Wednesday, April 23, 2014

URSP Student Amanda Lee Examines How an Individual’s News Consumption Affects Their Depth of Political Knowledge

My research project was prompted and inspired by a YouTube video I saw in class from the Jimmy Kimmel Live television show. In the clip, someone from the show goes up to random people on Hollywood Boulevard asking them “What do you think is better, Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act?” Each person definitely recognized the terms and chose which one they preferred, giving various reasons for their decision. They actually had no idea, that both choices mean the same thing, and that Obamacare was just a nickname for the bill coined by the media. This made me wonder, with all the bylines, tweets, notifications, updates and statuses that are running rampant in our daily lives, are we more informed or less? Does the way we now consume news- through our smart phones, Twitter and Facebook- affect the depth of our political knowledge? This particular focus was also very relatable to my professional life since I’m an aspiring journalist as well as a student. I have been interning in the news industry for the past year and a half, so I know any type of information that I gather regarding our society and news consumption can greatly aid me in future jobs. The way we consume information is so different from just a couple years ago, and this project motivates me to find out if we’re actually using our technology to gain a better understanding of current events and politics, or if it actually makes us more superficial when it comes to news. Since starting my project this past Fall 2013 semester, my responsibilities and activities for this project have changed on a weekly basis to reflect the development of the research process. Since January however, my weeks have been mainly dedicated to developing and circulating my survey, and collecting the results. The results have just started to come in these past three weeks, so my time right now is spent trying to analyze the data. One thing I learned this week: out of 262 responses, 212 of them could correctly identify a picture of Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor who leaked classified documents.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

URSP Student Alexandra Johnson Improves the Cell Biology Laboratory Manual

I had a very unique high school experience because I went to a Governor’s School where I was exposed to in-depth research and rigorous laboratory experiences. After I came to Mason, my interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education began to develop through teaching work that I engaged in. One day when I was talking to my mentor, Dr. Schwebach, we were on the topic of how to improve learning within the biology program. I mentioned how I had noticed some areas for improvement in the cell biology laboratory manual. We ran with this idea all the way to the course coordinator, Dr. Madden, who agreed to let me revise it, becoming my second mentor. Some off-hand brainstorming and my interest in STEM education quickly turned into an OSCAR project!

In the future, I plan on becoming a high school biology teacher. Beyond classroom instruction, my goal is to bring more authentic scientific laboratory experiences into public education at this level; this will expose students to what the “real world” of being a scientist is like. My work in education will involve developing labs that include inquiry and critical thinking. This project involves these steps, so this is wonderful preparation for my life as a teacher.

On a weekly basis, I spend a lot of time communicating with my mentors on experiment and question design. What I do each week has evolved a lot over the semester through different stages of my project. Mostly, I spend my time writing up surveys to ask cell biology students, editing the worksheets in the manual further, and researching inquiry labs that have been done successfully.

This week I discovered the intricacies of working with a publisher. There is a lot of work, and thus a lot of obstacles, that come with putting together a large document such as this one. We are muddling through the adjustments so that everything will come together. It is a very gratifying feeling to see something you have poured so much energy into come into existence.

Monday, April 21, 2014

URSP Student Samantha Wilkins Explores the Effects of Dietary Copper Deficiency on Learning, Memory, and Locomotor Control

I have always been burdened with a painfully broad field of passionate interests, and much of my college career has been characterized by attempts to find a way to negotiate between all of them. At a young age I became enamored with chemistry, fascinated by the infinitesimal level on which different forms of matter interact and dictate the manner of daily life. This relationship was only trumped when I discovered the field of psychology, to which I refocused my studies in order to explore the great puzzle of behavior and the brain. Eventually I found myself at home while volunteering in a graduate cognitive and behavioral neuroscience laboratory. Much of the ongoing research in the lab has encompassed the roles of biometals in the brain and their effects on behavior—a perfect blend of my dichotomous love affairs with the soft and hard sciences. Even more, this research is based with animals, one of the few things that I have any patience for. It was a match made in academic heaven, and an easy decision when I was approached by members of the lab and asked to help answer some unanswered questions.

