Friday, August 12, 2016

URSP Student Highlights: Scott Saunders

Hello, I am Scott Saunders; a rising senior majoring in history and minoring in legal studies. This summer I have been taking part in a research project organized by 4VA and OSCAR and sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The project is coordinated and headed by Professor Tom Ewing of Virginia Tech who has not only been guiding the course of this project, but is also a major part of the research. I am a part of a varied group of eight students and graduates from three Virginian universities. Our respective academic backgrounds are in several different areas, including history, mathematics, communications, and various sciences. The focus of our research is the study of Tuberculosis in 19th century United States; we conduct this research by searching through and analyzing obituaries from the years 1870 to 1910. From these obituaries we gather any and all information about the person, their lives, and the Tuberculosis which led to their death.
Through this research we hope to further explore and understand the effect of Tuberculosis upon Americans; both personally and as a society. Through our exploration of the disease in America we have further narrowed our research into various sub-themes. One of the sub-themes that attracted my interest was medical advertisements for Tuberculosis. The incredible similarities between contemporary advertisements and 19th advertisements were striking, although the outlandish claims which were all too common in the latter have since been regulated.
            My colleagues, Professor Ewing, and myself meet every week over Skype to discuss progress on the research and to develop the next steps to be taken in the project. Due to the nature of the project and of the various locations of the team members we use various forms of digital communications to facilitate. This creates a unique opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of digital, collaborative communication. Alongside our typical data gathering we also read various medical journals, books, and histories which pertain to both the research as a whole as well as the sub-themes.
            As part of the team I have come to understand not only professional academic work, but also what technology means for academics in the future. The use of Skype, Slack, Google Docs, and e-mail has proven how effective digital communication can be for academia. We have shown that the digital era can produce results that equal or even exceed those produced by projects which meet physically. This effectiveness and efficiency might be just another example of the way in which academics can proceed. Collaboration across all countries, institutions, and fields of study should be taken advantage of.
For myself, the opportunity to work on a professional program with other students alongside professorial guidance, has been incredible. To be able to apply what you have been learning throughout your academic career in a project outside of the classroom is a relief. A relief in that your studies have been worthwhile and character forming; that you get to apply it even further when you present in front of other academics and professionals. It is truly something to be called an academic colleague by actual scholars and professionals. I have come to appreciate the importance of effective communication, of sharing ideas, of learning from others. This last one I believe to be paramount. No matter someone’s level of experience, in academics or life, there is always purpose in listening.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

URSP Student Highlights: Olivia Stanford

As a double major in Community Health and Integrative Studies, I often found it hard to answer this question. For the longest time, I was not sure if I wanted to go down a medically-focused path or a politically-focused one. Did I want to pursue a career in Global Community Health or International Studies? Both majors offer many opportunities, especially at a school like George Mason University “where innovation is tradition” and “freedom and learning” are the core values. However, I needed a way to narrow down my career choices in the future.
That is when my first professor at George Mason, Dr. Cher Weixia Chen, offered me the opportunity to research with her. In the past, Dr. Chen conducted research on international law and legal studies, concentrating on equal pay and, currently, women worker’s rights. I was really excited when she presented this chance: I would gain research experience and perhaps find a future career path that interested me. With a topic to focus on—Maternity protection—I began the search for a research question. My search led me to terms like social insecurity and social protection; it took me to entities like the International Labour Organization and the World Bank. Initial literature reviews revealed the present state of policies offered to women and working mothers, eventually bringing me to what would become the heart of my project: the social insecurity of women in the informal sector.
Maternity protection is a tricky part of the social security spectrum. For women who work in the non-standard employment sector, it is even more difficult to ensure their human rights. It had me wondering: how is America doing with this? Where does America stand on the spectrum? To find out, I decided to survey working mothers, employers, and relevant government officials in Northern Virginia as my sample focus area. Originally, I planned to find most of my participants through snowball-sampling. This method relied on individuals to spread the word of this study to bring people in. However, one thing I learned is to expect the unexpected and be flexible.
It’s difficult conducting research of any kind, especially when there is no formal setting or directing principal investigator to help guide the process: I conducted interviews on the spot or arranged them around the schedules of advisory board members in different government departments; I had to alter my approach repeatedly for the different groups I interviewed, especially in the event I ran into individuals that spoke little to no English.
Overall, this was a trying experience with crowning moments (like meeting a deadline) and pitfalls that almost ended the research (finding mothers to participate). Nevertheless, with encouragement and advice from my family and staff mentor, I grew as an academic scholar and I’m more confident in my research skills.
In the future, I hope to continue this research, improving on the methods, and eventually publishing the results to see improvement in America’s maternity protection policies.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

