Mentor: Brooke Van Horndepartment: Chemistry and Biochemistry

Mentor: Brooke Van Horndepartment: Chemistry and Biochemistry


  1. Student: Evan BaileyMajor: Chemistry

Mentor: Brooke Van HornDepartment: Chemistry and Biochemistry

Title: Effect of Alkyl Substitution on Ring-Opening Organocatalytic Polymerizations of CL Derivatives

To continue to move the research of biomedical materials forward and propose methods to craft new desired tailored materials, we must understand which molecules can be linked into polymers efficiently with different synthetic methods – a truly fundamental aspect of polymer science and synthesis. To that end, this SURF project is intended to extend our current research on alkyl-functionalized derivatives of a cyclic ester monomer for the preparation of polyester materials. We are looking to change the side chain groups on the cyclic ester monomer and test their polymerization with an organic catalyst. We have chosen an organic catalyst over the traditional heavy metal catalysts due to concerns over the possible residual metal in any biomedically-relevant material produced by these chemistries. Our previous results have indicated that there are some side chain groups that limit the utility of this organic catalyst method but the research space needs to be better filled out with a systematic and thorough study. We intend to synthesize and study the following monomer molecules by organic ring-opening polymerization (organic ROP) in Summer 2017: 6-methylcaprolactone, 4-tert-butylcaprolactone, 4,4-dimethylcaprolactone, 6-propylcaprolactone, 6-tert-butylcaprolactone. We anticipate these molecules will help us elucidate the substitution/shape parameters that may be impacting the ability if these monomers to undergo organic ROP and inform any future biomedical material synthetic designs that may include side chain groups of similar substitution/shape as thoseabove.

  1. Student: Sam BleserMajors: Physics

Mentor: Gregory SmithDepartment: Physics and Astronomy

Title: Automation of Seebeck Coefficient Measurement System

Thermoelectrics are a class of materials that convert thermal energy to electrical energy. Thermoelectric devices are a promising solution for a clean, inexpensive, and renewable energy source to scavenge waste heat from any surface that warms up. Until recently, most work on thermoelectric materials focused on bismuth telluride. These devices work relatively well, but their bulky and brittle form factor coupled with expensive manufacturing limits their widespread adoption. Over the past few years, the materials science community has focused their attention to a class of materials called topological insulator nanomaterials. Topological insulators are characterized by an electrically insulating bulk and a highly conductive surface. These materials are very promising as thin, conformal, and powerful thermoelectric devices when blended into a polymer matrix and cast into a film. Our research group focuses on the characterization of these devices. The objective of this project is to automate the measurement of a thin-film thermoelectric measurement system. This will be accomplished using LabView software to control the temperature, measure power output, and characterize the electrical properties of the films simultaneously.

  1. Student: Kira BonforteMajor: Psychology

Mentor: Jennifer WilhelmDepartment: Psychology

Title: Examining the Sex-Dependence of Treadmill Training on Sensory Neuron Regeneration after Peripheral Nerve Injury

Severe nerve injury has a devastating impact on the thousands of Americans it affects everyyear. Although the peripheral nervous system is capable of recovery, it is slow and often full functional recovery is never achieved. Exercise in the form of treadmill training has been shown to be an effective therapy in promoting motor neuron axon regeneration and improving functional recovery (Gordon & English, 2015). Interestingly, the pattern of treadmill training required for enhancing regeneration is dependent on the sex of the participant (Wood et al., 2012). While regeneration of the motor system is critical after injury, regeneration of the sensory system is necessary for full functional recovery. The effects of treadmill exercise on sensory neuron axon regeneration is unknown. This project proposes to investigate whether treadmill exercise alters sensory neuron regeneration after peripheral nerve injury and if any effects are sex-dependent. The sciatic nerve of male and female mice will be surgically transected and repaired as a model of peripheral nerve injury. After a brief recovery period, the mice will be treadmill trained for two weeks. The regenerated sensory neurons will be labeled and counted to determine whether exercise influences the regeneration of the sensory system. The effects of various exercise paradigms will be compared between males and females to determine if there is a sex-dependence. The results of the project could provide important insight on how to rehabilitate patients suffering from traumatic peripheral nerve injuries to promote fullrecovery.

