Samples of Student Work

Samples of Student Work : Student abstracts reproduced with permission.

Alexandra Brocato, Class of 2018, Siemens Semi-finalist, Regeneron Top Scholar, Neuroscience Research Prize national finalist
“Illuminating non-neuromuscular phenotypes and their temporal trajectory in Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) using electronic health records”
Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a recessive genetic disease targeting motor neurons (MNs) in the spinal cord that results from decreased survival of motor neuron (SMN) protein. SMA is the leading genetic cause of infant mortality, affecting approximately 1 in 10,000 babies in the U.S. Promising therapeutics increase production of SMN protein, preserving MN levels and delaying neuromuscular phenotypes. However, to be effective, therapies should be administered pre-symptomatically, before significant cellular death. Unfortunately, if given too early, potential side effects could be more harmful to less severe, later onset cases of SMA. Without a clear disease trajectory, developing relevant treatments become nearly impossible. Furthermore, since current treatments focus specifically on motor neurons, effective interventions may need to also address phenotypes outside the nervous system. Our study is the first of its kind to characterize SMA disease progression across both neuromuscular and non-neuromuscular phenotypes and to create a timeline of their trajectories. Focusing on 860 SMA individuals, extracted from a population of 45 million registered Aetna Insurance record holders, we conducted all data analysis in R, a programming language for statistical computing. Using this approach, we provide a framework for pre-symptomatic identification of patients who could benefit from preventative medicine. By understanding phenotype trajectories, therapeutics can be developed and administered before major inflection points in SMA without harming individuals with quality years of life remaining before symptom onset.

Mentors: Dr. Lee Rubin and Dr. Scott Lipnick, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

Alexis Aberman, Class of 2018, Regeneron Scholar
“A direct comparison of infants’ comprehension of unique versus generic versions of objects”
Infants learn about abstract, generic categories in language through exposure to unique exemplars. In order for humans to use language effectively, they need the ability to make abstractions. There are few studies that examine infants’ ability to make abstractions. This study tested if 15 infants (12-18 months) had the ability to comprehend abstract ideas in language. In a looking-while-listening procedure, infants were directed to look at one of two images. In half of the trials, the two distinct images were of the baby’s own, unique items, while in the other half, the two images were the generic versions of the same objects that the infant had not previously been exposed to. Infants’ success was measured by the corrected proportion of target-looking after receiving instruction to look at the target image. Infants were found to show a greater proportion of target-looking in the unique trials, although there was no significant difference in the infants’ proportion of target-looking between unique and generic trials. Because infants demonstrated a better understanding of their own, unique objects, this study may suggest the existence of a milestone in their ability to make abstractions and must be further confirmed through a larger study. A more precise understanding of the major milestones in language development could aid in both our knowledge and treatment of developmental delays, as well as give us a better understanding of how infants view the world around them.

Mentor: Dr. Joy Bergelson, Duke University, Durham, NC

Jeremy Ma, Class of 2018, Regeneron Scholar, Neuroscience Research Prize national finalist
“Perceptual interactions in visual depth perception: A quantitative EEG study”
Percepts of different sensory modalities have been shown to interact with one another. Previous studies have qualitatively looked into the results of the interactions between stereo depth and specific pictorial depth cues, but failed to address the interaction themselves. My study will quantitatively investigate perceptual interactions between pictorial (two dimensional) and stereo (three dimensional) depth perception, the combination of which I term combined depth perception. Using a steady-state visually evoked potential (SSVEP) paradigm and a high density EEG net, the neural activity of eight subjects was recorded during the alternation and detection of different types of depth. I proposed and implemented the Relative Peak Strength variable, in order to quantitatively compare and plot the response strengths of each electrode. The perception of pictorial depth was observed to induce neural activity in the ventral stream, while stereo depth was observed to induce activity in the dorsal stream, suggesting these percepts have different functions when perceiving depth. The heat map for combined depth perception was significantly different from the mere sum of pictorial and stereo depth, suggesting combined depth behaves like a Gestalt, in which pictorial depth and stereo depth are not processed parallel to each other. Furthermore, heat maps of combined depth resembled the heat maps of stereo depth scenarios, suggesting stereo depth is the predominant type of depth perceived in combined depth. Pictorial depth was also observed to lower neural activity when comparing different amounts of depth; but has no major contributions when detecting depth. These results suggest that pictorial depth can have different roles on combined depth depending on the task; for example, pictorial depth can play a supplementary role when comparing depth, but have no influence when detecting depth. When pictorial depth is not able to supplement stereo depth, the increased amount of neural activity could be a crucial reason of visual fatigue when viewing stereoscopic displays. This connection between depth percepts and streams should be further investigated, as it can lead to a better understanding of the perceptual mechanisms underlying the reconstruction of the visual world.

