Wednesday, January 31, 2018

URSP Student A'isha Sharif Researches Anonymous STD Self-Testing

STDs. Not exactly the first subject you want to talk about with your friends. To be honest, it wasn’t for me either. So how did I get to doing an entire research project about it, then? It started when I took GCH 350: Health Promotion and Education with Dr. Lisa Lindley. Dr. Lindley had talked about the anonymous STD self-testing being done by the Dean Street Clinic in London, England. What is anonymous STD self-testing, you may ask? Broadly speaking, it is when a person who does not have any symptoms (but just wants to get checked for STDs) gets a testing kit and collects the needed samples themselves without seeing a healthcare provider. After collecting the samples, the person will deposit them in a drop off box in the clinic. The clinic will then test the samples and the results are electronically sent to the donor. This reduces the embarrassment most people feel about discussing their sexual health with a healthcare provider.

After hearing about this kind of testing from her and how it could be used to combat the increasing rate of STD transmissions among college-age individuals, I approached her with the idea of possibly researching this subject. I felt that, by taking the judgement factor away from sexual health and STDs, more Mason students would be willing to get tested and treated. We came up with a two-part study: a) an anonymous survey to understand the general knowledge and perceptions of STD self-testing among Mason students and b) using the survey data, create 3 to 5 focus groups to find out more in-depth reasons why or why not Mason students would use an STD self-testing service. Over the Fall 2017 semester, we created the survey and pilot tested it among various groups including the Student Health Advisory Board. In the Spring 2018 semester, we will release the survey to the general Mason population and conduct the focus group sessions. While working on this project, I regularly read public health research and news articles about STDs, which I saved and categorized into a database. As a future (hopefully) physician and public health professional, I feel that this study gave me a real taste of what public health research is about. This study also showed me how to create effective interventions for the health problems various populations face. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

URSP Student Roxana Ventura Gains an Understanding in How Chickens Develop Food Preferences

I’ve always had a fascination with animals, from watching documentaries on animal planet, to searching for ways to work with animals in real life. This brought me to discovering Dr. Davis and working in her ABAC Lab. When working as a research assistant in the summer of 2016, I was helping the undergraduates and graduates with their observations and it was interesting to hear some of the reason why they chose to do their work. While working with my colleagues and with the help of Dr. Davis they brought me to the conclusion that I would want to conduct my own research. The idea of getting a better understanding of how chickens develop their food preferences intrigued me. This, along with the memory of a recent class I took known as ‘Food Choices and Consequences’, which discussed the difficulty in changing food preferences in adult humans, caused me to question whether or not these rules apply to animals.

One of the biggest obstacles I have faced is getting approval from IACUC. Throughout the entire fall semester Logan Woodhouse, Dr. Davis, and I have worked on the form for IACUC and even though we have been declined once this would not stop us from reapplying. We have taken a lot of their comments and revised our form to meet their standards and hope to see that this second submission we will be approved.

I always thought that researching would be such an interesting field to work in and that being in the Oscars program would be a wonderful opportunity to experience what it would be to run your own observations.  Even though this research might not leave a huge impact in the world of psychology I do believe that this could cascade into something bigger, like building on this research or even open new doors with other psychologist that are interested in how animal’s behaviors work. My research can be a gateway into meeting other professors and other researchers that are in my field and develop connections with these people. I know that there will be obstacles that I will face throughout this whole experience, but these obstacles will only make me stronger and help improve on what I should and shouldn’t be dedicating my time to.

Monday, January 29, 2018

URSP Student Quonte Watkins Looks at the Effects of a Defective GLUT3 Receptor on the Cells Overall Ability to Maintain its Resting Membrane Potential

The origin of my project stems from multiple areas of interest in my life. The first being my desire to broaden my understanding of the biochemical aspects of the structure and function of the human body especially those that take place in the brain and cause disease. My second major interest was in learning what it takes to pursue a career in research. As I began to meet many people who either had or knew someone who suffered from diseases such as diabetics, schizophrenia, and seizures it made me want to learn more about these diseases, and what exactly caused them. Therefore, after doing lots of research on these topics, I took the knowledge that I gained from each of them and applied them in an experiment that I believed could yield useful results and help me gain a better understanding of the brain while doing so.

For my project, I looked at the effects that a defective GLUT3 receptor would have on the cells overall ability to maintain its resting membrane potential. If this defect caused negative implications in the receptors’ ability to translocate back into the cytoplasmic membrane (as a result of increased energy demand by the neuronal cell), I wanted to discover if this can potentially result in epileptic seizures. This is significant because the lifespan of most human nerve cells is typically like life span of the individual. Therefore, if there is a defect or mutation that effects that cells normal function, there is a greater possibility that it can have negative lifelong implications. This ties in with my life long goal of discovering new ways to help people detect and treat various diseases as I pursue father health care degrees.

