Explore the Summer Undergraduate Research Grant Recipients: Participants in the Fall Edition of CURCA.


Aysha ‘26
Major: Biology
Minor: Chemistry
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Kwangwon Lee, Professor of Biology
Title of Project: Identifying Circadian Clock Phase Gene in Neurospora crassa

Circadian rhythms, 24-hour biological cycles, are present in all living organisms. Although the existence of these clock genes is recognized, our understanding of them at the molecular level remains limited. This research focuses on identifying and characterizing the quantitative genes responsible for determining the timing of wakefulness. Through Quantitative Trait Locus (QTL) analysis, we identified the major QTL region in Chromosome 6. To pinpoint the specific QTL gene(s) within this region, we performed four backcrosses by mating progenies with the recurring parent strain. After completing the fourth backcross and analyzing all available knockouts within the region, we identified three candidate genes. In our current study, we are examining whether these candidate phase genes exhibit different phases from those of the wild type. Our findings may pave the way for a deeper understanding of the intricate mechanisms that govern circadian rhythms.


D’Erica Boskie ‘24
Major: Biology
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Xingyun Qi, Assistant Professor of Biology
Title of Project: Functional characterization of the role of SBTs in Arabidopsis thaliana

Water scarcity is one of the most influential factors for crop production. Understanding how plants effectively use limited water resources is crucial for future food security under the global water crisis. When moving from water to land, plants developed various strategies to adapt to the dry environment over evolution, including developing more advanced root systems for higher water intake and decreasing stomatal density to reduce water loss. Subtilases (SBTs) are serine peptidases that have influence over epidermal patterning and vascular development in plants. A CO2-inducible subtilase protein CRSP is reported to process the precursor of EPF2, an important protein for stomatal formation in A. thaliana; however, the functions of other subtilase family members are largely unknown so far. In this study, we examined the T-DNA mutants of several SBTs that are expressed in leaves of Arabidopsis thaliana. Once a knock-out mutant of a SBT gene was confirmed, phenotypic analysis on root development, stomatal formation, and plant morphology and growth was performed under normal condition and drought stress to evaluate the function of the SBT gene in plant drought tolerance. During these experiments increased root growth, plant height, and seed production was observed. The observations were repeated and quantified and showed consistencies with previous repetitions.


Duessa Red Bregaudit ‘24
Major: Chemistry
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Jinglin Fu, Associate Professor of Chemistry
Title of Project: Tetrahedron DNA-Dendrimer Particle 

Dendrimers are intricately designed macromolecules characterized by their hyperbranched structures, consisting of multiple generations of internal building blocks and a central core in which the particle is grown from. Recent studies have explored different methods for assembling dendrimers using DNA as the internal building blocks, such as employing poly(A)-DNA conjugated gold nanoparticles as the central core, along with a shell of hybridized oligonucleotides grown from the gold nanoparticle surface. However, this method still encounters challenges regarding achieving consistent and reproducible results. Thus, utilizing tetrahedron DNA nanostructures (TDNs) as an alternative monomer for DNA-dendrimer design exhibits greater potential. Tetrahedron DNA are three-dimensional nanostructures formed by the complimentary base pairing of four oligonucleotides. The tetrahedron DNA-dendrimer is prepared using three different tetrahedron DNA monomers; T0, T1, and T2, with T0 as the central core of the dendrimer and each dendrimer generation grown with different ratios of each tetrahedron DNA monomer. With their highly manipulable structures along with the enhanced cellular uptake of tetrahedron DNA and their excellent ability to incorporate drug molecules within its structure, tetrahedron DNA-dendrimers exhibit promising solutions for challenges in targeted drug delivery and therapeutics.


Jenna Brodnyan ‘25
Major: Biology
Minor: Chemistry
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Angélica González, Associate Professor of Biology
Title of Project: Population genetics and assessment of genetic structure of desert arthropods