Mentor: Dr. Pawan Sinha, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA

Alexandra Remnitz, Class of 2018, Neuroscience Research National Finalist and Presenter at the American Academy of Neurology
“Behavioral lateralization and scototaxis unaltered by near future ocean acidification conditions in Poecilia latipinna (Sailfin Molly)”
Rising anthropogenic emissions of CO2 have increased ocean acidity by 25% (NOAA, 2017). In more than 40 studies to date on fish, including species of coral reef and pelagic fish, this increase in CO2 has been shown to alter behavior related to specific sensory systems, such as olfactory, auditory, and visual, in addition to behaviors representing broader cognitive function such as learning, activity, and boldness. The underlying cause behind these behavioral disruptions is hypothesized to be the alteration of ion gradients across the GABAA receptor, the major inhibitory neurotransmitter found throughout the vertebrate nervous system. There are few studies that examine CO2-induced behavioral alterations in estuarine species, specifically fish that regularly experience diel and seasonal CO2 fluctuations in their natural environment. This study examined the effects of predicted near-future CO2 concentrations (~1000 µatm) on behavioral lateralization and scototaxis of the Sailfin Molly (Poecilia latipinna). Behavioral lateralization is the tendency of an individual to favor one side of the body and scototaxis refers to light/dark preference and is a proxy for anxiety measurements. Elevated CO2 levels were not found to affect these behaviors in this understudied species. Findings from this study suggest the Sailfin Molly could be more resilient to high CO2 levels in comparison to other tested species; however, more research is needed to fully assess behavioral tolerance. These novel findings may inspire researchers to further explore the mechanisms leading to species-specific differences in behavioral tolerance, potentially allowing for better assessment of adaptive capacity. Understanding resilience in various species of fish may aid in the maintenance of biodiversity throughout the changing oceanic environment.

Mentors: Dr.Rachael Heuer and Martin Grosell, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Miami, Miami,

Audrey Saltzman, Class of 2017, Regeneron Finalist
“Swift XRT and UVOT investigation of low-mass X-ray binary 1RXS J180408.9-342058
The radii of neutron stars are difficult to determine, and there is little consensus as to the correct models for neutron star spectra. Here, the spectra of observations taken by the Swift Xray Telescope (XRT) of the neutron star in the low-mass X-ray binary (LMXB) 1RXS J180408.9-342058 were analyzed, and the neutron star’s radius values were calculated for each observation using the spectral continuum method. The spectra were best modeled using a blackbody to account for thermal emission and a power law to account for inverse Comptonization. The model’s parameter values and the radius are reported for each of the observations providing a longer term look at the star’s behavior. Physically realistic radius values could not be calculated as the color correction factor is unknown; therefore, the color correction factor’s minimum and maximum values were determined using realistic radius values from the literature. A burst rate of one per 4,168 seconds was calculated. Furthermore, this study is one of the first to trace the UV and X-ray thermal evolution simultaneously for a LMXB with a transient, occasionally outbursting, neutron star. In one of the clearest detections to date, the UV flux was determined to be due to reprocessed emission.

