Friday, August 26, 2022

URSP Student Ulda Maldonado-Arias Researches the Immigrant Paradox and Advantage

The research project I took on was to observe the immigrant paradox and immigrant advantage within the MSRP data set provided by my faculty advisor. The MSRP (Miami School Readiness Program) data set is 5-cohort, 14 year sequential project that observes children attend Miami Dade Public schools. This was influenced by my decision to join the honor’s psychology program at George Mason University. In this program as an undergrad, you choose to go through a mock thesis process. For three semester you must prepare a thesis document, propose it and finally defend it. During this process you will present to other in conferences/symposiums and work in a research lab.

During Covid-19 this was quite difficult because you could not really meet someone that shared your research interests in person. Not only that but a lot of research was put on hold. Finding someone who would be interested in mentoring you was quite hard. I didn’t lose hope and found Dr. Adam Winsler. I had learned about the immigrant advantage in my adolescent psychology course and found out that immigrants show greater resilience than U.S. born children, so I wanted to investigate that more. Dr. Adam Winsler loved the idea and explained some previous graduate students had also investigated the phenomena. After figuring out exactly what I was interested in, by examining various literature I decided to fill in the gap by looking at variation based on country of origin and solely compare immigrants to one another.

This project has lasted for about three semesters. In the beginning I spent 5-7 hours looking at the literature. During the summer and spring of 2021, I made drafts of my introduction/literature review. A total of 8 drafts were made! Dr. Winsler has helped with refining my writing skills which I am grateful for. Fall of 2021 it was time to defend and come up with the methods on how to go about data analysis for spring of 2022. I spent 8-10 hours on my project, as I was also applying for the OSCAR grant and the NCUR conference. I also went through a couple of versions for my methods section. Now it is finally spring of 2022 and I spend about 10 hours on my project a week. I have been cleaning data to make sure all the kids in my sample are included. Then data analysis has been done and interpretation of data. In a day I try to break time intervals for my project and schoolwork. If its exam week I reserve one day for my project and the other for studying.

This project has fit into my future plans as I wish to continue research on minorities within developmental psychology. This project will help open doors with all the skills I have acquired. I went from not knowing what a syntax file was in SPSS to knowing the difference between point and click and syntaxing (FYI makes the job easier). Next year I will be looking into graduate programs and this project will help with that by helping me refine my interests and stand out to schools. Now, that’s the long-term future, as for short term I hope to continue my project with different grade levels and hopefully publish before I end my undergraduate career as I work alongside the Winslab the research lab that has made this project possible

URSP Student Natasha Tagle Assesses the Redox Conditions in the North Pacific Ocean during the Warm Pliocene Epoch using Nitrogen Isotopes

Assessing past oceanic current patterns is very important to understanding and predicting the future of the Earth and its oceans. My research proposes that there was a deep-ocean current that occurred in the North Pacific Ocean. I used two core samples provided by the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP). The project consisted of crushing the samples, weighing them out in a centrifuge tube, acidifying, rinsing the samples, drying them in an oven, reweighing, and homogenizing the samples into a powder again. From there, the samples were ready for nitrogen isotopic analysis at the University of Maryland (UMD). Working through this research project has been very interesting, each day came with its own challenges. This made the pacing of completing the research a greater lesson in time management, as well as adapting to new work environments & problem-solving. 

For example, one day will consist of a meeting to debrief on any information I am unfamiliar with, work through a few steps in the lab to prep my samples, and then head to class. Next, I’ll be doing readings for research, and then work for my second job, aside from my project, school, and another job. I have valuable weekly progress meetings with the entire research group. As a result, I have been able to learn more about the other research topics the other students have been working on. The last biggest step for this research is having the opportunity to present my project at the Joint North-Central & Southeastern Section in April 2022 for the Geological Society of America (GSA). Thus far, I have gained much more knowledge throughout the process of having a research project than I thought possible, and am looking forward to any opportunities that may come forth as a result of this project

Thursday, July 28, 2022

URSP Student Ayman Slamani Researches Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCIs)

The brain is arguably the most important organ in the human body but even in this day and age we know so little about it. My name is Ayman Slamani and I am a senior majoring in Bioengineering, with a concentration in pre-health. I have always been a curious person to the core, and I seek to learn the most that I can about topics that pique my interest. The topic that has interested me the most, since learning about Ben Carson’s revolutionary neurosurgery while watching the movie Gifted Hand, has been the brain. This is why my ultimate career goal is to become a neurosurgeon and why I chose to focus my research on brain-computer interfaces (BCIs).

Most of the current research studies regarding BCIs use electrocorticography (ECoG). This is due to the necessity of gathering high resolution electrical activity from the brain to allow for easier manipulation of data gathered and the specialization of that data. The issue with this method is that it is very invasive, requiring the implantation of a microelectrode array on the surface of the brain. This comes with many risks for the patient. 

