Saturday, November 30, 2019

STIP Student Sanjana Raghavan Approaches Experimental Literature through Creative Writing

Hello, my name is Sanjana Raghavan and I am an English major with a concentration in literature. Although I am an English major and I love reading and analyzing texts, my passion lies in creative writing. This research project started when I was working on a flash novella with my mentor, Professor Laura Scott, and she suggested trying a symbolic story line to tie in the gaps. I decided to write about the life of a fruit fly, and that was where this novella was born. The fruit fly pieces held a different urgency, and were formed from vivid, stark prose. Initially, I wanted to challenge myself to write a more experimental novella and solely focus on the life of a fruit fly. However, the lure of paralleling an unlikely human protagonist (a gay and Indian (South Asian) American woman) with the fruit fly soon drew me, and I was struck by the idea of a character who was confined by her body and skin in the same way a fruit fly is confined by its life cycle.

On a weekly basis, I either write, edit, research, or collaborate with my peers or my mentor to workshop and implement edits. The vast majority of my process is simply writing, editing, and repeating the cycle until I arrive at a publishable product.

In terms of my long-term goals, I plan on going for an MFA in creative writing. I will submit my finished novella to literary magazines and publishing agencies, and I may also use it as part of my portfolio for the MFA application. This project was extremely helpful because I do not normally work in longer forms, and my work is not usually this experimental. I feel much more confident approaching longer forms and challenging myself to try new things in my writing. I also found peers who were working on similar projects, and their edits were very useful.

Friday, November 29, 2019

STIP Student Ben Rhoades Studies the Levels of Plastic Pollution Present in the Potomac River

I can see plastic everywhere now– and not just the water bottles on the side of the trail or the plastic bags in branches, but the tab you pull off of a disposable squirt bottle and the tiny corner torn off of a granola bar. The most visually impactful part of this summer has been picking through fully processed microplastic samples as we work to quantify just how much plastic pollution is present in the Potomac River and the streams that feed into it.

 Microplastics are pieces of plastic, either fragmented or intentionally produced, that are between 5mm and 0.3mm in diameter and are the center of increased media and academic attention. My lab partner and I have spent this summer studying these small bits of plastic in local waterways hoping to build off of the work of Mason PhD student Doreen Peters and the published work of Yonkos et al. (2015) who reported on microplastic in the Chesapeake Bay. Despite the work of both scientists, no data has been published on the presence, abundance, or concentration of microplastics in the Potomac River. This is where Han and I enter the scene.

Most microplastics research focuses on those plastics found floating at the surface of aquatic environments using a buoyant net named after its look-alike a Manta Ray. Using one of these Manta nets housed at the Potomac Science center, we’ve sampled Hunting Creek in Alexandria, VA; Gunston Cove in Woodbridge, VA; and the Anacostia River in Washington, DC. However, we also have used a novel stream sampling approach that uses a round-mouthed net anchored to either side of a stream and left for an hour to passively collect microplastics. Our lab’s principle investigator, Dr. Foster, and I sampled Accotink Creek, Cameron Run, and the Northeast Branch of the Anacostia River using our self-engineered technique. Finally, in an attempt to see if there is movement of microplastics into the food web, we extracted and analyzed the digestive tracts of four catfish.

Through this project, I hope to have some idea of an ideal sampling method that is representative of the who ecosystem a researcher is investigating, whether it is surface water sampling, sediment sampling, or fish-gut analysis. Also, am testing whether these sites differ in each of those sampling methods, and if so, what contributes to those differences. We have just finished our sample processing, which involved hours of drying samples, chemical digestion, picking at and counting plastics under a microscope, and finally I will have a chance to crunch our numbers and test these hypotheses.

 Looking back, I thought I would know what to expect with this summer: sampling, processing, analysis, etc, however, I’ve learned that each research experience is unique and rewarding in its own way. First of all, becoming familiar a with a completely new and ever-growing field of literature has been an exciting challenge. Also, working with old and new faces in the lab and in the field, I have learned that all PIs and lab partners are different and that relationships and expectations are always… plastic.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

STIP Student Sharif Qandour becomes Involved in Machine Learning and Convolutional Neural Networks

This research project presented itself to me with the potential to strengthening my Data Science and being able to dive myself further into academia and research before graduating. Before truly getting tangled in the research, I knew I would thoroughly enjoy learning about Machine Learning and Convolutional Neural Networks with its interdisciplinary utility. As this research focuses on using Computer Vision for image analysis of bruises, but fundamentally using feature detection can be executed on just about anything of interest.