Decreased population sizes frequently cause loss of genomic diversity, increased genomic distances between populations, and in some cases, increased rates of inbreeding. These effects can compromise conservation efforts by reducing organismal fitness and the ability of populations to respond to environmental change through adaptation. Changes to arthropod populations can fundamentally affect food webs, the regulation of plant communities, and organic matter decomposition. Despite the essential role arthropods play in ecosystems, their demographic and evolutionary responses to climate change remains uncertain. Of particular concern are arthropods from arid lands, which might be more vulnerable to higher temperatures and reduced precipitation. This project aims to: (1) develop genomic libraries for populations of a common arthropod taxa, Solpugidae (Sun Spiders) collected from the Atacama Desert, Chile; (2) quantify genomic variation across space; and (3) test for patterns of population divergence based on spatial and climatic distances. We hypothesize that solpugid populations will be more genetically diverse in regions with higher precipitation, which support larger arthropod populations. From five sampling sites, we selected roughly twenty individuals for DNA extraction and sequencing. Next semester, genomic libraries will be submitted for double-digest restriction-site associated DNA sequencing. We will identify genetic polymorphisms and calculate observed heterozygosity, inbreeding coefficients, and nucleotide diversity at each site. We will determine population genetic structure among sampling locations, allowing us to infer the number of distinct populations, accounting for the effect of spatial distance in contributing to genetic differences between samples. Finally, we will test for correlations between measurements of genomic diversity and climatic variables. 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 single nucleotide polymorphisms to analyze ancient DNA.


Cori Connolly ‘24
Major: Art
Faculty Mentor: Mr. Stass Shpanin, Assistant Teaching Professor of Art
Title of Project: Life is Land

Basket weaving is an ancient art form and cultural tradition that has been passed down through generations in various indigenous communities. In my research, I had the opportunity to study three distinct weaving techniques used by the Alutiiq, Quinault, and Skokomish tribes. I was fortunate enough to speak with three talented weavers who have dedicated their lives to preserving this precious heritage.

Firstly, I met a skilled Skokomish weaver who had learned her craft from her elders. She graciously shared with me the valuable knowledge of cedar bark stripping, an essential step in the weaving process. She explained how the bark must be harvested from mature trees without causing harm, ensuring sustainability for future generations. This process requires patience and precision, as the bark needs to be carefully separated into thin strips for weaving materials. Next, I had the privilege of meeting a Alutiiq weaver who showcased her expertise in cutting and curing plants for drying. This crucial step ensures that the plants are suitable for weaving, as it removes excess water and enhances their flexibility. She emphasized the importance of selecting the right plants and allowing them to dry naturally, highlighting the deep connection between indigenous peoples and their natural surroundings.

Lastly, I spoke with a talented Quinault weaver who shared insights into the rich history and cultural significance of basketry. She emphasized the pivotal role that weavers played in their communities, not only as creators of essential tools but also as storytellers. Each intricate design and pattern woven into the basket carries a meaningful narrative, connecting past generations to the present. It is through these beautifully crafted baskets that the weavers’ culture and heritage are perpetuated. As I delved deeper into my research, what stood out most was the resourcefulness and resilience of these weavers. They utilize materials and techniques that we, in our modern world, often take for granted. Even in the freezing cold of winter, they continue to create incredible works of art, utilitarian objects, and heirlooms. The weavers’ ability to adapt and innovate, using what is readily available to them, is a testament to their cultural strength and ingenuity.

Studying Alutiiq, Quinalut, and Skokomish basket weaving not only allowed me to appreciate the intricate craftsmanship but also offered me a profound glimpse into the values and traditions of these indigenous communities. It reminded me of the importance of preserving cultural practices, as they are not merely relics of the past but living traditions that contribute to the diversity and beauty of our world. The weavers I had the honor of speaking with taught me valuable lessons about patience, resourcefulness, and the enduring power of cultural heritage.


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

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, with the exception of 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.


Scarlett Kinsey ‘25
Majors: History and Gender Studies
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Susan Mokhberi, Associate Professor of History
Title of Project: Expressionism Through Fashion: Examining Marie-Antoinette and the Art Form of Drag 

The goal of my research is to show the power behind outwardly expressing your emotions and identity through fashion. Although Marie-Antoinette and the art form of drag seem distant, both of these topics are examples of expressionism through fashion that has transpired to so much more. Despite Marie-Antoinette having limited power as a woman, she was still extremely influential when it comes to fashion, as she discovered it was a way to display her feelings without words. Not being able to get away from criticism, the Queen gave the people of France something to talk about as she popularized a new, extravagant hairstyle, purchased large amounts of jewels, and provided inspiration to women across France even if they didn’t like her. Fashion was one of the few ways Marie-Antoinette could show her personality and express her emotions, as it was uncomfortable and limiting living under the strict French Court. The art form of drag is an incredible example of expressionism as it has created a place for people to not only dress how they want but to also show their true identities. People can live out their dreams, heal what has happened in the past, and connect with others who feel similarly through this form of art. Fashion takes on a whole new meaning as drag artists use clothing, makeup, and accessories to express themselves in a way that brings empowerment and confidence. With drag being so versatile, there seems to be room for anyone who is interested in creating art in a unique way, as there are many different aspects that go into drag. As queer people are excluded from so many different parts of society, drag provides a safe space for people to see that they are not alone despite how isolating and cold society can make queer people feel. Through readings, films, and interviews I have gained a better understanding of the importance fashion has on our identity and intend to keep learning about this topic.


