Tuesday, September 28, 2021

URSP Student Daniel Hernandez Analyzes the Surface Degradation of Additively Manufactured (AM) ABS Polymers for Naval Application.

This summer, I worked with Dr. Ali Beheshti to analyze the surface degradation of additively manufactured (AM) ABS polymers for naval application. The aim of my studies was to determine the viability of AM ABS polymers in a saline environment in comparison to its traditionally manufactured counterpart. As of recently I have been working on a literature review as well as an experimental plan for the project. I also printed 20 rectangular ABS samples and ordered 20 traditionally manufactured parts from a plastic manufacturer. A typical day of research consists of me searching for articles while managing the printing of the ABS samples. In the remaining timeline of the project, the samples will be aged accordingly for a set duration of 4, 8, and 16 days in tanks filled with artificial seawater. The tanks will be heated to 22°C, 27°C, and 105°C accordingly using a water heater. After undergoing the appropriate exposure time, the topography of the sample surfaces will be assessed and compared with the initial data collected prior. If time permits mechanical and tribological evaluations will be done on the ABS samples to observe the change in mechanical strength, wear and friction of the surfaces.

My main interest is robotics with a sub interest of ocean engineering. Additive manufacturing (3D Printing) has had transformative effects on the performance and technology of many industries. In the robotics industries, additive manufacturing has contributed to the development of emerging fields such as soft robotics due to its ability to create flexible and creative designs at high quality. This project was the perfect learning opportunity for me because it has allowed me to gain an in depth understanding of the 3D printing process as well as the corrosive behavior of the ocean. Moreover, since I plan to obtain a master’s in mechanical engineering in the future this research has been an essential step towards that goal.  I have enjoyed learning about the degradation of ABS in a naval application and hope to continue this research in the future.

Monday, September 27, 2021

URSP Student Mounia Hammadi Studies the Potential Effects that Endoparasites Have on Feeding Habits of Their Crab Hosts

The survival of a species of mud crab along the East Coast of the U.S., known as the Rhithropanopeus harrisii (Harris mud crab), is being tested by a multitude of factors, including the continued fluctuations in salinity that result from the estuaries it resides in and the ever-changing levels of parasitism in different locations along the coast. The biotic pressure of parasitism is influential on not only the survival of R. harrisii but also the trophic structure of its community. The two most prevalent parasites that cause a significant role in the survival of the Harris mud crab community include the castrating parasitic barnacle, Loxothylacus panopaei, and the lesser-known parasitic entoniscid isopod, Cancrion sp. Parasitic castration means that L. panopaei inhibits the organism’s ability to reproduce. However, since Cancrion sp. is considered a new species, there is minimal evidence suggesting complete parasitic castration of R. harrisii. This summer I have been working in Dr. Amy Fowler’s lab at the GMU Potomac Science Center answering the question, do these endoparasites affect the feeding habits of their crab hosts? We suspect that the intense energy drain of being infected with these endoparasites leads to changes in the feeding behavior of R. harrisii. Luckily, the COVID-19 restrictions have begun to loosen, allowing me access to the laboratories to run a multitude of feeding trials on a total of 25 uninfected crabs, 8 infected with entoniscid (Cancrion sp.), and 11 infected with L. panopaei where feeding behaviors are accessed for 45 minutes.

The collection of these crabs has been done from three main sites: Boathouse Marina in Colonial Beach, VA, Garrett’s Marina in Dunnsville, VA, and near the Choptank River Bridge in Cambridge, MD. This summer, an interesting observation I had was that the mud crabs can be the host to both parasites at the same time, as shown by an individual crab that acquired L. panopaei externa (sac on the abdomen of the crab that holds thousands of parasitic larvae) as well as released Cancrion sp. larvae. How double infections affect R. harrisii’s feeding habits is still yet to be determined. Another interesting observation was that gravid crabs (those with fertilized eggs) and crab hosts infected with Loxothylacus panopaei in the externa phase will both not molt to minimize loss of its eggs or parasitic externae. However, it has been shown that the crabs infected with the entoniscid do continue to frequently molt where its infection does not inhibit its ability to grow. Although trials are still being run and the data has yet to be properly analyzed, what has been obtained so far is extremely interesting and will further be looked upon during the Fall 2021 semester.

STIP Student Elaine Borresen Creates a Unit Plan and Activities for Physical Education Instruction while Integrating STEM

The goal for this Summer Team Impact Project is to present a unit plan and activities for physical education instruction while integrating STEM content. We found that integrating STEM topics is extremely beneficial for students. Students can get extra time exploring their classroom content. Our hope is that this integration can also pique interest in activities for those who may not usually be as engaged during PE. Using Virginia Standards of Learning, we sought to combine relevant science topics for K-12 students with games to develop their basketball, pickleball and softball skills. This plan is flexible, for teachers to use this unit plan in its entirety, or use lesson activities and games as they see fit. My particular contribution was towards the STEM content in the softball unit.

 This project fits into my future plans as a nurse and an Army officer by contributing how to plan with various factors and reinforcing my knowledge in STEM and biomechanics in particular. An average research day consists of a zoom meeting with all undergraduate and graduate students then breakout sessions with our individual groups to continue work on our unit plans. We had one day in the gym to test out some physical education activities and record ancillary materials for teachers. Something that I have discovered through this project is how complicated it is to create a unit and lesson plans. There are so many things that go into creating them. This project was different than it would have been if it were face to face because a majority of this was done virtually with all of us in different states, this was very cool since we were able to travel and still do research and work on the project. My next steps are to take the knowledge I learned from this project and apply it anyway I can to nursing school and Army ROTC.

