Saturday, January 11, 2020

URSP Student Hannah Johns Explores the Connection Between the Cost of the War in Colombia and the Value of the Biodiversity Present in the Country

I study the environment, through the perspective of analyzing the impacts it can relay on people. Studying people and culture is the most striking topic to me, and I knew my goal for research was to study the vulnerabilities the environment can project upon people, especially vulnerable populations such as indigenous people. Through my process in OSCAR, I became more interested in the study of environmental security, which utilizes people in planning and mediating the effects that war and violence can impose on the environment and natural resources, and which in turn will have larger effects on all people. I decided to study environmental security in Latin America, and if there is a connection between the cost of the war in Colombia and the value of the biodiversity present in the country.

To stay weekly engaged with my project I would find new sources, through the Mason Library databases, to contribute to the background, and context necessary for my research on the country of Colombia and its 50-year war. I also continued to learn more about the field of environmental security and the theories involved. During this time, I also received approval for my interview process from the Institutional Review Board, so that I would be able to include interviews in my project from indigenous people, and environmental scholars from Colombia that I would meet at the Nature for Climate Hub conference.

While I was attending the conference in September, I learned more about the solutions and projects that were being achieved by the scholars featured. These studies expanded on everything I had originally learned in the classroom, which caused me to be able to synthesize and connect the fields of environmental science, conflict analysis, and of anthropology. I also met many renowned scholars and individuals who talked about impactful topics such as Laudato Si, which is a very influential religious writing on the need for human action and care during the time of climate change and human degradation. The more I have spent time with my topic and talking to people living in the conflict, the more I become interested in being able to one day to travel to Colombia and to learn everything I can.

Friday, January 10, 2020

URSP Student Hannah Harmison Represents Queer Community in Children's Media

As a queer storyteller, I feel it is important to represent queer people in media, including children’s media. I had an idea for a children’s web series in my in my back pocket for two years, so when I decided I was in a position to produce it, I brought it to OSCAR. In my web series, I specifically set out to present kids with characters who were not cisgender, because at that time, children’s content exclusively featured cisgender characters. I knew from personal experience that gender is not an ‘adult’ topic, even young children think about gender. My two closest friends are not cisgender and they both work with children professionally. Their students have little to no issue using correct pronouns and accepting their gender identities. First, I needed to determine which age group would find this representation relevant, appropriate, and meaningful. Through my research, I found that the ideal age range is three to six years old. Thus, 25 Dandelion Drive, a web series for a preschool audience, began preproduction.

On this web series I served as writer, producer, and director. This production fits into my career goals because I would like to eventually work as a television writer. I have always enjoyed writing children’s content, so that is one genre I am considering pursuing. I will be able to use this series to demonstrate to production companies, potential employers, that I am a conscientious and capable writer and producer. The skills I have sharpened as a producer are relevant to may positions I could pursue in film development.

On a weekly basis, I meet with my mentor professor and check in with different members of my crew. Beyond that, the tasks vary from week to week. In the beginning of the semester, I was writing the episodes. Now at the end of the semester, I’m organizing receipts, making sure everyone gets reimbursed, and giving directors notes to my animators.

This term I discovered some of my strengths and weaknesses as a producer and as a director. For example, I’m good at coordinating and organizing people, but I need improvement in articulating my artistic vision to my director of photography. In general, this project gave me an opportunity to improve my skills as a filmmaker.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

URSP Student Maanvi Vij Uses Magnetic Nanoparticles and Neurons in Hopes of Controlling Neuronal Firing

Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers present in the body that continuously work together to keep us functioning. Many neurodegenerative and mental disorders’ root cause are the absence or delayed firing of neurotransmitters. Since Spring of 2019, I have been working with magnetic nanoparticles and neurons with the end goal of being able to control neuronal firing. I was introduced to this project when I joined Dr. Peixoto’s lab but later I was able to make a deeper connection with my work. My family has a long history of mental disorders, and on my last trip to India, I was able to see my grandparents after five years. Unfortunately, my grandmother has been diagnosed with Schizophrenia since before I was born, and recently it has taken a complete toll on her life. Turning my frustration into fuel, I am driven to use these personal experiences as motivation for the challenges I face in the lab.