With the long-term goals, I want to fortify my background in Computational Data Sciences with cutting edge machine learning techniques that will always be in my back pocket for Civil Engineering purposes. This isn’t replacing engineering work or design, only re-enforcing better techniques and computations. In terms of data fusion, this can be exceedingly supportive with decision making confidence especially when it is relying on data-founded understanding and prediction. Technology is going to ultimately make everybody’s life easier in the long run, and I would like to be part of the solution; if that is in the medical/health informatics field, Civil Engineering field, or any other.

The week begins with a Monday morning group meeting discussing our successes and failures and how to improve our trajectory for the research and well as key ideas to explore. During the week we are mostly conducting in depth research and experimentation; this is mostly writing scripts, troubleshooting, organizing input data and possibly running neural network trials, comparing and analyzing results. The week concludes with a team meeting on Friday with our other partner research groups, Health Informatics and Nursing, along with all respective faculty mentors discussing our goals and polishing our methodology. During my experience I was exploring the vast power of Convolutional Neural Networks to the benefit of the user. As a quick synopsis Convolutional Neural Networks is using a multitude of weighted equations to match many complicated features to a specific output. Not knowing how profoundly powerful different types of network architectures can be when placed in the right situation

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

STIP Student Humberto Portillo Webtool that Searches for Significant Differences within a Sample of Genes

I decided to get involved with this project because I thought it looked like a one of a kind opportunity that I simply couldn’t pass up on. As an aspiring Graphic Designer, it can be fairly easy to find jobs or opportunities that offer the typical kind of experience a designer may have in mind, for example designing business or marketing collateral. All of which is useful but it’s very rare and difficult to find an opportunity quite like this project. I enjoy the fact that in my career I get to be a part of something like this, to work on projects that are so complex that it not only challenges me but also, in a way, humbles me by exposing how little I understand of certain subjects. Being in a position like that you must exercise your ability to work in a team and the great thing about that is the benefits of team work only multiply. You not only strengthen your skills but also your ability to work within the group, and you also learn how extremely valuable great team members are. All of this serves as preparation for the future endeavors that I can only hope will grow as I move forward in my career.

Our project was building an online webtool that would find significant differences within a sample of genes. Our team was comprised of three groups: Front-end design, middleware, and backend development. I was part of the design team and our team faced many challenges each week, most of which were at a scale of difficulty we had never faced before. The design team wast asked with the entire front-end design of the website, which meant we had to design all of the user interface and branding of the site. On top of the design portion we also had to code all of the pages we had designed. Our goal was to create a webtool that was intuitive, well designed, and most importantly actually functioned with the backend code. Although it was a great challenge, I feel we not only accomplished our goal but also surpassed it.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

STIP Student Julija Pivo Explores the Narratives of Post–Cold War Lithuanian Immigrant Women

Hi! My name is Julija Pivo, and I am a rising senior in the Creative Writing program. I have been interested in the topic of Lithuanian immigrant narratives ever since I came to America myself, partly because I found that there were very few narratives written in English. The only one that I could find as a child was The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, which fails to even write a Lithuanian’s name correctly on the first page. Because of this, I wanted to reach out to other Lithuanian immigrants in my community and focus on the intersections between our experiences in order to tell a faithful narrative of our lives. My central focus was on women, and how their sense of family, community, and identity changed or shifted since they arrived to America. I hope to continue writing about Lithuanian narratives in the future, specifically with a focus on the crucial questions of identity and diversity. 

Most weeks were comprised of reaching out to Lithuanian women in my community, arranging interviews, and preparing questions to ask each one. Once those interviews were conducted, I took central ideas from each, focusing on the biggest differences and similarities, And on how they can be intertwined in the narrative I was creating. Then the rest of the time was spent outlining the novella as a whole, slowly piecing it all together bit by bit more details became clear.

I am truly grateful that OSCAR has allowed me to focus on my culture and heritage in a way that has helped me grow not only as a person, but also as a writer and researcher. I’ve been able to learn about the intersecting cultural beliefs that Lithuanians have, and how they view their connection to America. These have helped show me the importance of narratives in today’s global culture, as well as their importance in retaining a connection to our roots

Monday, November 25, 2019

STIP Student Gabby Patarinski Neurobiological Components of Cognitive Dissonance

Hi! My name is Gabby Patarinski and I’m a senior psychology major with a concentration in clinical psychology and a minor in neuroscience. This summer, I had the opportunity to work closely with Dr. Sarah Fischer-Nowaczyk, the professor in charge of the lab I’ve been working for since my freshman year. Dr. Fischer invited me to be a part of implementing her pilot study on substance abuse, decision making, and functional connectivity networks within the brain. To connect another subject to the topic, I decided to include additional self-report surveys that asses disordered eating traits. Impulsivity and poor decision making is often implicated in certain eating disorder habits, and so we thought it would be interesting to discover connections on these topics. Through this, my project, “Understanding substance use in decision making: The connection to eating disorder traits” came about.