Anh Ly ‘26
Major: Biology, Minors: Chemistry and Computer Science
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Angélica González, Associate Professor of Biology
Title of Project: Quantifying changes in plant and animal diversity in response to precipitation changes

Climate change underlies changes in precipitation patterns, including severe droughts and heavy precipitation events. Altered precipitation affects the dynamics of ecological communities of plants and animals by changing their species richness, evenness, abundance, and diversity. These changes in turn may trigger reductions in the biomass of species, which has generated pressing attention to understand the causes and consequences of biodiversity changes in response to environmental change. Most of the studies to date have focused on understanding changes in taxonomic diversity (i.e., species richness, composition) during precipitation shifts; however, there is limited knowledge about how other aspects of biodiversity (e.g., functional, phylogenetic) respond to these changes. In this study, we performed a meta-analysis, where relevant research articles were identified from a database that was created using the Web of Science Core collection. Data were extracted either manually from texts and tables or using the Web Plot Digitizer for graphical data. Standard errors (SE) were converted to standard deviations (SD) and the effect sizes were estimated using the ln-transformed response ratio (lnRR) between the control and treatment groups. We found that functional diversity was affected more strongly than taxonomic diversity in animal communities and plant communities under increased water levels; however, in plant communities subjected to drought, taxonomic diversity was affected more strongly. Phylogenetic studies were excluded due to insufficient case studies or published papers (n < 3). Knowing the patterns and responses of different facets of biodiversity to precipitation changes will contribute to understanding the ecological consequences of changes in precipitation patterns for taxonomic and functional diversity of dryland ecosystems and can help improve predictions of diversity dynamics under precipitation changes during climate change. In addition, this information will help inform the scientific community, global policymakers, and the public of the effects of global changes on biodiversity and natural ecosystems.


Syeda Aiman Nadeem ‘24
Major: Biology
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Angélica González, Associate Professor of Biology
Title of Project: Effects of Global Change Drivers on the Susceptibility of Wild Plants to Pathogenic Diseases

Ongoing human activities are causing major global environmental changes (e.g., warming, nutrient enrichment, and shifts in precipitation levels), which are negatively affecting the structure and functioning of Earth’s ecosystems. These environmental changes have been shown to intensify or weaken plant-pathogen interactions and the extent of diseases they cause. To date, however, a comprehensive quantitative synthesis of the effects of major global environmental changes on plant-pathogen interactions is still lacking. Here, we are evaluating the effects of nutrient enrichment, warming, drought, and major global environmental changes on the susceptibility and severity of diseases caused by plant pathogens. To date, we have compiled data of 450 cases of study from 54 papers and performed a meta-analysis of the effects of nutrient enrichment, warming, and drought, on wild-plant diseases caused by a variety of pathogens including bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Our analysis shows that warming and changes in precipitation significantly increased the severity of plant disease virulence, while all other treatments had no significant effect. Insights from this meta-analysis may help better predict how anthropogenic changes may be driving the prevalence of these plant-pathogen interactions. Understanding how global change drivers affects plant-pathogen interactions is crucial to better predict the outcome of infectious plant diseases and to improve our ability to mitigate their effects.


Syeda Aiman Nadeem ‘24
Major: Biology
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Andrey Grigoriev, Professor of Biology
Title of Project: Identifying and Validating Recurrent Structural Variants Affecting Tumor Genomes Using GROM and VN

