Thursday, May 28, 2015

URSP Student Andrew Sachs Uses tDCS to Affect Beliefs about Intentionality in Human-robot Interactions

The Floating Wetland Project, established by Dr. Changwoo Ahn, is an interdisciplinary team of students (the Rain Project Student Leadership Group) bringing together aspects from their respective fields. I am currently a core member of this group, and I am also participating in Dr. Ahn’s ecological sustainability class that is engaged in the Floating Wetland Project. The Floating Wetland Project is intended to further research the impact that floating treatment wetlands (FTW) have on water quality and to determine if they are a viable tool to clean waterways, including stormwater ponds.
I was drawn to this project because I have a passion for ecological restoration. During the summer of 2014, I interned for a local environmental management company performing maintenance on stormwater ponds. In this position, I observed the poor quality of these ponds and the absurd amount of pesticides that are introduced in order to maintain them. I am very interested in helping to find a much safer, cheaper, and greener method of maintaining stormwater ponds and reducing human impacts on the waterways that are downstream from these pools. I currently serve as the Undersecretary of Sustainability for GMU’s Student Government, which has made me even more aware of the poor quality of GMU Fairfax campus' waterways and stormwater practices and the urgency to address these issues.
After college, I plan on entering the field of environmental remediation and restoration in with a focus on stormwater management. This project is allowing me to have firsthand experience and research in my desired field. Currently, the project is in research and development mode working up to our tentative May 8th launch date and the proceeding data collection.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

URSP Student Anjana Radhakrishnan Researches Gender Inequality in Kerala

I am a graduating senior pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics. As an Indian immigrant myself, I have experienced life in a developing country and this experience has fueled my interest in economic development during my undergraduate studies and current research. In particular, I have focused on issues of gender in economic development policies. Economists find that countries that under-invest in their female population experience slower growth, indicating that investing in women is a win-win economic development strategy and one worth researching.

My research project investigates the relationship between educational attainment rates and female labor force participation in the Indian state of Kerala to see if educating females actually leads to work opportunities and greater economic freedom. To address this question, I have been working on an extensive literature review as well as a descriptive analysis of India Census data from 1990-2010 to conclude with a set of proposed hypotheses for future research. On a weekly basis, I research labor market factors in Kerala, India that affect the employment of women. I am currently looking into countries that exhibit better patterns of female education and labor force participation to use as comparison case studies and recently used the World Values Survey to evaluate this. This week, I found the Inglehart-Welzel Cultural Map useful to narrow down my research options as it uses two major dimensions of cross cultural variation to group the world.

This research project complements my long-term goals as I plan on pursuing a career in the international development community. It has exposed me to the greater conversation happening in this community as well as the different tools and metrics currently used to evaluate impact. In order to work on the policy side of this issue, it is critical to possess thorough knowledge of these factors and consequences that affect economic development. As I will most likely pursue a Master’s degree in a relevant field, this research project readies me for that next step as well. This research project has been a valuable experience that has shaped my career interests and personal goals.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

URSP Student Kelly Pizzingrilli Researches the Effects of Communication Styles on Sports Performance

As a Division 1 soccer player at George Mason University, I have had the opportunity to experience communication from coaches, teammates, professors, and classmates.  However, what sparked my interest the most was the way in which collegiate college coaches communicated to and with their athletes.  My experience as a student-athlete has helped me to develop my study to research the relationship of coach’s communication characteristics and the effect on individual athlete performance. 

My research officially began in the fall of 2014 when I was accepted into the Honors Communication Research (Comm 490-491) class.  Under the guidance of my professor and mentor, Dr. Xiaomei Cai, I was able to effectively organize my thoughts and begin my research. I am so thankful for the opportunity to be immersed in this research experience and even more thankful that the Communication Department offers this amazing experience to its students.

At this point in my study, I have been approved by Senior Administration of Mason Athletics to research our NCAA Sport Student-Athletes.  In the next few weeks, I will collect data from 5-6 teams through a voluntary survey using Qualtrics online survey software, and following Spring Break I will begin data analysis.  Additionally, I will be presenting my research in a poster presentation at the Eastern Communication Association Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in April 2015.   

Upon graduation in May, I hope to make my way into the field of Market Research, which will require many of the skills and experience that I have developed through my current study.  My passion for research has grown over the past few months, as I continue to learn, question, and develop new skills and ideas for my study, and I’m excited to see the final results!