Every week I did literature searches for sure! Aside from that I carried out various measurements and calculations as well as maintain my cell cultures.

The one thing that I have definitely learned is that research is difficult, and it does require a lot of work, but if your passionate about what you are doing, you can be successful and discover even more things than what you originally intended.

Friday, January 26, 2018

URSP Student Taylor Wichtendahl Researches How to Reduce the Sexual Harassment Risk for Adult Males with Disabilities at Their Jobs

My name is Taylor Wichtendahl and I’m a senior majoring in History with a minor in Applied Behavior Analysis. My project is titled “Sexual Harassment Prevention Training In The Employment Setting For Men With Intellectual Disabilities, Developmental Delays And/Or Autism Spectrum Disorders.” I’m essentially studying how to reduce the sexual harassment risk for adult males with disabilities at their jobs. I work with the Mason LIFE program here on campus and our Assistant Director, Dr. Robin Moyher. Dr. Moyher wrote her dissertation regarding a similar topic, with the main difference being her focus on females. I chose to do an extension of her study by replicating a majority of the criteria and changing the gender of the participants. Every day, I take data and do different trainings with my research subjects. I meet with Dr. Moyher often to learn more about my next steps and analyze data. Every day is a little different and the schedule is hectic but that’s the best part. I’m always interested since I learn new things every single day.

I hope to expand on this research further next semester by amending the study to accommodate individuals with a lower reading level and/or IQ than the current study allows. That would make the sexual harassment training available to more adults and allow the benefits to be more far-reaching. My eventual hope for Dr. Moyher’s training is that it can be spread around to adults across the nation. I am incredibly excited to have a hand in that future.

Throughout this semester, I’ve discovered a passion for research. When I started pursing this project, it was because I thought it might be something cool to try or look good on my resume. However, as I get more involved I find myself realizing this is much more than a simple project for me. It’s become something I enjoy way more than I thought I would. My long-term goals are shifting because of this and I’m considering a future that allows me to be more involved in special education research. Research is an amazing thing to get involved with early on so you can direct your educational future in the best direction for you. Without my OSCAR involvement, I never would have discovered how awesome research is. 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

URSP Student Luc Tran Researches Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis

My project for this fall semester is a continuation of my last semester OSCAR project. The overall theme of my research is a disease known as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). IPF is a fatal lung disease that is characterized with scarring of the lung overtime due to over activation of fibroblasts and increased collagen deposition. My interest in IPF began when I was able to join Dr. Geraldine Grant’s lab during the Biology Research Semester. My project last semester was to determine the effect of exposure of a metabolite of acetaminophen, known as N- acetyl benzoquinone imine (NAPQI) on the expression of certain IPF gene markers: alpha smooth muscle actin (ASMA) and collagen-1-alpha (COL1A). I found that direct NAPQI exposure had no significant increase in ASMA or COL1A in both normal and IPF fibroblasts. However, there was an increase in the expression of Procollagen-Lysine,2-Oxoglutarate 5-Dioxygenase 1 and 2 (PLOD1/2) in the IPF fibroblasts. My experiment this semester is to expose epithelial cells to acetaminophen so that the epithelial cells can metabolize acetaminophen into NAPQI and transfer the NAPQI to the fibroblasts. My goal is to verify my data from the summer, regarding changes in expression of PLOD1/2. This finding would begin to provide an explanation linking IPF with acetaminophen consumption because direct cause of IPF is still unknown.

On a daily basis, I culture the fibroblasts and also run q-PCRs to determine expression of ASMA, PLOD1 and PLOD2. I discovered a significant increase in PLOD1 in the IPF fibroblasts as I did with direct exposure to NAPQI. This project is related to my long term goal of going to medical school by that it is direct research on a disease and also if I can link acetaminophen to IPF, I can warn my future patients about the dangers of acetaminophen.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

URSP Student Franco Villegas-Garin Finds Paleoenvironmental Relationships within Paravialians and Pterosaurs

Prehistoric bird studies have always interested me since my first semester as an undergrad, due to the evolutionary origin of birds from dinosaurs is a discovery only known for a few decades. My project, under the mentorship of Dr. Mark Uhen, sought to find paleoenvironmental relationships within Paravialians and Pterosaurs. Paravialians are a group of theropod (two-legged) dinosaurs that include ancestral/early birds that lived on earth about ~161 million years ago to ~66 million years ago and feathered dinosaurs that were closely related, but not quite birds. Pterosaurs on the other hand were not dinosaurs, but they were flying reptiles.
My research helped me develop scientific skills at every level, including but not limited to gathering information, data analysis/synthesis, and technical writing, which are all necessary for grad school. My paleontological knowledge greatly increased as I got to test my limits and apply what I knew and beyond, not to mention that grad schools do see undergraduate funded research as a huge plus.
On a weekly basis, I searched for peer-reviewed publications that gave me necessary data to input into the Paleobiology Database (PBDB). I collected femur lengths for paravialians and wingspan lengths for the pterosaurs analyzed. From there, I exposed them to multiple mathematical models in order to generate their estimated body masses. Eventually, I extrapolated the environmental settings for all of the fossil occurrences considered.
Studies regarding the environmental distribution of organism might give not only give us insight into the relationships between extinct creatures, but also extant ones. Human intervention could affect the environmental distribution of organisms (such as birds) and we might encounter that because of this, these organisms end up exposed to unpredicted competitors, which could potentially affect the survival chances of multiple animal groups. As a closing statement, I am very thankful for OSCAR allowing me to be part of the URSP and I highly recommend you to take part of the program if the opportunity arises.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