URSP Student Highlights: Rachel Haley

My name is Rachel Haley, I am a sophomore double-majoring in Chemistry and Microbiology. I am currently researching the fungal microbes of microbial communities at shipwreck sites in the Gulf of Mexico.  The primary goal of my research is to establish that fungi are present at these shipwreck sites and identify the phylotypes of these fungi.
I am interested in studying the specific fungi, identifying the microbes that populate the communities at the shipwrecks, and how my research fits in and contributes to the greater project that is the focus of my lab. I work for Dr. Leila Hamdan and Dr. Jennifer Salerno in their lab at George Mason’s Prince William campus. The lab is working with BOEM on SCHEMA: shipwreck corrosion, hydrocarbon exposure, microbiology, and archaeology. This project studies whether shipwreck sites act as artificial reefs, island theory of biogeography, and the effect of the 2010 oil spill on the microbial communities-their composition, metabolic functions, and relative abundance. My research will contribute novel information regarding fungal groups and expands on previous research with respect to both bacteria and archaea.
In May of this year I joined Dr. Hamdan and other members of our lab and several colleagues from the Naval Research Institute on the R/V Pelican for a week of collecting samples in the Gulf of Mexico. Since returning, I have worked with Dr. Hamdan in the lab at Prince William, performing DNA extractions and working with bioinformatics pipelines to analyze the DNA sequences of samples collected during the previous sample collection in 2015.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

URSP Student Highlights: Matthew Eiman

What’s up Mason Nation! I am Matthew Eiman and I am a junior, neuroscience major from Altoona, PA. I am currently researching the relationship between sleep efficiency and cognitive performance in collaboration with Dr. Ali Weinstein and the wonderful staff of the Center for Study of Chronic Illness and Disability (CCID).

We spend roughly 1/3 of our life sleeping. It is such an integral and paramount part of our lives, but often, it can be neglected. Recent research has explored the deleterious effects insufficient sleep can have on one’s health. I’m taking a little different approach when it comes to sleep. I am using a sleep efficiency algorithm calculated by an Actigraphy accelerometer (something like a FitBit) that participants wore to bed. Sleep efficiency, to me, is a superior measure of just how well somebody rested. Think about how much time you are asleep; and then factor in how long it took you to get to sleep, how many times you woke up, and how many times you had to get out of bed to go to the bathroom, let the dog out, etc. That’s sleep efficiency.

My journey starts about the second month of my freshman year when I was looking to get engaged with undergraduate research. I contacted Dr. Weinstein and she got back to me almost immediately to arrange a meeting. I started helping out a little, but I was mostly getting acquainted with a college-level literature search and finding what interested me. As I progressed through my freshman year, Dr. Weinstein mentioned how she had a project with a plethora of unanalyzed sleep data. Given my interest in sleep, I started working on organizing the data and familiarizing myself with the study. This continued into my sophomore year, but came to a little halt when I participated in a clinical research internship with Inova Fairfax Hospital through HHS 492. Because of OSCAR’s Undergraduate Research Scholars Program, I have been able to pursue this interest of mine that has been literally years in the making, for which I am extremely grateful.

