Third Annual 1000 Word Event, 2015

FOSEP, the Young Naturalist’s Society, and the Burke Museum presented the 1000 word event on April 9th.  Brandon Peecock (pictured above) from the Young Naturalists did a great job of hosting.  Photograph copyright Sean Gilliland.

Audience members enjoying the event. © Sean Gilliland |

Audience members enjoying the event. © Sean Gilliland |

(I definitely need to get better at getting blog posts up more in a more timely fashion!  I apologize to those who participated on the amount of time this took).  That said, the event was a great success!

We used little chips to vote during the event. © Sean Gilliland |

We used little chips to vote during the event. © Sean Gilliland |

We had about 50 attendees, even with the changes this year to having a small fee for drinks. There were 21 people who entered, and 16 that competed.  This year, winners were chosen by popular vote.

Each entrant had a bag which participants put their chips into.

Each entrant had a bag which participants put their chips into. © Sean Gilliland |

The winners of the competition were: Dave Slager (Biology) in first place, Jennifer Day (Biology) in second place, and Jen Whiting (Pharmacology) in third place.  Thanks to all who chose to compete.  We look forward to seeing you next year.

FOSEP leaders helped entrants register during the event. © Sean Gilliland |

FOSEP leaders helped entrants register during the event. © Sean Gilliland |

See the winning entries after the jump – the 1000 word description is followed by the regular description.

First Place – Dave Slager (Biology)

Dave is a returning champion this year.

Dave Slager accepting his award. © Sean Gilliland |

Dave Slager accepting his award. © Sean Gilliland |

On a nice summer day at our school, you can enjoy having lunch outside on the red rock-covered ground next to the pretty old building for getting books. During lunch, you will see two types of big, loud, warm-blooded flying animals that like to eat pieces of left-over lunch. One kind is white and grey and black and often spends time by the water. I’m not talking about that kind. I’m talking about the smaller black ones that have bright minds and sleep in trees together in groups of hundreds.

For many years now, people with nothing better to do have said that there are two different kinds of these black flying animals in our part of the world, even though the two kinds appear exactly the same. Looking at a picture of the land up on a wall, they say that one kind lives above where we are and the other kind lives under where we are. But can you see the problem? Anyone who goes outside at our school knows that there is no clear line — the flying black animals live here too. What kind are the ones here? Are they the above kind, the under kind, or a cross between the two kinds? If the two “kinds” make babies with each other and those babies often go to other places to find love and make more babies, then can we even say there are really two “kinds” at all?

I study these questions by reading the letters on the very tiny stairs that wrap around each other inside all living things. It is actually a pair of stairs, with one coming from the mother and one from the father. The different letters on these stairs tell the baby’s body what kind of grown animal to make. I read the letters from the stairs into the computer, and ask the computer to tell me the answers to all my questions. But it is a little harder than I am making it sound.

If there are really two different kinds of black flying animals, then I would expect to see signs of this in the letters on the stairs. So far, the computer is telling me that there is only one kind of black flying animal here and that the people with nothing better to do were wrong about there being two kinds, but I’m still looking at other possible things to make sure this is the right answer.

Thanks for letting me tell you about what I do. Now, next time you see a big black flying animal outside, you will have something new to wonder about.

I use phylogenomics to study the hybrid zone between American and Northwestern Crows.

Second Place – Jennifer Day (Biology)

Jennifer Day reading her 1000 Words entry. © Sean Gilliland |

Jennifer Day reading her 1000 Word entry.
© Sean Gilliland |

Big cats are important to the world, they eat little food animals so there are not too many, which keeps trees, water, and air happy. Those are important things for humans too. Big cats move lots and do not like humans. Humans cut down trees where little food animals live, put bad things in the ground, and make lots of noise. Big cats hate that. When baby big cats grow up, they look for a home place where no other big cats live and where annoying humans are far away. If humans are in the way or there are no trees for little food animals to live in, then big cats have no home place and they die. If baby big cats do find a new home place, then they make more baby big cats. But how do we know where baby big cats go when they grow up? They are very hard to see, there aren’t many of them, and they don’t like us. So how do we learn about them??? We look for their shit! (We have dogs help, because they are really good at smelling cat shit) Big cat shit tells us all about their life – who their mom and dad are, what little food animals they ate, and if they are sad or scared. Using this, we can tell what humans are doing to the land that hurts big cats, and make better home places for big cats away from humans. This makes the land a better place for both big cats and humans.

