RESEARCH PROJECTS

Kathleen Casebeer, ‘17

The Early History of the Study of Chemistry at Albion College
Majors: Chemistry, English

This poster provides a visual overview of the early history of the study of chemistry at Albion College from the mid-1880s to the 1930s. Primary sources from the Albion College Library Archives were used to understand the development of the science curriculum and the beginning of the Albion College Chemistry Department. The historical timeline will include details about the faculty, infrastructure, student involvement, industrial collaborations, and the development of the curriculum and major requirements.

Supported by: FURSCA

 

Scott DesRosiers, ‘15

Alarm Call Modification and Behavioral Responses to Predatory Threats in Breeding House Wrens
Majors: Biology, History

I tested if breeding House Wrens produce unique alarm calls in response to different kinds of nest threats.  House Wrens are faced with many predators, including conspecifics, each requiring a particular response to ensure nestling and parent survival.  Alarm call characteristics may vary by threat or possess functional information, coded messages meant to influence the behavior of the receiver.  In experiments at the Whitehouse Nature Center in summer 2013, I incited alarm calls by using hawk, snake, and House Wren decoys, as well human interference.  Through a system of sound and video recorders placed in and around the nest box, the House Wrens’ vocal and behavioral responses to each decoy were recorded.  Alarm calls were compared visually using Avisoft Sound Analysis Software for differences in frequency, pitch, intensity, and duration.  Although no threat provoked unique notes, the snake decoy elicited significantly more notes per scolding period than the other threats or control.  This variation in alarm call behavior suggests functional information is present within these scolds, meaning House Wrens can distinguish alarm calls triggered by snakes from those triggered by other predators, allowing them to make a proper defensive response.

Supported by: FURSCA, Jean Bengel Laughlin, '50 and Sheldon Laughlin Endowment for Student Research

 

Stephen Foster, ‘15

Facts, Misconceptions and the Science of Psychology
Majors: Psychological Science, Spanish

A sizable body of literature suggests that students in introductory psychology courses commonly hold misconceptions about specific psychological research findings (e.g., “Mozart’s music can increase intelligence”), which are notoriously resistant to change. A separate research literature has demonstrated that students vary in the extent to which they view psychology as a science. The current study explores the intersection between these two issues. Students enrolled in introductory psychology courses were asked to complete measures of (1) misconceptions about psychological research findings, the scientific method in general (e.g., “Science produces tentative conclusions that are open to change”), and everyday issues (e.g., “Antibiotics are effective treatment for the flu”); (2) a survey assessing their view of Psychology as a Science (PAS; Friedrich, 1996); (3) the Need for Cognition Scale (Cacioppo, Petty, & Kao, 1984); and (4) their interest in the research and clinical aspects of psychology. We expect that students with a greater appreciation of psychology as a science will be less prone to hold misconceptions about psychological research findings and the general scientific method, but not about everyday issues. Moreover, we expect that many of the variables that have been shown to predict students’ views of psychology as science, such as need for cognition and an interest in the research aspect of the discipline will also predict decreased belief in misconceptions about psychological research findings.

 

Pietro Geisler, ‘16

Using Comparative Genomics Analysis to Study Heterochromatin from Two Species of Drosophila
Major: Biology

The sequencing of genomes of numerous species has been an ongoing project for years. A number of different organisms have all had their genomes sequenced, including Homo sapiens. But while we have sequenced the genomes themselves, we do not fully understand all of the genes involved or their locations. Some organisms, such as Drosophila melanogaster, are very well understood, and we can compare lesser understood organisms to these in order to better understand them. In this project, the dot chromosomes from various species of the genus Drosophila are being compared to that of melanogaster’s. The dot chromosome is of particular interest as it is composed of heterochromatin, a highly condensed form of chromatin that is thought to have a role in the expression and/or repression of genes, and is an ideal area for study.

The project is headed by the Washington University of St. Louis in what is known as the Genomics Education Partnership. Through their resources, such as the Genome Mirror Browser, a Gene Model Checker, and a Gene Record Finder, we can compare and identify genes in various Drosophila species by comparing them to those of D. melanogaster.  The particular portion of the chromosome studied here is that of D. biarmipes, along a site known as contig58. There are estimated to be five genes in this region, with one of them having possibly twelve different forms. A detailed analysis of these genes and their forms will be presented.