Outside of my research, I am a captain of our club, Men’s Ultimate Frisbee team as well as a member of the Roosevelt@Mason’s Energy and Environment policy group. I also serve as a Peer Research Mentor in the honors freshman writing class Honors 110: Research Methods.

Hail to George Mason!

URSP Student Highlights: Marina Martínez

Hello, my name is Marina Martínez and I’m currently a senior majoring in Bioengineering. I am working with Dr. Nitin Agrawal and his PhD. student Steven Roberts in the Microfluidic Single Cell Analysis Laboratory in Engineering (µ-SCALE), located at Krasnow Institute of Advanced Studies. I am studying the influence of osmolarity on epithelial cell phenotype.
On a weekly basis I attend Dr. Agrawal’s lab meetings, where we discuss our projects individually. By this manner I do not just restrict all my knowledge just in my project, I actually get to know all the different studies running in the lab. Besides this, I read scientific papers to familiarize with the field and better understand all the biological processes happening at cellular level regarding my research. Reading and listening to other peoples’ studies have habituated me to the most technical words in my field, which is an essential aspect for my professional future. Moreover, planning the timeline, as well as designing the approach, overcoming difficulties during the experiments, etcetera, have made me become more independent, skillful and confident. Throughout the project I am also experiencing how team work is and I am learning a lot of lab procedures such as immunofluorescence, cell culture or how to analyze scientific data. In brief, I am learning more than I thought I would and this is a big first step into the scientific community.
OSCAR and its Undergraduate Research Scholar Program (URSP) have given me the huge opportunity of experiencing how working in a lab feels. I love the atmosphere in laboratories and I know that working in one of them is my main intention. Because of that, being part of the URSP program this summer is a step forward to my desired future.  I am an exchange student from Spain at GMU, and in my country it is not possible to do an internship with any professor while you are in college. Therefore, being part of this program has meant for me much more than carrying out an idea; it meant achieving a goal that would have been impossible to reach back in my country.

Monday, August 8, 2016

URSP Student Highlights: Lucretia Sissoho

My name is Lucretia and I am a rising senior from The Gambia in West Africa, majoring in Bioengineering. I am currently working in the sensorimotor and function lab in the Nguyen Engineering building, working on further developing research on fNIRS. My project this summer is understanding and further developing the use of functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) for analysing neural activity during bi-manual movements.

I decided to pursue this particular project because I am very passionate about discovering new means to analyze brain activity and in this case, during various minimal tasks and I feel that I would benefit further from dedicating my time to collect more data on fNIRS which can potentially lead to a breakthrough in the field; bearing in mind that it is considerably new, and very little research and experimentation has been done with it. It has potential and could eventually lead to further advances in how we analyze brain activity while the subject is performing motor tasks. I am interested in it primarily because of its convenience, as well as having very little limitations on motion and immaculate spatial resolution.

This being my first research experience, having the opportunity to collect raw data, verify and analyze it, as well as develop bimanual tasks and map the brain, has been memorable so far. I have had the honour of working with truly influential and inspiring people like Dr. Laurence Bray and Dr. Wilsaan Joiner, as well fellow undergraduate and graduate students.

Friday, August 5, 2016

URSP Student Highlights: King Cheng

My name is King Cheng, and I am a senior majoring in Computer Science. I am currently working with Dr. Shanjiang Zhu and his students. My main task on the project is developing an Android version of GMU parking helper application for mobile devices. The main purpose of the application is to inform the users how busy the parking lots are, and collecting data from users if only they agree to provide the information to us. On a daily basis, I spend most of the time developing features that interact with users and the database that manages crowdsource data. Moreover, testing the mobile app before publishing to Google Play store is another major task during the project development. I am also teaching myself how to use the features in Android Studio, which is a software that is used for developing Android application. I am also learning how to develop an Android application while working on the project. Even though Java uses the same language, there are many features, which I have not used before. Working on the project has helped me improve my problem solving skills and the skill of self-teaching. I believe these skills will be appealing to my future employers even though I may not work as a mobile app developer in the future.

