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Abstracts

This year, all First-year Monroe Scholars wrote an abstract describing their research project. 

An abstract is a short, paragraph-long description of a research project, providing information about the research questions/objectives; the context for the work; research methods; and major findings.

Abstracts are often included on the first page of published papers or book chapters. They are usually the first thing people read when they encounter a research paper and sometimes the only thing they read! An abstract is also often required if you apply for research grants, or to give a talk or poster at a conference. Although it can be challenging, writing a succinct and engaging abstract is a critical skill for all researchers.

Mathematics & Computer Sciences
Paul Anderson '24: Nonzero Patterns In Reduced Echelon Forms of M-By-N Matrices of Rank R (Mathematics)

 

The Number of Nonzero Patterns In Reduced Echelon Forms of M-By-N Matrices of Rank R

Any m-by-n matrix may be transformed to its unique "reduced echelon form". In this form, many entries must be either 0 or 1, but the others may still take on any value (though perhaps not 0). Each matrix has a unique rank (a positive integer r no more than the smaller of m and n). This number tells the smallest dimension that the columns (or rows) span. Given m, n and r, we wanted to know the number of distinct 0/nonzero patterns that may occur. Basic ideas may be found in the textbook, "Linear Algebra and its Applications.” To investigate this problem, we calculated the number of patterns for multiple matrices and then compared the resulting sequence of numbers to those that appeared on the Online Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences, an online database of number sequences. Once we found matching sequences, we compared their nature, often recursive, to that of matrices. We eventually found that our patterns matched the gaussian binomial coefficients, a generalization of the standard binomial coefficients. We then explored the connection more rigorously by developing a series of recursive formulas that linked the number of zero/non-zero patterns to formulas linked to the gaussian binomial coefficients. The fact that the number of patterns in reduced echelon form matrices match the gaussian binomial coefficients points to a close connection in their structures, likely in the form of the polynomials associated with the gaussian binomial coefficients.

Faculty advisor: Professor Charles Johnson

Elizabeth Germain '24: Have Americans Become Desensitized to Mass Shootings? (Computer Science)
 

An Exploration Of Twitter Responses To Five Major U.S. Mass Shootings From 2016-2020: Have Americans Become Desensitized To Mass Shootings?

Mass shootings are occurring in the United States with increasing frequency, yet little research has examined the effect of mass shootings on the psyche of the American people. My research aimed to explore if Americans are becoming desensitized to mass shootings, as evidenced by changes in Twitter responses to mass shootings, and to determine if the amount of gun control discussion occurring in the wake of mass shootings has changed over time. I measured desensitization based on magnitude of discussion, longevity of discussion, and presence of negative emotions in the language of discussion. I used a list of hashtags to gather tweets for the fifteen days following the five deadliest shootings in the past five years. I measured magnitude based on the distribution of retweets, likes, replies, and overall impressions; longevity based on the simple moving average of the number of impressions; and negative affect based on the percentage of negative, neutral, and positive words in the tweets as measured by Valence Aware Dictionary and sEntiment Reasoner (VADER), as well as the average proportion of each tweet that expressed fear, disgust, anger, sadness, and anxiety as measured by Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC). I found a stable magnitude and longevity of discussion, a general increase in negative emotion, and a decrease in the amount of gun control discussion over time. My findings suggest that desensitization has not occurred, but people may be tiring of the gun control conversation, which could have negative implications for gun control activism.

Faculty advisor: Professor Dana Willner 

Humanities
Lulu Dawes '24: The Representation of Slavery in Virginian Plantations’ Grounds Tours, Websites, and Brochures (History)

 

The Representation of Slavery in Virginian Plantations’ Grounds Tours, Websites, and Brochures

