Summer Research is Underway!

UR Scholars 2016 croppedOur 2016 Brown Bag Discussion Series began on June 7th and so far we have heard from undergraduates pursuing independent research in the fields of mechanical engineering, exercise physiology, mathematics, biochemistry, psychology, and criminal justice. Here are the highlights from the opening days of the series:

Celeste Robert kicked off our discussion series by presenting preliminary data for her project titled A study of thermal degradation kinetics of PVA matrix and MoS2. The purpose of this study is to prove that a new combination of material can archive better thermal properties than PVA alone. Robert is in the early stages of her study, and her discussion focused on an inconsistent data point that emerged during the testing of her material. The material that she is working with could be particularly revolutionary in the manufacturing process of certain parts of artillery used by the Army. In fact, it could make the artillery both lighter and more cost efficient.

Week two of the series began with Laurie King, who introduced her study Determination of Flow Development in Whistle-Based Woodwind Instruments. King will analyze the flow of fluids through the flue of whistle-based woodwind instruments, specifically the wooden flute, using a hydrogen bubble technique that will allow for visual interpretation and comparison to mathematical models to understand the velocity profile of the flow as it develops along the length of the flue. This research will allow a better understanding of the shape of the air jet that results when the fluid flows out of the flue, which in turn will help acousticians evaluate the overall properties of the flute.

For her project How Does Exercise Effect Antioxidant Production?, Rhiannon Page will explore antioxidant changes occurring as a consequence of varied intensity exercise over 20-weeks in middle-aged overweight women. The goals of her research are to examine the quantitative changes of antioxidant production that occur in response to the exercise regimen, thus seeking evidence for the positive health benefits of exercise.

Zyla Fisher’s project, The Effects of Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA) on Re-Entering Violent Offenders in Vermont: Perspectives of Participants and Volunteers, examines how restorative justice programs are being used in Vermont with a goal of trying to determine whether these kinds of programs could be effective supplements or substitutes to sentencing violent offenders. Ms. Fisher is working with a restorative justice program called Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA) and interviewing community members who volunteer with this program to collect narrative data. She will also utilize publically available data to compare the recidivism rates of offenders who have completed a restorative justice program versus the recidivism rates of offenders who did not participate in a restorative justice program.

Derek Lotito is working on a project titled A mathematical model for synaptic dysfunction in Alzheimer’s disease. It is believed that the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) occurs due to intermittent interruption of synaptic transmission between neurons. Regulation of intracellular calcium (Ca2+) signaling plays a critical role in neuronal signal transmission. The goal of Lotito’s project is to develop a mathematical model for Ca2+ regulation in neurons. This model will be used to study the effects of Amyloid-β proteins on intracellular Ca2+ signaling. Specifically, Lotito aims to better understand how an increase in intracellular Ca2+ affects a neuron’s ability to transfer signals. Analysis of the mathematical model can help to identify biological mechanisms as potential pharmaceutical targets aimed at normalizing intracellular Ca2+ levels in order to prevent synaptic loss.

Donovan Murby is working alongside Lotito on a related project titled A Mathematical Model of Short-term Plasticity in Neurons. The goal of this project is to develop a mathematical model of synaptic transmission that accounts for synaptic plasticity, a neuron’s ability to adapt to signals over time. The biological mechanisms underlying short-term plasticity are not fully understood and this project aims to provide a theoretical understanding of short-term plasticity and its effects on synaptic transmission. This analysis uses multiple time-scales and leading order approximations to determine how the receptor-transmitter interactions affect plasticity. The systematic characterization of this model will highlight the important biological mechanisms involved in short-term plasticity, which can provide information for future research of synaptic transmissions and neurological disorders.

Finally, Muhammad Ali Shahidy discussed the development of his project, An evaluation of the relationship between knowledge of Middle Eastern culture and justification of violence against civilians in American military cadets. Shahidy’s research focuses on American military cadets and aims to evaluate the relationship between one’s knowledge of the Middle Eastern (dominantly Muslim) culture and acceptance of acts of violence against civilians. He argues that it is critical to understand whether there is a relationship between cultural knowledge and acceptance of acts of violence against non-combatants or civilians that are very culturally different from American military personnel. In order to complete this study, Shahidy will use three separate survey instruments which will measure: 1) attitudes toward people in the Middle East and Muslims in general; 2) a knowledge of the Middle Eastern culture, and 3) justification of acts of violence toward civilians. The sample populations will be recruited during the Fall semester and the data will be analyzed after the data collection.

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