URSP Student Erin Phillips Tracks Community Impact of Social Entrepreneurs at Impact Hub D.C.

My project this semester looks at the social impact tracking efforts and social responsibility culture of Impact Hub D.C., a metro-area incubator for emerging social enterprises. My final paper, written under the supervision of Dr. John G. Dale, will feature a literature review of relevant scholarly research on social impact tracking in social business, as well as a summary of the results of a series of interviews I will be conducting next semester at Impact Hub. The combination of the two will allow me to determine how the theoretical prescriptions laid out in the academic arena of social business are being implemented practically by real social entrepreneurs. I am passionate about social enterprise, and decided on this project to help social entrepreneurs navigate the dichotomy between profit motivation and social good.

I eventually hope to use my knowledge of capitalistic solutions to social issues in order to enter the field of Public Policy. I believe this background will give me a unique edge in terms of my problem-solving abilities in public office, because it will enable me to work with the private, public, and private-public sectors to achieve solutions. In addition, I believe my contributions to the research field will help grow social business, in turn mobilizing everyday people to approach social issues in new ways. This will inevitably make the job of any public official easier through generating resources, support, and political will for social change.

My weekly routine includes finding and culling a resource database, taking notes, and making updates to my IRB materials. A key lesson I learned this semester was the necessity of preparation, especially in research endeavors. The IRB process was a challenging but rewarding one that taught me a lot about persistence and communication. I recently received approval for my project, so next semester I will begin a rigorous schedule of networking, interviewing, and response analysis that will result in my finished project.

Monday, January 22, 2018

URSP Student Ahmad Mia Develops a Focused Ultrasound Transducer

During my internship over the summer my mentors emphasized the importance of research as well as how it provides one with a different perspective and an appreciation of the process. The applications of bioengineering range far and wide, allowing for different types of research. Like most people the idea of lasers firing away seems super cool; however, the application of lasers in the field of medicine is truly fascinating. My mentor and I decided after reading a paper where researchers collaborated to develop a focused ultrasound transducer using the photoacoustic effect that we wanted to build off of that.

Looking at my long-term goals in the field of biomedical imaging, the opportunity to conduct research with this program would be invaluable experience. I have been looking towards higher education and obtaining the knowledge needed that enable any engineer to function within the real world and skills that surpass the teachings but rather forces critical thinking where the answers may not be evident. 

The day to day usually consisted of creating slides using both epoxy and graphite to create the first layer for the heat transfer, waiting a day for that to dry to then apply a layer of PDMS.  Afterwards once both layers had dried we would prepare to test the graphite-PDMS layer, we would perform scans to determine where we could find the ultrasound signal within the sample.

One of the biggest things I learned during this whole process is that research is long, tedious, but extremely rewarding.  Despite the setback that one will eventually face during the process and the inevitable feeling of despair, nothing is more rewarding than when everything comes together at the last minute.

Friday, January 19, 2018

URSP Student Sara Huzar Studies How Policymakers Use Women's Rights to Support Their Arguments

“The Discursive Construction of Afghan Women in US Political Discourse” studies how women’s rights in Afghanistan are used in American policymaking as tools of argument to advance their policy agendas. I am studying the ways in which policymakers use women’s rights to support their arguments and denigrate their opponents. To answer this question, I read transcripts from the Senate and House of Representatives and analyzed them according to grounded theory. This means that I was pulling out quotes that mentioned Afghan women and categorizing them according to the purpose they served. As I got deeper into my sources, I was able to expand my categories into subgenres and find connections between them. I documented all of these processes in theory memos, which are the equivalent of field notes in a discourse analysis.

I became interested in this project when thinking about the nature of moral and humanitarian issues in political debate, specifically how humanitarian issues are linked to policy, and how anyone opposed to those policies can then be branded anti-humanitarian. To examine how this phenomenon occurs I chose to examine one humanitarian issue’s trajectory in political debates.

In the long-term I hope to apply what I found in my research to raising the level conscientiousness in foreign policymaking. While consideration of women’s rights in constructing foreign policy is undeniably important and necessary, my findings indicate that the US may be failing to do so in a way that is responsible and constructive.