Tuesday, December 8, 2020

URSP Student Michala Conroy Studies Beliefs and Perceptions Surrounding Student Athletes and Dance Majors

My name is Michala Conroy and I am a junior studying Dance with a Pre-Medicine track at George Mason University (GMU). As a dance major at a liberal arts university, that is heavily invested in its athletics department, I get a unique glance into the inequality that exists between sports and the arts. During this pandemic, I have been in awe with how artists have responded to the loss of their jobs and livelihood with hope and selflessness. Professional dancers have been offering a plethora of free online classes, and many dance companies and Broadway shows are presenting their works online for everybody to view for free. This response has shown me just how important the arts and dance are in our world.

 My research analyzes the inequality surrounding the School of Dance (SoD) and the Athletics Department (AD) and explores the social boundaries between the athletes and the dance majors. To accomplish this task, I set up interviews with dance majors and students unaffiliated with either department. The interviews are taking place virtually and investigate the perceptions each group holds of the other group and the boundaries that are created between the groups.

 During the process of gaining IRB approval for my research questions, I was informed that to conduct research with student athletes I must gain separate approval from the Deputy Athletic Director. This was not a requirement for the other GMU students participating in the research. I discovered how differently the athletes are protected by the university compared to other students unaffiliated with athletics.

I hope to continue this research project and find a way to incorporate the student athletes along with athletic trainers from the AD and the SoD, athletic coaches, professors both from the dance department and other departments. I would like to investigate the beliefs and perceptions that people in charge of the students hold about both departments.

Friday, December 4, 2020

URSP Student Fazeela Wadan Studies Admission into Higher-Level Educational Institutions

My project deals with understanding admission into higher-level educational institutions and how it is impacted by claims these universities make and what is interpreted by the prospective students. Since I plan to attend medical school following the completion of my bachelor’s, I am intrigued to see how the grueling application process affects applicants. Based on the preliminary results and how far I get this semester, I hope to be able to continue this project in the future as well. 

Although my project in itself has not changed due to COVID-19, I have had to make many adjustments to my procedure as I am conducting interviews with human subjects for my data collection. Prior to the pandemic, I had intended on interviewing 20 first-year Mason students in person, however, due to the social distancing guidelines, I have had to move the interviews strictly through Zoom. In addition to the altered data collection steps, I have also had to adjust my plan of action in terms of outreach and finding volunteers to participate. Instead of being able to stand in the Johnson Center food court and hand out fliers in addition to emails which would have been much more efficient, I have had to limit the outreach to only emails. This has proven to be more difficult as I have not received as many responses as I would have with the original plans. With COVID-19, an average research day starts with me sending out a batch of emails advertising my research study to professors, requesting them to send the invitation forward to their students. If I were to receive any interested volunteers, we then find a suitable time for us to meet via Zoom to conduct the hour-long interview. Following this, the interview recordings are sent to be transcribed professionally in batches. The next steps of the project would be to receive the transcriptions back 1-2 days later. The files would be run through analytical coding software to annotate and tag the transcriptions in order to identify prominent patterns within the responses. As I am still in the data collection process, I have not yet analyzed the data and made any new discoveries as of yet.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

URSP Student Natalie Vandernoot Studies the Effects of Chronic Liver Disease on Patient Fatigue and Muscle Loss

Through the HHS 492 Clinical Research Internship course offered in the spring, I began studying self-reported fatigue in patients at Inova Fairfax Hospital. Thanks to the OSCAR Undergraduate Research Scholars Program grant, I am able to dig deeper into the effects of chronic liver disease on patient fatigue and muscle loss. I analyze self-reported fatigue and measures associated with sarcopenia in a de-identified dataset of patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and hepatitis C virus (HCV). Sarcopenia is a disease characterized by the loss of muscle mass or strength. It has previously been associated with aging, but recent investigations have identified the possibility of sarcopenia in younger patients with metabolic conditions and chronic diseases. We have incorporated sarcopenia into our study because the gradual loss of muscle mass impacts quality of life and the ability to participate in everyday activities.

In my spring clinical research internship, I was onsite at Inova Fairfax and was able to learn about the patient consent process in the intensive care unit, observe the research team generating data from participant visits, and work with my mentors to analyze the existing patient data. Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, I have been working online and my responsibilities have transitioned to be more focused on data analysis, literature review, and manuscript composition. Covid-19 delayed our ability to conduct laboratory tests on patient blood samples, but in the upcoming weeks we will be incorporating the data generated from ELISA tests that indicate the amount of specific myokines in the blood. Myokines are proteins released from muscles that circulate in the body and we are searching for a correlation between their presence and sarcopenia measures.

My chronic liver disease project has provided me invaluable opportunities for mentorship and an increased understanding of clinical research. I am planning to pursue a master’s degree and work in the fields of science policy and rural health advocacy. My experiences in healthcare research provide me with the background knowledge necessary to improve community health programs and work on policies with a unique view of the effects of chronic illness on day-to-day activities.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

URSP Student Timnit Sisay Explores the Relationship between Rheumatologic Autoimmune Disease and Non-Alcoholic Liver Disease

For my research project, I am studying the relationship between rheumatologic autoimmune disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Fatty liver is defined as fat build-up in the liver, and NAFLD refers to excess fat in the liver of individuals who do not excessively consume alcohol. Fatty liver is a common form of liver disease which affects about 25% of adults worldwide. Fatty liver and/or NAFLD prevalence is expected to continue to increase because of the rise of its risk factors (high blood pressure, type II diabetes, high cholesterol, and high BMI) as well as the rise of the sedentary lifestyle and western diet.

