Summer 2013 Research Mentoring Projects
Note about the Biomedical projects at the Maywood campus: It is typically expected that you will spend 7-8 hours most days in the lab with your mentor. There is public transportation to Maywood via the Blue line of the El and bus – RMP will help cover commuting costs.
- Andrew Burrage: Microbiology and Immunology (Maywood campus)
Project Description: Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the organism responsible for pulmonary tuberculosis (TB) disease, accounts for a significant number of deaths annually. The protection generated by this bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine is widely variable in adults, leading to a need for the development of a more efficacious vaccine. We are interested in using adenoviruses to develop a potential treatment against TB infection, as adenoviruses are known to elicit rapid pro-inflammatory responses in a host. We can use adenovirus-based vectors to exploit the pro-inflammatory response, leading to a better immune response against epitopes found on M. tuberculosis. We have engineered an adenovirus vector that contains a potentially potent TB antigen present within a highly immunogenic area on the viral capsid. We hypothesize that these vectors will elicit a more effective T cell response when compared to the current vaccine or immunization with the TB antigen alone. We are also interested in determining the mechanisms by which these vectors are involved in inducing such a response.
Undergraduate Work: The undergraduate assistant will learn about the vectors our lab has generated and what we know about them so far. They will have the opportunity to become familiar with basic techniques and methods commonly used by our lab, in addition to learning how to design virus vectors and propagate the viruses to infect cells in vitro. The student will study the immune response elicited by the vectors during the course of infection. Depending on how far the project is advanced, the student may have the opportunity to analyze samples from immunized animals. These experiments will lay the groundwork for future studies to better understand how adenoviral vectors can be better designed to serve as protective vaccines against myriad pathogens.
- Jaime Vantrease: Molecular Pharmacology& Experimental Therapeutics (Maywood campus)
Project Description: Traumatic injury is the leading cause of death in people under the age of 44 years in the United States with 30-40% of these deaths being the direct result of blood loss. Current methods to restore blood volume are often insufficient or may actually worsen recovery. Despite advancements made in the treatment of emergency trauma; morbidity and mortality remain high. Therefore, novel interventions are critical to improving patient survival from traumatic blood loss. Our lab has been investigating the role of the neurotransmitter, serotonin (5-HT), during blood loss. Specifically, my dissertation project has focused on the beneficial effects of serotonin release, such as increased respiration and sympathetic activation (fight or flight responses) during blood loss. We hypothesize that during blood loss when oxygen content in the blood declines; serotonin neurons in the brain are activated and release serotonin in another region of the brain called the nucleus tractus solitarius (NTS), which has been shown to be important for respiration and sympathetic activity. When the neurons in the NTS become activated; they stimulate the body to increase respiration and sympathetic drive (increased cardiac contraction strength, increased blood vessel constriction, etc) in order to restore blood pressure and tissue oxygenation. During my dissertation research, I have utilized a virally mediated gene knockdown approach to decrease expression of a specific protein serotonin is able to bind, serotonin protein receptors subtype, 1A (5-HT1AR,) in the NTS. From these studies I was able to demonstrate that these receptors are necessary for maintaining blood pressure and increasing sympathetic activity during recovery from blood loss in rats. Furthermore, I found that without these receptors, the rats were unable to increase their respiration during conditions of low oxygen and elevated carbon dioxde (also termed: hypoxic hypercapnia), which causes blood gas variables to mimic those experienced during blood loss. Overall, these results suggest that during blood loss, serotonin is released and activates 5-HT1ARs in the NTS to promote, in part, sympathetic and respiratory recovery from blood loss. By understanding the mechanisms and pathways involved in this compensation response, we hope to eventually be able to manipulate them in such a way that we can develop novel therapeutics for blood loss and increase patient survival.