Plantations and their respective tours play an important role in shaping the public's perception of America's complicated past with slavery. In past decades, many researchers have analyzed the ways in which plantation tours portray their personal history with slavery; however, much of this research has focused on large plantations in the deep south. Additionally, sources that did discuss Virginia plantations only referred to the most popular ones, such as Mount Vernon and Monticello, which have a vast resource of professional historians and scholarship. In this research, I analyzed six Virginia plantations—Monticello, Mount Vernon, Smith’s Fort, Shirley, and Sherwood Forest—and their depiction (or lack thereof) of slavery. Looking at variables such as who owns the plantations and if descendants of the original family still live in the house, this study analyzes whether each plantation portrayed slavery in a historically accurate manner and devoted spaces to discuss their history with their enslaved populations. I found that while Monticello and Mount Vernon effectively and respectfully educated the public on the history of their enslaved, the three less popular plantations—Shirley, Sherwood, and Smith’s Fort—failed to highlight the lives of the enslaved population, instead focusing mainly on the planter family or the original house. Common tropes of the former three plantations were referring to enslaved people as “fieldhands” or “servants,” removing enslaved people’s quarters as exhibits, and not mentioning enslaved people on their websites or brochures.

Faculty advisor: Professor Carol Sheriff

 Lucas Hauser '24: Why Small States Start Big Wars (Government)

Why Small States Start Big Wars: Analyzing Asymmetric Conflict Initiation by Weaker States

Under what circumstances would a weaker state launch a war against a more powerful one? A great deal of international relations literature deals with the probability of success of smaller and larger states in asymmetric conflict, but less focus has been directed towards understanding what factors compel a smaller state to initiate a conflict against a larger state. To test competing hypotheses from the literature, I conduct case study analysis. More credible theories could explain both cases, where asymmetric initiation was chosen and where it was ultimately not pursued. Few theories were able to explain both cases. First, I examine Japan’s decision to attack Russia in 1904, which ignited the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). Second, I look at the Canadian decision to avoid intervention in the American Civil War (1861-1865). Essentially, Japan felt backed into a corner with no hope for peaceful resolution of its grievances, while American diplomats ensured that the status quo did not remain stagnant between the Union and Canada. I propose a combination of existing theories as an explanation. An unacceptable stagnant status quo and an imbalance of resolve play critical roles, and alliances, elite politics, and domestic politics provide important permission structures for attack. These domestic variables have not received enough attention and demand further research. Overall, by understanding what motivates weaker states to initiate asymmetric conflict, we learn about the nature of states in the international system and how they make decisions. 

Faculty advisor: Professor Amy Oakes

Natural Sciences
Judah Engel '24: Testing Neuronal Synchrony as Precursor to Respiratory Inspiration (Applied Science)

 

Testing Neuronal Synchrony as Precursor to Respiratory Inspiration

The complex neurological mechanisms underlying breathing remain under study to this day, with a recent paper proposing that neuronal network synchronization plays a vital role in the genesis of breathing signals. My group sought to test this theory. Neuronal membrane potential was recorded from neurons located in the Pre-Bötzinger Complex (neurological control center for respiration) of rats. We conducted wavelet analyses, explored spectral density data, and utilized cross correlational studies to explore the way in which neuronal synchrony shifts during the breathing cycle of these mammals. Our studies showed no relationship between the synchronization of neurons and the emergence of inspiratory bursts (an inspiratory burst is a signal that tells the organism to breath). This work culminated in the development of an automated indexing program to locate the indices of these bursts within the noisy data. This research is still going on, and further analysis is needed to make any conclusive remarks about the relationship between network synchronization and breathing. If neuronal synchrony is found to not be one of the fundamental mechanisms underlying breathing, more research will be needed to explore other theories for the origin of this mysterious behavior. Understanding the origin of respiration in the brain may have tremendous impacts for those suffering from breathing disorders and may shine light on the origin of rhythmic behaviors as a whole.

