Students submit summaries of their summer studies

Science majors explain their research experiences at Allegheny

Over the summer there were 110 to 120 students on campus working on research programs with faculty members from all three disciplines of study. As well as participating in the research, students had the opportunity to present their findings at the Allegheny College Research Seminar Series. This program runs during lunches for 10 weeks throughout the summer. Three students present each week. As well participating in the lunchtime sessions, students can display their research at two poster sessions held by ACRoSS. One was during the summer and one is in the Fall semester.

Garrett Devenney, ’16

Biology/Global Health Studies Major

During the Spring 2015 semester, my Junior Seminar class (BIO 580: Ebola) conducted an online survey of undergraduate students at Allegheny College regarding perceptions and knowledge of the 2014 Ebola outbreak. Dr. Becky Dawson taught the class (BIO/GHS departments), and I continued to research with her this summer, analyzing the results of the survey. Preliminary findings of the near 200 student responses have shown that students with STEM backgrounds know more about Ebola Virus Disease and perceive it as more dangerous to individuals and communities than students majoring in non-STEM fields. This may be attributed to the topic being inherently natural science-related or the continuation of the discussion on the Ebola outbreak in natural science courses. Further data analysis is currently being conducted, and the results will hopefully be published sometime this year in an infectious disease journal.

Tori Rollin, ‘17

Biology Major

I worked with Kevin Simpson and under Dr. Bradley Hersh. Our big question this summer was “Why do organisms look different from one another?”. If you think about chimpanzees and humans, they resemble each other but we can still distinguish the two right? But did you know their protein sequences are 99% identical? For this reason, we know that it isn’t just the protein coding genes but it is how these genes are used. Our main hypothesis is essentially these things that work like light switches, which regulate the genes in an organism. We used Drosophila or fruit flies to see if we could find these switches and see why different species appear to look different. We looked at changes in the appearance of the male genitalia structure, or the posterior lobe. We looked at many different genes and only found one switch so far that is responsible for the differences in formation of the posterior lobe. More research on this will continue this semester!

Page Hickman, ‘17

Environmental Science/Spanish Major

Over the summer I worked with Erica Moretti and our adviser Beth Choate on a project involving native bees…Our study was actually an extension of Hillary Krill’s research from the summer of 2014. She had only investigated native bees on Allegheny’s campus. We increased our range and recorded other variables. We investigated the diversity and abundance of native bees by trapping them at various sites and then later identifying them down to genus. The sites included spots up at Robertson, the houses above campus, on campus and downtown. We wanted to see if it was possible that the decreasing green space and increasing urban space as you went down the hill into downtown would affect what we found. We also took into consideration the floral diversity and bloom abundance at each site. We are still in the process of data analysis. However, we did notice that the most bees and the greatest diversity were found at the sites in which the space was less manicured and pesticides were not used. These sites also had permitted weeds to grow.

Noelle Lemons, ‘17

Biochemistry Major

The title of my research was “The Next Chapter Book Club: A Community Project with Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.” The Next Chapter Book Club is a literacy program for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and one of its goals is to increase the sense of community inclusion and social connectedness of its members. I worked with Professor Chowdhury and Ian Dempsey in the Psychology department, and we collaborated with community partners in Meadville. One of our partners was Child to Family Connections, and we gathered at Confections of a Cake Lover for two book clubs. We also met at Bethesda Children’s Home for two book clubs Ian and I were facilitators of the NCBC, and our roles involved using positive encouragement to allow our members to learn new words and make connections between the books and their own lives. During our first book club meeting, our members voted on several adapted classics to decide which book we would read. Although we have not yet collected empirical data, our members have given quotes about how they are engaged in the book club and how it enriches their lives.

Kristi Allen, ‘16

Chemistry Major

My  summer research project was 10 weeks long and I worked alongside Natasha Brigham and Dr. Ryan Van Horn of the Chemistry Department. The title of my project is “Crystallization Trends of Poly(Ethylene-oxide)-b-Poly(Ɛ-caprolactone) with Solvent and Temperature Effects”. Research in Dr. Van Horn’s lab primarily revolves around a specific polymer (PEO-b-PCL). Polymers are long, chain like molecules that are made up of smaller subunits, or homo-polymers. The polymer we worked with is important because it and its individual homo-polymers can be used in different biomedical applications, for example, cancer drug delivery systems and for sutures. To complete my research, I dissolved different samples of this polymer in three different solvents – toluene, tetrahydrofuran (THF), and chloroform – and observed how each part of the polymer (PEO compared to PCL) crystallized at increasing temperatures by using infrared spectroscopy. Learning about the crystallization of a polymer is important for understanding how the properties of an end product can be manipulated, which is crucial for making an end product that can be applied to life in a useful way. I found that the solvent did affect how the parts of the polymer crystallized in that toluene allowed more PEO to crystallize than did chloroform and chloroform allowed more PEO crystallization than THF did. This indicates that the properties of PEO-b-PCL can be manipulated to an extent by changing the solvent it is originally dissolved in, which is useful information for future research.

Michael Arcieri, ‘17

Biology Major

Over the summer I worked in Dr. Webb’s lab. We conducted research in Molecular Biology to understand how DNA from cat hairs found at crime scenes can be used as evidence in forensic investigations. Eventually this research will hopefully contribute to the United States Department of Justice and other Forensic Science organizations across North America. We found that cats from the USA and Canada are genetically homologous (the same) and therefore forensic teams in the USA and Canada that find cat hair on a crime scene can use one database that incorporates both USA and Canadian cats to assess whether the match is “real” or merely “by chance”.

Yukihide Nakada, ‘16

Mathematics/Philosophy Major

This summer I worked with Professor Harald Ellers and Professor Craig Dodge in the mathematics department as well as with senior math major Kelly Pohland on a project titled “Finding Simple Modules of the Centralizer Algebra of the Symmetric Group.” We worked in a branch of mathematics known as representation theory, which vaguely speaking studies abstract objects called groups, which distill the concept of symmetry into a mathematical object by interpreting them concretely as symmetries of geometric figures. Such interpretations are called representations. More precisely we studied mathematical objects called modules, which give representations themselves an algebraic structure. Just as molecules are built up from basic elements, modules are built up from basic constituents called simple modules, and our role in the project was to study the various simple modules that build up a specific kind of module, known as modules over centralizer algebras of the symmetric group and the ways in which these simple modules build up to form bigger modules. Our project was centered around a paper published by Professor Ellers and Professor Dodge which, among other things, conjectured that the simple modules we were investigating had a specific form. We began studying the conjecture in detail and quickly found a counterexample. Over the course of the summer, we generalized its construction and eventually discovered a large class of counterexamples to not only the initial conjecture but related conjectures in their paper. This lead us to consider modifications to the conjecture suggested to us by the patterns in our data.