Monday, May 25, 2015

URSP Student Laura O'Konski Researches Atonality

My initial interest in this project came from my own studies as a violist. We all strive to play our instruments in tune, but when are we truly in tune according to the music we play? The equal temperament system widely used on pianos divides the octave into twelve equal parts (half steps), while systems like the one used in J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier are based on tuning specific intervals to sound consonant. We string players have the advantage of simply moving our fingers to adjust pitch to reach a desired tuning, allowing us to make an F-sharp lean in towards a G or a B-flat to fall into an A, thus strengthening a note as part of a tonal center. Once we stretch into atonality (music without a tonal center), the adjustments made from equal temperament may disrupt the overall philosophy of the music. Atonal music involves using all twelve notes equally with the absence of a tonal center, so all of a sudden the natural tendency to lean an F-sharp into a G could disrupt the intent of an entire piece.

This past week, I realized that atonality is a very complex musical philosophy that may have more behind it than I originally thought; the strict rules seem to only serve as definitions for the sake of textbooks. Arnold Schoenberg, the leading composer of atonal music in the 20th century, wrote an entire book on traditional, tonal harmonies. Now I am left to wonder (and eventually hope to discover) whether these composers would have fussed over a slightly higher F-sharp, or welcome a performer's interpretation of each pitch value.

Aside from hiding in a practice room with my instrument or designing the experiment, I spend a lot of time teaching and working with young strings students. After orchestra rehearsals and classes are over, I travel to students’ homes or to local schools to teach. I also work as the orchestra librarian for the Piedmont Symphony. My life is revolves almost completely around music, and sometimes I feel like I have no free time to do other things… But then I wonder, why would I ever want to do something else?

Friday, May 22, 2015

URSP Student Brian Nunez Analyzes a Shore Parallel Transect of Sediment Cores from Assateague Island, Maryland

In high school I had the opportunity to take two great Earth Science courses, Geosystems and Oceanography. The excellent experience I had in those two classes led me to pursue Geology here at George Mason. While working towards my Bachelors of Science degree in Earth Science with a concentration in Oceanography, the class “Coastal Geomorphology,” completely re-worked my understanding of coastal geology. In class we learned about the morphology and dynamics of barrier island systems and how many processes work together to change the landscape. It was then that I became fascinated by the fact wind and water are continuously moving tiny rocks all around us, controlling the stability of beaches and coastlines all around the world.

Last year I first got involved with my research on a trip to Assateague Island, MD where a team of geologists from George Mason were collecting sediment core samples of relict (ancient) inlets.  Unsure that this weekend of fieldwork would turn into a yearlong project, I have gained a tremendous amount of priceless experience working both in the lab and out in the field. I have become familiar with many geological tools and multiple coring techniques that few undergrads have the opportunity of and have been given a head start into the research process that I hope to one day continue in graduate school.
For my study, I have had the chance to analyze a shore parallel transect of sediment cores from the former Sinepuxent Inlet of Assateague Island, Maryland. The core technique I used for this research project is known as a pulse auger. Essentially, this tool works like a plunger that is able to pull sediment samples up from different depths at certain intervals until the core tube cannot go down any further or a depth of 8 meters is reached. Everyday in the lab I sieve through hundreds of sand grains to sort them by size and weigh them. By doing this for each sample depth I am able to reconstruct visually through statistics any trends within the core. Trends within sediment cores tell a story and from participating in this research I am contributing to a better record of Assateague Island’s geologic history.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

URSP Student Sheila Martin Examines the Effects of the Black Church’s Homophobia on the Identities of Black LGBTQ Millennials

My research examines the effects of the Black Church’s hypermasculinity and homophobia on the identities of black LGBTQ individuals. In my project, I have been conducting interviews, observations and background research with in order to profile two male-identified individuals about their experiences in the church and journey to self-reconciliation in a digital exhibit. My road to this project began in Spring 2014 when I completed an independent study entitled “Race, Religion and Sexuality” with Dr. Wendi Manuel-Scott, director of the African and African American Studies program. In that semester, I looked at the intersections of race, gender, sexuality and religion in the black community and completed a research paper on the suppression of sexuality in the black church, specifically male homosexuality. Following that semester of reading books and articles on the issue, I knew I wanted to conduct interviews and tell the stories of black LGTBQ individuals struggling with reconciling their sexuality and religion. This semester, I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to spend hours doing just that – interviewing and observing two participants in order to tell their stories and contribute to the conversation. After graduating, I hope to study religion and sexuality graduate school, so it is my hope that this project and the research I have conducted previously will serve as a solid foundation and stepping stone in my academic career.