Faculty advisor: Professor Gregory Conradi Smith

Sarah Hawkins '24: Questions Relating To Neutrino Physics (Physics)

Exploring Open Questions Relating to Neutrino Physics and how DUNE may answer them

Neutrinos are one of the most abundant particles in our universe, and yet also the most elusive, meaning scientists know much less about them compared to the other fundamental particles. Next-generation neutrino experiments, like the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE), aim to bridge this gap in knowledge by taking precision measurements of neutrino oscillations and probing physics Beyond the Standard Model (BSM). My research utilized scientific literature to evaluate the current level of knowledge surrounding neutrino physics, focusing specifically on the remaining open questions, and explored how DUNE can improve upon that knowledge, both individually and in conjunction with other experiments. The literature I reviewed discussed discoveries and theories involving neutrinos, such as the model for neutrino oscillations, in addition to describing the capabilities and physics reach of other neutrino experiments, including DUNE’s predecessors and other next-generation experiments. From this, the importance of continuing experimental and theoretical research is clear. Neutrinos are the least well understood fundamental particle, but further study presents the best chance to discover BSM physics since neutrino oscillations require the first modification to the Standard Model since its codification in the 1970s. DUNE offers an unprecedented opportunity to better understand neutrinos through precision measurements and will provide valuable complementary data to other neutrino experiments, particularly in the study of supernova neutrinos given their sensitivities to different neutrino interactions. Therefore, continued research into neutrino oscillations and interactions is necessary to address the incompleteness of the Standard Model and successfully describe our universe at its most fundamental level.

Faculty advisor: Professor Jeff Nelson 

Sydney Lenz '24: Juvenile Mortality in Marine Invertebrates (Biology)

Juvenile Mortality in Marine Invertebrates is Influenced by Phylum, Source of Mortality, and More

Many marine invertebrates have complex life cycles, where swimming larvae settle to the bottom, metamorphose and become juveniles, then grow to become adults. The transition from larvae to adults has long been assumed to be a time of high mortality, however this topic has not been thoroughly reviewed in the past 25 years, and much research has been done since then. As a part of this literature review, approximately 300 papers from a variety of journals during the time period of 1997-2021 were selected, and information on juvenile mortality was collected. The topics we investigated included; the severity of mortality for juveniles across different phyla, the major causes of mortality studied, and the various definitions of juvenile being used, as well as biases in latitude, phyla studied, and geographic locations of the papers. Our research found that morality was generally severe for all phyla, that certain phyla were overrepresented or underrepresented in the literature in relation to the number of species in the phyla, and that some mortality factors, like predation, were studied more than others, like acidification. We also discovered biases in the geographic and latitudinal locations of studies, with many studies being conducted in America, Australia, and Europe. This research could provide a direction for future studies, encouraging more investigation into the biology of the underrepresented phyla, less widely explored mortality factors, and the ecosystems of South America, Africa, and Asia.

Faculty advisor: Professor Jonathan Allen

Social Sciences
Lucy Clement '24: Factors Responsible for the Reoccurence of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Government) 

 

Identifying Region-Specific Factors Responsible for the Reoccurence of the Ebola Virus in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Since the initial discovery of the Ebola virus in 1976, the disease has presented a constant threat to Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The central African country has recorded eleven Ebola outbreaks since 1976, with a twelfth outbreak declared in February 2021 and still ongoing. No other country in the world has dealt with more outbreaks of Ebola than the DRC. There is currently no scholarly consensus on the region-specific factors that contribute to the reoccurrence of Ebola in the DRC or how to effectively address these issues. To better understand this question, my research focused on reviewing literature concerning the history of the DRC and the current political climate in the country, historical examples of Ebola outbreaks in neighboring African countries, the environmental conditions in the DRC, and the biological features of the Ebola virus.  My goal with this research was to better understand the complexities of the region and the Ebola virus in order to develop a full understanding of what factors could be responsible for the persistence of Ebola in the DRC. Through my research, I identified two factors that I believe to be partly responsible for the continued reoccurrence of Ebola in the DRC: conflict zones within the country that inhibit proper care and the presence of fruit bats that act as carriers of the disease. By targeting the issues created by these two factors, future Ebola epidemics in the DRC can be effectively addressed and prevented. 