I use molecular ecology tools to answer conservation ecology questions about large-ranging tropical carnivores. Specifically, I use landscape genetics and endocrinology to investigate resource use and habitat connectivity of jaguar and puma in southern Mexico.

Third Place: Jen Whiting (Pharmacology)

The water in your body is very important. We all know that without it, you die. But did you realize that having too much water is just as bad? Don’t worry though, your body is good at taking care of you. It just so happens that if you drink too much, you will just piss away what you don’t need. Your body is so amazing, right? But how does it work?

Jen Whiting with her prop bag of urine during her 1000 word entry. © Sean Gilliland |

Jen Whiting with her prop bag of urine during her 1000 Word entry.
© Sean Gilliland |

Well, there’s a group of cells that work to keep your body water just right. They live in a little pink bag somewhere between your back and your stomach. They clean all the bad stuff from your blood all day, every day. What they take out of the blood can’t just stay there, so it is sent away as piss. When your body doesn’t have enough water (and let’s be real, it usually doesn’t).

[Note, we didn’t have the complete written entry that was presented]

I study how the body maintains water homeostasis, a process that involves trafficking renal water channels to and from the membrane of the kidney collecting duct. During periods of dehydration, the body is able to conserve water by inserting these water channels into the membrane and allowing passive movement of water back into the tissue. However, when the animal is over-hydrated these channels are internalized and the kidney collecting duct becomes impermeable to water. The water is then sent to the bladder in the form of urine and eliminated from the body to restore homeostasis.

If these water channels are mutated or unable to traffic to the membrane it results in the human disease known as nephrogenic diabetes insipidus. This disease is characterized by a lack of water re-absorption, causing continual thirst, overly dilute urine, and serious cases can carry a constant risk of life-threatening dehydration. Unfortunately, there is no cure or treatment for this disease, and patients are forced to remain close to a water source and a bathroom.

My research as focused on generating a knockout mouse model to study this disease. I have discovered a role for the signaling scaffold protein, AKAP220, in controlling water channel localization in the kidney. When this protein is lost, the animals no longer produce dilute urine in response to over-hydration, but rather they continue to re-absorb the water inappropriately. By studying the physiological changes in these knockout mice, we hope to learn more about the basic mechanisms that govern water channel regulation. Because the phenotype in these mice mimics the ideal outcome of a nephrogenic diabetes treatment (ie – increased water re-absorbtion), we hope that it will reveal new therapeutic avenues that have not yet been explored.

The rest of the entries will be presented in alphabetical order by last name.

Charles Beightol (Biology)

Charles Beightol reading his entry.  © Sean Gilliland |

Charles Beightol reading his 1000 Word entry. © Sean Gilliland |

Close your eyes, and paint a picture of a place with tall old-trees above the warm, wet land from a time very, very long ago. A time before flying animals, and a time after water animals came onto land. A time when many land animals laid babies in hard cases. This is a time when all land animals had cold blood. Somewhere between now and then animals with hair (like us and dogs) got warm blood, but when? This had to have happened before in the long-been-dead animals that are close to animals with hair. But how can we see this? You can not just read how hot or cold these dead animals. To do so, I break teeth into fine pieces and run them in a water-like thing that makes the teeth pieces into air. I grab the air and run it in a box that tells me how heavy the air is. I then see how different the heavy air is to the not-so-heavy air is and get a number. This number gives a good idea of how hot or cold the teeth are when they grow. This hot or cold number is the same as how hot or cold the body is. So, oh yeah, you can find out how hot or cold some long-been dead animals are!

I assess the when the evolution of endothermy happened within synapsida (animals that were around (~300 MYA). To assess this, I measure temperature using clumped isotope mass spectrometry to assess the temperature at which the tooth grew, which is a good proxy for body temperature.

