Friday, December 9, 2016

URSP Student Jonathan Clark Examines How Urban Noise Affects Grassland Bird Species

For some reason, I’ve always had a fascination with birds. The closest thing I have to a logical justification for this is that they are the sole, living descendants of dinosaurs, which is pretty dang cool…

Over the summer I collected data on a group of birds that have it particularly bad in North America right now, species that require grassland habitats. My team looked at the community composition and territorial behaviors of grassland birds in Northern Virginia, and how these were affected by the amount of ambient noise from human development, such as roads.

We presented the initial results on the measures of community composition, including species richness and the abundance of key species, earlier this year. We found that overall these measures were negatively associated with sound level, suggesting these species fare better in habitats that are less noisy.

We've spent this fall analyzing the slightly more complicated spatial and behavioral data collected on our two focus species, the Eastern Meadowlark and Grasshopper Sparrow. So far, our analysis has suggested these species are less capable of defending a large territory when it's loud then when it's quiet, as one might suspect since songbirds defend their territories with vocal signals.

We've been able to determine these trends of territory size by using programs such as Google Earth and R to analyze the spatial data that was collected by intense observation in the field. Our analysis still has a ways to go before we can concretely say that sound level is the sole cause of this trend, but we're currently working through our statistics and are hope to publish our results soon.

Overall, we believe that sound pollution in urban areas makes communication more difficult for grassland bird species and likely affects their reproductive behaviors. When planning conservation actions to protect these species, it's important to consider how these species are affected by urban noise.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

URSP Student Chris Carlson Tracks the Movement of Energy Throughout non-equilibrium Chaotic Systems

My name is Chris Carlson and I study Electrical Engineering and Physics. My current research focuses on tracking the movement of energy throughout non-equilibrium chaotic systems -- more specifically, Chua’s circuit. I initially became interested in the project while I was a lab assistant at the Krasnow Institute, where my work involved creating a simulation of Chua’s circuit. During my sophomore year I began researching different variations of the circuit that I could study. I chose a circuit that only uses four transistors, which was easier to model than other variations of the circuit. The project merges topics from both physics and electrical engineering, so I viewed it as an opportunity to apply the theoretical knowledge obtained from my classes.

In the future I would like to pursue a master’s degree in either physics or electrical engineering. My OSCAR project has allowed me to expand my lab skills and tackle problems that would never have arisen in the classroom. The research has also introduced me to more topics in microelectronic circuits, which is a class that I am taking concurrently with my research. I find the topic to be very interesting and I am now considering a career in this field.

I usually work in the lab once or twice a week. My work involves three main aspects: modeling the circuit, physically implementing the circuit, and comparing data from both the model and physical circuit. I use MATLAB to simulate the circuit and its transistors. Transistors have many variables, so my model is always being ‘fine-tuned’ to account for new parameters. For the physical circuit, I spend a lot of time troubleshooting the circuit due to its sensitivity. Finally, when comparing both the model and the circuit data, I use a mathematical algorithm called a Kalman filter to help me validate the model.

As a beginner researcher, I have discovered that there are a lot of obstacles. Some of the largest hurdles can arise from the smallest problems. It sometimes takes weeks and diligence to prepare a circuit in order to take data for just five minutes. I have also learned some valuable laboratory methods. For instance, sometimes a researcher has to be creative when taking measurements. Not every research project has tools specifically made for taking data. As a researcher, I have to devise a method of collecting data easily and accurately.

So far the project has helped me expand my knowledge in many areas. Sometimes I read an article that pops up on my news feed about chaos in transistor circuits and I get excited to see the relation between my work and others’ work. It is very satisfying to see that this area of research is so significant that many others are also pursuing it.  I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute through my own work.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

URSP Student Jihyun Lee Uses Molecular Modeling and Docking to study Caspase 1

My name is Jihyun Lee. I am a senior majoring in biochemistry and planning to pursue a pharmacy. I have always been fascinated with how drugs interact with the cells and also curious about why some of them sometimes work and sometimes do not. This further led me to want to learn more about my field of study through experience and go deeper into understanding biochemistry on the molecular level. Last semester, when I found that Michael Girgis who was my organic chemistry II lab instructor had his own ongoing research project on Organic synthesis, I often visited him to ask volunteer to participate in his outstanding research. After a number of persistent visits, I got to learn about part of the ongoing research in Michael’s group on Caspase 3 enzyme, which is associated with apoptosis (programmed cell death). This was the first time computational molecular modeling and docking were introduced to me.