My interest in the broad topic of body image began in my freshman honors research methods class, where I explored the connections between anorexia nervosa, body dysmorphic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder and raised questions about current and future diagnostic criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition. After a summer of working closely with women coming out of the criminal justice system, many of whom suffered from addictions, my interest in the topic of addictions sparked. I’m thankful to have already been a part of one of Dr. Fischer’s labs that explored the neurobiological components of cognitive dissonance—this experience allowed me to become familiar with the ins-and-outs of being a research assistant and introduced me to Dr. Fischer, whom I later asked to become my honors psychology mentor for my senior thesis project.

Recruited subjects for the study are initially screened to ensure they meet criteria, they then complete a number of self-report questionnaires, have a resting-state functional MRI scan done, and participate in 10 days of ecological momentary assessment. It was fascinating to learn about MRI scanning. My experiences in research help me pave the way to hopefully get into a clinical psychology doctorate program. The future is daunting, as are the admission rates, but I’m thankful to OSCAR for helping me prepare for the future and have this summer project.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

STIP Student Alexis Orbeta Explores Ecology and Forensic Entomology through Microscopic Examination

Having just completed my first year of college, I was incredibly excited in starting my journey of research and learning new things beyond the typical classroom. Once I heard about the summer team impact projects, I knew I would love it. I immediately applied for the Ecology meets Forensic Entomology project because of my love for forensics.

I have learned many things in the duration of this project including classification of flies and how to conduct proper field work. The majority of our work includes examining flies under a microscope and identifying them to either the taxon family or to genus and species. I often think back to when I was younger and dreamed of becoming a scientist. I would cheer whenever my teacher would divulge away from the typical lecture style and allowed us to have a more physical approach. I loved looking at the different objects under the microscope or dissecting organisms to learn more about how they function. Now, I get so excited knowing that I am living my dream of learning new ideas. I gaze into my microscope knowing that it was my favorite instrument. Now, I have many more instruments to use and get paid to do it!

This research project will no doubt help me in the future. It gives me experience to put under my belt which is always a necessity in our competitive world. It also allows me to see things from a different perspective. Many believe science to be an incredibly straight forward thing. They think that a scientist will think of a question, create an experiment, then immediately find the answer. However, this is simply not true. Science is a winding road of possibilities. It twists and turns and pushes you into unexpected territory. Research allows us to explore this new territory without fear. It gives us a chance to ask questions and to ponder not only the “Eureka’s!” but also the “Huh, that’s weird...”. It is this reason why I am grateful for this project and for the opportunity to be a part of something great.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

STIP Student Frederick Olson becomes Involved in American Sign Language Translation Research

Hello, my name is Frederick Olson and I am a rising senior with a major in Information Technology. The project that I am working on relates to trying to research and develop a system that can translate American Sign Language (ASL for short) into a language understandable to the person receiving it. Currently, the focus is having a system understand ASL and be able to translate it into English. What got me interested with this project was the fact that it was a project around ASL. Most of my immediate family are either deaf or hard of hearing- they use ASL as their primary form of communication. Due to my parents being deaf, I also learned ASL as a child and it was my first language. However, I was born able to hear so I usually helped them by translating for them so that communication would be faster, and they would not have to waste their time writing back and forth on paper. I heard about an opportunity to do research with ASL to try and create a system that could understand ASL and translate it in real-time, so those who communicate using ASL could have instant communication with anyone. This aspect was the thing that pulled me in as I would love to have my parents, and many, others be able to communicate with the rest of the world without as many struggles.

The goal for me in this project was to see if I would want to continue doing something like this, or if my passion/interests lies elsewhere. As for what I did, my part on the project was to collect data. For example, I would be recording myself weekly doing certain signs so that those developing the system would be able to have data to train and test on. One thing I learned is that, even if it seems that all you are doing is one thing that seems simple to you, it still can mean so much to the rest of the bigger picture being doing data collection seems simple, but without it the developers are unable to even run and test the system in the first place.

