Wednesday, September 24, 2014

URSP Student Sumin Chung Researches Lacrosse Helmets and Concussions

The project I am currently assisting with is looking at lacrosse players and concussions. Specifically, we are looking at the frequency and magnitude of impacts that high school boys and girls lacrosse players are exposed to in a season. Concussions have long been an inherent risk in the sport of lacrosse, but only recently has it gained national attention with the NFL concussion studies. I gained interest in the study through taking Research Methods with my mentor-to-be Dr. Cortes. Originally, I wanted to start a project geared towards snowboarders and concussion epidemiology, but quickly changed the scope to lacrosse players due to the lack of studies in my original interest. Being a former lacrosse player myself, and also having sustained quite a few concussions in the past through snowboarding and other various sports, I was curious as to what results this study would yield, and with the encouragement of Dr. Cortes, I submitted my proposal for the Undergraduate Research Scholar’s Program.   

This past week, I began the statistical analysis of the girl’s lacrosse player data using SPSS, which is predictive analytics software. The months prior were spent organizing all of the game/practice data into an Excel spreadsheet that was formatted in such a way that importing it into SPSS would be a simple task. Even with a full team of graduate students assisting me, the organizing process was still excruciatingly tedious and long, so the statistical analysis was actually kind of a relaxing moment, despite it being a crucial step in the process. What I have learned from this experience thus far is that nothing ever really goes according to plan; it’s how you decide to roll with the punches that can make or break a research experiment. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

URSP Student Brooke Thomas Conducts A Close Examination of the Works of Lucrecia Martel and New Argentine

This summer I was given both the opportunity to study abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina and complete an undergraduate research project focusing on New Argentine Cinema and the films of the director, Lucrecia Martel. I've been in South America for almost two months now and I am having a hard time believing that both my time here and with this project are almost through! Fortunately, though, I saved the best part of my research for last: a long-weekend trip to the northeast province of Argentina, Salta, where Lucrecia Martel was born. 

This trip was a critical part of my study. Argentina is the eighth largest country in the world; given its size, it is unsurprising that there are many distinct regions and cities within this giant landmass. While I have spent most of my summer in Buenos Aires, a bustling metropolitan that takes its life and architectural style from Europe, I really needed to learn more about Salta and how Martel's hometown affected her filmic direction. Thus, I made the 20-hour bus trip to Salta just last weekend and enjoyed the warmer weather, the gorgeous landscapes, but most of all, the people.

Now that I have spent some time in Salta and can compare it to two other major cities I have visited, Mendoza in the west near Chile, and Buenos Aires in the east, I can see why Martel chooses her birthplace as the set for her films. Not only is Salta aesthetically stunning but the people and culture there are unlike anywhere else in the country. The warmer weather, even in the July winter, the hospitable people, and the slow pace of life make Salta the perfect place to film and the perfect place to reflect on Argentina's distinct regions. Even more, I now understand why Martel often suggests Salta as a peripheral space; while most of Argentina is concerned with globalizing and building infrastructure, the people of Salta are content to move more slowly and enjoy their deep-seeded farming and gaucho lifestyle. Geographically, the city exists well away from the metropolitan epicenter of the country, Buenos Aires, and, more critically, the people also embrace a more conservative, Catholic lifestyle than what can be found in the nation's capital. Getting to experience these physical and philosophical differences between Buenos Aires and Salta is key to understanding Martel's vision and authorial view of class, way of life, and space.

Monday, September 22, 2014

URSP Student Juny Canenguez Researches the Relationship of Cultural Simpatía and Workplace Favoritism

Never would I have though that I would be conducting research on something of that would be of so much interest and significance to me.  With OSCAR funding, I am researching the relationship of cultural simpatía and workplace favoritism. Simpatía is the act of behaving with dignity, respect, courtesy and empathy toward others with the goal of emphasizing positive behaviors and deemphasizing negative behavior. Simpatía is a deeply held value in many Latin American cultures and in this study, my mentor, Dr. Olivia (Mandy) O’Neill and I are investigating whether the cultural value of simpatía is associated with a perception of less favoritism in the workplace.

To test this phenomenon, we created a multi-step survey in English and Spanish to determine whether the language of the survey and personality factors illicit different responses in our subjects. This past week, my main focus has been to find participants, in particular Spanish-speakers, to take survey.  In order for the data to be representative of the population, I have to find as many people as I can to take it. There have been some days of frustration where only two to three people take the survey in a day.  But there are also very rewarding days were 15+ people take the survey. Thus far, gathering data has been the most challenging part of my study, but my findings in the analysis stage should make it all worth it.
I have come to learn it is often difficult to study human subjects.  We all are different in so many ways yet there are some aspects that we share. By doing this study, I now see research like a maze; there are various routes available, but you can only pick one.  However, if the route you choose does not lead to an outcome, it is a matter of turning around and getting on a different route to find something interesting to share. Comes to show that once curiosity enters the mind, not matter how difficult the task may be, a researcher is determined to find an answer.  