My weekly research process is varied and always exciting. Each week, I work on background research, which involves me not only reading articles about black LGBTQ issues and the Black Church, but also finding information about the Washington, D.C. area LGBTQ community. I have attended worship services, community meetings and resource fairs as a part of this research. I also work on transcribing the interviews I have conducted with each individual. Lastly, I usually conduct some sort of observation of my participants. This observation includes taking notes, audio recording and also taking pictures. This has included observing them at home, in their neighborhoods, at work and also while they spend time with friends. In my project, I take 90% of my pictures with my iPhone or a small digital camera to avoid being invasive in the community. It is important for me as an observer not to distract from the environment (especially in sacred spaces), so I try to be as invisible as possible.

This week was a big week for me, while interviewing and observing one of my participants I realized that these stories I will tell are very intricate, which has required me to rethink how to best present the stories. Both of my participants are originally from different parts of the country and have traveled extensively before settling in the Washington, D.C. area, so I am considering incorporating mapping in my final exhibit to demonstrate the routes traveled by the participants. It is my hope that this inclusion of maps, along with the pictures, background research, interview and observation transcripts and profiles of each individual, will allow me to tell stories that provide insight to the positive and negative effects of the Black Church’s rhetoric on the lives of these individuals.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

URSP Student Brandon Laufer Researches Monomer Synthesis and Polymerization for Antimicrobial Peptide Harvesting

Since the summer of 2014, I have been working the Bishop Group led by Dr. Barney Bishop. The group is working on finding cationic antimicrobial peptides (CAMPs) from serum in order to find alternatives to traditional antibiotics due to the increasing number of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

To find CAMPs, hydrogel particles are used to harvest the serum of reptiles and other animals. These particles contain an outer layer that has an affinity towards positively charged peptides (cations). Initially, I began synthesizing monomers under the direction of Dr. Yaling Zhu for use on the outer layer of the particles.

Currently, my research is continuing along those lines but with an additional component. One of the monomers that has been being used is methacrylic-6-aminohexanoic acid (MA6ACA). I am currently attempting to add an additional organic molecule, 2-aminoethanesulfonic acid (C2H7NO3S), to the end of the MA6ACA. In order to do this, the carboxylic end of the MA6ACA needs to be functionalized using an acyl substitution reaction. Once this is done, the C2H7NO3S can be added.

After completing this, the new monomer will be used to create the outer layer of the hydrogel particles and serum will be harvested. The results will be analyzed using mass spectrometry to find if there is an additional benefit in finding CAMPs.

I plan on pursuing a PhD in materials science and performing this research has shown me what that will entail in regards to giving presentations on my research and figuring out how to deal with issues when a reaction does not go as planned. I say that because the first two reactions I performed this semester both failed and figuring out why and how to correct it proved to be more difficult than I had initially expected.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

URSP Student Jennifer Jones Examines How Environmental and Climate Factors Impact Evolution

Research has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my undergraduate career. My initial interest in this project began in the Spring of 2013 when I started a research project under Dr. Gregory Foster. We investigated the Bioaccumulation of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) in the Potomac River Fishery, including levels, species differences and the proximity to wastewater discharge for the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. I was thrilled when Dr. Foster approached me with another research opportunity that would allow me to work alongside him as well as a way to continue my previous research with him. After further discussion on the topic, we found that a lipid profile is vital to assess the mechanism in which PCBs bio-accumulate in organisms. In order to do so, we must first isolate, characterize and analyze the various lipid classes found in the fish tissue. From this data we will be able to correlate the lipid composition to PCB concentrations. I was overly excited when I was able to get an OSCAR research grant for the Spring 2015 semester! My project primarily focuses on understanding the relationship between PCB bioaccumulation and lipid composition in fish. Further, we can gain insight into how this correlation affects populations of aquatic organisms, and has the potential to show how it affects humans who are consuming these organisms.

This week I completed the first part of our experimental procedure. I spent over eighteen hours in the laboratory prepping and preforming the experiment. This included my least favorite part: the physical homogenization of the fish samples in a blender. This week I processed samples of Blue Gill that were collected from Gunston Cove, Virginia. So far I have been able to isolate the total lipids, neutral lipids and polar lipids from the fish tissue. Next week I will be able to separate out the free fatty acids from the isolated lipids. Once this procedure is finished, I will be able to run my samples through the Gas Chromatography Mass Spectroscopy (GC-MS) at the Prince William Campus to get my lipid profile of the Blue Gill species. I am very excited to see the outcomes and compare these results to the data I collected from the previous semester!