Why am I interested in the relationship between NAFLD and rheumatologic autoimmune disease? Preliminary data and surveys have shown that individuals with rheumatologic autoimmune disease may have a higher risk of NAFLD. This may be due to the inflammatory environment caused by autoimmune disease or medications (e.g., corticosteroids) which are taken by autoimmune disease patients. However, the relationship between these two diseases has not been studied nor definitely proven. Furthermore, autoimmune disease is an inflammatory condition which suggests that there may be immune system abnormalities. Therefore, I am interested in determining whether inflammatory disease is correlated with NAFLD. Also, I will determine if having a diagnosis of both NAFLD and rheumatologic autoimmune disease is correlated with other factors such as age, gender, and race/ethnicity. In addition, NAFLD prevalence will be determined by using metabolic syndrome as a surrogate for NAFLD diagnosis.

For me, a typical research day involves reading literature, analyzing data, and using statistical software. Thus far, I have enjoyed learning about the complex and interconnected relationship between inflammation, rheumatologic autoimmune disease, NAFLD, and metabolic syndrome. I hope that the results of this research can be useful for treating the patient population affected by NAFLD and autoimmune disease. Furthermore, this project aligns with my future goals. I have been enjoying the process of learning about autoimmune disease and NAFLD. This project has not only solidified my interest in medicine, but has made me even more excited to continue on this path.

Monday, November 30, 2020

URSP Student Alex Marchesani Researches Glutathione and How it Functions Inside Bacteria

My research deals with a molecule called “glutathione” and how it functions inside of the bacteria Francisella tularensis. Francisella is an unusual bacterium because it causes disease by growing inside a cell, more like a virus than a standard bacterium. Another example of an intracellular pathogen is Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the cause of tuberculosis. My mentor and I are studying glutathione in Francisella because it has been linked with the detoxification and the formation of DNA. My project aims to perform a literature review to compile all the current data about glutathione in Francisella to write a manuscript for my peers in the field. Review articles like this are important because they can introduce complex topics in a straightforward way and can reveal new avenues of research to explore. Unfortunately, these sorts of papers are not written often. Currently, we have just completed our first full draft and we are working on editing along with making figures and tables. We hope to submit the full paper for publication by the end of the semester.

This research has given me a unique experience. For one thing, I have discovered the reason why review papers are rarely written, they are very difficult to make! It turns out that compiling other people’s work provides a very different challenge that simply forming your own. For example, many of the papers I have read use a distinct naming format when talking about the genes of glutathione. This means that the same gene can be called two different things which is quite confusing! Another point of frustration has been the lack of data on certain aspects of my topic. Oftentimes, I find myself searching through dozens of papers to find a specific piece of information, only to conclude that no one has tested it yet. While this provides us with exciting new directions, the lack of knowledge we have can be irritating. However, it is not all doom and gloom. I have learned an enormous amount about my topic and ways to organize and present complex information. Before this project, I was not very adept at reading scientific journals. Now, I can quickly digest the information present and do not need to spend much time re-reading the same paragraph until I understand it. Overall, this work has been greatly beneficial to my career as a scientist and I am grateful to the OSCAR office, Dr. Karen Lee, and my mentor Dr. Monique van Hoek for this experience.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

URSP Student Kyler Buckner Researches Racial Inequality in D.C.’s Housing Crisis

The urban landscape of Washington D.C. is in flux. Municipal policy has consistently delivered displacement by design by prioritizing the interests of white developers at the expense of black and brown communities. However, at the same time there is a viral intolerance building up within the city, asserting not just a right to stay in one’s house as it, but a right to make a home.  My research revolves around one central question: in the wake of rapidly increasing rates of homelessness and expulsion, what alternative ways to design the city and generate home are taken up by communities in their fight against displacement?

Drawing on interviews I did with members of EmpowerDC (an anti-displacement NGO) as well as my own experience volunteering with them, I found there is radical potential for the city to plan itself, rather than be planned by. In the wake of a disastrous response to COVID-19 both federally and locally, EmpowerDC expanded mutual aid projects to provide hot meals, groceries, fresh greens, hand sanitizer, masks, and flowers to anyone who needs it—no questions asked. At a time where access to these resources can be a matter of life or death, how can these events be seen as a practice of home-making, of democratic planning by, for, and of the city? As I have found, these communities have forged more than material networks for survival. They also exhibit a way of relating to one another that cuts back at the profit-over-people rationale driving displacement in the nation’s capital, creating a sense of home amidst and against the threat of displacement.


Thursday, October 8, 2020

STIP Student Hannah Brennan Works Toward the Creation of the Non-Native Articulatory Corpus.

This summer I worked on a pilot project toward the creation of the Non-Native Articulatory Corpus. This is a database of acoustic and articulatory data of speakers of French as a second language. The acoustic data is made up of the participants’ audio recording, while the articulatory data is acquired using an ultrasound machine on the participants to record the movements of their tongues as they speak. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 we were not able to perform the articulatory aspect of the research, but we were able to get creative and focus on an acoustic pilot study where we walked participants through recording themselves on a video chat to collect our data.

We were able to prepare everything for when the researchers would eventually be able to work on the database to its fullest. This means that we worked on the creation of the stimuli, the parameters of the research, and the website which would hold the database. The longest part was the creation of the stimuli: we set out to create a list of 40-60 sentences which would encompass every possible sound combination we could think of in the French language.

Additionally, to further work with the data we collected, as well as to test out our processes, the interns divided into two groups to conduct our own studies using the stimuli and the recordings created for the database. My group looked at the voice onset time of voiced stops (/d b g/) and how their placement in the word and in the sentence, and the following vowel can change the speaker’s production of these stops.

