Important: To maintain the safety of our community and help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus, this event has been canceled.

 

About CURCA:

The College of Arts and Sciences and University College will again present CURCA, an opportunity to showcase and celebrate your research and creative activity. CURCA is part of the Faculty of Arts and Science–Camden’s second annual Research Week, which includes a graduate-level research celebration and a Faculty Research Fellow Lecture.

2020 CURCA Abstracts

 

Yara Abu Hussein ‘20
Major: Psychology
Minor: Biology

Title of Project: Do Journals Instruct Authors to Address Sex and Gender in Psychological Science?

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Courtenay Cavanaugh, Associate Professor of Psychology

Sex and gender influence individuals’ psychology, but are often overlooked in psychological science. The sex and gender equity in research (SAGER) guidelines provide instruction for addressing sex and gender within five sections of a manuscript (i.e., title/abstract, introduction, methods, results, and discussion) (Heidari et al., 2016). We examined whether the 89 journals published by the American Psychological Association provide explicit instruction for authors to address sex and gender within these five sections. Both authors of this study reviewed the journal instructions to authors for the words “sex,” and “gender,” and noted explicit instruction pertaining to these five sections. Only 8 journals (9.0%) instructed authors to address sex/gender within the abstract, introduction, and/or methods sections. No journals instructed authors to address sex and gender in the results or discussion sections. These journals could increase sex/gender equity and improve the reproducibility of psychological science by instructing authors to follow the SAGER guidelines.

 

Israr Ahmad ’21, Tyler Chui ’22, Carly Demarco ’20, Robert Hughes ’21, Aliyah Jones ’22, Caitlyn Kliniewski ’20, and German Laverde ‘20
Majors: Health Sciences (Ahmad), Psychology (Chiu), Health Sciences (Demarco), Biology and Health Sciences (Hughes), Psychology and Social Work (Jones), Health Sciences and Psychology (Kliniewski), and Health Sciences (Laverde)
Minors: Biology (Ahmad), Biology and Psychology (Demarco), Psychology (Laverde)

Title of Project: Body Weight and Perceived Competence

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Jamie Price Dunaev, Assistant Teaching Professor of Health Sciences

*Recipients of the Arts and Sciences Dean’s Undergraduate Conference Travel Grant*

Background: Higher body weight individuals are frequently the targets of negative weight-based attitudes, at times resulting in discrimination. Workplace discrimination harms the well-being of larger individuals by increasing their stress levels and reducing their chances of being hired or promoted. Thus, understanding why people hold these negative attitudes is important. Further, little is known about the role personality characteristics (e.g., essentialist thinking) play in the formation of these attitudes. The aim of this study then was to examine how body weight affects competence-based judgements of female employees, and furthermore, to determine whether an individual’s personality features influence these judgements.

Methods: College students (N = 161) from a northeastern university were recruited to participate in this study, and the study took place entirely online. Participants were mostly female (60.9%), the average age was 20.64 years (SD = 3.29), and the average BMI was 25.40 (SD = 5.06). Our sample was ethnically diverse, with participants identifying as White (45.3%), Black (29.8%), Hispanic (18.0%), Asian (9.3%), and other (3.7%). Participants responded to twelve images of three identically dressed women of varying body sizes. Participants were asked to rate each image on a 6-item global competence measure (Howelett et al., 2015), completed personality and bias measures, and were asked what they believed the study was about.    

Results: Most participants (82%) reported believing the study was about weight/physical appearance and how that influenced judgments of work ability or competence. Regardless of their understanding of the purpose of the study, participants still assigned significantly lower competence ratings when the target female was ‘obese’ (M = 4.30, SD = 1.15) than ‘overweight’ (M = 4.81, SD = 0.96) or ‘normal weight’ (M = 4.90, SD = 1.00; F(2, 159) = 26.53, p < .001, η2 = .14). Using Repeated Measures ANCOVAs, we found that Essentialist Entitativity beliefs had a small but not significant effect on competence ratings (F(2, 159) = 2.26, p = .108, η2 = .02), and Need for Cognitive Closure had a small significant effect (F(2,159) = 3.88, p = .022, η2 = .02).

Discussion: These findings are consistent with past research revealing a link between ratings of competence and body size. Specifically, individuals with larger body sizes were deemed to be less competent than individuals with smaller body sizes. 

 

Israr Ahmad ’21, Tyler Chui ’22, Carly Demarco ’20, Robert Hughes ’21, Aliyah Jones ’22, Caitlyn Kliniewski ’20, and German Laverde ‘20
Majors: Health Sciences (Ahmad), Psychology (Chiu), Health Sciences (Demarco), Biology and Health Sciences (Hughes), Psychology and Social Work (Jones), Health Sciences and Psychology (Kliniewski), and Health Sciences (Laverde)
Minors: Biology (Ahmad), Biology and Psychology (Demarco), Psychology (Laverde)

Title of Project: Sometimes it’s Good, Sometimes it’s Bad: Intergroup Contact, Personality, and Weight Bias

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Jamie Price Dunaev, Assistant Teaching Professor of Health Sciences

*Recipients of the Arts and Sciences Dean’s Undergraduate Conference Travel Grant* 

Higher body-weight individuals are frequently stigmatized and face prejudice and discrimination. Additionally, experiences of weight stigmatization are associated with several negative consequences. However, less is known about effective means for reducing weight bias.

One strategy that has shown success in other areas of prejudice reduction, yet is less tested for weight bias reduction, is intergroup contact. Other research has emphasized the importance of person-based factors (Social Dominance Orientation (SDO); Right Wing Authoritarianism (RWA); etc.) in the development of prejudice. Less is known, however, about the role these variables play in the formation of negative attitudes toward higher body weight individuals, or how these variables might influence attitude change in the contact context.

Participants (N = 639) were recruited from a northeastern university, and the study was completed online. The sample was a majority female (75.1%) and the average age was 20.80 (sd = 4.81). As expected, SDO and RWA were both significantly positively correlated with weight bias (rs = 0.13-0.45). Additionally, positive contact was significantly negatively correlated with weight bias (rs = -0.32- -0.37) and negative contact was significantly positively correlated with weight bias (rs = 0.36-0.40). Also as expected, positive contact was more frequent (M = 4.73, sd = 1.31) than negative contact (M = 2.33, sd = 1.15). Finally, in a simultaneous regression predicting weight bias (R2 = .21, F (2, 637) = 85.88, p < .001), negative contact (β = 0.33, t(635) = 9.36, p <.001) was found to have a stronger effect than positive contact (β = 0.29, t(635) = -8.20, p <.001). Personality effects were mixed and minimal.

This study adds to the literature by examining the effects of positive and negative contact on weight bias. Consistent with previous studies, we found that although positive contact with higher body weight individuals in more common than negative contact, negative contact has a stronger influence on negative weight-based attitudes.

 

Tia Antonelli ’21 and Brittany Watson ‘21
Majors: History (Antonelli) and Biology (Watson)
Minor: Political Science (Antonelli)

Title of Project: The Art of Tattoos

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Lee Ann Westman, Associate Teaching Professor of Gender Studies and Director of the Honors College

*Recipients of the Arts and Sciences Dean’s Undergraduate Conference Travel Grant*

 Throughout history, the meaning of tattoos has changed drastically. They have been ways of bringing oneself closer to their culture, and they have had negative connotations for being used as ways to brand and identify prisoners, and victims of the Holocaust, especially. In the last couple decades, tattoos have come to be a form of self-expression, and now they are used to treat the body like one’s own canvas. The tattoo design can say a lot about a person, and if the image is popular, it can say a lot about society as well, and many of the popular tattoo ideas we see are inspired by the humanities. In this shift of tattoos becoming more of a form of self-expression rather than something solely traditional or a marker of terror, we see how the humanities affect us immensely in our day-to-day without even fully realizing it.

 

Paige Arnold ’23, Gillian Cudal ’21, and Mason Rickerd ‘22
Majors: Computer Science (Arnold), Computer Science (Cudal), and Digital Studies and English (Rickerd)

Title of Project: R-CADE: Modding and Repair

Faculty Mentor: Dr. James Brown, Associate Professor of English and Director of the Digital Studies Center

Our project utilizes the concept that “repairing” a subject can not only restore its original functionality, but enhance its abilities and improve its performance further. The concept is applied by modifying a Nintendo GameCube Controller.

 

Joshua Barnett ’20, Jesse Thomas ’21, and Christopher Till ‘20
Majors: Computer Science (Barnett), Computer Science (Thomas), and Computer Science and Digital Studies (Till)
Minors: Mathematics (Barnett)

Title of Project: Visualizing and Designing Algorithms with Programmable Particles

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Sunil Shende, Associate Professor of Computer Science

The study of programmable matter revolves around systems of particles that can be deployed to spaces and follow procedures to form structures, move together, or make decisions as a group. The types of programmable matter we study follow the amoebot model for programmable particles, and we studied this model in-depth in order to create a simulator and visualizer program which can show the steps of the algorithm in a live, interactive environment. The simulated algorithm we have studied thus far handles the problem of Leader Election, in which one particle irreversibly declares itself the leader of the group and uses its leadership to influence decisions the group makes in all subsequent steps of a larger algorithm. We have created the data simulation framework using Python, and the visualization framework using both Plotly and D3.js. The amoebot model presented many challenges, including how to handle the asynchronous nature of the model, as well as memory constraints for the particles themselves and time constraints in terms of how quickly the algorithm completes. This programmable matter has the potential to solve many problems in many fields, including engineering, biology, and even space exploration.

 

Ann Marie Beato ‘20
Major: Art History
Minor: Museum Studies

Title of Project: The Influence of the Japanese Kimono on the Arts and Fashion of Europe and the United States (1858-1910)

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Chinghsin Wu, Assistant Teaching Professor of Art History

*Recipient of the Arts and Sciences Dean’s Undergraduate Research Grant*

The purpose of this study is to present how the Japanese kimono influenced the arts and fashion of Europe and the United States from 1858 through 1910. The kimono is a T shaped garment that is traditionally wrapped in the front and cinched at the waist with a fabric belt called an obi. When Japan opened its borders in 1858, the kimono was adopted and eroticized into Western works of art, specifically paintings, and the kimono became a form of liberation in women’s fashion. Both interpretations are misconceptions of what the kimono of Japan truly was. This study will shed light on this rich cross-cultural phenomenon that was just a fraction of a period in art history. The specific aim of this project is to demonstrate how culture can be exchanged through art and in this case fashion. We can look at and appreciate a work of art without understanding any of the work’s background and yet it can still influence us. This project has the potential to reflect how the kimono impacted Western art and culture. The eroticized kimono used by white male Western artists is addressed as well as women who embraced the kimono enthusiastically as a symbol of women’s progression and liberation in society. This research discusses how gender impacted the perspective of culture and its traditions.