Mentor: Dr. Jon Miller, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI

Michelle Morgenthal, Class of 2017
“Identifying protective and risk factors associated with behavioral misadventure in high sensation seeking adolescents”
This study examines a cohort of vulnerable adolescents, due to their high sensation seeking tendencies. The goal is to characterize the protective and risk factors associated between youth high in sensation seeking and low behavioral misadventure (HSS/LBM) in contrast with those high in sensation seeking and high in behavioral misadventure (HSS/HBM). These cohorts are important because previous research has mostly focused on high versus low risk takers without taking sensation seeking into account. However, this distinct identification of cohorts can help inform prevention methods more effectively by looking at those who would be willing to take risks, but somehow hold themselves back. A secondary data analysis was conducted, drawing on subsample of data derived from wave one of the Adolescent Health Risk Behavior Study (N = 2017) at the University of Michigan, headed by Dr. Daniel Keating. A modified version of the Brief Sensation Seeking Scale (mBSSS) and the Behavioral Misadventure Scale (BMS) were used in this study to identify both groups for comparison with demographic characteristics as well as protective and risk factors associated with adolescent risk behavior. ANCOVA and MANCOVA were used to contrast the HSS/LBM and HSS/HBM groups across these factors. There were four significant findings. First, race was a significant demographic factor (p < .001, Φ = .35), with Caucasians more likely to be in the HSS/HBM group than African Americans or Asians. Second, BMI (p = .035, Φ = .12) was identified as a protective factor against unsafe risk participation; those who were overweight were more likely to be in the HSS/LBM group. Next, although hypothesized that Physical Activity would be a protective factor, it was found to be a significant risk factor (p = .001, r = .20), as those who reported less exercise were more likely to be in the HSS/LBM group. In contradiction with previous research, Supportive Family Context, Pubertal Timing, School Engagement, Peer Influence, Socioeconomic Status, and Religiosity had null effects on the placement of adolescents in the HSS/LBM or HSS/HBM group. We conclude with plausible rationales for our results.

Mentors: Dr. Edward Huntley, Dr. Daniel P. Keating and Dr. Meghan Martz, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor,

Isabelle Chong, Class of 2017
“Using an Inertial Navigation System (INS) and a Laser Range Finder (LRF) to create a novel Electronic Navigational Aid (ENA) for the blind”
The current navigation aid of choice for the blind is the white cane, which, although lightweight and easy to acquire, has a limited range and requires extensive training to use. While Electronic Navigational Aids (ENAs) have been developed to improve upon the white cane, the need for certain environmental conditions and preconfigured infrastructure in some approaches (e.g., radio frequency identification and structured light) remains an issue. My objectives were to (1) design the conceptual and mathematical methodology of an ENA for device location and obstacle detection without the use of preconfigured infrastructure, (2) build an ENA by combining a Laser Range Finder (LRF) and an Inertial Navigation System (INS), (3) code a real-time algorithm for obstacle detection and Kalman filtering in C++, and (4) test my ENA’s functionality from both an engineering and human subjects standpoint to obtain quantitative and qualitative feedback. The completed ENA can detect obstacles within a six meter range without preconfigured infrastructure, raising an alarm to the user through sound and haptic feedback if an obstacle has been detected. This device has the potential to provide a robust alternative method of blind navigation in the future.

Mentor: Dr. Yao Wang, New York University School of Engineering

Yasamin Bayley, Class of 2017
“Species-specific responses of coccolithophores’ growth rates and calcification to various light intensities: A comparative study of the species Emiliania huxleyi and Coccolithus pelagicus”
Coccolithophores are a type of single-celled marine phytoplankton vital to the biogeochemical cycles of the ocean, specifically the sinking of inorganic carbon. Due to current projections of increasing surface water temperatures, coccolithophores may begin to shift their position upward in the water column, resulting in exposure to higher light intensities. Coccolithophores have been noted to have somewhat contradictory responses to changes in their environment. It is postulated that this difference in responses is due to the species-specific responses coccolithophores seem to have. We seek to determine how two different species of coccolithophores (Emiliania huxleyi and Coccolithus pelagicus) respond to varying light intensities. Specifically, we looked at how these two species’ growth rates and calcification differed at these varying intensities. We used cell counts to determine growth rates and scanning electron microscopy to determine structural changes that high light intensities have caused on each species. We found that Emiliania huxleyi’s growth rate and photosynthesis are largely unaffected by a high light intensity, whereas we present the novel finding that Coccolithus pelagicus produces more calcite per cell at high light, but fewer cells per ml (less calcite per ml than at a low light). We provide further evidence to address the question of why coccolithophores evolved to calcify. We note a correlation between coccolith production and light intensity, which suggests that the production of coccoliths may be triggered by high levels of light. Additionally, this finding suggests that the current increases in surface water temperature may have wider implications in the ecosystem overall, such as a decrease in the downward flux of calcite to the benthic levels.

