Sunday, May 18, 2014

URSP Student Tayyaba Feroze Researches the Sterilization of Surfaces using Natural and Synthetic ATRA Peptides

My interest in research was first sparked when I got the opportunity to intern at Quest Diagnostics Laboratory. It was my first time being exposed to a laboratory environment where not only research was being conducted but also was used to develop diagnostics tests to detect diseases and pathogens with just a prick of blood and I instantly realized that I wanted to pursue my career in biomedical research! This internship broadened my commitment to pursue my vocation as a research scientist and encouraged me to apply for the Research Semester Program funded by Undergraduate Research Scholars Program (URSP). I got the privilege of working with my mentor Dr. Monique van Hoek and my project focused on testing novel peptides derived from the Naja atra cobra against Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. This was the first time that I was actually setting up experiments and following the traditional scientific methods I had learned from labs. Under the firm but clear guidance of my mentor, I was able to accomplish a significant amount of work that semester and presented a poster at several conferences describing the effects of antimicrobial peptides on the biofilm production of Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. I learned valuable lab techniques, statistical analysis, and how to perform antimicrobial assays, but most importantly I learned the importance of scientific collaboration.

Regarding where I would like to be long-term, I believe I would be content and most productive at a large research institution. This could be a university or other research institution such as a federal laboratory that allows for intellectual contribution towards a diverse set of fields, or a place that integrates a variety of fields in a unique way. Universities are attractive because of the broader impacts that your research can have on many people. My long term goal is to perform cutting edge science with a focus on biological sciences, using new technology and my increasing knowledge. I hope to work with supportive collaborators to understand the fundamental mechanisms of biology that can have broad applications to human health as well as environmental sciences.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

URSP Student Muhammed Talha Agcayazi Researches the Autonomous Use of Multi Mission Unmanned Aerial Vehicles on Search and Rescue Missions

After volunteering in the Applied Robotics Lab last summer, I noticed that robotics was a viable academic interest for me. I added getting a graduate degree in robotics to my future goals. Before I applied to a good graduate school, however, I knew that I needed to perform some research related activities while getting my undergraduate degree. With these thoughts in my head I walked into Dr. Cook’s office during the fall semester of 2013. Dr. Cook is a very experienced professor whose experiences and interests fall under robotics and control systems. With him, we talked about my interests and his experiences and came up with a project about Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. Initially I worked on the project from my house but after spring break I moved to Lofaro Labs, the new robotics lab in the engineering building. Dr. Lofaro, director of the lab, has also helped me by suggesting additions to the project.

On a weekly basis I set up goals for myself and I try to complete them before the week ends. To give back to the community I have also recruited a high school student, Mustafa Bal, to help me during this project. We usually get together on Saturdays and work on the project together. Currently it seems like he is convinced in getting an undergraduate degree in Engineering. This week I spent more than 20 hours to make an addition to my current project. I printed plastic micro arms using my friend’s 3d printer and I configured my onboard computer to control the arms. Using visual servoing techniques I made the arms point towards a green apple. I have also put up a page in my website talking about this project ( The experiences that I gained while working on this project have helped me further define my interests in robotics.

Friday, May 16, 2014

URSP Student Viviana Ruiz Conducts A Behavioral Investigation of the Thermal Solar Niche of the House Sparrow

Doing my own project and getting paid for it interested me a lot in this program. It was the experience and the resume builder, is what I really wanted out of this program. Essentially, I want to be a conservation biologist. I want to work with a specific species to help them and the ecosystem that depend on them. Research and animal behavior is something that I wanted to experience. When my mentor was finishing up her thesis on House Sparrows and how the environment affects these birds is when I decided I wanted to help and create my own experiment. To better understand adaptive changes like global warming.

This project related to my long term goals because I needed to understand how outside research is done with animals that you cannot control. To understand that many changing variables and the challenges that come alone with research. This project gave me a front row seat on the perspective of how frustrating research can be because everyday you learn something new that you wish you knew in the beginning.