URSP Student Highlights: Gillard Groom

I am writing a program that will make it easier for composers to use non-Western or completely new invented scales in their compositions.  This is based mainly on the process of approximating logarithmic functions using continued fractions, or, more specifically, the convergents of the continued fractions.  This summer was spent mostly coming up with various algorithms as I balanced working on my project and my other responsibilities.
 I happened upon my topic while I was researching a relatively routine project.  I was to create a musical piece in the style of Wendy Carlos’s Switched on Bach, an album that changed how electronic music was received by mainstream audiences.  However, while reading through Carlos’s essays, it became apparent that she had done much more research into alternative tunings after Switched on Bach.  In fact, one particular article, “Tuning at the Crossroads,” changed what had begun as a regular project into a passion that would take years to realize.
My research into microtonality and non-Western tunings inspires me not only when I am discovering music but as I compose as well.  There are many sounds, textures, and musical ideas that are not easily realized in Western music, and my research is aimed at tackling this compositional difficulty.  The thing that makes the research interesting is the fractal nature of it; it seems that the more I dig into a topic, the more complex it gets.  That can be frustrating at times when I am trying to reach a goal; falling down a researcher’s rabbit hole is not helpful.  However, more often than not, the twists and new information is fascinating.

URSP Student Highlights: Forrest Bussler

Hello! My name is Forrest Bussler and I am a senior in the Bioengineering department. I have been working with Dr. Agrawal in the microscale laboratory in Krasnow building since the beginning of the Fall semester 2015. Currently, I am working on looking at how the area a cell occupies its level of endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress. Besides my area of research in ER stress, other projects in the lab focus on cell transfection, microscale device fabrication and analysis, as well as gradient analysis. Many of the studies done in the lab involve working with cancer, mainly breast cancer.
My interest in bioengineering grew due to how diverse it is and its ability to help others maintain a healthy and functional lifestyle through various engineering methods mixed with experience in other areas such as programming, electrical engineering, and biology. There will always be more ways to improve the lives of the less fortunate, and I want to be at the forefront of that movement.
Cancer is a biological phenomenon that even today, is still not completely understood. It is different for each person and treatment options may be limited due to the size of a tumor, the degree of metastasis, or the location of the cancer. It effects nearly everyone whether it be a loved one or oneself, and because of this, I want to understand it better and develop techniques to better treat and diagnose it.
The entire lab meets each Monday to discuss progress, options for moving forward with the projects, and one person in the lab does a formal presentation of their work so far and the background associated with it.
In addition to my patterning research with cell area and ER stress, I am working with graduate student Steven Roberts to create a chemical gradient on a microdevice to simulate cancer extravasation due to differences in a chemoattractant.

URSP Student Highlights: Jeremy Johnston

I am a student in the Civil, Environmental and Infrastructure Engineering department at George Mason. The fields in our department are primarily geared toward developing structurally sound and sustainable infrastructure as well as analyzing and modeling natural events to help develop infrastructure improvements. My research has been focused more on the latter aspect and collecting useful environmental data such as air quality, water quality, and weather data to be used for the improvement of current storm water systems.  I also hope this data will improve our understanding of environmental changes during extreme weather events.

 Working with the guidance of Drs. Viviana Maggioni (CEIE), Paul Houser (GGS), and Celso Ferreira (CEIE) I have been developing a new type of sensor system. While most sensors are programmed to send data at an unchanging rate, I have been working to create a reactive network. This network is capable of responding to environmental factors like thunderstorms, high winds, temperature extremes and any other sensed variables by collecting data at a higher temporal resolution (more data points, higher quality data). If any sensor station in this network senses a value above a predetermined threshold (such as high wind, rainfall, high or low temperature etc.) it will respond. What makes this system unique is the ability of the sensor to not only respond itself, but to send out radio signals to the other sensors in the network causing them to increase their sensing rate as well. This is why it is referred to as a “Smart Sensor Web”.

