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Washington State University
College of Arts and Sciences Three Minute Thesis

2018 Participants


Steven Hobaica
Winner

Stephen Hobaica
Sexual Minorities in Heteronormative Sex Education
The efficacy of modern sex education has been questioned, as students participate in high rates of unsafe sex after completion. Without exploring various sexual minority (SM, e.g., gay, lesbian, and bisexual) identities and forms of sex, sex education may be especially unhelpful for SMs by perpetuating the heteronormative (i.e., assuming everyone is heterosexual) environment they typically experience. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with SMs regarding their experiences in sex education using a grounded theory approach. Participants described their sex education as being heteronormative and exclusive of their identities, making them feel invisible in curricula, sexually unprepared, and shameful. Sex education also reportedly contributed to sexual hesitance with members of the same sex, experiences of sexual violence, and risky sexual behaviors (e.g., unprotected sex, hookups, etc.). Participants endorsed histories of depression, anxiety, and suicidality, often associated with their identity and general exclusion. To become more informed and sexually prepared, they sought information through conversations with others, online searching, college courses, and trial and error sexual experiences. Participants also advocated for inclusive sex education, which would incorporate all sexual identities and associated safe sex practices. They concluded that inclusivity in curricula could lead to various improved outcomes for SMs, such as safer sex, a sense of community, identity confidence, healthy relationships, and general resilience.

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Alyssa Neumann
Runner-up

Alyssa Neumann
Antidepressants During Pregnancy: Safer for Baby than Depression?
Maternal prenatal depression is a significant public health concern, given documented associations with temperamental negative emotionality, childhood behavior problems, and lifelong mental health risk in offspring. Currently, frontline treatments for clinical depression typically include the use of medication, the most frequently prescribed being selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. However, in utero SSRI exposure has been linked with deleterious effects both on physiologic development and on temperament characteristics detected as early as infancy. The current study involved regression analyses with data from a sample of 100 pregnant women, 37 of whom were being treated with SSRI antidepressants. Fetal middle cerebral artery pulsatility, a measure of brain bloodflow taken via ultrasound in the 2nd trimester, was examined as it can reflect a “brain-sparing” effect in adverse uterine conditions. The Infant Behavior Questionnaire was used to measure infant temperament at 3 and 6 months of age by mother self-report. Maternal depression symptoms were controlled for and pulsatility was considered as a moderator of SSRI exposure effects on infant temperament at 6 months. Higher fetal cerebral blood flow significantly predicted heightened fearful reactivity in infants. An interaction between SSRI exposure and pulsatility trended toward significance in models predicting fear and ability to be soothed when in distress; however, trending effects became significant when depression effects were not controlled. These findings suggest the risks associated with depression may outweigh the risks of its medical treatment, though the effects of both are complex, involving multiple systems. Future research is needed to inform clinical decision-making regarding the use of SSRI medications to treat prenatal depression. Interdisciplinary work must also investigate physiologic processes that underlie such “fetal programming” effects.

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Amy Nusbaum
People's Choice

Amy Nusbaum
Chronic Cannabis Users Use Different Means to Achieve the Same Cognitive Goals
As recreational use of marijuana becomes increasingly common, there is an urgent need to better understand the long-term consequences of its use. In terms of effects on cognition, the current literature on chronic marijuana use is equivocal. Here we contrast chronic marijuana users and control subjects on multiple measures of cognitive flexibility (CF), the ability to adjust cognitive and behavioral strategies to changing environmental circumstances. We also manipulated acute stress using the Maastricht Acute Stress Test to determine if chronic cannabis use is associated with different physiological and cognitive stress reactions. Self-reported chronic users (N=40) and non-users (N=43) were randomly assigned to stress and control conditions, and then performed two different tasks measuring CF: (a) a well-established task switching measure, which also included assessment of the ability to overcome response competition, and (b) a novel measure of the ability to adjust top-down control of attention with shifts in the validity of cues that predicted the identity of target stimuli. The acute stress manipulation was effective, leading to increased cortisol levels and subjective stress ratings. Chronic cannabis users generally performed well on the CF measures, but tended to use different cognitive strategies than did non-users. Overall, these results suggest that investigations of chronic cannabis use and cognitive functioning should focus less on “good” vs. “bad” performance and more on qualitative differences in performance.

