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 annual Research Week, which includes a graduate-level research celebration and a Faculty Research Fellow Lecture.


2024 CURCA Project Abstracts

Projects are listed in alpha order by last name of main presenter.


Ronald Barr ’24
Majors: Mathematics and Digital Studies, Minors: Physics and Computer Science
Faculty Mentor: Mr. Cory Trout, Assistant Teaching Professor of Physics
Title of Project: Photocatalytic Properties of Antimony-Based Nanoparticles in Pulsed Laser Ablations in Liquids (PLAL)

The work presented here is focused on the production of antimony-based nanomaterials by pulsed laser ablation of pure antimony target submerged in water. It is well understood that reactions between the ablated target species and the surrounding liquid can take place leading to the formation of nanoparticles (NPs) with compositions different from the target. Previous work has demonstrated that aging of bismuth-based NPs produced from pulsed laser ablation in liquid (PLAL) has led to the formation of interesting nanomaterial morphologies that are not typically seen with PLAL. The similarity in antimony’s electronic structure and also lead to interesting nanomaterial compositions and morphology. To investigate the aging of the antimony NPs, UV-Vis spectra were acquired periodically. Additionally, atomic force microscopy was employed on NPs drop cast at different times after ablation on freshly cleaved mica to observe the evolution in NP morphology. The composition and structure of the nanomaterials were investigated using Raman spectroscopy.

Duessa Red Bregaudit ’24 and Ramla Basharat ’24
Majors: Chemistry (both)
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Jinglin Fu, Associate Professor of Chemistry
Title of Project: DNA-based Dendrimer Particles

Dendrimers are highly organized molecules characterized by their tree-like configuration of different generations. Each generation involves the addition of new layers of repeating units around a central core molecule, leading to precise control over size and functionality. Typically composed of organic molecules, dendrimers face challenges in their applications due to their potential toxicity. Thus, DNA-based dendrimers have emerged as promising nanomaterials to overcome certain challenges associated with traditional organic dendrimers, such as toxicity and lack of specificity. We demonstrate two distinct DNA-based dendrimers composed of two different individual monomers, including tetrahedron DNA-nanostructures and Y-shaped DNA. Tetrahedron DNA nanostructures (TDN) are three-dimensional assemblies composed of four single-stranded oligonucleotides with complementary sequences, forming a pyramid-like structure. Y-shaped DNA structures are formed by three single-stranded oligonucleotides with complementary sequences, creating a three-arm junction resembling the letter “Y.” Both tetrahedron DNA nanostructures and Y-DNA offer distinct advantages as monomers for DNA-based dendrimers due to their unique structural properties and programmability. Additionally, to their biocompatibility, with their reduced cytotoxicity and ability to incorporate drug molecules, DNA-based dendrimers show great potential for targeted drug delivery and other biomedical applications.

Jenna Brodnyan ’24
Major: Biology, Minor: Chemistry
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Angélica González, Associate Professor of Biology
Title of Project: Diversity in the Atacama: Population genetics and the assessment of genetic structure of solpugids
**Recipient of the Chancellor’s Grant for Independent Student Research and the Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Travel Grant**

In recent decades, the biodiversity of arthropods has declined globally. Changes to arthropod populations can fundamentally affect food webs, the regulation of plant communities, and organic matter decomposition. In addition, smaller population sizes can lead to the loss of genetic diversity and can potentially reduce an organism’s fitness. Despite the essential role arthropods play in ecosystems, their demographic and evolutionary responses to climate change remain uncertain. Of particular concern are arthropods from arid lands, which might be more vulnerable to higher temperatures and reduced precipitation. This project aims to: (i) develop genomic libraries for populations of a common arthropod taxa, Solpugidae, collected from the Atacama Desert, Chile; (ii) quantify genomic variation across space; and (iii) test for patterns of population divergence based on spatial and climatic distances. We expect that precipitation will be correlated with metrics of genetic diversity and that populations will be more genetically divergent when climatic differences are greater between geographic locations. It is important to understand the links between climate and genomic diversity for understanding the ecology of desert species and for assessing conservation needs. In the future, we hope to use these data as a genomic baseline for this species and use our identification of genetic polymorphisms to analyze ancient DNA.

Matthew Brodsky ’24 and Wayne Reynolds ’25
Majors: Political Science (MB) and English (WR), Minors: Philosophy (MB) and Film, Communication, and Digital Studies (WR)
Faculty Mentor: Dr. James Brown, Director of the Digital Studies Center and Associate Professor of English
Title of Project: Well Played: Accessibility in Video Games

Well Played is covering the importance of accessibility in video games. More specifically, it looks to the newest iteration of Street Fighter, Street Fighter VI, as an example of a game that has made improvements in that area. Additionally, Well Played reviewed previous literature about accessibility and games. We conducted a literature review that goes over current research on accessibility and video games, areas where developers need to improve, and the benefits accessibility has on video games. Finally, Well Played analyzes Street Fighter VI through the lens of accessibility. The project conducted the analysis by reviewing game play that  existed online, reviewing previous criticisms of game mechanics, and then played the game in front of students in Camden City and sought their perspectives. In conclusion, we found that accessibility in video games still have a long way to go, but Street Fighter VI is an example of a  game that can make a game more accessible for everyone while staying true to the original goals of the game.

Samantha Caruso ’25, Nagelli Torres ’25, and Kylie Friddell ’25
Majors: Psychology (SC), Biology (NT), and Health Sciences and Psychology (KF)
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Robrecht van der Wel, Associate Professor of Psychology
Title of Project: Why Can’t We Make Slow, Smooth Movements?

