Abstracts: Monday, February 12th

9:00 - 10:00 

Elena Parcell | Biology
Characterizing the Role of SPE-6 in Caenorhabditis Elegans Spermatogenesis
Advisor: Diane Shakes
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Cell division is an incredibly intricate process, and meiosis, the form of division by which organisms produce sperm and egg cells required for sexual reproduction – is even more complicated. Because mistakes in meiosis can have catastrophic consequences, including infertility. the process is tightly regulated.  We are using the model nematode Caenorhabditis elegans to study the role of a particular protein, SPE-6, in the process sperm production. Mutants lacking functional SPE-6 protein are infertile; their sperm development arrests following the preparatory stage of prophase, prior to the actual cell divisions of meiosis. My project was to identify any abnormalities prior to the terminal arrest, that will further our understanding SPE-6 function during spermatogenesis. Here I describe, the identification of a novel cellularization defect in spe-6 males that precedes the transition to the division phase of meiosis, and reveals a previously undescribed role for SPE-6.

Zachary Oppler | Biology 
The Genetic Basis of Social Phenotypes in S. Cerevisiae
Advisor: Helen Murphy 
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Microorganisms have been found to engage in complex social behaviors that play a large role in their ability to survive and reproduce. The Flo (flocculin) family is a set of genes in the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae that plays an extremely important role in the yeast’s ability to engage in social behavior and form multicellular structures. One of the genes in this family, FLO11, encodes a protein that allows individual cells to attach to one another and plays a crucial role in the formation of biofilms, structured communities, which are critical to survival during rapid environmental changes. Here we investigate patterns of population genetic variation within the different domains of FLO11. We find evidence of positive selection within the apical portion of the N-terminal region where Flo11p binds to other Flo11p. Our results suggest that this protein may function in kin-recognition, and thus prevent cheaters from invading cooperative communities.

Emma Merrill | Public Policy
Firearms Trafficking in Virginia: Supply Side Policy Perspectives of Firearms Licensees 
Advisor: Joel Schwartz 
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Firearms policy is a complicated, polarizing issue in American public life. My study focuses on Federal Firearms Licensees’ opinions regarding best practices to address illegal interstate firearms trafficking. I chose Virginia because its high rate of private firearms ownership, large number of Federal Firearms Licensees, or FFLs, and the state’s limited number of gun regulations make it an “easy case” as a source state for trafficked guns. To collect my data, I surveyed 580 Virginian FFLs using an online database, focusing on the FFLs’ perceptions of how these policies would impact their sales and business. I hypothesized that FFLs would favor greater restrictions on private sales of firearms to equalize costs of production between them and private sellers and collectors. My results support my hypothesis. indicating that approximately quarter of respondents perceived an economic incentive to favor greater regulation of private sales. I discuss research design limitations along with future research and policy recommendations.

10:30 - 11:30 

Megan Screen | Chemistry 
Artificial Photosynthesis: Hydrogen Fuel Generation via Transition Metal Complexes 
Advisor: William McNamara
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My honors thesis focuses on developing a photocatalytic system utilizing earth abundant materials for hydrogen fuel generation. I will use a robust attachment for a stable system. Hydrogen fuel generation is great because it can be combusted directly to harness energy or be combined with oxygen in a fuel cell to generate electricity. This method is called Artificial Photosynthesis and is one of the most green and efficient fuel generation methods.