Undergraduate Work: One aspect of my research that I haven’t investigated yet is to demonstrate which serotonin neurons in the brain are activated during blood loss and hypoxic hypercapnia. Furthermore, I need to assess the levels of serotonin released into the NTS during these conditions. An ambitious undergraduate student that chooses to spend the summer working for our lab will work side by side on this portion of the project with me. They will become familiar with the relevant scientific literature as well as observe live animal experiments that utilize a whole body plethysmography chamber. These experiments will allow us to examine several respiratory parameters during hypoxic hypercapnia. They will also gain knowledge of rat brain anatomy and apply this understanding when they cut the rat brain tissue into sections for staining. They will then perform immunohistochemistry on their brain sections which will allow them to visualize which neurons in the brain are activated in response to hypoxic hypercapnia or blood loss, as well as to quantify the amount of serotonin being released during these conditions. At the end of the summer, the student will put together a poster presentation in order to gain experience presenting their data and share their finding with fellow scientists.
- Zana Lukic: Integrative Cell Biology (Maywood campus)
Project Description: The TRIpartite Motif (TRIM) family of proteins are involved in a variety of cellular processes such as development, oncogenesis and restriction of viruses. In order for the virus to successfully infect the host it exploits a variety of host cellular proteins. On the other hand, host species have developed mechanisms over thousands of years to combat some of these viruses. Since the discovery of HIV-1, studies have focused on individual viral proteins and their interactions with the host cellular proteins. However, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the assembled capsid lattice, rather than the p24 CA subunits itself, contains determinants that engage host cell proteins to achieve infection and, conversely, are recognized by restriction factors such as TRIM5a. I am interested in understanding how assembled HIV-1 capsid core and TRIM5a interact with host proteins to mediate restriction or facilitate infection of HIV-1. An insight into the molecular mechanism of these interactions will help in the development of novel treatments for HIV-1.
Undergraduate Work: To study early events in the HIV-1 life cycle we utilize fluorescently labeled virions and a fluorescent microscope. An mCherry tag is added to the viral protein known as Vpr (viral protein R). When virus (bald particles for safety) is made in the lab this construct is utilized to generate fluorescently labeled HIV-1 because the mCherry-Vpr is incorporated into the virus and remains associated with the virus during the early life cycle. The problem with this virus is that we cannot determine whether the virus has productively entered the cell since the viral membrane is not fluorescently labeled. The goal of the project is to try a different method using S15 and Vpr to label viruses in a more efficient manner. The student would clone the S15 peptide into a retroviral vector with a promoter and stably express it in cells. This process should take about two to three weeks. Following confirmation of stable expression of S15-GFP, the student will do a series of transfections with the remaining constructs necessary to generate viruses. The virus stocks will be harvested two days following transfection and labeling efficiency will be determined using our fluorescence microscope and analyzed by Imaris software. I expect this process to take the remainder of the time because various concentrations and ratios of constructs transfected will need to be tested to determine the optimal concentration/ratio.
- Allison Norsworthy: Microbiology and Immunology (Maywood campus)
Project Description: Pathogenic bacteria utilize many cunning strategies to infect a host. One way bacteria promote disease is by forming a biofilm, otherwise known as a bacterial community. Recent evidence demonstrates that biofilm formation allows bacteria to access a host, evade immune cells, and/or resist antimicrobials. These properties often provide a deadly advantage to pathogens during an infection, and current research focuses on how bacteria form these communities so that we can better treat or prevent disease. One of the few model systems used to study biofilm formation in the context of a host is the symbiotic, or beneficial, relationship between the bioluminescent bacterium, Vibrio fischeri, and the Hawaiian squid, Euprymna scolopes. To colonize its squid host, V. fischeri forms a biofilm on the surface of the squid’s symbiotic organ and then exits from the biofilm to reach its final destination within the organ. The biofilm that V. fischeri forms is controlled by genes known as syp. However, it remains unclear how the syp genes are turned on or off to ensure that the Syp biofilm is formed only at the proper time and place. Therefore, the goal of this work is to understand how V. fischeri controls the syp biofilm genes. Ultimately, this information can be used as a tool to understand how bacteria control biofilm formation in the context of an infection.