The motor system chooses between thousands upon thousands of actions every day, with preferences toward quicker, efficient movements. Quick motions are performed with relative ease. However, when it comes to slow movements, the motor system has a limit, humans perform more jerk-like, jittery actions when asked to move smoothly, slow and controlled. Visual feedback may influence the ability to perform slow movements. Healthy participants would follow an ellipse on a screen which would change amplitude and frequency, the visual aspect of the ellipse would change depending on the four conditions being tested (i.e. the ellipse would flash). Participants that were met with a slow-moving ellipse would generate a higher rate of position error; the slow-moving ellipse was more difficult to follow compared to a quicker ellipse indicating that visual cues do matter when executing movement. Our findings yield valuable information into the lower limit of slow movement as it relates to visual feedback, which has real life applications. A further understanding of the mechanisms by which slow movement is produced and the limit of slow movement can help in the understanding of movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease.

Eva Chen ‘26
Majors: Computer Science and Mathematical Science, Minor: Physics
Faculty Mentor: Mr. Cory Trout, Assistant Teaching Professor of Physics
Title of Project: Investigation of Photocatalytic Properties of Iron Nanoparticles Synthesized via Pulsed Laser Ablation in Liquids

Iron nanoparticles have interesting optical and magnetic properties, making them promising candidates for various applications such as catalysis and nanoelectronics. Pulsed laser ablation in liquids (PLAL) provides a versatile approach for the synthesis of iron-based nanostructures, offering control over size, shape, and composition through manipulation of laser parameters and liquid environment. We focus on the synthesis and characterization of iron-based nanoparticles using PLAL for nanoparticle production along with UV-Vis spectroscopy, atomic force microscopy, and Raman spectroscopy for sample analysis. The optical properties of the synthesized nanoparticles will be investigated through UV-Vis spectroscopy to understand their absorption and transmission behavior in the ultraviolet and visible spectral regions. The composition and structure of the nanoparticles are investigated with Raman spectroscopy and their morphology is determined through atomic force microscopy.

Isabella DeGaetano ‘25
Major: Mathematical Science, Minor: Digital Studies
Faculty Mentor: Dr. James Brown, Director of the Digital Studies Center and Associate Professor of English
Title of Project: Modern Codes

Modern Codes was a final project that was made for Writing New Media. This project was inspired by bridging the gap between mathematics and art in a way that will make people appreciate mathematics. This project is an online interactive user game that needs to be paired with the zines that include all the puzzles and codes to progress through the game. The mathematics portion of the project is included in the puzzles that are included in the zines. The project includes an interactive game made in Twine that the user can follow along using zines that were made and designed specifically for the interactive game. There are a total of six zines that are handmade to show the art aspect of the project, three zines that were made digitally, two zines that talk about mathematics as an art, and a solution guide to the codes. The codes in the zines were specifically written to be easy enough for anyone in high school and above to be able to complete. I did many revisions to the zines and the codes that are in them to make sure the instructions were clear and easy to follow.

Nayeli DeJesus ‘24
Major: Theater
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Kenneth Elliott, Associate Professor of Theater
Title of Project: Magic of Music

Many little girls around the world dream of being princesses and wishing upon stars. I was no different, so it’s no surprise to anyone when I say that animated Disney movies were the biggest part of my childhood. So, what better way to end my undergraduate experience than to make my childhood dream come true for one night?

I came up with the idea of a bilingual cabaret while listening to “I See the Light” from Tangled, and while listening, I wondered how it would sound if it was mashed up with the Spanish version. I decided that I wanted to hear it, and my very dear friend Andrew Merkle was kind enough to sing it with me for a choir concert, where I sang most of my parts in Spanish and he sang his in English with some overlap in between. In the process of creating this arrangement, I realized that I was bringing together two of the most important parts of my life: my girlhood and my heritage, and I thought it would be the perfect concept for my capstone.

Because my goal was to emphasize Latin visibility in theater, it was extremely important to me that the show be held during Hispanic Heritage Month. I knew it would be a busy fall semester with new classes and other shows going on at the same time, so I wanted to make sure my performers were ready by then. Therefore, preparation started well before the fall semester even began. From spring 2023, I spent at least three hours daily listening to Disney music to figure out harmonies and come up with choreography to send out to everyone to learn so that we’d be ready to start rehearsals by the time the fall semester started.

It was a long, tiring, and sometimes frustrating process, but it was so worth it in the end. I can’t say how proud I am, not only of my fellow performers but also myself, for directing, choreographing, costume designing, arranging, and performing a show that was so close to my heart.

Gabriel Elias ‘24
Majors: Psychology and Biology
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Lauren Daniel, Associate Professor of Psychology
Title of Project: Increasing Participation and Diversity in the National Bone Marrow Donor Registry

Background: Approximately 12,000 patients need a bone marrow transplant annually for hematologic/oncologic treatment. The National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) through the “Be the Match” organization facilitates matches for 70% of these patients who cannot find a match within their family. The donor registry is 67% white, making it more difficult for individuals of color to find suitable matches. The current study tested messaging strategies with a diverse group of undergraduate students to increase participation and diversity in the program. In this study, we compared participation rates by emotional or rational appeals.

Methods: Participants (N=361, 72.3% female; 58.4% nonwhite, ages 18-35) were recruited through an undergraduate psychology research pool at a Minority Serving Undergraduate Institution. Students received course credit for participation. After providing informed consent, participants completed a measure of bone marrow donation knowledge and reported their intentions to enroll in the donor registry. Participants were then randomized by sex to receive an emotional presentation of a child with cancer who needs a bone marrow transplant or a rational presentation using racial/ethnic disparity data within transplant registry. After receiving either presentation, participants were again asked about their intentions to join the donor registry. Repeated-measures ANOVAs compared the likelihood of joining the registry before and after the presentation of intervention data.

Results: On average students answered 20.8% of knowledge questions correctly; this did not differ between conditions [F(1, 359)=2.682, p=.102]. The interaction between group and time was significant such that individuals who were presented the emotional appeal significantly increased their likelihood of participating in the donor registry (T1 mean=3.346, SE=0.103; T2 Mean=4.173, SE=0.113) compared to the rational appeal group (T1 mean=3.073, SE =0.103; Time 2 mean=3.279, SE=0.113; F(1, 356)=16.13, p<.001).