  1. Student: Joseph BosciaMajor: Biochemistry

Mentor: Amy RogersDepartment: Chemistry and Biochemistry

Title: Isothermal Calorimetry and Crystallography Studies Probing the Pterin Binding Site in Endothelial Nitric Oxide Synthase

Time and again you hear about harmful molecules that should be avoided. But have you ever heard of a dangerous molecule that you actually need? Nitric oxide (NO), a toxic gas similar to carbon monoxide, is just that molecule. In fact, it was awarded Molecule of the Year in 1992 for its surprising role as a neurotransmitter, vasodilator, and anti-cancer agent. So how this toxic molecule delivers Dr. Jekyll’s effect and not evil Mr. Hyde’s has always been puzzling since its discovery. The enzyme nitric oxide synthase (NOS) produces NO in vivo by converting the molecule L-Arginine into L-citrulline and NO but exactly how this is done is not well understood. There are several cofactors that are needed by NOS in order for the reaction to produce product; one of them is called tetrahdyrobiopterin (BH4). Without BH4, the reaction does not produce product and reactive oxygen radicals are formed instead. But the exact role of the BH4 is unknown. We believe that one key factor in understanding how NOS produces NO lies in understanding how BH4 binds to NOS and what it is doing during catalysis. Our studies focus on probing the role of BH4 by spectroscopic catalytic assays, X-ray crystallography, and isothermal calorimetry. Uncovering the role of BH4 could provide insights into how NOS produces a toxic gas in a perfect orchestration as to provide essential biological functions like neurotransmission or cardiac bloodflow.

  1. Student: Patrick BrooksMajor: Psychology

Mentor: Michael RuscioDepartment: Psychology

Title: Neural Plasticity and Social Systems

Neural plasticity is the ability of the nervous system to change in response to environmental or intrinsic factors. It is essential for a variety of cognitive functions including learning and social behaviors. The proposed experiment will quantify changes in neural plasticity across the lifespan in two species of rodents with different social systems (monogamous or polygynous). Peromyscus californicus is a monogamous, bi-parental highly social species, whereas Peromuyscus maniculatus is polygnous and uniparental (a social system far more typical among mammals). Arguably, a highly social animal such as P. californicus might require more plasticity, due to frequent or chronic social interactions (males and females of this species mate for life and cohabitate year round). Conversely, it is equally viable that animals such as P. maniculatus, that must continually look or new mates and have more novel social interactions, might require more plasticity to accommodate new crucial social information. These competing hypotheses make this research particularlyintriguing.

Additionally, there will be a developmental comparison. It is well documented that neural plasticity diminishes across the lifespan in vertebrates. For example, during the process of normal aging in humans, certain cognitive abilities decline (e.g. memory recall) which is in part due to the nervous system becoming ‘less plastic’. We will examine this process across three stages of the life span (juvenile, adult and senescent) and determine the mechanisms of neural plasticity that change. This comparisons will be made using markers for neural plasticity in the brain and a technique called immunofluorescence (IFC) along with microscopicanalysis.

  1. Student: William BurkeMajor: Studio Art

Mentor: Jarod CharzewskiDepartment: Studio Art – Sculpture

Title: Folkloric Sculpture through Kinetics

The objective of this project is to create kinetic sculpture that will allow for viewer participation as well as insight to historical and cultural folklore. The methods in which I shall create these works shall involve research into the subject of folklore while also experimenting with different ways to create movement in inanimate objects. The predicted outcome is to create a body of work that will stimulate the imaginations of an audience while also educating them about different folklore from around theworld.