Brian Anyakoha | Neuroscience
Social Anxiety & Pain: Establishing A Link Along Racial Lines
Advisor: Cheryl Dickter
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Previous research has shown that social exclusion, whereby individuals are discriminated against, and made to feel isolated or unimportant by others, can be detrimental to human social needs and can negatively impact mental/physical health because human beings are intrinsically social beings (Goodwin et. al, 2010). Additionally, past research has shown that human motivational, psychological, and affective responses to ostracism indicate increased levels of social pain (the emotional pain we experience when our social needs are violated) (Kawamoto et. al, 2015). Other cognitive responses, also seem to increase in response to exclusion. For example, the extent to which faces are processed increases as well, in that the faces are perceived as more threatening when emotive facial features are expressed (Dickter & Burk, in preparation). This becomes especially true when anxiety-inducing situations arise. This anxiety can stem from stress induced from out-groups or within one’s in-group. So in the same vain, anxiety can prompt greater EEG activity, visual encoding, racial cue attenuation, and socio-evaluative concern when one is being monitored (Ofan et. al, 2013) Also, it seems that certain neural signatures serve as predictors of distress (unpleasant emotion that impacts cognitive function and well-being) that is imposed by ostracism (van Noordt et. al, 2015). Researchers have also demonstrated that in-group/out-group status can moderate reactions to exclusion. Essentially, ostracism hurts more and social inclusion feels better when it is implemented by fellow in-group as opposed to out-group members. Also, differential reactions to social inclusion and ostracism are mediated by changes in participants’ self-perceived similarity with in-group members. (Sacco et. al, 2014). It would also seem that the pain of being stigmatized is lessened by the solidarity conferred by identifying with others in the same position (Schmitt, 2002). Further, it appears that attribution of exclusion to prejudice impacts responses to the exclusion itself (Goodwin et. al, 2010). However, little research has looked into the possibility of an overarching link between social pain, anxiety, and race. We predict that social exclusion will yield different neural processing when it comes from a racial ingroup/outgroup member, possibly pointing to different innate sensitivities/responses to social pain. Furthermore, we predict that social pain, evoked by ostracism, will lead to increased EEG and EMG activity typically affiliated with heightened levels of anxiety, especially in subjects with higher base levels of dispositional social anxiety (positive correlation). Thus, we hope to investigate and more concretely establish a perceptible relationship between social anxiety and pain along racial contexts, while also aiming to point out differences in neural response as a function of racial in/out group status. We also hope to further bring the social anxiety closer to the forefront of the mental health conversation by stressing its ubiquitous impact on daily life.

Hannah Bruzzio | Biology 
Particle Interactions in the Filter-Feeding American Shad
Advisor: S. Laurie Sanderson
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More than 25% of the world’s fish catch consists of filter-feeding fish such as menhaden, anchovies, shad, tilapia and carp. Despite their economic and ecological importance, we largely don’t know how they filter their own food from the water. This summer I will be conducting research in the hopes to further the scientific knowledge of how these fish remove food particles from the water without clogging their entire system. Because there are so many species of fish that make use of filter-feeding, one main goal of my research is to study a fish species, previously not studied by this lab, in order to understand the mechanism in a diversity of fish species. Not only is it important to study these filter-feeding fish for the sake of learning their impressive feeding mechanisms, but this knowledge will also have practical applications in the field of biotechnology. Many mechanical processes use the same type of mechanism as these fish do while feeding. However the difference is that the machines get clogged which becomes a costly issue in these biotechnology products. Having a full understanding of the filtering mechanism in which these fish use to feed can lead to practical applications in industry.

12:00 - 1:00 

Likhitha Kolla | Biology
Immune Landscape across Pediatric Cancers
Advisors: Lizabeth Allison
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The tumour microenvironment is a heterogeneous community of cells, interacting with each other to influence tumour growth. Studies show that the immune infiltrates in the tumour play a major role in either inhibiting or promoting the progression of cancer. Different combinations of immune infiltrates yield different outcomes in cancer prognosis. Recent high throughput sequencing technology has enabled us to classify the composition of the tumour microenvironment. The purpose of my study is to analyze open-access pediatric cancer genomic datasets to map the immune landscapes of various pediatric tumours. Characterization of the immune environment of tumours may lead to a more comprehensive understanding of the molecular underpinnings of pediatric cancers.

Robert O'Gara | Economics
The Economic Impact of Higher Education on High Technology Industry in 'Rust Belt'
Advisors: John Parman
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Economists and policymakers have long regarded universities as key “anchor institutions” that drive economic growth. In addition, they have long viewed so-called “high-technology” industries as a source of steady, high-paying jobs. In cities struggling with the loss of traditional manufacturing jobs, the desire to attract high-technology industry is strong. This research will examine the ways that universities can impact employment and wage levels in high-technology industry in mid-sized cities located in the so-called “Rust Belt” and in New England. Many of these cities have struggled with the loss of traditional manufacturing firms and jobs. Initial preliminary findings suggest that, using data from 2000-2015 the most significant way universities in these mid-sized cities can support high-technology employment is by enrolling more students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematic (STEM) fields, as well as by increasing research expenditures in STEM fields.