Undergraduate Work: To understand how the syp biofilm genes are controlled, a prospective student will measure the gene products, or Syp protein levels, in a variety of mutant V. fischeri strains. These mutants have been deleted for DNA sequences that are potentially involved in controlling Syp protein levels. Measuring protein can be done by utilizing a widely-used experimental technique known as a western blot. We hypothesize that if a particular V. fischeri mutant is missing an important regulatory DNA sequence, then the western blot will show different Syp protein levels in this strain as compared to a non-mutated V. fischeri strain. Upon completion of this project, a prospective student will have identified and/or ruled out key elements that are involved in controlling syp gene expression. This information will provide substantial insight into how biofilms are controlled in V. fischeri as well as inform about biofilm control in other bacteria.
- Asaf Bar-Tura: Philosophy
Project Description: Scholars defending the deliberative model of democracy have focused much of their attention on argumentation and criteria for offering public reasons in deliberative processes, but have paid little attention to the ways in which digital technologies mediate such deliberations. Conversely, critical theorists of technology have emphasized the socially determined nature of technology, but have lacked a theory of democracy through which to normatively assess technologies that mediate public discourse. Through a reworking of Jürgen Habermas’s discourse-based theory of democracy, this dissertation provides a new understanding of the flows of political communication and power in the democratic public sphere and the implications of digital technologies for democratic participation.
Undergraduate Work: With guidance, in the first half of the summer program (4 weeks) the student will be provided with a set of research questions related to the ways in which the prevalence of digital social media impact social interaction, especially with regard to public reasoning and policy-making. The student will seek out articles and reports that address these questions in academic journals as well as reports published by academic centers such as the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University and the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University. The student will then provide a summary of the articles/reports, and explicate in what ways they answer the questions provided, as well as what new questions they raise. In the second half of the summer program (4 weeks), the student will be provided a book (which may be an edited volumes of essays) on topics such as experiments with online deliberations, creating public forums online, online polling and democracy, and so on. The student will read the book, and provide a summary of the main points that are relevant for the research program. We will meet weekly to discuss progress and work through challenges.
- Daniel Dickson: Clinical Psychology
Project Description: Theoretical models for depression propose that individuals with depression demonstrate attention, interpretation, and memory biases for negative information. These processes are believed to be indicative of underlying depressive styles, which are present in currently depressed individuals. As previous work with formerly depressed individuals suggests, these underlying depressive styles may not be detectable using self-report measures, but instead best measured using experimental designs. The broad objective of this project is to assess these underlying depressive styles using laboratory based experimentation methods and electroencephalography (EEG) to evaluate biases in attention, interpretation, and memory across depressed, formerly depressed, and never depressed individuals. The primary aim of the study is to determine if these cognitive biases are in fact dependent upon negative mood and understand how these biases leave individuals vulnerable to subsequent periods of depression.
Undergraduate Work: Student trainees will be involved in multiple aspects of the research process such as research ethics, experimental design, participant recruitment and management, experiment administration, and statistical analysis. The bulk of the student experience will be spent assisting in data collection using electroencephalography (EEG) methods and computer-based experimental design with human subjects. Student trainees will have experience with statistical analysis and interpretation of statistical analyses findings. At the conclusion of the mentoring program, it is expected that students will have a firm grasp of the research process.
- Sarah Eilefson: English
Project Description: My dissertation focuses on trauma in the modernist era (approximately 1910-1940). From its earliest mention in the medical field, trauma referred exclusively to physical wounds. It was not until 1895—just two decades before the outbreak of WWI—that the definition was expanded to include psychological wounds. How relevant was this shift in the scientific understanding of trauma to the modernist literary imagination? What influence did medical journals, public lectures, newspapers and the physical presence of veterans (some, but not all of whom displayed visible wounds) have on modernist writers—if any? In order to answer these kinds of questions, my project explores medical and newspaper reports on trauma, asking to what extent medical understanding of the traumas of war were shared by modernist writers and to what extent they shaped the modernist imagination of trauma.