On a weekly basis I review House Sparrow videos. These videos were recorded in July and August of last year (2013) and usually one day contains 5 different videos representing each treatment. There were 5 different shade treatments and depending on how many House Sparrows I saw it would depend on how long each video took me. So for example one video can have at least 250 birds within the video, which is an hour long. That video could take me 6 hours or some videos I would only see about 30 House sparrows, which would take me about an hour.

One thing I discovered this week was that the Male Adult House Sparrows seemed to like Tokoma Park better than West Grove park and George Mason Park, which therefore changed my plan again that The videos I will be analyzing will only come from Tokoma Park. Every week I learn something and change my game plan some way or another.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

URSP Student Kevin Thompson Researches hot to Approach Writing Music for Keyboard Percussion Instruments

During my time studying music at George Mason, I’ve grown fond of performing new music. In particular, I love to work side by side with composers, and to have the chance to create a product that no audience in the world has been exposed to. However, as a percussionist, this collaborative effort often proves to be uniquely challenging; often students of composition are driven away from writing music for percussion instruments because of their lack of pitch. When they do choose to write for percussion, more often than not they choose pitched percussion instruments such as the vibraphone or marimba, whose keyboard-like quality presents familiarity. This, however, can lead to its own problems: while keyboard percussion instruments have a similar physical shape to other keyboard instruments like the piano, they are played very differently, and I find that often I’m given music that is simply impossible to play on the instrument, which can lead to countless edits and seemingly endless frustration when preparing for an upcoming performance.

My project focuses on the latter point, understanding how to approach writing music for keyboard percussion instruments. To accomplish this, I have gathered a group of GMU student composers, and commissioned them to write solo pieces for the marimba. On a week-to-week basis, they have been providing me with music, and together we have been exploring how to make their musical ideas work most effectively on my instrument. This back and forth between performers and composers is becoming more and more the norm in musical performance, and is certain to be a skill all of us will need down the road in our careers.

I have a total of five composers working with me on this project, including two undergraduates and three graduate students. They are Cooper Minnis, a Junior Music Composition major from St. Louis, Missouri; Laura O’Konski, a Junior Music Education major from Nokesville, Virginia; Adam Rothenberg, a Graduate Music Composition student from Centreville, Virginia; Ben Ryer, a Graduate Music Composition student from Fairfax, Virginia; and Andrew Cote, a doctoral Music Composition student from Nashua, New Hampshire. In addition, I am also composing a piece of my own, and these six new works for solo marimba will be premiered in a recital that will take place in the deLaski Performing Arts Building room 3001, at noon on Sunday, May 4, 2014. It promises to be a great show!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

URSP Student Jessica Smith Researches the "Apple Culture" and How it Affects their Decisions to Purchase Apple Products

My research project focuses on the millennial generation’s perception about what I term the “Apple Culture,” and how that affects their decisions to purchase Apple products. I am conducting this research for my Honors Communication research methods course. For the Honors program, we were required to take the class for two semesters in order to fully develop our research. I knew that I wanted to pursue a question that would be fun and that I would be interested in for a whole school year. As a communication major, I knew I had a wide variety of topics to select. I ended up choosing something relating to the media, since it is such a huge influence on my generation. I’ve seen the rise of Apple products and how the majority of my peers have iPhones, iPads and MacBooks. I myself own an iPhone. There is something about these products that appeal to Millennials and I wanted to dig a little deeper and see what people’s motives for purchasing these products were. This project is related to my long-term goals because I plan on doing media analysis work in order to deconstruct the ideologies that limit the boundaries of what it means to be valued in today’s society.