Elissa Bonnin (Oceanography)

There are small animals that live in the big blue water. These animals have hard white outer covers that are made of something almost like teeth. In these outer covers is a thing that comes from the water and gets placed in the cover along with the stuff that the cover is usually made out of. How warm or cold the water is controls how much of

Elisa Bonnin reading her 1000 Words Entry © Sean Gilliland |

Elisa Bonnin reading her 1000 Word entry © Sean Gilliland |

this thing gets into the outer cover. You can look at how much of this thing is in the outer cover and that can tell you how warm or cold the water was when the animal lived. However, even if you grow these animals in water that never gets warmer or colder, the thing we can look at changes between night and day. We get more of the thing in the night and less of the thing in the day, which doesn’t really make sense if you just look at how warm the water is. My studies focus on figuring out why this happens and how we can work around it.

Foraminifera are marine organisms that make their shells, or tests, out of calcium carbonate. The Mg/Ca ratio in planktonic foraminifera is a widely used paleothermometer, however, the ratio is not homogeneous throughout the test. Strong variability exists between the Mg/Ca values in test produced during the day and test produced at night even in foraminifera cultured at constant temperature. This ‘banding’ implies a difference of temperature between day and night of approximately 10 degrees Celsius, even when such a temperature difference clearly does not exist, introducing uncertainty into the system. My research focuses on understanding why this heterogeneity occurs, what drives it, and how to correct for it in order to improve our existing Mg/Ca proxy.

Lauren Burgeno (Pharmacology)

Lauren Burgeno reading her entry. © Sean Gilliland |

Lauren Burgeno reading her 1000 Word entry. © Sean Gilliland |

My work focuses on understanding how things that we like can sometimes take over our brain, and eventually take control of our lives. I look at changes in the brains of small white animals with big pink ears over several weeks while they get high on white stuff that makes them feel good, makes their eyes big, and makes them move very quickly. I am interested in finding out how the sights, sounds, and smells that they sense while getting high can come to control their thoughts and make them want to get high months and even years after not having had any of the white stuff. If my work helps us learn how the brain marries things we sense, that have nothing to do with getting high, to the feeling of being high then we may be able to find a way to cut the tie between the two things and help people who are trying to stop getting high to keep from going back to getting high by blocking their remembered senses from the times they used to get high and keeping those senses from exciting the brain in a way that will drive them to want to get high.

I study the mechanisms by which drug-associated cues (i.e. places, objects, odors that are present during drug-taking)are able to come to elicit craving responses even long periods of time after discontinuation of drug use. Specifically, I use a rat self-administration model to study how seemingly innocuous cues are able to come generate dopamine responses following their pairing with drugs. I am also interested in understanding whether it is these responses that persist through months to years of abstinence and serve as triggers to drive drug-taking once again (i.e. relapse).

Kaitlyn Casimo (Neuroscience)

I study the brain. The brain has lots of different parts that all do different things, like making you move or talk, remembering things, or deciding things. Different parts of the brain talk to each other all the time, even when you aren’t doing any of those

The Burke Room was a great location for the contest.© Sean Gilliland |

The Burke Room was a great location for the contest.© Sean Gilliland |

things and are just sitting still. This happens because you have to be ready for something to happen and think about the things that already happened to you. The way the different parts talk changes when you learn how to do new things. Some parts talk to each other more often and some parts talk to each other less often.

I study the changes that happen after you learn how to make a computer work just by thinking about it. This is very hard and lots of people are not good at it, but some people are very good at it. But you have to have your brain cut open in order to use the computer, so we want to know if people will be good at it before they do it. I am working on using just pictures of your brain to guess how well you will learn how to use the computer with your brain. This will help us guess whether people can use the computer by thinking about it before they try to do it. It will also help us make learning how to use the computer easier. This can help lots of people who can’t move be able to do some things again.

I study changes in connectivity between different parts of the brain that happen while learning how to use a brain-computer interface. This interface runs on electrodes implanted on a person’s brain. I am also working on predicting how well someone will learn how to use the brain-computer interface using MRI before they’ve had brain surgery.