My project for this semester is focused on Caspase 1 as one of enzymes responsible for inflammatory process and finding the best conformation of its potent inhibitor. On a weekly basis, I conduct docking using a software called AutoDock and saving the best 10 conformations in appropriate file format in order to open in Chimera or Ligplot software for further analysis of intermolecular interactions.

Through this research experience in this semester, I learned that molecular modeling and docking experiments are the most efficient and through step in the drug discovery process. Furthermore, studying the docking conformations can help me understand the nature of the intermolecular interactions between the different compounds to the binding site of the enzyme.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

URSP Student Waleska Solorzano Studies Temporal Elements In Photography on a Philosophical Level

“Photography as Time Travel” transpired from a combined passion of philosophy and photography. Philosophy has been a passion of mine since high school when I first read Albert Camus’ The Stranger. However, photography is a passion that developed last year. My project explores temporal elements in photography on a philosophical level. I am writing a series of essays that will be compiled into either a magazine or a short book. In addition to the essays, I will explore the temporal elements of photography through my own photographs I took over the past year. I am working with Dr. Rachel Jones and Dr. Kurt Brandhorst from the Philosophy Department on this project. Their assistance and support has been a tremendous part of it.

A project like this entails work every day. I have been taking and collecting my photographs since this past summer, attempting to create a body of work contingent to both the world around me while still keeping in mind the topic of my project. I continue to take photographs for the project.  There is also my personal writing process, which is time consuming. I am currently in the process of writing my essays. For this, I am referencing works I read and analyzed by Roland Barthes, Martin Heidegger, Plato, and Susan Sontag. 

My long-term goal is to pursue a PhD program in philosophy. My project will demonstrate my potential as an academic in my field. It will also show my ability to conceive my own research ideas with proper implementation. I have already learned so much since I first started this project. The everyday process of this project may seem tedious, but the magnitude of what I learned and what I am learning is extremely satisfying and vital for my field. Studies of photography and its temporality are not prominent in philosophy, but they are a crucial part of the modern world. Photographs produce evidence of pieces of the world while still maintaining a past, present, and future, just like our humanity does. It is imperative to explore that relation. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

URSP Student Terrence Moran Researches the Use of Digital Image Correlation Technology to Model Accurate Stress-Strain Curves

My name is Terrence Moran and I am currently in my last year as an undergraduate student, pursuing a bachelor of science in civil engineering. Within the vast realm of civil engineering, my specific passion is structural engineering and the mechanics of materials. My research involves the use of digital image correlation technology to model a more accurate stress-strain curve in corroded steel.

I initially became interested in more efficient methods of inspecting infrastructure while interning as a bridge inspector in the Washington D.C. region. I witnessed the inconsistencies with the industry standard of visual inspection, and the absence of a long-term tracking system. An accurate and consistent inspection system would allow future prognosis using big data, and proper allocation of funding to repair and replace the vital components of the rapidly deteriorating American Infrastructure.

During the fall semester of 2016, I was given an opportunity to work with Dr. Lattanzi and his research group. The Lattanzi Research Group consists of an interdisciplinary collection of engineers and computer scientists dedicated to the design and maintenance of civil infrastructure systems. Utilizing my mentor’s, and the rest of the group’s, experience while having access to cutting edge technology has been a great opportunity and has improved my research.

So far this semester, I have been quantifying the physical properties of my steel specimens while also building 3-D models. The next step in my research is to use DIC technology in congruence with tensile testing to determine the effects of corrosion stress concentrations with respect to strength and ductility loss.