Since I did a pilot study last semester, this semester’s work has been a lot less stressful. The majority of my time in the past few weeks has been dedicated to data collection. I designed a survey and sent it out to various listservs and social media sites so that I could get a wide range of responses. I am now in the data analysis stage, which includes looking at the multiple variables that my questionnaire covered and performing tests on them to see how they match up with my hypotheses. One thing I learned this week was how much my research study changed from last semester. I originally thought I was studying the different stages of adoption of a certain Apple product, but it turned out that I’m more interested in the loyalty of Millennials to the Apple brand.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

URSP Student Jennifer Nakamura Researches the Delay of Gratification Task

Throughout my time in college, I have been exposed to many different disciplines within the field of psychology. The experiences I have had along with the classes I have taken led me to the decision to pursue a career as a school psychologist. After making this decision, I began working with Dr. Rowe in the school psychology department on an experiment that her and several graduate students were conducting involving self-discipline as a predictor of academic performance in elementary-age students. I felt that the research experience I would obtain from this study in particular would benefit me both in graduate school and in my eventual work with children in the school setting. I also added my own contribution to the study in the form of an in vivo delay of gratification task. Dr. Rowe felt this would complement the self-discipline data they were collecting and provide a valuable contribution to the experiment.

I spent a significant amount of time researching and developing the delay of gratification task and figuring out a way to incorporate it into the methodology of the original experiment. The data collection process includes administering an IQ test, an achievement test, and several self-discipline questionnaires. We structured the delay of gratification task in a way that we could administer it in the same testing session as the achievement test and we began collecting data including the in vivo delay of gratification task this past week. This process was rewarding for me because I was able to see my ideas successfully carried out in an experimental setting. We are hoping to continue to collect data for as many subjects as possible and then begin our analyses. During this time, I am helping with testing and data collection while also spending time on the writing portion of the project. The study has been accepted into the 2014 American Psychological Association Convention in the Division of School Psychology and Dr. Rowe and I are hoping to eventually publish it in a psychological journal. Most importantly, I am hoping to contribute to research that is being conducted by children in the school setting by finding whether self-discipline can potentially predict academic performance over and above IQ.

Monday, May 12, 2014

URSP Student Jeffery Warner Conducts Genetics Research

Ever since starting college I have loved science labs, whether it was general biology, genetics, or chemistry I really enjoyed working with my hands and then seeing the results take form on paper. And because of this research was always a collegiate goal of mine. But when I transferred into George Mason my junior year I did not think that research was something that would happen. That is, until fall semester of my senior year. I took BIOL 308 with Dr. Crerar, and I got to know her some throughout the semester, so at the end of the semester I asked if she had any research she was doing that I could be apart of. She told me about her project and when I was interested in it, welcomed me on board.

Doing research is one of only a few true tastes of the professional scientific community that you will have the opportunity to sample in your undergraduate career. For me the skills I am developing through research will serve me wherever I go. Specifically interacting with others in a professional setting, and getting exposure to the scientific community. I am planning on attending medical school and in addition to research being attractive on an application the relationship with a professor who has worked with me and seen how I carry myself in a professional setting can show medical schools, through a letter of reference, who I am, and set me apart from others.

In my case I am doing genetics research, specifically the identification of ancient bone through DNA isolation, amplification through Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), and sequencing to identify a species through specific markers in the code called microsatellites. We use gel electrophoresis to find out if the amplification was successful before sending it to be sequenced. But on a weekly basis I take isolated DNA and run PCR using different combinations of primers and PCR programs to try and get the DNA to amplify. Then running gels to see if it worked. It tends to be a lot of trial and error. This past week was the first time I had drilled some of the samples of ancient bone and carried out the isolation of DNA myself instead of using previously isolated samples.

Friday, May 9, 2014

URSP Student Heleena Winter Conducts a Content Analysis of the Top Fundraising Charitable Nonprofits

In the spring of 2013, I did an independent study on human trafficking. As I studied the subject and learned more about the nonprofits addressing it, I observed that while some rose to fame and success, others doing very similar work remained largely unknown. In particular, I noticed that with the public recognition came greater financial support. I wondered what it was that set these nonprofits apart and caused people to give to them financially. I was especially drawn to this question because of my own interest in working in a nonprofit some day. I wondered how I, as an individual working in a nonprofit, would be able to communicate my goals and mission to the public in a way that resonated with them. That led me to conduct a content analysis of the top social service nonprofits’ websites.