Undergraduate Work: In a collaborative effort, the undergraduate assistant and I will examine the professional and popular discourse of trauma during the modernist era. We will begin with a literature review of Ben Shephard’s A War of Nerves: Soldiers and Psychiatrists in the Twentieth Century and Peter Leese’s Shell Shock: Traumatic Neurosis and the British Soldiers of the First World War. Next, the student will complete a literature review for the years 1910 - 1940 of The Lancet and other medical journals, focusing on then-contemporary descriptions of trauma. In the latter half of our work together, the student will review newspapers and magazines for the same period for more popular expressions of trauma. This research will include such databases as ProQuest Historical Newspapers, Modernist Magazines Project, and the Modernist Journals Project as well as the archives at the Newberry Library. Throughout this process we will collaborate on research and documentation. Specifically, we will coordinate our search parameters and compile our results using Zotero and other research tools and databases.
- Valerie Flores: Developmental Psychology
Project Description: My field of research examines the executive functions (i.e., updating, inhibition, and shifting) of bilingual adults, given their early experience language brokering for their families. Language brokers are children who have regularly translated documents or conversations for their non-English speaking family members. Past research has shown that bilinguals, in general, have an advantage in executive functions. However, there is limited research regarding the executive functions of language brokers, who consistently translate and thus have significant opportunities to shift between languages. The current study explores whether bilinguals’ advantages in EF are best explained by how often they regularly shift or switch between languages. Furthermore, we will explore the neural correlates of these changes in executive function using scalp electroencephalography (EEG), or neuroscience methodology. Additionally, this study will also consider how the presence of certain cultural factors, such as familismo and respeto, interacts with language brokers’ EF. Holding such cultural values has been linked to children’s greater academic effort and fewer school absences. Past research has shown that Hispanic American children highly endorse these cultural values, and currently Hispanics also comprise the majority of the bilingual population in the US. However, it is unclear whether adhering to these values could enhance or attenuate the advantage bilingual children demonstrate in EF. This study will investigate whether adhering to such cultural values is advantageous for language brokers’ EF. This will be the first study to examine language brokers’ EF using EEG, while also considering the interaction of prominent cultural values.
Undergraduate Work: In an effort to share my enthusiasm for research, I hope to impart the following four research tools unto my undergraduate mentee over the course of the summer: the ability to synthesize literature into a written proposal, the competency to administer EEG tasks, the ability to manage and analyze data (i.e., using Excel, SPSS, and EMSE), and critical thinking skills. First, I will work with the undergraduate one-on-one conducting literature searches, reading and reviewing literature, and summarizing the literature in written form. Second, I will train the undergraduate to administer EEG tasks, which includes becoming proficient in a variety of computer software (e.g., EMSE, ActiveView), applying the EEG cap, and interacting with participants in a professional manner. Third, I will work with the mentee to clean, manage, and analyze the data we collect together. Critical thinking skills will be necessary for the three aforementioned skills, however, as a fourth skill critical thinking will be vital to the formation of the undergraduate’s own research questions. In short, I intend for my undergraduate mentee to transfer and apply these research tools to their own independent research project, in which they will take the lead.
- Kristin McCann: Higher Education
Project Description: Rapidly changing U.S. demographics alongside an increasingly diverse student body has prompted many colleges and universities to require diversity-related courses for undergraduate and graduate-level students. My dissertation research project takes up the phenomenon of “diversity education” in U.S. higher education with a specific focus on how students learn and how teachers teach about complex diversity-related topics, such as race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, belief, privilege, oppression, and social justice. Overall, this qualitative research project will involve interviews with graduate-level students, faculty, and analysis of a key assignment in the course that requires students to take photographs of what they view as “privilege”, “oppression”, and “social justice” at the beginning then at the end of a semester-long diversity course. Other documents from the course will also be reviewed.