My research will report on a specific period of time where two worlds divided by an ocean came together and not only exchanged art but created a new genre of art. From this research individuals may be inspired to look into the subject of art history. This project encourages individuals to understand how a single garment can have such an impact on society and leave a long lasting impression throughout history. One may take this research and look at a garment, piece of furniture or something commonly utilitarian and feel the inspiration to explore how it came to be. This project has the potential to inspire others to study cross-culture art history, the fine arts and several genres of art like textiles and fashion.

 

Sandra Benjamin ’21 and Tania Martinez ‘22
Majors: Economics (Benjamin) and Philosophy and Political Science (Martinez)
Minors: Political Science (Benjamin) and Spanish (Martinez)

Title of Project: Voices of Immigration

Faculty Mentor: Dr. James Brown, Associate Professor of English and Director of the Digital Studies Center

Voices of Immigration is an interdisciplinary research podcast. The goal of this podcast is to discuss the different layers of immigrant experiences across our nation, and we research why it is that their narratives are distinct. We hope to bring awareness to the various struggles that generational immigrants undergo. The podcast would promulgate what the “American Experience” truly is by changing the typical narrative. The first phase of this project focuses on student voices and tells what their story is by connecting it to the political and social issues we hear about in the news or on social media. These stories can range from students’ experiences as a DACA recipient to living as a Middle Eastern Individual in a post 9/11 world. The student experiences and storytelling lead us to the task of collecting relevant data and research and provide a unique analysis of how their story represents a more significant issue. This research will also be revelatory to how systematic the various problems are. This approach through podcasting achieves the same message in two different manners. It humanizes the politics/social issues we hear about while also giving the many voices that are affected an elucidation of why these political and social problems exist.

 

Victoria Boccella ‘20
Majors: Childhood Studies and Psychology

Title of Project: Parents’ Knowledge about Dual-Language Development: Associations with Children’s Language and School Readiness Outcomes

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Rufan Luo, Assistant Professor of Psychology  

Parental knowledge about language development contributes to the quality and amount of language interactions and child language outcomes (Rowe et al., 2016). Examining parental knowledge can inform early language intervention (Suskind et al., 2018). However, little is known about parents’ knowledge about dual language development and how that relates to dual-language learning children’s language and school readiness outcomes. The current study aimed to address this gap.

Twenty-seven primary caregivers of 3- to 4-year-old Spanish-English DLLs rated 17 statements that were either consistent or inconsistent with the state-of-the-art knowledge of dual language development and bilingual education (1-strongly disagree, 4-strongly agree; Cronbach’s alpha = .726). Higher composite scores indicated greater knowledge. Parents also reported their educational level. Teachers rated children’s school readiness skills in English and Spanish, respectively (e.g., “Can express his/her needs, wants, and thoughts in age-appropriate English/Spanish.”, 1-not yet, 5-proficient). Children’s receptive vocabulary was tested using Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-4 (PPVT-4; Dunn, Dunn, Lenhard, Lenhard, & Suggate, 2015) for English and Test de Vocabulario en Imagenes Peabody (TVIP; Dunn, Lugo, Padilla, & Dunn, 1986) for Spanish.

For majority of the statements, most parents had views that were consistent with the current knowledge (example items in Table 1). However, some parents still had misunderstanding or misinformation concerning dual language development and best practices to support DLLs. Partial correlations were conducted to examine the associations between parental knowledge and children’s school readiness skills and receptive vocabulary in English and Spanish, controlling for caregivers’ education. Parental knowledge did not relate to children’s school readiness skills in English (r(24)=.18, p=.382). However, children whose parents had greater knowledge about dual language development showed better Spanish school readiness skills (r(24)=.43, p=.029). Correlations between parental knowledge and child English (r(26)=.19, p=.338) and Spanish vocabulary (r(12)=.22, p=.454) were non-significant.

Together, these findings suggest that parental knowledge about dual language development was associated with children’s school readiness skills in the home language, highlighting the need to examine and improve parental knowledge in DLL populations. Factors such as the quality and quantity of dual language home environment might explain the link between parental knowledge and child outcomes. 

Table 1. Example items and descriptive statistics for parents’ knowledge about dual language development.

Items

Correct Rate

Strongly Disagree

Disagree

Agree

Strongly Agree

Example items with relatively low correct rate

*Immigrant parents should try to speak English as much as they can so that their children will do well in U.S. preschools and schools.

 

31%

 

 12%

 

19%

 

63%

 

 6%

For dual language learners, although skills in each language may fall behind monolingual children early on, the total growth in both languages is comparable to monolingual children.

57%

0%

43%

47%

10%

*Being in an English-only preschool program is the best way for a young dual language learner to acquire English.

59%

19%

41%

41%

0%

Example items with relatively high correct rate

 

 

 

 

 

*Hearing two or more languages in childhood may cause confusion and put children at greater risk for language delay or impairment.

81%

25%

56%

19%

0%

If rich dual language input is maintained, dual language learners can catch up with their monolingual peers.

94%

3%

3%

81%

13%

Preschool programs that support home language (e.g., Spanish) benefit children’s development of English skills.

97%

0%

3%

79%

17%

* indicates reverse coded items. 

 

Nicholas Brandimarto II ‘20
Major: History

Title of Project: The Battle of Leyte Gulf

Faculty Mentor: Ms. Alaina Noland, Battleship New Jersey Museum and Memorial

The Battle of Leyte Gulf stands as one of the largest naval battles in history. Forces of the United States Navy squared off against the Imperial Japanese Navy in late October 1944. The United States Navy had become a battle-hardened force over the three preceding years of war, while the Imperial Japanese Navy was by then a shell of its former self. The battles that raged surrounding the Philippines minted more than a few new American heroes. The Battle of Leyte Gulf was more precisely five battles: the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, the Battle of Surigao Strait, the Battle of Cape Engaňo, the Battle of Samar, and the Invasion of Leyte Gulf. Each of these battles possessed a unique character. These ran the gamut from amphibious assaults, to air duels, to the last battleship on battleship surface engagement in history. This project aims to bring these events, and the lessons learned, to a public audience through interesting, educational, and digestible snippets. 

 

Nicholas Brandimarto II ‘20
Major: History

Title of Project: The Battle of Leyte Gulf

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Kriste Lindenmeyer, Professor of History

*Recipient of the Arts and Sciences Dean’s Undergraduate Research Grant*

On the morning of April 18th, 1906, two of the four astronomical clocks stopped at the Mare Island Naval Observatory. They were frozen precisely at 5:12:37 am, Pacific Standard Time. The events of that morning were recorded by a sailor manning the station who recounted that “the violent phase lasted about forty seconds, and then the shocks died out, the last feeble tremors vanishing about three and a half minutes from the time of the first perception.” His account of the onset of the disaster was relayed to the public in Nature magazine in the May 10th edition. From his post across the bay, our witness relayed a striking facet of the earthquake, in that it “seemed to be essentially noiseless.” Even though the tremor itself was “essentially noiseless” to him, it was making its presence known in San Francisco and the surrounding areas.

Before the dust of crumbling buildings even began to settle, the people of San Francisco faced an incipient danger few could have ever imagined. Those jolted from their beds were the lucky ones in the days to come. Many were not so lucky, as an untold number of San Franciscans were killed by crumbling structures, or even worse, buried injured but alive in the rubble. The events of that day were destined to impose their harsh reality upon all. Some ate their breakfasts and tried to hide from the relentless onslaught of reality, some rushed to their businesses to take stock of the damage, and some went to work immediately to save lives. No matter the initial response, every person in the city would be forced to cast off their fondest hopes for normalcy, as a blanket from atop them in the morning, as events unfolded.

 

Tyler Burgese ‘20
Major: Sociology

Title of Project: #Instagay: The Uses and Gratifications of Photo-Based Social Networking for Gay Men

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Laura Napolitano, Assistant Professor of Sociology

*Recipient of the Arts and Sciences Dean’s Undergraduate Research Grant*

Through an inductive content analysis of 300 top photos posted to Instagram using the popular hashtag “Instagay,” this research uncovers patterns about what type of content prevails in this online community. Findings indicate strong preferences toward covert communications of desire and men with lighter skin tones. Men with darker skin tones were found to have severely limited potential for appearances and expressions of sexuality. By establishing set norms of gay male representation online, this community achieves gratification through collective definition and validation. These findings build on a growing body of literature on Instagram studies and the “queer publics” found within by characterizing the exchanges and values found on the publicly available interface (Duguay, 2016). This study provides a framework that can be used to analyze other hashtag-based online community and proves valuable in exploring the visual measures that Instagram users find worthy of interaction and approval.

 

Gina Burgos ’20 and Zeyma Hernandez ‘21
Majors: Psychology and Spanish (Burgos) and Economics (Hernandez)

Title of Project: Measuring the Integration of the Public Community of Camden into the Campus Community

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Silvia Perez-Cortes, Assistant Professor of Spanish

The Spanish language has a profound presence in the United States. According to the census of 2017, the country has about 59 million Hispanic people. Of this number, 43 million speak Spanish at home, representing 73% of the national Latino population. In addition, there are approximately 10.5 million undocumented Latinos living in the United States. Statistics conclude that the United States is home to the second-largest population of Spanish-speakers. Although this data is numerically significant, the majority language of the country remains to be English. This does not signify that English speakers outnumber Spanish speakers, but that the English language possesses more social and political power in the United States. Nevertheless, the Spanish language remains a relevant presence in homes and public spaces. However, being that it is the minority language of the country, it is imperative to consider if its presence is welcomed in public spaces. To further examine this proposal, it is fundamental to consider historic contexts, geographic, and social environments. 

In this study, the relationship between a community and its linguistic landscape is studied on a small-scale. Thus, the community of Rutgers University-Camden has been elected to be evaluated alongside its surrounding community, the city of Camden. A self-report survey questionnaire was developed and administered to various students attending the institution. This data was used to measure the integration of the public community with the campus community. This discussion includes the use of the English and Spanish languages in the city of Camden, the variation of dialects, and the expression and representation of cultural individuality within the community. In addition, this is contrasted with the academic, social, and environmental inclusion, accommodation, and representation within the linguistic landscape of the Rutgers University-Camden cam​pus.