For my content analysis, I am examining the branding image of the top social service nonprofits from 2013. Branding image, the mental image people form about an organization, is typically studied in terms of for-profit businesses. However, some studies have developed frameworks to study nonprofits. Based on these past studies, I developed my own coding framework that could be applied to nonprofit websites. Creating the coding framework – a series of multiple choice and yes/no questions regarding the websites’ content – was a difficult task and it went through many revisions before it was finished. When it was finally ready for use, I selected the organizations from The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s “Philanthropy 400,” including all nonprofits categorized as social service organizations, 28 in total. With the framework developed and the sites selected, I was able to collect data from each site, focusing only on their homepages.

I am now in the stage of analyzing the data I have collected. My goal is to understand what image successful nonprofits seek to represent through their websites homepages. Through this, I hope to identify what qualities are most heavily emphasized in their homepages and what areas they may need to improve.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

URSP Student Gregory Marshall Explores Japanese Expatriate Mortuary Rituals and Objects

Being trained as an Anthropologist, we are warned that there will always be situations where our ingrained biases from our enculturation process will blind us from understanding a concept from its intended meaning. I believed I had covered all my bases regarding my own biases until they were pointed out to me by a person I was interviewing for my project on Japanese expatriate perceptions on death and mortuary objects. While discussing understandings of the afterdeath, an interviewee pointed out that to her, and as I would find it through further interviews to many other Japanese expatriates, a concept similar to heaven is not permanent—slamming home the realization of an unknown bias I had never expected to have, and worse, that there were likely many more that I would not find or have pointed out to me.

My interviewee picked up my bias when I was trying to confirm my understandings of what she said to me by rephrasing to her what she had just told me about her understandings. After hearing my rephrasal—littered with hand gestures and tonal emphasis—she quickly repressed a look which portrayed feelings of “He’s not quite getting it”, “I need to correct him, this is important”, and “I don’t know how to phrase this”, and I knew there was a fundamental block to my understanding of this simple, yet important concept similar to ‘heaven’. After a moment, what felt like a long moment, my interviewee leaned forward and said “This [Amidha’s Pure Land] is not like heaven. It is not a ending point, simply a place without pain…”

Struck for a moment, I began to realize what had happened and the light bulb flicked on. First, I realized that I had committed in my mind ‘the’ Anthropological faux pas of inserting bias. Second, and perhaps more embarrassingly important and a lesson I sincerely believed I had conquered over my vast and rich 23 years of life, people who have done this before—my teachers—they were right….. Curse them!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

URSP Student Christina Lau Explores the Process of Self-Regulation among Middle School Math Students

My project seeks to explore the processes of self-regulation among elementary students studying math. In particular, the aims of my study was to examine how 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students employ self-regulated learning processes (e.g. setting goals, motivation, self-monitoring, and self-reflection) during a math problem and whether there are any differences in self-regulation processes among low, average, and high achieving students.

As an undergraduate student, doing research was an area that I really wanted to explore. Being at a large “research” university, I got the opportunity to be a participant in a variety of research as well as be a research assistant on several research projects within psychology (e.g. Human Factors, Developmental psychology). During the time that I was a research assistant on these projects, I realized that I was interested in doing my own research and going to graduate school.

I became involved on this project with my mentor when I realized my research interest was in educational psychology. Particularly, I wanted to focus on self-regulation because I like that it is very broad, yet highly important in academic learning. With this project, my mentor and I were able to design a research study to measure self-regulation in a way that has never been explored before.