Itzue Cavides Solis (Biology)

I study animals that drink the water and breath the air with their soft skin. In order to move, they need the warming of the bright star in the sky and the places around them. The family to which they are part of, it likes to live in the trees. They like to climb and have fun during night, some of them even and make weird calls to find each other. Besides I love their big eyes that help them live in the dark and the feeling of their wet

Itzue Caviendes Solis presenting her 1000 Word Entry

Itzue Caviendes Solis presenting her 1000 Word Entry

fingers, my big question about them is understand how they changed in time (since a lot of years ago) to be able to move the way they do. How they can be in water, jump from the trees and even fall from the sky slow and safe. Every one moves different in the family, but what make it possible for each of them? To do so, I look inside their body, and search for body parts that make them be who they are, allow them to move how they do and help them to live where they live.

I describe locomotion performance (climbing and swimming) in Middle American tree frogs, correlate it with variations on morphological features (osteology, muscles and body shape) and frame it on an evolutionary context on a phylogeny to understand its influence on diversification rates.

Allison Cherry (Pharmacology)

I study sick brains. Sometimes, your brain can grow a thing on it. This thing can grow to get really big and then your brain is too big for your head and you die. I want to make the thing on the brain go away, and to do that, we have to give it some stuff that will kill it.

Allison Cherry presenting her 1000 Word entry © Sean Gilliland |

Allison Cherry presenting her 1000 Word entry © Sean Gilliland |

The growing things in your brain are made up of a lot of cells. Inside these cells are a lot of little tracks that can get bigger and smaller to make the cell change what it looks like. One of the things these tracks do is help one cell turn into two cells. I am trying to study this stuff that will go into the cells and make all the tracks break so that the cells can’t grow into more cells anymore. I found that this stuff breaks the tracks and then stops the cells from growing, which kills them. This stuff also doesn’t work the same way as other stuff that is kind of the same, which means that it’s new. We hope to use this new stuff to make sick brains better.

Cannabinoid agonists, such as the alkylindole (AI) WIN55,212-2, promote apoptosis in many cancer types, including glioma, through cannabinoid CB1 and CB2 receptors and the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (PPARγ). However, AI compounds are known to employ additional unknown molecular mechanisms that lead to glioma cell death. We found that the new AI compound, ST-11, kills T98G glioma cells independently of CB1, CB2, and PPARγ by directly interacting with microtubules (MTs) and promoting their depolymerization. Accordingly, this compound decreases MT assembly rates, arrests the cell cycle in prometaphase, and promotes caspase-3-dependent apoptosis. ST-11 produces a synergistic inhibition of cell proliferation and reduction in viability with both of the MT disrupting drugs paclitaxel and nocodazole, suggesting a non-overlapping mechanism of action. Our findings suggest that AI compounds can kill glioma cells by promoting microtubule disassembly, cell arrest, and apoptosis independently of CB1, CB2, and PPARγ receptors.

Anne Clark (Genome Sciences)

People are made of small boxes, and inside each box is a long word made of tiny letters. Each box that makes up one person has the same word, but different people have words with different letters at some places.

We know that some of these places that have different letters are important. There is

Anne Clark presenting her 1000 Word Entry

Anne Clark presenting her 1000 Word Entry

one place where the letter says whether a person will be happy drinking that white stuff when they’re not a baby anymore. And there are other places where the letters say whether a person will have a larger chance of getting some kinds of sick. But for the most part we are only good at reading the letters; we are not good at knowing what it means when people have different letters at a given place.

I want to be able to read the words from people and know how all of the letters that are different make the people different. But this is a very hard problem because (1) there are so many letters, (2) sometimes a letter only makes people different in small ways, and (3) the meaning of a letter at one place can rest in part on the letters at other places. On top of that, people cause lots of problems. They get mad when we tell them who to have babies with and their babies grow too slowly anyway. They also make us fill out lots of papers to read their words, and that is boring.

So even though I’d like to understand people one day, I do not study them. It turns out that many of the simple ideas about words in boxes are true for other living things as well. I study the living things that you use to make your foods taller and your drinks more fun.

To learn what the different letters mean in these things, I start with very different parents and make them have many babies. The babies have words with some letters from mom and some from dad, just like human babies do. And the babies are all different because chance decides whether each baby will have the mom or dad letter at a given place. 