Friday, December 2, 2016

URSP Student Valerie Nguyen Explores the Histopathology of Corals

My journey with URSP begins last year at an open presentation led by a URSP associate and a couple URSP students. From there, I went to the website with the contact information of the different heads of departments and emailed Dr. Ester Peters. She suggested that I work with her on a continuing project she had, the project was histopathology of corals subjected to several naval munitions compounds. Since childhood, I’ve been fascinated with marine biology, so this project immediately appealed to me. I also found it very pertinent, since coral reef health has been noticeably declining worldwide, and the time to have conservation efforts is now.

The internship with URSP will be my first, which undoubtedly will help me in my future as a doctorate candidate. Working in the lab has also taught me valuable skills as a technician, such as procedure and lab safety, but also intangible skills such as navigating inter-laboratory dynamic and meaningful communication with my superior. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to work on this toxicology project, which will undoubtedly show how these munitions affect an animal already endangered by anthropogenic sources.

The first few weeks of this experiment were slide creation, in which I cut paraffin-embedded tissue samples into 5 micrometer thin sections and placed them on slides. Then, I stained them with a specialized stain to better see the separate tissue layers and mucus producing cells. Currently, since all the slides I need for my experiment were created and stained, I’ve been reading the slides at 400x magnification in order to grade tissue health.

I’ve learned many things from my time in the lab already. One particular lesson that has stayed with me is persistence. Histopathology is far from the most engaging science, and unfortunately there aren’t many sources on histopathology of coral due to lack of interest and funding. This has led me to a months-long process of learning how to distinguish tissue, how to grade tissue health, and how to prepare slides correctly, even taking 4 hours to stain 1 rack of slides. However, I’m beginning to see the payoff of my persistence in learning the material and carefully performing the techniques. Hopefully, I’ll continue to grow my skills as a biologist and researcher. I believe I’m definitely on the right track.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

URSP Student Alyssa Rowan Investigates How the Bangladeshi Government Can Create an Energy Portfolio and Engage the International Community

I originally considered the OSCAR program in the spring 2016 semester. I was writing a term long research paper regarding the energy portfolio of Bangladesh. I wanted to broaden the aspects of my research so I decided to focus on humanitarian issues surrounding environmental equity in Bangladesh. Through discussion of the prior with my mentor I developed the research question: How can the Bangladeshi government create an energy portfolio to engage the international community when environmental equity is not an international priority? My hypothesis is the international community is prioritizing other political issues due to economic benefits, political process, and immediate threat. I desire for the project to not only expand upon my previous research but build upon the knowledge that is essential to a dynamic and ever-changing field, Environmental and Sustainability Studies. In a broader scope, the project will encompass the values and ideals that are necessary to resilience: social justice, human rights, and environmental equity.

At the conclusion of my research, my paper regarding Bangladesh will allow our nation's leaders to see the immediate threat climate change poses to social equity and energy security. I also plan on submitting my paper for publication. I also desire to present my research at the appropriate forums including but not limited to research conferences and symposiums. The research project will lend information that is essential to the development of a better international community that promotes social justice, energy security, and environmental stability.

Throughout the past weeks I have been preforming literature analysis, filling out the IRB application, and forming questions to ask government officials, non-profit organization leaders, and non-governmental individuals. Through literature analysis I have been able to form in depth questions that will answer my research question stated above. I have learned that time management is a necessity and that one must be open to setbacks while preforming research. In addition, I have learned that research is ever evolving and always changing. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

URSP Student Anson Rutherford Studies Genetic Algorithms to Creatively Solve Problems

My project is focused on trying to use genetic algorithms to solve problems in creative ways. Genetic algorithms are used to solve a problem where we can judge the success of an individual “guess”, but don’t have any way of predicting what guesses will perform well before testing them. A typical genetic algorithm will make a number of random guesses and use the results of those guesses to better inform future guesses, often by making guesses similar to those that performed well. Given enough time, a genetic algorithm will find an optimal solution. My research hopes to adapt the many great things these algorithms have to offer to problems where we want to find more than a single optimal solution. Instead, I hope to construct an algorithm that can find a wide variety of acceptable solutions to a given problem. This is useful is situations where we’re more interested in learning about the question than in solving the problem.