 

Jessica Glazier, ‘15

Boys Don’t Cry: Adult Perceptions of Children Who Defy Gender Roles
Majors: Psychological Science, Music

The purpose of the current study was to investigate adult perceptions of gender atypicality in children, that is, children whose gender identity differs from their biological sex. News stories about gender variant children have increased in recent years, which frequently highlight a lack of understanding of gender nonconformity on the part of educators, school administrators, parents of the child’s peers, etc. The current study was therefore designed to examine adult perceptions of gender atypical children. We used brief vignettes describing a gender atypical child and surveys to measure to what degree and for what reasons participants themselves, or society at large, may view gender atypicality as a problem, what they believe may be the cause(s) of gender atypicality, and whether and how gender atypicality might be modified. Given the findings of research on parents of gender nonconforming children, we predicted that participants would find gender variance more appropriate in girls than boys. In addition, although this issue has not been directly tested, some research suggests that gender atypicality may in part be viewed as problematic because of its potential link with homosexuality. Given that negative views about homosexuality increase with more traditional views on gender roles, we also examine how the participants’ own adherence to conventional gender roles relates to their attitudes on gender atypical children. Finally, we predicted that atypicality would be viewed as a bigger problem in older (16 years) than younger children (8 years) because issues of sexuality become more prominent in adolescence.

 

Christopher Herweyer, ‘17

A Presidential Home: A History of 501 E. Michigan Avenue
Majors: Political Science, History

This project explores the history of the house located at 501 E. Michigan Avenue in Albion. Built over 100 years ago by a local business magnate, the house became the property of Albion College in 1941. Serving first as the home to a number of college presidents, it later became the office for Institutional Advancement. Most recently, it has been utilized as a student annex.  In exploring these transitions from private home to institutional property, my research highlights the impact that a building can have on a community and a college and on connecting the two.

Supported by: Student Research Partners

 

Zach Kribs, ‘15

Evidence Based Treatment in a Clinical Setting
Majors: Psychological Science, Music

In clinical practice, there has been growing interest and awareness around the use of psychological therapy that is grounded in empirical evidence. This therapy, also known as evidence based treatment (EBT), is defined by an approach that emphasizes the pursuit of evidence in both theory and technique, and the use of theories and practices that have been demonstrated to be effective by research. Such methods have been proven more effective than other counseling therapies, such as intuition. One of the largest institutional proponents of EBT is the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.  Since 2011, five Albion students have completed research internships with the residential Post Traumatic Stress Disorder program at the Battle Creek VA Hospital. EBT has been seen to be especially important in the context of PTSD, as the disorder is often comorbid with substance use disorders and other emotional issues that inhibit the effectiveness of therapy.  Albion students have been involved in evaluating therapeutic interventions for residential patients, especially in the assessment of the effectiveness of EBT such as Cognitive Processing Therapy and Exposure Therapy. Albion’s interns have had direct exposure to EBT research and implementation, building a large database of psychometric evaluations of patient responses to EBTs, as well as observing these therapies in practice. These students have been a crucial part of how the hospital fulfills its commitment to EBT, providing both real-time evaluations of patient progress, as well as the effectiveness of EBT when applied in a clinical context.

 

Shanti Madhavan, ‘15

Music: A Vessel for Learning English as a Second Language
Major: Psychological Science

In May 2013 I traveled to Costa Rica with two other students in Albion’s teacher education program and our professor, Dr. Kyle Shanton. The purpose of the trip was to become acquainted with Costa Rican culture and school structure. We spent a month in Heredia, observing and teaching at Pará School, a small primary school and interacting with students and faculty at Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica. With the help of our Costa Rican hosts we had a true immersion experience. Another goal of the trip was to complete an inquiry project pertaining to teaching English as a second language at Pará School. I was primarily interested in how music was used in Costa Rican classrooms to help the students learn English. Through classroom observations, interviews with teachers, and introducing some musical activities to first graders I saw how music supported and encouraged Costa Rican students’ English development. Music not only made learning fun but it also comforted students’ fear of practicing a second language. This is yet another example of how education is not only a science but a culturally situated art-form.