The study I am conducting is following up on previous research exploring the effects of dietary copper deficiency on different behavioral constructs in rats, primarily exploring learning and memory, and locomotor control. The parameters of this project truly test one’s proficiency in behavioral measures, conceptual chemistry, and research design, and in heading this project I am fortunate to have the invaluable experience of coming face to face with how much I don’t know. This has been the seed for conducting thorough, dedicated research and approaching this project without reservation. It has been a humbling, yet critical opportunity for me to be exposed to the unprotected world of independent research. I now understand that this is absolutely what I want in the future. I have been relieved of all doubt that I want to continue into a graduate program in neuroscience with long-term goals of laboratory research.

On a daily basis I search and review literature related to my project, trying to obtain as much background knowledge as possible for the basis of my approach to the research question. Once my rats arrive, the pace will dramatically change and I will begin a completely inflexible schedule of handling, feeding, and monitoring the animals. The foundations of animal research are anchored in loyal devotion to the timeline as they age, and critical points in the research must be universally carried out among the experimental groups in order to avoid confounds and complications. This has been the most significant concept that I have discovered in preparing for the animal portion of my study to begin.

Friday, April 18, 2014

URSP Student Patrick Szabo Researches Receding Flashback Screenplay

I became interested in this project when I thought of my two favorite films—Elephant and 11:14. Both are formatted in the flashback design, in which the ensemble of character plots meet at certain points and are seen through the different perspectives of each character.

This is all related to my long-term goals in the sense that I will submit the screenplay to a few screenwriting competitions and maybe gain recognition in the field. I hope to then have the respect of other screenwriters so that I might have the chance to collaborate with them on future screenplays/films.

On a weekly basis, I am either intensely planning the intermingling of plots or writing content. Planning requires me to draw out many different diagrams and critically think about scene placement, while the writing process requires me to put myself in the mindset of each character—there are more than eight main characters in this screenplay. This can be overwhelming because each character must be definitively different from the next, so as to not confuse the audience.

This week, I found out that the writing process is actually a planning process in itself. As I write, I become more involved with the characters and their plots. I almost feel as though I am living in the story that I am writing, which allows me to adapt and add plot twists and character interactions as I go.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

URSP Student Zuzy Abdala Researches the Olfactory Communication in Maned Wolves

Last semester (Fall 2013), I took a graduate-level course in Mammalogy, which ended up being my favorite course I’d ever taken. One of my classmates, Marieke Kester, was taking the class to learn more about mammals since her Ph.D. project was about olfactory communication in maned wolves (Chrysocyon brachyurus). Having announced that she would be interested in taking on an undergraduate student for the spring semester for a URSP project, I quickly sent her my resume in the hopes that I would be selected. My interest in this project, as well as many other conservation biology and chemical ecology studies, has grown exponentially since entering the Shared Research Instrumentation Facility (SRIF) lab.

The research that I am conducting currently is creating a clearer path in terms of what future research I may be interested in doing. My long-term goals involve going to graduate school and hopefully having a lab of my own some day. The maned wolf study solidifies my passion for mammalian conservation and I can really see myself studying mammals for the rest of my days.

Each week, I aliquot and prepare the urine samples I will be running that day. While the samples are running through the gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer (GCMS), I am usually learning something new about the programs that I will use to analyze the chemical compounds in the urine. Marieke and I, during our lunch break, discuss the journal articles that relate to chemical ecology in mammals. I also assist in populating the “Maned Wolf Library”, which is essentially a list of chemical compound profiles that we’ve read about in other papers. We include the name of each compound, the chemical formula, and the 10 highest peaks.