Conclusions: Contrary to hypotheses, emotional appeals were more effective at increasing college student participation in the Be the Match donor registry. Student knowledge about bone marrow and stem cell transplant donation was extremely low which may have impacted participation decisions. Future studies seeking to increase donor registry participation of diverse young adults should target knowledge together and emotional aspects of how the donation can save a patient’s life to increase registry participation.

Monica Fajardo ‘25
Major: Psychology, Minor: Sociology
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Andrew Abeyta, Assistant Professor of Psychology
Title of Project: Existential Agency as a Psychological Resource

Past research indicates that reminders of death undermine perceived life meaning. However, people turn to culture and belief systems to maintain a sense of meaning in life, thereby buffering this concern. The goal of this research was to test whether existential agency, defined as a person’s belief in their ability to maintain a meaningful life, buffers the impact of death reminders. I predicted that people who score high in existential agency would experience less of an increase in death anxiety after contemplating their mortality compared to people who score low on existential agency. This finding would help establish existential agency as a psychological restorative resource. This study is currently being conducted, but I will have preliminary data to present at CURCA.

Ella Filipowski ‘26
Major: English
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Claire Stricklin, Assistant Professor of English
Title of Project: Peer Review at Rutgers–Camden

Peer review in the classroom can be an effective way to enhance student learning as it allows students to gain new perspectives on and understanding of the assignments they are to complete, as well as a way to bond with fellow classmates and strengthen their overall skill and  comfort with writing in college. However, instead of students seeing the benefits of peer review, it is often met with hesitance if not outright objection because of embarrassment or fear of having their work critiqued and critiquing others’ work without proper knowledge of how to do so. This project will use multiple surveys and/or interviews of both faculty and students to get the full picture of how peer review operates in the classroom, specifically with first-year English Composition writing assignments, and what we can do to improve peer review methods so that students are reaping the full benefits of peer review sessions.

Kayla Geulen ’25 and Kennedy Short ‘25
Majors: Chemistry (KG) and Art (KS), Minor: Forensic Science (KG)
Faculty Mentors: Dr. Georgia Arbuckle-Keil, Professor of Chemistry, and Dr. Chinghsin Wu, Associate Teaching Professor of Art History
Title of Project: Art Historical and Chemical Analysis of Japanese Woodblock Prints

 At the Stedman Gallery of Rutgers University–Camden, there are eighteen Ukiyo-e Japanese woodblock prints from Edo Japan. This project is a collaboration between the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Visual, Media, and Performing Arts’ art history program, working on both art historical and chemical analysis of the Japanese woodblock prints. The art historical analysis includes clarifying the artists and their lineages, identifying the content of the prints, and researching the history of the common pigments, especially blue, in Edo Japan.

The late Edo period consisted of the “Blue Revolution,” a time where blue was the most prominent shade used and often engulfed every aspect of a print. Previous blues such as lapis-lazuli, indigo, and cobalt were natural, yet laborious in creation. They faded easily and were not desirable. The seemingly never-ending search for this shade resulted in the creation of Prussian Blue. This is a synthesized pigment consisting of iron and cyanide; once mixed with water, it will show a vibrant and long-lasting blue. Prussian blue’s popularity peaked around 1840 and was acquired through a small Dutch trading route almost one century after its creation.

The chemical analysis focused on two prints by Kunisada, who is also known as Toyokuni the Third. The scientific instrumentation implemented was ALPHA Bruker FTIR attenuated total reflectance (ATR), external reflectance (ER), and a Bruker LUMOS microscope. Results revealed the presence of Prussian blue in both prints and appeared more defined after subtracting the cellulose spectrum, a component of the prints, and then refining the data through Kubelka-Munk (KM) conversion. Future research may include Raman micro-spectroscopy. The current findings match the historical records which show the accessibility and popularity of Prussian blue in the early 1800s of Japan.

Elizabeth Hardy ‘24
Majors: Biology, Health Sciences, and Psychology
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Jamie Dunaev, Associate Teaching Professor of Health Sciences
Title of Project: Body Image Experiences in the Context of Chronic Pain  

Chronic pain is a condition in which pain persists beyond the onset of the injury or illness that caused it and can be debilitating enough to limit daily activities, social interactions, and work. Approximately 20% of adults suffer from chronic pain in the United States (Dahlhamer et al., 2018). Physical pain presents various challenges associated with mobility and functionality, but it also leaves individuals at risk for an array of other issues such as opioid dependence, interpersonal relationship distress, mental health issues, and poor quality of life. Additionally, because the causes and severity of pain are often not visible to an outside observer, people may hold inaccurate assumptions or negative stereotypes about individuals experiencing chronic pain. These inaccurate assumptions and stereotypes may include believing individuals with chronic pain are lazy, drug-seeking, or lying about their experiences. Further, individuals with chronic pain may internalize these negative stereotypes, believing them to be true about themselves. This internalized stigma can lead to further negative health and life outcomes for the individual. For instance, previous research has found that individuals who internalized chronic pain stigma had lower self-esteem, a great tendency to catastrophize about pain, and felt less control over their own pain (Waugh et al., 2014). Finally, individuals with chronic pain may be the targets of discrimination at school, the workplace, and healthcare settings, as they are viewed as unreliable and problematic (Perugino et al., 2022).

Several studies have also highlighted the importance of pain acceptance as an important predictor of well-being among patients living with chronic pain. Chronic pain acceptance is a multifaceted construct that is often defined as a willingness to experience (or disengage from attempts to control) pain and engage in life-activities despite experiencing pain (Lauwerier et al., 2015). In a review of 15 clinical and laboratory studies, McCracken and Vowels (2006) found that therapies focused on increasing or encouraging pain acceptance were associated with positive outcomes, including greater pain tolerance, better functioning, reduced time out of work, and less healthcare utilization.