Once I have the babies, I can pick something that I see is different between them, like maybe how fast they grow.  I give each baby a number for how fast it grows, and then I look at all of the places in the words where some babies have one letter and others have another. I try to find places where the different letters seem to go with the different numbers — you might say I fit the numbers to the letters. I work on making better ways of telling how good this fit is, so that I (and other people) can do a better job of finding the places where different letters cause different numbers.

I work on methods for mapping quantitative trait loci in baker’s yeast.

Stephanie Crofts (Biology)

Stephanie Croft presenting her 1000 Word entry. © Sean Gilliland |

Stephanie Croft presenting her 1000 Word entry. © Sean Gilliland |

I look at how animals eat hard things with their teeth and why those teeth look they way they do. I use pretend teeth to break pretend food to see which teeth are the best. I use thinking boxes to look at not real teeth of the same form to see how these teeth break. By looking at the way the pretend teeth work side-by-side with how the not real teeth break, I can say which teeth are the best to eat hard things. I can take this further by looking at really old teeth (so old they are now rock!) that ate hard things to see how they changed over time.

I study the form and function of durophagous, or hard-prey crushing, teeth. I use canonical models to look for trade-offs in tooth function, using physical models to crush 3D printed shells to determine which tooth shapes process prey better, and Finite Element Analysis to determine which morphologies are least likely to fail. In this way I can predict a functionally ‘optimal’ tooth, and compare this to the evolution of durophagy in the fossil record.

Jared Grummer (Biology)

I study love between animals with cold red water stuff inside them. When mom and dad come from very different groups and can make babies, a new animal type might be made. Babies in this new group have some body parts from mom and some from dad. But remember, mom and dad are very different from each other! I am interested to know which parts of the important group of letters inside them, that all animals share,

Jared Grummer presenting his 1000 Word entry © Sean Gilliland |

Jared Grummer presenting his 1000 Word entry © Sean Gilliland |

come from the mom group, and which come from the dad group. Then, I can begin to understand which parts of the important group of letters make it so some moms can’t make babies with some dads, and how types of animals with cold red water stuff inside them stay the way they are over time.

I am interested in understanding the evolutionary processes that occur at the boundaries between species. In hybridizing taxa, two parental species may merge into a single (hybrid) population, or species boundaries may be reinforced through natural and/or sexual selection. My research aims to determine the regions of the genome that are involved in maintaining species boundaries between lizards.

Melanie Guerra (APL)

I am a doctor who is interested in sound in the under water world and how the noise that humans are putting into it bothers the lives of cute animals that live down there in the deep. I especially want to understand how animals face this problem in areas that are covered by packed ice during the year, because they are already under going many other important changes at home, like warming.

To study this, we first drop computers on the bottom floor that listen and tell us how loud it is under water. Then we pay attention to notice if animals are changing how they act when sounds are present. Finally, we find relationships between the two things to show that they are responding to raising noise. What do they do when their under water sound world goes from calm and quiet to loud and busy?

We have learned that raising under water noise is like playing loud music at a party or being around a large crowd: it doesn’t let us hear a friend who is talking, so we might have to go from speaking softly to yelling or just go somewhere else in order to be heard. For these animals that is a huge problem, because their food grows only in some places, their babies are able to live only in other places. Their life story happens in these given areas and during the trips in between and they can’t escape running into human noise. Even if it interrupts their normal lives, they have no where to hide and struggle with attempting to talk over this noise and hold normal conversations with family and friends. They can even be hurt or die from the high tones of sound.

The audience enjoying some of the 1000 Word Entries © Sean Gilliland |

The audience enjoying some of the 1000 Word Entries © Sean Gilliland |

So, why does my work matter? It helps us understand and control human made noise and I hope we can then better manage quiet under water places before they disappear.

I am an oceanographer doing research in underwater acoustics. I study ambient noise in the Arctic, because it is an area that is undergoing accelerated changes due to climate change. The opening of the ice is allowing many new industrial activities to penetrate where it couldn’t before and in many cases, they produce noise that is perceived by marine species like “acoustic smog”. This form of pollution impacts marine mammals because they rely heavily on sound for relevant biological functions like navigate, find their prey, communicate with others, etc. So, using technology, we collect sound from these locations and measure the contribution from man made activities to the overall noise budget. It is our hope that this knowledge can lead to better regulations and mitigation strategies about sound in the sea.