This week, we did a lot of troubleshooting with the program Agilent MassHunter. We were finally able to have the program tell us the deconvolution of each peak. The deconvolution of a chromatograph peak is essentially finding all compounds that contribute to the peak. This ensures that we don’t miss any hidden compounds in our results.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

URSP Student Alexandra Becker Researches Emotionality, Trait Self-control, & Neuroticism Effects on Vigilance Performance

Over the course of spring 2014, I have been working to complete my human factors psychology project under URSP. My project, “Emotionality, Trait Self-control, & Neuroticism Effects on Vigilance Performance”, looks to examine a variety of co-factors that could influence cognitive performance. Vigilance is a specific cognitive activity that demands sustained attention over an expanse of time. Vigilance tasks are often utilized in research to observe sustained attention and responsiveness but a common observed result is task performance decrement. In tandem with this decrement, changes in blood flow velocity into the cerebral cortex (the site of the majority of cognitive activity) can be observed. Transcrainel Doppler sonograph (TCD) has shown success in measuring these blood flow changes and is the method utilized in this experiment. Therefore, this project examines cerebral hemisphere blood flow velocity changes, vigilance task performance, effects of emotionality condition, and trait level personality measures to examine factors to cognition.

Originally, I was interested in examining what factors allow individuals to be more or less successful in stressful situations. As I began my research and spoke to more professors I found myself drawn to neurological methods, in tandem with diverse variable measures. Fall 2013 project work centered round experimental design and defending my proposal before my research committee, which allowed me to examine different possibilities and field standards before beginning project execution.

This endeavor has so far taught me how to form my own research committee, complete extensive literature reviews, examine methodology, collect and analyze data, and persevere through frustration. In the current term, I have been working to collect data by setting up 2-hour, one-one-one experiment sessions through SONA systems. During these sessions, participants complete a few surveys, are hooked up to the TCD (Transcraniel sonograph), and run through a vigilance task. Weekly, I try to complete between 4-8 experiment sessions, and have been doing so since the start of the semester. When I’m not in the lab with participants, I am working to statistically analyze my existing data. I’m often surprised that the statistically difficult in real data, whose numbers are always messier than any classroom examples I’ve encountered.

Long term, I hope to obtain my PhD. in psychology and, although I am not certain I will commit to Human Factors, I know the research skills I am gaining will be valuable no matter the program I enter.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

URSP Student Amelia Martin Analyzes Hurricane Flood Risks in the U.S. National Capital Region

I have always had an interest in how the role of government can be used to improve people’s lives, but we often disregard the part civil engineers play in that process. So when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, many politicians and concerned citizens were asking questions. Especially in the Washington DC area, people were asking what would have happened if Hurricane Sandy had made a greater impact on the capital region. I was also concerned, but I quickly realized that was a question I could investigate as a civil engineer. While we may not be able to “answer” this question, we can start to think about disaster preparedness in the National Capital Region and how we can make better choices to improve people’s lives.

This project has been instrumental in shaping my long-term goals and interests, making me more invested in coastal engineering and environmental issues. As a graduating senior, I have been hoping to find a career path that would allow me to continue risk assessment and hydrology studies in the greater DC area. While I do have an interest in gaining real-world experience, I hope to return to graduate school and further my research on coastal engineering. Undoubtedly, my research has helped me develop more expertise and interest in my field.

On a weekly basis, I spend most of my time at the computer. Whether I am learning a new kind of software, like the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s HAZUS software, or hunting down datasets to use for my project, I’m often gaining an operational knowledge of new tools and applying them. This week I have been working with SMS surface water modeling software. The software company provides tutorials for different applications within SMS and I have been completing their ADCIRC tutorial. This application allows me to predict storm surge in coastal areas and determine possible flood depths. From there, I can use other software to predict building damages in the DC area based on the level of flooding. Determining at-risk areas is just the first step in designing better policies to address flooding risks in the region.

Monday, April 7, 2014

URSP Student Jesi Hessong Researches The Morphological Effects of Rearing Red-Backed Salamanders in Complete Darkness

I was born and raised in rural South Texas, and because of where I grew up the majority of my childhood was spent exploring the great outdoors. This was mainly due to the face that there was absolutely nothing to do in a town of less than 2,000 people and being over 75 miles from any major city. My love of the outdoors quickly combined forces with my love of finding patterns and trends in anything I can. Thankfully these to passions easily fit underneath the title of ecology.