Yet to be tested, however, is how experiences of and internalized chronic pain stigma might impact chronic pain acceptance. The purpose of this study was two-fold: 1) to examine how chronic pain acceptance relates to mental and physical well-being in individuals with chronic pain, and 2) to analyze how experiences and internalization of chronic pain stigma impact chronic pain acceptance and mental and physical well-being.

This study was pre-registered, and data used for these analyses were part of a larger study on chronic illness, stigma, body image, and health. Participants (N = 278) were recruited online through social media and Amazon MTurk. All participants included in these analyses self-identified as having a chronic pain condition. Participants were more likely to befemale (64.4%), with ages ranging from 18 to 69 years-old (M = 36.75, SD = 11.56), and most identified as White/Euro-American (82%), with the remainder identifying as Black/African American (3%), Hispanic/Latino (4%), and Asian/Pacific Islander, Native American, or “other” ethnicity (11%). Common self-reported pain conditions experienced by participants included arthritis (n = 65), fibromyalgia (n = 40), bowel disease (n = 34), and back pain (n = 22). Participants completed the short form Chronic Pain Acceptance Questionnaire (CPAQ-8; Fish et al., 2010) and reported on their experiences of chronic illness-related stigma using the Chronic Illness Anticipated Stigma Scale (CIASS; Earnshaw, Quinn, Kalichman, & Park, 2013). Finally, participants completed various subscales of the Rand-36 Short Form Health Survey (emotional well-being, general health, physical functionality; Ware, 2000) and reported on their pain severity in the last four weeks. All scales were found to have sufficient inter-item reliability.

As expected, chronic pain acceptance was significantly positively associated with physical (r = .45, p < .001), emotional (r = .48, p < .001) and social (r = .45, p < .001) well-being and negatively associated with internalized (r = -.52, p < .001) and experienced stigma (r = -.33, p < .001). Internalized and experienced stigma were also significantly negatively associated with physical (internalized r = -.53, p < .001, experienced r = -.30, p < .001), emotional (internalized r = -.53, p < .001, experienced r = -.42, p < .001), and social (internalized r = -.54, p < .001, experienced r = -.45, p < .001) well-being. Linear regression was then used to determine whether experienced stigma, internalized stigma, and the severity of pain in the last four weeks were significant predictors of chronic pain acceptance (R2 = .30, F(3, 282) = 39.51, p < .001). Results indicated that while both internalized stigma and severity of pain in the last four weeks were both significant predictors of chronic pain acceptance, internalized stigma had a more significant influence (β= -.44, t(282) = -7.05, p < .001) when compared to pain severity (β= -.15, t(282) = -2.84, p < .001)

Chronic pain is a common experience among adults, yet little is known about the stigmatizing and discriminatory experiences among chronic pain sufferers and how those experiences impact their ability to accept and cope with their chronic pain. This study demonstrated that experiences of stigma have a negative impact on chronic pain acceptance and physical, emotional, and social well-being, with internalized stigma having the most negative impact. This research highlights the importance of addressing societal attitudes toward individuals with chronic pain to improve their mental and physical well-being.

Jillina Harken ‘24
Majors: Digital Studies and English, Minor: Writing
Faculty Mentor: Dr. James Brown, Director of the Digital Studies Center and Associate Professor of English
Title of Project: It’s Okay to PANIC! A Mental Health Pocket Guidebook

 As part of an experimental project with different types of media, this project was designed in Writing Across Media with Professor Jim Brown. There were several options for what media to use, and after several considerations (such as Twine or Tracery) the zine format was chosen for the physical aspect of it. One of the constraints that was considered for this project was the limited amount of information that could be included based on the size of the object created. The choice for the physical product – instead of something digital that could be put into an app on a phone – came from the knowledge that a mental health issue may require participation from other people nearby, and this physical solution gives the user a way to give focused information to someone else.

Another important choice in the design of this project was that as a physical object it needed to be protected from some damages that could easily render it useless; so, it is laminated so that it is resistant to liquid damage and less likely to get bent up. The size consideration needed to address the portability of the project as well as how easily it could be tucked into a pocket or added to a keychain. This led to a small zine, laminated, with loose pages, that is connected by a ring. In addition to the content within the pages there are several blank pages that users can write on with dry-erase or permanent markers to add their own content as needed. Another part of the design choices that went into this project include the consideration for what colors would help to make it noticeable but not produce aggressive emotional responses, so the color scheme is a blue-green color as opposed to being red in the reds, oranges, or blacks.

Nafisa Hasna ‘24
Majors: Biology and Psychology, Minors: Chemistry and Health Sciences
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Angélica González, Associate Professor of Biology
Title of Project: Thriving in the Dry: Arthropod Responses to Precipitation Variability in the Atacama Desert
**Recipient of the Chancellor’s Grant for Independent Student Research**

The global decline in arthropod populations is a growing ecological concern because of its consequences on ecosystem stability and functioning. Research is needed to understand the causes of changes in arthropod diversity. Here, we investigated the impact of variation in precipitation on arthropod diversity (i.e., total abundance and trophic guild abundance), along a geographical gradient in the Atacama Desert in Chile. We found that the abundance of arthropods was higher in the site with the lowest precipitation, which points to a complex interplay of ecological factors that may include resource availability, microclimate conditions, adaptation strategies, and behaviors that arthropods use to survive in the challenging environmental conditions of the Atacama Desert. In addition, except for predators, arthropod abundance across sites differed between trophic guilds. The site with the greatest plant diversity, cover, and precipitation contained the greatest number of detritivores. These findings highlight the significance of precipitation and plant cover on arthropod diversity. The implications of our research could be extended to ecosystem management and conservation as these can guide conservation strategies of arthropod communities.