I have learned so much over this summer, from using different software to having a more concentrated study in phonetics, and I have been a part of the field of research in linguistics as a whole as we came up with new ways to continue our research in spite of not being able to use our labs and some of our machinery. Most of all, I have had the pleasure of working on the beginnings of a project that will outgrow me and continue to be a resource for linguistic study.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

STIP Student Jordan Boyle Examines the Interconnectedness of Food, Energy, and Water Systems (FEWS) in Rural Rapidan

When I first applied for the FEWS Summer Team Impact Project, I never would have guessed that I would be doing my work remotely and meeting with my peers and project leaders over WebEx. The FEWS Summer Team Impact Project examines the interconnectedness of food, energy, and water systems (FEWS) in rural Rapidan, located in Culpeper County, VA and finding solutions to FEWS problems in the area. The location for this project was chosen for many reasons, one of which being that Rapidan is relatively close to Fairfax. This made it possible for the team members to be able to go to the project location and see the farms, observe the flooding of the Rapidan River, and speak directly with the community members. Of course, this did not happen due to COVID-19. However, the FEWS team did not let this alter the main goals of the project.

The FEWS Project shifted gears. Now, instead of in-person interviews, we have been meeting with dozens of farmers, community leaders, and community members online. On a positive note, it has allowed us to interview many more people than expected, because working remotely has increased the flexibility of many people’s schedules. Our enthusiasm for this project has certainly not been stifled by COVID-19, as we have been able to meet virtually with so many locals of Rapidan and Culpeper County and deepen our understanding of the various issues they have been facing. Flooding is a prominent issue for many community members. Obesity and adverse health effects of malnutrition are two more prominent issues. I could go on and on about the multifaceted issues that community members of Rapidan have faced, but our project is still ongoing and every day we learn more about the negatives and positives of being a resident of Rapidan. Our hopes for this project remain the same during COVID-19: that we can find solutions for Rapidan residents and work to solve the issues relating to food, energy, and water systems in their town.

Monday, September 21, 2020

STIP Student Sarah Blanton Studies Student Activism, Well-being, and Burnout

My name is Sarah Blanton, and I am entering my senior year studying Global Affairs at George Mason. During the summer, my colleagues and I have continued a project Dr. Cher Chen of the School of Integrative Studies started about a half-decade ago on student activism and well-being. Although literature on student activism is well-established, almost no studies address student activism, well-being, and burnout in conjunction. This study seeks to address this gap in research, and eventually provide the foundation for student support networks to be built. We worked with 3 faculty members: Dr. Chen, Dr. McCarron, and Dr. Cai. I worked on a team of 6 undergraduate researchers. My colleagues were divided into three teams: Women’s Rights, Racial Justice, and Immigration Rights. Our teams contacted participants in the relevant areas, and conducted interviews for participants with activist interests which matched our teams. My partner and I, Anagha, worked on the Women’s Studies portion of the project and also interviewed LGBT+ activists. 

In order to meet COVID-19 guidelines, all of our meetings have been conducted virtually. All interviews with participants were entirely digital, using the Blackboard Collaborate function. We recorded and transcripted interviews using the Otter.ai app, and polished transcriptions by correcting any discrepancies between the transcription and audio file. We also attempted to address how the pandemic places a strain on student activists by incorporating questions about well-being and COVID in our interviews. 

Although I have about a year of qualitative research skills, this has been my first experience gathering data. I really enjoyed conducting interviews, and my passion for the subject motivates me to do the best work possible. By learning to conduct interviews, I gathered a valuable research skill which will stay with me throughout my career. Transcribing has been an exercise in concentration and attention to detail. The most valuable thing I have learned during this project is how to code transcripts, which I have aspired to learn for over a year. I am so grateful for the opportunity to finally understand this process. I feel like I have all the tools I need to conduct my own research projects in the future. Hopefully, having this knowledge will make me more competitive for TA positions or graduate research positions, since I have always dreamed of continuing to grad school and need to finance my ambitions.


Thursday, September 17, 2020

URSP Student Dominique Bernardino Creates a Short Film Simulating the effect of Drug-related Violence

For my project, I am going to create a short film simulating the effect of drug-related violence on children in the Philippines. I was motivated to pursue this project because I believe that it is an important story that must be told to the world through a visual narrative. Since being given this opportunity, I have been working closely with a production team in the Philippines to successfully execute pre-production, production and post-production.

Now that my team and I are nearing the post-production phase of the project, I began to realize how fast everything went by, and how I have not been able to process all my achievements, big or small. Now that I have taken the time to indulge in these new experiences, I realize how this summer has been eye-opening, encouraging and fulfilling. I learned more about the film industry in the Philippines and how they operate in these struggling times. I also learned more about myself and how I work in fast paced environments. Originally, I was supposed to create a fiction film a big production crew, but due to COVID-19 I transitioned toward a smaller production for a non-fiction film, with an entirely new script and approach. Instead of traveling to the Philippines to direct the film, I have been working remotely with a team of six. I have been actively meeting virtually with this team. Also, instead of interviewing children affected by the war on drugs, I consulted with a psychiatrist who worked closely with the children in order to gain a deeper understanding of the children’s experience and to get their approval for the script.

In the beginning, the weight that COVID-19 had on my project was overwhelming, but I soon turned it into motivation that fueled my passion for filmmaking even more. Through this opportunity, I will be able to take a closer step into the film industry by submitting my film to local and international film festivals.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

STIP Student Sydney Allworth begins to Build a Non-Native Articulatory (NNA) Corpus Online

 The broad goal for this summer was to begin building a Non-Native Articulatory (NNA) Corpus online; the idea was that other researchers could use the articulatory and acoustic data compiled on this corpus in order to explore their own research questions about second language (L2) acquisition. Although the long term goal for the corpus was to compile data from L2 speakers of any language, we planned on starting with speakers who’s L2 is French this summer. Little did we know that we would need to narrow our scope much more significantly in order to adapt to the changes caused by Covid-19. 