Genetic algorithms are inspired in a lot of ways by biological evolution, which was one of the reasons I became interesting in genetic algorithms in the first place. A lot of my initial fascination came from experiments that simulated aspects of biological evolution, evolving either the physical structure or intelligence of an artificial organism over time. Finding an overlap between my interests in evolution and computer science was exhilarating, and I have been studying the subject ever since. I have always enjoyed learning for its own sake, and hope to meld these three interests into a career of research and discovery.

My project requires me to simultaneously plan and implement the algorithm. Obviously a lot of coding is involved, and so I’ve spent a lot of time programming basic functionality so that we can do build off of it. A lot of that involves implementing similar systems and testing their functionality. The other aspect of my project has been researching the many other genetic algorithms that exist, and using that information to form my own. Learning about the innovations of other researchers has been fascinating, and I hope that my research can help add to the wealth of useful information on the subject.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

URSP Student Jessica Rauchberg Investigates Neurological Disability and its Influences on How We Communicate our Performances of Gender and Sexuality

I always knew I was interested in research and really wanted to apply to OSCAR, but I was a bit unsure of where to start. As an active member of the university’s nationally ranked Forensics (competitive public speaking) Team, my junior year, I competed with an argumentative, performance based speech discussing the stigmatization of disabled performances of sexuality and intimacy, inspired by my own personal experiences. I linked together several different styles and pieces of literature to create my performance. During that time, I also took Feminist Research Methods with Dr. Angie Hattery in the Women and Gender Studies program. I told Dr. Hattery about my speech, and after a bit of discussion, she encouraged me to apply for an OSCAR grant to explore this topic through an autoethnographic project. Essentially, using threads of personal narratives, narrative analysis, and more traditional objective styles of academic writing, I am using this project as an investigation on how neurological disability (in my case, a non-verbal learning disability) influences how we communicate our performances of gender and sexuality.

I usually meet with my mentor, Dr. Rachel Lewis, at least once a week. I carve out at least an hour every day to write, edit, or continue my research. This semester, I’ve especially concentrated on learning how to write evocative narratives and manipulate more creative styles of academic writing to work with how I’m constructing my project. It has definitely been a challenge since all my knowledge on autoethnographic writing is self-taught, but I think the effort has been worth it thus far. I’m hoping to extend funding for this project to next semester, as my mentor and I are planning on doing a research symposium and staging an auto performance of the narratives. Additionally, I plan on submitting the written portion of the autoethnography for journal publication in graduate school. Post-graduation, I hope to continue autoethnographic, performance, and gender research. I would also love to eventually receive my doctorate and work in a university setting.  

Monday, November 28, 2016

URSP Student Ariel Kalotkin Studies the Effects of Transracial Direct Current Stimulation to the Prefrontal Cortex

I became interested in the Oscar fellowship by being a part of an ongoing research group, studying the effects of transracial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to the prefrontal cortex on complex dual task performance. From this research, I had decided that research was going to be a huge part on my life and more specifically the research I was assisting in continued to intrigue me and motivated me to pursue further questions in this area of study. This is how I developed the research project I am conducting now, determining if there is a method to anticipate how individuals learn to perform a complex task by visualizing the activity in the prefrontal cortex.

Throughout the week, I schedule several participants to come into the research lab and have them play several blocks of a complex cognitive videogame Warship Commander. These participants have the functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) on them, which is recording their brain activation levels. We will be using the data collected from the fNIRS as well as several individual differences, such as, Working memory capacity, personality, problem solving and videogame playing history in order to assess each individual. I have already learned and discovered so much from being a part of this program, for instance, I have learned to conduct a data analysis. Being a part of the OSCAR fellow program is allowing me to pursue research opportunities in my field of study. It is allowing me to advance my knowledge in addition to also preparing me for further research that I may conduct in graduate school or even beyond that.