Undergraduate Work: The final determination of the undergraduate students’ work will be mutually agreeable—thus, founded on both my needs and the student’s goals for the research experience. My primary goal is for the student to learn more about the research process when working with “human subjects” and to get a glimpse into graduate student life. The student will complete training through LUC in order to work with this study’s participants, and the following research tasks for the undergraduate student could include but not be limited to the following: a) finding and summarizing literature through online LUC library searches; b) finding and analyzing related, existing dissertations; c) observing and/or co-conducting interviews with students/faculty—(this would include preparation with me with regard to the nature of interview protocols, best practices for conducting interviews, etc.); d) observing or assisting with ‘coding’ (i.e., finding “themes”) in student/faculty interviews; e) transcribing interviews (i.e., word processing tape-recorded interviews); and f) preparation for the required poster presentation at the spring 2014 Undergraduate Research Symposium.
- Cynthia Pierre: Clinical Psychology
Project Description: Exposure to community violence is a serious public health concern, especially among African American youth living in low-income urban areas. A number of researchers have suggested that male youth develop attitudes that desensitize them to psychological distress but also promote violent behavior, a phenomenon labeled pathologic adaptation. Thus, in my dissertation I aim to explore: 1) The association between community violence exposure and the outcomes of emotional distress and violent behavior and 2) Important mediators of this relationship, such as aggression, future orientation, and PTSD symptoms. For this study, I will collect data from an urban all-boys high school at two or more time points, one year apart. There is already data available to begin preliminary analyses, but my work this summer will focus largely on constructing a literature review and “planning out” a sound model of the specific variables and measures that will be used in this study.
Undergraduate Work: By summertime, there will already have been two complete time points of data collected through the all-boys high school. The undergraduate research assistant will be exposed to several aspects of the general research process. Specifically, the student will work with me to: 1) gather and identify relevant studies on exposure to community violence and African-American youth mental health outcomes, 2) assist in identifying pertinent moderating and/or mediating variables in the literature, 3) assist in selecting appropriate and psychometrically sound measures 4) learn preliminary data analysis with existing data. Furthermore, the student will help me to develop a poster for a professional conference based on the results of the preliminary research. The student will learn the basics of data analysis and will also receive mentoring on creating a curriculum vitae and applying to graduate school programs.
- Alexandra Psihogios: Clinical Psychology
Project Description: Spina bifida is one of the most common and disabling birth defects in the United States, occurring in roughly 3 out of every 10,000 live births (CDC, 2011). Each day, approximately eight babies are born with SB in the United States, and these infants face a multitude of physical, cognitive, psychosocial, and medical challenges throughout their lives. Children with SB experience chronic bowel and bladder difficulties and physical disabilities which require complex medical care, such as intermittent catheterization, medications, bowel programs, physical therapy, dietary restrictions, and routine skin checks to prevent pressure sores. For youth with chronic health conditions, including those with SB, becoming independent with medical care tasks is an important prerequisite for transferring to adulthood successfully (such as living independently). Thus, a longitudinal examination of variables that promote or prevent an adolescent’sability to independently adhere to his or her medical regimen is essential. The goal of this study is to examine trajectories of autonomous medical adherence over the span of adolescence in youth with SB. Medical adherence refers to one’s ability to manage medical responsibilities according to medical recommendations. Considering that youth with SB struggle with becoming independent in general (e.g., Devine et al., 2011), it is likely that youth with SB also face pervasive challenges in medical domains. It is expected that characteristics of the adolescent with SB (e.g., cognitive functioning), characteristics of parents (e.g., overprotectiveness), and characteristics of peer relationships (e.g., friendship quality) may hinder (or facilitate) the development of healthcare behaviors. To investigate these hypotheses, a daily diary method of assessing healthcare behaviors will be implemented. In this method, children and parents are interviewed via telephone about the previous days’ activities in temporal sequence (from waking in the morning to returning to bed at night), over the span of three days (with at least one weekend day). Research suggests that this type of measurement is a more precise method for evaluating medical adherence in families (Quittner et al., 2008). However, this type of measurement device has yet to be employed with youth with physical disabilities, such as SB.