Throughout the semester, I mostly read articles related to my study, analyze data, and write. Depending on the task, sometimes I may be working on the same task for an extended period of time, while other times I may work on one task and finish in a few days. During the past several weeks, for example, I have been entering data and working with my mentor on analyzing it. After analyzing the data, I write the report for the results based on empirical articles of similarity to my study. In doing these tasks, I discovered that the process of doing research at each step requires organization, persistence, and patience. For me, writing the results was one of the more rigorous tasks. After several attempts at trying to code the data and reorganizing it, I slowly began to understand the results and connect them to my writing. In all, this unique experience taught me valuable insights about the research process along with skills (e.g. SPSS, technical writing), which in turn helped me to become a better researcher.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

URSP Student Andrei Cesin Conducts a Preliminary Test for Correlation Between H. pylori Presence and IPF

Originally, we set out to test if the bacteria Heliobacter pylori was the definitive causative agent within stomach reflux (known to have a correlation to a disease known as IPF). In a nut shell, we planned to test for the presence of H. pylori using PCR in the tissue of various samples, then check patient history to see which individuals had a history of stomach reflux, and if there was a statistically-valid correlation. However, upon looking into the literature, I realized a great opportunity for uncovering a wider strategic awareness within this possibly-causative relationship: I would instead look into the mechanisms of IPF pathogenesis, then once I identified the critical mechanistic factors, examine the literature on H. pylori to see if that bacteria’s mechanism of infection involved similar factors (and presto, there might be a causative bridge between IPF and the bug, which would be the basis for a future experiment of specific design).

It is because my project is purely literature based, it directly relates to (I think) the most important graduate skill set of all: extracting the deepest value of scientific literature. It’s the basis of the old scientific adage: “A couple months in the laboratory can frequently save a couple of hours in the library.” – Westheimer. In graduate school, you will have to be able to read and understand the scientific literature (for the candidate’s own success and survival). This teaches the language and organization of how ideas are expressed. Beyond that, it also teaches (or at least gives hints) on how scientists think (as in how they develop their questions). Lastly, being familiar with the literature enriches the reader with a sense of how the logic of an experiment’s parameters/logical premises (an experiment’s design) forms the basis for a set of results that have a definite and compelling logical conclusion (say for example, regarding the nature of a relationship; A causes B, and not the other way around). As the scientist articulates in her language (which you become familiar with, with practice) the model that guides their thinking, you will also experience how that model gets updated in light of the experiment’s logically-compelling and valid results.

On a weekly basis, I dive into the underlying literature of reviews to get to the nuances that have been omitted by editors. Without those important nuances, some of these reviews read like a poorly translated foreign-language novel. This week, I discovered that the mechanism that involves inducing IPF via killing Alveolar cells can be done without inducing the inflammatory mechanism. This doesn’t mean that IPF pathogenesis is inflammation dependent, only that it doesn’t necessarily involve the triggering of the inflammatory response (which makes a competing, inflammation-based theory less likely).

Monday, May 5, 2014

URSP Amy Handlan Discovers the Correlation Between a Countries Type of Government and the Frequencies of their Financial Crises

My name is Amy Handlan and I am a junior studying economics and math at George Mason University. During the spring semester of 2014, I am using my URSP grant to research the correlation between countries’ type of government and their frequencies of financial crises through calculating regressions and researching explanatory factors behind that regression. Beyond the obvious fact that researching my topic will make me more knowledgeable about economics, my research is also teaching me about the means and standards of conducting respectable academic research, no matter the topic. My experience with URSP is preparing me for my future academic career as a graduate student and as a professor.

My research experience will increase my probability of acceptance to and success in top economics graduate programs. The study of economics is ever becoming more technical and quantitative and therefore schools are looking for graduate students with more quantitative analysis experience. Accordingly, because my research project requires me to use computer programs for statistical computations and it involves quantifying a normally qualitative variable, type of government, I am much more marketable to the best graduate schools. Also, through the UNIV 495 recitations I have learned the signs of a healthy and detrimental mentoring relationship and how to resolve major problems with a mentor. Knowing how to establish a beneficial relationship with my dissertation advisor will undoubtedly make my thesis paper and writing experience better. In the near future my research will help me in graduate school and even further down the road it will give me a step up in my desired career.