  1. Student: Kimberly CranmerMajor: Psychology

Mentor: Jen Cole WrightDepartment: Psychology

Title: A Cross-Cultural Examination of the Intergenerational Transmission of PTSD

Children do not only inherit their parents’ traits genetically but the environment that they grow up in with those parents affects them in multiple ways. One of the things that can be environmentally transmitted across generations is the after-effect of trauma. In Cambodia, the country experienced a massive genocide in the mid-1970’s. Many of the children who survived that genocide are now parents and grandparents. I’m interested in better understanding whether the significant trauma those survivors experienced as children has been transmitted, in the form of PTSD symptomatology, to their now young adult (college aged) children and grandchildren – and, if so, how. In order to explore this question I will be interviewing young adults around Phnom Penh and Siem Reap (two of the country’s major cities) to determine the level of their PTSD symptomatology and its relationship to the way they were raised and by the more general family environment. Specifically, I’m interested in whether the openness of their parents/grandparents to discuss the genocide (what happened, why it happened, etc.) with their families, and their children/grandchildren in particular, had a palliative effect on the manifestation of PTSD symptoms. I will also be investigating the types of physical and psychological mechanisms—for example, physical punishment, aggression, maltreatment, neglect, alcoholism and drug addiction, malnutrition, etc.—most commonly present in those young adults who display the most significant level PTSD symptoms.

  1. Student: Elyana CrowderMajors: Astrophysics

Mentor: Laura Penny Department: Physics and Astronomy

Title: Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Study of the Massive O-Type Binary TU Muscae

The mass of a star is its most important parameter. It determines almost everything about the star including its lifetime, temperature, radius, final result. There is a maximum mass for stars; current theories suggest this is ~100 MSun. To test theories, we measure the masses of actual stars. For a single star isolated in space, this isn’t possible. But if two stars are together and orbit one another, their orbital speeds are dependent upon their masses; the more mass, the larger the gravitational force between them, and the faster the stars move. We call these binary systemsand they are the only method for observationally determining the mass of a star. We measure how fast the stars move from the Doppler shifts of their spectral features and then determine their masses. High mass stars in close proximity to one another disturb each other, affecting our ability to measure their orbital speeds. In a study using ultraviolet (UV) observations of the massive binary system, TU Mus, we (Penny et al. 2008) found the stars had lower orbital speeds than previous studies had found using observations taken in the optical wavelengths (Terrell et al. 2003). A further optical program (Linder et al. 2007) has shown that different spectral features result in different orbital speeds. Our proposed project is to re-examine the UV observations to see if this is also true in the ultraviolet. A previous study of a similar binary (HD159176, Penny et al. 2016) will provide a template for thiswork.

  1. Student: Lauren DeFeoMajor: Anthropology

Mentor: Christine FinnanDepartment: Anthropology

Title: Sustaining Indigenous Belief Systems in an Indian Residential School

In the Western world there is often an emphasis on the separation of church and state when it comes to education. In the classroom, students learn a set of beliefs and values, while possibly learning something completely different in the religious setting (whatever those beliefs may be). However, when one’s religious beliefs are also deeply embedded in personal identity, how can the line of church and school be drawn so easily? When studying a group of over 25,000 children coming from 60+ tribes that also have unique religious beliefs this line becomes even more complicated. This study aims to examine the daily lives of students attending the Kalinga Institute for Social Sciences (KISS), the world’s largest residential school for tribal students to explore the ways in which students’ personal religious beliefs are incorporated into their daily life. It also aims to examine the ways the school can better accommodate for students and their unique religious beliefs. When striving for a healthy learning environment the school must make each student feel welcomed and accepted, therefore they cannot simply ignore vital parts of students’ identities.

