Students Present Their “Wicked Smaht” Research

This January, seniors Yanhan Ren, Sarah Joseph, and Nirlipta Panda, along with junior Harris Weber traveled to Boston to attend the National Collegiate Research Conference (NCRC). The Harvard College Undergraduate Research Association began this conference in 2007 to provide a platform for undergrads to share their research.

While the main event was the poster session, the Innovation Challenge brought groups of students from different backgrounds together to discuss radical ideas and potential solutions to national and global issues. “Getting to know other students created endless possibilities of collaboration,” said Ren, a liason for future NCRC events. Every event promoted the sharing of ideas and collaboration with a variety of people, both things that U of R loves its students to do!

Ren is an international student from Nanjing, China studying molecular genetics. He presented his research, Functions of the Fun30 Chromatin Remodeler in DNA Postreplication Repair and Heterochromatin Structure in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. His research with Dr. Bi Xin from the Biology Department suggests that a gene from yeast is required for a new pathway for DNA damage repair. He plans to apply to medical school but will be taking a gap year to study medical science and public health at Boston University.

Joseph, who majors in molecular genetics, presented her topic, “Elucidating the mitochondrial targeting sequence of the yeast flap endonuclease (RAD27).” In layman’s terms, making mutations in the gene to figure out how it gets transported into the mitochondria.

Panda’s topic was on the impact of peripheral radiation on cognition and neurogenesis. This neuroscience major’s poster won the honorable mention in the Category of Biology.

NCRC 2Weber majors in cell and developmental biology while also pursuing a minor in business. From his experience in the Nedergaard Lab, he presented research about the newly discovered “Glymphatic” waste-clearance system with a focus on spinal cord injury.

The excitement of the student-run conference did not stop at poster sessions! Many keynote speakers were in attendance, such as Stephen Wolfram of Wolfram Alpha and John Mather from NASA. By attending the conference, Ren found many networking opportunities within his peers, potential employers, and members of higher education. He was inspired by the influential minds around him. “Talk to attendees and talk with the keynote speakers, you will find their words and ideals will change your mind.”

For any further information on the conference, please contact Yanhan Ren at yren6@u.rochester.edu.

Second Author: A Dream Come True

By Joe Bailey
University Communications

Freshman Jacoby Krakow has entered college with extensive knowledge of something college students can’t get enough of: sleep. In fact, Krakow has published a paper in the journal of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Krakow, who is considering a major in ECE, or possibly optics, conducted this research during the summers of his high school years, under the tutelage of his father, who operates a sleep clinic and research institution. He worked there to fulfill a community service requirement for an IB class at his high school.

Krakow served as second author on an article that reviewed several terms every sleep clinician should be able to use fluently. Among these terms, the one which lacked a clear definition was RERA, or Respiratory-Effort Related Arousal. RERAs are an important type of sleep disruption, and even the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) did not provide a very clear definition in the 2000 edition of its manual. “I hope that this work will give doctors the tools they need to improve their patients’ sleep patterns,” Krakow said.

Overall, Krakow sought to make the definition of RERAs clear for doctors who might encounter this symptom in their patients. His research was an effort to clarify what qualifies as RERAs and what does not. This symptom, which is similar to sleep apnea, needed to be quantified, so doctors could have an idea of exactly how bad a respiratory event had to be to qualify as a RERA.

Another paper which Krakow was involved with dealt with time-monitoring behavior in insomniacs, specifically how it is played out in those with PTSD. Following Krakow’s work, it will be much less ambiguous for doctors exactly what qualifies as RERAs, and how to diagnose this disruptive symptom.

Summer Research Experience Leads to Science Paper for Physics Undergrad

Like other seniors, Owen Colegrove had a busy end of the semester: staying on top of classes, preparing for finals, wrapping up projects, and applying to graduate school. But unlike other undergraduates, Colegrove had to leave the last week of the fall semester for San Francisco, to present a poster at the American Geophysical Union annual meeting. Attended by tens of thousands of people, it is one of the highlights of the scientific conference season, with lots of high-profile speakers, media coverage and topical issues being covered.

Colegrove presented work he had done during his Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU). During REUs, students across the country spend part of their summer on a research project as part of their academic experience. Unlike Colegrove, though, not many will have a Science paper to their name at the end of the project.

Exposing undergraduates to research is exactly the purpose of REUs, and Colegrove thinks it was a fantastic opportunity for that. Now at the University of Rochester, a research university, Colegrove studied at Finger Lakes Community College for his freshman and sophomore years.