Electroencephalography (EEG) is a non-invasive method of collecting electrical activity of the brain. Because it involves collecting electrical signals via electrodes on top of the scalp, the signal is attenuated. This research area is still in its infancy in terms of what has been accomplished. That’s I chose to use EEG signals for my research

I am currently working with my mentor, Dr. Siddartha Sikdar, to develop a brain computer interface that integrates the use of an EEG headset with a predictive algorithm built to manipulate the grasping actions a prosthetic hand. My research so far has been looking at precedent in this area of study as well as how to process EEG data through MATLAB and adjunct software. The EEG headset that I will be using for this study just came in and I am excited to start data collection and work on the algorithm side of this research. These will be the most important steps in producing a working BCI.

URSP Student Garret Rich Investigates if Elephant Toenails can be Utilized for the Monitoring of Long-term Hormone Patterns

Over the course of the fall and spring semesters, I have been working with Dr. Elizabeth Freeman and Dr. Kathleen Hunt on a project to identify if elephant toenails can be utilized for the monitoring of long-term hormone patterns.

Traditionally, urine, feces, and blood have been used for monitoring hormones. One of the main drawbacks of traditional samples is that they reflect short periods of hormone information. This can be problematic for species like elephants as they undergo long-term fluctuations in hormones (for example, three month long estrous cycles), which may not be as easy to detect with the day-to-day variation of traditional samples. Toenail samples attracted our interest as their slow growth may better capture fluctuations that occurred over weeks and months.

Throughout this semester, we have worked on processing toenail samples to determine their hormone concentrations. We are currently working on running samples from three African elephants (two females and a male) collected across the span of a year. My typical lab work includes pulverizing samples, doing hormone extractions, and testing hormone extracts to quantify concentrations of testosterone, progesterone and cortisol. All three hormones turned out to be highly detectable from toenail extracts and have had no issues passing verification tests. Even more exciting, variations in hormones have been preserved in our toenail samples and the variations do line up with our physiological expectations for the individual elephants (e.g., dramatic fluctuations in progesterone in a female known to be cycling, and periods of high testosterone in the male). By the end of the semester, we will have finished our data analysis of hormone concentrations with African elephants and begun work to publish the results.

I feel very fortunate to have worked on this project so far. I am interested in animal physiology and have considered possibly attending veterinary school after finishing my undergraduate degree. This project has given me the unique opportunity to work with endangered species while also giving me hands-on skills used in investigating animal physiology. In the future we plan to continue our analyses with Asian elephant toenails and will present our work at relevant conferences.

URSP Student Isabella Meerzaman Investigates whether BAX or Bax Inhibitor 1 (BI-1) suppresses Endoplasmic Reticulum (ER) stress induced cell death in Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis

Clinical research has led to novel treatment options that offer patients a glimmer of hope by improving and extending their quality of life. The ability of scientists and researchers to map disease-causing pathways to identify inhibitors/activators that slow or stop disease progression has provided the medical community with a new treatment arsenal. Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a fatal lung disease that affects 3 million individuals globally. IPF causes excessive permanent scarring of the lungs known as fibrosis, making it hard for proper gas exchange to occur.

I have been working in Dr. Grants lab focusing on a project that investigates whether “BAX or Bax Inhibitor 1 (BI-1) suppresses Endoplasmic Reticulum (ER) stress induced cell death in Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis.”. ER stress is induced in IPF cells, then BI-1, BAX or both are silenced to see if sensitivity to ER stress is altered. If BI-1 or BAX can suppress ER stress induced cell death, it could critically alter IPF treatment and provide a possible pathway framework to target. This project has allowed me to gain more experience with bench based lab research and data analysis. Working in Dr. Grants lab has helped prepare me for my post bacc research fellowship with the Department of Defense and my future career as a clinical research physician.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

URSP Student Violetta Rostobaya Studies the Mechanical and Tribological Properties of 3D printed PLA+HA Composite

My name is Violetta Rostobaya and I am a senior mechanical engineering student at Mason. I have been working on material science project under mentorship of Dr. Ali Beheshti and Dr. Shaghayegh Bagheri since Fall 2021.  This research project became an important step in my journey as an engineer and a researcher. I am very grateful to both of my mentors and URSP program for the opportunity to participate in undergraduate research and become an active member of Mason engineering research community. My average day at a lab starts with preparing the polymer material for extrusion. Sometimes depending on the method of manufacturing it can take up to several days for the mixture to prepare before the extrusion. 

This process is tedious and requires a lot of patience, precision as well as lab equipment management skills, which I did not have at the start of this project. This semester however I feel more confident and have clearer direction of the project. After the material is extruded, the produced filament is used to 3D print samples for compression and indentation testing.