1:30 - 2:30 

Anna Kenan | Biology 
The Acid Response System of Helicobacter pylori
Advisor: Mark Forsyth
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Two Component Systems (TCS), which consist of a sensory protein and a regulatory protein, are vital for colonization and pathogenesis in bacteria. My research focuses on the mechanism behind the ArsRS acid response TCS in Helicobacter pylori, a pathogen that infects the human stomach. I examined the activation of ArsR and found that only the phosphomimetic amino acids asparagine and glutamic acid substitutions are viable at the phospho-accepting site in ArsR, suggesting that phosphorylation at this site is key in ArsR activation. These mutants did not, however, show constitutive acid regulation, suggesting that phosphorylation at the 52nd site on ArsR is not sufficient to induce acid regulation. I also found that an ArsS H214A mutant failed to acid regulate the ArsRS regulon genes sabA and ureA, indicating that phosphorylation by ArsS is necessary for acid regulation. These results suggest that the ArsRS TCS is much more complex than typical TCSs.

Anna Chahuneau | Biology
Pursuing the Monarchs
Advisor: Harmony Dalgleish
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Pursuing the Monarchs examines the social and biological factors causing a rapidly waning monarch butterfly population across North America. This succinct yet poignant documentary traverses viewers across the American heartland from the vast plains of Iowa to the jungles of Michoacán. It is an intrepid journey across the front lines of one of Earth’s most chaste and treasured species’ battle for survival against rampant deforestation and the devastating practices of industrialized agriculture.

Jessica Crowley | Neuroscience
Mathematical Modeling of Axon Degeneration
Advisor: Randolph Coleman 
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It is known that after a short lag, calcium influx results in the activation of calpains that degrade cytoskeletal components of the axon causing degeneration. Here, mechanistic modeling is used to investigate the role of calcium in Wallerian degeneration. Existing mechanistic models for pathways in various neurodegenerative diseases have proved successful in predicting outcomes of disease. The process of active degeneration in axons is complex and the use of a computational model representing the degeneration pathway will help elucidate the mechanisms of the process and possibly provide insight for development of future therapeutic targets.

3:00 - 4:00 

Rachel Dubit | Classical Studies
A Song of Arms and of the Woman: Confronting Cleopatra from the Augustan Era in the Carmen de Bello Actiaco 
Advisor: Molly Swetnam-Burland 
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This project undertakes to translate and re-examine the Carmen de Bello Actiaco, a fragmentary Latin epic recovered in the form of a carbonized papyrus scroll from the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum. The extant sections recount the events surrounding the 31 BCE battle of Actium, and the largest portions of text follow Cleopatra VII’s flight to Alexandria, as Octavian besieges and captures the city and she prepares for her suicide. The exact date and author of the text are unknown, so I propose to analyze the Carmen by focusing on the alterity imposed by the Romans upon Egypt, and Cleopatra in particular. The first section of my thesis explores Cleopatra's character in the epic and the Roman portrayal of her roles as pharaoh, mother, woman, goddess, and foreigner. The second section contextualizes the Carmen within the Augustan era, tracing Rome's continued exploitation of the Egyptian conquest through its politics, literature, and material culture.

Annie Fuller | Africana Studies
Health and Medicine among New African Immigrants in the United States
Advisor: Mei Mei Sanford
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The focus of this research will be on the medicines and health practices of new African immigrants in the U.S. and the role they play in an increasingly holistic American health field. For the Eurocentric American, “traditional” African practices are predominantly viewed as antithetical to modernity; for the Afrocentric American, relying solely on white western medicine indicates a rejection of one’s complete identity. This dynamic is proficient in both resolving health crises and creating cultural conflict. The rise of “alternative medicine” within the formal American health field may illuminate the benefits of a multifaceted approach to medicine in popular media and possibly ease the tensions for new African immigrants and their descendants. This research aims to explore new African immigrant medicine in the United States through ethnographic accounts and observe the extent to which the acceptance of alternative medicine applies to African-derived practices.