“We encourage our physics majors to take on a major research project over the summer, either in Rochester or elsewhere, to complement their classroom experiences,” said Kevin McFarland, professor of physics at Rochester who taught Colegrove last semester. “Owen’s success is a great example of how productive these summer research projects can be.”

Colegrove worked during the summer of 2013 under the supervision of Dr. David Hathaway, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Together with Hathaway’s student, Lisa Upton, a graduate student at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., Colegrove helped analyze data from the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager on NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. The team was looking for evidence that would point to the proposed existence of giant convection cells on the sun.

These giant convection cells are flows on the sun’s surface that could be related to the sun’s magnetic fields, and also to sunspots. Small granules (and larger supergranules) that move gas around on the surface of the sun have been studied since early in the 20th century, but the team showed that these are moved around by even larger features: giant convection cells, which are much slower moving.

The work of Hathaway, Upton and Colegrove might also help answer a longstanding question: “why is a day on the Sun’s equator (25 days) so much shorter than a day on the Sun’s poles (35 days)?” It could be that these giant cells alter what is happening as the Sun spins.

The day before leaving for the AGU conference in California, Colegrove appeared to be taking all the new experiences in stride. Reflecting on having his name on a Science paper as an undergraduate he commented “that it just hadn’t sunk in.”

“I’ve been caught up in classes, preparing for exams, and trying to figure out what’s next,” he said. “And it also seems to have happened over such a long period of time, so it feels like a long time ago when we did the work and submitted the paper!” Although Hathaway, who spent 29 years searching for these giant convection cells, might not agree, Colegrove admits.

Colegrove is clear that he wants to go to graduate school for physics – he is just trying to decide which area of physics and what university. “I hadn’t taken many astrophysics classes before this project, but now after this work I think this is an area I want to learn more about.”

There is one thing he is certain he takes with him from the whole experience, and that is a better understanding of the patience that research requires and a determined attitude to continue forward, even after multiple setbacks. Colegrove thinks that when any future research does not go as planned he will think back to his advisor, Dr. David Hathaway, who kept thinking of ways forward even after 29 years.

Lizard Lab Shows Evolutionary Biology In Action

By Blake Silberberg ’13
Univ. Communications

The Glor Lab at the University of Rochester is an evolutionary biology lab that specializes in studying the evolutionary patterns of lizards. Rochester junior Dan MacGuigan has been working with the Glor Lab to study speciation, or how new species come into existence.

MacGuigan first became interested in biology in high school, and chose to attend the University of Rochester to pursue a degree in biology with a concentration in ecology and evolutionary biology. “I’ve always had an inherent curiosity about our natural world,” says MacGuigan, “so it only made sense for me to pursue a career in biology.”

MacGuigan was interested in hands-on research as a freshman, and after emailing Rich Glor, principal investigator of the Glor Lab, became an undergraduate research assistant in spring 2012.The Glor Lab asks on two main research questions: What factors underlie major diversity patterns and what processes contribute to the formation of new species? It houses a large number of lizards, which researchers use to perform hybridization (or cross-breeding) experiments. “It’s a perfect fit for me, since it combines lab work with field work,” says MacGuigan.

MacGuigan’s current project focuses on examining the influences of social dominance hierarchies on phenotypic plasticity of a secondary sexual characteristic. “In plain English, IMG_0019we want to see if the size of male dewlap, the colorful little flap of skin that hangs below the lower jaw in many species of lizard, changes in response to interaction with other males,” explains MacGuigan. “Dewlaps are used for a variety of displaying purposes, including male-to-male agonistic behaviors. We hypothesize that male dewlap size can change in response to different social contexts, and that males with larger dewlaps are more dominant. Thus, dewlap size might serve as an indicator of overall male fitness.”

MacGuigan has worked largely on his own on this particular project, with the guidance of fellow lab members Julienne Ng, a doctoral candidate, and Glor, who also is an associate professor of biology. MacGuigan developed most of the experimental design, created the cage set-ups, and assigned male lizards to particular cages to create different social groups. MacGuigan also was responsible for collecting a large amount of data from the experiment, recording perch-location data twice daily along with various morphological measurements (such as dewlap and body size) taken monthly. MacGuigan analyzed this data and is currently completing a write-up he hopes to submit for publication.

