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Student Summer Research Projects

Studies cover antibiotic resistant bacteria, skin cancer genetics, and suburban poverty, among other topics.

Studies cover antibiotic resistant strains of the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, skin cancer genetics, and suburban poverty, among other topics.

This summer, eight undergraduate students are conducting full-time research that will lead to significant scholarly or creative work, thanks to the fourth annual fellowship program offered by the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies, the AU Summer Scholars and Artists Fellowship.

Each of the fellows receives $4,000 to support his or her project and will work closely with a faculty mentor. The projects may be jointly conducted or authored with faculty members, but the final product has to show evidence of significant original work by the fellow.

Below are the names of the 2014 American University Summer Scholars and Artists and brief descriptions of their projects, edited for clarity. The projects focus on widely varying topics, including the genetic influences on skin cancer, a different approach to Gothic literary criticism, suburban poverty, and antibiotic resistance.

Anand Adhikari, Class of 2016

During the past 30 years, the incidence of skin cancer has nearly doubled. More than 2 million people are diagnosed with skin cancer annually. Understanding the genes that contribute to skin cancer development is vital to the design of improved therapeutics. The Tpl2 gene has been reported as a tumor suppressor gene in skin cancer. Certain individuals with a mutation or absence of the Tpl2 gene are more prone to skin cancer development and metastasis. However, how the absence of this gene increases susceptibility to skin cancer has not been fully explained. We propose to compare skin cells from normal mice and mice missing the Tpl2 gene to look for pathway alterations between the two. The data resulting from this comparison will help identify which cancer-related pathways are increased in Tpl2 knockout mice so that better drugs that block these pathways can be designed.

Madison Chapman, Class of 2015

Chapman hopes to expand upon a paper she developed through her honors independent study this semester, which proposes a theory of victimization in Gothic literature based on Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto. Professor Richard Sha will guide Chapman through a rigorous research plan so she can advance her paper to a level worthy of submission for potential publication in a literary criticism journal. Chapman also hopes to enrich her project and situate herself within relevant scholarly conversation about Gothic literature by attending sessions at the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism Conference, which Professor Sha will co-chair in July.

Grant Conway, Class of 2016

The geography of American poverty is popularly understood to be in inner cities and rural communities. However, the landscape of poverty has shifted from inner cities into suburbia as seen with the suburban low-income population increase by 53 percent compared to the 23 percent rise in cities since 2000. Despite this demographic change, many federal and state antipoverty programs and policies still disproportionally focus on inner city poverty. Conway’s study seeks to use the lens of local leaders to understand how local governments are responding to the new landscape of suburban poverty within the traditional infrastructure of poverty alleviation.

Brian Dizio, Class of 2015

Acoustic Multipath Echo Detection (AMPED) aims to characterize the signature of a rotating object in an environment with echo reflections from multiple obstacles, using an inverse synthetic aperture system. Doppler shifts of non-rotating objects have been studied previously, but Dizio’s aim is to extend previous work by remodeling detection processing algorithms. Dizio’s research could apply to wind turbines near airports where large, rotating, turbine blades interfere with radar signals to planes. These new sonar techniques could characterize this interference well enough to be used in mitigation algorithms. Dizio will present simulations of rotating objects in order to test novel, candidate detection processing algorithms on known signals. One candidate algorithm under development inputs parameters from the sonar system and outputs position of the target, centroid, and objects. Dizio envisions that this will lead to tests of the algorithms on sonar data collected from physical experiments.

Emily Ellis, Class of 2015

Wage differentials exist between gay men and heterosexual men, and lesbians and heterosexual women. While gay men receive a wage discount, lesbians actually earn a wage premium. These differences suggest that wage differentials are not explicitly connected to discrimination against behaviorally gay individuals. This project investigates the causes of these differentials. Using data from the General Social Survey, Ellis will utilize Propensity Score Matching to perform this analysis. She will examine personal characteristics of individuals, in addition to standard wage controls. This approach has not yet been used in the study of wage differentials for gays and lesbians. Understanding the forces that determine wage differentials for behaviorally gay individuals is important to generating fair and equitable labor market conditions for this population.

Katie Hyde, December 2015

El Salvador’s relative peace following the 2012 gang truce has been attributed to many factors, including the influence of the Catholic Church. While scholars have examined the role of the Church in official negotiations, no research has explored the role of Catholic clergy at a local level who cement, implement, and garner support for the truce. This study examines the role of Salvadoran parish priests in promoting peace in their communities through their roles as mediators, leaders, and spiritual guides. Through a series of detailed interviews with Catholic priests, politicians, and Church leaders, this study will take a more nuanced view of the Church’s commitment to peace

Monika Gasiorek, Class of 2015

The effectiveness of commonly used antibiotics is steadily declining with the growing resistance of infectious agents. An example of a strain of bacteria in particular interest to Gasiorek’s work is Staphylococcus aureus, which has the ability to produce impenetrable biofilms. Finding out how antimicrobial compounds interact with infectious species to bring about resistance is indispensable for the production of new, effective antibiotics. Consequently, Gasiorek will synthesize a novel class of antimicrobial â-lactams in order to test for biofilm initiation and to biotinylate (a process in biochemistry) for determination of their cellular target.

Alex Gotowski, Class of 2015

This project focuses on understanding the dynamics of noncoding DNA regions known as SINEs, specifically those found in felid (cat) species. With the help of computational techniques Gotowski endeavors to determine phylogenetic histories (the evolutionary history of a specific kind of organism) of these elements, and to discover what role they play in genetic functioning. Implications of this research include a better understanding of processes such as neurodegeneration (degeneration of nervous system tissue) and neuroplasticity (ability nervous tissue to change to adapt to new information and situations).