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College of Arts and Sciences Three Minute Thesis

2020 Participants

Robyn Reeve

Robyn Reeve
Biological Sciences
1st Place and People's Choice winner

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Leptin: integrator of immune response and regeneration
One of the major remaining hurdles to understanding why humans cannot regenerate appendages like hands and fingers is understanding how the initial immune response at the wound site prevents regeneration from occurring. Fetal mammals can regenerate more types of tissue than adults but they also heal differently. In order to understand how immune system development affects regeneration, I use the South African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis) as a model organism. These frogs have an immune system that is very similar to humans and also lose the ability to regenerate as the immune system matures. My project focuses on the role of leptin, an important immune system modulator, in integrating the immune responses necessary for regeneration and how its role in regeneration might change with immune system development. I have shown that leptin receptor is expressed differently before and after metamorphosis, the time point that regenerative ability becomes almost nonexistent. My project is focused on establishing direct roles of leptin as an immune integrator of regeneration at different points in immune system development. This will help us to better understand what parts of the immune system are important for regeneration and which prevent regeneration, with important applications in therapies for increasing human regeneration and healing from traumatic injuries.

Cameron Naylor

Cameron Naylor
Chemistry
Runner-up

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Deducing Accurate Ion Mobilities in Complex Atmospheres
For accurate and quantitative assessment of organic material in the soil and atmosphere across the solar system, increased levels of resolution are needed for portable instruments that can withstand harsh conditions. Currently, techniques to analyze extraterrestrial environments are limited to select forms of spectroscopy, low-resolution mass spectrometry, gas chromatographs, and electrochemical measurements. High resolution ion mobility spectrometry (IMS) serves as a fitting candidate largely due to its minimal power and pumping requirements, making it one of the most widely deployed portable analytical techniques on Earth. The benefit of IMS as a technique allows the composition of trace organics in a planet’s soil or atmosphere to be tested on the time scale of milliseconds over a broad range of operating conditions, requiring little to no sample preparation. Due to IMS’s dependence on variables such as pressure, temperature, and drift gas composition, accurately predicting changes in mobilities of ions due to these parameters are key to developing a field-portable IMS for complex environments. However, the foundation of IMS theory is built on using a neat or predefined drift gas, and if measurements in complex atmospheres are to be realized, IMS theory requires expansion to include the capacity to account for measurements using mixed drift gas systems. Depending on the properties of the gas in question, mixing gases may have implications for simulating ion mobilities in unusual gas compositions, such as those found on other planets. The proposed work seeks to explore the feasibility of utilizing of Blanc’s Law to accurately predict mobilities of complex ions in mixed drift gases.

Armina Abbasi

Armina Abbasi
Chemistry

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Is cynomolgus monkey a good surrogate for human aldehyde oxidase dosing?
Once a drug is administered, it is initially passed through the liver as the detoxification organ. Liver is packed with different families of enzymes responsible for modifying any xenobiotic molecule entering our body to make it more soluble and ready to be excreted. Drugs are also considered as xenobiotics and therefore get metabolized and later cleared from our body through enzymes such as aldehyde oxidase. For any new chemical entity (later to become a drug) to be passed onto the clinical trial phase, it has to be tested on microorganisms and animal species. The problem with the drug metabolizing enzyme, aldehyde oxidase, is that no animal species currently exists that is a good representative of the rate of drug metabolism (kinetics) in human. Despite having close to 96% DNA sequence identity between the genes encoding aldehyde oxidase in human and cynomolgus monkey, this species is not a good surrogate for estimating drug clearance in human. In this current project we are looking into the molecular basis of the kinetic differences between human and cynomolgus monkey by performing site directed mutagenesis on human aldehyde oxidase to find the amino acids responsible for making the kinetic behaviors either human-like or monkey-like in this enzyme.

Jordan Boersma

Jordan Boersma
Biological Sciences

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Testosterone induces plumage ornamentation followed by enhanced territoriality in a female songbird
Signaling traits like elaborate plumage ornamentation in birds have intrigued biologists dating back to Darwin and Wallace, leading to the formulation of the theory of sexual selection. While sexual selection has been integral to understanding the evolution of ornamentation in males, females also often express these same traits but have been the subject of few studies. Recent work has found that ornamentation in females generally functions in competition for non-mating resources like territories, yet we know little of the proximate mechanisms underlying expression of competitive traits in females. Across males the expression of sexual and competitive traits, including ornamentation and territoriality, is often mediated by testosterone. In the White-shouldered Fairywren (Malurus alboscapulatus) of New Guinea, females of different subspecies differ in presence or absence of white shoulder patches and melanic plumage, while males are uniformly ornamented. Previous work has shown that ornamented females circulate more testosterone and exhibit more territorial aggression than do unornamented females. We investigated the degree to which testosterone regulates expression of ornamental plumage and territorial behavior by implanting free-living unornamented females with testosterone. Fifteen of twenty testosterone-implanted females replaced plucked brown feathers with white shoulder patch feathers, but generally did not produce melanic plumage characteristic of ornamented females. Testosterone treatment did not elevate territorial behavior prior to production of the plumage ornament and exhaustion of the implant. However, females with experimentally induced ornamentation, but exhausted implants, increased the vocal components of territory defense relative to fully unornamented control and also to testosterone-implanted females. Our results suggest that testosterone induces partial acquisition of the ornamental plumage phenotype, and that ornament expression, rather than testosterone alone, results in elevated territorial behavior.