This semester I chose to focus specifically on the process of the uptake of nanoparticles by the neurons via phagocytosis. Prefrontal cortex cells were harvested from embryonic mice through a surgery performed in the lab and then were plated on microelectrode arrays that are able to track the production of action potentials by the neurons. After a week in vitro, two different types of nanoparticles were used. The first being iron oxide gold-capped nanoparticles and the second being the same except coated with poly(ethylene)glycol (PEG), in hopes of increasing the chances of uptake by the cells. High imaging and videos of the nanoparticles interacting with the neurons when induced by a strong magnetic field by imposing strong magnets are the methods of data retrieval. Results showed that the nanoparticles coated with PEG were more likely to be up taken by the cells. Moving forward, I hope to view these interactions with greater magnification to observe the nanoparticles in the cells in greater detail.

Working in Dr. Peixoto’s lab and on this project has enabled me to push myself in ways that I could not have before and become more comfortable with taking risks. I have developed my passions of inquisitiveness and investigation here which are qualities that will serve to be ever so purposeful throughout my academic and professional career.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

URSP Student Renata Urbina De La Flor Investigates the Impact of Healthcare and Education Costs on Poverty

During the 2018 fall semester I took INTS 300: Law and Justice, a course which taught students how to read Supreme Court cases and better understand the law. One of the cases we read was San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez(1973), a case on wealth inequality and equal opportunity to education for the poor. Our professor asked us “what would the U.S. be like today if the Court had sided with Rodriguez and protected wealth?”. She told us that things like health care and education would be free. Her commentary made me curious to know more about the legal status of wealth so that I could base my arguments on facts instead of beliefs or opinions.

The goal of my research project is to change the current perspective of the law on poverty—as of right now, in the United States, discriminating against the poor is legal. I would like to one day have a book on wealth inequality which would explain all the ways in which the current system structurally discriminates against the poor citizens of the United States. Once having received my B.S. degree from George Mason University, I hope to continue my studies at law school. There, I plan to continue my research and find methods to reduce discrimination against the poor. In the future, my goal is to have a business law firm with the purpose of supporting individuals in creating and protecting their own business—I believe that owning your own business, not only supports the economy, but also connects the individual to the economy and to the society.

During the week, I spend an average of 49 hours between reading legal cases, books from social and economic theorists, watching TEDx talks, and organizing all the work I have collected—since I am using similar materials and resources for my capstone project, I am constantly reading and analyzing material on wealth inequality. Conducting my research has made me aware of many things and of many theorists I did not know of before—theorists like Dr. Cornel West, a theorist who has amazing work on the American society and on social movements. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to conduct my own independent research at GMU and am excited to see where it takes me.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

URSP Student Daniel Sovine Tests an Alarm that Would Recognize the Unique Sound of a Gun and Set It Off Using FFT

When I began my first semester as an electrical engineering student, I took Calculus I which was being taught by my future mentor. There was a day in class when he had a small tangent and mentioned a project that might interest any student in ECE or engineering students. It was an alarm that would recognize the unique sound of a gun and set it off using FFT. I wasn’t too interested at the time but I kept it in the back of my head. After the months of terrible news coverage of gun violence, it was brought to my attention again by my future partner in the project. We met with my professor and he introduced us to the URSP program. 

Before this project, I was not involved in any large research project. As I’ve progressed through our project, I became more familiar with the research process as a whole. Although all research projects are different and an engineering project is drastically different from a biology project or a sociology project, I feel like I would enjoy this environment for a while. I really went into this curious to see how I would feel about research and if I could pursue it further for the rest of my college career. I hope as I continue on to other projects, I remember what I did for my Shooting Detection Alarm System this semester.

This semester was a very stressful one for my course load. I had to learn how to balance my URSP project with my projects from classes and work. It taught me a lot about time management and what I am capable of. I normally contact my partner, whos in Pennsylvania, through Facetime and we discuss the research that we did between the time of the last talk. I would have all of the materials for the hardware base system and he would take care of most of the software. We had to find a better way of working together, so we used a VNC server to connect the system across networks. If we weren’t waiting for the parts or took a break for midterms, we’d be working on the project each week. We spent most of September waiting on parts to come in the mail. We did most of the fast fourier transform Matlab work in October. In November, we hit a dead end with the audio neural network. However, now we are working with the image of the frequency domain in the neural networks and it’s settling much better than the audio neural networks.