Mentor: Dr Glen Wheeler, Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, Plymouth, UK

Brian Singer, Class of 2016

"To Brux or not to Brux: The Development of Two Novel, Non-Invasive Devices for the Detection of Bruxism"
Bruxism is a disorder in which a patient excessively grinds or clenches their teeth. Symptoms include tooth wear, headaches, back pain, and neck pain. The most common method of treating bruxism is through the use of a mouthguard. The mouthguard does not cure bruxism but only prevents the symptom of tooth wear. Researchers have attempted to reduce bruxism through biofeedback systems. Current bruxism biofeedback devices such as intra-oral pressure sensors and EMG-based systems are intrusive to wear. This study proposes two separate, novel devices that detect bruxism in a less-intrusive manner. The first device is EEG-based and collects data from the F7 electrode located above the left ear. The device uses a machine-learning discriminant-analysis algorithm to detect bruxism from the EEG data. The second device uses Eulerian Video Magnification to amplify temporal color changes in the masseter muscle as seen in a video recording (or live video feed) of bruxism. Both techniques appear to be novel approaches for the detection of bruxism. Both devices were compared to a commercial bruxism detection device to gauge effectiveness and obtain qualitative feedback. Both of the proposed devices demonstrated statistically significant improved efficacy while being less intrusive when compared to the commercially available device.

Jessica Occiogrosso, Class of 2014

"The Involvement of Inflammation in the Intervertebral Disc’s Altered Response to Mechanical Load"
Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is a condition in which a patient experiences pain from a damaged intervertebral disc. This disease affects nearly 80% of the population (Kelly, 2012). Surgical treatments for DDD focus on immediate symptom alleviation as opposed to restoration of the disc’s anti-catabolic phenotype. With this study, cow tail disc tissue sections were stained using antibodies specific for two different proteins – an integrin and an ion channel (two different types of molecules that allow the disc to come in contact with its external environment). The expression of these proteins between groups where the discs were exposed to different stimuli- a pro-inflammatory cytokine and/or a mechanical load- were compared in order to ultimately draw conclusions about their roles in the onset of disc degeneration. The results showed that, when comparing the percentage of the inflammatory molecule (TNF?) that got into the cells with the subsequent percentage expression of either protein, there was a statistically significant positive correlation between the expression of TNF? and increased expression of TRPV4. This suggests that TRPV4 may play an important role in the pathogenesis of disc degeneration, suggesting that this molecule could be targeted to stop pain associated with DDD.

Mentors: Dr. James Iattridis and Benjamin Walter, Mt. Sinai Medical School, New York, NY

Adam Ingber, Class of 2014
"Cerebrospinal fluid biomarkers and reserve variables as predictors of future “non-cognitive” outcomes of Alzheimer’s disease"
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a devastating neurodegenerative disease that affects a steadily increasing portion of the elderly. It is imperative that early detection and treatment strategies be developed to identify the disease in its early stages and begin potential therapeutic options to halt or prevent conversion from preclinical to symptomatic AD. Using longitudinal data from participants enrolled in studies at the Washington University Knight ADRC, I used linear mixed models to examine the way in which cognitive and brain reserve variables mediate how AD biomarker levels in cognitively normal persons predict future changes in function, weight, mood, and behavior. While education was not shown to have a significant effect on predicting future non-cognitive decline with time, total brain volume exhibited a strong and significant effect when combined with biomarker values to predict decline due to AD over time. My findings suggest that brain reserve plays a stronger role than cognitive reserve in building protection against non-cognitive impairment in AD. This study will contribute to the growing literature on predictive biomarker models of AD and may aid in the future development of individualized risk profiles that can predict future consequences of AD years in advance, with tremendous potential medical and financial implications.