Structural variants (SVs), large genomic alterations, are often responsible for tumor development. Most tumor sequencing studies focus on single-nucleotide mutations and leave SVs aside due to the difficulties in their analysis. We have analyzed the data obtained in a recent effort to sequence 1,143 patients with multiple myeloma to address this disparity in analysis by focusing on SVs. We used two computational tools developed in our lab to locate and visualize SVs after comparing two different genomes (normal and tumor). The first one was the Genome Rearrangement OmniMapper (GROM), a variant caller with superior speed, sensitivity, and precision used to identify the variants [1]. The second tool was the Variant Navigator (VN) to visually examine the reads and compare SVs in tumor samples with corresponding normal samples. Such an examination is important for samples of lower sequencing quality. Our analysis pipeline enables us to validate the type and location of mutation, and genes overlapping or near the variant. We found many common SVs present in tumor (but not normal) samples affecting a range of genes including LRP5, IGFN1, GLB1L2, PLIN4, MUC5B, and CDC34. These genes are related to various functions that play a potential part in tumorigenesis, for example, affecting tumor incidence, tumor growth, innate immunity, and inflammation. Finding these genes disrupted by SVs helps us identify the proteins involved in tumorigenesis and this analysis may further allow us to find potential drug targets.

  1. Smith SD, Kawash JK, Grigoriev A. (2017) Lightning-fast genome variant detection with GROM. Gigascience.6(10):1-7


Leyna Nguyen ‘26
Major: Biology, Minor: Chemistry
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Kwangwon Lee, Professor of Biology
Title of Project: Clock Adaptation Gene, fxr-4, Is Not a D-Amino Acid Oxidase in Neurospora crassa

The circadian clock—a biological process that governs daily rhythms in organisms—can adapt to diverse living environments. This adaptability in the circadian clock enhances an organism’s ability to survive and reproduce in its specific habitat. In the fungus Neurospora discreta, researchers have identified a particular gene, NEUDI_158280, as playing a critical role in this adaptive mechanism. However, the exact biological function and underlying mechanisms of this gene remain elusive. In this study, we explore the biological function of the ortholog of this gene, fxr-4, in a closely related model species, N. crassa. We focused our investigation on two potential biological roles for this gene. These roles were predicted based on the primary sequence of the gene and include functioning as D-amino acid oxidase (DAO) and as a Rieske [2Fe-2S] iron-sulphur electron carrier in the mitochondria. By successfully characterizing the clock adaptation gene, our findings contribute to a deeper mechanistic understanding of the ecological roles that circadian rhythm plays in the fitness of organisms within their natural habitats.


Alexis Phillips ‘24
Major: Art
Faculty Mentor: Mr. Stass Shpanin, Assistant Teaching Professor of Art
Title of Project: American Urban Legends

 American urban legends have been a part of popular culture for decades, yet who are these creatures? What are their origins? What do they look like and how would I depict them as an artist? These are the questions that I investigated in my creative research. On this project, I worked with Assistant Teaching Professor Stass Shpanin, whose work is connected to mythology and history present in folk art of American settlers. I was influenced by his work and motivated to branch out to another form of American mythology, contemporary urban legends. For my creative research project, I have created a series of ten 3D digitally sculpted models that represent figures from American urban legends, striving to discover more about the history of these famous and, often elusive, figures. In addition, a 3D printer was utilized to bring these digital sculptures into the physical world in the form of printed sculptures. A catalog was also published classifying and systemizing these models, including the information on them I discovered in my research. During the first phase of the project, I outlined the list of my mythological creatures and compiled data on their physical appearance, origin story, and other important details. The second stage of the project focused on my artistic interpretation of the found data. High-definition 3D renderings of ten creatures found in American urban legends were created using the industry standard software, ZBrush. With the completion of my creative research, the outcome includes a published catalog, a series of 3D prints, and an exhibition in the Student Works Gallery showcasing my work. The catalog includes high quality photographs of my 3D models, with information on each of the mythological figures that they represent. The exhibition will include images of my 3D models as well as this catalog documenting my research.


Alan Rozenblit ‘26
Major: Biology
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Nir Yakoby, Professor of 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 of 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.


Leana Salgado ‘25
Major: Chemistry
Faculty Mentor: Dr. David Salas-De La Cruz, Associate Professor of Chemistry
Title of Project: Optimizing Cellulose Nanocrystal Properties using Ionic Liquid