Friday, September 19, 2014

URSP Student Julia Bourguignon Researches the Effect of Spices on Calcium Influx and CGRP Levels and their Relation to Migraine

This week was a hectic one! With our URSP celebration and research presentation around the corner, some serious data collection was in order. With my project, I am investigating the effects of two spices, ginger and turmeric, on potential mechanisms of migraine.

This week I conducted a CGRP secretion assay. It is believed that calcitonin gene-relation peptide (CGRP) secretion is correlated with sensitivity and inflammation. We are looking at whether treatment with ginger or turmeric will affect secretion levels in CA-77 cells. This is done through a rat enzyme immunoassay (EIA) kit, where we hope to see changes in CGRP secretion among the different treatments we apply to each column of cells. To perform the kit, three days are required, where I will plate cells onto a 96-well plate, treat them with varying concentrations of the spices, and then stimulate CGRP secretion with potassium chloride. From there, I can collect the secretions, dilute them, transfer them to another plate and apply a tracer which will help to detect the varying levels of CGRP after the addition of Ellman’s reagent. Finally, I take a plate reading to quantify the results, and perform statistical analysis to view significant differences among treatments. 

Next week we will look into a Calcium Imaging study, which helps us to detect if these spices will have an effect on calcium channel inhibition in PC-12 cells. More information to come on that study!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

URSP Student Orsolya Buzas Researches Hungarian Politics and Democratic Transition

I have attached a picture of me while I was in Hungary for the Spring semester where I did a portion of my research. Hungarian politics and democratic transition is also the focus of my research. In the background the Parliament is visible as well as the Danube and the castle on the opposite side of the river.

Upon finishing a book this week, recommended by my mentor, I felt as if the direction of my research has been illuminated. Why Nations Fail, a piece on theories that explain the existence of successful and failed states allowed me to place the post-Soviet Central and Eastern European countries I have been observing into perspective according to the theories. I was now able to go beyond international ratings of economic freedom and rule of law such as Freedom House's Freedom in the World Ranking. Interpreting the institutional differences between these states and the way they developed over the centuries allowed me to explain their reactions to democratic transition and their current political state. By discussing the presentation of my project and the physical poster, I had to visualize the clear elements of my research that during the past months I have overlooked and instead, followed a path of recommended studies and current talks. By refining and simplifying my project to Background, Hypothesis, Process, and Solution I was able to eliminate branches of my research and separate those thoughts for further analysis in the future. Perhaps another topic for new research possibilities.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

URSP Student Samantha Wilkins Explores The Effect of Dietary Copper and Zinc on Fear Extinction

My study is exploring the behavioral effects of varying levels of dietary copper and zinc in rats, specifically looking at learning and memory through fear extinction, and motor coordination through accelerating rotarod paradigms.  We have five dietary conditions, three of which serve as different controls, and two of which induce a copper deficient state.  The rats must be reared on their respective dietary conditions from birth until four months of age before they undergo behavioral testing.  

At the present stage of the project, we have a pilot group of rats that are being raised on their diets and are due to begin behavioral testing in early September.  In the meantime, regular tasks include checking on the rats daily to ensure their well-being, and handling them twice a week so that they become acclimated to researcher interaction.  Also, importantly, we must refill the food containers and monitor their dietary intake through food weights.  Since adolescence has been reached, this process is typically done twice a week to keep up with the rats’ growing appetites.  Additional work throughout the week also involves preparation for the behavioral measures, which must be thoroughly planned to ensure that any potential errors, interference, or confounds can be eliminated before the testing begins.  During this past week, we have been trying to determine which parts of the lab should be utilized as the environment for the fear conditioning and subsequent fear extinction days of testing, to avoid contextual interference and erroneously high freezing rates in the rats during fear extinction.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

URSP Student Mihret Tafesse Analyzes the Contribution of Microtubules to Cell Structure and Function

My research project focuses on analyzing the contribution of microtubules to cell structure and function.  This week I worked with cells that I have transfected with EGFP tubulin to allow the microtubules to show green fluorescence.  I used a micro patterning method to allow cells to bind to treated patterns on a petri dish.  This way, I can analyze the microtubules and the  correlation of microtubules and cell structure. In these micro patterns, generally 1 to a few cells generally fit in each pattern.  The shapes of these cells is then analyzed after they attach to these specific patterns.   To make this experiment happen this week, I also had to do work preparing the cells, petri dishes and other equipment used. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