4:30 - 5:30 

William Kim | Chemistry
Purification and Characterization of Boron Nitride Nanotubes
Advisor: David Kranbuehl
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Boron nitride nanotubes (BNNT) have outstanding properties for their size. Among them are the fact that they are electrically insulating as well as highly thermally conductive. These properties specifically are of interest in applications for thermal management. BNNT composite materials may help drive the future of electronic devices as highly efficient thermal management is necessary to make electronics more efficient. Our lab has focused on finding methods for purifying and characterizing these materials to better understand their optimal state. We have also started to make polymer composites containing BNNT in hopes of enhancing the properties of these polymers.

Anna Do | Chemistry 
Gas-phase Hydrogen Deuterium Exchange and Fragmentation of Tetrapeptides Containing Lysine Homologues
Advisor: John C. Poutsma
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Understanding fragmentation mechanisms is essential to improving peptide sequencing and searching algorithms, as well as continuing the use of mass spectrometry for bottom-up proteomics studies. Positional variance and basicities of lysine and its homologues may affect the stabilities of the tetrapeptides and influence fragmentation patterns. This study involves the systematic substitution of short lysine homologues: ornithine (Orn), 2,4-diaminobutanoic acid (Daba), and 2,3-diaminopropanoic acid (Dapa). The effects of these substitutions are reflected in the different fragmentation behavior and hydrogen-deuterium exchange (HDX) rates. The fragmentations of tetrapeptides containing lysine homologues were analyzed using collision induced dissociation (CID) in an ESI-ion trap mass spectrometer.

Shichuan Xi | Chemistry 
Investigation of the Catalytic Ability of an Amine-functionalized Polypyridyl Iron Complex for Hydrogen Generation
Advisor: William McNamara
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In previous studies, a series of iron(III) complexes containing polypyridyl ligands have been found to be highly active for reducing protons into hydrogen gas. When these complexes are paired with fluorescein (chromophore) and triethylamine (sacrificial electron donor) in 1:1 water : ethanol mixture, hydrogen evolution is observed with high TON (~2100). To this end, a modified polypyridyl ligand with a pendant amine group is used in the synthesis of a new hydrogen-evolving iron complex.

6:00 - 7:00 

Ronald Cutler | Biology 
Homeolog Gene Regulation in the Developing Allotetraploid Frog Xenopus laevis
Advisor: Margaret Saha
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The Xenopus laevis genome is an allotetraploid consisting of 2 diploid subgenomes denoted L and S, where 47% is made up of homeologous pairs - genes that are orthologous to the closest relative X. tropicalis and are both in the L and S subgenomes. While homeolog regulation has been characterized during normal development in important signaling pathway genes, little is known about the regulation of homeologs in response to developmental perturbation. Thus, our study explored the global patterns of homeologs in response to genetic and physical perturbations to the developing nervous system during neural developmental stages of X. laevis embryos. We conclude that perturbations during neural development cause a significant transcriptome response that is largely characterized by variations in specific homeolog regulation to facilitate recovery.

Chen Dong | Biology 
Molecular Mechanisms of AP Neural Axis Plasticity in the Embryonic Xenopus laevis CNS
Advisor: Margaret Saha
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The research aims to discover the extent and potential mechanisms of AP neural axis plasticity in the embryonic Central Nervous System of Xenopus laevis by employing an embryological transplantation technique coupled with molecular techniques.

Katherine Lang | Geology 
Kinematics of Brittle and Ductile Deformation in the Historic Blue Ridge Tunnel and Rockfish Gap, Virginia
Advisor: Christopher Bailey
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Beneath Rockfish Gap, one of the lowest elevations along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, sits the historic 1858 Blue Ridge Tunnel (BRT). The BRT cuts directly through foliated metabasalts and metasedimentary rocks of the Ediacaran Catoctin Formation and provides a rare 3-dimensional exposure of the Blue Ridge cover sequence on the western limb of the Blue Ridge Anticlinorium. The purpose of this study is to characterize brittle and ductile deformation features in the Catoctin Formation in the BRT to determine their kinematics and understand the timing.