Wednesday, January 27, 2016

URSP Student Syed-Ali Zaidi Researches Random Electrical Stimulation in Cortical Networks on Multielectrode Arrays

I began researching in the Neural Engineering lab this past summer, from May to August. I knew going into my sophomore year that I wanted to get involved in research on campus, especially hearing from friends who were involved or who had been involved about how much of a learning experience it is. After reaching out to a lot of different labs and narrowing down my interests, I chose to do research in this lab, and pursue the topic of Random Electrical Stimulation in Cortical Networks on Multielectrode Arrays for my OSCAR URSP research.

This topic interested me for a couple of reasons, because as a university student, one rarely gets the chance to use the knowledge and fundamentals learned in class in the real world to truly understand the scope of information. After working in the lab over the summer, learning the procedures, techniques and locations of all of the lab equipment, I was able to begin determining what topic I was interested in researching. Research also provides unparalleled levels of curiosity and questioning, which I feel is necessary regardless of discipline or major.

My research involves taking recordings of the activity of cortical cell cultures from mice embryos and looking at patterns these cultures exhibit when electrical stimulation is added. The recordings involve a system of devices, including a Multi Channel Systems temperature controller, power supply system, baseplate, and stimulation generator alongside special software that transmits information about the neuronal cell culture and any electrical stimulation. This software produces real-time results that show different locations on a multielectrode array where a neuron is producing an action potential, or the means of communication for the cells in our brain.

Every week provides new discoveries, and this week I did a lot of data processing for data I had collected a few months ago. This data revealed insightful information about how electrical stimulation can increase the number of action potentials over time and helped me refine my procedure for conducting the recordings when I realized there were some mistakes or missing data.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

URSP Student Sherwin Zahirieh Works with Hydrologic Modeling Software from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: HEC-HMS and HEC-GeoHMS

At the beginning of my junior year, I was struggling to see on what path concentration of Civil Engineering I wanted to follow. However, not long into my CEIE 340: Water Resources Engineering class, I realized that studying water was the right path for me. I went to the professor of that class, who is now my mentor, asking how to get involved into the work he was doing. This led to him suggesting that I apply for URSP funding.

I hope going through this experience of independent research will allow me to learn the steps and procedures for completing individual scholarly work. I am already determined to continue my education through graduate school, during which I will complete a thesis. While my thesis will be much more complicated than this project, the experience I will have gained by participating in the URSP will give me a huge advantage.

Most of my work so far involves working with hydrologic modeling software from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: HEC-HMS and HEC-GeoHMS. My current goal is to set up a current hydrologic model of the George Mason Fairfax Campus. Then, using aerial images, I will set up hydrologic models for the campus over the past thirty years. I will then analyze the changes that have occurred to the campus hydrology as a result of the rapid development that has been happening. With the consistent construction of many new buildings, such as Taylor Hall, Academic VII, and the Fenwick Expansion, our results should show an increase in runoff volume and peak flows, which ultimately leads to more flooding on campus.

Monday, January 25, 2016

URSP Student Brendan Wiggins Corrects Strabismus with Computer Simulations

I’ve been a part of Dr. Wei’s lab, since the spring semester of my junior year. I wanted to have some sort of research experience before I graduated and before working with her I haven’t really done much other than a tutoring job.  We regularly have lab meetings and she suggested that I sign up for the URSP program in the fall semester.  I’m glad she showed me this as it was a great opportunity to continue to do research and I’ve been enjoying the project. Since this project is mostly coding it has been a great opportunity for me to increase my coding skills as I’ve always been a little weak.

I see this project as a way for me to get some real world experience in research before I graduate. Not many students actually do this kind of level of work and it always looks good to future employers that you already have prior experience. This is also a chance for me to have my work published in various scientific journals, I’ve already been co-authored for the work I’ve accomplished last semester and it’s really exciting to see what else I can accomplish.

For my project I’m trying to build a program in Matlab that can analyze Ultrasound images of extraocular muscles (EOMs) and use that to track the movement of the muscles.  This project is entirely code base and can be frustrating at times to do as it can take me a while to figure out what the next line of code will be and sometimes I have to re-write everything when things don’t work out as planned in the end. Just last week I finished up the coding for tracking the EOM movement using the intensity of the ultrasound images, now I just need to test this and then I can move on to the second phase and write the code for predicting the movement using the various features within the EOMs. It’s been stressful at times, but this has been a great learning experience and I can’t wait to finish this project.