Friday, November 22, 2019

STIP Student Charlotte Nigg Works on the Conjugation of Cationic Peptides to Liposomes in the Targeted Delivery of Anti-Fibrotic Therapeutics to Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis Fibroblasts

Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis is an interstitial lung disease that affects the interstitium of the lung. This area becomes stiff through the increased collagen production of fibroblasts excreting an excessive amount of the protein, collagen 1A1. Throughout the summer semester I have created cell lines from patients who donated their lung tissue. The cell lines consist of fibroblasts from normal lung tissue and IPF lung tissue. This requires regular care and monitoring of the cells. While the cell lines are growing to a confluency that can be used to treat with the nano particles, I work on optimizing and creating the nano particles. The nano particles are made from lipids and encapsulate the anti-fibrotic drug Nintedanib. This drug is a current FDA approved market drug that is only one of two current drugs used to treat IPF. 

The goal is to create an improved delivery system of drug encapsulated liposomes to the hyperpolarized negative mitochondria in IPF cells. This is based on the findings that both IPF and cancer have hyperpolarized negative membrane potential, which is being used as a beacon for drugs to be trafficked to the desired sites. 

Throughout the summer I have made many batches of nanoparticles and have been testing their efficiencies in varies capacities. This includes the use of PCR, Western Blot, LC-MS, and dynamic light scattering. The dynamic light scattering showed the creation of a good liposome within the size range I was looking for. I plan on continuing my research into the fall and ultimately using the techniques I’ve learned as an undergrad in a graduate program or medical school.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

STIP Student Han Nguyen Researches Microplastics in the Tidal Freshwater Potomac River

My name is Han Nguyen and I am a rising junior majoring in Chemistry with a concentration in Biochemistry. This is my first summer participating in the OSCAR Summer Team Impact Project. Prior to participating in this program, I had never conducted a scientific study that is laboratory based or really gotten into the field to collect samples. Hence, what I have been doing in the past two months has been very fascinating because of the luring attraction of not knowing what I am doing. Under the supervision of both Dr. Gregory Foster and Dr. Dann Sklarew, I am currently working with another OSCAR student and a high school volunteer on the micro plastics team to determine the presence and abundance of micro plastics in the aquatic ecosystems of the tidal freshwater Potomac River. I specifically conduct a scientific research to determine the concentrations of micro plastics within the environment (i.e., surface water, sediment, stream) and learn more about the relationship between them and population density .We know that plastic or micro plastics contaminating the oceans is one of the world’s growing concerns, but there are things about micro plastics that remain understudied. This includes fate, behavior, and effects of micro plastics in freshwater. This is why when OSCAR’s micro plastics research theme arose, I could not wait to join this amazing team.

So far this summer my team and I have been doing a lot of field work and processing our collected samples for micro plastics quantification. We were very excited to have access to the new manta net designed specifically to sample micro plastics that PEREC got this year. I have mainly worked on processing rough samples and dealing with reaction-related tasks, and my teammates would handle the counting and computer work. But, of course we always look out for each other. As we are done with sampling, my team and I now spend most of our time in the lab together examining micro plastics through a dissecting microscope. We could not be more excited to present our results to and interact with general and academic audiences at OSCAR Summer 2019 Celebration of Student Scholarship and Impact. 

Researching micro plastics in the environment is a long-term task and quite challenging, but here with OSCAR initiating this line of research at the Potomac Science Center I am very grateful to OSCAR and my mentors for the opportunities and guidance.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

STIP Student Abhinav Mishra Investigates the Life of Thomas Mason

Numerous historical figures exist whose stories have been told, whose lives have been investigated, figures who no longer possess an air of mystery with them. But the research I embarked on was not about a well-known figure because books were not written about him, scores of interpretations about his life or legacy did not exist about him, therefore, I would be one of the first historians who would be narrating an aspect about this person’s lives previously not known before. Recognizing this reality pushed to research this relatively unknown figure called Thomson Mason. As I progressed throughout my research during the summer parts, there were certain parts where I struggled, felt lost, or was completely at a standstill. But that is the price one pays for being one of the first, and I was happy to experience these moments of struggle, which I eventually overcame. The research experience taught me a few lessons, which I will carry over as I move forward with my life. If at first you don’t succeed, try again and again until you strike gold. I have lost count recalling the number of times, where I had trouble finding a certain document or failed attempting to answer a particular question about my research because the historical document was inadequate in providing the answer I sought. In such cases, I kept looking and inquiring in order to unearth the document I hoped to find. Perseverance was my greatest tool, which pushed me at times, when I felt I was failing. Once I find the documents I desired, the difficult came in transcription and analysis. The difficulties of this stage were easier to overcome because my mentor aided me on how to view and interpret the document, so that I could my answer research question.