Although the research is scientifically complex and serious, scientists in the Glor Lab are not without a sense of humor. During his first experience working with the lizards, MacGuigan was helping a doctoral student photograph the lizards’ extended dewlaps. “My job was to hold the animals so they didn’t scamper off during the proceedings. However, I was told that my bare fingernails would cause too much reflectance in the photos,” he recalls. “Me, being the innocent lab newbie that I was, took this all on faith and, for the good of science, was forced to paint my nails a rather obnoxious shade of green. It was only hours later that I was rudely informed I had just been pranked. I believe pictures of my lovely painted nails still exist somewhere on our lab’s blog.”

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Despite the humorous nature of the lab, MacGuigan describes working on the project as a serious time commitment, especially for an undergraduate student also managing a full course load. “Even though what I’m doing is fairly simple science, I’ve learned just how many frustrating complexities and complications there are to running an experiment,” says MacGuigan, who is quick to acknowledge that his efforts have been enormously beneficial. “Having such a degree of control over what has essentially been my own project was definitely worth the effort I’ve put in, and I love the idea that I’m in some small way an actively contributing member of the scientific community,” he explains. “I can’t overstate this: being involved with undergraduate research of any kind is the best thing you can do to further your development as a student and as a scientist.”

 

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For MacGuigan, simply being around research professionals was enormously rewarding. “Even after a year of working in the Glor Lab, I’m still pretty frequently dumbfounded by the combined encyclopedic knowledge that my PI and graduate students have concerning so many aspects of biology, ranging from nomenclature of reptiles to the most recent phylogenetic methods. Combine that with reading current scientific literature on a weekly basis for lab meetings and research projects, and you’ve got one hell of a crash course in the basics of being a scientist.”

 

 

Student Researchers Recognized at the Annual Undergraduate Research Exposition

By Blake Silberberg ’13
Univ. Communications

 

On April 19, the University of Rochester held its annual Undergraduate Research Exposition.  The Expo included a speaker’s symposium, poster fair, and awards ceremony. Awards were given to the top symposium and poster participants and were chosen by a panel of faculty judges.

The Undergraduate Research Exposition is a College-wide event that gives undergraduate students the opportunity to present the academic research they’ve conducted throughout the year. The Expo showcases the passion that both professors and students have for investigative, creative research.

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The symposium allowed 17 students representing the four distinct disciplinary sections of the College: humanities, natural sciences, social sciences, and engineering, to present their research topics and take questions from fellow students. The poster presentation fair then served as a venue for all presenters to showcase their findings to the College community. It was immediately followed by the awards, ceremony, which included the presentation of the President’s Prize, the Deans’ Prizes, the Professor’s Choice Awards, and the Visual Art in Undergraduate Research awards.

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“It was a great experience being able to learn about the work of my peers in very different fields, as well as being able to showcase my own work for the intellectual community at the University,” says Lucian McMahon ’13, whose research focused on the transformation of how masculinity was conceptualized from Paganism to Christianity in the Eastern Mediterranean. McMahon and fellow senior Gabrielle Cornish were given the President’s Award for their research in the Humanities Discipline.

 

The following Rochester students were awarded the President’s Prize, given to the top four presentations from the four disciplinary areas of the Symposium:

 

  • David George ’13, Chemistry major, Catalysys & Synthesis: New Method towards Catalytic Cyclization & its Role in Synthesis. Natural Sciences.

 

  • Ian Marozas ’13, Biomedical Engineering major, Development of a Targeted Drug Delivery System for the Treatment of Osteoporosis. Engineering.

 

  • Sandra Rodgin ’13, Psychology major, From Contemplation to Action: Self-Regulation’s Effect on Decision Making and Interpersonal Impressions. Social Sciences.

 

  • Gabrielle Cornish ’13, Russian and Music double major, The Impassioned Symphonist: Unity, “Russianness,” And Self Expression in Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony. Humanities.

 

  • Lucian McMahon ’13, German and Classics double major, Transformations of Masculinity in Late Antiquity. Humanities.

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The following students were presented with the Deans’ Choice Award:

 

  • Leah Conant ’13, Pre-Med, Cancer Anxiety & Patient Selection of Mastectomy over Breast Conservation Therapy.  Natural Sciences.

 

  • Michael David ’13, Biomedical Engineering major, Effect of High Fat Diet-Induced Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes on Tendon Repair. Natural Sciences.

 

  • Maritza Gomez ’14, Psychology and Linguistics double major, Role of Parental Labeling in Language Acquisition. Social Sciences.