  1. Student: Jonathan DerryberryMajor: Biochemistry

Mentor: Marcello ForconiDepartment: Chemistry and Biochemistry

Title: Modification of a Short Peptide by Nucleophilic Aromatic Substitution

The goal of this project is to develop an easy, cost effective way to determine quantitative information about the local environment within a protein. Certain groups have been found to yield excellent information about their local electrical environment when analyzed with two of the methods that can be accomplished by machines available in our chemistry department. These specific chemical groups do not occur naturally in proteins. Through a simple reaction we can attach a compound that contains two of these groups, one for each method of analysis, to a specific amino acid called cysteine. If the protein contains cysteine then it can be modified directly and analyzed. If the protein does not naturally contain cysteine, then certain amino acid chains that naturally imbed themselves in proteins can be used. These chains can be modified to include cysteine even if they do not naturally contain it. From here the measurements of chemical attached to the cysteine can be taken using either of the two methods and then compared to measurements taken of the chemical without the protein. By comparing the measurements, it can be determined how the protein changes its local electrical environment,this can give insight to how proteins fold into different structures and how they potentially catalyze reactions, as well as other aspects of theirfunction.

  1. Student: Sloane EnglishMajor: Biochemistry

Mentor: Jay ForsytheDepartment: Chemistry and Biochemistry

Title: Mass Spectrometry Analysis of Model Prebiotic Peptides

How did the molecules of life come together before the first living organism(s) emerged? This question plagued Charles Darwin throughout his career, as the theory of natural selection explains speciation, and not the emergence of life from nonlife. Late 19thcentury scientists had a limited (at best) understanding of biochemical principles and processes, leading Darwin to concede the question would likely remain unanswered throughout his life. Nevertheless, in a letter to a friend Darwin speculated about a “warm little pond” with “light, heat, [and] electricity present,” causing chemicals to interact and form large molecules such as peptides and proteins. The overarching purpose of this research project is to develop an analytical method which allows for the scientific investigation of Darwin’s “warm little pond” concept. Specifically, we will develop and optimize a mass spectrometry method for characterizing depsipeptides, which are similar to peptides and may have been chemical precursors to peptides on the prebiotic Earth. The mass spectrometry technique described herein is commonly used in a number of biomedical research areas; therefore, it is expected the training aspect of this project will groom S. English for a future career in forensics and/ormedicine.

  1. Student: Carrie FerrelliMajor: Theatre

Mentor: Charlie CalvertDepartment: Theatre and Dance

Title: Developing the Scene Design Process

Development as a theatre artist cannot be fully achieved strictly in a classroom setting. The nature of this collaborative art form requires immersion in realized production work that takes ideas learned in the coursework and puts them into practice - resulting in a far more in- depth understanding.

“Developing the Scene Design Process” allows for an intensive look into the day-to-day work and research involved for the Scenic Designer on a professional theatrical production.Using the creation of a of an original set design for a producing theatre organization as the framework, this project will allow for the student to gain an understanding of the processes of theatrical design and to be exposed to professional theatre with high production values.

The project requires in-depth analysis of the script, the time period and location of the play, and the logistical challenges unique to each performance space. The student will develop communication and problem-solving skills in a collaborative atmosphere while interacting with the faculty mentor and the members of the production’s creative team - hired by the theatre companies.

While the faculty mentor will serve as the lead designer on the production, the student participant will serve as a collaborator and participate in every aspect of the design process and execution of the design, ultimately leading to a portfolio of professional work produced on the stages of these two critically acclaimed theatre companies.

  1. Student: Haleigh FerroMajor: Biology – Molecular

Mentor: Jennifer FoxDepartment: Chemistry and Biochemistry

Title: Roles of Homologous Sulfohydrolases

Enzymes are responsible for all of the biochemical reactions that occur within living organisms. Some enzymes are found in nearly every known organism, from bacteria to humans, while others may only be present in specific species. We are studying a group of enzymes that are found in animals, plants, bacteria, and fungi. This widespread occurrence in diverse organisms suggests that these enzymes are performing an important biological role. However, their true function remains unknown. These enzymes appear to be capable of destroying a type of man-made molecule found in consumer products like shampoo, but since this molecule did not exist in ancient times and even many modern organisms would never be expected to encounter it, we hypothesize that the true biological substrate of these enzymes is a different but perhaps structurally similar molecule. By investigating three specific members of this group of enzymes found in three different species, we are attempting to discover the true substrate molecule that these enzymes act upon within cells, with the goal of determining the role of these enzymes in biology.