 

Trevor Carr ‘20
Major: Economics

Title of Project: Exchange Rate Regime, Governance, and Economic Growth

Faculty Mentor: Dr. I-Ming Chiu, Associate Professor of Economics

This research examines the effects of several factor inputs to economic growth. These factor inputs being physical capital, human capital, exchange rate regimes, and governance. This paper specifically seeks to highlight the effects of the lesser studied factor inputs, exchange rate regimes, and governance. The primary goal of this research is to measure the effects of various exchange rate regimes and forms of governance on economic growth and development in a sample of 142 countries. These measurements are taken empirically through two approaches. The first being an equation derived and modified from the Solow Growth Model. This model includes the various exchange rate regimes, and forms of governance and applies them in the calculations of physical capital. The second is through an indicator variable used to represent the varying levels of exchange rate regimes. These levels contain the various regimes between fixed and floating exchange rate systems. Governance is measured through a six-dimensional governance measurement.

The preliminary results from this study found that countries that adopted floating exchange rate regimes and stable forms of governance have faster economic growth. These findings were based on a sample containing 142 nations. However, it was found that exchange rate regimes had little effect on economic growth when the full model was estimated using a linear regression method.

This research contributes to literature on economic growth in two main ways. Firstly, this study used a unique composite governance index to measure economic growth in this research. Secondly, this study found that the adaptation of exchange rate regimes may not play a critical role in economic growth, while stable governance is vital to economic growth.

 

Trevor Carr’ 20 and Hieu Tran ‘21
Majors: Economics (Carr and Tran)

Title of Project: Risky Health Behaviors and Behavioral Differences of the US Youth: Quasi-Evidence with Empirical Study: Policy Implications

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Tetsuji Yamada, Professor of Economics

The focus of this paper is to examine the determinants and analyze the effects of risky health behaviors of alcohol and illicit drug use on social violence (drunken driving, riding in a car driven by a drunken driver, and not wearing seatbelts) among youth in the United States. Alcohol and illicit drug use usually lead to social violence as well as a reduction in health status and earnings. Although it is illegal to drink and drive in the U.S., forty-five percent of the traffic accidents among the age group of 14-18 are alcohol-related. Alcohol is a leading factor in deaths related to motor vehicle accidents.

This research defines use of alcohol, tobacco, cocaine, and other illicit drug use as risky health behavior. The use of some substances tend to precede and increase the risk of initiating habitual use of substances among the youth. The data used for this project is drawn from the 1992 and 2017 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey to examine the behavioral difference between two periods. The study examines the relationship between alcohol and illicit drug use and three types of violent behaviors: (1) drunken driving, (2) occupying a car driven by someone who has been drinking, and (3) not wearing seatbelts.

The results show that there is a positive relationship between the risky health behaviors of alcohol and illicit drug uses and social violence (drunken driving, riding in a car driven by a drunken driver, and not wearing seatbelts) among youth. The results suggest that binge drinking, smoking habits, as well as illicit drug use will contribute to the escalation of habitual, high-risk behaviors such as: drunken driving and not using seatbelts, among youth. The results also indicate that youth attitudes toward drunken driving will become more sensitive to multi-consumption habits as they get old. Controlling the consumption of alcohol and drug use at an early age is indeed an important factor in reducing drunken-driving behavior later. Drunken driving behavior is more likely to be a habitual behavior, and to reduce this behavior, access to alcohol and illicit drugs must be restricted among early teens.

View the research presentation here

 

Sienna Casciato ‘22
Major: Biology

Title of Project: Characterizing Genetic Mechanisms for Measuring Day-Length in Neurospora crassa

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Kwangwon Lee, Associate Professor of Biology

An organism’s circadian rhythm is an endogenous process that regulates 24-hour cycles within the organism, such as the sleep and wake cycle (Maruani et al., 2018). A related phenomenon is photoperiodism, which is the response of an organism to change in day length. Different photoperiods commonly affect the development of an organism (Tan et al., 2004). In this project, photoperiodism was studied using Neurospora crassa. The goal of this project was to determine how Neurospora measures day length, and if it follows the internal coincidence hypothesis or the external coincidence hypothesis. To do this, we used a protoperithecia (female reproductive structures) assay, which is described as the following. First, 72 different strains of Neurospora were grown in test tubes. Conidia from the tubes were inoculated onto plates and the plates were put into different photoperiods. After 12-14 days, the plates were taken out and the number of protoperithecia on each plate were counted as our phenotype. This data was then analyzed using Quantitative Trait Loci (QTL) analysis. One very significant QTL was found on chromosome 5, along with the significant genetic marker Nc-M3836. Using this information, we used Fungi Data Base to find the region around this genetic marker on chromosome 5, which is the target region. Currently, we are repeating the protoperithecia assay on Neurospora clock mutants to determine if removing one known clock gene has an effect on protoperithecia growth and therefore on the circadian clock. We are also performing the protoperithecia assay on knockout strains that do not have one of the genes present in the target region of chromosome 5, to see if this affects protoperithecia development. Additionally, we are repeating the protoperithecia assay on photoreceptor mutants of Neurospora to see if missing a gene that is involved in Neurospora’s response to light affects protoperithecia development. From this, we aim to determine which gene or genes, if any, have an effect on protoperithecia growth and therefore on the circadian clock of Neurospora.

 

Katrina Cazeau ’20, Amber Donalson ’20, Tasera Hall ’20, Eunice Robles-Santos ’20, and Danelle Torio ‘20
Majors: Psychology (Cazeau), Childhood Studies and Psychology (Donalson), Psychology (Hall), Health Sciences and Psychology (Robles-Santos), and Childhood Studies and Psychology (Torio)
Minor: Urban Studies (Donalson)

Title of Project: Dialogic Conversation and Meditation Effects on Learning Tasks

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Bill Whitlow, Professor of Psychology

There has been discourse whether or not techniques such as meditation can help improve performance on learning. We also wanted to investigate whether or not dialogic conversation could help improve performance. It was also important to investigate whether or not working memory affected our performance. Using a causal reasoning learning task on Dosbox that also measured working memory, we implemented different interventions to see if our performance increased. The investigation is ongoing; however, results and data analysis will be completed within the following weeks. We hope to be able to distinguish what technique deems to be the most successful in improving performance.

 

Sydney Conroy ’20 and Khyia Ward ‘20
Majors: Health Sciences (Conroy) and Psychology (Ward)
Minors: Psychology (Conroy) and Sociology (Ward)

Title of Project: A Systemic Review of HIV/STI/Sexual Risk Reduction Prevention for Women Who Experience Intimate Partner Violence

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Courtenay Cavanaugh, Associate Professor of Psychology

Women who experience intimate partner violence (IPV) have increased risk for acquiring HIV/other sexually transmitted infections. However, no systemic reviews have been undertaken to examine interventions for preventing HIV and STIs, specifically for women who experience intimate partner violence. This systemic review examined HIV/STI preventions for women who experience IPV. Both Psych Info and Medline were searched by two authors (Conroy and Ward) for articles that met the following inclusion criteria: a) an intervention that addressed risky sexual behavior or related outcomes; b) the study participants had all experienced IPV; c) the study was specific to women or provided data stratified by gender; d) the study reported on a sexual risk reduction or closely-related outcome (e.g., condom use, condom use self-efficacy, HIV/STI knowledge; and e) the study was written in English. Twenty-four articles met inclusion criteria and were reviewed by all three authors to better understand the characteristics of these interventions including the duration, format (e.g., individual, couples, or group), intervention facilitators, and delivery site. The intervention durations varied from 10-minutes to two years. The majority of interventions included group formats and were delivered by the research team. Few interventions were delivered to survivors of IPV in settings where they were already residing and receiving services. Implications and recommendations or future research will be described.

 

Brigida Costantino ’21 and Victoria Wroblewski ‘20
Majors: Digital Studies and English (Costantino) and English (Wroblewski)
Minors: Communication and Writing (Costantino) and Film Studies and Writing (Wroblewski)

Title of Project: Small Tutoring

Faculty Mentor: Mr. Travis DuBose, Teaching Instructor of English  

*Recipients of the Arts and Sciences Dean’s Undergraduate Conference Travel Grants*

In his essay “All Things to All People,” David Sheridan discusses the challenges of training tutors to work in multiple literacies while maintaining their competence at tutoring writing: how can we add skills to tutors’ core competencies and expect them to perform equally well in all tasks? The Writing and Design Lab deals with this hurdle by taking direction from James M. Lang’s Small Teaching: small but deliberate steps can create instructional change. Using Kym Buchanan’s MAPS framework to approach texts, we have sought to move from tutoring writing into support of design and multimedia projects, including podcasts, posters and websites.

 

Aniyah Davis-Hilton ’20 and Alexa Pena ‘20
Majors: Psychology (Davis-Hilton and Pena)
Minor: Childhood Studies (Davis-Hilton)

Title of Project: Preschool Teachers’ Beliefs and Knowledge about Dual-Language Development and Education

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, Director of the Community Leadership Center and Professor of Public Policy and Administration; and Dr. Rufan Luo, Assistant Professor of Psychology

The current study provides a description of preschool teachers’ beliefs and knowledge about dual language development and education. Findings will inform professional development and help teachers and administrators better support dual language learners.

The dual language learner (DLL) population has grown over the years in the United States (National Center for Education Statistics, 2019). Despite the enormous within-group variability, DLLs from low socioeconomic backgrounds are at risk of falling behind their English monolingual, mid-SES peers in school readiness and academic achievement (Garrity, 2015). The increasing diversity of student body requires educators to implement best practices to support dual language development. However, preschool teachers’ beliefs and knowledge about dual language education and dual language development is yet to be determined. The current study aims to fill in this gap.

Participants were 33 teachers (17 lead teachers; 90% females) from 17 preschool classrooms. These teachers had been working at the preschool for an average of 4.6 years. About 56%, 37%, and 7% of the teachers were Hispanic or Latino, African American, and Caucasian, respectively; 45% spoke Spanish. On average 45% of students in each classroom were DLLs. Teachers rated 23 statements that were either true or false with the state-of-the-art knowledge of dual language development and bilingual education (see Table 1; Cronbach’s alpha = 0.784).