Personally, I have been in charge of programming of the sensors, building and setting up the sensors in the field, as well as analyzing incoming data. The process has been very time intensive, but very rewarding. I have expanded by knowledge of computer programming having worked with C++ and python over multiple operating systems. I have also learned a lot about what to expect in my field, how to carry myself, and how to solve problems in team environments. Beyond this I have learned about sensor operation and Arduino/Waspmote technology, circuitry and electrical wiring, as well as radio communication.

It has been a wonderful experience to this point and I have learned a great deal. I anticipate the growth of this network on campus in the future and I hope to be around to help improve this system following my time in the URSP program. While many improvements need to be made, I believe the most difficult challenges have been met and I hope to witness this system working up to its full potential in the near future.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

URSP Student Highlights: Elizabeth Farley

For my intensive OSCAR research project this summer, I am studying a particular type of income for human services nonprofits that is called “program service revenue.” This type of income is earned often through providing services for a fee and is tax-exempt if related to the mission of the nonprofit. As such, program service revenue may prove a powerful source of revenue diversification for nonprofits.

By examining data collected annually from nonprofits through the IRS Form 990, I hope to discover the impact of “earned income” (or exempt program service revenue) on the overall revenue and change in net assets over time.

Management books and articles circulating among nonprofit leaders often (if somewhat vaguely) tout this type of revenue as potentially diffusing a heavy reliance on individual contributions and grant awards. In theory, earned income can enable a service nonprofit to raise some of its own funds by doing what it does best – fulfilling its mission.

In doing background research for my proposal, I found little academic evidence as to the success or failure of earned income strategies in the broad human services sector.

As an Accounting student with prior workplace experience in a nonprofit finance office, the path to research presented itself rather clearly this past spring during the intensive OSCAR project application process. Knowing the fast-paced nature of human services nonprofits, where day-to-day operations and scarce resources infrequently lend time for study of scholarly questions, I decided to further research the earned income question in order to expand the scholarly research base in nonprofit accounting and (hopefully) generate practical implications for nonprofit managers.

Under the mentorship of Dr. Karen Kitching (School of Business, Accounting Department), I am performing linear regression analysis to study program service revenue as a variable in revenue growth. The data collection process thus far has included Freedom of Information Act requests to various agencies to access federal government contracts data (one possible type of program service revenue), utilizing the Guidestar charitable database to create a sample of federal employer identification numbers and other financial data representing relevant charities, and extracting relevant IRS form 990 data from the National Center for Charitable Statistics database.

I’m thrilled to have received this opportunity for research through OSCAR, and I look forward to presenting the results of the study.

URSP Student Highlights: Daniel Howe

Ever since I started studying mechanical engineering I have had a particular interest in thermodynamics and heat transfer. Consequently, I have greatly enjoyed the opportunity to develop and pursue my own research into the field. Working on this research has taught me volumes about heat transfer and research methodologies that I would not otherwise have experienced. In this regard, working on this research project has proved an overwhelmingly positive experience, and I am glad I received this opportunity.This summer, I have had the unique privilege of undertaking research into lightweight heat exchangers through an intensive URSP grant. 
In particular, my project seeks to evaluate the potential of a particular material, carbon foam, to serve as an alternative material for cooling a computer processor. In order to make this comparison, I have built a simplified case with a 5 square inch channel, inside of which I can place different heat exchangers on top of a heater assembly that produces approximately 90 watts of heat at maximum power. I also have two fans in a push-pull configuration that simulate the case fans found on desktop computers. In order to test the heat exchangers, I turn on the fans and the heater and let them run long enough to reach steady-state, or equilibrium, conditions. I then compare their convection coefficients, a measure of heat transfer, and the base temperatures they are able to maintain. Higher convection coefficients and lower base temperatures are desirable, and indicated better thermal performance. This provides a common methodology for evaluating the performance of different heatsinks for a given amount of heat that must be removed to ensure the safe operation of the system. All in all, this has been a fascinating experience and I recommend for anyone interested in performing undergraduate research.