Because the goal was to build an articulatory corpus, we originally planned to collect both auditory and articulatory data to measure how each speaker was producing speech sounds in French. We set out to use ultrasound technology in order to capture images of speech while in action, but we soon discovered that even collecting audio in person was unlikely. This is when we changed our course for the summer. Instead of launching the corpus itself, we would be focusing on building its core structures such as the language background questionnaire and list of stimuli. In addition to this, we would conduct a pilot study focusing only on the analysis of auditory data that was collected and sent to us remotely.

While this is a much more modest plan than we had before, we still had a lot of work cut out for us. After a full month of remote training, we put all our effort into developing a questionnaire that would provide pertinent information on the many variables that go into L2 speech production, as well as creating a stimuli list that contained as many possible sounds—and sound combinations—as are known to appear in the target language, French. However, the hardest part was yet to come: data collection and analysis. We were only able to recruit five speakers—three non-native French speakers, and two native French speakers who served as controls—but annotating the 825 sound files they produced certainly took up plenty of our time, and we were able to find many interesting patterns.

Though we were limited greatly by the reality of the global pandemic, I gained extremely valuable experience while participating in this Summer Team Impact Project. Not only did I learn more about Linguistics and the research community, I also learned some computer programming techniques that I doubt I would have encountered on my own had I not participated this summer. As a freshman at GMU last year, I didn’t expect to come across an opportunity like this. I’m incredibly proud to have been a part of such an interesting and important program.


Monday, June 8, 2020

STIP Student Javi Talavera Develops a Wheelchair Training Simulation for Wheelchair Users

This semester my project was to develop a wheelchair training simulation that would
automatically generate training scenarios for wheelchair users. The goal of my research was to
find an effective alternative to current wheelchair training methods. The three main methods of
training that my team and I identified was the use of a human coach, self teaching through trial
and error, and video tutorial or instructions manual. Of the three we identified our focus was on
solving limitations including things such as lack in variability of location or time when training
can be completed.

The first step to my project was to create the automatically generated environments in a
software known as Unity. The generation of the scenarios used a cost based approach combined with the Metropolis Hasting Algorithm ​to generate indoor environments with a specified training path for the user to follow. Working on this taught me a lot about a machine learning technique
known as reinforcement learning and how to apply it in my simulation. Before working on this
section I knew very little about acceptance algorithms such as the Metropolis Hasting algorithm
and did a lot of research on the benefits that came with using it in the generation of my training
simulation. By working on this part of the project I gained more experience in the Unity software
and how to apply different abstract concepts in my coding.

After the simulation was created the next step was to create the movement of the virtual
wheelchair. This was accomplished by using trackers that were placed on each wheel of a
manual wheelchair. The rotation of the wheels on the wheelchair were tracked and translated to
movement in the virtual space.

The next step was to perform the user study and collect our data. I was fortunate enough
to perform the user study before everything with COVID-19 took place leaving me with just the
need to compile the data for my research.  I continued to meet with my mentor on a weekly basis
through the use of google hangouts to compile the data. With the data I was able to conclude that
our training method did increase precision and maneuverability of the wheelchair of those put
through the simulation. The next steps to this project are to look at how to include realistic
outdoor environments for the user to train in.

My experience with URSP was a very rewarding one and helped me learn a lot about the
research field and how to adapt to different situations. It also gave me the opportunity to gain
hands-on learning in fields of research that interests me and overall has provided me with a very
beneficial experience.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

URSP Student Leela Yaddanapudi Develops a Hate Speech Detection Algorithm for Political Hate Incidents on Twitter

This semester, I worked on a project related to Twitter data analysis on politically motivated race-related events. This includes the trial for Patrick Crusius’s El Paso shooting at a Walmart in Texas, incidents of hate on college campuses, and other crimes committed by political extremists in 2020. Tweets on each of these incidents were gathered and categorized into non-offensive, offensive, and hate speech categories. The goal of this project was to design a machine-learning algorithm that could effectively determine hate speech from tweets related to politically motivated events. The jargon for political hate speech is constantly changing, which was why I decided to specifically focus on current politics to design the most effective algorithm. Additionally, many studies suggest that a strong correlation exists between online hate speech and offline violence. Researchers are constantly trying to improve machine-learning hate speech algorithms and I attempted to design an algorithm of my own that could pick up on the most concealed variations of political hate speech.

For most of this project, I used python to gather and analyze my tweets, the hate base API for testing, and Octave to compare the accuracy of the results from my algorithm with existing hate speech detectors. I fed the machine-learning algorithm four out of the five incidents of hate, which consisted of 80% of the tweets gathered, and the rest were used for testing. The algorithm had an accuracy of about 81% while the Hate Base API was unable to categorize even the most obvious political hate speech. I also performed some qualitative analysis on the tweets gathered by analyzing how sentiments and popularity of tweets changed following the first few weeks after an incident occurred.