Mentor: Dr. Catherine M. Roe, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO

Nicole Pollack, Class of 2011
"Determining Optimal Characteristics of Monoclonal and Polyclonal Anti-METH Antibodies Through Affinity Analysis"
In immunotherapy, if an addict self-administers METH the antibodies will bind with high affinity to the METH molecules and prevent them from entering the brain; this eliminates METH’s euphoric effects. Without reward, the addict can more quickly learn not to use METH. Antibody affinity is measured by the magnitude of the dissociation constant (KD) of antibody in the presence of METH, with a lower KD indicating higher affinity. Based on a theoretical model, it was hypothesized that the most effective anti-METH antibodies would have KD values < 10 nM. However, antibodies for passive immunity tested under simulated human physiological conditions (37°C; pH = 7.3; 0.15 mM NaCl) showed KD values as much as five-fold higher than when KD values were determined at 4°C (standard laboratory condition). Thus, antibodies must have a very low initial KD value (< 2 nM) so that despite the KD increase due to temperature and pH change, the antibody will still be able to confine METH to the serum based upon the theoretical modeling. In this study, KD values were obtained for antibodies generated from active immunization using different antigen synthesis conditions. I found that synthesis conditions with a maleimide to hapten ratio of 240:50 were optimum. Only one of the antibodies in this study had a low enough KD value based on the model to fully contain METH in the serum. Future research should focus on optimizing chemical synthesis of the antigen to generate antibodies tolerant of temperature and pH changes with KD values < 10 nM.

Mentor: Dr. Michael S. Owens
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, AK

Connor Berlin, Class of 2011

"Examining the Influence of Constitutively Activated Akt on Schwann Cell Myelination"
In the most common demyelinating disorder, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), oligodendrocytes of the CNS are damaged and killed by the host's own immune system. While current treatments such as beta interferons have demonstrated an ability to slow progression of MS, the damages to CNS myelin (and concurrent loss of axon function) still remain. The goal of future cellular therapies is to remyelinate CNS axons in which myelin has been completely lost. Schwann cell precursors are good candidates for these cellular therapies. However, the degree of CNS myelin repair achieved by transplanting Schwann cell precursors is still limited. Thus, it has become essential to understand the role of specific molecules/signaling pathways that promote Schwann cell differentiation, survival, and myelination in vivo. This paper examines the potential influence of a specific protein kinase in Schwann cell myelination, known as Akt. To determine Akt's influence, sciatic nerve samples from CNP-MyrAkt and wild type mice were extracted. I teased apart the individual fibers, stained the nerves, and measured for myelin sheath lengths and diameters. Significance of change was analyzed using t tests and ANOVAs. The results revealed that transgenic myelin sheath length was significantly shorter. The data therefore suggested that Akt was acting as a pro-survival factor for Schwann cells.

Mentor: Dr. James Salzer, Salzer Lab, New York University, New York, NY

Lily Kosminsky, Class of 2010

"Assessing the Risk of Stress Shielding in Osseointegrated Transfemoral Implants"

Lower limb prosthetics are currently being developed that attach directly to the skeleton via osseointegration, the phenomenon whereby bone bonds to titanium. This is a promising alternative to traditional socket attachment, which is not an option for patients with high level amputations. One potential problem with osseointegrated prostheses is stress shielding, whereby an implant removes load from the bone, thus weakening it. Stress shielding is known to cause long-term problems including osteonecrosis and aseptic loosening in osseointegrated joint replacements but has not yet been studied in osseointegrated femoral implants. This study identified stress shielding resulting from femoral implants in an ovine model. Both bone porosity and mineral apposition rate, accepted gauges of stress shielding, were analyzed for each implanted bone and compared to the control group. Porosity and mineral apposition rate were greater in the implanted bone, indicating stress shielding did occur. Stress shielding has already been recognized and addressed within the field of osseointegrated joint replacements. This novel study indicates that stress shielding should be considered during the further development of osseointegrated lower limb prosthetics and that the bone quality of patients who are already using early versions of these prosthetics should be closely monitored.