Marlin Ohene Kesse ‘25
Major: Physics, Minor: Psychology
Faculty Mentor: Mr. Cory Trout, Assistant Teaching Professor of Physics
Title of Project: Synthesis of Nickel Nanoparticles using Pulsed Laser Ablation in Liquids

 In recent years, laser ablation in liquids has emerged as a focal point of research due to its promising applications in laser material micro-processing, particularly in the realm of nanomaterials and nanostructures synthesis. Among the various techniques, pulsed laser ablation in liquids (PLAL) stands out as a straightforward and environmentally friendly approach, typically conducted in water or organic liquids under ambient conditions. In a recent study, pure nickel (Ni) nanoparticles were successfully synthesized utilizing the PLAL method in a solution of deionized and distilled water. Following synthesis, the nanoparticles underwent a subsequent examination after 24 hours to discern any alterations in their properties due to oxidation. Characterization of the resulting products was conducted through UV-vis spectrometry, providing valuable insights into the structural and optical properties of the synthesized nanoparticles. This investigation not only highlights the efficacy of PLAL in nanoparticle synthesis but also underscores its potential for advancing the understanding and utilization of nanomaterials in various technological applications.

Kimberly Lugo ‘25
Major: Nursing
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Nathan Fried, Associate Teaching Professor of Biology
Title of Project: Assessing the Neuroprotective Effects of Hericium Erinaceus on Genetically Modified Drosophila with Alzheimer’s Disease Phenotype
**Recipient of the Chancellor’s Grant for Independent Student Research**

This research project investigates the neuroprotective potential of Hericium Erinaceus, the Lion’s Mane mushroom, on tau- and abeta-based Drosophila models of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). With AD ranking as the 6th leading cause of death, affecting 6 million Americans and costing an estimated $305 billion in treatment costs in 2020.

Alzheimer’s is characterized by the accumulation of amyloid-beta (Aβ) and tau protein tangles, contributing to cognitive decline and neurodegeneration. The Lion’s Mane mushroom has shown promise in offering neuroprotective benefits by reducing inflammation, promoting nerve growth, and inhibiting the hyperaccumulation of tau and Aβ tangles. However, the specific molecular mechanisms underlying its effects in AD remain unclear.

Drosophila models exhibiting AD pathology are utilized in this study. A validated olfactory T-maze assesses learning and memory in the Drosophila. The maze has illuminated and dim sides separated by a trapdoor, taking advantage of Drosophila’s innate attraction to light. The illuminated chamber is treated with 180 microliters of quinine solution, providing an unpleasant odor when Drosophila crosses into the light chamber. After 10 trials, normal Drosophila learned to avoid the lit chamber despite their natural phototaxis. However, AD’s model Drosophila cannot properly associate light with the unpleasant smell. We predict that after treatment with Hericium Erinaceus, AD Drosophila will demonstrate an improved capacity to learn and remember that light predicts an aversive stimulus. Preliminary data shows wild-type Drosophila learned to avoid quinine-treated areas, exhibiting significantly longer latencies to enter compared to controls.

The research aims to quantify learning and memory deficits in AD models with and without exposure to Hericium Erinaceus. The hypothesis is that the treatment will enhance learning in Drosophila presenting AD characteristics. If Hericium Erinaceus significantly improves performance in the T-Maze task for both or either model, further investigation into the exact mechanisms of its effects on AD will be conducted. This research lays the foundation for investigating a cost-effective and natural therapy for AD treatment- addressing the pressing need for economic strategies against this debilitating neurogenerative disease.

Kimberly Lugo ’25 and Guillermina Garduno Sanchez ’24
Majors: Nursing (both), Minor: Psychology (Garduno Sanchez)
Faculty Mentors: Dr. Patricia Suplee, Associate Professor of Nursing; Dr. Bonnie Jerome-D’Emilia, Associate Professor of Nursing; and Dr. Ana Laguna, Professor of Spanish
Title of Project: Improving Birth Outcomes for Hispanic Women in New Jersey

The Hispanic population is the fastest growing in the U.S., yet maternal mortality rates are disproportionately high for Hispanic women. Language barriers may contribute to this disparity. This mixed methods study aims to evaluate self-efficacy for communication, the impact of language-discordant care on knowledge and satisfaction, and the role of interpreter services. Spanish-speaking postpartum women (n=250) will complete surveys on demographics, satisfaction, knowledge of warning signs, and communication self-efficacy. Logistic regression will examine associations between self-efficacy and knowledge/satisfaction. Women (n=20-25) will also participate in interviews about their birthing/postpartum experiences and the use of interpreters. Qualitative analysis will explain the impacts of language barriers and interpreter services. Improving communication and appropriate interpreter use may enhance patient knowledge, ability to recognize complications, satisfaction, and outcomes. This study can inform interventions to increase access to linguistically/culturally concordant maternal care and reduce disparities. The initial pilot will be presented.

Reese Mabolis ’25 and Angelica Sanchez Benito ’25
Majors: Psychology (RM) and Health Sciences and Psychology (ASB), Minors: Marketing and Spanish (ASB)
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Courtenay Cavanaugh, Associate Professor of Psychology
Title of Project: Sex/Gender Differences in the Associations between Sexual Orientation Discrimination with Past Year Drug Use Disorders among Sexual Minority Adults

Objective: This study examined associations between sexual orientation discrimination, child abuse, child neglect, and intimate partner violence with past year drug use disorder among sexual minority adults and whether sex/gender moderated the effect of past year sexual orientation discrimination on past year drug use disorder.

Methods: Data was used from participants in a national study who identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or not sure about their sexual orientation (n=739; 401 female). Logistic regression tested the main effects for past year sexual orientation discrimination, child abuse, child neglect, and intimate partner violence and sex/gender on past year drug use disorder along with the sexual orientation discrimination x sex/gender interaction.

Results: Females who reported sexual orientation discrimination had significantly greater odds of past year drug use disorder than males (AOR=3.56 for females versus AOR=1.24 for males). Sexual orientation discrimination was associated with the greatest odds of drug use disorder for females whereas child abuse was for males.

Discussion: Findings suggest sex/gender differences in associations between past year sexual orientation discrimination and drug use disorder that warrant further study.