The crucial lesson of this research was seeking guidance can be an immensely helpful tool in one’s arsenal. Lastly, synthesizing my historical findings into a concise, visually based research poster taught me how to let write the essentials while leaving the superfluous out, a skill that I will continue to hone as I moved forward in time.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

STIP Student Jessica Donough uses Eye Tracking Software to Analyze the Impacts of Youth Oriented Packaging on Underage Drinking

The summer impact team that I am working on is investigating the how significantly youth oriented packaging can contribute to underage drinking. I was initially interested by the project because eye-tracking is the main method of data collection being employed. This physiological measure, in addition to participants’ subjective survey information and behavioral response measures, will give us a good picture of how salient, or attention catching these bright and youthful products are to underage consumers.

I am a Psychology student with a concentration in Human Factors, and see eye-tracking as a very useful tool that objectively tells you where an individual’s attention is being directed. This kind of information can be used to evaluate products and processes and subsequently inform their improved design. The combination of objective and subjective data collection helps to create a holistic understanding of what works well for a user and what does not.

As the Impact team that I am working on is comprised of seven other undergraduate students, we decided to each discuss a different aspect of our day to day work on this project. I will be talking about the process of coding our experiment images for regions of interest, or ROIs. When collecting eye tracking data, it is important to identify what areas of the screen that you are interested in collecting data from. In the case of this project, we needed to distinguish what regions of our images contained alcoholic drinks as well as any other youth oriented packaging such as energy drinks. This was done using a Python program developed by Dr. Peterson. Participants were shown 112 total images, many of which depicted complex environments like a grocery store, so that ecological validity could be maintained. It was our job to draw out the regions of interest in each scene and then categorize them based on its features (i.e. youthful, colorful, salient).

In this project, it was exciting to see how this kind of data could be applied to inform policy, rather than a consumer product. While our project is still on-going, we hope its findings will have an impact on public health and alcohol abuse.

Monday, November 18, 2019

STIP Student Ian Morrison Explored the Impact of the Size of Carcasses to the Types of Succeeding Species that are Attracted to it

This summer I participated in the “Ecology Meets Forensic Science Summer Team Impact Project” supervised by Dr. Joris van der Ham. I was initially attracted to this project because of my desire to potentially pursue lab work in the future. This project focused on the application of forensic entomology to both legal and criminal matters. One application for forensic entomology is the use of succession ecology to estimate the age of cadavers (postmortem interval–PMI) by determining the presence and absence of early and late succession species of insects. This project focused on how different sized carcasses impact the succession species that are attracted to the carcass.

A typical week primarily consisted of identifying and sorting the samples of insects that were collected from the carcasses during the first week of the project. The samples were sorted into flies, beetles and wasps, and from there into their respective genus and species.The samples were sorted using microscopes, tweezers and dichotomous keys. The sorted samples were then reviewed by the supervisor for accuracy. After all the samples were sorted, the number of each insects per species present in the sample were counted and compiled in an excel file for data analysis. While I don’t have a desire to continue to a pursue a career in forensic entomology moving forward, this project has taught me a lot about the application of the scientific method and how it can be effectively used in research. Being able to apply the scientific method is very important in scientific fields, especially in the field of forensic science because using the scientific method provides an objective, standardized approach to conducting experiments and, in doing so, improves their results. This improves the confidence the researcher can feel in their results and limits the influence of personal, preconceived notions.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to participate in this research project, and I believe it has been beneficial for preparing me for graduate school research as well as for any career that I pursue moving forward .In the forensic science field, having lab skills and lab experience are invaluable and set you apart from other candidates when looking for employment.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

STIP Student Jesse McCandlish Explores American Sign Language Recognition Softwares

In high school, I worked with my robotics team to demonstrate our robots in Richmond’s Maker Fest. While teaching the kids to build engineering toys, a small boy came up to build. Initially, he was unperceptive to instruction and ignored our help. It wasn’t until the mother came over and signed in American Sign Language (ASL) did I realize the child could not hear us. At that point, I was unfamiliar with ASL and unable to communicate with the mother or her son. I regret to say that child wasn’t able to ask questions about robots and get answers because we were unable to sign to him.