Friday, January 22, 2016

URSP Student Erica Aileen Ty Conducts a Choreographic Study of Balancing Stillness and Motion in Order to Move Through Space

My idea for this project began through the childhood memories I have of trying to solve a rubix cube. On each side of the cube there are nine squares and each have a specified path and placement amongst the puzzle. I wanted to create a choreographic challenge for myself as an artist by using this inspiration in a dance piece. I wanted to create a study that demonstrates the maximum amount of movement I am able to place with set points throughout a given space. There is a mentality of dance focusing on “constant movement”, in my study I want to go against this mindset by playing with the idea of motion versus stationary and symmetry versus asymmetry. I am taking on two opposing choreographic techniques and using them at the same time. I believe that it is possible to have an equalized balance between two opposing ideas instead of centralizing oneself to a specific theme. The piece I created is entitled Fixation, this past semester I have been working to present this project through a film. I wanted to demonstrate how a choreographer sees a piece through the lens of a camera, and focus on the little details I want to be noticed.

For my long-term goals, I see this entire experience as a challenge to my leadership skills. I have been in multiple group projects before, but this by far has been an eye-opening endeavor into how to be an effective leader. I had the pleasure to work with some amazing dancers and film personnel who had the highest of work ethics. Although they were able to give their opinions or suggestions, in the end they turned to me for the final decision. Having this kind of recognition was new and I wanted to take advantage of it by being not only an affective leader but also a smart one.

During the beginning of the semester I would work on my project by planning out where we would be shooting the dance and what sections. I went over the list of shots we needed to get with my cinematographer and what equipment we would be using. Then on Saturday mornings we would all meet at the specified location and film for 3 to 4 hours. Currently, I now meet with my editor every Thursday to edit through and piece together the film. This week I discovered how truly meticulous the process of editing a film is. We had to narrow down one of our shots frame by frame in order for it to be perfectly synced with the music. I found out that having patience even with myself and those I work with will achieve more than remaining stressed by the problem.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

URSP Student Kathryn Snyder Researches the Efficacy of Artesunate for Malaria Treatment in the Peruvian Amazon

This week I had the opportunity to travel to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to share the findings of my research at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) annual conference. Thanks to the Undergraduate Student Travel Fund (USTF) I was able to afford the cost of attending the conference. I had the opportunity to network with physicians and researchers well-respected in their fields and learn from them. Most importantly, I was able to explore the city of brotherly love and eat some incredible food. ASTMH is the nation’s leading professional society for infectious disease and as an undergraduate it was a great opportunity to not only attend, but to present.

My poster was on “Multiple Episodes of P. vivax Malaria in the Peruvian Amazon: Relapses or Frequent Reinfection?” This summer I had the opportunity to do research with the U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit-6 (NAMRU-6) in Iquitos, the largest city in the Peruvian Amazon. Some of the findings for my project are explained below, but the most important concept and take away for me is that health and infection unequally impact the poorest individuals in society the greatest.

Currently, the predominant species of malaria in South America is Plasmodium vivax, which is difficult to control or eliminate due to the prevalence of relapse cases. To compare potential differences in exposure, I carried out geospatial analysis of malaria cases in a village named Padrecocha, which is located 6 km from Iquitos City. Malaria cases presenting at the local health center from 2010 –2015 were defined as cases if they experienced more than one episode of P. vivax in a 12 month period, whereas those with a single episode during the study period were classified as controls, 56 controls and 48 cases were identified. The spatial distribution for cases versus controls was significantly different. Relapse cases lived closer to water bodies (p < 0.001) and lived further from the health post (p = 0.166) than cases  with a single malaria episode. Nearest neighbor analysis showed increased clustering of patients experiencing single infections in the center of the city compared to relapse cases that were more dispersed.

Further analysis is needed to determine what is leading to the relapse of these patients. Clustering in frequent malaria patients could be caused by an increased risk for infection, genetic similarities in individuals living farther from the city center, lack of access to medical resources, or increasing poverty with increased distance from the community’s economic center. Increased distance from the health center could contribute to relapse by making it more difficult for infected individuals to access antimalarial drugs for the duration of the recommended treatment course. Similarly, living further from the city center could contribute to reinfection through more frequent interactions with vectors (increased vector density outside the city center and poorer housing construction, leading to increased exposure).

Attending the conference and networking with professionals from around the globe enabled me to hear about incredible research and opportunities occurring far from Mason. Who knows where I will go next, maybe Africa or back to Peru.