URSP Student Highlights: Courtney Whitman

I started working with Dr. van der Ham with a research project he was conducting in the fall of 2015. This project focused on how adult insect communities could be used to determine rate of decomposition of cadavers. Through assisting with this for two semesters, I began to make connections between the forensic entomology focus and my own major of environmental science. Out of these connections came the idea to conduct a similar study that would focus on ecology.  My research project looks at the community dynamics of carrion-specific insects. Additionally, I am trying to determine if the composition of insects in one sample site is representative of multiple sites.
In order to collect data for my project, Dr. van der Ham, an undergraduate student, and myself set up fifteen emergent tents in a wooded area. After placing a rat carcass under each tent, we collected the insects that flew into the tent’s collection apparatus everyday for two weeks. Once fieldwork was completed, I worked in a lab where I identified the insects down to the lowest possible taxa and kept records of the number of each taxon found. After all samples were recorded, Dr. van der Ham and I ran statistical tests to measure the species richness of each sample, the variation in community composition of each sample, and the variation in succession of each sample.
Gaining research experience as an undergraduate is something that has been truly invaluable. Though I don’t plan to pursue a career involving entomology, this opportunity has taught me everything from how to conduct fieldwork to how to analyze statistical data. I will also be presenting my data at a poster seminar, which will help improve my oral communications skills in a professional setting.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

URSP Student Highlights: Claire Johnson

My name is Claire Johnson, and I am a rising senior at George Mason.  I am majoring in chemistry with a concentration in biochemistry and minors in both biology and bioinformatics.  I have been working with Dr. Robin Couch in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry since the fall of my junior year.

My project is focusing on the development of novel antibiotics, which is essential due to easily engineered and natural evolution of antibiotic resistance.  Naturally evolving antibiotic resistance poses a huge world health issue as “super bugs” become more common.  Engineered resistance is concerning as these strains of bacteria could be used by terrorist groups for biological warfare. 

The model organisms that the Couch lab utilizes are Yersinia pestis, Francisella tularensis, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and Plasmodium falciparum.  Y. pestis and F. tularensis are both biothreat agents classified by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) as Category A priority pathogens.  This means that they “pose the highest risk to national security and public health” because they are extremely contagious and have high mortality rates.  M. tuberculosis and P. falciparum are causative agents of tuberculosis and malaria, respectively.  M. tuberculosis has two antibiotic resistant strains, known as multidrug resistant TB and extensively drug resistant TB, which makes tuberculosis a major world health concern.  P. falciparum is also a significant public health threat, with nearly half of the world’s population at risk of contracting malaria.
When designing an antibiotic, it is necessary to select a protein target that is specific to the disease causing bacteria (to avoid toxicity to humans) and necessary for its survival.  Our lab collaborates with Dr. Cynthia Dowd’s synthetic chemistry lab at George Washington University; their lab synthesizes the compounds that I then test against bacterial enzymes for their antibiotic potential.

The research that I am working on is related to my academic and career goals.  After graduating from Mason, I will go to graduate school to obtain a PhD in genetics, then, I plan to stay in academia to both teach at the collegiate level and research medical genetic conditions.