My freshman year of college, I signed up for an ASL class. I wanted to be able to work with all people and I wasn’t going to let a language barrier stop me. Since then, I have had little chance to use ASL outside of class until my professor approached me about OSCAR’s Summer Impact Project researching ASL recognition software. I was immediately ready to use my new ASL knowledge as well as my coding skills to help research a bridge across the communication gap.

When my team meets, it is often a mix of work and fun. We all get along wonderfully and enjoy helping each other out. We tend to start with a run-down of what needs to get done each day and a check-in toward our long-term goals. I then spend my time either recording ASL hand movements, coding scripts to transform or read collected data, or explaining the technical code to the other team members who are unfamiliar with Python and its libraries. My team often will end up repeating tasks like moving or combining files and ask me to automate the process. While I am coding, my team might have a great idea or discovery and we take to the white board for them to explain what I missed.

It has been wonderful working with OSCAR. I have learned how to work with a team and work towards a larger goal in small steps. I also am faster now at finding relevant research material both in and outside the lab. Overall, I am just overjoyed that I have been able to make communication easier for future generations.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

STIP Student Natalia Gutierrez Ribera Assists in Eye-Tracking Technology to Analyze how Youth View Alcohol Product Packaging

This summer I was assisting in a multidisciplinary research team using eye-tracking technology to investigate and analyze how the youth view alcohol product packaging. The results of this study could have public health and safety regulatory implications. Due to the nature of the research project, my day to day looks different every day. Some days I might be visiting classes at GMU to recruit participants. When visiting these places, I provide a verbal summary of what the study is about to the entire classroom and hand out flyers to students interested in participating. Other days when there are participants scheduled, I meet them at the specified assessment center and perform eye-tracking sensory evaluation. Prior to their arrival, I prepare the assessment by ensuring proper functionality of all equipment utilized in the experiments and looking at the log and record of participants to assign the respective ID number. When the participant arrives, I start first with the informed consent, then proceed with the different tests to make sure that the participant is qualified for the study. After that, I set up the eye-tracking machine and begin with the task. Lastly, I administer a survey and compensate the participant with a gift card and record it in the laboratory log. As a graduating senior I’m interested in getting practical experience in research related to health and this position is a great opportunity for me to do so. From my experience this Summer I expect to gain new skills that will be valuable for my future career in research as I consider graduate school.

Friday, November 15, 2019

STIP Student Nora Malatinszky Mapping Magyar Media:A Survey of Transitioned Power, Influence, and Impact through Post-Regime Change Hungarian Media

I came to begin this project because as an undergraduate research assistant, I have strong interests in formulating research questions and striving to find answers, not only for academic purposes, but also to apply them to real-world situations. During the fall semester of 2018, I began an independent study project pertaining to the culture of corruption in Eastern Europe. Shortly thereafter, I began working on a research project involving electoral behavior in Hungary as a result of populism, nativism, and economic uncertainty under the direction of Dr. Delton Daigle with the Schar School of Public Policy and Government. While this has always theoretically interested me, I was even more intrigued by how the results of my research could impact the people who are directly affected by structural problems in the region. Thus, I began wondering about another way in which Hungarians are directly touched by political problems: the media.

I found that media shapes perceptions of society, impacts beliefs on policy, and influences social and political behavior. However, I could not determine quite how. There was no source I could find that explained which news sources are funded by government cronies, what biases each media outlet holds, nor which cities have limited media accessibility. Then, I realized a potential solution: a database of Hungarian media that acts as a one-stop shop for analyzing these inquiries. It would help answer my questions of who controls media, and where it is made intentionally accessible or inaccessible.

Mapping the Hungarian media landscape has been a project that involves creating a dynamic database that will constantly develop and be updated after its inception, and can be actively used in future research pertaining to the influence of European media or case studies between different nations. As Hungarian citizens, this issue impacts myself and my family directly. Throughout the time I have spent in the nation, I have observed how individuals’ perceptions of Hungarian politics have been influenced by the media they are exposed to. Seeing first-hand how corruption can negatively impact one’s life and deteriorate one’s belief in a democracy, I have found that these issues must be acknowledged.

This research is especially important to me because I am a firm believer that everyone deserves a fair shot at life. I do not think society can expect everyone to achieve highly through hard work if some classes are pushing others down. This ties back to my studies at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, where we follow the teachings of Johan Galtung: he theorized that structural violence is a violence felt in people who are set up in systems of oppression, which can often be influenced by cultural violence and lead to physical violence. The lack of freedom felt by those in Hungary threatens the structures in which Hungarians reside and run the risk of deeply rooted structural violence.