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Enrique Alvarado

Enrique Alvarado
A Property of Smoothed Images
In our day-to-day life, there is always a need to filter out certain information about the world around us that is not particularly useful at the moment. Perhaps, that peculiar looking leaf on the ground is not useful information when walking across a busy road! If we want computers to be successful at completing a particular task, we usually need methods for getting rid of information that is not useful for the success of completing that task. If a computer is given the task to analyze pictures, because pictures can come out blurry and noisy, we need to come up with ways to denoise images before we let the computers perform further analysis. One particular way to denoise an image is by using what is called the ‘L1-TV Functional’. This method takes an image, rounds out corners, takes away small specks, and leaves a cleaned-up, smooth version of the original image. We will see how this cleaned-up version of the image has a property called “reach bounded from below”; a property that is useful for performing further analysis.

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Joseph Hantho

Joseph Hantho
A Comparison of Enzyme-Directed Pro-Immunostimulants for Cancer Immunotherapy
Herein, we propose the synthesis and activity of enzyme-directed pro-immunostimulants to determine their efficacy cancer immunotherapy. Immunostimulants have long shown efficacious anticancer effects, but intravenous administration yields systemic toxicity. Prodrugs have recently shown promise in cancer therapy by caging a cytotoxic drug with a substrate that is specific to the tumor microenvironment, thus mitigating toxicity, and allows for release of the cytotoxic payload only within the tumor microenvironment. Previously, substrate cages for beta-galactosidase, alpha-mannosidase, and nitroreductase enzymes have been employed for enzyme-directed targeting approaches. However, the bystander effect, the phenomenon when a prodrug is activated by one cell and interacts with or kills another, has shown off-target toxicity in surrounding tissues caused by diffusion of the drug away from tumor cells. By using a caged immunostimulant, diffusion of the active immunostimulant would be desirable, as immune cells are commonly found in or surrounding tumor microenvironements. Additionally, we could harness the anticancer potential of immunostimulants while mitigating off-target systemic toxicity. Modification of the critical moiety of a known immunostimulant, either through oxidation or by covalent attachment of an enzyme-cleavable cage, will selectively activate anticancer immune responses only in the presence of the corresponding enzyme. We expect to see various levels of anticancer immune responses due to differences in activities of the respective enzymes in cancer cells. To test this hypothesis, we will synthesize a small library of enzyme-directed imidazoquinolines with cages for beta-galactosidase, alpha-mannosidase, and nitroreductase, and compare their conversion by exogenous enzymes ex vivo and native enzymes upregulated in cancer cells in vitro.

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Kimberly Lackey

Kimberly Lackey
Leprosy and Human Milk – Exploring the Unknown
Leprosy is a disfiguring disease that still affects hundreds of thousands of people, most of whom are among the poorest of the poor. It is also one of the world’s the most stigmatized diseases; people with leprosy are often ousted from their families and communities and are frequently left destitute. The good news is that leprosy is curable, and the World Health Organization offers free treatment to all diagnosed cases. The bad news is that we still do not know how leprosy is transmitted from one person to another. Until recently, most experts believed that leprosy was transmitted by direct contact between infected and healthy persons. More recently, the possibility of transmission by respiratory route has gained ground. We hypothesize that an unappreciated mode of leprosy infection is breastfeeding, and that milk produced by infected women can contain Mycobacterium leprae, the bacterium that causes the disease. Using molecular techniques that I helped develop, I am investigating this hypothesis in collaboration with clinicians and researchers at Anandaban Hospital outside of Kathmandu, Nepal. The study is ongoing, but the results will likely impact recommendations for treatment of breastfeeding women and their infants in leprosy-endemic regions around the globe.