 

  • Kuhu Parasrampuria ’13, Economics and Business Strategies major, Effects of the 2008 Financial Crisis on Developing vs. Industrialized Countries. Social Sciences

 

  • Prishanya Pillai ’14 and Priyanka Pillai ’14, Microbiology and Public Health majors, Social Ecological Approach to HIV/AIDS in South Africa and the Power of Hope in Community Recovery. Social Sciences.

 

  • Ruobing Qian ’14, Biomedical Engineering major, Interferometric Measurement of Organelle-Sized objects. Engineering.

 

  • Laurel Raymond ’13 English and Brain & Cognitive Sciences double major, Literature and the Field between: A Study of Discourse. Humanities.

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The following students were presented with the Professors’ Choice Awards:

 

  • Scott Lucchini ’13, Physics and Astronomy major, Jazz Dance and the Integration of America.  Humanities.

 

  • Marius Kothor ’13, African and African-American Studies, Cross-Cultural Perceptions of Female Genital Cutting in Togo. Social Sciences.

 

  • Morgan Preziosi ’13, Biochemistry and Physics double major, Erbb3 Is Important for Melanoma Metastasis. Natural Sciences.

 

  • Ka Lai Tsang ’13, Biomedical Engineering major, Determination of Effective Masses and Parametric Study of the Organ of Corti. Engineering.

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The following students were presented with the Visual Arts in Undergraduate Research Award:

 

  • Josh Geiger ’13, Chemistry and Biochemistry major, Epigenetic Maintenance & Regulation of the Antioxidant Response by the Nrf2 Dimerization Partner Maf-S. Natural Sciences.

 

  • Scott Lucchini ’13, Physics and Astronomy major, Jazz Dance and the Integration of America. Humanities.

 

Undergrad Research Recognized at National Conference

By Dan Wang ’14
Univ. Communications

In the last week of January, four Rochester undergraduates traveled to Harvard University to give a presentation at the National College Research Conference. The four participants created posters of their research and presented to panels of judges. Student Anaise Williams ’13 took home an Award of Excellence, the second place prize awarded to five out of 250 student presenters and is the top prize for the social sciences.

“I examined how rural low-income pregnant women in Northeastern Thailand negotiate traditional beliefs of prenatal precaution and biomedical prenatal recommendation. I really wanted to figure out how pregnancy is culturally scripted. How do people decide between listening to their moms and doctors?” says Williams, winner of the Award of Excellence.

This is a natural topic for someone who majors in anthropology with a focus on public health and has an interest in Asian culture. Williams conducted her research as she studied abroad in Thailand last spring. By taking part in the CIEE Development and Globalization Program arranged through Rochester’s Center for Study Abroad and Interdepartmental Programs, Williams conducted interviews with Thai women to determine how they reconciled traditional and modern views of pregnancy.

“This is an interesting way to investigate how global forms of information are understood at the local level,” Williams explains. “The project adds to the anthropological discussion of how to make biomedical globalization more culturally conscious.” She concludes that the women have a Western and traditional hybrid view of pregnancy in which they have autonomy over their bodies and incorporate traditional Thai views of pregnancy. Her extensive fieldwork interviewing pregnant women through translators gave her a nuanced view of the topic.

Alisa-Johnson-'14-and-URMC-Research-Mentor-Dr.-S-VijayakumarAlong with fellow undergraduates Alisa Johnson ‘14, Siddhi Shah ‘14, and Shilpa Topudurti ‘14, Williams attended the three-day conference with 250 students from around the country. Through funding from the Office of Undergraduate Research and various academic departments, the students were able to present their research to peers and students. They also were able to listen to professors discuss their own work; lecturers this year included development economist Jeffrey Sachs and psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker.

“I learned a lot from the keynote speakers and was exposed to a variety of topics from fellow presenters from all over the country,” says Alisa Johnson. “It was a great opportunity to connect and network with other students who share a similar interest in research at the undergraduate level.”

Johnson, Shah, and Topudurti are biology majors who presented on topics ranging from kidney disease to melanoma progression.

Shilpa-Topudurti-'14These four participants condensed their findings into 15-minute presentations and a poster board. Each gave a presentation to panels of judges that included professors and their fellow peers. A second, more formal presentation determined the prizes.

The Award of Excellence prize comes as a capstone for an already accomplished academic career. Outside of her major in anthropology Williams is president of the Undergraduate Anthropology Council; a coordinator at GlobeMed; and a tutor for 5th grade students at School 29, an elementary school in the 19th Ward. And she sees her project going still further; Williams is working on fellowships that will allow her to study maternal health in Asia next year.