If there was one thing that this term taught me, it would be that plans are never concrete. Things don’t always go as you expect them to. This is especially true in any research project. You may not get approval for your project in time, or you might not get your parts in time. The ability to mold to the circumstances that are out of your hands is a skill that I have gained from this project. That is not to say that you should change your plan too much, it just means that you have to work with how things are.

Monday, January 6, 2020

URSP Student Cole Price Studies the Experiences of Sexual Minorities in Social Fraternities

This semester I conducted a USRP project studying the experiences of sexual minorities in social fraternities, specifically how they navigate their identities and self-presentations in a traditionally heterosexual environment. As a junior majoring in Psychology with a concentration in Clinical Psychology, I have always been interested in the intersections between inequality, social environment and mental processes. I hope to continue my work shining light on underrepresented and under-researched populations, such as gay and bisexual men in fraternities, throughout my undergraduate and graduate careers. The majority of this past semester was spent recruiting subjects for the study and collecting data in the form of roughly hour-long interviews. Participants were found through word of mouth and advertisements I put up around campus, and after contact, we would set up a time to meet at Fenwick for a sit down. I learned a lot doing this kind of qualitative research, and I feel my interviewing skills have improved exponentially since my first interview. I also learned a lot from the men I talked to; their interests, goals, the bonds they share with their brothers, and their experiences as sexual minorities at George Mason University, just to start.

After completing around seven interviews, they were transcribed, and I began coding them, looking for examples of themes I have derived from literature related to the subject, as well as new patterns I have seen emerge in my conversations. This process has given me the opportunity to engage with previous works written on Greek life and the fraternity system, sexual orientation, and social psychology at a depth I never had the chance to before in my classes.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

URSP Student John Perkins Researches the Further Characterizing Genomes of Bacteriophage Discovered at Mason

My name is John Perkins, and I am a Senior here at George Mason, finishing my second-to-last semester this Fall. In the Spring, I will be graduating with a BS in Biology with a concentration in Bioinformatics and a minor in Computational and Data Sciences. My OSCAR URSP project involves further understanding bacteriophages that we discovered in BIOL-401 in the Fall of 2018. Bacteriophages are viruses that exclusively infect bacteria, and even though there are an enormous number of them, they have been relatively understudied. I isolated one of these phages myself from a soil sample I had taken, purified it, and extracted its DNA. After its genome was sequenced, we found the genes in the DNA and tried to figure out what they each did. This “annotation” used several different types of computer techniques, so while we could make strong and supported hypotheses, there was an opportunity to confirm them by studying the phages experimentally and seeing if our annotations were correct. One of the things that interested me the most was an idiosyncratic feature of one type of phage gene.

During our annotation, I had developed a bioinformatic method that helped identify the likely site of an ORF shift within the Tail Assembly Chaperone (TAC) gene. These genes frequently contain an unusual feature called a Programmed Translational Frameshift (PTF) that makes them difficult to annotate. Using the python script, I wrote, we were able to determine where we thought the PTF was in the TAC gene. For my URSP project, I wanted to characterize the gene expression proteomic ally using a technique called Tandem Mass Spectrometry. This would confirm whether or not we made the right calls in our annotations, as well as in our TAC gene. This project interested me because of the combination of hands-on work in a lab as well as computational analysis. OSCAR also gave me a chance to continue the work I had started in the phage classes last year. I have a very real sense of ownership over this project; I discovered the phage, I wrote the software, and I did the work to further the annotation. Having a project like this under my belt will help me stand out in the future.

Friday, January 3, 2020

URSP Student Durwood Moore works on the Validation of Mouse Models through the Scoring of Fibrosis in Histological Sections and the Identification of Fibroblast Infiltration of Murine Alveolar Tissue using Immunocytochemistry

My name is Durwood Moore and I am a senior Biology student here at George Mason. In the Fall of 2018, I participated in the Biology Department’s Fall Research Semester, where I was able to work with Dr. Geraldine Grant, a phenomenal biology professor. Dr. Grant’s lab focuses on researching a lung disease known as Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, or IPF.IPF is an interstitial lung disease characterized by the unregulated build-up of scar tissue and over-abundance of fibroblasts. During that semester, I gained valuable technical and analytical skills that I will carry with me through graduate school and into my future career as a medical researcher. As that semester came to a close, I decided that I wanted to continue researching IPF, so I volunteered in Dr. Grant’s lab in the Spring of 2019 and applied for OSCAR funding for the Fall of 2019. 