Mentor(s): Dr. Roy D. Bloebaum, University of Utah Medical Center, Salt Lake City, UT

Rachel Cawkwell, Class of 2010

"Effect of Tumor Microvesicles on Macrophages in Cancer"
A normal, though understudied, physiological process is the shedding of microvesicles, membranous sacs, from cells. These microvesicles are representative of the cell type they are derived from and can transfer membrane receptors, proteins, mRNA, and organelles in the derived cell. Microvesicles are found in higher numbers in cancer patients and appear to be a vital method of communication for tumors. This project studies how microvesicles work as tumor messengers with regard to macrophages. Macrophages are a type of white blood cell that the tumor uses to direct processes such as blood vessel recruitment and invasion of other tissues. Tumor microvesicles were isolated to see whether they could transfer mRNA to macrophages and increase macrophage proliferation and migration. The tumor microvesicles did transfer mRNA to macrophages as confocal microscopy and qRT-PCR revealed uptake of fluorescence expressing mRNA from microvesicles. A proliferation assay showed no significant change in macrophage proliferation, but an invasive assay demonstrated that tumor microvesicles can increase macrophage migration. This means that tumor microvesicles could potentially recruit macrophages to the primary tumor site, perhaps by transferring mRNA. Further investigation into the details of tumor microvesicle-macrophage communication should confirm and extend these results.

Mentors: Dr. David Lyden and Dr. Hector Peinado Selgas, Weill Medical College of Cornell, New York, NY

Samantha Sanders, Class of 2009

“Efficient Silencing of the Bcl-2 Oncogene through the Unassisted Delivery of Antisense Oligodeoxyribonucleotides G3139 and SPC2996”
Oligodeoxyribonucleotides, or short molecules comprised of DNA sequences, can effectively silence specific genes by inhibiting mRNA translation. Two common oligodeoxyribonucleotides are G3139 and SPC2996, both of which target the Bcl-2 oncogene. These oligos had previously been delivered with a lipid carrier to offset hypothesized interference posed by the cell membrane. We attempted to disprove the necessity of such a carrier by evaluating the efficacy of unassisted delivery. When delivered without lipid carriers, G3139 and SPC2996 produced Bcl-2 protein and mRNA downregulation in multiple cell lines. These findings indicate that unassisted delivery facilitates oligonucleotide gene silencing. G3139 and SPC2996 also produced few off-target effects, i.e. no downregulation in non-targeted proteins. Further investigation concerning naked oligonucleotide uptake in cells also revealed that oligonucleotides work with the cytoplasmic enzyme Ago2 to inhibit mRNA translation, though the RNase H enzyme had been thought previously to play this role.

Mentor: Cy A. Stein, M.D., Ph.D. Professor of Medicine, Urology, and Molecular Pharmacology Montefiore Medical Center
University Hospital of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York, NY

Rachel Schuman, Class of 2009

"Identifying Antigen Markers on the Cell Surface of Cancer Stem Cell Population Isolated from Ovarian Cancer Cell Lines OVCAR3 and OVCAR5"
Cancer stem cells (CSCs) found in multiple types of cancer, are a small population of cells that are hypothesized to be responsible for initiation, maintenance and metastasis of cancer. It has been demonstrated that conventional cancer therapy, specifically chemotherapy, fails to completely eradicate the CSC population. Two populations, CSCs and resulting differentiated cells, were isolated from ovarian cancer cell lines OVCAR3 and OVCAR5 in this experiment. These experimental cell lines were exposed to known primary antibodies, and analyzed using flow cytometry (FACS). The antigen-antibody complexes that formed revealed specific protein markers present on the cell surface of both populations. GM2 and Muc1 were of interest as clear differences in expression were observed when comparing the two populations of cancer cells with respective to OVCAR3 and OVCAR5. Results showed that as CSCs differentiate, their molecular nature changes; either antigen expression is maintained, a new antigen reveals itself, or antigen expression is lost. This demonstrates that there is a clear distinction between the two populations. The identification of GM2 specifically on the CSC surface, contributes towards the development of a more advanced cancer vaccine that will target both the CSC population and the differentiated cell populations in order to stimulate a stronger immune response.

