Tag Archive for student research

Summer McNair Scholars Study Water on Mars, Toxins, Black Political Activists

McNair scholar Lavontria Aaron '14 studied "Mars Brine Mineralogy" this summer. Her research was sponsored by the Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate Achievement Program.

McNair scholar Lavontria Aaron ’14 studied “Mars Brine Mineralogy” this summer. Her research was sponsored by the Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate Achievement Program.

By looking at high-resolution images captured by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, scientists are able to see gullies, which are argued to be geologically recent. Because they are most likely formed by water, it is believed that they can answer the question of whether or not there is still “active” water on Mars.

As a summer Wesleyan McNair scholar, astronomy major Lavontria Aaron ’14 used a hyperspectral instrument to determine if the gullies contained minerals (salts) which would be left behind by water brines.

“By examining the spectrum of the brines, we’ll be able to learn more about Mars’ history and possibly man’s future in pursuit of exploring the red planet,” says Aaron, who worked on the project with her faculty advisor Marty Gilmore, chair and associate professor of earth and environmental sciences.

Aaron and her 13 McNair peers are supported by the Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate Achievement Program, which serves students in their second, third, and fourth college semesters. It provides career-oriented activities,

Sediment Geochemistry, Children’s Linguistic Studies at Summer Research Poster Session

Students majoring in earth and environmental sciences, biology, molecular biology and biochemistry, chemistry, physics, psychology, environmental health, safety and sustainability presented their summer-long research projects during the Wesleyan Summer Research Poster Session Aug. 2 in Exley Science Center. Quantitative Analysis Center summer fellows, Hughes fellows, and McNair scholars also presented their research. Photos of the event are below (Photos by Olivia Drake):

Psychology major Yan Pui “Angela” Lo ’14 presented “The Role of Linguistic Context in Children’s Acquisition of Number Words.” Her advisor is Anna Shusterman, assistant professor of psychology.

Chemistry major Sarah Hensiek ’13 discussed her research on “Comparative Studies of Transition Metal Complexes of Polyacetate Tetraaza Macrocycles.” Her advisor is T. David Westmoreland, associate professor of chemistry.

Raymond Wong ’14 spoke about his summer-long research on “Are Wealthier States More Successful than Poorer States?: The Impact of Income Packaging on States’ Child Poverty Rates. Wong’s advisor was Wendy Rayack, associate professor of economics, tutor in the College of Social Studies. Wong completed his research through the Quantitative Analysis Center.

Ellen Lesser ’15 presented a poster titled “Estimation Bias in Numerical and Non-Numerical Spatial Tasks in 9- and 10- Year Olds and Adults.” Her advisors are Hilary Barth, associate professor of psychology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, and postdoctoral fellow Emily Slusser.

Molecular biology and biochemistry and chemistry major Laura Nocka ’13 speaks to Francis Starr, associate professor of physics, about her research on “Structure and Function of Holliday Junctions Complexed with Ions and HU Protein. Her advisors are Ishita Mukerji, dean of the Natural Sciences and Mathematics, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, and David Beveridge, the Joshua Boger University Professor of the Sciences and Mathematics, professor of chemistry.

David Shor ’13 presented “Impact of Exposure to Party Mentions in Political Ads and Local News on Ability to Identify Candidates’ Political Party.” His advisor is Erika Franklin Fowler, assistant professor of government. Shor completed his research through the Quantitative Analysis Center and Wesleyan Media Project.

Earth and environmental science major Ariela Knight ’13 presented “Sediment Geochemistry and Laminations of Ballston Lake, N.Y.” Her advisor is Tim Ku, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences. Pictured at right is Dana Royer, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences.

Fellows Explore Black History in School Curricula, Deglaciation, Schooling in Nicaragua, More

Elsa Hardy '14 presents her Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship research on July 26.

Elsa Hardy ’14 presents her Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship research on July 26. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Last summer, Elsa Hardy ’14 worked for a youth enrichment program in New York City. Several of the children came from the Frederick Douglass Academy, a middle school in Harlem where 75 percent of the students are black.