URSP Student Highlights: Brianna Artz

Hello! I’m Brianna Artz, and I am a senior, majoring in Psychology, working on independent research funded through Oscar’s Undergraduate Research Scholars Program. My research is mentored by Dr. Doris Bitler Davis, and I’m a member of the Animal Behavior and Cognition Lab. Her lab has tons of awesome research going on involving the behavior and cognition of goats, dogs, cats, chickens and other avian species.
            My study is looking at the response behavior of canines when presented with the emotions of their owner, and a stranger. Due to the generous funding of the URSP grant, I have been able to pay participants to bring themselves and their dogs to the lab in Catlett, Virginia, and test their dog’s emotion recognition abilities using a short maze which creates a two-path choice paradigm. Before arriving for their study sessions, the owner completes a survey which provides information about the dog’s age, breed, level of training, amount of socialization, and overall personality. During the study, the dogs enter the maze area with me, where I facilitate their observations of their owner holding a treat and expressing positive emotion on one side of the maze, and negative emotion on the other side. The owner then hides, and I allow the dog to choose a side of the maze. This process is repeated four times with the dog’s owner, alternating the side where each emotion is expressed. The owner then leaves the testing area, and the whole process is then repeated with a female stranger’s emotions.
            Using the data collected from the survey and the emotion recognition procedure, I hope to analyze how the dog’s age, breed, level of training, amount of socialization, and overall personality correlates with the dog’s emotional response behavior in the maze. I hope that our results can provide new insight into the emotional response behavior of certain dogs, and why some dogs are better than others at doing it. Our findings could potentially be applied to the use of emotional support service dogs, animal-assisted therapy in psychological or psychiatric care, and expand on our current knowledge of the symbiotic and emotional relationships human beings have with dogs.  

URSP Student Highlights: Anna McLernon

Hi there! My name is Anna McLernon and I am a rising junior majoring in Applied Global Conservation at George Mason University. I am working with Dr. Doris Davis of the Psychology Department to study both chicken grain preferences and rooster-to-chicken communication via food calls. Sometimes it is hard to imagine the cognition abilities of animals, especially of animals that some of us eat regularly. Even so, more and more research is being done to understand different species for different reasons. Investigating that hens do indeed have food preferences could mean farmers could give their chickens better well-being and increased happiness, making it possible that the chickens could lay more eggs. It is well-known that birds are connected to the dinosaurs that once roamed the earth, so understanding more and more about Avian species could very well lead scientists to understanding more about their prehistoric counterparts!
For four to five days every week, I drive an hour out to the beautiful countryside of Virginia to Dr. Davis’ personally-owned farm and conduct my research there. I place two bowls of different grains in a cage and let a hen eat whichever one she wants for thirty minutes. I weigh the bowls before and after a chicken’s consumption of the food to assess which grain she likes better. So far, extraordinarily, all four hens have had a consistent preference of grain. Therefore, it is clear to see that domestic chickens have an advanced choice behavior.
            Meeting Dr. Davis and conducting research on her farm with her beloved pets is an amazing experience, thanks to the OSCAR program. It has taught me what research with animals is like; a lot of chasing and capturing. It can be a bit of a hassle, but it is also very funny to look back on how I’ve had to run after the chickens. Working with animals can also be fragile, such as an animal getting wounded and therefore not eating as much as they did before, hurting the data. The many variables in research is what makes data-gathering in the field harder, but this research project has given me an inside look on how to solve my way out of a problem. Which, I think, is a very valuable skill indeed.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

URSP Student Highlights: Brian Schnoor

Hello, my name is Brian Schnoor and I am a bioengineering major working in the Nanotechnology Lab with Dr. Salvador-Morales.  I am currently working on a project applying nanotechnology to agriculture and weed control. I hope to develop a Nanoherbicide that will provide more effective protection against harmful weeds while avoiding the major environmental problems caused by the widespread use of herbicides. Current herbicides are washed into major waterways as runoff, contaminating the waterways and killing many of the native plants. By encapsulating this herbicide in a nanoparticle, I hope to reduce these environmental problems.
            Working on this project has been a great experience for me. I have learned so much from practical lab experience. Along with basic techniques, this project forced me to learn how to design experiments, properly analyze data, schedule my time wisely, and present my results in a professional manner. I cannot thank Dr. Salvador-Morales enough for mentoring me through this project. In addition to teaching me lab procedures and monitoring my work in the lab, Dr. Salvador-Morales was also very active in guiding me through the finer points of managing my own project. We sit down on a regular basis and have invaluable discussions on the progress of my project, what information is still missing, and a plan for how to fill in the holes in my project. The experience of actually working in a lab and tackling these issues has given me an education beyond what I have learned in my class work.
            And the URSP program has added another layer on top of this education. Between the grant proposal, and the poster presentation, I have learned a great deal about presenting and explaining my research in a professional setting. Additionally, the URSP seminars have connected me to some of the peers and mentors I can turn to for advice about my research project. Overall, I cannot be more grateful for this opportunity to conduct research at Mason because it has given me a practical, hands-on experience to enhance my education.

