. I ran into many third generation sequencing devices, but I was particularly amazed at the potential of single molecule sequencing. Not knowing how to make an impact in this innovation, I originally wanted to pursue other methods of sequencing and reinvent them. However, I have since began chasing the idea of single molecule sequencing using a graphene nanopore. The first few weeks of my research I spent time in the lab working on the previous idea, but for the past couple of weeks I have spent hours delving into interesting articles that have shaped the direction of my work. One thing I have discovered is that threading a DNA molecule through graphene focuses too much on ion displacement that on the individual nitrogenous bases on a molecules

URSP Student Matt Rawls Conducts A Quantitative Analysis of the Metabolic Framework of Deep-Sea Nitrate-Reducing Epsilonproteobacteri

URSP Highlights: Matt Rawls

I have always had a strong drive for science and fascination with the ocean. Growing up one of my biggest hobbies with friends was maintaining large

aquariums and observing underwater life. I originally worked with Dr. Foustoukos on a chemistry related project at the Carnegie Institution in Washington, and when offered the opportunity to spend a month at sea on the East Pacific Rise I said yes immediately. My entire life I have wanted to live on a ship conducting scientific research and I finally had the opportunity to do that.

After working for several months at Carnegie with Dr. Foustoukos, I started working a lot with Dr. Perez-Rodriguez (Carnegie post-doctoral fellow), classifying a new species of iron-reducing bacteria. I became very familiar with chemosynthetic microbes (microbes that live off of chemicals in their environment) and hydrothermal vent systems where many of them are found. This new set of skills really helped my candidacy for the research spot on the ship.

I developed a great set of research skills and met some incredible scientists from all over the world. The international effort featured scientists from Russia, Greece, Puerto Rico, France, Germany, Canada, China, India and the USA. I made friends and contacts that I will have for the rest of my life; it was an outstanding opportunity.

Daily life on the ship consisted of waking up, eating, spending all day crunching numbers and taking measurements and performing various analysis techniques and serving your 4 hour Jason shift. Jason was the remote controlled submarine that was used to take samples from the sea floor (2 miles deep). Jason had a large control room and it operated 24/7, so teams of 6 were swapped in and out every 4 hours. My shift was 12am to 4am. Specifically, during the day, I analyzed every water sample we took for hydrogen peroxide and I counted cells in our samples to quantify the amounts of microbial life. Our (Dr. Foustouokos, Dr. Perez-Rodriguez and myself) experiment involved culturing deep-sea microbes in situ at high pressures. The goal was to observe metabolic rates of nitrate-reducing microbial populations in different pressures relative to their natural environment.

Several new things were discovered on the ship already, not counting the next year of analysis to be carried out on all of the samples. We found many new hydrothermal vent sites and named them during our Jason van shifts. DNA analysis confirmed many new undescribed species of bacteria were present in samples as well. We also found hydrogen peroxide in vent fluid samples, something that has not been done before.

Living and researching on the ship was an incredible experience that I will never forget. Analysis for our particular experiment is ongoing to this day, although things have slowed down. Many fluid and microbial samples are in the freezer until the time is right to grow and classify new species and perform other various analyses. Our experiment is part of a much larger, international collaborative effort nicknamed “Dimensions” that is working to gain a better understanding on deep-sea biological and chemical processes.

Friday, March 28, 2014

URSP Student Diana Prado Researches The Effects of Manual Mowing on Native Herbaceous Plant Communities

Can manual mowing reduce the occurrence of invasive alien plant species in meadows? We have reason to think that it can, but we need to develop the data to prove it. We will conduct our research over the growing season (May through September) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. 

This project is ecologically important because meadows in our area are declining rapidly. Human development has eliminated the fires that create these ecosystems. When there is a forest fire, the land returns as meadow before it can be a forest again as part of the succession process. Another human aspect that is endangering meadows is the introduction of exotic invasive species. For example, the Occoquan Bay meadow is spotted with Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum), Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica ) and Calorie Pare(Pyrus calleryana) among many other exotic invasive species. These invasive species outcompete the native ones, sometimes displacing them completely. Despite the plight of meadows, most governmental funding for restoration goes toward forest restoration even where meadow restoration would be more appropriate. This research will complete two important tasks for meadow restoration is we are successful: It will provide a cheaper and herbicide-free alternative for meadow restoration and it will create the opportunity for community involvement in the meadow restoration work.

This semester, we are trying to gather our team of “green reapers.” This is an experiment in itself. We are trying to create a group of about ten inexperienced volunteers to help us mow this meadow under very tough conditions. They will need to face the intense summer heat, rise at dawn, battle bugs and stick with it all summer.

Another interesting aspect of our volunteer search is the demographics. Most active environmental work involves educated middle class Americans. We want to see if we can encourage people from other demographics to get involved. One example are latinos. I am a latina, born and raised in Lima, Peru. Many of my latino friends are having a hard time just getting by, so they don’t participate in active environmental work. But we want to see if we can encourage them and reach a very large group of people that has generally been uninvolved in the environmental restoration movement. Once this team is formed, we will begin our management experiment and research.

URSP Student Alisha Brown Researches How Motivational Interviewing Affects Elderly Clients

I did not think that I would have the opportunity as a nursing major to conduct research as an undergraduate student. When I was presented with the idea in my nursing fundamentals class, I decided that I would look into it and see if it was something that would interest me. From the moment that I met my mentor, I knew that this is something that would change my college experience and that I am definitely going to move forward with. I am excited to participate in a project that a lot of people in my position don’t get the opportunity to pursue. I am honored that I was selected to go out and research an unanswered in question in nursing. The purpose of my project is to see how motivational interviewing affects elderly clients above the age of 65, who have obstructive sleep apnea and mild cognitive impairment, and their adherence to CPAP machine usage.

I see my project being related to my long term goals because I eventually want to get my PhD in nursing and there will always be questions that need answering in the medical field. I know that starting my research skills now will only improve as I reach different heights in my nursing career and begin a research study of my own. On a weekly basis, I meet with either my mentor or her colleagues in the sleep lab. I enter patient data and look through patient files to see what their past and present CPAP machine usage is like and how motivational interviewing has affected their scores. I have just recently written a semi-structured motivational interviewing questionnaire to be submitted to the IRB so that my portion of the project can begin. I am also in the process of submitting an abstract to the Gerontological Society of America and presenting my findings at a local conference in DC this November. This week I discovered that majority of the clients take medications for cardiovascular diseases than may be related to sleep apnea.