URSP Student Joseph Frias Researches How Group Halo Mass Affects the Properties of the Intergalactic Medium

My work deals with certain astronomical objects called galaxy groups. These are collections of galaxies like our Milky Way that are gravitationally bounded to each other. It’s kind of like those coin wells that are in some shopping malls. In between the constituent galaxies (they are like the coins going around the center), there is hot gas (We call it the Intergalactic Medium, or IGM for short), mostly made up of Hydrogen. It is this gas we are interested in, as it can contain a lot of clues as to how the galaxy group, and also its constituent galaxies, changes over time.

My work so far has been primarily collecting data on the IGM in certain groups using my programming skills. This week started off similarly. We had some preliminary results, but before we started interpreting them we needed to make sure our data sample was based only on gas in the IGM. As a galaxy group has constituent galaxies, the galaxies themselves have lots of gas inside them, and this may not reflect the overall IGM characteristics. So, we took some time to cross check the objects we were measuring with a galaxy catalog based on the groups we were studying. For this I created a program to match specific groups with their constituent galaxies. With this information collected, we are currently using Astronomical programs like TOPCAT to determine how many of our data points are actually associated with the group environment itself.

Friday, September 12, 2014

URSP Student Liana Glew Researches Temporal Multiplicity in Stagnant Realities

Saturday, July 19th: The day began with a flood of nerves. After waking up long before the alarm, I sought out breakfast on the unfamiliar campus, intending to rehearse my paper and escape the Mississippi heat over iced coffee. Afterwards, I arrived at the conference center quite early, where my fellow panelists chatted and rehearsed their own papers. For many of us, this was our first time presenting our work at a conference -- the Southern Writers, Southern Writing graduate conference proved a welcoming and inviting introduction to the world of academic conferences. The presentations all went smoothly and spurred stimulating questions and discussions.

Sunday, July 20-Wednesday, July 23: The following conference, Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, kicked off with a catfish dinner on Faulkner's own lawn. The three days involved copious amounts of caffeine, hours of gripping presentations, evenings of sightseeing in town, and discussions over dinner about research and dissertations.

Thursday, July 24-Saturday, July 26: I returned home with new ideas and motivation for my URSP project. I finished sifting through my notes in Joyce's Ulysses, completing a document of passages, sorted by country, that show the international influences upon the novel's Dublin. By Saturday, I began the same process for Faulkner's Sound and the Fury. Both the upcoming process of mapping these findings and the vastly international attendance at the Faulkner conference have started to prove my initial hunch that Joyce's Dublin and Faulkner's Mississippi are not nearly as provincial as they may seem.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

URSP Student Herath Pilapitiya Understands Alzheimer’s by Modeling beta-amyloids that Bind to GPCRs

Computer Science is one of the fastest growing fields in the modern world. Research experience in the field of computer science is very important to be successful as a computer scientist. With the hope of pursuing graduate studies in a computer science related field and be a computer scientist in the future, I was interested in doing research as an undergraduate student. When I was searching for a faculty mentor at the computer science department who offers research opportunities for undergraduates, I came to know that some undergraduate students doing research under Dr. Amarda Shehu. After going over her website and personally talking to her, I was really interested in her projects in the field of bioinformatics. She informed me she had just the right project for me and asked me to join her lab in the summer. The project was a collaboration with a neuroscientist, which had me even more enthusiastic about the possibility of acquiring interdisciplinary skills.

The main objective of the project is to model in detail the process of how beta amyloids can bind G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) and to do so in silico. Detailed modeling of protein-ligand binding is traditionally conducted via Molecular Dynamics (MD) simulations. Simulating MD simulations in silico is expensive and not feasible, practically. Our approach is not based on running expensive MD simulations but is just as accurate and reliable. The approach relies on dense sampling of the ligand conformer space.

The first 1-2 weeks in my research I read many journal articles to understand the interaction between beta amyloids and Nicotinic Receptors, and to find out what are other protein docking software used in the field. Throughout the research I used a molecular modeling software called PyRosetta, a Python-based interface to the Rosetta molecular modeling software. It allows users to create custom docking algorithms using Python scripting. This week I ran several docking simulations to reveal possible differences between the native and aggregation-prone (diseased) form of the amyloid-beta peptide when binding to alpha-7 Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor (a7 nAchR). Once I get all docking simulation results I am going to analyze total energies and corresponding binding poses using a linear dimensionality reduction technique known as Principal Component Analysis (PCA).