 

Allison McClish, ‘15

Cytoplasmic Incompatibility and Infection Frequency of Wolbachia in a Michigan Population of Drosophila melanogaster
Major: Biology

In some species of Drosophila, Wolbachia infection results in an effect known as cytoplasmic incompatibility (CI).  This effect inhibits the viability of offspring produced from the mating between an uninfected female fly and an infected fly.  Because Wolbachia is transferred through the mother to the offspring, this effect gives a reproductive advantage to those females that are infected, thus raising the infection frequencies of the population.  In D. melanogaster, this effect has been found to be minor or non-existent, and in general this species has a lower infection frequency than D. simulans, which has been found to evidence a very strong CI effect.  In a study of a Michigan population of D. mel in 2012, a very high infection frequency was found.  In order to explain this high frequency, this population was tested for CI.  Three different sets of flies were tested, including originally wild-caught stocks that had been in the lab for several months, freshly caught flies, and the first-generation offspring of wild-caught flies.  In these tests, infected males were crossed to uninfected females and the percentage of eggs hatched calculated.  Though initial crosses using the lab stocks showed a potential CI effect, further crosses evidenced very little or no CI effect for this population of D. melanogaster.

Supported by: FURSCA

 

Olivia Potoczak, ‘15

Investigating Creative Nonfiction: Climate Change and the Younger Generation
Major: English (Creative Writing)

For my research project, I explored the use of creative nonfiction as a tool to help reach out to college age people about climate change. Creative nonfiction applies creative writing techniques to true facts and stories, which has the potential to reach a wider audience than other types of nonfiction. For my first phase of research, I read broadly from creative nonfiction magazines and books, such as Creative Nonfiction Magazine, Orion Magazine, and Lee Gutkind’s anthologies, to discover the elements and nuances of the genre to apply to my own writing. Paired with this, I read scientific papers and books by leading climate change scientists like Michael Mann, Richard Alley, and James Hansen to learn the science and facts behind climate change. I also read works by non-scientists like Bill McKibben and Derrick Jensen to learn how to employ the emotional element while writing about scientific fact.

My goal was to learn about the literary techniques of creative nonfiction and then to apply this knowledge by writing about the facts of climate change from my own perspective and the perspective of people my age. I wrote two creative nonfiction essays: the first one states the problems related to climate change (including looking at a local climate change issue in Albion, Michigan with the white tail deer populations), and the second one delves deeper into the reasons behind climate change, offering solutions to the previously identified problems in the first essay. I hope to get college-aged men and women thinking about the climate, and even taking action.

Supported by: FURSCA

 

Carl Pressprich, ‘15

Securing Wireless Networks through Radiofrequency Identification
Faculty Sponsor: David Seely

Zigbee is an up-and-coming radiofrequency (RF) protocol for wireless sensor and control networks; it is particularly useful for devices that involve low power, low data-rate communications, where long battery life, small footprint and short range sensing are important. Systems which rely on Zigbee communications range from home automation applications to the electric grid. Several security measures for Zigbee already exist; Zigbee packets are encrypted with the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), which scrambles the packets, and the keys to unscramble the packets are stored in each node’s memory. Zigbee networks are structured around a coordinator node surrounded by router nodes, which relay information, and end devices, which are responsible for carrying out commands, like adjusting the flow rate of a release valve in a dam, and sending sensor data, like phasor measurements in the electric grid. The weakness in Zigbee’s network encryption is in the coordinator. When forming networks, the coordinator sends an unencrypted security key to nodes which are attempting to join. This network key can be intercepted by attackers wishing to gain access to the network, and with this key, commercially available exploitation tools are capable of impersonating authentic network nodes maliciously. To add resiliency to wireless networks such as Zigbee, we analyze RF transmissions by looking not at the bytes transmitted, but at the way in which they are transmitted. Our RF authenticator distinguishes packets sent from authentic devices from those sent from impersonators by analyzing correlations between incoming waves and archived RF wave data from authentic network nodes. In low-security Zigbee networks, we exposed over 90% of hacking attempts using this method. By providing a framework for network security through RF authentication, we hope to add resiliency to the control systems of the electric grid.