For my OSCAR project I have pleasure of being able to work with Dr. David Luther. Dr. Luther has been performing a variety of research on the White-Crowned Sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys) of San Francisco. The primary focus of the research is comparing urban populations to rural populations to determine the effect of urbanization on the species. Through his research it has been determined that there is in fact a different the two populations songs. Because the urban population has to overcome a vast amount of anthropomorphic noise that the rural populations doesn’t, the urban species appears to have changed its song.

Discovering that there is a clear difference between the populations in song proves that urbanization is having an effect on this species. Yet, White Crowned Sparrows learn their songs, therefore one would expect to see a difference since they learn as they go. But what about the effect of urbanization on a trait that is not learned? My project focuses on the potential effect of urbanization on the plumage of the White Crowned Sparrow. Through the use of analyzing museums specimens in an image analyzing software I am able to determine whether or not there seems to be an affect in the plumage between the two populations.

While this project is very computer and software heavy, which is not my cup of tea, this is a step in the direction of what I would like to study in grad school. If a considerable difference is discovered between the two populations this would open up the doors to a variety of other projects to determine the full affect of urban environments to different species of wildlife. While I love working with birds I’m interested in studying the effects of urbanization on other groups of animals like mammals, reptiles or amphibians.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

URSP Student Shezeen Rehmani Models and Simulates a Bioinspired Neuronal Network of the Primary Motor Cortex

Intrigued by the answers that are never attained by science, I consider myself an individual who is drawn towards every opportunity to enhance my knowledge. This desire for knowledge drove me towards the ambiguities of the brain, one that has led me to bioengineering. The field of computer neuroscience is an up and coming one, that not only works towards making a difference in how the brain would be studied in the future, but also tries to understand the abstraction of the brain. The brain is a fascinating organ of the human body.

My long-term goals include obtaining a master’s and subsequently a MBA. Where this project is going to set basis for graduate school, it also satisfies my thirst for knowledge.

A typical week at the Sensory Motor Lab has me sitting on my designated workspace in front of my computer working on the modeling and simulation of the primary motor cortex. The week starts strong, with defined outcomes. However, as any other research the expected outcomes give way to troubleshooting syntax and the theoretical probabilities that the model uses. As a senior, time during the week is limited, and thus over the weekend I try catching up on the missed work.

Computers do not lie, something I learn over and over again. Simply thinking that you have everything right in terms of syntax, and code does not mean that is the case.

URSP Student Robert Ulrey Researches Cranberry Proanthocyanidins

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a bacterium that has been a source of infection in hospitals for a long time. The bacterium uses a biofilm, a polysaccharide coating that enables the bacterium to resist antibiotics, dessication, and pH, as one of its modes of action in pathogenicity. Natural therapeutics have always been a first sought after treatment for diseases. With many stipulations by the general public against antibiotics and synthetic drugs, synthesis of the beneficial compounds in natural foods such as fruits and vegetables has become a cornerstone of modern medicine. My interest was first sparked by this premise; and with some research on published papers in this area and feedback from my principal investigator, the idea of inhibiting biofilm of P. aeruginosa with extracts from cranberries termed proanthocyanidins came to life.

In the future, I wish to pursue a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Immunology; and this project relates to my overall goal because the research methods overlap with what a researcher will be performing in the field of immunology such as polymerase chain reactions for DNA synthesis and growing eukaryotic cell lines. The difference is that this project observes the effect of treatment on the bacterium while immunology focuses on the effect of the treatment on host cells.

On a weekly basis, I perform many different types of experiments based on what is needed for the paper that I am writing for publication. The process usually includes researching how to perform certain experiments by looking through publications and creating a mode of action to create the most successful outcome for the experiment. After creating a method, I gather all the materials and disinfect everything to ensure a sterile environment without contamination from outside bacteria. After the experiment has been performed, the data is interpreted through programs such as GraphPad and Excel. This week, through experimentation, I found that the cranberry proanthocyanidins have the ability to block motility of P. aeruginosa and this is a possible mechanism as to why the bacteria cannot communicate with each other and form a biofilm.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

URSP Mohamed Lahlou Models Behavior of Skeletal Muscle Movement using Ultra Sound Data In MATlab

I got interested in this project while looking for a way to get involved in medical imaging devices and prosthetics. I have always been interested in learning and working on prosthetic devices because they take all our understanding about the human body and electronics and combine it into something that can help people perform everyday tasks, which they may not be able to do. I learned about Dr. Sikdar’s project through a classmate who had been working with him last semester and I enjoyed the idea of creating a new approach to an existing method. I’ve heard about EMG being used for prosthetic device control, but the idea of using ultra sound imaging being a more inexpensive method that could help simplify prosthetic use seemed almost unbelievable. So I talked to Dr. Sikdar about his project and he helped find a way for me to be a part of his team.