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In the Photos: First: Anaise Williams ’13 and Siddhi Shah ’14 at the National College Research Conference.  Second: Alisa Johnson ’14 and URMC Research Mentor Dr. S. Vijayakumar discuss Johnson’s research with conference participants. Third: Shilpa Topudurti ’14 presents her research during the conference. Fourth: Held at Harvard, nearly 250 students from around the country attended the National College Research Conference.  All photos courtesy of Alisa Johnson.

Research Trip to Tanzania an ‘Outrageous Opportunity’

By Blake Silberberg ’13
Univ. Communications

Eli Witkin ’13, a geology major at the University of Rochester, recently returned from a research trip to Africa where he worked with a group led by Earth and Environmental Sciences Professor Cynthia Ebinger to install seismic monitoring devices in a variety of locations across rural Tanzania.

Witkin became interested in geology after taking an introductory course on a whim his freshman year. After enrolling in more advanced courses, he began to take part in research, working in Professor Ebinger’s lab this past summer. This is where Witkin was given the opportunity to accompany Professor Ebinger on her research trip to Africa.

The seismometers Ebinger and Witkin installed record data about the variations in time, amplitude, and wavelength of sound waves generated by local and global earthquakes and volcanic gas emissions, which is extraordinarily useful in probing Earth structures. The goal of this project was to use the data gathered by these devices to better understand the mechanisms of continental breakup and the effect of magma intrusions, help monitor potential hazards caused by volcanoes and earthquakes, and advise the Tanzanian government on the potential for geothermal energy.

The group would wake up before sunrise every day to pack the car and begin the trek on rural, unpaved roads to the remote locations where they wanted to place the sensors. “When we would get to a location we would locate either the headmaster of the school or the leader of the village,” Witkin says. “Then we would discuss with them (through our driver who would translate) what we were doing and if it would be ok to install a station.  They were almost always very helpful and willing.”

The group would begin tEli1he process of installing the sensor by digging a hole, pouring cement in the bottom, and placing a tile over it so that there was a hard, level surface to place the sensor. The group then assembled the solar panel support and the GPS, hooked up the equipment and tested the battery to ensure everything was connected. The device was programmed using an iPod Touch, as the sensors were controlled through an iOS application. Once it was confirmed the sensor was working properly, the group worked to fill in the hole and cover it with a tarp to deter rain, and place the rest of the equipment (battery, power box, extra cables, and Data Acquisition System) in a covered plastic tub on the surface.

“When the site was completed, we would negotiate a price to pay the residents of the school or village to guard the site by building a thorn fence around it to ensure that kids or animals would not bother it,” Witkin explained. “We would then deliver books and posters on earthquakes and volcanoes to help support science education. Then we would get in the car, travel to another site and repeat the entire process. We averaged about two sites per day. ”

This schedule turned out to be very demanding, with the team working 16-hour days for a week and a half straight. On top of the exhausting schedule, the team also had to deal with 100 degree heat, frequent dust storms, and swarms of flies. Despite this, Witkin describes the trip as overwhelmingly positive. “Driving from site to site was basically a safari,” Witkin says. “We would frequently see antelope, zebras, giraffes, wildebeests, baboons, ostriches and all sorts of other birds and animals everywhere.”

The backdrop to the area was a basin that rose to the East so gradually it seemed flat, but on the western side had a 1000 meter sheer cliff that was almost vertical and ran farther than the eye could see in either direction. For a geologist, Witkin says, the natural environments were absolutely amazing. “There were numerous volcanoes and the normal rocks lying Eli4around are better samples than the ones we have in the teaching labs.”

Traveling to remote areas of Tanzania, the team had the opportunity to meet the villagers who lived in these extremely rural areas. “I was the first white person a lot of the children had seen.  Some were very curious and would run towards me while others were straight up scared out of their minds and when I smiled at them, they would run in the other direction,” Witkin recalls.

Usually at a station the team would cut off the bottom of the equipment buckets so the water can drain out.  At one station, Witkin picked up the bottom of the bucket and taught the kids how to play Frisbee with it.  “It was a really fun and novel experience playing Frisbee with the children of these rural villages.”

“Being able to do undergraduate research is an outrageous opportunity.  Not only did I get to go to Africa for a month, but I got to be there doing work that I love,” Witkin says. “Beyond that, it is invaluable to have real experience working in the field.  It’s one thing to know how to use a sensor, but a completely different thing to be comfortable using them in the field and to know how to go through a complete installation.”