Mentor(s): Dr. Philip Livingston and Mr. Dean George, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY

Stephanie Doctor, Class of 2009

"Handedness in Grooming Behavior of Gelada Baboons (Theropithecus gelada) and its Relation to the Emergence of Language in Humans"
Allo-grooming, or the grooming of others, is a mechanism for creating and servicing relationships, which in turn create alliances that are essential for survival. These alliances allow primates to form larger groups, which are beneficial in defense against predators. Groups face a cognitive limit on the number of relationships any individual can keep track of. However, the efficiency of grooming restricts group size further – at a point the groups become so large that maintaining them becomes a time burden, and the groups may be forced to divide. Therefore, grooming by itself is not efficient enough to allow groups to reach full cognitive potential. Dunbar (1993) proposed that language emerged in early humans as a more efficient mechanism for bonding, especially in the context of larger social networks. As language and handedness are both somewhat lateralized functions in the brain, similar hemispheric control of the two would suggest a common origin, and therefore would be tempting support of Dunbar’s proposal. This observational study, which I created independently, investigates handedness in allo-grooming of gelada baboons, in search of a common origin in brain control with language. Gelada behavior was recorded on camera at the Bronx Zoo. The data suggest a preference for right-handedness. This pilot study should be replicated with a greater subject pool to allow for in-depth quantitative analysis of this trend.

Mentor: Florence Klecha, LVT, Bronx Zoo, Bronx, NY

Eli Kosminsky, Class of 2009

"World of Warcraft: The Viability of Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games as Platforms for Modeling and Evaluating Perfect Competition"
World if Warcraft (WOW) is the most popular online game in history, with over 11 million players across the world. The interactions of these players have formed a complex, virtual economy which in many ways behaves like a real world economy. The objective of this study was to determine whether the economy of WOW is a competitive free maket approaching the ideal of perfect competition, and if so, whether it constitutes a suitible platform for further economic research. Data was collected detailing the prices at which selected virtual goods were sold in WOW auction houses, over a period of thirty days. The research concluded that the virtual economy of WOW in most respects behaves like a highly compeitive real world market, and in fact approaches the ideal of perfect competition.


Max Dichter, Class of 2009
"Aerodynamic Efficiency of a Formula Car Front Wing"
Aerodynamics is the study of the motion of fluid around an object by which forces are created. Aerodynamics is crucial to Formula One (F1) car racing as it plays a very influential role in the design of the F1 front wing. In this study, Max tested the aerodynamics of a Formula Renault 98’ front wing. Prior to the study, scale model wing profiles had been constructed out of glass nylon. These were replicated in this study using a Computer Aided Design (CAD) program called SolidWorks. Wing aerodynamics was then tested in a wind tunnel and compared to results from a Computational Fluid Dynamics program (FloWorks). Future research will translate the best design into a full-scale mockup.

Mentor: Dr. Craig Dawson, Automotive Engineering Design, Oxford Brooks University, Oxford, U.K.

Kristy Gardner, Class of 2008

"Nutrient Limitation and Autotoxicity in the Red Tide Dinoflagellate Alexandrium fundyense"

The dinoflagellate Alexandrium fundyense causes harmful algal blooms in the Gulf of Maine that have devastating human health and economic impacts. This study addressed the effects of nutrient deficiency and autotoxicity in A. fundyense. A. fundyense was grown in nine treatments with variable concentrations of nutrients (f/2, f/4, f/20, based on Guillard’s f/2 seawater enrichment) and spent media (0, 50%, 100%) to form a 3x3 factorial system. Data from cell counts and the intracellular probes SYTOX, ELF-97, and SNARF taken over a six week period revealed that the initial division rate was suppressed by percentage spent media in the f/2 and f/4 treatments, but by nutrient deficiency in the f/20 treatments; nutrient limitation was dominant during a second exponential growth phase. Depressed photosynthesis activity and high nitrite concentrations in spent-media treatments suggest that autotoxicity may interfere with nitrite reductase activity, causing nitrogen limitation. Nitrogen limitation induces sexual reproduction in A. fundyense, which causes cyst formation, allowing the cells to survive the winter. This study therefore suggests that autoinhibition in A. fundyense is a self-regulatory measure to allow for survival.

