Sunday, December 19, 2021

Sisc Johnson Created an Adolescent Mentorship in Detention Facilities and Alternative Learning Spaces

For my research project, I created a mentorship program to teach photography and text in alternative learning spaces to court involved youth. Desired outcomes include fostering and promoting positive self-esteem by developing new skill sets acquired from learning the technical and creative skills of photography.  This process also results in promoting positive and respectful communication skills as students learn how to write about and critique their work and the work of others.

This summer I spent three days each week working with 3-5 residents at Stepping Stones. Stepping Stones is a community-based, non-secure residential treatment program for male court involved youth, ages 14-17 that is located in Fairfax County, Virginia.

After our first session each resident was provided with a DSLR camera, two lenses, and a portable flash drive. During our sessions the program participants learned how to operate a DSLR camera. They also learned how to select the appropriate lens and the fundamentals of composition and lighting. Lessons also included instructions on how to upload images from memory cards to Adobe Lightroom and how to edit images in Adobe Photoshop.

The first session of each week would typically begin with a critique of their work from the prior week. The remainder of our time was spent photographing, scrapbooking, creating cyanotypes, and/or learning about other camera-based processes and influential photographers. For the final week of my program, we will have an exhibition showcasing their work to their families.

From my observations throughout the project, I feel that to continue my program in the future a few adjustments could be made in the following ways. For instance, it was difficult having only a single laptop when uploading and editing images with a group of five participants. This was time consuming because I could only work with one participant at a time. Also having an assistant would be beneficial for providing more one-on-one time with each participant. Fortunately, the entire staff at Stepping Stones are vested in the success of each resident, and they were not only very helpful with their ideas and suggestions throughout my program, but I learned a great deal from them regarding how to better handle challenging moments. Because the staff supported me and their residents throughout my entire program, this also added to my awareness regarding what things might be of more interest to the participants.

Measuring the long-term success of my program will not be possible for a few years. As for measuring short term success, I observed drastic improvement not only in their work, but in their behavior. They began dressing up for our sessions becoming more confident behind and in front of the camera. The participant’s critique of their work and the work of others was also impressive and very respectful.

In the future, I plan to continue my work with the adjustments noted above. A few years from now I will reach out to each participant to measure the success of my program.

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.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Amanda Graf Studies Multiplexed Antigens on DNA Nanoparticles for Vaccine Development

Vaccines and the technologies used to develop them are more relevant now than ever. If you had asked me or my colleagues a year ago, none of us would have ever guessed that vaccines would be the global hot topic they are now.

After taking Dr. Veneziano’s tissue engineering class, I met with him to discuss the research going on in his lab and discovered that he has been working on DNA nanoparticles with the intention of using them in a vaccine for several years now. The process of making these 3D nanostructure scaffolds begins with isolating and purifying single stranded DNA.  I typically do this right when I get to the lab each morning using an aPCR machine (antisense polymerase chain reaction) and then isolate the single stranded DNA that results from that using gel electrophoresis and a centrifuge with elution buffer to isolate the single stranded DNA from the other byproducts. From there, I fold the protein into the desired shape and test its binding capabilities.  Throughout the rest of the summer and into the fall semester, I will be testing the binding rates of my desired nanoparticle with varied antigen properties and attachment configurations.

 This project has been very insightful and ties directly into my future plans to become a physician, possibly specializing in infectious diseases.  Working with Dr. Veneziano has allowed me to develop a better understanding of not only what it’s like to work in a wet lab but has also compelled me to further explore topics outside of my normal course of study and think more about what advancements could be made through supplementary research in the field of platform vaccine development.

Dhruv Participates in the 2021 COVID-19 Human Behavior Research Project

My name is Dhruv Gandhi, I am a Senior at George Mason University working on a research project titled, “Data-Driven Analysis of Human Behavior in COVID-19 Simulation Models.” I had no idea what this internship would be like, not only because of the coronavirus, but also because this is my first summer being part of a research project. Surprisingly, COVID didn’t affect the internship too much as we always had our scheduled meetings and interacted with all the other team members fairly frequently. At the beginning of the internship, a typical day would start with an hour-long meeting in the morning with each group updating the professors and the other groups about their progress. Then we would have our goals set for the day, which we would work on with our other group members. Most exciting part was the weekly hybrid meeting on Fridays because there was always a stock of donuts and coffee. Working with people with varying background working towards the same goal and learning every week about something you had never heard of before made this internship incredibly exciting. I was able to learn and implement techniques that I had thought to be too complex previously because I had professors and other group members to help me through the process. This internship was able to give me not only confidence about my abilities to contribute in a professional setting, but also taught me how to work in a professional setting and network with others. I believe this internship has done a great job of giving me a taste of what’s to come after I graduate from George Mason.

For the research, my group is developing a location predication algorithm using data from SafeGraph. The data contains 650 different geographical subsections of Fairfax County called census block groups (Tysons, West Springfield, etc.) and over 15,000 POIs which are places of interests such as malls, barber shops, and restaurants. Our goal is to create an algorithm that accurately predicts the number of visitors to a POI from a CBG for the next few weeks. This project is incredibly interesting to me because it applies a lot of the techniques I have learned in classes throughout my time at George Mason.