During the whole process, the guidance from my mentor was great. The experiences that I gained while working on my research project helped me to improve my research skills and will help me to be a successful researcher in the future. The USRP program is a great opportunity for undergraduates at Mason to enhance their research skills.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

URSP Student Kayla Story Works in the Field

Contrast is an element of anthropology that I have confronted only recently. My research began with work "in the field;" approaching strangers, establishing connections, and conducting interviews across small tables. I was armed with a voice recorder, note pad, pen, and the occasional cup of coffee. This "field work" came to its inevitable end, bringing me to an entirely different, isolated space, where social interaction was replaced by the constant pattering of my fingers across computer keys.

As I drum along in my endless Microsoft Word document, I am faced with the challenge of transforming each interview, each sample of complex subcultures, into semi-quantifiable, interpretable data. Individuals cannot really be reduced to scientific data, which means my true task is to discover what can be learned from these individuals, and allow the lesson to take the form of data. A careful, considerate narrative will be key. This week, I am working on that key. This week, my Word document becomes even longer.

My work will conclude with another reminder of anthropology's contrasting nature, as I present my results – the careful narrative – to people. The research will finish as it started, taking the form of a social process. For this week, the tapping of these keys is sufficient company.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

URSP Student Georgia Wood Researches the Influence of Dante on Morrison

Over the course of my undergraduate studies, I have become interested in how texts influence and speak to each other in a variety of ways. It’s fascinating how works written hundreds of years ago can be found hidden within the novels we read in the modern day. In a course on Dante’s Inferno, I learned his influence permeates into many contemporary novels and other mediums of art. After discovering that some critics believe Toni Morrison’s trilogy responds to the Divine Comedy, I decided I wanted to investigate the connections between the two to see if the claim rings true. Through the URSP program and the support of my mentor Professor Kristina Olson, I have been able to research the overt, and not-so-overt, influence of Dante on Morrison to consolidate into a literature review that will later be turned into an article.

On a weekly basis, I work with either primary or secondary texts in order to strengthen my argument by seeing where others have been previously. As I am creating a literature review, I find both the strengths and the weaknesses in the articles to find where research is lacking in the current critical conversation. In addition, I have been working with the texts to find my own connections between the works. This week, I have begun to add these personal assertions to the established criticism. For example, the two intermediate works, Dante’s Purgatorio and Morrison’s Jazz, include images of birds. Dante dreams of an eagle that lifts him, and Morrison draws on that image within her novel to showcase the range of potential for her characters’ mobility, physically and otherwise.  As I hope to continue my studies in graduate school, this project has provided me the valuable opportunity to learn the research process under the guidance of a supportive mentor. At the beginning of this project, I struggled with how I could say anything that had not been said before. I’ve learned now the importance of research to the academic world, and how discovering information that has not been said only opens the door to more.

Monday, September 8, 2014

URSP Student David Morris Works with Video Cameras and Frames

My project is to determine how a video camera was moving from the video frames.This is achieved by first determining which way the camera was facing in each frame by drawing perspective lines, as described in a paper my mentor, Prof. Košecká, coauthored --- the 2002 video compass paper. This past week, I've spent my time getting up at 9 AM, going to the lab I'm working in, and working there for eight hours. I've accomplished a number of things, three of which come to mind: I've arranged the main loop of the code I've been working on so that it is more readable; now there are several blocks of code that each work as a unit and can be seen in one screen, instead of 200 lines that must be understood all at once. I found a bug causing incorrect rotation and position estimates --- I corrected it after determining that I had been describing how the room was rotated relative to the camera, instead of describing how the camera was rotated relative to the room. I also sped up processing for the rest of my project by saving data from image processing to a file.

Friday, September 5, 2014

URSP Student Elena Galindo Advances STEM Mentorship at The Governor’s School

As a biologist and aspiring teacher, I have always been curious about many aspects of teaching science.  If I were ever to do undergraduate research while here at Mason, I always knew that it would be in the realm of education research.

Last semester my mentor Dr. Reid Schwebach, was working with Dr. Padmanabhan Seshaiyer on a grant to design an institute where teachers from  Academic Year Virginia Governor’s Schools could come together to learn more about how to effectively mentor high school students on their science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) related research projects. Knowing that there was going to be an institute filled with highly qualified Governor’s School teachers/mentors and experts on undergraduate research taking place, I thought it would be a great opportunity to tap into the rich participant pool of the institute by developing a study around it. 

I was very curious about how the Virginia Governor’s Schools, specialized high schools who enroll talented and gifted students from all across Virginia, implemented their own mentored research programs, and what best practices the teachers/mentors used to effectively mentor their students. My research project is essentially a phenomenological study of STEM mentorship within the Governor’s Schools.