Franklin J. Milord ‘25
Major: Physics
Faculty Mentor: Mr. Cory Trout, Assistant Teaching Professor of Physics
Title of Project: Synthesis of Copper Nanoparticles by Pulsed Laser Ablation in Liquids

This work is focused on the synthesis of copper nanoparticles by pulsed laser ablation in liquid (PLAL). Pulsed laser ablation in liquids involves focusing a pulsed laser onto a solid target submerged in liquid for the production of nanomaterials. This technique is extremely versatile and can be applied to virtually any solid target. Copper nanoparticles exhibit a localized surface plasmon resonance (LSPR) centered around 600 nm. The LSPR is a collective oscillation of the electrons in the conduction band. Copper is known to oxidize, especially in aqueous solution, which can ultimately affect the intensity and spectral region of the LSPR. In this work a Nd:YAG laser with a fundamental frequency of 1064 nm and a pulse duration of 5 ns was employed for ablation of a solid copper target submerged in water. The resulting nanoparticle solution was investigated for the 24 hours following the ablation. UV-Vis spectroscopy was used to identify the location and intensity of the LSPR from the initially produced colloid and to investigate how the LSPR was affected by aging in aqueous solution. The colloid was drop-cast on mica directly after the ablation and again 24 hours later and subsequently dried in a vacuum chamber. These samples were probed using atomic force microscopy to study the size and shape of the nanoparticles that evolved over time. Additionally, the colloid was concentrated and drop-cast on to a silicon wafer for Raman spectroscopy. Structural and compositional information will be extracted from the Raman spectra to determine the oxidation state of the colloid.

Michelle Min ‘24
Major: Nursing
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Jamille Nagtalon-Ramos, Assistant Professor of Nursing
Title of Project: Exploration of Contraceptive Understanding and Use Among Filipino-Americans

Background: Filipinos are unique from other Asian subgroups due to their deep colonial history with Spain and the U.S. for four centuries and the predominance of Catholicism influencing their strong moral objections to premarital sex, contraception, and abortion. Information is limited about Filipino American women’s SRH except that they have more adolescent pregnancies than other Asian and Pacific Islander subgroups. Emerging research on Filipino American women found that they lacked knowledge about contraception and had barriers to accessing contraceptive methods.

Methods: Purposive snowball sampling recruited participants who self-identified as Filipino American females between 18 and 49 years old. Using a qualitative, descriptive interpretive design, 14 individual and 4 focus group interviews (n=26) were conducted virtually in February 2023. Inductive content analysis is being used to analyze the qualitative data.

Results: Data analysis for this research project is currently ongoing. Preliminary themes that have emerged: (1) persisting cultural and religious taboos and misinformation; (2) utilization of social media (Instagram, Facebook) and friends to find contraceptive guidance; and (3) workarounds to access contraception due to fear of parental disapproval and privacy concerns.

Conclusions/Implications: Potential implications of this study in the Filipino American population are complex and multifaceted. When contraceptive use is stigmatized, individuals may have limited access to various contraceptive methods, leaving them with fewer choices in managing their SRH. This study aims to identify innovative community-based, culturally informed approaches to care to address SRH disparities within the Filipino American community.

Shaan Mody ‘26
Major: Biology, Minors: Chemistry and Health Sciences
Faculty Mentors: Dr. Nir Yakoby, Professor of Biology, and Ms. Helen Stott, Graduate Assistant for the Center for Computational and Integrative Biology
Title of Project: The Impact of Enhancer Proximity on the Shared Regulation of the Drosophila Tandem Paralogs Mid and H15 Genes

In developmental genetics, Drosophila oogenesis serves as a model system for unraveling complex processes. The T-box transcription factors Midline (Mid) and H15 play crucial roles in establishing anterior-posterior and dorsal-ventral polarity, shaping the eggshell pattern. Recent research has revealed shared enhancers regulating both genes during oogenesis, challenging the conventional belief in independent gene regulation. Notably, the GMR86G04 (G04) enhancer is pivotal for coordinating Mid and H15 expression, with its deletion eliminating H15 expression. This project builds upon Stevens et al. (2022) to investigate the impact of enhancer proximity on the distinct patterning domains of Mid and H15 during Drosophila oogenesis. The hypothesis posits that G04’s proximity to Mid is a key determinant of their functional differences. By manipulating the position of the G04 enhancer, specifically relocating it from Mid to H15, the study aims to explore changes in gene expression patterns and their consequences on fly development and life cycle. The significance of this research lies in understanding enhancer function and its role in gene regulation, contributing to the comprehension of developmental and genetic mechanisms. Insights gained may reveal principles governing gene regulation during oogenesis and shed light on enhancer redundancy in gene expression.

Relevant prior work by Stevens et al. (2022) underscores the complexity of enhancer networks in oogenesis, emphasizing the necessity of G04 for coordinated Mid and H15 expression. This research proposes using CRISPR/Cas9 technology to introduce modified enhancer constructs, track protein expression through immunohistochemistry, and monitor fly life cycles for developmental impacts. The timeline spans over two semesters, covering vector assembly, larval injection, and subsequent screening and validation. Expected outcomes include potential alterations in Mid and H15 expression patterns upon relocating the G04 enhancer. The findings may either support the hypothesis, suggesting G04’s crucial role in functional distinction, or challenge it, indicating the potential independence of enhancer proximity in this context. In conclusion, this project seeks to elucidate enhancer function in gene regulation during Drosophila oogenesis, contributing to our understanding of developmental biology and genetics. The outcomes may have broader implications for comprehending gene regulation principles across biological contexts.

Allison Night ‘25
Major: Psychology, Minor: Criminal Justice
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Lisa Payne, Assistant Professor of Psychology
Title of Project: Visual Taboo Distractors in a Modified Short-Term Memory Task

Prior research has established the consistent effects of taboo interference in a variety of tasks, regardless of the necessity of semantic processing. Taboo interference is used in the following study to examine the function of automatic semantic processing. The primary manipulation of the following experimental design involves trials differentiated between by either taboo distractors or neutral distractors presented during the retention period of a modified Sternberg short-term memory task. No significant differences in reaction time were observed between the two distractor conditions. Accuracy was lower in the taboo distractor trials. The results provide evidence of a cognitive inhibition response to taboo stimuli but indicate that the process behind taboo interference cannot be fully attributed to slow attentional capture.