Allegra Campagna

Allegra Campagna
Psychology

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Parent-Child Interaction Factors: Predictors of Infant Behaviors During the Still-Face Paradigm
Infant vocalizations and motor behaviors are critical signals to caregivers that typically elicit responses from nearby adults. Research has demonstrated mothers with postpartum depression and/or anxiety tend to have lower-quality interactions with their infants. The current study of 79 infant-mother dyads addresses how five factors of parenting (i.e., responsiveness/sensitivity, reciprocity/synchrony, tempo, intensity, and emotional tone) are associated with a variety of behaviors during a task designed to mimic maternal depression and elicit infant distress, the Still-Face Paradigm (SFP). The parent-child interaction factor intensity was positively correlated with infant motor behaviors, including handwaving and hand-to-mouth actions, and tempo was positively correlated with hand-to-mouth infant behaviors. Infant vocalizations were positively associated with sensitively and responsiveness, reciprocity and synchrony, and tone. This pattern of results suggests the quality of caregiver exchanges promote infant motor development and early forms of communication. Ultimately, this work may help to provide mothers with tailored psychoeducation. In addition, early and targeted interventions could be implemented to support parenting deficits (e.g., parental warmth and responsiveness) and alter the trajectory of early motor behaviors and socioemotional developmental.

Robyn Herbert

Robyn Herbert
Psychology

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Age as a Potential Moderator in the Relation Between Executive Dysfunction and ADHD Symptom Severity: A Cross Sectional Study
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a prevalent, impairing disorder that is usually diagnosed in childhood. The cognitive impairments and consequences in school, work, and home life likely stem, in part, from executive functioning deficits. The current study examined ADHD symptom severity as it changes relative to age, executive dysfunction’s relation to ADHD symptom severity, and age as a moderator of that relation. A total of 44 parents of children in a community sample between the ages of 9 and 12 years (child group) and 102 parents of young adults in a community sample between the ages of 18 and 22 years (young adult group) participated in the current study (for a total sample size of 146 participants) via completion of online surveys regarding the variables of interest. Results demonstrated that ADHD symptom severity differed between the two age groups, with the child group demonstrating more severe ADHD symptoms. A significant relation between executive dysfunction and ADHD symptom severity was also found. Although the overall relation between executive dysfunction and ADHD symptom severity was not moderated by age group, exploratory analyses demonstrated that the relation between certain domains of executive function (i.e., poor set shifting, emotional dyscontrol, and initiating difficulties) and ADHD symptom severity was moderated by age. These results have significant clinical implications for academic and home interventions.

Paula Kimmerling

Paula Kimmerling
Mathematics & Statistics

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Average Mixing Matrices of Continuous Quantum Walks
This ongoing research studies the graphs and the associated matrices of continuous quantum walks with the intent of classifying quantum walks according to properties of the adjacency matrix A, and the average mixing matrix M(hat).

Arpita Sinha

Arpita Sinha
Anthropology

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Conjuring Beauty: The Female Fashion Models in India

  • Principal topic
    The proposed project looks at the Indian fashion industry with a primary focus on the female fashion models. Even though fashion models are the most visible laborers in the industry, they have rarely been accounted for in the discourse of fashion in India. Models are deemed hierarchically inferior to actors. Moreover, there is no regulatory body that guards the interest of models as a labor force in the industry; payment varies largely, and often arbitrarily. In such a situation, the present research finds out the place of the female fashion model in the field of fashion, and whether they can have any agency in the negotiation with other forces in the industry. It is also aimed at critically addressing this issue of power imbalance.

  • Method
    Being a former fashion model, my methodology is a mix of autoethnography and case studies. Rather than taking the role of an outsider, I draw from my direct experiences in the industry while critically examining myself as an embedded player within the field of fashion. Apart from the work of the American scholar Ashley Mears, there is no scholarship available on fashion models that is written from an autoethnographic vantage point. But while her work can be used as a starting point, modelling in the Indian fashion industry is vastly different from the West and therefore needs a customized methodological approach. I use participant observation, informal interviewing, and digital forum analysis as primary data collection methods.

  • Results/implications
    Through my study I investigate the role models play in shaping cultural norms of beauty and body image. Also, I highlight the issues surrounding labor laws and payment irregularities. Ultimately, my project is geared towards impacting the discourse around fashion workers in India and inform balanced policy decisions around the same.