“I asked the students who went there, ‘Do you know who Frederick Douglass was?’ None of them did. They had no idea,” Hardy recalls. “I was shocked to learn that the students didn’t know who the namesake of their school was.”

Hardy, who is majoring in African American studies and Hispanic literatures and cultures, became curious as to why the average middle school student received such a diluted black history lesson in the classroom. As a 2012 participant in the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship summer session, Hardy launched a research project on “Middle School U.S. History Curricula, Black National Identity, and Academic Performance.”

“If U.S. history curriculum covers black history minimally, or not at all, what effect does this have on the ways in which black students understand their place in our nation’s history or in contemporary American society,” she asks.

The Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program is a highly selective mentoring program that prepares students of color and others committed to overcoming racial and ethnic disparities in education for graduate study and careers as university professors in the arts and sciences. Four fellows from Wesleyan and six fellows from Queens College spent six weeks this summer working on their preliminary research. They presented their findings and plans on July 26.

“The summer session is just the beginning of a life-long relationship with these students,” says MMUF coordinator Krishna Winston,

Seniors, BA/MAs Present Thesis Research at NSM Poster Session

Seth Hafferkamp '12 presents his thesis titled, "Autoionization Lifetime Measurements of Na2 Rydberg States" at the "Celebration of Science Theses" April 19 in Exley Science Center. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Fifteen Wesleyan students presented posters on their research in the sciences and mathematics at the seventh annual “Celebration of Science Theses” event held April 19.

“You help keep our sciences here vibrant and alive,” Ishita Mukerji, dean of natural sciences and mathematics, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, tells the students gathered in the lobby of Exley Science Center as she congratulates them. Mukerji says she hopes that after pausing to celebrate their achievements, the students will continue to pursue research for many years to come.

The work presented by seniors and BA/MA students spans a wide range of disciplines.

Micah Wylde ’12 presents his research on “Safe Motion Planning for Autonomous Driving."

For his project, Micah Wylde ’12, a computer science major, developed algorithms for self-driving cars, like the cars reportedly being developed by Google. The algorithms translate high-level navigation goals (eg. Drive from home to the grocery store) into actual turns of the steering wheel. “I was working particularly on safety, which is a big deal when you have one-ton cars hurtling down the road,” he explains.

Wylde says self-driving cars are no longer the stuff of science fiction. “Everything has come together in the last five years—algorithms, sensing technology,” he says. “Now it’s just refining it.”

He adds, “In the next decade, there are going to be autonomous cars on the road—no question.”

Tom Oddo ’12, a Science in Society Program major, studied the work of D. D. Palmer, who founded chiropractics at the turn of the 20th century. Oddo plans to train to be a chiropractor after graduation, and sought to explain the stigma attached to the practice.

Students, Local Community Participate in Archaeology Dig

Students enrolled in Wesleyan's "Middletown Materials" class let an archeological excavation April 14-15 at the Beman Triangle on campus. The Beman Triangle is the land between Vine Street, Cross Street, and Knowles Ave., where homes have existed since the early 19th century. Pictured, teaching assistant Miriam Manda '12 helps local resident Mark with setting up a site.

98 Students Present Data Analysis, Statistical Research

Amber Smith '14 presents her research during the Quantitative Analysis Center's Fall Poster Session Dec. 9. Smith examined levels of depression among adolescents with and without permanent physical disabilities. "This was my first poster presentation at Wesleyan, and it was amazing to see everyone so engaged in my study," Smith says.

Amber Smith '14 presents her research during the Quantitative Analysis Center's Fall Poster Session Dec. 9. Smith examined levels of depression among adolescents with and without permanent physical disabilities. "This was my first poster presentation at Wesleyan, and it was amazing to see everyone so engaged in my study," Smith says.

Does participating in combat sports (like martial arts and wrestling) or playing contact sports (like football and hockey) influence aggression outside of the sport? According to a study by Zander Parkinson ’13, the answer might be, yes.

English and psychology double major Alexander "Zander" Parkinson '13 presents his study, "Anger and Athletics: The Association between Sports and Aggression."

English and psychology double major Alexander "Zander" Parkinson '13 presents his study, "Anger and Athletics: The Association between Sports and Aggression."