This lab experience is invaluable to my future of working on my own prosthetic development. The lab provides many learning opportunities in programming and design, while learning how to run trial after trial to test the devices and coding. This is extremely valuable to me because I am learning so much about the factors and limitations that need to be considered for making a prosthetic which are extremely important with making a marketable device. I have also picked up lab etiquette, learning how a scholar is to act in a lab. This experience has taught me to pace myself with research and progress, learning that you can’t figure everything out as soon as you have a problem and that it takes time to get to where you want to be in the project and I need to be patience.

On a weekly basis, I have meetings with Dr. Sikdar and everyone else who is working on their aspect of the project, and we present our progress update or what our portion of our project has finished or new methods we are looking at. Then I also do a lot of matlab coding and editing, trying to figure out ways to improve the code written for the GUI and functions. This week I discovered an error in the matlab code that might significantly improve the run time of the device, getting rid of some of the delay we have been having in the real time interface. Also, I discovered a possible better method of calculating correlation between aggregated images, which can give us a better accuracy in our real time prosthetic trial runs.

URSP Student Mariam Waqar Researches the Effect of Peer-Peer Tutoring on Students in Biostatistics

Coming into Mason, I knew I wanted to do some sort of research but I didn’t really know where my niche was. Science research didn’t really appeal to me, as I really wanted to work with people as a part of my project. At the beginning of my Sophomore year, I decided to pursue a major in Biology with a concentration in Education, and this is when many doors opened for me.

As a sophomore, I got involved with the STEM Accelerator Learning Assistant Program, and started to tutor for Cell Biology and Biostatistics. Through this avenue, I found my passion for teaching and education. This semester, I started working with my mentors, Dr. Claudette Davis and Professor Kevin Chavers, who teach Cell Biology and Biostatistics respectively. We will be studying the effects of peer-to-peer tutoring on student progress, as measured by exam grades, in BIOL 214: Statistics for Biology Majors. On a weekly basis, I tutor for five hours, and before exams, I lead orals, which are student-led tutoring sessions and also do one large review. The orals are of significant importance because they encourage students to teach each other through a team-based problem solving approach. One interesting thing I’ve found throughout this process is that students respond very well to orals, and sometimes form study groups as a result of them. This ultimately leads them to become much more proactive in their studies, leading to a higher level of performance on exams. The attendance at these events also helps in collecting data for our project.

By gaining this experience in creating an innovative Education approach, it will help me develop teaching strategies in my future career, as I plan on pursuing Academia in some form or another. A Group of my students during weekly orals (attached photo)

Friday, April 4, 2014

URSP Student Rachael-Ahn Wilson Researches Noncovalent Sociation and Separation of n-Alkylbenzenes with Molecularly Decorated Gold Nanoparticles

Utilization of gold nanoparticles has become of great interest to researchers for a variety of applications ranging from electronics and non-toxic industrial catalysts to cancer detection and drug delivery. The ability of these gold nanoparticle technologies to function properly is dependent on the aggregation tendencies of the particles. Therefore, it is essential to understand both the interactions of gold nanoparticles with other gold nanoparticles and with other compounds. The goal of this research is to determine the nature of gold nanoparticle aggregation as well as association with n-alkylbenzenes, a type of non-polar organic compounds. These are fundamental thermodynamic questions that can be answered through a very precise headspace gas chromatography (HSGC) technique. Gas chromatography is a process by which gases can be separated and quantized.