On average, teachers rated 74% of the statements correctly (SD = .11, range = .40-.88; see Table 1). Most teachers believed that supporting home language development benefits children’s English learning and school readiness skills and understood that dual language exposure does not place children at a greater risk of language or cognitive delays. Additionally, teachers accurately recognized the importance of assessing DLLs in both English and their home language. However, misconceptions also existed. About half of the sample believed that total English immersion program is the best way for DLLs to acquire English, even though bilingual programs have been found to be as effective. Some teachers underestimated the challenges faced by DLLs from low-income families and many didn’t realize that certain cognitive advantages are only observed in balanced bilinguals but not bilinguals with limited proficiency.

These findings highlight the importance of assessing educators’ beliefs and knowledge about dual language development and education and will inform professional development programs designed to improve teachers’ and administrators’ practices to support DLLs.

Table 1. Descriptive statistics for teachers’ knowledge about dual language development (n=33).

Items

Correct Rate

TRUE

(freq)

FALSE

(freq)

Children who are exposed to two languages are at a cognitive disadvantage and may experience delays in cognitive development due to the bilingual exposure

94%

2

31

Hearing two or more languages in childhood may cause confusion and put children at greater risk for language delay or impairment

94%

2

31

If high-quality dual language input is maintained, multilingual children can catch up to monolingual norms (e.g., the average vocabulary of a monolingual child at a given age) during the elementary grades.

94%

31

2

Preschool programs that support L1 (home language) benefit children’s sound-symbol awareness, grammatical knowledge, vocabulary, phonological awareness, reading in L2 (English).

94%

31

2

Immigrant parents whose children are showing language delays should stop using the home language and speak only English so as not to confuse the children.

94%

2

31

When assessing dual language learners, home language translation should be provided and children should be encouraged to respond in either language.

94%

31

2

Use of the home language by children or teachers in the classroom hinders children’s English learning and should be discouraged.

91%

3

30

Although dual language learners may show delays in their second language (L2) initially, they can catch up with monolinguals if they receive optimal support.

91 %

30

3

The use of home/native language in instruction helps children’s achievement in English and other content areas.

88%

29

4

Teachers’ use of children’s home language (L1) has been found to support dual language learning children’s self-regulation and social competence.

88%

29

4

It is normal for children whose home language is not English to go through a “silent/mute” period when they first enter preschool.

88%

29

4

Immigrant parents should try to speak English as much as they could so that their children would fare well in U.S. preschools and schools.

79%

7

26

Disruptive behaviors or lack of attention or focus in class activities exhibited by children whose home language is not English may be due to limited English skills rather than deficient cognitive or social abilities.

79%

26

7

For dual language learners, although skills in each language may lag behind monolingual children early on, the total growth across the two languages (e.g., total vocabulary of English and Chinese) is comparable to monolingual children.

73%

24

9

Young bilingual children are often confused about which language to speak in social situations.

70%

10

23

English-speaking children may experience academic and language delays in dual language programs.

70%

10

23

If continued support in the home language (L1) is not maintained during the school years, dual language learning children will not become fully functional bilinguals.

67%

22

11

A teacher can only support a child’s dual language development if she/he can speak the child’s home language.

67%

11

22

When children code-switch or mix two languages in their communication (e.g., mixing words from two languages in a sentence), they confuse the two languages as being one

58%

14

19

Total English immersion from pre-kindergarten through third grade is the best way for a young dual language learner to acquire English.

55%

15

18

Many immigrant children lag behind in their language development compared to middle-class, English-speaking children because they do not receive optimal support in either English or their home language.

52%

17

16

There are positive cognitive effects for anyone who knows a second language, including less balanced and limited bilinguals (e.g., individuals who can only say simple sentences in a second language).

9%

30

3

 

Ginger Day ‘20
Major: Biology
Minor: Chemistry

Title of Project: A Bite Out of the Plastic Crisis: Identifying Key Enzymes and Increasing the Rate of Plastic Degradation by White-Rot Fungi

Faculty Mentor: Dr. John Dighton, Professor of Biology

*Recipient of the Arts and Sciences Dean’s Undergraduate Research Grant*

Ever-increasing plastic production and the shortcomings of the recycling industry are pressuring scientists to discover ways to degrade manufactured plastics.  Numerous species of bacterial and fungal decomposers have demonstrated the ability to degrade plastics, and several species of fungi can use them as their sole food source.  Many of these fungi are wood rotters, which suggests that their ability to break down lignin, the most recalcitrant plant material, is what enables them to degrade plastics as well.  The major drawback to fungal plastic degradation is the slow rate, taking months to degrade a small percentage.  Previous studies show that certain white-rot (lignin-degrading) fungi degrade plastic more efficiently in sawdust media compared to malt extract agar.  In addition, a reduced carbon to nitrogen ratio increases the rate of wood decomposition by fungi.  My research is attempting to increase the rate of degradation of high-density and low-density polyethylene by Pleurotus ostreatus, oyster mushrooms, and Ganoderma lucidum, reishi mushrooms.  I hypothesize that the presence of lignin will stimulate enzyme production and increase the rate of degradation.  Additionally, I hypothesize that increased nitrogen levels in the media will increase the rate of degradation.  I am performing a factorial experiment with the two fungi inoculated on tap water agar, quarter-strength malt extract agar, and full strength malt extract agar with or without sawdust added.  Four treatment groups are set up for one, two, three, and four-month periods and mass loss percentage will be calculated after these times.  The plates will be analyzed with ABTS to indicate the presence of lignin-degrading oxidase enzymes and quantify enzyme activity month to month.  My experimental goals are to determine whether plastic degradation rates can be increased with stimuli and if lignin-degrading enzymes are involved in plastic degradation.

 

Julia DeFeo ‘21
Major: Biology
Minor: English

Title of Project: Nitrogen Uptake of Vaccinium Macrocarpon

Faculty Mentor: Dr. John Dighton, Professor of Biology

*Recipient of the Arts and Sciences Dean’s Undergraduate Research Grant*

Inorganic nitrogen is an important resource for many plants, and mycorrhizal associations have been known to increase or otherwise assist in nutrient uptake for their hosts. Previous research has established that American cranberry, Vaccinium macrocarpon, is more efficient in nitrogen uptake when associated with ericoid mycorrhiza (Kosola, et. al. 2007). Given this information, this project aims to determine if ericoid mycorrhiza preferentially absorbs nitrogen obtained from organic material, instead of inorganic fertilizers. Specifically, this project will evaluate the source of nitrogen in V. macrocarpon when associated with ericoid mycorrhizal fungi.

  1. macrocarpon will be grown over a period of several weeks in an environmental chamber, with and without ericoid mycorrhizal fungi. Mycorrhizal associations will be promoted in half the plants by adding soil from a working cranberry bog to their pots. All plants will be treated with an inorganic ammonium nitrate tracer; half the plants will also be exposed to organic nitrogen via a treatment of leaf litter mixed in with their soil. Mass spectroscopy will quantify the source of nitrogen in each plant.

Based on previous studies, it is primarily anticipated that ericoid mycorrhiza will preferentially absorb and deliver to V. macrocarpon nitrogen acquired from organic sources. Plants with ericoid mycorrhizal associations will have higher nitrogen content than those without. Plants with ericoid mycorrhizal associations and additional organic nitrogen (as leaf litter) will have the highest nitrogen content. Overall, it is anticipated that mycorrhizal associations will promote overall health of the V. macrocarpon plant.

 

Nicole DiSanti ’20 and Madison Stein ‘21
Majors: Health Sciences (DiSanti) and Biology (Stein)
Minors: Childhood Studies and Psychology (DiSanti) and Chemistry (Stein)

Title of Project: Associations between Co-Sleeping and Sleep Quality of Urban Preschool Children

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Lauren Daniel, Assistant Professor of Psychology

Perspectives on co-sleeping vary by family cultural background and socio-demographic characteristics; furthermore, families may choose to co-sleep based on family values or out of necessity. Recent studies, such as Mindell et al. (2013), suggest the importance of cross-cultural research through examining various countries, compared to culture within a specific country. To better understand the role of co-sleeping in young children from ethnic minority backgrounds, the current study sought to test the relationship between co-sleeping and sleep outcomes in an urban early childhood setting.

141 parent-child dyads with children aged 1-5 years old (N=141.50.4% female, M=4.01 [SD=1.05]; 41% African American; 41% Latinx; median income $20-30,000.00) were recruited through an urban preschool. Parents completed demographic information and the Brief Child Sleep Questionnaire (BCSQ), which yielded insomnia and sleep hygiene indices. Step-wise regressions were used to examine the relationship between sleeping location and sleep outcomes (insomnia, sleep health, and child sleep quality), controlling for child age.

Approximately half of the sample (n=71) reported that their child sleeps in a space shared by caregivers or siblings. Co-sleeping did not differ by race/ethnicity (x2 (3) = 1.45, p = .694), child age [F(1, 140)=2.15, p=.145], or income [x2(5)=7.05, p=.217]. Controlling for age, insomnia was higher in co-sleeping children [F(2,140)=4.10, p=.019), although sleep location was not a significant independent predictor. Sleep hygiene [F(2, 140)=2.39, p=.095] and sleep quality [F(2,139)=0.94, p=.394] did not differ by sleeping location, when controlling for age.

Co-sleeping was common but was not related to sociodemographic factors as described in prior research. Controlling for age, co-sleeping predicted higher insomnia scores suggesting that co-sleeping may be related to symptoms of behavioral insomnia. Sleep hygiene practices and sleep quality did not differ by sleeping location, suggesting that in children without behavioral insomnia symptoms co-sleeping may not affect sleep. Future studies that seek to better understand caregiver preference and intentions regarding co-sleeping may be important to intervention development seeking to improve behavioral insomnia in ethnic/minority samples.

 

Lauren Dunmyer ’21 and Morgan Pitock ‘20
Majors: Psychology (Dunmyer) and Philosophy and Psychology (Pitock)
Minor: Childhood Studies (Dunmyer)

Title of Project: The Effects of Chaos in the Home on Bedtime Routines

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Lauren Daniel, Assistant Professor of Psychology

When looked at separately, chaos in the home and fixed bedtime routines have significant impacts on sleep quality, duration, and sleep onset latency. Higher levels of household chaos have been found to lead to overall poorer sleep quality, while consistent bedtime routines were found to yield overall better sleep quality. A connection between household chaos and the presence of bedtime routines could partially explain the correlation between chaos in the home and poorer sleep quality.