Maggie Khuu (Neurological Surgery)

CIH’ is a way of mirroring the changes we see in people who can’t breathe very well when they sleep. During sleep, these types of people are not breathing for a short time. Not only can this lead to heart problems, but it can also lead to changes in memory and learning. Past studies have shown that an area in the brain known as the ‘CA1’, important to learning and memory, has brain cells that act different when given ‘CIH’.

Maggie Khuu presenting her 1000 Word entry © Sean Gilliland |

Maggie Khuu presenting her 1000 Word entry © Sean Gilliland |

This study looks at how ‘CIH’ changes the ‘DG’, another area of the brain that is not only important to memory and learning, but is also known to make new brain cells all through life.

These studies were made in animals that were given ‘CIH’ for 30 days and although there were no big changes in the actual area of the ‘DG’, the number of new and completed brain cells found in the ‘DG’ were fewer following ‘CIH’. Other parts of the study also showed that ‘CIH’ changed how memories were stored.

While ‘CIH’ does not cause area changes in the ‘DG’, ‘CIH’ leads to fewer new and complete brain cells and this changes how the ‘DG’ works and stores memories.

CIH is an established model simulating the pattern of oxygenation experienced by individuals suffering from untreated sleep disordered breathing (SDB). In addition to the cardio-respiratory effects, SDB has been shown to cause deficits in memory and learning. Previous studies conducted in CA1 neurons of the hippocampus indicate that CIH impairs synaptic plasticity in this neuronal population important to executive function.   This ongoing study examines how CIH impacts the dentate gyrus (DG), another region of the hippocampus also important to memory and learning and known to exhibit neurogenesis throughout life. Histological analyses and electrophysiological experiments were conducted in the DG of mice (P60-P80) exposed to CIH for 30days. Although no difference in structural volume was observed within the hippocampal formation, the number of doublecortin positive cells found in the granular cell layer of the DG were fewer following CIH. Field recordings conducted in the DG of hippocampal brain slices revealed that CIH suppresses paired pulse facilitation at later interpulse intervals (200-400ms). This significantly alters the paired pulse profile observed in control experiments. While CIH does not cause changes in gross structure of the DG, it results in altered neurogenesis and changed synaptic plasticity indicative of diffuse neuronal injury within an area central to executive function.

Leander Love-Anderegg (Biology)

We’re changing the things that a tree needs to grow. Trees die when they’re dry and we’re changing the rain. Some trees like it cool and we’re making it hot. What will trees do? Where will they go? How will they live and where will our children be able to find them? These are the questions I ask, because trees will need help dealing with the shit that we’re throwing at them. If our children and their children are to build tree houses and play in the woods after we check out, we have a lot of work to do.

Leander Love-Anderegg presenting his 1000 Word entry © Sean Gilliland |

Leander Love-Anderegg presenting his 1000 Word entry © Sean Gilliland |

I study the consequences of climate change for forests of the western U.S., focusing on how climate and species interactions constrain the geographic ranges of trees. The goal of my work is to provide a mechanistic framework for predicting species range movement so that we can anticipate and manage for the ongoing restructuring of our forests.

Patrick Nygren (Pharmacology)

The audience enjoying the event from the Burke Room. © Sean Gilliland |

The audience enjoying the event from the Burke Room. © Sean Gilliland |

I study small bits in the body that make everything work right in time and space – especially in the brain. They are building blocks that fit together to make a bigger block and a lot of these pieces help a bigger thing called a cell do the things it is supposed to do, like talk to other cells in the brain, or make sure that a cell grows not too slow or too fast. These bits are smaller than hairs, and smaller than cells, and even smaller than light waves – so you can’t see them even by focusing on them and making them look bigger with glasses. I use waves even smaller than light to give more power to my eyes so I can see what these bits look like and find out how they fit together.

I want to see how the building blocks fit together so that I can help doctors think about how to make them fit better or make them not fit in order to fix sick people. If we can break the blocks into their smaller pieces or stick them together more in the body, we can know how memory works and how to make memory work better.