Waliya Rahman ‘24
Majors: Biology and Spanish, Minors: Chemistry and Latin American Studies
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Silvia Perez-Cortes, Associate Professor of Spanish
Title of Project: Supporting early literacy development: A collaboration between physicians and bilingual families

Minority populations with low English proficiency (LEP) living in the United States often face many challenges, especially when it comes to effectively support their children’s early literacy development in their non-dominant language. In recent years, one of the solutions to this issue has been the creation of family literacy programs (FLPs), consisting in interventions that involve cross-sector collaborations (between primary care physicians, educators and families) to support family engagement and literacy development in children from economically disadvantaged Latino families. The goal of these programs is to establish more effective connections between pediatricians, who are trusted individuals for the families, and parents/children to encourage home support of early literacy activities, such as reading, phonics or writing. There are different factors that can negatively affect program adherence and effectiveness, one of them being parents’ limited proficiency in English, which is often the language in which these initiatives are conducted. This study identifies and discusses the most effective practices that can be adopted by primary care physicians and pediatricians to support the development of bilingual Latinxs’ early literacy skills. Given the importance of language in this process, it also presents key notions regarding bilingual language development that need to be considered by healthcare professionals when engaging with this population.

 Arturo Ramos Ochoa ‘24
Major: Chemistry, Minor: Spanish
Faculty Mentor: Dr. David Salas-de la Cruz, Associate Professor of Chemistry
Title of Project: Chitosan-Urea Composite Films: Efficiency on Removal of Heavy Metal Tons

Remnants of heavy metals from industrial sites, such as mining, waste disposal, and metal industries pose a severe threat to ecosystems and hazards to human health. These heavy metals are introduced and then are transported into different areas, including people’s houses, when the area is flooded during a storm. During flooding of contaminated areas, heavy metal ions become bonded to the water source flooding into people’s homes then the ions are left behind once the water evaporates. The various ions can be absorbed in the aqueous solution, including the common heavy metals of lead (Pb), chromium (Cr), mercury (Hg), arsenic (As), and thallium (Ti). A possible solution to prevent and/or remove heavy metal ions from entering the home are chitosan-urea based hydrogels. The material properties were explored through spectroscopic and microscopic techniques, including FTIR, TGA, SEM, and XRD’ to provide insights on the chemical structure. An ICP-MS tested the samples before and after to analyze how much of the ions were removed over a period. Furthermore, this study will explore the efficiency of removing various heavy metal ions and propose an alternative method to limit heavy metal contamination of the environment and people.

Jeniska Rivera ‘24
Major: Psychology
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Courtenay Cavanaugh, Associate Professor of Psychology
Title of Project: Sex/Gender Differences in Associations between Adverse Childhood Experiences and Intimate Partner Violence with Mental Disorders among Adults Who Have Experienced Homelessness

Purpose: This study examined whether sex/gender moderated the associations between types of adverse childhood experience (ACE, i.e., child abuse, child neglect, and child household dysfunction) and intimate partner violence (IPV) or cumulative ACE types and IPV on mental disorders or attempted suicide.

Method: This secondary data analytic study used data from participants in a national study who had a lifetime history of homelessness (N=1,026). Logistic examined main effects for ACE types and IPV or cumulative ACE types and IPV on outcomes (i.e., mood disorder, anxiety disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, alcohol use disorder, drug use disorder, nicotine dependence, and attempted suicide) along with sex/gender interactions.

Results: Sex/gender moderated 5/28 (17.9%) of the associations between ACE types and IPV with outcomes. For two the moderated associations, ACE types were associated with significantly greater odds of mental disorder for females and for three of the moderated associations ACE types or IPV were associated with significantly greater odds of substance use disorders for males. For example, IPV was associated with greater odds of nicotine dependence for males (AOR=5.29 versus AOR=1.94 for females). Sex/gender moderated 6/21 (28.6%) of the associations between cumulative ACE types and IPV with outcomes. For all these moderated associations, cumulative ACE types and IPV scores were associated with greater odds of mental disorder for females.

Conclusions: There were few sex/gender differences in the associations between ACEs and IPV with the outcomes studied in this population.

Jeremiah Rivera ‘25
Major: Physics
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Hunter King, Assistant Professor of Physics
Title of Project: Frustrated Total Internal Reflection

When light from a denser medium is incident on a less dense medium at an angle greater than the critical angle, it is totally internally reflected. At this point the transmitted light does not actually disappear, it becomes an evanescent wave. Unlike a standard ray of light, an evanescent wave tapers off exponentially as it gets further away from the initial surface. When a 3rd dense medium is introduced in a close proximity (within the nanoscale) to the evanescent wave, light passes into it, subtracting from reflected light’s intensity. This process is termed Frustrated Total Internal Reflection (FTIR). FTIR can be used to get a closer look at what happens between two surfaces. By observing the absence of light from the reflected ray, the contact area can be measured precisely. Since the evanescent wave penetrates several nanometers into the initial surface, areas of the third medium that only come close to contact can be measured as well.

Using FTIR, contact dynamics between two bodies can be visualized. This visualization will be important in understanding frictional and adhesive systems. Theories of both friction and adhesion may have been used to analyze biological phenomena, like the feet of a gecko, but will fall short in painting a clear picture of what truly goes on in the system. This can be difficult without knowing how much of a surface is in contact, and how the body may come into contact, in a given situation. FTIR can be a useful tool in analyzing difficult systems, which may include viscous fluids or a soft body. For our setup, the contact area of a convex lens, when forced onto the surface of a flat prism, will be effectively modeled by the evanescent wave. The obtained measurements, with Hertzian Theory, will be used to validate the setup, proving its ability to characterize contact formation in more complicated situations.