Supported by: U.S. Department of Energy, Oak Ridge Associated Universities, Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education

 

 Stephanie Sanders, ‘15

Progress in Developing a More Sustainable Shaped Nanoparticle Synthesis on Carbon Substrates
Majors: Chemistry, Mathematics

Shaped palladium nanoparticles (PdNPs) have the potential to be selective catalysts. Unfortunately, their size can limit their use in heterogeneous catalysis because they are difficult to remove from solution after a reaction. Attaching nanoparticles to a support addresses this issue. However, composite formation is typically a two-step process, and the time and energy involved circumvents the energy saving goals of catalysis. Additionally, current shaped nanoparticle syntheses usually occur at high temperatures, which is also counterproductive. We have developed a method to synthesize shaped nanoparticles directly onto carbon supports using a mild reductant at room temperature. Specifically we have developed a method to created shaped PdNPs directly on porous carbon microspheres using coffee as a room temperature reductant. By adding ions, such as Br- and Fe3+, cubic and right bipyramidal nanoparticles can be synthesized. Other additives, such as ethylene glycol, are added to change the reaction kinetics, giving greater control over shape. Analysis by SEM indicates that our synthesized PdNPs are roughly 50 nm in dimension. The size, shape, and distribution of nanoparticles varied based on the ratios of the reactants in the different steps of the synthetic process. Current results from different ratios of reactants and adjustments in the synthetic process will be presented.

Supported by: FURSCA, Faculty Development Committee

 

Emma Stapley, ‘16

Artistic Creation as a Means of Overcoming the Horrors of Trench Warfare
Majors: English, Biology

The First World War reshaped nations, redefined the idea of international conflict, and had a profound impact on the modern worldview. Amid the carnage of the trenches, it is easy to overlook the incredible creative outpouring that the war produced. To examine this ability to overcome trauma through artistic creation, I researched (utilizing a variety both historical and literary sources) and wrote a 100-page historical fiction novella set in the First World War. The novella’s main character is a young British officer who is completely unprepared for the challenges of leading his men through bombardments, poison gas, shell-shock, and suicidal attacks on the German lines. In an attempt to explain his experiences to his older sister, the main character writes a fantasy story that parallels his struggles to cope with the war’s brutality. The narrative switches between the trenches and a fantasy world that grows from a simple allegory for anything the character feels incapable of describing directly to an indispensable tool that helps him to understand the effects of the war, his fellow soldiers, and his own ability to find meaning in the chaos around him.

Supported by: FURSCA

 

 

Angela Walczyk, ‘16

Comparative Genomic Analysis of a Region (Contig59) of the Fourth Chromosome from Two Species of Drosophila
Major: Biology

Through the resources and help of the Genomics Education Partnership (GEP), a national, scientific investigation that works towards improving genomic sequences, I worked to create gene models for the possible genes found within the contig59 sequence of the D. biarmipes genome by completing a computer analysis of my data through genomic databases suggested through GEP. The goal of the GEP is to annotate, or assign functions to, the genomes of different species of Drosophila. In particular, GEP focuses on genomic regions found within chromosome four so that a finished sequence of this chromosome among various species can be created. The comparisons found among species will be used to distinguish patterns of genome organization in regards to its control of gene expression. The fourth chromosome is particularly important because it is heterochromatic, meaning that it has many repeated sequences and low meiotic recombination. Also, the farthest region of the forth chromosome codes for roughly eighty genes. Through an understanding of chromosome organization and the expression of the fourth chromosome discovered by analyzing the genome of various Drosophila species new discoveries can be made regarding the mechanisms of gene regulation as a general concept.

In my particular sequence of the D. biarmipes genome, contig59, there are an estimated two genes found through the prediction tracks of the genome browser. Regarding these two genes, there are twelve variations of the first gene and four of the second gene. I will present a detailed analysis of these genes.