After graduate school, I would like to become an economics professor and my URSP research has introduced me to the academic research process. Firstly, applying for the URSP grant has given me my first example of how a one applies for grant funding, a necessary ability for a successful academic. Furthermore, the URSP recitation’s requires us to share of our research through multiple outlets. Accordingly, learning about the requirements to appropriately disseminate my research as an undergraduate gives me an advantage over other economists that had to wait until graduate school to conduct original research when pursuing professorships. Ultimately, my research with URSP has taught me so much about the subject I am researching and, more importantly, on the methods of conducting higher-level research that I can translate to my future in academia.

Friday, May 2, 2014

URSP Amir Mohammadhasani Compares the Ratio of Mitochondrial DNA in Brown Adipose Tissue to White Adipose Tissue

Stem cells have many different types, but they all share two important features. They can divide infinitively, and have the potential to differentiate into any other mature cells. Some stem cells have more potency (totipotent) and some have less potency (pluripotent, multipotent) to differentiation into other cells. About a year ago, my mentor and I discussed the possibility of differentiating stem cells into brown fat cells. Brown fat cells, contains high amount of mitochondria which can burn fatty acids and glucoses. It means, by increasing the amount of brown fat cells in human body obesity can be cured. Obesity is one of the greatest health concerns in the US in past few decades. Discovering a new method of treatment for obesity, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, can find a relief for one-third of U.S. population to stop suffering from obesity. As a biology major student, my long-term goal is to pursue my education in medicine to cure as many people as I can. Finding a possible cure to obesity can be the greatest ways to reach my goal.

My mentor and I scheduled to have a meeting every Friday to discuss the progress in the project, to share the restrictions of the experiment and to find solutions to any difficulty that comes up. In our weekly basis, we study and gather accurate updates of the topic, practice required lab techniques to work with cells and maintain the lab ready for cell culture. We have ordered multipotent stem cells from a cell provider company, ATCC. Once stem cells arrive we can culture and differentiate them. multipotent stem cells are very sensitive to infection, and also the timetable of the experiment is very important. Therefore, stem cells need to be used as soon as they arrive. In the mean time, every part of the experiment needs to be set up so we can start the experiment as soon as I received the stem cells. For example, this week I practiced PCR helping other student’s project. I also calculated the possibility of creating a new medium to use in the cell culture. Medium with new proportions based on previous studies can increase the accuracy of the stem cell differentiation. This means, the more accurate the ingredient proportions in the medium, the more brown fat cells will be produced using multipotent stem cells.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

URSP Student Eddie Bailey Studies the Real Estate Market Bubble

My research mentor first approached me with a research project about the real estate market bubble. My interest in financial markets immediately attracted me to the project because it offered me a chance to learn about the fundamental causes of market bubbles. Additionally, the research project offered me a chance to develop my programming experience while developing a simulated real estate market. Both of these qualities fit into my long-term goal of going to graduate school to study either computer science or financial mathematics and eventually pursuing my career goal of becoming a sort of data or research analyst for an investment firm.

My research has mainly consisted of programming the experiment in Second Life. I usually go into my professor’s lab around three to four days a week. While at the lab, I’ll program my experiment, talk to my professor about the experimental design, or read an article my professor has given to me. Additionally, the lab, which consists of three graduate students and me, gets together and discusses each person’s weekly progress. I particularly enjoy these discussions because I get to learn about the other research projects the lab is conducting and the economic problems they are trying to solve. I’ve learned a great deal about economics and computer science from the graduate students, such as differences between exogenous and endogenous markets and how to improve the efficiency of an algorithm. I’ve also gotten the chance to talk to the Nobel Laureate Dr. Vernon Smith as an expert in real estate markets.

One thing I learned this week was the differences between English and Dutch auctions. A Dutch auction is a descending price auction where a finite quantity of goods begins selling at a starting price, and then descends to an end price. Buyers then risk having a particular good sell out while waiting for a cheaper price. On the contrary, an English auction is an ascending price auction where buyers choose when they want to leave the auction. The auction starts with every buyer in the auction at a low price. The price then increases until enough players have left the auction so that the quantity of goods equals the quantity of buyers.