Guardians of students attending the Early Learning Research Academy completed a questionnaire regarding sleep and family functioning. This study included 135 families, respondents being 96.3% biological parent, 1.5% stepparent, and 2.2% grandparent. Children were 51.1% female, with a mean age of 3.67 years (SD=1.16), and were 17.1% biracial (African American and Latino), 40.7% African American, 0.7% Caucasian, 40% Hispanic/Latino, 1.4% other.  The type/number of bedtime activities performed, as well as, the frequency of a recurring bedtime routine were gathered using the Brief Child Sleep Questionnaire. The mean score from the CHAOS Sleep Scale of each family was used to determine the level of chaos present in the household. 

There was no significant correlation for number of bedtime activities and mean score on the CHAOS Scale. There was a significant, negative correlation between frequency of bedtime routine per week and mean score on the CHAOS Scale (r=-0.25, p=0.01). For the number of bedtime activities and frequency of bedtime routine per week, a significant, positive correlation was found (r=0.21, p=0.05). A one-way ANOVA was conducted to compare the effect of bedtime screen usage on household chaos in bedtime screen usage and no bedtime screen usage conditions. There was not a significant difference in chaos between families who used screens at bedtime and those who did not [F(1, 137) = 0.14, p = 0.71]. 

Level of household chaos may negatively impact children from having consistent bedtime routines. A more chaotic environment may prevent families from establishing nightly routines, due to factors like challenges with time management or conflicting schedules. Interventions surrounding the importance of consistent bedtime routines and chaos reduction may be helpful in improving early childhood sleep.  

 

Angelica Fernandez-Lopez ’22, Mackenzie Hill ’21, Stefany Rojas ’20, and Angela Wismer ‘21
Majors: Psychology (Fernandez-Lopez), Health Sciences and Psychology (Hill), Psychology (Rojas), and Gender Studies and Psychology (Wismer)

Title of Project: Bystander Interventions to Prevent Sexual Violence Among LGBTQI Students: Efficacy, Needs, and Barriers

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Courtenay Cavanaugh, Associate Professor of Psychology

Many students experience relationship and sexual violence (RSV) and RSV is higher for students who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB). Bystander intervention programs are widely used to prevent RSV among students. However, there has been little attention to understanding the efficacy of these programs for LGB students. This study examines: 1) what is known about the efficacy of three widely used bystander programs (Green Dot, Bringing in the Bystander, and TakeCare) for LGB students, and 2) reviews bystander literature specific to LGB populations to better understand how this literature may inform more tailored bystander programs. Efficacy studies for Green Dot (n=4), Bringing in the Bystander (n=3), and TakeCare (n=4) were reviewed for the following information: 1) was the intervention developed with LGB students in mind? 2) was the intervention tested specifically among LGB students, 3) did the study report the percentage of LGB students who participated in the intervention? and 4) what evidence is there for the intervention effects for this population?  Five other articles pertaining to bystander programs or sexual assault among LGB students were reviewed to determine whether these programs need to be modified to better fit the needs of LGB students. None of the bystander programs reviewed were described as being developed with LGB students in mind, although some of these programs may address LBT issues. Only one study specifically did a subgroup analysis to determine the effects of the program on LGB students. That study found that Green Dot was not as effective at reducing multiple forms of violence for the LGB students compared to sexual majority students. Bystander programs that provide data specific to the LGB populations, show same sex scenarios and are delivered on campuses that are supportive of the LGB community may help improve positive bystander behavior for this population. There is a need to test the effects of these programs among LGB students to determine if they work well in this population of students. Findings may inform the tailoring or enhancement of these programs to better fit the needs of the LGB population.

 

Elissia Forty ‘20
Majors: Health Sciences and Psychology

Title of Project: College Struggles: The Reasons Why College Students Don’t Seek Academic Support

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Andrew Abeyta, Assistant Professor of Psychology

College students struggling with classes do not always seek the academic support they need. We conducted an exploratory study to investigate the student attitudes about seeking out academic support. Specifically, we asked 100 Rutgers-Camden students to write about their experiences and attitudes about seeking academic support for college struggles. Qualitative analyses revealed that student responses focused on five broad themes of past experiences, attitude of self-reliance, fear of admitting failure, professor intimidation, and practical barriers as factors impacting whether students are inclined to seek academic support.

 

Emily Gomez ‘20
Major: Psychology
Minors: Art and Childhood Studies

Title of Project: Caregivers’ Question Use across Interactive Contexts

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Rufan Luo, Assistant Professor of Psychology

Children acquire language through interactions with their caregivers (Weizman & Snow, 2001).  Language input that creates shared focus and didactic conversation, in particular the use of questions, benefits children’s language development (Hirsh-Pasek et al., 2015; Tomasello, & Farrar, 1986). While past research has shown that caregivers’ language use vary across daily routines, little is known about how various contexts elicit different types of questions from caregivers. This study examined caregivers’ question use with their children during book reading, toy play, and cleaning up.

Participants were 40 caregivers and their children (M=19.6 months) from low-income backgrounds. Approximately 7.5%, 40%, and 45% of caregivers were White, African American, and Hispanic/Latino, respectively. We video-recorded 5-minute interactions between caregivers and their children during book reading, toy play, and cleaning up. We coded four types of caregivers’ questions: Y/N questions (e.g. “Do you like it?”), referential questions (e.g. “What is this?”), and advanced questions (e.g. “How do you feel?”). We calculated frequencies per minute for each type of question in each context.

On average, caregivers asked 1.72, 1.59, and 0.79 questions per minute during book-reading, toy play, and clean up. A 3 Questions (Y/N, referential, advanced) × 3 Contexts (book, play, clean up) Repeated Measures ANOVA yielded a main effect for question type. Caregivers asked more Y/N (M=.79, SE=.17) and referential questions (M=.42, SE=.07) than advanced questions (M=.15, SE=.03) F(2, 38)=16.63, p<.001. A context main effect indicated that overall caregivers asked more questions during book reading (M=.57, SE=.09) and play (M=.53, SE=.09) than during cleaning up (M=.26, SE=.06), F(2, 38)=10.13, p<.001. A significant interaction (F(4, 36)=8.66, p<.001) revealed that Y/N questions and referential questions were more frequent during book reading than during clean-up (see Figure 1). However, advanced questions did not differ across contexts.

Low-income caregivers asked mostly Y/N and referential questions but very few advanced questions while interacting with their preverbal children. More importantly, caregivers asked more Y/N and referential questions during book reading and play than during cleaning up, suggesting that these child-centered activities provide unique and valuable teaching and learning opportunities for language development.

 

Audrey Johnson ‘21
Major: History
Minor: Film Studies

Title of Project: Employees of Victor Talking Machine Company and Radio Corporation of America on Cooper Street

Faculty Mentors: Dr. Charlene Mires, Director of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities (MARCH) and Associate Professor of History, and Ms. Nicole Belolan, Public Historian in Residence, MARCH

Employees of Victor Talking Machine Company and Radio Corporation of America on Cooper Street takes a micro approach on the study of the employees of the company from 1910-1950 and studies the social and economic significance of the city of Camden. Research done primarily through the Camden City Directory and the US Census, the interactive map shows a timeline of the residents of Cooper Street who worked for Victor Talking Machine Company. The research also studies the history and impact of the Victor Talking Machine Company and Radio Corporation of America (RCA) on the Camden community. The link for the article and map is https://cooperstreet.wordpress.com/2019/12/12/employees-of-victor-talking-machine-company-and-radio-corporation-of-america-on-cooper-street/.

 

Joseph Johnson ’21 and Madison Vukicevich ‘20
Majors: Psychology (Johnson) and Health Sciences and Psychology (Vukiecevich)
Minor: Biology (Vukiecevich)

Title of Project: Selective Attention to Speech

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Lisa Payne, Assistant Professor of Psychology

*Recipient of the Arts and Sciences Dean’s Undergraduate Research Grant (Johnson)*

People often have trouble listening and attending to a speaker as a result of background noise. Listening to an already familiar speaker has a positive impact on speech recognition, which can form a familiar-talker advantage during difficult listening conditions. Past studies have featured short sentences presented in a very structured way, which is not a very natural way of speaking. Here we used longer passages of speech, or speech in paragraph form, to model a more natural speaking pattern. The question addressed was whether a training session, where participants listened to an unfamiliar voice for 20 minutes, would improve accuracy in answering questions based on information spoken by the speaker against background noise. Participants were given a pre-test and post-test with the training session in between to track differences after training was completed. Participants were undergraduate, college students from Rutgers-Camden with no reported hearing problems or impairments. Using a more ecologically valid approach, familiarity training may help us to better attend to a speaker in educational, occupational, or social settings.

 

Tyler Jones ‘20
Major: Chemistry

Title of Project: Extent of Hydrogen Bonding Interactions in Soluble Nylon Using DFT Calculations

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Georgia Arbuckle-Keil, Professor of Chemistry

N-methoxymethyl nylon, or soluble nylon, was used as a consolidant by museum conservation scientists in the 1960s. Soluble nylon is a nylon resin that has been treated with formaldehyde to produce an unstable alkoxy substituted material1.  Soluble nylon was applied to various works of art including large Japanese cedar doors to limit fragmentation of painted surfaces. However, over time the polymer film became stiff and attracted dirt and dust, and soluble nylon was ultimately deemed to be a poor resin in the conservation field and is no longer used today. This independent research project was aimed to model various molecules using the software program, Gaussian2, utilizing Hartree-Fock (HF) and Density Functional Theory (DFT) calculations to accurately optimize structures and accurately predict IR and Raman spectra. After competence in the use of the program was confirmed, through the analysis of formaldehyde and various short-chain polyamide structures, a series of monomers of nylon 1,3 through nylon 6,6 were evaluated. It is known that soluble nylon is soluble in alcohol while nylon 6,6 is very crystalline and insoluble. The long-range goal is to use this computational theory to then predict and model the distance imposed by hydrogen bonding interactions between polyamide nylon 6,6 and of N-methoxymethylated substituted nylon 6,6 polymers (soluble nylon). 