I became interested in this project after joining Dr. Hussam’s research group in Fall 2013 and doing similar experiments with humic acid, a common organic material prevalent in the environment. I plan on studying analytical chemistry and instrumentation in graduate school, so working on this project has given me invaluable experience in utilization and understanding of gas chromatography as well as experience with the research process, including data processing and literature review.

Generally, I begin the week by synthesizing the particular nanoparticles that I will be utilizing and later in the week I run the experiment using HSGC. I spend the rest of the week processing the data and reviewing literature. One thing I discovered this week was how unstable gold nanoparticles can be! For this reason, I have to run the experiments relatively quickly after synthesizing the nanoparticles. I really enjoy working on this project and I am looking forward to the end results.

URSP Student Luca Estinto Researches the Feasibility of Active Audio Crossovers for 2-way Mini-Loudspeakers

Originally I came up with this research project as a continuation to a previous project of mine. A few years ago I constructed a prototype pair of headphones that by way of a 1st order passive audio crossover [An electronic filter to channel different ranges of sound] controlled three different drivers per ear (one for bass, mid, and treble) to achieve a high sound quality with very cheap individual drivers. This project was not for any particular class or research project but rather one of my projects to which I enjoy devoting my time. Also given my long personal background in music I am fascinated with music's artificial reproduction. These prototyped headphones however were ultimately too bulky, due to their passive crossover design, for them to be practical. In addition, in order to use high quality drivers a different filtering approach had to be found. Looking for a solution I came upon the idea of using an active crossover [an amplifying electronic filter] to solve my prototype's problems. However as I started to research active crossovers and saw their complexity compared to a passive crossover, I realized creating such a device would be a good project in and of itself.

My long term goal for this project is to construct a working prototype of some sound device using the active crossover circuit that my research will have produced. In terms of my long term goals at Mason I find this to be a great step towards a greater understanding of EE, a possible degree choice of mine.

My weekly research has thus far consisted of R&D of an active crossover circuit within a circuit simulation program called Circuit lab. A very powerful tool Circuit lab has allowed me to virtually create numerous variations of my circuitry and test them to see how they perform, saving quite a bit of resources/time. Currently I am moving into a more developmental phase in my research and am in the process of acquiring the physical electrical components to create the real active crossover. What I’ve consistently discovered this week, and during many other weeks as well, is that from the constrains of my project there have come forth many very diverse solution to my research. Not all of these solutions are of equally efficient however and some turn out to be entirely infeasible; thus the challenge is now deciding which method will best offer a solution and warrant its development.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

URSP Student Liana Glew Studies the Works of William Faulkner

I became interested in studying the works of William Faulkner after returning from studying abroad at Oxford University. In one of my tutorials there, I studied British fantasy literature. Upon my return, I was interested in rounding out my studies by focusing on American literature. I found an excellent parallel to the fantasy authors from Oxford, UK in the southern gothic from Faulkner’s hometown of Oxford Mississippi. Though my concentration is Modern British Literature, I feel that broadening my lens to include American literature will contribute to my abilities as a future high school teacher. Not only does the unique format of the URSP offer a fresh pedagogical experience, but the subject matter and its relation to my previous research also provides first-hand experience in comparing disparate literature.

On a weekly basis, I follow a progression that will ultimately lead to a thesis paper on the workings of flesh, blood, and bone in relation to socioeconomic, gendered, and racial systems of disempowerment in the text. So far, I have read and annotated six of Faulkner’s novels and chosen to work with four. I’ve examined a number of critical texts and analyzed them with relevance to my thesis in a literature review. Now, I am spending two weeks sifting through the critical texts and the novels to assess the language (in the critical texts, I am looking at the workings of “abject” and “grotesque;” in the novels, I am studying the ways in which “flesh,” “blood,” and “bone” are presented). This week, I’ve come to the decision to eschew the word “grotesque” in my writing altogether. I’ve observed in my reading that throughout the history of southern gothic studies, the term has become mangled and convoluted. I’ve decided to solely work with the “abject,” especially in relation to the physical bodies in the novels. Ideally, my final project will serve as an innovative contribution to the scholarly conversation surrounding Faulkner’s work.