My project was originally geared towards qualitative analyzation of the tweets using the hate base API. However, after discovering that it was not able to detect political hate speech at all, I decided to design my own hate speech algorithm, which took up most of my project. Originally, I planned on performing more testing related to political hate incidents in 2020. However, due to Covid-19 and quarantining, I couldn’t find as many political hate incidents that went viral on Twitter, so I was unable to gather as many tweets and perform the testing I wanted to. Instead, I just worked on further qualitative analysis of the tweets and comparing my hate speech detection algorithm against the most widely used hate speech detection platform, Hate Base. In terms of my next steps for this project, I plan on making my hate speech algorithm broader because it is only able to recognize political hate speech currently. Additionally, I hope to utilize the viral tweets generated by future hate incidents on social media to further teach my machine-learning algorithm and increase its accuracy.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

URSP Student Arielle Rosenberg Creates a Uyghur Genocide and Human Rights Awareness Campaign

As an aspiring human rights attorney, I am always looking for ways to get involved in major social issues and attempt to make a difference. I constantly ponder the questions of “Why do atrocities keep happening?” “What drives people towards involvement in Human Rights issues?” and “How do we best approach this situation to ensure lasting and significant resolutions?” As a Jew, I have always been particularly troubled by the concept of Genocide, intending to focus my career around anti-Genocide and humanitarian efforts. Thus, when I first began hearing about the Uyghur Muslim situation occurring in the Xinjiang region of China today, I could not simply sit idly back and watch things unfold to mimic previous Genocides throughout history. Therefore, I decided to be both proactive in my advocacy and my research in order to understand what drives others to get involved in Human Rights causes and attempt to make a contribution to the human rights and conflict resolution fields. 

With the help of my amazing mentor, Dr. Douglas Irvin-Erickson, and research partner, Quinton Walsh, I was able to articulate the goals and methodology of our potentially groundbreaking research project and earn funding to carry out such research. The road that followed has not been an easy one; between balancing an 18-credit course-load and struggling to obtain IRB approval for my research, we were initially off to a slow start. Just before Spring Break though, we were able to obtain the approval we needed to conduct our research, and things had started looking up as we began coordinating with academic departments for their cooperation in the project. 

Our original plan was to utilize surveys of on-campus populations, whether they be students, faculty members, or workers, to understand what was previously known about the Uyghur situation prior to our campaigning efforts, then to enact what we call an “awareness campaign” in which we conduct on campus tabling, speaking events, film screenings, and a congressional letter-writing initiative to measure the change in participant knowledge about and attitude towards the Uyghur situation throughout the semester of activism. But then, COVID-19 struck, and we were unfortunately unable to return to campus to complete our research. Our project, in its fundamental methodology and planning, is dependent on in-person participation and does not have the capability of reaching the audience and results we desire without on-campus activities.

Despite the bleak fate of our project for the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester on campus, I have remained steadfast in my efforts to raise awareness of the Uyghur situation; utilizing my personal social media to spread knowledge of the situation and educating friends and family myself on the situation. Additionally, my teammates and I were able to adapt to the current COVID-19 situation by taking proactive measures to utilize our funding and re-design our project for the Fall 2020 semester. Adapting our project and coming to the ultimate decision to put off our primary efforts until the Fall of 2020 was a difficult decision to make, as we realize our project has the capability to alter the lives of others, if successful. However, we had to realize that our efforts and findings would not be anywhere near as accurate and attainable as we had hoped in our original planning, and thus it was necessary to postpone our project for a semester. Although our hope is to be able to return to campus in the Fall to conduct our project the original way, we will at least know early enough this time around if we need to utilize a “plan b” for conducting our research entirely or partially virtually. We plan on effectively implementing our research and findings in the Fall of 2020 to continue our efforts, even if in a non-traditional way, to contribute to the Human Rights and Conflict Resolution fields and make a positive impact on the lives of others.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

URSP Student Ali Ahmad Investigates the Effects of Lead on Metabotropic Glutamatergic Receptors in the Brain

This semester I conducted research on the effect of lead on metabotropic glutamatergic receptors in the brain. It is widely known that chronic exposure to lead can cause serious neurological damage, potentially causing deficits in cognitive development. The goal of my research was to detail the specific mechanism in which lead affects our brains. Lead targets specific receptors in our brains that control the transmission of glutamate, a neurotransmitter that is vital in cognitive development. The specific receptor my project focuses on is the mGluR7a metabotropic glutamatergic receptor. To test the function of this receptor, Xenopus Laevis oocytes were used as a model system.  

The first objective of my project was to build a fully functioning electrophysiology lab where I could conduct the experiment. This involved purchasing and setting up microscopes, displays, a perfusion-vacuum system, and a two-electrode voltage clamp system. A variety of electrophysiology solutions were also made to be used later on. Prior to actual experimentation, I practiced techniques such as injecting the oocytes to help me during the actual experiment. These skills and materials were to be used to begin recording data and measuring the response of these oocytes in the presence of lead. 

However, before any conclusive data was obtained, COVID-19 forced us to stop our work in the lab. Eager to continue my project, I worked with my mentor Dr. Greta Ann Herin, to find a way to continue researching my topic. Dr. Herin provided me with existing data that gave me a look at how lead impairs the function of these receptors in oocytes. This allowed me to reach a conclusion that lead does indeed impair these glutamatergic receptors in a concentration-dependent manner. 

Overall, my URSP experience allowed me to build on a critical skill in the field of research, which is adaptability. Despite the COVID-19 crisis, I was still able to continue my project and present my research. Moving forward I hope to soon be able to get back into the lab and continue the research process.

Monday, May 11, 2020

URSP Student Paresha Khan Researches Lead Poisoning in Frog Eggs

How does the glycine receptor contribute to the cognitive-behavioral effects that humans experience due to lead poisoning? I am interested to study this research topic because lead poisoning has been an issue for a long time now. Apart from children acquiring lead poison by accidentally eating dirt, some older homes still have lead paint on their walls which also contribute to accumulating in the soil. This can prevent families from planting fruits and vegetables in their gardens. Although lead poisoning has its cures, the detrimental effects left in someone’s brain after getting the disease remains. People with lead poisoning can develop problems to their cognitive ability which can affect motor function, memory, vision, and the ability to make decisions. 