 

Alexis Kapij ‘20
Major: Psychology
Minor: Sociology

Title of Project: Correlates of Attempted Suicide among Women

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Courtenay Cavanaugh, Associate Professor of Psychology

*Recipient of the Arts and Sciences Dean’s Undergraduate Conference Travel Grant*

There is a need for studies that test multiple correlates of attempted suicide among women including women who identify as sexual minorities (i.e., gay, lesbian, or bisexual). This study tested the influence of childhood psychological abuse, childhood physical abuse, childhood sexual abuse, intimate partner violence, and mental disorders (major depressive episode, posttraumatic stress disorder, and alcohol use disorder) on attempted suicide among women including sexual minority women. Data were used from 19, 563 women who participated in wave 2 of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. Analyses were run on the entire sample of women and then in stratified analyses by sexual orientation (N=302 sexual minority women). In the adjusted models for all women, women with a lifetime history of a major depressive episode (Adjusted odds ratio (AOR) =4.02), childhood sexual abuse (AOR=2.84), or intimate partner violence (AOR=2.50) had the greatest odds for having ever attempted suicide. In the adjusted models for sexual minority women, women with a lifetime history of intimate partner violence (AOR=4.47), major depressive episode (AOR=3.53), and childhood psychological abuse (AOR=2.15) had the greatest odds of ever attempting suicide. Findings may inform related suicide prevention interventions.

 

Samantha Kehner ‘21
Majors: Childhood Studies and Psychology

Title of Project: The Young, Dead, White Female in the Humanities and in the Law: Who Gets a Memorial Law?

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Lee Ann Westman, Associate Teaching Professor of Gender Studies and Director of the Honors College

*Recipient of the Arts and Sciences Dean’s Undergraduate Conference Travel Grant*

Last year, I explored the broad topic of memorial laws for my “Monuments and Memorials” course, then presented my findings at the Humanities Education and Research Association 2019 conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I analyzed the lives of those who were commemorated to understand the acts that were passed in their names, and focused specifically on Matthew Shepard, Kristen Modafferi, and Kyleigh D’Alessio. While I was doing my research, I noticed a trend of predominantly young white women being memorialized. My paper investigates further this inequality of memorial laws, and employs the humanities to explain the predominance of white females who are memorialized. I examined the depictions of young white women being depicted as fragile as well as memorialized in literature, art, and other humanities. As Edgar Allen Poe asserted, “the death of a beautiful [white] woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world.” I believe this western preoccupation with young white dead females is a major factor as to why there is this massive inequality in who is granted a law in memory of their life and death.

 

John Ketcham ‘21
Majors: Philosophy and Psychology

Title of Project: Exploring the Relationship between Emotional Regulation and Religiosity

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Andrew Abeyta, Assistant Professor of Psychology

There is a well-established link between religiosity and meaning in life. In the current research, we explored meta-emotional competencies as a potential explanation for this association. Specifically, we tested whether meta-emotional competencies of emotional understanding, attention to emotions, and emotional regulation mediate the relation between religious commitment and meaning in life. We collected data on 400 Rutgers-Camden undergraduate students to test this. Results revealed emotion regulation, but not emotional attention and emotional understanding, mediated the relation between religious commitment and meaning in life. These results tentatively suggest positive emotion regulation skills might explain why religious people tend to report higher levels of meaning.

 

Harjit Khaira ‘21
Major: Biology
Minor: Computer Science

Title of Project: Characterizing genetic mechanisms involved in measuring day-length in Drosophila melanogaster

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Kwangwon Lee, Associate Professor of Biology

*Recipient of the Sandy Stewart Undergraduate Research Grant*

Many organisms are known to respond to seasonal day-length changes, this phenomenon is called photoperiodism. Photoperiodism is known to regulate seasonal behavior and physiological processes in many organisms. Since the seminal work by Bünning in 1936, there are many reports supporting the view that an organism can measure the day length through an endogenous 24-hour cellular clock, which is termed the circadian clock. However, little is known about the genetic and molecular mechanisms on how the circadian clock is involved in measuring seasonal or day-length changes.  It has been reported that extreme changes in photoperiods can have detrimental effects on human health, especially on the developmental processes and it can also serve as the origin of many adult diseases. In the current study, we will perform a genome-wide association (GWA) study on photoperiodism using the Drosophila melanogaster Genetic reference panel (DGRP) which consists of fully sequenced inbred lines created from a natural population. The overall goal is to, identify genes that are involved in measuring photoperiodism which would provide a novel insight into how an organism measures the day-length changes. We have hypothesized that the GWA study in the DGRP population under different photoperiodic conditions will result in candidate genes responsible for photoperiodic regulation. In order to perform the GWA study, first, we need to collect phenotype data.  The phenotype chosen for our study was chill coma recovery (CCR), which is the time it takes an organism to wake up from a paralysis like state when kept under low temperatures. CCR is induced by keeping the organisms in 4-degree Celsius for 60 minutes after being exposed to different photoperiodic conditions. Then, we tested whether the recovery time was effected by the photoperiodic conditions by performing Cohen’s D analysis. Our results indicated that there was a significant positive and negative effect on CCR. After, the CCR data used for the association study which indicated potential genes responsible for the recovery time and photoperiodism. Some of them associate with circadian rhythm genes. Our study will reveal the role of the circadian clock in photoperiodism.

 

Shariq Khan ‘21
Major: Biology
Minor: Chemistry

Title of Project: Study of the role of mitochondrial inorganic polyphosphate in the 3-Nitroproprionic acid-induced model of Huntington’s disease

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Maria Solesio, Assistant Professor of Biology

*Recipient of the Sandy Stewart Undergraduate Research Grant* 

Huntington’s disease (HD), is a dyskinesia caused by the accumulation of the dysfunctional huntingtin protein. Changes in personality, dementia, and slurred speech are other classical symptoms of this disease. One of the main hallmarks of HD in neuronal populations is mitochondrial dysfunction, including decreased ATP production, and increased reactive oxygen species (ROS). We previously demonstrated that mitochondrial dysfunction in HD models lead to the formation and opening of the mitochondrial permeability transition pore (MPTP), and, in last term, to the apoptotic neuronal death. However, the exact mechanisms inducing mitochondrial dysfunction in HD are still mostly unknown. Mitochondrial inorganic polyphosphate (polyP) is a small and ubiquitous polymer, consisting of many orthophosphates linked together by high energy phosphoanyhydride bonds. It has been proposed that polyP is isoenergetic to ATP. Supporting this hypothesis, we have preliminary data showing the key role of polyP on the regulation of the switch between glycolysis and oxidative phosphorylation.

Here, we show the protective effect of polyP in HD, using a pharmacologically induced model of the disease. Specifically, we used 3-Nitroproprionic acid (3NP), a well-known inhibitor of Complex II of the electron transport chain, which mirrors the effects of HD at the cellular level and Wt and mitochondrial polyP (-) (MitoPPX) SH-SY5Y neuronal cells. MitoPPX cells have consistently shown to lack mitochondrial polyP. We propose that the protection exerted by polyP in our models might be due to the effect of the polymer in bioenergetics, by preventing or counteracting the dysfunctional levels of ATP and ROS induced by 3-NP. We aim to conduct further studies to elucidate the state of the MPTP and apoptosis in our model. We hypothesize that polyP will exert a protective effect on these parameters. Our findings may lead to further research investigating polyP as a pharmacological target in HD and in other neurodegenerative disorders where mitochondrial dysfunction has been described, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

 

Sora Kiwior ’21, Milosz Krupinski ’21, and Christopher Till ‘20
Majors: Animation and Digital Studies (Kiwior), Digital Studies and History (Krupinski), and Computer Science and Digital Studies (Till)
Minors: Computer Science and Management Information Systems (Krupinski)

Title of Project: Instagram, LilMiquela, and Violence: Internet Research Roadblocks

Faculty Mentors: Dr. James Brown, Director of the Digital Studies Center and Associate Professor of English; Dr. Gail Caputo, Professor of Criminal Justice; and Dr. Robert Emmons, Associate Director of the Digital Studies Center and Assistant Teaching Professor of Theater

In our study of harassment of online personality LilMiquela, we experienced many roadblocks in getting our data. One of the problems we originally experienced was getting IRB approval to study this Instagram account, because of concerns about the GDPR. We had no way of  determining which users of Instagram or Twitter reside in the EU and which do not, nor did we have a reasonable way of contacting thousands of users to gain consent. We opted to use the process of “pseudonymisation”, which is intended to process the information in a way which removes all identification to the original owner of the data. Another major problem we experienced when we finally started to collect these public comments from Instagram was the obfuscation of data. When we collected data from the web pages, it was very difficult to programmatically select each comment on the page, due to elements of the page being given randomly generated name, and the page structure being highly illogical. We solved this problem, coded a Python program to collect these comments, and another to analyze them. In our presentation we discuss these problems in-depth, and the methods used to solve them.

 

Sora Kiwior ’21 and Christopher Till ‘20
Majors: Animation and Digital Studies (Kiwior) and Computer Science and Digital Studies (Till)

Title of Project: Online Abuse around Digital Female Identities

Faculty Mentor: Dr. James Brown, Director of the Digital Studies Center and Associate Professor of English; Dr. Gail Caputo, Professor of Criminal Justice; and Dr. Robert Emmons, Associate Director of the Digital Studies Center and Assistant Teaching Professor of Theater

*Recipients of the Arts and Sciences Dean’s Undergraduate Conference Travel Grant*

This project uses digital technologies and an intersectional, feminist approach to study the global problem of online gender-based violence. It pushes the field forward by incorporating artificial intelligences (AIs) as subjects for research. First, the project explores the nature and context of online gender-based violence, the relevance of intersecting social identities to understanding violence, and resistance to violence. It does this in relation to female humanoids and bots (virtual and physical representations of girls and women) in sites of social interaction by examining online communication around these subjects that is sexist, racist, homophobic, and in other ways oppressive to female identities broadly defined. In addition, it considers how varied social identities (of the AI in physical appearance and gender, race, ethnicity, age) seem to coincide with interactions of different sorts, as well as cultural or geographic differences in how users interact. On resistance, it examines how users come to reject the violence of other users or otherwise repudiate violence. For context, comparison, and to highlight difference, the project also does the same with select female identified human users. Second, this project examines how AI systems themselves can be involved in perpetuating gender-based violence or engaged in resisting it. AI systems are coded by individuals and the advanced systems retain memory and learn through communication and interaction, thus developing identities. Even while these systems are intended to be benevolent, personal biases can be coded into AI systems and AI systems can learn social biases and violence through interaction. Here, the project considers how and in what contexts AI systems may prompt, produce, reproduce, and resist oppressive speech, text, and other interactions that can be thought of as harmful or violent toward female identified populations and intersectional identities. Results have important theoretical and policy implications across multiple fields.