Alan Rozenblit ‘26
Major: Biology
Faculty Mentors: Dr. Nir Yakoby, Professor of Biology, and Ms. Helen Stott, Graduate Assistant for the Center for Computational and Integrative Biology
Title of Project:
Enhancer deletion and patterning diversity: Investigating T-Box Genes in Drosophila

 Animal development is a complex process relying on cell differentiation over developmental time to generate the different tissues and organs of the animal. A fundamental process is defining body axis, including the posterior and anterior ends of the adult animal; a variety of mechanisms have evolved to determine body axes in animals. In Drosophila melanogaster, the determination of anterior posterior and dorsal ventral body axes of the embryo and adult fly are set during oogenesis through the interactions between the oocyte and the surrounding follicle cells (Gilbert, 2000). Posterior determination is achieved through the release of the TGF like ligand, Gurken (GRK), from around the oocyte nucleus in early oogenesis. GRK activates the epidermal growth factor receptors (EGFR) on the overlaying follicle cells. EGFR signaling controls the expression of several genes, including midline (mid) and H15 . Follicle cells expressing these two genes set a boundary between future anterior and posterior domains. While mid and H15 are critical for defining the D. melanogaster posterior, the question remains as to whether this same tactic is employed in other Drosophila species. Additionally, there is a possibility that these two genes have acquired other developmental functions, such as driving novel structure like the dorsal ridge on the eggshells of some Drosophila species. The precise temporal and spatial expression of genes during development is controlled by binding transcription factors to regulatory regions of DNA called enhancers. Up to now, three enhancers have been identified for mid and H15 (ventral leg enhancer VLE, F11, and G04). We hypothesized that deletion of these enhancers will negatively impact flies’ development and survival. Using smiFISH, we also aimed to determine the expression pattern of the two genes in multiple Drosophila species, including D. nebulosa, D. tropicalis, D. virilis, and D. willistoni. Life cycle was negatively impacted by the deletion of enhancers. We successfully used smiFISH to find the expression of mid and H15 in multiple tissues of D. melanogaster. We are troubleshooting the protocol to determine the expression of these genes in the other species, as well as adding an immunohistochemistry protocol to simultaneously document the mRNA and proteins.

Akshay Shah ‘24
Major: Chemistry, Minor: Biology
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Jinglin Fu, Associate Professor of Chemistry
Title of Project: Plasmonic activation of DNA assemblies via pulsed irradiation 

DNA nanostructures have been found useful in various applications of smart materials, molecular sensing, and drug delivery. The ability to engineer spatiotemporal nanopores on DNA origami can be used to control molecular transportation of DNA nanovesicles. Plasmonic nanomaterials such as gold nanoparticles (AuNP) can be used to modify DNA nanostructures to produce optical responsive nanomaterials. Here, we reported a study to engineer plasmonic DNA origami nanopores by using AuNPs to generate nanopores on DNA origami upon laser irradiation. When irradiated, photon pulse is absorbed AuNPs to trigger plasmonic thermal effect that quickly releases heat to local environment. This released thermal energy subsequently causes the melting of DNA hybridizations in the local area. Since the local DNA is in a certain configuration, the thermal energy will create a nanocaviation bubble which will result in a hole, or pore after irradiation. The creation of the nanopore, is dependent on the location of the AuNP. The location of AuNP placement can be changed by modifying the anchor strands on the origami’s surface. The size and the shape of the nanopore can be modified through a range of factors including, size of AuNP being used along with the type of laser being used and duration of irradiation. Currently, the data collected shows the formation of nanopores by using 10 nm AuNP with a picosecond pulsed laser. Future studies will be focused on the investigation of nanopore creation depending on particle sizes of AuNP (10 – 50 nm) and pulse duration of lasers (e.g. femtosecond). DNA plasmonic nanopores can be incorporated into polymersomes to produce photon-sensitive biomimetic nanovesicles for applications in sensing and therapeutics.

Tyler Walker ’26 and Kemy Rodriguez  ’26
Majors: Theater (TW) and English (KR), Minors: Digital Studies and Political Science (KR)
Faculty Mentor: Dr. James Brown, Director of the Digital Studies Center and Associate Professor of English
Title of Project: Queer Space in “Tell Me Why”

In this white paper we discuss the episodic adventure game “Tell My Why.” We analyze how the game addresses identity and young adulthood, and we argue that a scene in the game establishes an ideal place for characters to discuss queer identity and experiences. The locale of this scene as well as its pacing establish a different mood for the rest of the game, making what appears to be a secondary set of plot points into a key place for the characters to explore these themes and for players to see a nuanced discussion of queer identity.

Sophia R. Westfall ‘25
Majors: English and Digital Studies, Minor: Writing
Faculty Mentors: Dr. Claire Stricklin, Assistant Professor of English, and Mr. David Marchino, Graduate Coordinator, Rutgers Writing and Design Lab
Title of Project: The Evolution of Grammar

Grammar has long been considered a language in itself and has been known for its difficulty to learn, for both new language speakers, and native ones. But if grammar is the origin of our languages, then what are the origins of grammar? This research questions the enforcement of grammar on the collegiate level, regarding grammar as a suggestive foundation for communication and comprehension, not professionalism nor literary intelligence. This research paper not only explores the history of grammar but provides an explanation for its evolution. Understanding the history of our linguistic foundations and the forefathers of its existence, allows us to utilize grammar to its fullest capacity, whilst acknowledging the leniency of its use. This research will analyze individual examples of grammatical evolution, alongside its controversial and religious past, explaining how modern grammar was born from the mistakes of our literary predecessors. It will dive into the history of our current English alphabet, punctuation, pronouns, and general grammar construction. Additionally, this research will examine prominent figures in literature, and their impact on the evolution of grammar. These findings argue that grammar is not fundamental in terms of writing and communication, and should thus be used as a suggestion for comprehensive communication, rather than a strict guide for formal writing.


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