I use electron microscopy and other structural approaches to probe the molecular basis for how anchoring proteins regulate phosphatases. These phosphatases are important for modulating the strength of synaptic transmission, which forms the basis of learning and memory.

By understanding the structure of these multi-protein complexes, we hope to be able to rationally design therapies to selectively strengthen or inhibit protein-protein interactions and help modulate memory.

Abbie Schindler (Psychiatry)

Getting drunk as a kid can cause serious problems for you when you are old, like more drinking and more brain problems. Using animals, my studies have shown that when we get kid animals drunk they are not as afraid of chance when they are old, which is bad, they get less food when they act this way. My studies have also shown that stuff in the brain is changed in a bad way too. We think these brain changes are what leads to the old animals not being afraid after they get drunk when they are kids.

FOSEP's own Abbie Shindler presenting her 1000 Word entry

FOSEP’s own Abbie Shindler presenting her 1000 Word entry

My job is to now figure out what causes these brain changes and why. We think another type of brain stuff, which usually blocks the brain stuff we see changed after the animals get drunk, may have something to do with it.   If I can figure out the answer, it could be a first step in figuring out new ways to help old people who got drunk too much when they were kids.

Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance among adolescents and shows the highest liability of all abused drugs. We have previously demonstrated that voluntary consumption of alcohol by adolescent rats (20 days, 10% ethanol or control gelatin prepared with 10% glucose polymers) results in increased maladaptive risk-taking behavior and phasic dopamine release in adulthood, as assessed by a probability discounting task and fast scan cyclic voltammetry (FSCV) respectively. These finding suggest that adolescent alcohol exposure-induced changes in striatal dopamine release could bias choice by assigning greater value to the risky option, but the underlying mechanisms remain unknown. My postdoctoral research involves elucidating these underlying mechanism, with a focus on GABA(A) receptor-induced modulation of dopamine neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA). If successful, my results will provide unique insight into the potential role that GABAergic modulation of dopamine neurons plays in the maladaptive risk taking behavior seen following adolescent alcohol exposure and highlights new potential therapeutic targets.

Jacob Steinberg (Oceanography)

I study how water moves around the world and how a small piece of it changes in time. There are seven large bodies of water in the world that are each very different. In the one closest to us I drop in under-water cars that fly through the water. As these

Jacob Steinberg presenting his 1000 Word entry © Sean Gilliland |

Jacob Steinberg presenting his 1000 Word entry © Sean Gilliland |

cars fly around they learn about the water. This means that they learn about the water’s make-up (like how warm or cold it is). They then send back to me (through the air/space) what they have learned and I try to figure out how the water that they have “looked at” acts and changes over time. This “piece” of water acts in strange ways and moves in directions not expected because of relationships between it and either other pieces of water, the air, and/or the ground.

My research focuses on understanding the evolution of a sub-mesoscale coherent vortex (eddy) found in the California Current System. These features can be understood as anomalous water masses (lenses) formed by density instabilities and/or interaction with frictional boundaries in the ocean. Eddies of this type can transport unique water masses large distances before dissipating. These unique water masses may contain salinity, temperature, nutrient, and/or sediment anomalies that are largely isolated from their surrounding body water due to effects of rotation and isopycnal tilting. My group conducts fieldwork using autonomous underwater vehicles (seagliders) to find and track these features with the hope of understanding their time evolution as well as their significance as transporters of energy.

Adam Taylor (Chemical Engineering)

Sometimes your body needs fixing. Body parts from other animals can be good for fixing it, if we take off the cells to only leave the things that are not cells. We use the stuff you use to clean your clothes to take away the cells. Picking the right cleaning stuff is important. If the cleaning stuff is not very good we might leave bits of cells in

Adam Taylor presenting his 1000 Word entry. © Sean Gilliland |

Adam Taylor presenting his 1000 Word entry. © Sean Gilliland |

the animal body parts. If our cleaning stuff is too strong it might break the bits that are not cells. If we don’t take away the cleaning stuff it might get left behind and stop the body from being fixed. We can use a gun that fires very tiny things very fast at the things that are not cells to see if we have left any cells or cleaning stuff behind or if we have broken anything. When the fast tiny things hit the things that are not cells they break them up into little bits. The little bits fly up where we catch some of them and ask how heavy they are them. This help us work out what the things that are not cells are made off and see if we have any cells or cleaning stuff left behind. This is a new way of seeing how good we are at taking away cells and cleaning stuff from animal body parts so we can use them to help sick people.