Therefore, I am specifically studying glycine receptors because they are responsible for fast inhibitory neurotransmission in the CNS, predominantly in the spinal cord and brainstem as well as the retina. This receptor in the human body plays a role in allowing neurons to fire so that signals can be sent to our brain in order to complete everyday tasks. By using the glycine receptor, I will be injecting frog eggs with several solutions to see how lead poisoning affects the way they function. 

Apart from conducting the actual research, I play a role in actually building the neuroscience lab from scratch. Dr. Herin is the first professor at George Mason to be studying this topic; our team has put together all of the equipment and protocol necessary for this project every week. We have put together two microscopes, the current and voltage meter needed to measure the frog eggs, a TV in order to see the microscopic images in high definition, making solutions needed for the injections, and setting up the test tubes needed for the solutions. Last week, we started injecting the frog eggs for the first time with DI water. By practicing this technique, we plan on injecting the eggs with RNA after spring break. After our group becomes acclimated to injecting the eggs, we will begin the research project with the glycine receptor. 

In the long-run, I think that this project will give us great results that will show us how lead poisoning can affect frog eggs. We can run multiple trials with various solutions to cure the lead poisoning while also observing the negative cognitive effects it leaves behind. Apart from this project, I strongly believe that we are building a useful lab that future students at George Mason University can use.

Friday, May 8, 2020

URSP Student Sara Jeffreys Researches Dwarf Galaxies

I am currently pursuing a career as a professor to study Astronomy, and I have found a
passion for Radio Astronomy, specifically. This is the study of the universe in different
wavelengths of light, usually in the Radio frequency, but it can sometimes include others. I have studied galaxies in in the past in my courses, and found myself to be very interested in them from the start. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to pursue my interest in galaxies through this research project. 

Dwarf galaxies are so different from larger galaxies, and very hard to study because of their small size. My research has hopefully enhanced our knowledge of them. Scientists have made the connection that in larger galaxies there is a linear correlation between the Radio continuum and Infrared luminosities. Because dwarf galaxies are so much smaller, their characteristics tend to be different than larger galaxies, and do not follow this relationship for some reason. What will the lack of a linear correlation in dwarf galaxies do to the Radio-Infrared relation plot? Is there even a Radio-Infrared correlation to be found in them? If not, then what makes the dwarf galaxies different? 

 My research has given me the opportunity to study the properties of a group of dwarf galaxies. I have calibrated data of a dwarf galaxy in the Radio frequency and imaged and measured its flux value. Over the past few weeks, I have taken a more programming approach, thanks to the pandemic, and began the plotting phase of the research. I actually created a final plot that compares the dwarf galaxies we studied with a random set of normal sized galaxies in the Infrared vs Radio. The results were not what we expected them to be, and so I am excited to further continue this research in different Radio emissions band, to see if the unexpected trend will continue. Therefore, I will continue to program and do my literary research in order to understand exactly what is going on with dwarf galaxies. I am thoroughly excited.

Monday, April 20, 2020

URSP Student Katie Russell Researches Population Sizes of River Herring in The Potamac River

This semester, in Dr. Kim de Mutsert’s fish ecology lab, I am conducting an OSCAR project where I am researching population sizes of river herring, the collective name for alewife and blueback herring, in three tributaries of the Potomac River. River herring have historically had important commercial and recreational value, but in recent years have experienced population decline. In my research, I utilize field collections and data analysis with the goal of determining differences in population sizes of river herring between three tributaries in the Potomac River. I’m also researching which water quality parameters (such as pH, water temperature, etc.) may have an influence on the river herring population sizes. Each of these tributaries receives different amounts of treated wastewater discharge and runoff from impervious surfaces like streets. Both discharge and runoff can impact water quality, which in turn can impact populations of fish such as river herring.

I became interested in researching river herring after spending the summer of 2019 monitoring a commercially important run of sockeye salmon for the U.S. Forest Service in southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. Upon returning to George Mason in the fall, I wanted to continue working with fish like salmon, so I started to work in Dr. de Mutsert’s lab at the Potomac Science Center and developed an interest in river herring. River herring are similar to salmon in that they are both anadromous, which are fish that spend their adult life in the ocean but return to freshwater tributaries to spawn. Doing research on river herring is preparing me to do a graduate degree in fisheries, where I hope to conduct research on anadromous fish that are important to humans. Eventually, I hope to become a fisheries biologist for the U.S. Forest Service and manage projects aiding in the conservation of fish.

On a weekly basis, I typically spend several hours filtering river herring data collected over the past several years and analyze the data statistically for relationships and trends. Starting in mid-March, I will collect new data for this year by making field collections and observations of river herring and water quality data with other individuals in Dr. de Mutsert’s lab to complete my OSCAR project that will be important in my career pursuits.

Friday, April 17, 2020

URSP Student Alexis Robbins Creates a Data Analysis Platform for Biomarker Identification in Lung Cancer Immune Therapy

The objective of this project is to create a computational platform to be used by researchers to more easily assess histochemical images. The specific application that is being focused on are images of lung cancer tissue biopsies. I became interested in this project because I am deeply passionate about oncology research. The prevalence of cancer is astounding; 1 in 2 American men and 1 in 3 American women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. Research to improve treatment and screening of cancer is imperative. Given my experience in my major, bioengineering, and through past research in data mining, I felt confident that I could do this crucial project justice.