 

Milosz Krupinski ‘21
Majors: Digital Studies and History
Minors: Computer Science and Management Information Systems

Title of Project: History and Evolution of the Influencer

Faculty Mentor: Dr. James Brown, Director of the Digital Studies Center and Associate Professor of English

This research project was part of a broader research initiative about social media influencers. Influencer marketing has become an integral part of advertising in recent years. It is now a multi-billion dollar a year industry. This is especially true on social media with Instagram being the biggest influencer platform.

Historically there have been many influencers and endorsers changing significantly as the times change. From people endorsing products through testimonial, monarchs influencing fashion, or athletes putting their name on products, influencers have had truly substantial impacts on our lives. The term influencer cannot just be looked at as a marketing term, as historically there have been much greater implications. The social media influencer is just the newest in a long line of influencers.

The word influencer has only become commonly used relatively recently, but there can be many parallels drawn between the modern-day influencer and endorsers of products. Influencers today are paid to promote products but there are many examples of historical influencers that were not paid by companies. They did not advertise specific products but were known to be trendsetters. A good example is Louis the XIV, the “Sun King,” the fashion icon of his day. By the end of his reign he had turned Paris into the undisputed fashion capital of Europe with a vibrant textile clothing and luxury goods industry that persists to this day. While the influencers of today are very different, there are clear similarities.

The goal of this project was to trace the evolution of the influencers through history to allow people to understand how we got here as well as to better understand the current situation of social media influencers.

 

Aileen Kwok ‘20
Major: Biology
Minor: Chemistry

Title of Project: Species Diversity in Pitcher Plant Microcosms: The Role of Environmental Factors across Spatial Scales

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Angélica González, Assistant Professor of Biology

*Recipient of the Arts and Sciences Dean’s Undergraduate Research Grant*

Biodiversity, the variety of life, is distributed heterogeneously across the Earth. Some areas swarm with biological variation, while others are less diverse. Empirical evidence has shown that diversity in local habitats may vary widely, but the underlying factors of this variation are not fully understood. The aim of this project is to examine spatial patterns of aquatic species diversity in relationship to physicochemical characteristics using pitcher plants as a study model. Specifically, we seek to understand how much of the variation in species richness and abundance is explained by local environmental factors (pH, temperature) and (ii) how species turnover among local sites (β diversity) is related to environmental factors and geographic distance between sites. To study spatial patterns in species diversity, we are using pitcher plant systems. Pitcher plants (Sarraceniaceae) have evolved modified leaves that accumulate rainwater, arthropod carcasses, and organic detritus, which provide a stable microhabitat for aquatic organisms. Pitcher plants represent ideal models to study diversity patterns because of their distribution at local and regional scales, along environmental gradients. Ultimately, statistical analyses (linear regressions) and similarity indexes will be utilized to examine the patterns of aquatic species diversity in relationship to the physicochemical characteristics in pitcher plants and understand how much of the variation in species richness and abundance is explained by local environmental factors (pH, temperature) and (ii) how species turnover (β diversity) is related to environmental factors and geographic distance between sites.

 

Xiao Hua (Anna) Liang
Major: Biology
Minors: Chemistry and Leadership Studies

Title of Project: The Localization and Physiological Effects of Thyroid Hormone Derivatives in Sprague Dawley Rats

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Joseph Martin, Professor of Biology

*Recipient of the Arts and Sciences Dean’s Undergraduate Conference Travel Grant and the Sandy Stewart Undergraduate Research Grant*

Abnormalities in thyroid hormone (TH) levels can alter the body’s physiology, which can lead to disorders such as hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. There are two active forms of THs, triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4), and one inactive form, 3,3’,5-triiodothyronine (rT3). THs can be further decarboxylated into metabolites known as thyronamines. Thyronamines are still relatively new compounds and not much is known yet about their roles in the body. So far, only two thyronamines, 3-iodothyronamine (3T1AM) and thyronamine (T0AM), have been previously studied and isolated from rodent brains. Previous work done by Dratman et al. 1976 has confirmed the localization of T3 in nerve terminals (synaptosomes).  Since THs and catecholamines are derived from tyrosine and thyronamines are derived from THs, it’s reasonable to propose that thyronamines may act like catecholamines. This may explain some of the neurological effects associated with hyperthyroidism. This study aims to: 1) identify epinephrine and norepinephrine analogue thyronamines in the adrenal glands and synaptosomes, and 2) observe the physiological effects of thyronamines to find a compound that can induce a hyperthyroid-like state. Preliminary studies done by the Martin lab have identified additional seven dopamine-analogues thyronamines in the adrenal medulla and synaptosomes of Sprague Dawley rats using Bruker LC-QTOF-MS. We were not only able to identify the seven new thyronamines, T0AM, T1AM, T3 and T4, but we were able to identify three new norepinephrine-like thyronamines that were not previously known to be present: T2AM-N, T3AM-N and T4AM-N. In the physiological study, adult male Sprague Dawley rats had a telemetry device surgically implanted to record core body temperature, motor activity and heart rate using the Vital View program. Rats received intraperitoneal injections (IP) of a vehicle solution (0.9% NaCl + 0.001 N HCl) or a similar solution containing dissolved thyronamines. The results were normalized using Excel and analyzed using GraphPad Prism. Most of the compounds caused hypothermia and a decreased heart rate which returned to baseline. We also noticed that R and S isomers of T0AM-E had different effects on the physiology. Therefore, the thyronamines are novel compounds localized in adrenal glands and synaptosomes, with multiple physiological actions.

 

Jackson Luu ’20 and Salsabill Subah ‘20
Majors: Biology (Luu) and Chemistry (Subah)
Minor: Biology (Subah)

Title of Project: Quantification of Water Content in Ionic Liquids Using NMR

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Alex Roche, Associate Professor of Chemistry

*Recipients of the Arts and Sciences Dean’s Undergraduate Research Grant*

“Ionic liquids” are a unique class of compounds with many favorable properties, and recent examples (such as imidazolium salts, below) have also shown promise as “green materials” that could replace harmful organic solvents or other environmentally harmful compounds.

Ionic compound figure

However, the distinctive properties (e.g. ability to form hydrogen bonds, conductivity, solubility, etc.) of ionic liquids are known to vary based on how “dry” the liquid is. Typically, the higher the water content, the worse the properties tend to be. This is a serious practical issue since the ionic liquids are hygroscopic, meaning they readily absorb water from the atmosphere or air. The general structure of 5-10 imidazolium salts will be analyzed using NMR. The goal of this project is to determine the water content in this variety of ionic liquids.

Figure 1 chart

Figure: 1H NMR spectra showing the increase in the water signal due to water absorption in an Ionic Liquid from the air over time.

 

Melissa Malcom ‘20
Major: Mathematics
Minor: Computer Science

Title of Project: A Fast Gibbs-like Symplectic Integrator for Hamiltonian Monte Carlo

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Nawaf Bou-Rabee, Associate Professor of Mathematics

*Recipient of the Arts and Sciences Dean’s Undergraduate Conference Travel Grant*

This project compares the convergence of Gibbs and Hamiltonian Monte Carlo (HMC) for Bayesian hierarchical models. The Hamiltonian dynamics in HMC is approximated by a Gibbs-like symplectic integrator adapted to the structure of hierarchical models. This integrator allows larger time step sizes than Verlet, which in turn, accelerates convergence of HMC.

  

William Myers ‘21
Major: Biology

Title of Project: Characterizing Genetic Elements Regulating Conidia Abundance

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Kwangwon Lee, Associate Professor of Biology

*Recipient of the Sandy Stewart Undergraduate Research Grant*

Treatment of fungal infections in humans and plants is complicated by the shared eukaryotic nature of the pathogen and host. Therefore, ideal drug targets are biochemical processes unique to fungi. One such process is known as conidiation, which is the development of asexual fungal spores, or conidia. Conidiation is not only critical for host-to-host spreading, but it is also heavily involved in overall growth and spreading within a host. Reducing the number of conidia produced by an infectious fungus could prevent the spread of infection between hosts and potentially even eliminate the pathogen, in conjunction with an immune defense, within a single host. QTL analysis on Neurospora crassa has determined several candidate genes that, when mutated, significantly affect the number of conidia produced. N. crassa is nonpathogenic, but it is a widely used model organism with a mapped genome. Using molecular tools, N. crassa can be used to model the influence genes have on the quantitative aspect of conidiation. After identifying a particularly promising candidate gene, sequencing followed by an allele swap into wild-type N. crassa will be used to confirm that a single mutation in the identified gene is sufficient for significantly altering the number of conidia. Success in this investigation could provide new molecular targets for reducing conidia in fungal pathogens.

 

Trinh Nguyen ‘20
Major: Biology
Minor: English

Title of Project: A Body of Loss

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Jillian Sayre, Assistant Professor of English

The title of this project is A Body of Loss. In this project, I wanted to explore the theme of loss and the different ways people respond to it. Loss is not a singular experience and it is inescapable. Loss includes but is not limited to death. It could be other forms of physical or metaphorical loss. The purpose of this project was to create an interactive experience of loss. A Body of Loss encompasses a variety of short stories related to a particular human body part. In order to fully experience the stories, physical and digital interaction is required from the participant.

 

Swaraj Parmar ‘20
Major: Chemistry

Title of Project: Microplastic Identification in New Jersey Regional Water Bodies

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Georgia Arbuckle-Keil, Professor of Chemistry

Plastics are an integral part of industry and society, mainly due to their light-weight, barrier-like packaging qualities. However, they are also responsible for Microplastic and Nanoplastic pollution which has the tendency to accumulate in water bodies. In particular interest are water bodies in the New Jersey region which have been shown to contain microplastic pollution. In order to learn more about these microplastics, identification of particular polymers is an important step. Surface water samples were taken from the Raritan River and Delaware Bay. After processing the raw samples for the microplastics, they were analyzed via ATR-IR spectroscopy. Some types of polymers that the Microplastics were identified to be polyethylene (HDPE/LDPE), polypropylene (PP), occasionally polystyrene (PS), and very rarely Poly-vinyl-chloride(PVC). This essentially indicates that a lot of microplastic pollution in water bodies are from plastic commercial goods as well as everyday plastic items which subsequently breakdown via environmental degradation or are primarily produced on the micro-scale. And they transport into water bodies as result of surface run-offs (rain), littering, and fragmentation from various plastic products. 