URSP Student Kiera Coy Develops and Evaluates Genetic Markers for Phylogenetic Reconstruction in Myrrh Genus, Commiphora

The greatest asset of my scientific acumen is the insatiable desire to close the “unknown to self” gap of my Johari window. I didn't initially believe that my primary interest was in evolutionary studies, however after taking Biodiversity with Professor Birchard, I became fascinated with the idea that all life on Earth was interconnected and the creation of phylogenies. I am very curious about this area of research because of the boundless opportunities presented in this field where there is a lot of unknowns. I specifically want to research more and learn about how scientist use molecular biology to piece together the evolutionary history of life. This project is a part of Morgan Gostel's research and with his guidance I began piecing together a species-level phylogeny for the myrrh genus, Commiphora, a flowering plant found in Madagascar.

Being granted the opportunity to pursue my own research project as an undergraduate student has confirmed my ambitions about being a scientist. The knowledge about the scientific process I have obtained through creating and troubleshooting my research project and working with my mentor, has been very beneficial to my academic and professional development. As an aspiring scientist, I plan to expand my academic findings by pursuing a PhD in Biology and this project will be a great leap in my pursuit of academic advancement as well as a tool to fine tune my scientific processing skills.

I meet with my mentor on a weekly basis and read published scientific papers that relate directly to my research, and data collection of the genes I will be analyzing. An important part of my research experience is that I have noticed a drastic positive change of my research methods since submitting my grant to OSCAR. Through collaborating with other scientists at Mason and other universities, my mentor and I have found a way to simplify our gene comparison process. Thanks to these other collaborators, my research should soon be completed, hopefully with great results!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

URSP Student Hannah Shelton Writes her Second Novel: Turbulence

I began work on my second novel, my current project, titled Turbulence, before
I arrived at Mason. Ultimately, I had planned to use Turbulence as my senior project while studying literature and pursuing my teaching licensure. However, during my first semester, Mason debuted the Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing. This afforded me an unprecedented opportunity: to work on Turbulence while I completed my bachelor’s degree, and not as a side project. Not only did this allow me to construct Turbulence as part of my degree program, I would have a host of professional eyes critiquing my work, helping me along in the process of finishing my novel.

I switched majors to the BFA as soon as it was officially offered. However, the problem with writing a novel is that it requires intensive research to validate facts. I was worried about having the time and funds to do Turbulence justice, as I was now focused on the mechanics of writing and not just the art form of the novel. Then, opportunity knocked once more: I learned about the OSCAR program’s existence (an unknown for many of us humanities majors) and applied immediately.

Thanks to OSCAR, I will finally have the chance travel to the Lake District in the UK, where much of Turbulence is set. The rest of my time is spent almost exclusively in front of a computer. I write for eight hours a week, and usually spend another four researching. What I have begun researching this week is the photography element; for that, I have had to push back some of my writing time in favor of research. What I’ve learned is that with writing, you have to be flexible. I can’t feel guilty because I didn’t write for my allotted eight hours, because I have to make adjustments for authenticating my novel.

OSCAR has not only provided extraneous funding, it’s allowed me access to a mentor to guide and coach me along as I prepare Turbulence for publication. With OSCAR’s assistance, I will not only hit my goal of using my novel as my senior thesis, I will have a much more polished and professional project when seeking a publisher.

URSP Student Dominic Vittitow and Random Implications

As a student pursuing the BFA in Creative Writing, I was excited to have my short story collection proposal accepted by OSCAR. The title of the project is Random Implications—a name meant to reflect the type of stories that it will contain (I’m thinking weird, fun fiction that sees life at odd angles). The prospect of trying to turn my short stories into a coherent collection in which each piece contributes to the whole was enticing. I have found it to be a motivating challenge.

Thankfully, this project ties-in directly with my long-term, career orientated goals as well. Each bit of writing I do helps me improve as a writer. Each short story is an experience in which I learn from; and each is a portfolio builder. Likewise, a collection would be quite the portfolio piece and even a springboard to further achievements and the like. I believe this to be true, especially when I am getting feedback and advice on each story (and how they look as a together) from an excellent mentor and a great peer group.