This project related to my long-term goals in many different ways. After I graduate from Mason, I will pursue research in health care. This research experience will give me vital insight and skills that will be valuable and translatable to my future career. On a weekly basis, I am programming to optimize my software platform. There are many design decisions that need to be made on top of getting the software to even work as best as possible. I have learned a lot already this semester. I have gained a greater understanding of the biology behind lung cancer and some treatments associated with this disease. This project is also my first experience with software development which is valuable knowledge in a world becoming more technological by the day.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

USRP Student Jasmine James Investigates The Relationship Between Vitamin A Derivatives and Zebrafish Embryo Development

My name is Jasmine James and I am a junior, biology major and data analysis minor. This semester I am participating in URSP to answer a question I have been wondering about for years. The question stems from something my mother used to tell me a lot, “When I was pregnant with you, I couldn’t get a relaxer”.

There are many factors which can affect pregnancy, one of which is a chemical compound called retinoic acid. It is a naturally occurring chemical, which in regulated doses promotes the development of the spine. However, it is also known to have negative effects when introduced in excess. There are also multiple chemicals which are very similar to retinoic acid, such as retinol and retinol palmitate. Retinol is a major portion of Vitamin A and is how retinoic acid exists prior to its conversion after being taken into the body. Retinol palmitate is the synthetic version of retinoic acid which is used in cosmetics such as sunscreen and hair relaxers. I began to wonder if these two compounds have the same effect on the embryos as retinoic acid. 

To determine the effects, we used the model organism of zebrafish. They are the prime model for studies involving embryo development due to how rapidly they develop, and how easy they are to care for.  I have been working with Dr. Olmo to study the zebrafish embryos until they reach 72 hours of life before imaging them and analyzing the images. We analyze how their tails are bent based upon exposure group: retinoic acid, retinol, retinol palmitate, or negative control. Through this process I hope to delve as far into my research as I can to gain a better understanding of vitamin A derivatives, and the complex nature that is developmental biology.

Friday, March 20, 2020

URSP Student Mitch Martinez Works to Research and Develop a Cyber Reconnaissance Working Dog System

Working dogs often play a niche role in various military operations and investigations. They are are historically recognized for their unique sensory and search capabilities in which humans have vitally depended on. Growing up, working dogs have always been an integral part of my life. My dad was a former explosives canine handler and division specialist. In Fall 2019, I was looking for a course project that I could use to simultaneously further my experience outside of the classroom. So, I decided to look at what I already knew. I discovered that non-line-of-sight (NLOS) canine control was well sought after by handlers and that little research had been conducted involving working dogs in the cyber domain. I initiated a plan of research and began reaching out to canine trainers and relevant researchers. I asked my professor, Dr. Winston, to mentor a project that bridges the gap between working dogs and cybersecurity.

Despite recent developments in artificial intelligence and an increased emphasis on robotics, nothing compares to the to the portability, agility, and trainability of working dogs in mission environments.  By developing a mobile low-power signal and packet gathering sniffer, harness-wearing working dogs would be able to directly contribute to passive reconnaissance operations as the delivery device to areas of interest.  Once the dog reaches the target location and hides, operatives would then be able to remotely execute probing commands and automated scripts utilizing modern hacking software and log analysis tools. However, long distance off leash handler-to-canine communication remains a challenge. 

Nevertheless, based on current canine training practices, this project aiming to solve the dilemma by integrating established lidar, radar, and GPS technologies coupled with wireless signal capturing capabilities. Following a ‘just enough data’ paradigm, fault tolerant NLOS communication between handler and canine may be achieved

By utilizing a smartphone, microcomputer, and software-defined radio, remote communication via audio frequencies and harness vibrations may be established over a peer-to-peer LTE network supported by machine learning detection algorithms and signal engineering techniques. The development of this technology would provide governments and agencies a niche risk averse alternative to unmanned-aerial-vehicles and hardware dead drops. The intended cyber psychical system use-cases are for discrete night operations where human-threatening boundaries are present. Working dogs may be the most reliable and non-invasive weapon for delivering cyber reconnaissance tools in these scenarios.

Monday, March 16, 2020

URSP Student Ellie Carlson Researches the Experiences of Mobile Food Venders in Washington D.C

Last spring, I conducted a research project about the experiences of mobile food vendors in Washington, D.C., through OSCAR’s URSP.  My favorite part of this experience, by far, was the data collection phase.  On a typical day of collecting data, I would canvass food truck hotspots around the city and interview vendors during the downtime before the lunch rush.  Vendors shared their stories, offered tips and tricks of the trade, and gave me the lowdown on what’s happening in the vending community. At one point, I was even recruited on board to help cater to a sudden crowd of tourists!  

While there were many laughs, almost everyone shared their struggles since the city enacted more restrictive vending policies.  Many traditional street vendors disclosed multiple arrests, criminal charges, and excessive fines as a result.  On the other hand, many gourmet food truck drivers shared stories of success and how they expanded their businesses despite the change in policy. This contrast begged the question: why are the experiences of mobile food vendors who operate in the same industry, governed by the same set of rules, so different? As it turns out, my findings from last year raised more questions than answers that I hope to address in continuing my research this semester.  

 Overall, my URSP experience enhanced my education in so many ways. It enabled me to follow my curiosity, challenge myself as a student, and explore a different career path that I would never imagine considering. It also gave me a chance to engage with student researchers from various disciplines.  I found it incredibly inspiring and motivating to join a community where everyone is just as excited about following their curiosities. Finally, this experience fostered a greater appreciation for my education. It offered me a unique vantage point where I could see the culmination of all the knowledge and skill that I’ve worked so hard for throughout my years at Mason. This makes it all worthwhile.  