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Maren Mossman

Maren Mossman
Using Ultracold Atoms to Study Quantum Mechanics
In classical physics, the behavior of matter is relatively well understood. However, under extreme conditions, such as small dimensions or ultracold temperatures, matter behaves differently. The corresponding theory, quantum mechanics, describes a mysterious and complex world, riddled with concepts and phenomena that are not well understood. With the general trend of technology becoming smaller, it is crucial to understand the physics encountered on the nanoscale. By cooling down large collections of atoms to temperatures near absolute zero, we are able to study macroscopic quantum systems with extreme control and tunability. Ultracold atoms ultimately bring the quantum world to our fingertips.

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Anna Pratt

Anna Pratt
Building an Organelle-specific artificial microRNA Library to Identify Elusive Chloroplast Transporters in Arabidopsis Thaliana
The conversion of light energy into chemical energy through photosynthesis is the foundation of life on Earth. However, our understanding of this process remains far from complete. Filling the gaps in knowledge regarding this fundamental process will benefit humankind in a myriad of ways ranging from securing food production to creating artificial photosynthetic devices to harness light energy. Key to deciphering photosynthesis is to gain a holistic understanding of the organelle called the chloroplast, which houses the pathway in plant and algal cells. My current project addresses two questions: 1) Can I build a genetic tool to accelerate my own research on photosynthesis and the chloroplast that simultaneously empowers other plant scientists? 2) What role does the second messenger calcium (Ca2+) play in attuning photosynthesis to changing light conditions? A major role for Ca2+ transients in regulating photosynthetic efficiency has been suggested many times; for instance, as a switch between carbon fixation and carbon catabolism or directly through the oxidation of water by photosystem II. In nature, quickly changing light conditions make it crucial that Ca2+ flux across several chloroplast membranes occurs almost instantaneously. Rapid Ca2+ flux can be facilitated only by specialized chloroplast Ca2+ transporters. However, traditional genetic tools have failed to identify their genes. To overcome this hurdle, I have constructed a chloroplast specific artificial microRNA expression library that can suppress entire gene families from a single construct. As this avoids pitfalls of traditional genetic tools, it will empower other plant scientists working on chloroplasts. In the next step of my project, I will combine a Ca2+ sensor with my library tool in a high-throughput approach to identify the genes that facilitate calcium flux in the chloroplast. This molecular tool promises to be a useful and valuable piece in the toolbox of plant geneticists and could be a starting point for unpacking many diverse physiological processes.

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Brian Stack

Brian Stack
"In Certain Western Areas of the United States”: Bestiality, Animals, and Sexuality in the Twentieth-Century American West
In 1948, Alfred Kinsey claimed that sixty-five percent of men engaged in bestiality “in certain Western areas of the United States.” While this dissertation does not posit that bestiality was more common in the American West than any other region of the country, it does explore why Kinsey would make such a claim and the implications of his findings. This study charts both the actual occurrence of bestiality in the American West and Americans’ changing ideas about bestiality in the region from the 1880s to the 1970s.
As of 2018, bestiality is technically legal in five states—Hawaii, Kentucky, New Mexico, West Virginia, and Wyoming. During the time period examined here, several other states, in the west and elsewhere, decriminalized bestiality, but recriminalized it in the mid-2000s. Whether to classify bestiality, as a “sex” crime, as animal abuse, or even a crime at all, is a historical question that has not been resolved. This dissertation seeks to do so.
I demonstrate how sexologists and other medical professionals created ideas about animal abuse, bestiality, and the people who engaged in them; in the process, helping to erase bestiality as a serious concern in the minds of criminologists and legislators. I explore how and why animal welfare advocates did not challenge those definitions and generally avoided expanding their purview to include cases of bestiality. I also show how ideas about and associations between sexuality, animals, and bestiality were reproduced in American popular culture and associated especially with the American West. Most significantly, I argue that modern American ideas about, and western American regulation of, bestiality, sexual behavior, and animal abuse coalesced and converged with changing perceptions of same-sex sex and animal welfare, explaining that modern sexual identities and animal welfare protections grew up in tandem.

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