Monday, May 18, 2015

URSP Student Kyle Jackson Researches Labor Markets Disciplining Attorneys

My interest in this project began when I took ECON 415 – Law and Economics in the summer of 2014. Prof. Nick Bormann, a PhD candidate in Economics and the class’ instructor, spoke to his research interests throughout the class and I found that my interests aligned well with his. I knew I wanted to participate in URSP and was looking for a mentor so I approached him about the opportunity. It turned out that he had a research topic that he has been meaning to get to, but has not had the time or help to do so; my timing was perfect. There are so many professors out there who need help with research or know someone who does that you have a pretty good chance of getting into research as an undergraduate if you just ask!

The project I am working on will hopefully provide some important insight into why high involuntary employment and high fees exist in the legal industry. In order for this to happen, I have to collect data from multiple sources and conduct statistical analysis to make sense of the data. Our main quantitative methods are regressions; this is done to find correlations. Because of the nature of this research, I work from my desktop at home where I have two large screens for doing my data collection and analysis.

On a weekly basis, I am communicating with organizations, whether it be county courthouses or a bar association, to figure out what data they collect and can easily give to me. I also collect data from open sources where the information I want is not aggregated. For example, this week I have been working on developing a program (and also discovering how to do this!) in Python to parse HTML documents for information regarding attorney wages and employment in Florida by metropolitan area and year. I am doing this because it would be very time consuming to go to each webpage and table, pick out the information I want, and manually type it into an excel spreadsheet; why do that when I can program something to do that for me!

This work has immensely factored into my long-term professional development by providing me the ability to work with data and draw meaningful insights out of messy data. I am no longer given a clean dataset in class where I run one test and that is all; I have to now decide what data I want and whether I can process it in a way that would be beneficial to this research project. This has been an amazing experience so far and I actively encourage anyone interested in URSP to apply!

Friday, May 15, 2015

URSP Student Heather Hobbs Researches the Role of Intercellular Communication in Infectious Disease Progression

Hi, my name is Heather Hobbs and I am doing research in Dr. Hakami’s lab at the NCBID. Being a biology undergraduate student, I am exposed to numerous facets of biology since it is such a diverse field. I have always been more interested in microbiology and infectious diseases. My project specifically peaked my interest when I was able to work in my mentor’s lab in the fall of 2014 through the Biology Research Semester. Long term, I hope to be accepted into Mason’s Accelerated Master’s Program for Biology. After I graduate, I hope to ultimately pursue a career in the research field, so being a part of the USRP is going to be invaluable moving forward.

In regards to my research, we know that when human cells are stressed, they release packages that can contain proteins or genetic material. These packages are called “exosomes.” The process of collecting these exosomes begins with infecting half of our cells with Yersinia pestis (the bacteria that causes Black Death/plague). This procedure takes two days to complete. At the end, we have exosomes from Y. pestis infected cells and exosomes from uninfected cells. We know from previous experiments that if we treat uninfected cells with exosomes collected from infected cells, the recipient cells grow much more slowly than when exposed to exosomes from uninfected cells. This slower growth phenotype is similar to cells infected with Y. pestis bacteria. The goal of my research this semester is to try to understand how the cell growth phenotype is coming about, and to explore any other effects that may be caused by these exosomes obtained from an infected source.

This week, I learned how important time management is. Because some of our experiments can take more than one day, it is crucial to be able to plan ahead to ensure that everything is as efficient as it can possibly be. Otherwise, experiments can run late into the evening or even into the weekend. Overall, performing research as an undergrad has been one of the most beneficial, enjoyable, and rewarding things that I could have ever chosen to do.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

URSP Student Shiva Hassanzadeh-Behbahani Investigates the Relationship between Certainty and Procedural Errors

I have been working with Dr. Greg Trafton and his doctoral students, Kevin Zish and Dan Gartenberg, in the Predicting Cognition Lab for two years. We conduct experimental cognitive and human factors research on topics such as sustained attention, interruptions and resumptions, procedural errors, uncertainty, and supervisory control. After taking a course in cognitive science, I became very interested in cognitive and human factors research and decided to get involved in the research process.

The experiment that I am currently conducting aims to investigate the cognitive processes involved as people make certainty judgments while performing a computerized procedural task. Moreover, we are interested in understanding how people’s certainty judgments relate to their measured performance on the procedural task. We use state-of-the-art research methods, such as eye trackers, to identify and explore cognitive mechanisms.