Properties of cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs), such as stiffness, optical transparency, and high surface area, are the reason for the interest in these materials for applications in advanced manufacturing. CNCs are self-aligning liquid crystals that display high crystalline order and alignment, allowing tough and durable materials to form. The robustness of CNCs, however, brings a drawback and minimizes the applications for these materials. Polymers such as polyethylene glycol have been utilized as plasticizing agents to expand their applications in more fields. However, this could only be achieved with sonication and other extensive techniques. The extensive processes undermine the ability of CNC to self-organize and, therefore, other attractive properties. In this study, we use ionic liquids to enhance the structure and properties of CNC without using polymeric blends and fabrication types of equipment. The ionic liquid of choice is 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium chloride (EMIMCl) which was blended into a CNC suspension. This process allowed a facile treatment to obtain flexible and conductive films. Due to the addition of IL into the CNC suspension, there were changes in structural, physicochemical, and electrical properties. These changes were studied using Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR), Thermalgravimetric Analysis (TGA), Differential Scanning Calorimetry (DSC), Dielectric Relaxation Spectroscopy (DRS), and X-Ray Scattering.


Ajay Shah ‘24
Major: Chemistry, Minor: Physics
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Julianne Griepenburg, Assistant Professor of Physics
Title of Project: Enhanced photosensitivity and surfactant resistance in nano-polymersome membranes as a function of gold nanoparticle incorporation

Cancer has found a way to impact almost everyone in the world whether it be afflicting oneself or a loved one. From personal experience, it’s not always the cancer itself that is most brutal but rather the side effects associated with chemotherapy. Nanocarriers have been a novel topic of study in the past couple of years due the utility they hold, in being able to encapsulate and release therapeutics, allowing for more control over delivery and decreasing off-target effects. Nano-polymersomes (NPS) are synthetic nanocarriers made from a diblock copolymer. 1 This copolymer has a hydrophobic and a hydrophilic region which allow for self-assembly into spherical vesicles. The use of copolymers can allow for high levels of tunability of the membrane thickness or how large the aqueous core of the NPS can be. This is extremely important when considering that different chemotherapy drugs and therapeutics have different molecular weights and sizes. Of utmost importance in targeted drug delivery systems is the ability to control when, where, and how much of a therapeutic is released. Last year, while supported by the 2022 SURG grant, I studied nano-polymersomes rendered light-responsive through the incorporation of hydrophobically functionalized gold nanoparticles (AuNPs) in the membrane. It was determined that laser parameters such as pulse duration and energy directly impacted the ability to porate and/or rupture nanopolymersomes. This work will be submitted for a publication in the coming months and I will be the lead author. This year, we are proposing to extend this work to change properties of the incorporated gold nanoparticles by altering the hydrophobic ligand. We hypothesize that the ligand will impact the light-AuNP, AuNP-AuNP, and Au-NP membrane interactions. By altering these interactions, more control will be gained over this system which will lead to more precision in drug-delivery.


Akshay Shah ‘24
Major: Chemistry, Minor: Biology
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Jinglin Fu, Associate Professor of Chemistry
Title of Project: Plasmonic activation of nanopores on DNA nanostructures

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.


Auralee Smith ‘24
Major: Psychology, Minor: History
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Susan Mokhberi, Associate Professor of History
Title of Project: Prague and the Czech Republic: How Europe’s Most “Magical” Region Gained its reputation and Why it May Case More Harm than Good

The city of Prague and the country of the Czech Republic (Czechia) have a profoundly meaningful history, showing a timeline of heroisms, tribulations, and nationalistic accomplishments. Czechs take great pride in their country and its history that demonstrates more than anything, incredible resiliency through centuries of subjugation to foreign governments and institutions. However, a reputation for magic and mystery particularly concentrated in Prague and the Bohemian region of the country is well-known throughout the world. Why this reputation came to be and how it continues to impact the Czech people are the questions at hand.

Research methods included an in-depth analysis of a multitude of articles, journals, and books. In addition, one month was spent in Prague studying, exploring popular sites (e.g. astronomical clock, alchemy laboratories) as well as experiencing the culture and learning from the people. Prague and Czechia’s reputation for having deeper cultural ties to magic than other European countries has been largely invented by outside influences, ranging from foreign leaders, such as Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, to modern tourists. For a country continually infiltrated by foreign rulers and agendas over the centuries, the focus on a “magic Prague” has helped to overshadow the longstanding attempts of Czechs to uphold a proud national identity.