Throughout the summer, I have been actively building a database on an online platform I created ( ). I have also spent time in Hungary researching these problems empirically, especially through contacting media directors and writers from a variety of Hungarian news organizations. This has provided me with further insight on the history of power exchange in Hungarian media which contributes to my knowledge of the root causes of the problem.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

STIP Student Grace Loonam Investigates Unknown Invasive Species of Snails in Woodbridge, Virginia

This summer, I have been working at the Potomac Science Center in Woodbridge, Virginia. I have been studying an invasive species of snails―termed mystery snails―and by collecting samples of these invaders and their native counterparts, I aim to learn more about the mystery snails overall, as well as how their parasitology differs from that of the native snails. This research is important because both invasive species and parasites threaten the biodiversity of an ecosystem, and biodiversity is important for ensuring that the ecosystem can withstand stressors and catastrophic events that would otherwise destabilize the ecological balance. The overarching project is focused on aquatic communities as bioindicators of change, and although the other members of my team specifically focus on the Potomac River for their research, I also sample from other rivers in the Northern Virginia area.

It’s been very exciting to take part in research that allows me to experience lab-based research as well as fieldwork. The amount that I’ve learned in both settings is unreal (pro-tip: it’s a lot easier to find and collect snails at low tide), and the following picture was taken of me while collecting snails from a site on the Rappahannock for the second time, as we could hardly find anything the first time around.

In the lab, I’ve been measuring the size of all of the snails I collect, and dissecting them to examine their gonads for parasites. I also record the gender and number of babies (if applicable) of the mystery snails. One of the characteristics I find most interesting about these snails is that they are brooders, meaning that they have embryos in a brood chamber at varying stages of development.

At the beginning of the research, it was expected that the invasive snails would have comparably less parasites than the native snails, as they are not from the region and thus they are not always susceptible to the parasites or recognized as potential hosts. For the first two sites, this trend was observed, but the Rappahannock site yielded mystery snails that were parasitized with an organism that is native to the Northern Virginia region, which could suggest further implications of parasite spillover and spillback. I’m eager to analyze my results to see if some of these results can be observed, as there’s not much literature regarding mystery snails, and it will be exciting to see what this project can add to it.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

STIP Student Sydney Gahr Designs TATA Webtool

I became interested  the Translating Significant Biological Data through a Novel, Intuitive Graphical User Interface project through a professor I had for my major. The professor, Shanshan Cui, reached out to me explaining the project and the role I would play in making this novel tool. I joined the team because I wanted the experience of working with a team from multiple disciplines and to be part of designing a tool that scientist may actually use. The project related to my long-term goals by allowing me to gain experience in designing and coding a website. When I graduate college, I want to work for agency or company that allows me to work with a team to get a project done. 
Once the project began, there were several tasks that I did on a weekly basis. One of the major tasks I did was designing and creating a brand for the website alongside two other designers. The design process began with sketches that turned into wireframes in Adobe XD.  In Adobe XD, the wireframes evolved as the designed changed for the novel tool that would be completely functional website by the end of the summer.  The branding aspect was formed through the design, which included selection of the color palette and typography, and the creation of the logo for the novel tool. The second major task I did was coding several of the designed page in Adobe Dreamweaver. As a graphic designer, my focus was on the HTML and CSS code of the page. Lastly, towards the end of the project my third task was touching up the design and code for the website to ensure optimal usability for users of the tool. The touching up included making sure elements on the page were aligned up properly, adjusting font size and weights where needed, and optimizing the code. Overall, the weekly task ensured that the final website was user friendly and cohesive. During this summer term Idiscovered the importance of breaking a major project into smaller projects in order to stay on track to get the final project done on time.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

STIP Students Erica Harp & Freddy Lopez Examine Eye-tracking Research to Examine Alcohol Product Packaging’s Appeal to Youth

This summer, I was a research assistant on the Summer Team Impact Project “Eye-tracking Research to Examine Alcohol Product Packaging’s Appeal to Youth” under Dr. Matthew Rossheim and Dr. Matthew Peterson. My partner, Freddy Lopez, and I focused on recruiting participants for the study throughout the summer. We targeted GMU summer camps for the 12-17 year-old age range and undergraduate and graduate summer classes for the 21-25 year-old age range. We sent emails out to professors and camp directors asking if we could recruit their students for our study. Upon approval, we visited many camps and classes and handed out flyers with information about the study and directions to sign-up to participate. Although we managed to recruit a good number of participants, our recruitment efforts were hindered by a variety of obstacles. Some of these included lack of responses from professors and camp directors, accommodating 12-17 year old’s needs such as transportation and parental consent, and lack of attendance from participants who had signed up to take our study.