As a research assistant, I collect and analyze data from human participants for my experiment, conduct literature reviews, and attend weekly lab meetings to discuss our research findings and data analysis methods. Using R programming language, I run statistical analyses and create visualizations of our data to help us interpret the results. This past week, I learned how to perform a logistic regression model in R to predict whether or not people will make an error during a procedural task based on their eye fixations.

My experience in the research lab has helped me develop an appreciation and passion for cognitive science, experimental design, and statistics. In the future, I plan to continue engaging in research by applying to Ph.D. programs in the cognitive and human factors field.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

URSP Student Amanda Hardwood Examines First Person Shooter Video Games

My name is Amanda Harwood, and I’m currently conducting a Video Game training study looking at first person shooter video games as a means of training attentional control and distracter suppression and, in turn, fluid intelligence.
Why video games? I have often wondered how my brother is so smart.  He skipped class, snuck out, and played video games instead of doing homework. He also aced every test and is one of the smartest people I know.

While this project answers one of the longest standing unknown questions in my life, it is also teaching me valuable research skills, which is vital for graduate school. In order to complete this project, I am working closely with my advisor- Dr. Pamela Greenwood and many of the graduate students in the ARCH Lab. Working with her on a one-on-one basis has given me the chance to improve my writing tremendously, among other things.

This week, I will put up timeslots in Sona System to acquire participants and administer a pre-test, three days of training on Quake 3 Arena, Rise of nations, or Posit Brain Fitness, and a post-test. I am learning how to organize all the data for analyses in SPSS.  I will also be taking a class on how to program ‘R’, a fairly new tool to help collect and analyze data in Psychology.
Each time I meet with graduate students, I am amazed with the amount of time they are more than happy to spend teaching me material that will help with my project. Mason has a culture of peer-teaching of which I have been lucky enough to benefit from. Beyond that, I feel as though I have found a home in research here a Mason.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

URSP Student Carlin Green Conducts 3-D Strain Analysis in the Blue Ridge Anticlinorium

My research project is centered on determining three-dimensional strain geometry in the Antietam formation, a sandstone unit exposed on the East and West limbs of the Blue Ridge Anticlinorium.  This is an area in which many of our field trips take place in the Geology department, and where I grew up, so it was natural for me to take an interest in the area.  It was my desire to complete undergraduate research in order to bolster my prospects for graduate school and to gain experience doing field work and lab research.  There have been many stages in the development of this project.  My mentor, John Singleton, and I made several trips to the field to collect rock samples which we then cut and shipped across the country to be made into thin sections suitable for study under a petrographic microscope.  From there I spent a large portion of time collecting data from thousands of deformed quartz grains in order to characterize what is known as the Strain Ellipse, the geometry of which allows us to understand the deformational history in this area.  In a few weeks, we will travel to Washington & Lee University to perform Electron Backscatter Diffraction analysis on several samples, which will yield more information about the geometry and orientation of crystallographic axes.  One thing I discovered this week is that in one particular area, which we intend to map, you can walk from a low-strain to a high-strain environment in a very short distance.  Although it is not yet clear, these strain ratios may exceed recorded strain data for this area.  This is quite interesting and requires close examination.

Monday, May 11, 2015

URSP Student Christina Gabriele Researches the Potential Negative Threats of Yik Yak on George Mason University Students

The first time I heard about Yik Yak was from a friend. They showed me the application and scrolled through some of the posts that had originated from people at George Mason University. I was looking at an anonymous, uncensored thought bubble for the university all based on the geographical location of cell phones. Intrigued, I downloaded the application and proceeded to contribute to the growing conversation.

As a young adult, I know that social media will continue to play a significant role in my life. Regardless of the type of career or position within that career, social media has infiltrated all aspects of the working world. My research is unique and I want to contribute to the academic literature by being the first person to study this application. Additionally, this research will help me further my education by increasing my appeal to graduate schools. This research project places me one step above my peers in the application process.

The unique thing about my project is that social media it is so omnipresent that I can build on my work every day. During the week I normally open Yik Yak to see what students are posting and if there are any negative trends. I review my survey and try to make sure that it is asking the right questions. My goal is to explore the potential negative threats of Yik Yak on George Mason University students.

This week, after reviewing my data and speaking with my mentor, I discovered that frequency of negative behaviors needs to be included in my survey. In my pilot survey I was only asking if participants had seen different forms of intimidating or threatening behavior. In order to improve my survey I need to evaluate the frequency at which students are being exposed to these behaviors. Is this an hourly, daily, weekly or infrequent occurrence? Frequency will help me evaluate the severity of the problem if there is one.