Mentor: Dr. Gary Wickfors, Northeast Fisheries Science Center

Jonathan Kaufman, Class of 2008

"Examining STR-based Genetic Deviation between Indigenous East Asian Populations and their Immigrant Counterparts to Determine the Credibility of Immigrant Derivation in Genetic Anthropology"
To have the potential to examine the intricacies of human history via tangible genetic evidence (through the statistical analysis of genetic samples) has permitted scholars to gain a renewed perspective of previously-unknown historical phenomena. Globalization and urbanization have created a tapestry in which previously-rural native populations have been largely (and in some cases, completely) absorbed into foreign cities. The validity of using data from these immigrants in genetic anthropology studies is questioned as a result of potential founder effects and genetic drift. This research demonstrates that Short Tandem Repeat (STR) polymorphism frequency data extracted from urban second and third generation East Asian immigrant populations (of Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese origin) worldwide generally expresses the same average genetic composition as data retrieved from their indigenous counterparts (from the native nation). Genetic anthropology is thus viable in a situation of overwhelming immigration and urbanization. Genetic frequency data was attained from Yale University’s ALFRED (Allele Frequency Database), a global effort to consolidate forensic and anthropological genetic data onto a single interface.

Mentor: Dr. Kenneth Kidd , Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT

John Granata, Class of 2007

"Improving the Information Transfer Rate of the P300 Speller Brain Computer Interface"
The primary goal of brain-computer interface research is to provide new communication and control alternatives for people with severe neuromuscular disorders that cannot communicate with the external world through normal muscular output channels. The Wadsworth Center P300 Speller brain-computer interface (BCI) enables a user to spell words on a computer screen by detecting patterns in neuronal activity in response to characters flashed on-screen. The classification problem involves identifying which character, in a matrix of flashing on-screen characters, a user is focusing attention on. By detecting which character elicits a P300 brain rhythm, an evoked electrical potential time-locked to the intensification of the character being attended to, an investigator can isolate upon which character in the on-screen matrix a user is focusing attention on, and print this letter to the screen.

In order to detect the presence of a P300 rhythm, the goal is to identify a subset of spacio-time points, extracted from the recorded brain responses to the flashing on-screen characters, that best discriminate between the characters that generate P300 rhythms and those that don’t. In order to address this classification problem, I designed, programmed, and tested new software for the P300 Speller BCI to select the features (spacio-time points) that best predict presence of a P300, and then classify the brain responses as efficiently as I could. All implementation was done in the Matlab 7.0 programming language. After extracting the brain responses associated with the flashing of each character and applying standard filtering and preprocessing to this data, I applied a stepwise removal algorithm to the responses in order to select the “m” most significant time-points for predicting P300 presence. I then implemented a novel leaps and bounds feature selection algorithm, which I applied to these “m” variables, in order to generate the “m”-best subsets of time-points that maximized the Bhattacharya distance between target (P300) and non-target (non-P300) data. A linear multiple regression model was then trained for each of the selected subsets of time-points (features) using class labels {1,-1} for targets and non-targets, respectively. These regression models were then used to predict which character in the matrix of characters that the user was focusing attention on, and results from each model were cross-validated to ensure accuracy. Accuracy was compared to the current system in use at the Wadsworth Center in Albany. To address the issue of increasing speed of the P300 Speller brain-computer interface, a new soft flashing boundary was also implemented in order to make more confident character predictions after obtaining the minimum amount of information necessary from the user. These objectives addressed improving the speed and accuracy of the Wadsworth Center P300 Speller BCI, and the results show that both the new feature selection algorithms and the new intensification boundary increase the information transfer rate (correct characters communicated per minute) of the BCI. Furthermore, the novel leaps and bounds feature selection algorithm shows great promise for the future, and I am currently developing the algorithm to be able to handle more predictor variables than currently shown in this study.

Mentor: Dr. Theresa Vaughan, Wadsworth Center, NYSDOH, Albany, NY