“I found that among male adolescents there was a significant association between activity level and increased likelihood of getting into a physical fight,” Parkinson explained during the Quantitative Analysis Center’s Fall Poster Session Dec. 9. “Adolescents who played an active sport three or more times a week were significantly more likely to get into a physical fight than non-active adolescents who played an active sport two or less times a week.”

Parkinson and 97 other Wesleyan students enrolled in the hands-on course Applied Data Analysis (QAC 201) presented posters as their final exam. More than 30 guests, who use and teach applied statistics, attended the event to speak with students and judge the posters. (View a photo gallery of the poster session online here.)

The interdisciplinary course QAC 201 provides experience in data management and applied statistics. Students develop skills in several aspects of the research process including generating testable hypotheses based on extant data; conducting a literature review and evaluating the content of scientific literature; preparing data for analysis;

Current Research Presented at Biophysics, Chemistry Retreat

Vern Schramm spoke on “Drug Design from Transition State Analysis” during the 12th annual Molecular Biophysics and Biological Chemistry Retreat Sept. 22 in Wadsworth Mansion in Middletown. Schramm is professor and the Ruth Merns Chair in Biochemistry at Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He investigates enzymatic transition state structures, which enable him to develop powerful inhibitors for treatment and prevention of cancer and other diseases.

Vallo ’13 Studies Seizure Suppression, Teaches Local Students about Science

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This summer, Mary Vallo '13 developed a needs assessment for the Epilepsy Foundation of Connecticut. She also volunteers in the Wesleyan Science Outreach club and plays intramural soccer. (Photo by Bill Tyner '13)

Q: Mary, what is your class year, and what are you majoring in?

A: I’m a junior, and I’m double-majoring in neuroscience and behavior and English.

Q: You’re currently working in the lab of Jan Naegele, professor of neuroscience and behavior, professor of biology. Can you tell us a bit about your research in the Naegele Lab?

A: The Naegele Lab studies temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE), which involves instances of elevated electrical activity in the brain called seizures. In cases where medication does not alleviate seizures, TLE patients experience cell death and damage in the dentate gyrus, part of the hippocampal region of the brain. Using a mouse model of TLE, our goal is to replenish the damaged neurons via stem cell injections. And since seizure-related cell death especially affects a type of interneuron that normally inhibits electrical impulses, we hope that restoring those interneurons will help to suppress seizure activity.

Q: This summer, you participated in the Wesleyan University Hughes Program, funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. What was your summer-long research project?

A: The project that I began over the summer analyzes brain sections from epileptic mice that have received stem cell transplants. I stain for a protein that marks transplanted cell axons and another protein called gephyrin that is found at inhibitory synapses. So far, I have found several instances where transplant axons overlap with gephyrin. These findings suggest that the stem cells form inhibitory connections that may contribute to seizure suppression.

Biology Researchers Study Connecticut’s Native Fish Populations

Barry Chernoff, the Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies, and his graduate student, Michelle Tipton, photograph an Eastern Blacknose Dace used in their current research. The photo of the fish will appear in an upcoming scientific journal.

There’s something fishy about one of Connecticut’s minnows, and the topic hooked researchers in the Department of Biology.

During the last ice age, Connecticut was covered by layers of snow and ice, forcing organisms to seek refuge elsewhere. After the glaciers retreated, recolonization of the fauna and flora resulted in the diversity of native species that inhabit the state today.

Graduate student Michelle Tipton holds an Eastern Blacknose Dace. Tipton captured the fish from Middletown's Coginchaug River Aug. 8. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

“But where did they come from? How did they come back to the Northeast to give us all the organisms we see today?” asks biology graduate student Michelle Tipton. “These questions are of particular interest to the ichthyologists at Wesleyan with regards to fishes.”

In an upcoming issue of Ecology and Evolution, a scientific open access journal, faculty and students provide some of the first genetic evidence of what took place during the most recent post-glacial recolonization events, which provided Connecticut and the northeast with its native fish populations. To begin filling the void of information for this large biogeographic question, they started their research with this ubiquitous minnow.