My next steps are finishing up the production process and testing the samples. The results of the tests will be summarized and analyzed in a research paper. I hope to publish the paper in an academic journal and launch my researcher career. I am planning to start my graduate school in Fall 2022, so I hope this work will provide me some recognition within scientific community.

URSP Student Ashley Rodriguez Examines the Effects of Presentation of Pretrial Risk Probabilities on Pretrial Release Decisions

Jurisdictions across the U.S. are increasingly using risk assessment tools to standardize every defendant’s risk to community safety which informs pretrial decision-making. One often overlooked area of risk assessment research is how risk assessment information is communicated to decision-makers.

The goal of my project is to examine whether presenting risk assessment information as a fixed or variable probability effects pretrial decision-making. Under the supervision of my mentor, Dr. Evan Lowder, I created eight vignettes to simulate the information a typical pretrial actor would receive during a pretrial hearing. These vignettes varied by risk assessment score and whether the offense was violent. I created one questionnaire for all participants to answer. I uploaded my vignettes and questionnaire to Qualtrics. Next, I recruited judges, pretrial officers, defense attorneys, and prosecutors through locating publicly available contact information for their offices or through professional associations.

An average day this half of the semester involves me continuing to recruit more participants in order to increase my sample size and to obtain a more geographically representative sample. I am also in the process of perfecting an R script to clean and graph the data and creating a Stata script to analyze the data. Finally, I am refining my manuscript to hopefully send to publication.

I fell in love in research when I began working with Dr. Lowder on my own independent research project and with other projects within the Early Justice Strategies Lab. I decided a year ago that I wanted to do research permanently which led me to applying to various criminology doctoral programs last semester. I used an enhanced version of this project’s proposal as my writing sample to these various schools to illustrate my desire to conduct research. I believe that this project was one of many factors that led me to my admission to numerous funded criminology doctoral programs. Through conducting this research project this semester, I will have a stronger skillset and overall experience when I begin my doctoral journey next semester.

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

My name is Daniel Hernandez, I am a junior at George Mason University working with Dr. Ali Beheshti to analyze the surface degradation of additively manufactured (AM) ABS polymers for naval application. This project is a continuation of my work done in the summer semester to determine the viability of AM ABS polymers in a saline environment in comparison to their traditionally manufactured counterpart. Where the main focus this semester has been the aging of the ABS samples and observing the changes in the surface topography. The aging chambers consisted of tanks filled with artificial seawater heated to 22°C, 27°C, and 105°C accordingly using a water heater with set submerged durations of 7, 14, and 21 days. My day-to-day interactions consist of ensuring the proper levels of seawater in the tanks and recording the change in mass of the samples. Currently, only half of the samples have been aged though the remainder is set to be finished soon.

The next steps are to assess the surfaces of the samples through micro indentation and profiling tests. These tests will allow for the observation of the change in wear and friction of the surfaces as well as the Young’s Modulus of the samples. Given if time permits mechanical and tribological evaluations will be done on the ABS samples to observe the change in mechanical strength and serve as another method of observing the surface topography of the samples.This has been a rather engaging experience that has allowed me to pursue my interest in the naval engineering field. Furthermore, working with Dr. Beheshti has allowed me to gather a sense of the lab working environment and has compelled me to develop my understanding of the 3D printing process and corrosive behavior of the ocean through whichever future opportunities may be presented.

Sunday, July 3, 2022

URSP Student Tulane Simpson Uses Popular Cartoon to Reimagine Intersection of Environmentalist Theory and Gender Expression

My research involves using popular media as a tool to separate environmentalist practice from the gender binary. Historically, environmentalism has been divided along binary gender lines, as in the cases of ecofeminism and ecomasculinity which use one’s gender as the basis for environmental attitudes. Since environmentalism should be inclusive of all people regardless of gender, I’ve spent this semester developing the environmental theory of ecoandrogyny as an environmental framework that is inclusive of all gender expressions. As popular literature and media are powerful tools or sharing environmental values, especially to young people, I identified Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender as an example ecoandrogynous text for its nuanced depictions of both environmental practice and gender expression.

I have been fortunate to receive an array of support on this project. My URSP funding has allowed me to attend academic conferences where I could meet and learn from other scholars in my field. As I am completing this project in conjunction with Mason’s English Honors thesis course, I received additional assistance with discipline-specific research and drafting issues.

Completing this project will help me reach my future goals of continuing my education and becoming a college-level educator. Not only can my completed paper serve as a writing sample for graduate school applications, I have also gained a strong background in advanced research and writing techniques that will serve me well in my future academic and professional work. Additionally, working with so many outstanding professors, scholars, and library staff has given a better understanding of what I look for in a mentor. This knowledge will help inform my own teaching and mentorship style so that I can serve my future students to the best of my ability.