Most of my weeks are spent reviewing literature on mentorship, coding and organizing data I collected using qualitative data analysis software, and working on a paper that my mentor and I hope to get published later this year. I check in with my mentor at least once or twice a week to share ideas and discuss the project.

During the week of June 23, I was able to attend the 4-VA Summer Institute at the Smithsonian –Mason School of Conservation (SMSC) campus in Front Royal to collect the data I needed for my project. For five days, I met with 19 Governor’s school teachers from all over Virginia and attended a number of lectures on how to engage high school students in research projects, how to use statistical analysis and modeling software useful for research, how to tap into big data and use it to answer unanswered questions, and much more with them. As an OSCAR researcher, I attended every lecture to take notes of the proceedings of the day and to record the comments and questions that the teachers posed. I also had the opportunity to hand out a questionnaire that I had developed (after many rounds of back-and-forth with the good ol’ IRB!) in order to better understand what these teachers/mentors are doing at their schools, and what their initial thoughts on mentorship were. I was able to collect lots of great data by observing the teacher interactions throughout the duration of the institute!

I really enjoyed hearing the thoughts that the Governor’s School teachers had on mentorship, but even more so I enjoyed seeing the teachers collaborate and exchange their ideas amongst each other. I can’t wait to hear about how the teachers have incorporated what they have learned at the institute within their own schools in the institute follow-up later this fall!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

URSP Student Angeline Palmer Develops a Collaborative Learning Classroom

URSP Highlights: Angeline Palmer

My undergraduate research began when I became a Learning Assistant for Quantitative Chemical Analysis (CHEM 321) in the spring of 2013. As a Learning Assistant, I developed an interest in teaching and deepened my understanding of the course material. I worked in parallel with the professor to help students understand the key topics and facilitate student discussions during the class time. In the fall of 2013, I continued assisting with CHEM 321, which was one of six pilot courses being taught in the Active Learning with Technology (ALT) classroom, as a completely flipped course.  A flipped class contains no traditional lecture, students must prepare for class on their own and during class actively apply the reading assignment to in class discussions and problem sets. My summer URSP consists of reformatting the online homework system with more due dates and pooled questions, combining the statistical results from the previous three semesters and preparing for fall 2014 statistics and reading chemical education, STEM education and Active Learning articles and books.

This week my project is editing the course syllabus with the changes to the online homework assignments. I finished working with the representative and the final draft of assignments will be completed in the next two weeks. I have gathered all of the potential questions for the in class problem sets which still need to be sourced and solutions attached. The final schedule for the syllabus will be completed and the guest speaker scheduled. The topics for in class discussion need to be prepared with full assignment guidelines for participation credit.

A day in the life of my project, starts with checking my to-do list from my mentor and making sure that everything from the previous day was completed. Next, I check the status of the online homework sets that I am organizing. This requires exchanging emails with the online representative, vetting the problem sets and checking for errors. Then, I review the topic that I am analyzing for that week’s discussion, this includes gathering more information, organizing the information into a chemical discussion format. In the afternoon, I meet with my mentor to give her an update on what I accomplished in the morning, we address anything that needs to be accomplished that day and update the ‘To do’ list for the next day with any new priorities. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

URSP Student Dave Arena Researches Racial Microaggression, Intervening, and Team Performance

A Game of Postpone

The reason why I titled my article "A Game of Postpone" is not just because I absolutely love Game of Thrones, but a different reason. I have been held up a lot this summer due to some snafus with the IRB, Internal Ratings Board, about a measure in my study. Thankfully, as of last week, I am completely free to run my experiment! My day to day life as an intern under Dr. King involves several different tasks and procedures. Most of my work involves reading articles to help me better understand my research interests. I also work on data coding (which is what I was doing in my picture) for experiments that graduate students in Dr. King's lab are performing. We have made a lot of progress this summer together, and I look forward to continuing to work with Dr. King in the coming two semesters. 

Happily Moving Along,

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

URSP Student Sara Evers Designs an Interdisciplinary High School Curriculum for The Sandman Graphic Novels

For my research project I am designing an interdisciplinary high school curriculum for The Sandman graphic novel series. This week I finished a lesson plan about Shakespeare and The Sandman graphic novels. The lesson asks students to investigate the the nature of authorship by critiquing the value placed on different literature and by writing fanfiction as a way of reclaiming ownership over the stories of today. Today I am in the midst of researching the mythical "Fates" as part of a lesson pairing  community taught knitting and mythology.

Sara Evers