Faculty advisor: Professor Michael Tierney 

Katherine Hunter '24: Familiarity and Psychological Needs Determine Individual Listening Choices (Psychology)

The Sources of Music Preferences: Familiarity and Psychological Needs Determine Individual Listening Choices 

Listening to music produces psychological benefits including emotion regulation and stress and pain reduction, which are achieved in both every day and therapeutic settings. To maximize music’s benefits, it is valuable to study music preferences and how they can serve individual needs.  Previous research has focused on the relationship between personality and music preferences, but recent studies have diverged from this investigation after a consensus that personality only contributes minimally.  Thus, a broad review of the various factors that contribute to music preferences is missing from the literature.  This literature review aims to fill this gap with a focus on how subjective reasons for listening to music shape personal taste.  Studies chosen investigated both the ways individuals classify music into genres, statistical themes in the reasons why people listen to music, and the overlap between “genre” and function.  The literature supports that music preferences are shaped by personal psychological needs, social and cultural identity, and familiarity and mental associations with music among other factors.  In particular, familiarity with specific music consistently proved to be a strong influence on music preferences, especially through the reinforcement of past functional experiences with a particular song or genre.  Although it remains difficult to assess the relative importance of these factors, the malleability of music preferences — more heavily determined by familiarity rather than personality — may encourage music therapy techniques that involve actively creating positive music associations, for example.  

Faculty advisor: Professor Randolph Coleman

Margaret Kayll '24: Analyzing the Effects of NHSC Loan Repayment Programs (Economics)

 

Analyzing the Effects of NHSC Loan Repayment Programs in Increasing Physician Supply in Health Professional Shortage Areas

More than 46 million Americans, or about 15% of the U.S. population, live in rural areas that are both far away from urban areas and lack proper healthcare facilities. In order to remedy this issue, the Health Resources & Services Administration introduced the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Loan Repayment Program (LRP), which allows primary care physicians to locate to Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) in exchange for loan forgiveness. The purpose of this study is to provide possible data analysis methods to determine the effects of NHSC LRPs in increasing physician supply in HPSAs. A variety of literature exists on loan repayment programs and their effectiveness, but each of these tends to lack a concentration on increasing physician supply in HPSAs; rather, most look into retention rates and satisfaction within programs. Papers that do examine physician supply as a dependent variable tend to have conflicting results over the effectiveness of the program. In order to devise possible data analysis methods, this study uses a publicly available list of NHSC LRP alumni who finished the program between 2012 and 2018, published by the NHSC. Ultimately, research uncovered several independent and dependent variables which would act as reasonable proxies to establish the effectiveness of NHSC Loan Repayment Programs in increasing physician supply in HPSAs. In future research, the data analysis methods uncovered in this study could be used to design some correlative relationships determining the effectiveness of the program.

Faculty advisor: Professor Jennifer Mellor

Katherine Kelly '24: A Systematic Review of Power Posing: Consistencies, Inconsistencies, and Possible Applications (Psychology)
 

A Systematic Review of Power Posing: Consistencies, Inconsistencies, and Possible Applications

Power posing, the idea that expansive poses increase power feelings and bring about other related benefits, is a debated topic in the field of Psychology. The present study systematically reviewed the current literature on power posing in order to determine the efficacy of power poses on various outcomes (e.g., physiology and psychological empowerment). A systematic search using various databases (e.g., PsychInfo, Google Scholar, etc.) was conducted to find articles relating to power posing. To be included, articles had to meet the following criteria: a) articles studied the impact of body posture on some form of psychological or behavioral outcome, b) articles were empirical studies, and c) articles were written in English. Much of the research on power posing is conflicted, without a clear pattern on its effects with outcomes such as hormonal responses, risk taking, and self-esteem. Part of this is due to the methodological differences of various studies. For example, different studies use slightly different postures as their power poses and conduct power poses in different social contexts, which may impact results. Despite mostly inconsistent trends, one clear pattern does seem to emerge from almost all the published power posing studies: power posing increases feelings of power. Therefore, future research should consider areas where increased power feelings could be important, such as within the field of Dance Therapy where participants are encouraged to use movement to access specific feelings. 

Faculty advisor: Professor Adrian Bravo