Friday, November 17, 2017

URSP Student Connor Stapp Creates a Biomechanical Model of the Pelvic Floor

The project that I’m working is to create a biomechanical model of the pelvic floor in order to better predict the forces placed on these muscles during pregnancy and how they are related in the development of pelvic floor disorders. I chose this project because there is a need for a tool that can be used for predictions on whether a pregnant woman is at risk for developing pelvic floor disorder due to giving vaginal birth. Through creating a model that could help predict a woman’s risk, it could help determine that the risk is low for developing pelvic floor disorders and a doctor could recommend giving vaginal birth or it could determine that the risk is high and the doctor could recommend a C-section.

Long term it’s my intention to move from the field of bioengineering into the field of rehabilitation. In order to properly rehabilitate an individual, it’s necessary to understand how current models were created and what their limitations are. By working on this project, it’s giving me a firsthand experience on not only what it’s like creating a new model from scratch but also be able to determine the limitations that the model has. By understanding the limitations of current models and through conducting research, it’s possible to improve these models in order to better represent the system that’s being modeled.

On a weekly basis, I read literature that’s been published in order to determine how current models are able to simulate the birthing process as well as to obtain a greater depth of information on how these specific muscles are able to perform their intended function. While working on this project this semester, I found that it’s massively important to continuously keep in contact with my mentors and the doctors that we’re working with in order to make sure that the model is staying as accurate as possible to the biological system.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

URSP Student Waleska Solorzano Analyzes Photography through Philosophical Language

The analysis of the temporal dimension of photographs in “Photography as Time Travel” leads to my claim that photography is an uncanny version of time travel. I am analyzing photography through philosophical language. This project examines the ability of a photograph to stop time and motion while still appearing differently through time. I study the notion that photographs tell a story that can bridge the past, present, and future through the observation of the radical contingency of the photograph.

The aim of my project is not to measure the photograph to a past moment, but to what it is now disclosing. A photograph is a double of the person and/or place that is pictured and brought to the present. However, it is not the person or place it was in the past. This doubling effect is perceived and analyzed through photographs I have taken, which are the core of my project. My own photographic work will support the essays I am writing. Each essay will have its accompanying photograph or series of photographs. The essays and photographs will be compiled into a photography book. In my work I am referencing the writings of Roland Barthes, Plato, Martin Heidegger, and Sigmund Freud.

“Photography as Time Travel” was inspired from a combined passion of philosophy and photography. It all started with two questions: “what is time?” and “can photography serve as time travel?” I have been working on this project for over a year with Dr. Rachel Jones and Dr. Kurt Brandhorst from the Philosophy Department as my mentors. Their support and work on this project has kept it successfully evolving. All of the photographs for the project are ready for the book and I am now working on my final essay.

I have learned the importance of discipline and organization while engaging in this project. On a weekly basis I meet with my mentors to discuss and review drafts of my writing. Editing is a huge part of the process. I am also creating zines to be able to familiarize myself with my photographs on paper and how they work with the text. I am doing this to be able to create a creative book. Working on a project from its genesis is pertinent to me because my long term goal is to pursue a doctorate degree in philosophy. I am very interested in the field of aesthetics and visual culture for my future studies.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

URSP Student Osaze Shears Researches Circuit Camouflaging and Obfuscation

My name is Osaze Shears and I am a senior Computer Engineering major conducting research in the field of computer hardware security, with a focus on circuit camouflaging and obfuscation. This is my second semester conducting undergraduate research within the Undergraduate Research Scholar’s Program (URSP). This hardware security project has allowed me to build upon my knowledge of computer engineering by introducing me to the concept of integrated circuit (IC) counterfeiting, as well as techniques to prevent this practice. IC counterfeiting is a global issue that has the potential to affect the safety of consumers who utilize these devices. The attackers involved in this practice can alter the functioning of ICs by inserting hardware Trojans, or copy the logic design to generate similar devices for illegal distribution.

The research that I am conducting under the guidance of Dr. Houman Homayoun analyzes how these attackers gain access to IC information through the use of Boolean equation solving programs, or SAT solvers. SAT solvers can be used to realize the identity of individual circuit components that have been disguised within the hardware. Our research studies one approach for determining these component identities in order to guide the development more efficient circuit camouflaging and obfuscation practices. The SAT solver algorithm is being developed in Python and tested with designs from the ISPD98 Circuit Benchmark Suite. By conducting this research, I have learned a great amount about the IC design flow and the trust established between leading IC development companies and the manufacturers who bring these designs to life.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

URSP Student Allison O'Neill Examines the Characterization of Humic Acids by High Performance Liquid Chromatography

As a freshman I applied to be a lab assistant for a graduate researcher working in Dr. Foster’s lab. However, I quickly became intrigued with the research team’s studies of humic substances. After many conversations with Dr. Foster I was able to write a proposal to OSCAR, focusing on the extraction of humic acids from local surface waters in order to subject them to further characterization. I was able to develop, refine, and build upon this extraction process throughout my sophomore year and subject my samples to fluorescence spectrophotometry. However, I was still unable to further concentrate my samples to be purely humics and was interested in quantifying their weight via mass spectrometry. This led me to apply to OSCAR again, focusing on concentration methods and molecular weight.

My typical week consists of going into the lab at the Potomac Science center. I filter the samples, run them through my extraction column, and elute them out. From there we have developed a method to desalt the eluted samples and then the water has to be evaporated off. Another method we have developed uses toluidine blue, a dyeing agent, that will bind to the humics, so that we can run the samples through a Spec 20 and determine the parts per million of humics in the sample of water collected. Lastly, we have yet another method still in the works that uses a high performance liquid chromatography column. This method will allow us to gain more insight to the size of the compounds.

Being able to perform this research has been such an incredible opportunity! I have presented my research at numerous conferences. The methods that I am using are a real life application of what I have learned in my classes, but in most cases, the methods that I am using have gone past what I have learned in my courses. I feel more prepared for a career in this field, since I have had so much experience working in a lab.

Monday, November 13, 2017

URSP Student Benjamin McDowell Studies Volatile Compounds

My project is the implementation of electrospray ionization in mass spectrometry for the study of volatile compounds.  Mass spectrometry is extensively used to identify molecular compounds by mass, both as a whole molecule and as fragments.  However, due to the presence of fragments, samples must be studied in isolation, achieved through gas chromatography.  Electrospray ionization offers an alternative to traditional ionization, which allows for analysis in the absence of chromatography.  Volatile compounds are best suited for this method due to their high vapor pressure.  This allows the spectrometer to work as an “electronic nose,” as volatile compounds are commonly associated with smells.  The hope is to use this “electronic nose” in the detection and identification of volatile compounds, often correlated with disease.  Currently my work focuses on the assembly of a vacuum system, needed to accommodate the electrospray setup as the input of the mass spectrometer.  To this end I am building several metal cones, known as skimmers, which guide the sample and are essential to the electrospray process.  The skimmers are made using electrodeposition, where thin layers of nickel are deposited on an aluminum template.  My weekly work typically involves a mix of electroplating nickel, machining new aluminum templates, and assembling the remainder of the vacuum system.  My favorite part of this project so far has been working with instrumentation and gaining a better understanding of methods of chemical analysis.  One unexpected skill I have learned is how to use a lathe, which is necessary for shaping the aluminum templates and removing the skimmers from the template.  In general my interests in Chemistry involve the analysis of molecular compounds, namely through spectrometry.  I hope to build off this research experience by pursuing a PhD in Chemistry after my graduation in the spring of 2018.