Aqsa Syed ‘24
Major: Psychology, Minor: Health Sciences
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Sean Duffy, Associate Professor of Psychology
Title of Project: Offshore Wind

The purpose of this project is to gather information from individuals who live in New Jersey on their thoughts about offshore wind (OSW) at this critical juncture between surveying the seafloor and the installation of these turbines. Residents of New Jersey have many concerns about oceanic mammals due to highly publicized news stories about whale beachings. However, this increase in whale fatalities started long before the idea of installing wind turbines ever was proposed, demonstrating a lack of causality. Nevertheless, this is the most common concern that people raise with respect to OSW. Dr Duffy and I hope to explore this further by developing a survey instrument that is highly specific to the problems of OSW – including but not limited to the effects on sea life (mammals, fish, invertebrates, as well as migrating avian species and bats), and also the impacts on fishermen, tourism, and other economic aspects, such as job creation and economic development. Many of these questions will be informed by the coalition of professors on the three Rutgers campuses that have developed modules on their academic specialties (ranging from technological aspects of the installations, the material and labor supply chain, etc.). We also will use established measures of environmental concern that are widely used in the environmental psychology literature, such as Schultz’s (2001) Environmental Concerns scale, and the New Environmental Paradigm (Dunlap, 2008; Dunlap & Brulee, 2015) as well as the big five personality inventory (Hirsh, 2010). Along with standard general demographic questions and specific questions regarding how often participants go to the shore (if at all) and how long they stay there, for instance, to understand how attachment to place (Hess, Malilay, & Parkinson, 2008) and cultural values (Milfont & Schultz, 2016) might factor into people’s thoughts and attitudes.


Lombeh Tengbeh ‘25
Major: Biology
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Eric Klein, Associate Professor of Biology
Title of Project: Sugar Substrates Reactivity to Our Enzyme

Caulobacter Crescentus, a Gram-negative organism, exhibits adaptability in response to low phosphate conditions in its environment. When faced with phosphate starvation, C. Crescentus stalk appendage elongates, which causes an increase in its surface area by 6-7 fold and generates glycosphingolipids in the absence of phospholipids. Recent research in our laboratory has shown the distinctive bacterial synthetic pathway and chemical reactions involved in this process, highlighting significant differences between eukaryotic and bacterial organisms. For my project I focused on substrate specificity in our enzyme to gain insight into the bacterial sphingolipid synthesis. Testing whether modifications of our sugar would cause our lipids to function differently. If my project is successful, our lab would have a better understanding of the distinctive synthesis mechanisms in Gram negative bacterium.


Orgelys Vasquez-Home ‘24
Majors: Psychology and Criminal Justice
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Nathan Link, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice
Title of Project: Marijuana Legalization in New Jersey: Early Impacts on Community-Level Crime and Beliefs

New Jersey, though dissimilar from many states that legalized marijuana, has recently adopted legislation that will have a largely similar effect on drug policy. The proposed set of projects will seek to contemporaneously examine how this policy shift changes crime rates in three ways: (1) a descriptive analysis of arrests for marijuana possession across the state before and after legalization, (2) a comparison of how crime rates after the reform change in Camden (NJ) as compared to contiguous Philadelphia (PA), where recreational marijuana remains illegal, and (3) a survey of attitudes towards marijuana usage held by law enforcement and community members. These analyses will provide a foundation for an evidence-based assessment for New Jersey reform and create a relevant comparison for similarly oriented jurisdictions. Since 2012, a handful of states have passed similar legislation (See NCAL, 2020), yet rigorous empirical research has lagged. Critics at the time suggested that the legislation would exacerbate existing social problems such as substance dependence and street crime (Berenson, 2019). Perceptions and data on the rates of various crimes and community conditions due to legalization remain limited. The DID design addresses selection bias by using longitudinal data where Philadelphia would serve as the comparator for Camden.


Alexis Winters ‘24
Major: Biology, Minors: Chemistry and Psychology
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Anthony Geneva, Assistant Professor of Biology
Title of Project: Detection and phylogenetic analysis of adenoviruses in natural and invasive populations of Podarcis siculus

Adenoviruses (AdVs) exhibit broad host infectivity, marked by recent and ancient host transfers. While captive reptiles have shown AdV prevalence linked to health issues, understanding wild AdV pathogenicity, transmission, and origins remains incomplete. Molecular techniques, like nested PCR and DNA sequencing, are incrementally uncovering these enigmas, albeit in a species-specific manner. Notably, the invasive Podarcis siculus lacks prior AdV investigation. This project capitalizes on invasive Podarcis siculus samples from the U.S. and native Italian populations, screening for Atadenovirus presence. Subsequent phylogenetic analyses of positive samples aim to unravel squamate Adenovirus evolution and shed light on invasive species dynamics.