 

Lidiize Perez ‘21
Majors: Global Studies and Health Sciences
Minor: Latin American Studies

Title of Project: Immigrant Agriculture Workers in Bridgeton, New Jersey

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Silvia Perez-Cortes, Assistant Professor of Spanish

In 2016, Latinos were considered the largest ethnic group in the United States, accounting for 18% of the total population. Among them, Mexicans are the largest community, because they represent more than half of the Latino population (Flores, 2017). The United States and Mexico have a long history of immigration agreements, for example, the infamous Bracero program of the 1940s. The Braceros were Mexican workers who entered the United States for seasonal agricultural work during the World Wars (Massey & Liang, 1989). The modern version, known as the H-2A visa program, provides temporary work visas for agricultural labor (“H-2A”, 2009). These programs have allowed Mexican workers to continue migrating to the US over the years due to the lack of jobs and low wages in their home country (Zong & Batalova, 2018).

In this study, three migrant workers with different years of experience at Overdevest Nurseries in Bridgeton, New Jersey were interviewed. Questions were asked to gain insight about the H-2A visas, work environment, discrimination, and assimilation of the migrant workers. The objective was to analyze whether being a migrant worker in the US has improved over the years or if they still face the same challenges their predecessors did many decades ago.

 

Sujay Ratna ‘21
Major: Biology
Minors: Chemistry and Sociology

Title of Project: High Resolution Profiling of EGFR Mutations in Glioblastoma Patients Using an Ultrasensitive Digital PCR Approach

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Kwangwon Lee, Associate Professor of Biology

*Recipient of the Arts and Sciences Dean’s Undergraduate Conference Travel Grant*

 Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM) is the most aggressive type of adult brain cancer. The average survival time after GBM diagnosis is 14.6 months even with current tri-modality therapy. The Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) is amplified in 57% of GBM. Mutations in EGFR such as EGFR variant III, A289V, and R108K lead to more aggressive tumors, and diminished survival. We are in dire need of a molecular assay that rapidly profiles these alterations in EGFR since other assays currently available clinically, like Next Generation Sequencing, may take up to 4 weeks due to the batching of samples in current workflows.

Our lab has established a very sensitive and novel digital Polymerase Chain Reaction (dPCR) assay that detects EGFRvIII in patient tumors within 24 hours of resection. This dPCR assay utilizes RNA extracted from microgram quantities of resected tumor from GBM patients, which is then converted to complementary DNA (cDNA). cDNA is then pre-amplified and subjected to the dPCR assay using specific primers and probes for EGFRvIII and EGFR WT. The assay is multiplexed with an internal reference control, RNaseP. The same starting material can be used to detect the presence or absence of two other mutations, R108K and A289V, with exquisite sensitivity and specificity.

We have utilized this assay and tested the platform on patient derived organoids and patient tumor samples. We have also validated this assay on exosomal RNA extracted from media used for culturing U87 WT and U87 vIII cell lines, as well as patient-derived glioma stem cell lines like NS039 and T4213.

This assay allows for rapid and ultrasensitive detection of EGFRvIII, EGFRWT, R108K, and A289V mutations in patient tumors and patient derived organoids. The workflow for this assay allows results within 24 hours of tumor resection, which facilitates early initiation of novel investigational therapeutic agents.  It is possible that molecular characterization of tumor tissue, biofluids, microvesicles, platelets, and cfRNA would help to elucidate genomic variations that occur during disease recurrence. In the future, we plan to test this assay on RNA extracted from various microvesicles and platelets derived from blood to facilitate non-invasive tumor characterization and usefully complement conventional follow-up and imaging methods.

 

Janelly Santos ‘21
Majors: Psychology and Spanish
Minor: Latin American Studies

Title of Project: College Success: How Education can Influence Undergraduate Students

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Andrew Abeyta, Assistant Professor of Psychology

Research indicates that simple psychological interventions can promote positive attitudes about success in college important for student success. In the current research, we tested whether having students reflect on how their education contributes to their sense of meaning/purpose in life would promote positive attitudes about college success. Specifically, we randomly assigned 313 Rutgers-Camden students to one of two writing prompt conditions, and then had them complete a measure of self-esteem and confidence about their ability to succeed in college. In the meaningful education condition, students wrote about how their college education gives their life meaning and helps them achieve their greater purpose. In a control condition, students wrote about how college is different from high school. The results showed that reflecting on how their education promotes meaning in their life increased students’ self-esteem and confidence about college success. This research suggests that promoting the view that education is meaningful might help students succeed in college.

 

Makeda Smalls ‘21
Major: Biochemistry
Minor: Forensic Science

Title of Project: Analysis of the Degradation of Human Blood in Soil

Faculty Mentor: Ms. Kimberlee Moran, Associate Teaching Professor of Forensic Science

This project is the result of a correlation found between soil covered fabric samples that were known to be stained with human blood and the Kastle-Meyer presumptive test that ultimately concluded these samples did not test positive for the presence of heme molecule found in blood. The Kastle-Meyer test is a presumptive tool used to screen for the presence of blood by detecting if the heme molecule is present within in a sample. The samples that returned a false-negative result contained microbial growth directly on the sample that was not anticipated in the beginning of the initial research. After preparing a sample of the microbial growth, we were able to confirm the microorganisms were viable. To further study the possible effects soil microorganisms have on the degradation of human blood, multiple fabric samples were stained then buried. Two fabric samples were stained with blood, two with distilled water, and two were left bare. One of each set of samples will be removed at 30 days, the other at 45 days.

At the time of removal, the quantity of microbial growth will be recorded and compared between sample type and time of exhumation. Samples of growth from each sample will be prepared for viewing. Finally, the remaining blood stains will be tested for protein levels since it is hypothesized that the microorganisms are using the protein in the blood as a food source.

 

Fangming Tian ‘20
Major: Economics

Title of Project: Early Detection of Severely Impaired Adolescents with Depression Using Logistic Classifier

Faculty Mentors: Dr. I-Ming Chiu, Associate Professor of Economics, and Dr. Wenhua Lu, Assistant Professor of Childhood Studies

Using pooled data for adolescents aged 12 to 17 from the annual, cross-sectional National Survey on Drug Use and Health 2011-2017, this study aimed to build a predictive model to identify severely impaired adolescents with depression using machine learning algorithms. Based on the split ratio of 75:25, data were divided into training and test sets. Using the training data, logistic regression model was estimated to identify risk factors for severe impairment in adolescents with depression. Following that, logistic classifier was applied to construct a predictive model and multiple threshold values were set up to classify the observations in the test data set to the category of having severe impairment. Lastly, a “Confusion Matrix” was created to examine the error and accuracy rate of the predictive model. Logistic regression revealed multiple risk factors for depression-related severe impairment, including being female, older age, being White, single-mother household, having less authoritative parents, and negative school experiences. When the threshold value was set at no less than 0.1, the predictive model was able to identify 1,100 out of 2,070 (53.14% of sensitivity) of severe impaired cases. Meanwhile, 5,093 out of 24,627 cases are wrongly identified (20.68% of false positive rate). When the threshold value was reduced to 0.5%, 1,615 out of 2,070 severely impaired cases were identified (78.02% of sensitivity). However, the better predictive performance came with a cost of larger false positive rate (12,007 out of 24,627 cases or 48.76%).

While our empirical findings revealed multiple risk factors for depression-related severe impairment, the capability of our predictive model is subject to the selection of the cut-off value. Without specifying an explicit cost or loss function, it would be difficult to choose an optimal cut-off value. Nevertheless, once a better predictive model is decided, intervention plans can be developed for those high-risk adolescent groups.

 

Ivy Tran ‘20
Major: Biology
Minor: Chemistry

Title of Project: Identifying the Proliferation and Genomic Effects of Bisphenol A (BPA) and Styrene-7,8-oxide (SO) Exposure on Kidney Cells

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Subhajyoti De, Assistant Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine (Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey)

*Recipient of the Arts and Sciences Dean’s Undergraduate Conference Travel Grant and the Arts and Sciences Dean’s Undergraduate Research Grant*

Carcinogens present a risk to populations due to their high prevalence in the environment. Two plasticizers, bisphenol A (BPA) and styrene-7,8-oxide (SO), have been debated on their carcinogenic properties. Currently, the IARC classifies these compounds as not carcinogenic to humans and probably carcinogenic, respectively. This study aims to determine the proliferation and genomic effects of these compounds. In the study, 12-well plates was treated with increasing concentrations of BPA dissolved in DMSO (10-4 M, 10-6 M, and 10-7 M) and increasing concentrations of SO dissolved in DMSO (100 uM, 150 uM, and 200 uM). The result of the crystal violet staining assay of these treatment groups revealed a strong direct correlation between increasing concentrations of BPA or SO exposure and increased cell death comparatively to a control group. Similarly, the quantification of affected foci and nuclei in the y-H2AX immunofluorescence assay revealed the presence of increasing double-stranded DNA repair with increasing concentration of BPA and SO treatment. Although the single nucleotide variant (SNV) calling from the RNA-seq data of SO treated cells did not produce a mutational signature significantly different from the mutations of the control group; however, a significant increase in T[C > A]A SNVs was found in the RNA-seq data of BPA treated cells. The study indicates that BPA and SO exposure to kidney cells inhibit proliferation of kidney cells, and BPA can cause mutational signatures in treated kidney cells, which could provide concrete substantiation for the argument for their carcinogenic classification. Due to the prevalence of these compounds in everyday life, this study is an essential stepping stone in preventing a potential public health issue.

 

Sydney Truong ‘20
Major: Mathematics
Minor: Computer Science

Title of Project: Microscopic Multilane Traffic Modeling

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Benedetto Piccoli, Associate Provost for Research and the Joseph and Loretta Lopez Endowed Chair, Professor of Mathematics

Traffic waves appear whenever vehicles brake and cause a chain reaction of stopping and going vehicles. These waves have negative effects. For example, they increase gas emissions, fuel consumption, and travel time. As an attempt to dissipate traffic waves, the project creates simulations modeling vehicular traffic on a microscopic level. Modeling traffic helps in the process of establishing traffic control as well as initiating driving experiments. Past driving experiments have produced results that show how controlling traffic leads to a reduction of traffic waves and their adverse effects. Simulations are created on MATLAB, where vehicles drive following Bando-Follow the Leader (Bando-FTL), an ODE model based on vehicle acceleration. Bando-FTL shares the stop and go phenomenon. Simulations depict multilane traffic with lane changing vehicles on a straight road as well as on a circular road.

 

 

 

 

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