Decellularized matrix scaffolds, such as porcine urinary bladder matrix (UBM), may be prepared through a range of decellularization techniques, commonly using ionic, zwitterionic or nonionic detergents. Whilst removal of cellular material is regularly assessed, the impact of detergent selection on ECM structure and composition is less commonly investigated. Time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (ToF-SIMS) is a powerful surface analysis technique to probe biological structures with high mass resolution and surface specificity. We report the use of ToF-SIMS to distinguish the basement membrane complex of UBM prepared by treatment with 1% SDS, 4% Deoxycholate, 8 mM CHAPS or 3% Triton X-100 for 24 hours.

Principal components analysis (PCA) reveals spectral differences between treatment groups. In addition to insights into remaining cell debris and traces of residual detergent, we can further probe these data sets to investigate how detergent selection impacts proteinaceous ECM components. Using a reduced peak list of known characteristic amino acid fragments, PCA distinguishes native bladder tissue from decellularized UBM. Additionally, PCA highlights spectral differences between UBM treated with ionic and charge-neutral (zwitterionic and nonionic) detergents. Notably, the basement membrane surface of UBM prepared with ionic detergents SDS and Deoxycholate yield less intense characteristic peaks from hydrophobic amino acids than UBM treated with charge neutral detergents CHAPS and Triton X-100. Harsher ionic detergents may denature protein structure and break protein-protein interactions through binding of their hydrophobic tail to hydrophobic amino acid residues. Such damage is hypothesized to cause sub-optimal in vitro and in vivo responses.

Ben Wiggins (Education)

When people learn from other people, they usually learn better than if they had to learn by themselves. Even so, most teachers expect students to just listen and learn on their own, even in really big college classes where they don’t have a relationship with the teacher. There are better ways! We look for the best ways for teachers to help students, especially those ways that make students do the work themselves. Our work looks at how students think and how they feel when they do the work instead of just listening to their teachers. We have conversations with students immediately after classes, and we also use numbers that tell us how well they do in school. When we put this together, we can better understand the best ways to help different students learn, even if they come from a very different kind of world than most students. Eventually, our work will lead teachers to listen better, to be kind to students and light up their interest, to make things for students to do that really matter, and to expect better from every student. We imagine colleges and schools where each of the students gets to follow their heart no matter how hard the work is.

STEM undergraduates navigate complex social learning environments as they develop expertise in tasks crucial to careers in science and technology. The design and efficacy of these environments are of increasing interest to educators as social, practice-based, and active learning techniques are called upon to improve STEM learning and diversity (Holdren, 2013; Universities, 2011; Woodin, Carter, & Fletcher, 2010). While methods and tools are available for the study of student outcomes (such as retention, final grades and instructor practices), a fitting tool is not available for analysis of active learning environments in STEM classrooms. We report a series of investigations into the complicated social learning environment of a large-enrolment active-learning STEM undergraduate course focused on student experiences with activities based in small group work. Beginning with open-ended and deep qualitative approaches, our research questions evolved through a combination of interacting mixed methods. Our end result is a student Engagement Survey grounded in real student experiences that has been iteratively validated for use in a large active learning STEM classroom. In this paper, we provide a description of the process undertaken and the triangulated understanding achieved by analyzing these learning environments from a mixed method standpoint.

Mu-Jeung Yang (Economics)

Mu-Jueng Yang presenting his 1000 Word entry © Sean Gilliland |

Mu-Jueng Yang presenting his 1000 Word entry © Sean Gilliland |

My research focuses on the reasons some businesses do better than others.

My research focuses on the determinants of firm performance.

THANKS so much to everyone who entered, and for our partners the Burke Museum and Young Naturalists.  We look forward to the event again next year.  Thanks also to Sean Gilliland for taking photographs of the event; you can see more photographs at his site.


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