Friday, August 29, 2014

URSP Student Alexis Lahr Examines How the SNAP Policy Reduces the Ability of Recipients to Become Financially Independent

After I saw a presentation on URSP in my freshman year UNIV 100 class, I knew I wanted to participate in undergraduate research at Mason. The opportunity arose this past year when I worked as Dr. Bethany Usher’s research assistant. We got into a conversation one day about the SNAP (food stamp) cuts in Virginia, and she suggested I form a research project centered on my interest in federal aid. This past spring, I began an internship in a subsidized housing neighborhood, where I caught wind of an issue: people would struggle to gain employment or a promotion, only to be left worse off financially than they were when they were unemployed, because their higher income would eliminate their SNAP benefits. With Dr. Usher as my mentor, I began a research project that examined how the SNAP policy reduces the ability of recipients to become financially independent.

In a typical week, I spent most of my time scheduling interviews and compensation. Initially, I had trouble getting interviews. I soon reevaluated my recruitment techniques, and worked around the schedules of potential participants. This led to a few weeks where I spent a significant amount of time in the neighborhood, but my recruitment was very successful and I became a familiar face in the community. I knocked on doors and returned when people were free, and I spent a few later nights to accommodate individuals with different work schedules. A favorite moment in my research was when I had the opportunity to discuss my project at the neighborhood’s community meeting. I enjoyed getting to know the residents, and quite a few people came up to me afterwards to be interviewed.

The most desired and needed compensation for the residents was perishable produce and dairy, as opposed to the canned and dried foods typically given as donations. The URSP stipend cannot be used to purchase food, so I set up food donations from a local grocery store. I would pick up the food in the morning, and spend an hour or so organizing it into coolers and throwing away anything that was spoiled before going to the neighborhood. After I completed my recorded interviews, I would listen to them again and take notes. Additionally, I contacted many scholars in the field and conducted informational interviews with a few. I was particularly excited to interview Eli Saslow, a journalist for the Washington Post who wrote a narrative series on SNAP. His series sparked my initial interest in federal aid, and I remember Dr. Usher sharing one of his pieces with me almost a year ago. Pursuing research this summer has been an amazing experience- I got to know many of the residents of the subsidized housing community and learned things about SNAP and federal aid in our interviews that I would not have known from books or the internet. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

URSP Student Beom Seo Koo Conducts Pharmacology and Materials Research on Neuronal In Vitro Cultures

Every week is dynamic in the Neural Engineering Laboratory located in the Volgenau Engineering Building. My work primarily revolves around the cell culture room and the primary neuron cultures we grow there. This week may involve surveying the cultures’ condition but the next next might involve recording the electric signals created by the neurons’ action potentials, performing tests on the cultures, or plating newly extracted cells onto our microelectrode arrays (MEAs). Here am I feeding our cultures with DMEM. We perform all sensitive work in the biohood for sterility, making sure no contaminants enter the MEAs.  The cultures must be fed twice per week on a rigid schedule. It is my responsibility to look after these cells’ well-being while I plan surgeries for more cell plating, perform experiments, or look up references for possible use. Every day requires concentration and dedication since one small mistake in the biohood may lead to a bacteria infested culture, causing weeks of work to be lost! Diligence is expected in the lab, and some weeks require me to stay from early morning till night, but the work I do and the people I work with drives me to continue this work further. Next week is surgery week for extracting frontal cortex neurons from mice embryos. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

URSP Student Carolina Barriga Performs Immunocytochemistry and Flow Cytometry

The research project I have been working on this summer observes the interaction between circulating tumor cells (CTCs) and human lung micro vascular endothelial cells (HLMVEC) on whether they play a potential role in breast to lung tumor progression. I have performed Immunocytochemistry (ICC) and Flow Cytometry in order to examine the levels of proteins expressed by the cultured endothelial cells. While working on my individual project, I have also acted as a close mentor for the bright students of the Aspiring Scientists Internship Program (ASSIP).

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

URSP Student Jeffrey Bynum Researches How to Construct Designs Using 3D Printers

My project consists of how to construct designs using 3D printers for engineering educational purposes focusing on machine parameters, part tolerances, material properties, and troubleshooting print failures. This week, I began assembling a scaled version of the AISC sculpture seen here. Every part of the design (minus the bolts) was 3D printed in an attempt to mirror challenges such as hole, assembly, and connection tolerances faced by structural, mechanical, and civil engineering disciplines. These details were subsequently logged to help others when addressing similar issues regarding 3D prints. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

URSP Student Alex Nixon Develops an Inhaled Drug Delivery System to Treat Bacterial Diseases

One of the biggest things I've learned this summer (and coincidentally, one of the things my mentor constantly reminds me about) is research is not a 9-5 job. For me, research has consisted of being in the lab at 6 am (like today) in order to carry out a reaction and staying as late as 2 am in order to centrifuge and wash the nanoparticles I’m working with on top of being in and out of the lab at what would be considered normal hours. While it’s crazy to be working until 2 am some nights, what’s even crazier, is that I’m perfectly okay with it, in fact I love those nights.

Now that we've established that I’m crazy, you might be wondering what my project actually is, and what a typical week might look like for me. This summer, I’m trying to develop a porous microparticle that encapsulates an antibiotic (in my case, gentamicin sulfate) and can be used as an inhaled drug delivery system. In really simple terms, thing of a golf ball (that’s much smaller of course) with all of the dimples replaced with holes. This porous structure makes it incredibly light despite being quite large and will allow us to deliver the drug in a way similar to an inhaler works. 

In order to actually synthesize these particles, there’s a lot of things that I have to do. In a week, I can typically synthesize a few batches, depending on what I want to test. Today, I’m trying out a new procedure that modifies the drug to make it more hydrophobic (water-fearing) and thus allows it to be better encapsulated. Today is one of those 6 am days, and could very well turn into a 2 am day as well since I need to carry out a three hour reaction, let it evaporate and then start to synthesize the microparticles. Tomorrow morning, I’ll need to come in and centrifuge and wash the particles in order to collect and purify them as well as prepare a scanning electron microscope (SEM) sample. Then I’ll need to reserve a time to take the metro into George Washington University in order to use their SEM, since Mason doesn't have one of it’s own. Only then will I actually be able to see the external structure of my microparticles to see if all of that work I put in yielded a good result.