On this trip, Witkin also learned how to improvise when something goes wrong. “How do you adjust when you encounter a problem and are already behind schedule and can’t afford to come back? That experience and knowledge is something you just can’t get in the classroom or lab and it will really put me ahead.”

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Meliora Leader Tackles Smoking Cessation

By Caitlin Mack ’12 (T5)
Univ. Communications

Sanah Ali ’13 is part of an initiative to tackle smoking, one of America’s most controversial, decades-long health issues, as part of the Meliora Leaders Program at the Rochester Center for Community Leadership (RCCL).  Ali is working with the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Healthy Living Center (HLC) to help conduct a five year follow-up study to the Smoker’s Health Project, which includes advising patients interested in quitting smoking and recruiting those interested in services at the clinic.

The tobacco program offered by the HLC is free for U of R employees and allows smokers to meet with a doctor or a psychologist.  Program participants undergo a health evaluation and are given a doctor-prescribed “quit plan” of personalized and some not-so-obvious methods to quit smoking, in addition to medications that aid withdrawal symptoms if necessary.

“We find out about U of R employees who smoke via a voluntary personal health assessment.” says Ali.  “Helping them come in is the first hurdle. Often people wait for indications of decimating health before seeking help.”

For Ali, one of the hardest parts of her work has been broaching the subject of smoking with potential program participants. “It’s not like you can go up to someone and ask if they want to quit smoking,” says Ali. “Some people find it rude or may not want to be identified as smokers. Helping people in a polite and effective way is what I’m aiming for.”

On the other hand, Ali’s favorite part of the experience has been hearing the life stories and unique experiences (struggles and successes) with tobacco of the patients she works with.

One thing that surprised Ali was the strong stigma against medications recommended to help people quit.  As a result, she hopes to “increase awareness that although meds may have side effects or may add to concerns about dependence, these meds are not addictive and are for temporary use. The adverse effects of continuing to smoke overshadow any side effects of meds.”

Ali is intrigued by the biopsychosocial model of medicine developed at Rochester decades ago by Drs. George Engel and John Romano and hopes to incorporate aspects of it in the future as a practicing physician.

“The biopsychosocial model exemplifies the concept of holistic patient care, and points out that intrinsic motivation, living situation, lifestyle, support from family or friends, and mental health affect the likelihood of a long-lasting quit,” says Ali. “There’s only so much that a health care practitioner can do.”  In addition, Ali explains, “If someone smokes and everyone else in the environment does too, it’s going to be a lot tougher for them to quit because of the constant reminder.”

Ali also explains that there is increasing evidence for interplay between factors affecting smoking habits. For example, we know that caffeine stays in your system 40 percent longer when you’re not smoking and can increase anxiety and nicotine cravings; as a result, patients are advised to reduce their caffeine intake when they are trying to quit smoking.  Other unpopular side effects of smoking cessation include experiencing unpleasant withdrawal symptoms or weight gain due to changes in metabolism.

Ali, a Pittsford, N.Y. native and a cell and developmental biology major, hopes to pursue a career in healthcare and continue her involvement with smoking cessation. She intends to expand her work to free clinics, including “UR Well,” a clinic for uninsured patients and “UR Street Medicine” for the homeless population. She also is interested in promoting tobacco awareness at primary schools. In addition to her efforts in Rochester, Ali has travelled to Islamabad, Pakistan to study the smoking habits of high school students there.

Ali is one of five students accepted to the Meliora Leaders Program for the 2012-2013 academic year. The program, offered through the Rochester Center for Community Leadership (RCCL), gives undergraduates the chance to create individualized service projects, allowing them to exercise intensive leadership in the Rochester community for an extended period of time. The program benefits organizations and individuals in need while providing a substantial learning experience for the students involved.

This article is part three of a series that features the Meliora Leaders of 2012-2013. Undergraduates interested in participating in the program should look for information on the RCCL page in the coming months. Information about the program can be found on the RCCL page at http://rochester.edu/college/rccl/meliora.html.

Tongue Twisters Topic of Students’ Studies

By Blake Silberberg ’13
Univ. Communications

Former University of Rochester students Catie Hilliard ’10  and Katrina Furth ’10 recently saw two research papers written during their undergraduate studies published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition and Frontiers in Psychology. Working with Florian Jaeger, Wilmot Assistant Professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Furth and Hilliard examined how word choice is affected by phonological overlap, or how the sounds of words affect how we choose them in everyday conversation.

Furth became interested in the field of brain and cognitive sciences because she wanted to research psychiatric disorders and how the brain creates perceptions and thoughts. “I was inspired by a family member who dealt with episodes of mental illness to understand how normal brains work and develop in the hopes that we may be able to prevent serious mental illness someday,” she explained.  