This semester, I am validating a mouse model that our lab has been developing, as well as investigating the role of cellular senescence in the progression of IPF. Through a variety of staining techniques, I was able to observe the changes to the mouse lung architecture. My semester started by troubleshooting the different techniques that I would be using. After making sure that the protocols were optimized, I would prepare the lungs samples, stain them, and then image the samples. Often, my day involved sitting in front of a microscope for hours on end and carefully searching each sample for evidence of fibrosis. One of the most exciting things that I learned to do this semester was to quantify the fluorescence of certain stains and normalize the data before comparing treatment groups. I hope to apply the technical and analytical skills that I have learned during my time here at George Mason to create new knowledge and to improve the lives of other people.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

URSP Student Dina Michel Investigates the Anomalous Hall Effect to Find Materials Which Overcome Silicon’s Limitations in Order to Push Technology Forward

I am a senior in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, and I participated in condensed matter physics research this semester thanks to my URSP funding. In my project, I investigated how the Anomalous Hall Effect (AHE) seen inCoNb3S6was affected when I doped the compound with 10% iron (Fe) in order to create Co0.9Fe0.1Nb3S6. I first got interested in this project when I saw a presentation that my now-mentor Dr. Nirmal Ghimire gave about the importance of researching quantum materials. The technologies that govern our everyday lives rely on silicon, which will soon reach its limit. The solution is to find materials which overcome silicon’s limitations in order to push technology forward–the applications of research in this field would eventually make quantum computers a reality!

I hope to pursue graduate studies in physics, so participating in this project has helped me to prepare for that next step in my academic career by allowing me to conduct an impactful and innovative research project as an undergraduate. On a weekly basis, I worked in the lab almost daily to synthesize crystals, prepare suitable samples for measurement, and measure their properties –in particular, the Hall effect. At the same time, I continued reading papers and books relevant to the subject of my research in order to build a solid foundation of knowledge of the topic. Over the course of the semester, I learned that conducting research is unpredictable–often we end up doing work that is different than what we had originally set out to do. I have also improved my time management and my ability to communicate scientific topics to a general audience –skills that I will find useful in any professional as well as academic setting in the future.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

URSP Student Lucia Bautista Researches the Informal Employment of Syrian Refugees in Turkey’s Textile and Garment Industry

My name is Lucia Bautista, and I am a senior majoring in Global Affairs with a concentration in Global Inequalities &Responses. For my GLOA Honors project, I am researching Turkey’s lucrative textile and garment industry, where hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees labor under exploitative conditions as uncontracted employees. More specifically, I examine how Turkey’s government and private sector interact to shape working conditions and precarious livelihoods for vulnerable Syrian workers. What sparked this idea was a course I took while studying abroad last semester at Oxford University. My professor at the time, Dr. Emre Korkmaz, inspired my project idea through one of my assignments that concerned low wages and poor working conditions in informal economies. When I arrived back at Mason and began my project, I noticed that two prominent themes across the literature I was reading were the concepts ‘precarity’ and ‘state-capital nexus.’ I have chosen process tracing as my principal methodology, which, in essence, is a qualitative method that determines the strength of evidence for causal relationships through probability testing. Within a single-case design, process tracing explains how different variables caused an outcome and confronts rival hypotheses to legitimize its case. I am systematizing data from the Turkish Government, UNHCR, and the World Integrated Trade Solution (among a few others) and testing for precarious labor, a contested state belonging and shared state and capital pursuits. In doing so, I will propose linkages between the implementation, reinforcement, and intentionality of informal labor in the textile and garment industry.

Each week varies in terms of what I do, but reading and re-reading is a must. It is essential that I fully understand the pre-existing scholarship so that I can probably analyze the quantitative aspects of my project, validate the trends I am testing for, and pair each part with its complementary literature. For a few weeks in the middle of the semester, I shifted my focus also to include researching statistics from the past few decades. The statistics I have gathered have provided insight into the working permits Turkey has issued to Syrian refugees and the industrial impact of Turkey’s textile & garment sector. Now, in the final weeks of this semester, I am focusing on creating the line graphs and other infographics for my poster. I am excited to share the findings of my project, as I believe that they address numerous gaps in the discussion of the global garment industry and the comparative advantage that a vulnerable working class of people provides. This project has deepened my knowledge of the garment industry. As I continue to work towards becoming a labor rights lawyer, it has enabled me to develop better analysis skills.