Undergraduate Work: The undergraduate that is selected for this project will have a number of responsibilities. First, the undergraduate will help in the development and execution of the daily diary data protocol. This includes calling parents and children and recording their daily activities, revising the protocol to be more efficient, creating databases, and entering data. As this project is a part of a larger, longitudinal study, the undergraduate will also become familiar with other projects in the lab (e.g., a therapeutic camp intervention for youth with spina bifida) and will have opportunities to participate in these studies. The undergraduate will also conduct literature searches and help revise the dissertation manuscript. Most importantly, the undergraduate will formulate and test his/her own research question. The undergraduate will receive mentorship in effectively arguing the need for his/her research question using the existing body of literature, conducting statistical analyses, and writing up his/her findings.
- Mary Van Opstel: Chemistry
Project Description: Metacognition is the knowledge of one’s own thinking and the regulation of it. Several studies note that people with greater use of metacognition perform better because they are more able to recognize gaps in their knowledge, monitor their skill development, and plan effectively to close knowledge gaps. These results emphasize that metacognition is a critical piece to effective learning in the classroom. These studies; however, do not express how to explicitly develop metacognition during classroom instruction. My research tests how an established instructional strategy, the Science Writing Heuristic (SWH), can be used as a tool to teach metacognitive strategies in the undergraduate chemistry laboratory. Chemistry majors in two lab courses -- general chemistry and instrumental analysis -- participated in a semester long study where they were either instructed in a traditional lab setting (non-SWH) or an inquiry lab setting (SWH) that included metacognitive strategies. We are using qualitative data, interviews and student writing, to explore and identify students’ perceptions of their metacognition and learning. At the same time, a metacognitive survey and ACS chemistry content exams are used in a repeated measures design to measure whether the explicit teaching of metacognitive strategies during instruction has any effect on students’ metacognitive awareness and academic achievement.
Undergraduate Work: This summer, you will assist me with some transcription of interviews. The main focus of my research is to perform qualitative data analysis on interview transcripts and student writing to gain insight into how students think they learn. In qualitative data analysis, we look through data to find patterns in what all the interviewees are saying. These patterns will become codes that we can explain how students perceive they learn in laboratory. To do this, you will learn to use the qualitative analysis software, NVivo. You will also have the opportunity to enter data into SPSS, a statistics program and learn how to run appropriate statistics to analyze students’ scores and survey answers. This data will tell us if our new instructional strategy helps students perform better in chemistry lab and class. I’d also like to keep an ongoing conversation about what you enjoy in the research, what you don’t and what you’d like to do after graduation!
- Dane Wendell: Political Science
Project Description: The human brain is powerfully influential on how people participate in the world around them—but how might the brain affect the political belief systems that we hold? Why do human beings have so many central disagreements over how a society should be structured? Traditionally, political scientists have offered a number of environmental factors as answers to this question: different socioeconomic classes, different families, different racial and ethnic backgrounds, different belief systems, and different sources of elite influences. Recently, however, some political scientists have called for increased investigation into the possible biological origins of political differences. This project explores how psychological variables and cognitive neuroscience may help explain political ideology.
Undergraduate Work: My research assistant will spend 6-8 weeks (based on their availability) working with me in Dr. Robert Morrison's Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab (CANlab). Their tasks will include: training in reading and cleaning electroencephalograpy signals, training in research software our lab uses, and assisting with data analysis. We will be looking at individuals and well as groups, and the assistant will also help with the creation of data visualizations to explore these individual and group differences. Finally, if the schedule fits, the research assistant will be able to participate in our research design meetings as we plan for our next project in political psychology.