Jack Blumstein Studies the Sociodemographic Factors that Impact Vaccine Uptake Across the US

Covid 19 has greatly impacted the world. With the implementation of vaccines, the impact of covid on the world has been greatly reduced, but there are many people who refuse to get vaccinated which allows covid to have a larger impact on the world than it would if those people who refuse to get vaccinated get vaccinated. My research project looks at the sociodemographic factors that impact vaccine uptake across the US. We recently ran a multivariate geographically weighted regression which creates a regression model that takes geographical location and distance into account when making the model. The geographical component causes the model to be more accurate than a simple linear regression. We are planning on using this regression model to predict vaccine uptake on the census block group level and then use a “local indicators of spatial association” analyses to find census block groups that are local outliers in vaccine uptake. We can then look at these local outliers and determine which census block groups are more at risk which should be able to help counties decide where they need to focus their efforts on increasing vaccine uptake.

There were many techniques, such as multivariate geographically weighted regression, that we used to analyze data that I had never heard about before starting this research project. I had a very good time learning about these techniques and implementing them because I have an interest in data analyses and playing with data. This research project has helped me learn more about data analyses in an out of classroom setting which should help me a lot in the future.

An average research day starts off with a meeting in the morning where the members in my group update each other on what has been done and what we want to do next. After this meeting, we separate to work on whatever we need to get done that day by ourselves. Sometimes we will have a meeting towards the end of the day to update the group on our progress.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Lina Alkarmi Conducts Stability Studies of Lipid Nanoparticles Using Analytical Chemistry

Messenger RNA (mRNA) sequences can be engineered to encode certain proteins that can be translated and expressed within cells. Lipid nanoparticles (LNPs) are used to package mRNA payload for delivery in vaccines. The four lipid components of LNPs are an ionizable cationic lipid, a neutral helper lipid, cholesterol, and a PEGylated lipid. My research focuses on the synthesis and purification of ionizable lipids used to formulate LNPs. The storage temperature and time stored play a large role in the stability of LNPs as the mRNA can degrade, rendering the LNPs ineffective. Research suggests that the lipid components of the LNPs may degrade over time as well1. Over the past semester, I have developed a method to test the stability of the lipid components of LNPs stored at 4°C, 25°C, and 37°C.

After LNPs are formulated, the encapsulated mRNA can be extracted from the nanoparticles for analysis. The extraction method results in an aqueous phase containing the mRNA, as well as an organic phase containing the four lipid components. For my project, I examined the extracts from LNPs stored at 4°C, room temperature (25°C), and 37°C over the course of 3 weeks.

For each week of the 3-week stability study, I used thin layer chromatography (TLC) to qualitatively examine the aqueous and organic extracts from the LNPs stored at each temperature. Liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LCMS) spectra were analyzed to observe the fragmentation of the compounds. Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectra were also used to examine the molecular structure of the compounds.

A typical day of research is arriving at the lab and checking on synthesis reactions set up the night before. Typically I will run three columns each day as well as run my samples on the LCMS. My research experience has been exciting, challenging, and rewarding. I am interested in the field of bioengineering so this project fits into my future plans of attending graduate school.

    1.)European Medicines Agency, Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP);                     Assessment Report, Covid-19 Vaccine Moderna. 2021

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

URSP Student Sarah Abbas Studies Organizational and Interpersonal Conflict within Correctional Facilities

 Conflict is everywhere. Conflict and it’s resolution contain personal, relational, structural and cultural dimensions. There are several ways one can go about resolving conflict. Some are more constructive than others. It is paramount to analyze and examine the various dimensions of social interactions that lead to conflict situations. Such can be done through theories, models and frameworks for analyzing, engaging and resolving conflict. I have always been interested in creatively and strategically managing conflicts that hinder the performance and organizational improvement among groups because often, dysfunctional organizations do not perform as well.

I am pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Conflict Analysis and Resolution with an individualized concentration in Law and Justice. Following graduation, I aspire to apply my education to help research and resolve the process of conflict within various criminal justice organizations. 

My summer research specifically takes a look at organizational and interpersonal conflict within correctional facilities. When it comes to organizations like various departments of corrections, it is paramount to ensure that conflicts are constructively managed or resolved, because the services provided directly influence the personal lives of many. My USRP project, The Role of Power in Interpersonal Conflict Between Carceral Residents and Correctional Officers is aimed at taking the critical first step in resolving conflicts, unpacking and examining the deep layers and roots of the problem. I am collecting data through a questionnaire. Ideally my data will allow me to identify patterns and systems of interpersonal conflict in correctional facility settings. I mainly am taking a look at the role of power. My questions aim at measuring the perceived power of inmates and CO’s and examining the role it plays in interpersonal conflict. 

I am working with a research team that is also collecting data for their specific projects. Due to COVID-19, we had to quickly adapt to conducting research in the pandemic. Initially our plan was to collect data by observing, interviewing, and collecting field notes in person. Due to complications with the facilities, such was not feasible. Then, we planned to gather data by holding interviews virtually. That wasn’t feasible either. We had to be very flexible and creative in order to overcome the challenges that come with conducting research with a vulnerable population during the pandemic. Our team met a lot and discussed the best ways to react to this rapidly changing and unpredictable situation. We decided to mail residents who have previously mailed us and consented to receiving mail. We had to submit a new proposal for IRB approval. which delayed our entire data collection process. The new proposal was finally approved late June. Our team met, prepared the envelopes, and mailed them out. Now I am awaiting responses to my section of the questionnaire. I am planning on interpreting the data as it comes in. This experience taught me the importance of flexible, creative problem solving, and working as a team. I did not realize how unpredictable research can be. In school, I learned about how important planning and structure is when conducting research, but I never learned about the fluctuating nature of research in the real world. This experience definitely taught me that