As an undergraduate student working part time at Tim Horton’s, Furth sought out undergraduate research opportunities in the hopes of doing something with her summer that was more meaningful and relevant to her studies. She was referred to Michael Tanenhaus, who hired her to create videos that would be used in psycholinguistics experiments.

For one of her projects, Furth worked with Susan Cook to study people’s gestures as they described videos to their friends. “As we were making the videos, I noticed that people were using the verbs ‘hand’ and ’give’ at different frequencies to describe videos in which one character passes a gift or a hat to another character.”

This is where the idea for their project was born. “Dr. Jaeger had just joined the University and I started discussing my idea with him. He offered to continue paying me to figure out what was going on,” she said. “I was particularly curious to know if people avoided repeating the same initial syllables if they had the choice. No one knew whether people naturally avoided tongue twisters, though.”

The initial goal of the project was to examine if people avoid phonological overlaps (“hand hammer,” for example) when planning sentences. The project quickly expanded to include word order, speech rate, and fluency to see if people “strategically” avoid sentence constructions that may make them less fluent. “One idea that always really excited me was that we could make these choices without consciously thinking them through – people speak at about 3 syllables per second and so we certainly were not stopping to choose the best words,” she explains. “I was also really excited by the idea that information about how words will be produced can affect things that we think of as getting planned early – you choose your words and the sentence structure before you retrieve all of the sounds, right? Well, the whole premise of this work was that the sounds of words are getting accessed so early that they are affecting which words even get chosen, and in which order you produce those words.”

VIDEO: See a video clip used in the research study

Furth was tasked with designing the experiment, creating the videos that would be used to test the subjects, recruiting and testing subjects, and instructing other undergraduates on how to annotate the collected utterances. Once the data was collected, Furth sought Jaeger’s help to calculate statistics on word frequency. “I learned a great deal about experiment design and data analysis by working on this project. Since I had never designed an experiment before, I made a lot of mistakes at the beginning, but the biggest piece that I learned about experiments is that one extra hour of planning before you start can save 40 hours of careful analysis at the end of the experiment.” Jaeger, Furth, and Hilliard found that speakers are less likely to choose words that result in phonological overlap, and that this tendency is based on early effects on lexical selection rather than later corrective processes.

About a year and a half into the project, Hilliard joined the team as they began to design more experiments looking at word order and fluency when the words shared similar endings instead of similar onsets. “That was the most fun/weird part of it — having an idea in your head and trying to come up with a way to test it,” Hilliard said.

BCS-Research-2Hilliard had been on track to complete a major in linguistics, but after a family member experienced a stroke which resulted in a loss of nearly all language abilities, she became increasingly interested in brain and cognitive sciences. “Suddenly, all of these cognitive processes that I had taken for granted seemed so complex and laborious. I wanted to learn more about cognition, how it develops, and the neural structure underlying these abilities.”

Hilliard combined her interests to pursue a concentration in psycholinguistics within the BCS department. After taking a psycholinguistics class with Jaeger, she worked as an assistant in his lab for the summer. This experience with the research process led her to join Furth and Jaeger’s project for the following year.

Both Furth and Hilliard refer to their research with Jaeger as one of the most valuable experiences of their undergraduate career. “I was particularly blessed to have an opportunity to pursue my own research idea as an undergraduate, present the work at international conferences, and be an author on multiple manuscripts,” Furth says. “My mentor, Florian, also sent me to the Yucatan peninsula to help collect data working with native Mayan speakers. These were once-in-a-lifetime experiences as I navigated the world in Spanish and attempted to do basic research in rare languages.”

Furth said the research experiences were pivotal in the graduate school admission process. “I believe that these experiences, and the letters of recommendations that came from them, were the major reason that I was accepted by 12 of 14 graduate schools to which I applied.”

Hilliard has similarly positive things to say about her experience. “Before I had even realized I wanted to continue doing research in graduate school, working in a lab gave me a sense of responsibility and independence that I didn’t always feel for my classwork,” she said. “I became really invested in the projects I was working on. I thought about them a lot, and learned how to communicate my research ideas to other people.”

Like Furth, Hilliard said that conducting research as an undergraduate prepared her for graduate school. “I felt confident in my abilities, and continued to feel supported by Florian, Katrina, and other members of the lab. When I applied for admission, several lab members shared their own experiences and advice, and I ended up in the best program for my research interests.”