As a Community Health major, I am very interested in the public health implications of this project. Not only are we gathering data on the health behaviors of both under-age youth and individuals over 21, our research is allowing us to learn about what kind of alcohol product packaging is most salient and attractive to youth. The possibility that the results of our research may impact policy development is very exciting and a great motivator for all of us in the group. I’ve learned that federal and state alcohol regulations have a very significant impact on the accessibility of alcohol and thus the public health of under-age youth. I hope to be able to continue similar public health research during the rest of my time at George Mason.

Monday, November 11, 2019

STIP Student Samuel Thomas Evaluates Subseasonal Forecast Skill for Hurricane Katrina

For my summer research project, I analyzed a set of atmospheric forecasting models in order to determine their forecasting skill during extreme weather events—specifically, for Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The forecasting models which I examined are appealing because they have the potential to provide forecasts from 1 through 4 weeks into the future—a significantly greater lead time than many other models in place today. I examined these forecasting models in order to determine if they could provide useful, accurate forecasts for extreme weather events such as Katrina—forecasts which could potentially be used to increase public safety and preparedness for events such as these. 

Being a math major, I enjoyed this research project because it allowed me to experience and learn about a field which I am still new to. I enjoyed learning about how these atmospheric models’ function, as well as the practical applications of math and computer science in this field. During this project, I learned a great deal about various programming and data visualization techniques, which are very useful skills for someone looking to go into a technical trade in the future. I am very thankful for the OSCAR program for giving me the opportunity to engage in this research project over the summer.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

STIP Student Angelina Mauriello Explores Ecology Meeting Forensic Entomology.

Being a forensic science major, there are lots of fields in this career that you could become interested in. With this summer research project, it introduced me to a lesson known field in forensic science, entomology. Forensic entomology is the use of insects in legal investigations. I was very interested in this project to see what I would find and figure out in this field that is less known and implement that in forensic investigations. Because this was a team effort, we were able to come up with different hypotheses to test based on the data we collected and analyzed. This helped open up to many different questions in forensic entomology that can be useful in real time.

This project definitely helped me dive into what research exactly is and practice lab skills needed for a future career. Our weeks this summer were spent analyzing our data from just one week of collection. The most stressful part was just learning in the first couple days how to analyze our data. After we got the hang of it, it was simple. However, we did have a lot of data so it literally took until the last day of the project to complete.

With this research project, I discovered I have patience and a willingness to learn. I learned about the field of forensic entomology, I learned how to conduct a research project, and I learned how a lab setting job is to just have patience. . I learned from others and improved my own skills and knowledge about this field. It was especially important to engage with each other’s work, ask questions, and learn about various scenarios. Many of these hypotheses turned out exactly how we expected and others were not similar to our expectations. This leads to having more research done in forensic entomology to hopefully be better understood.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

STIP Student Kim Mai Studies Carrion Insect Communities During Postmortem Decomposition.

My goal after my Junior year was to pursue research at Mason. I really wanted to gain hands on experience and expand my knowledge to help me pursue a higher education past my undergraduate studies. I found that opportunity through OSCAR’s Summer Team Impact Project. With my knowledge as a Biology major and having read Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, I joined Dr. van der Ham’s Ecology meets Forensic Entomology project. This project allowed me to study carrion insect communities during postmortem decomposition.

The first few weeks consisted of fieldwork were my teammates and I collected samples of carrion insects from decomposing rats, mice, and rabbit carcasses. The following weeks consisted of us identifying carrion and analyzing the data to test our hypothesizes. My hypothesis was on whether carcasses of different sizes have different carrion communities. This relates to how pig carcasses are often used in forensic entomology studies to emulate human carcasses, but pigs and cadavers are different in size. By analyzing the data, we collected, it was found that there was correlation.

What I found very impactful when working on this project was the importance of teamwork. While my teammates and I all had our different hypothesizes to study, we were all collecting data together and helping each other during this project. What I enjoyed most was hearing everyone’s point of view on the project, as most of us were pursing different majors and had a lot of different insight. I also got to learn so much from Dr. van der Ham, and his enthusiasm for this project made it a great experience. Overall, I can confidently say that I could not have had a better summer experience.