URSP Student Highlights: Kostyantyn Shcherbina

                  During an English class my sophomore year, I was asked to write a literature review on a topic in my field that interested me. After doing some reading, I decided to write about ultrasound in therapy. As a non-invasive tool most commonly used for imaging, it piqued my interest.  My mentor, Dr. Chitnis of the Bioengineering department at GMU happened to be doing research into therapeutic ultrasound, specifically ultrasound-actuated drug delivery, and I was excited to work with him on one of his projects.
            Dr. Chitnis and his colleagues have developed a hydrogel capsule that is filled with medicine and implanted at a given area, then heated, releasing the medicine in a localized area. The applications for such a system are vast, and most notably include chemotherapy, which typically results in nasty side effects due to the high dosages and systemic circulation of the drug. A localized capsule solves these issues by restricting the drug release to the targeted area, in this case a tumor.
            My research focuses on construction of a model for drug release based on the heating of the capsule. Because the hydrogel contracts when heated, and the contraction is stable at any given temperature, a mathematical model relating the two allows for real-time control of how much drug is being released, enabling doctors to tailor release profiles on a per-patient, per-drug basis.
            At this point, I am working mostly on the computer, scouring literature for the physical properties of hydrogels, and calculating the fluid dynamics present in them. The nature of the project and the circumstances this summer have confined me to physics and mathematics to characterize the temperature-release relationship, but the work is satisfying, if frustrating at times. In the future, I will most likely be working in the same field, hopefully with more opportunities for physical experiments. This project has opened my eyes to some of the realities of research, and the opportunity to work with Dr. Chitnis and alongside the other members of the Biomedical Imaging Lab has been extraordinary.

URSP Student Highlights: Amir Maghsoudi

Since I started working with Doctor van Hoek (at the MVH lab) in the Science and Technology campus, I have been exposed to many inspirational and driven individuals. Working alongside masters and PhD students, I have already learned so much about a real microbiology laboratory. From working with bacteria to autoclaving equipment, I have realized that working in a lab is fun, exciting, fast-paced, and most importantly, serious!
                  Currently, I am working with various bacteria and yeast found in our oral microflora. Streptococcus mutans and Candida albicans are microorganisms found in the oral cavity, which are responsible for common diseases, such as carries (cavities). The goal of this project is to determine how these microorganisms grow and how we can inhibit them. In the MVH lab, I am the only person who is working on this project with the assistance of my managers/mentors, Stephanie and Dr. van Hoek.
                   Though working in the lab is very fast-paced, working with microorganisms can be very slow. Since the majority of my work relies on growing bacteria and yeast, sometimes it may take two to five days to achieve results. If the results are not desirable, the experimental procedure has be modified to acquire the desired results. On a weekly base, I will do many things, including growing bacteria, sterilizing equipment, and testing antibiotic resistance against bacterial growth! After many trials this week, I confirmed that Stevia extracts can inhibit the growth of bacteria!
                  Since my long-term goal is to enter dental school and practice as a dentist, I think this project will help me achieve a greater understanding of the oral microflora, which is a key component of having a healthy mouth! Thus, having this knowledge will help me be a better dentist. With further knowledge and outstanding research, groundbreaking results may be found, which may benefit the medical community. My ultimate goal is to help move science forward and allow the community to achieve better health!