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

URSP Student Allison Dockum Explores the Differences in the Tibialis Anterior between Able-Bodied and Drop Foot Subjects Using Sonomyography

The goal of my project is to image the muscular differences in the tibialis anterior (located in the shin) between able-bodied and drop foot patients using sonomyography, also referred to as ultrasound. This will be done as a first step in my long-term goal to create an alternative method for the treatment of drop foot. Drop foot (sometimes called foot drop) is a neuromuscular condition that prevents a person from lifting their foot in dorsiflexion during the heel strike phase of the gait cycle. Current treatments include ankle-foot orthosis (AFO) and functional electrical stimulation (FES). However, both treatments are limited in their ability to provide a long-term therapeutic treatment of the condition. A therapeutic treatment improves muscle function over time and helps the patient regain independence. Eventually, I would like to combine the AFO and FES treatments in new, hybrid device, hopefully able to provide a novel therapeutic treatment. 

I am passionate about this research from my own personal experience with drop foot. Frustrated by the inefficiencies with AFO’s, I decided to create my own. I learned along the way how FES was being used to treat drop foot and decided to incorporate it into my design. The mentorship of Dr. Siddhartha Sikdar and PhD student Joseph Madji have helped me explore my interests and taught me how to frame a scientific research project. I am grateful for their guidance.

Throughout the week, I spend my time reading various journal articles and modifying my research approach and questions. I collect data using pulse echo ultrasound and continuous wave doppler of the tibialis anterior, and then perform some preliminary data analysis in Matlab and LabView. 
From this experience, I have learned everything is not always as straight forward as it would seem. There are often multiple sub-questions that must be answered before reaching the end goal, and sometimes you may have to back track or perform the experiment again. Patience is key.

Monday, March 2, 2020

URSP Student Maggie Walker Researches AZE Threatened species

The Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) identifies the world’s most vulnerable species. These species are considered endangered or critically endangered and only have one remaining population in one location. These locations are known as AZE sites, a designation which allows them to be prioritized for conservation efforts. AZE species are all considered endangered or critically endangered. However, threatened species can also be listed as near threatened, vulnerable, or extinct in the wild by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). 

For my URSP project, I am working with Dr. Luther and the Biology Department using Geographic Information Systems to compare a global map of AZE sites with global data on all categories of threatened species. We will analyze the data to determine how many other non-AZE threatened species exist at each site, what percentage of threatened species are and are not covered by AZE sites, and how many are already in protected areas, along with other breakdowns. Since AZE sites already receive special conservation attention, we are hoping to demonstrate that by protecting these sites, other threatened species would also be protected. This project is very timely as this year the global Convention on Biological Diversity is expected to adopt a Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework in its efforts to work towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. As decisions are made for the future of conservation, it is important that world leaders have all the information necessary to do what is best for our planet and its species.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

URSP Student Julie Demyanovich Researches the Factors Associated with Student Game Development Success

In Spring 2019, I was selected for undergraduate funding, and I conducted an exploratory study about the factors associated with student game development team success. Students in team projects were asked to fill out surveys at three different points of the game development process. This project was founded on the idea of finding creative ways to take a multi-disciplinary approach that blend the fields of psychology and computer game design in an academic setting. An interesting finding was the progression of skill confidence between the beginning, middle, and end of team projects. The continuing research this semester is an investigation into the relationship between experience, confidence, and expectations of obtaining a job upon graduation. The biggest difference between this study and similar studies is that the participants are undergraduates, graduate students, and alumni from 4-year game design programs within the past 5 years. 

As a game producer and psychology researcher, I want to find creative ways to engage others and motivate them towards achieving higher levels of success. Through this study, I am gaining insight on how game design students view their skills before and after graduation in a cross-sectional study. I will use this knowledge to contribute to the game design program here at the university and continue to enhance my experience in working with others through organizational leadership.

Every Week, I communicate with my mentor, Dr. Seth Hudson. I am also working with the professors in the game design program and recent graduates to gather responses to the survey. Upon receiving the responses, I analyze and write-up the data for publication. This semester, I have become better acquainted with research methodology and publishing findings. I have also become familiar with the process of applying to conferences. I would like to thank Dr. Seth Hudson, the Computer Game Design program, and OSCAR for their continued support throughout my studies.

Monday, February 24, 2020

URSP Student Julia Baines Explores the Relationship between Advice-Seeking Propensity and Self-Efficacy at Work

My enthusiasm for industrial and organizational psychology and my work with my advisor Dr. Dalal and PhD student Balca Alaybek helped inform the topic of my OSCAR project. The goal of this study is to expand research on advice-seeking by providing necessary insight into the relationship between advice-seeking propensity and self-efficacy (self-perceived competence) at work. My research will examine the conditions under which asking for advice from others results in people feeling more versus less confident about their own abilities. I hope to address the concern that habitually asking other for advice might lead to lower perceptions of one’s own efficacy at work. My study will examine employees in jobs of varying levels of complexity and employees with different lengths of job experience (i.e., tenure). These two variables are likely to have considerable moderating effects on the relationship between advice-seeking and self-efficacy (self-perceived competence) in the workplace. 

This project is closely related to my long-term goals in that I would love to further pursue the topic of advice-seeking or related topics in a PhD program. Conducting this project has allowed me to develop my passion for research and explore my specific research interests in greater detail. I meet with my advisor to discuss my project and go over status updates weekly. Since I am currently collecting data, there is a lot to talk about! My daily schedule includes checking incoming data to make sure there are no (or minimal) abnormalities and trying to stay up to date on relevant literature. On a large scale, this project has impressed upon me the value of organization! When conducting research, it is important to have a name and a place for every document, paper, and data set. Staying organized is instrumental in productive and successful research.