Jaeger also emphasized the importance of having Furth and Hilliard in his lab. “Katrina was the first RA I hired six years ago. It was wonderful having Caitie and Katrina in the lab, I got lucky,” he says. “I hope that the University will continue to expand their support for undergraduate research and that we can strike a balance between providing research opportunities for undergraduates and all the other responsibilities of faculty. I think it’s one of the most appealing properties of a place like Rochester that you can actually get your feet wet and get involved in research.”

Katrina Furth (Pictured top right with Professor Florian Jaeger) is now enrolled in the Graduate Program for Neuroscience at Boston University, and is working at the National Institutes of Health with Dr. Andres Buonanno. She is examining the role of the dopamine D4 receptor in modulating cognitive ability and neural network oscillations called gamma rhythms. “Children with an allelic variant of the D4 receptor are more likely to have ADHD and many antipsychotic medications target this receptor as well as others. I am recording from individual neurons using patch-clamp electrophysiology.”

Caitie Hilliard (pictured bottom left) received the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship for her work with Dr. Susan Cook, a full scholarship for three years of graduate study in the University of Iowa Psychology department under Dr. Cook, a former Post-Doc at the University of Rochester. Hilliard is studying the role of hand gesture in communication, focusing on how speakers modulate their gestures based on the shared information they have with their listeners. She has run two studies examining how speakers’ gestures change when they know that their listener lacks task-relevant information, and is currently investigating how the listeners’ perception of these gestures affects their own cognition.

Article written by Blake Silberberg, an intern with University Communications and a member of the Piggies. He is a senior majoring in political science.

Small Insects Have Sizable Influence on Rochester Senior

By Blake Silberberg ’13
Univ. Communications

In one of the many science labs that make up Hutchinson Hall, there is a room full of thousands of different species of Drosophila, or as most people know them, fruit flies. This is where Yelstin Fernandes ’13, a biology major at the University of Rochester, has been participating in ongoing intercellular transport research as an undergraduate member of the Welte Lab.

The Welte Lab studies the process of how different items are transported throughout cells. Their research hopes to discover the mechanisms by which cells control the specificity, timing, and destination of this transport by studying these qualities in the Drosophila embryo.

Fernandes contacted Dr. Welte after taking a class with him during his sophomore year, looking to participate in ongoing biology research here at the university. For almost two years, Fernandes has been undertaking an independent study with the Welte Lab, examining two proteins, Wech and Halo, which are involved in regulating the movement of lipids during the development of the Drosophila embryo. To accomplish this, Fernandes characterizes various strains of flies and determines their genotype based on defining attributes, such as whether their wings are straight or curled when examined under a microscope. Fernandes then isolates the flies with the genotypes he is interested in examining, and crosses them in order to examine the embryos of their progeny. His research helps to clarify expected results, and in some cases discover unexpected attributes. This past summer, Fernandes discovered an anomaly in a sequence of Halo protein mutations, where instead of a mutation; there was an entire deletion of a gene segment.

For Fernandes, the study of biology is something he has been interested in pursuing since childhood. “I was always intrigued by simple things like why some people had blue eyes, or how blood clotted. The answers I got, albeit basic, were always so interesting to me because I could see the science visibly in my own life.”

After being accepted into the University in 2009, Fernandes decided to enroll because of the opportunity to participate in research as an undergraduate. “During my time here, I’ve been able to satisfy a lot of the same basic curiosities I’ve had since childhood, but with much more detail,” he explained. “Through studying biology I currently have a much deeper appreciation for the profound beauty and complexity of the world we live in.”

According to Fernandes, participating in hands-on research has been one of the defining experiences of his academic career. “Undergraduate study is very much a basic overview of certain topics. Being in a lab exposes you to a very specialized and narrow study. I’ve learned so much just by sitting in on lab meetings. Initially, just the words thrown around had me incredibly confused, but now I feel I have a much better understanding of the topics that are being researched.”

Fernandes also credits his research experience for showing him to how graduate research is undertaken in the laboratory environment. “Being able to do an independent study has definitely exposed me to all the work that goes on in the research world, from writing, researching, and presenting in front of people,” he said. “I’ve also gotten to understand what science research really is. Basically it’s about setting up experiments, failing a lot, and then coming up with a solution once in a while. I have a much greater appreciation for certain scientists and experiments you hear about in class and the ingenuity involved in problem solving.”

Article written by Blake Silberberg, an intern with University Communications and a member of the Piggies. He is a senior majoring in political science.