The process of turning Random Implications from a proposal into an actuality has been fun and interesting; and of course, difficult. I have found that action ignites action, though, so staying at it is the best thing to do. The key is to write every day, so that it gets easier. I do, mostly, but with my other school work I’ve had to be quite creative: sometimes I write in the morning, sometimes in the evening, and sometimes I am content just to read (which is a key part of writing).

My week consists of that, basically. I try to shirk as many other tasks as possible in order to write. I lock myself in my room, put on some music, light the muse candle, and write. Sometimes I tweak drafts, sometimes I start something new. Outside of that, I observe and take notes and read. It’s simple, and brutal, and quite rewarding.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

URSP Student Denisha Hedgebeth Researches The Anti-Apartheid Student Movement at George Mason University, 1985-1990

URSP Highlights: Denisha Hedgebeth

My research focuses on the student anti-apartheid and divestment movement

on Mason's campus. I became interested in my project through a course Dr. Berger, taught last spring. The topic was the making of modern South Africa, and a big part of South Africa's history had to do with apartheid. I didn't know that much about South Africa or apartheid prior to the class, I became fascinated with South Africa and apartheid, specifically the international response to it. Dr. Berger contacted me over the summer about a research project specifically looking at the anti-apartheid tactics and strategies that may have taken place on Mason's campus and its role in the greater U.S. anti-apartheid movement.

I'm interested in the field of international development and human rights. The skills that I've gained and continue to gain during this research process will certainly be useful. Being able to sort through sources, find and organize the relevant information, as well as having the patience and creative problem-solving needed to conduct a research project will be very beneficial towards my long-term goals.

My schedule usually varies on a weekly basis. I spend a lot of time searching and going through archival materials such as past newspapers and newsletters. I also read scholarly journals and books written about the anti-apartheid movement in general to get a broader understanding of the overall movement. Recently, I've been setting up interviews with faculty who were at Mason during the time that we are researching.

This week, I went to visit Douglas Calvin, the national student organizer for the D.C. Student Coalition Against Apartheid and Racism, an anti-apartheid student group that George Mason was a part of. From that visit, I was able to acquire an important text to my research, called the SCAR NEWS, the D.C. SCAR newsletters that gave a lot of information on what Mason and other campuses in the D.C. area were doing to protest apartheid.

URSP Student David Keder Works with Magnetometers

Midway through my second semester of upper-level physics coursework, I began searching for an opportunity to do actual hands-on physics – a welcomed change from the many hours spent working problem sets I had been accustomed to. Experimental physics research covers not only a broad spectrum of topics, but a large number of experiment types as well, from mega-projects with billion dollar budgets like the Large Hadron Collider, to smaller experiments run by a handful of people that can be contained on a single table. In my search for a potential project, I chose to look for the tabletop type since it would allow me to become intimately involved with all aspects the experiment. I asked to work with Dr. Karen Sauer since her type of research not only fit that description, it had direct practical applications as well. The apparatus pictured next to me shrouded in an aluminum box is one of the most sensitive magnetic field detectors (magnetometers) in the world, capable of sensing fields well over a billion times weaker than earth's magnetic field, and could have future practical applications in a variety of areas, from illicit substance detection to medical imaging.

As far as my career goals are concerned, I'll be starting a Ph.D. program in the Fall and although it's unlikely I'll be working specifically on a radio-frequency optical magnetometer over the course of my graduate work, the skill set I've acquired as a contributor this project is invaluable. Over the course of my work I've had exposure to programming, control systems, data acquisition, electronics, modeling and simulation, experimental apparatus design and construction, laser operation, and optical alignment to name several; all of which I will need to use and build upon over a career in experimental atomic physics. On a given day I could be doing any one of those things.

This past week was an exciting one for me as I had the opportunity to visit a physics department at a university I'm considering attending in the Fall. A ubiquitous theme I noticed there was that despite their complexity and sophistication, each lab I visited had at least a few improvised, homemade pieces of equipment – quite similar to things I've built here at GMU - performing an integral function in the experiment. I learned that nothing has better prepared me for future success in experimental physics as well as my work on this project.