2014 Projects in the Natural Sciences and Mathematics

Summer Research 2014 – Projects in the Natural Sciences, Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science

Summer 2014 Student Application Form

Choose a disciplinary area for a quick link to the associated projects:

Biology    Chemistry    Computer Science    Environmental Studies    Mathematics   Neuroscience   Physics    Psychology   Science Education   Statistics

(or view projects in the Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences, and Interdisciplinary Studies)

BIOLOGY

Charles Umbanhowar Jr – Environmental History from Lake Sediments

Lake sediments, and the chemical and biological fossils they contain, represent a rich source of information for reconstructing environmental history over times spans ranging from 100s to 1000s of years. This project will involve working with lake sediments from the northern Great Plains and from central Labrador. The northern Great Plains work will be focused on reconstructing bison grazing intensities over the last 10000 years based on counts of fungal spores extracted from sediments. The Labrador work will include analysis of fire history (from microscopic charcoal) and lake productivity (from biogenic silica) and lake organic carbon (including isotopes). Desired skills include ability/interest in extensive microscope work and a strong background in chemistry, and comfort with working with automated sampling equipment.

The students will be working closely with me. We will work together on sample preparation and analysis. The first 8 weeks of project will be lab intensive while the student and I work together in the laboratory on spore, charcoal, and carbon analysis. The last two weeks of semester will be more heavily focused on analysis of data and integrating of our work with the published literature. Students will learn new microscopy skills, as well as new analytical laboratory techniques and the use of advanced instrumentation.

Diane Angell – Biodiversity Small Mammals and Bumblebees on Remnant and Reconstructed Prairies

A number of prairie animal species are declining in Minnesota, and several small mammals and bumblebee species are currently on a species of conservation concern list for the state of Minnesota. As prairies have disappeared in this area, colleges and private landowners have planted prairies in an effort to restore some of the lost biodiversity. One expectation of these restorations was that they would eventually be colonized by animal species that historically would have inhabited prairies in this region. Research in general shows that the plant communities in these reconstructions can be quite different from neighboring remnant prairies. Our research involves comparing the small mammal and bumblebee communities in the two types of prairies in and around Northfield. Both small mammals and bumblebees play valuable roles in ecosystems. Attention has recently been focused on bumblebees, since they may have direct economic impacts due to their pollinating services to local fruit and vegetable growers. Although small mammals do not have direct economic impacts, some evidence suggests bumblebees rely on small mammal burrows for suitable hive placement. This summer we will continue to survey both small mammals and bumblebees on Carleton and St. Olaf’s reconstructed prairies as well as remnant prairies in the area to determine what species tend to use each type of prairie and will also begin to explore the role small mammal burrow density might have on bumblebee hives.

Research students need to be independent, enthusiastic and have an eye for detail as we learn the different species of small mammals, bumblebees and plants in Minnesota prairies. I will work in a variety of different ways with students. There will likely be days when I work in the field one-on-one with students trapping and surveying for small mammals and bees and other days where students can do much of the work on their own once we have set up the project.

In addition to learning more about the role of small mammals and bumblebees in prairie ecosystems, students will gain hands-on experience making decisions about research procedures and sampling schemes. They will also learn how to handle and identify bumblebees and small mammals along with a number of prairie plant species. Such animal handling experience is often required for students applying to veterinary schools. Students will gain experience reading and summarizing primary literature, interacting and explaining their research with community members (since we often sample off campus). Students will also gain experience analyzing their data using R and creating a poster.

Lisa Bowers – The role of three TonB Dependent Receptors in Caulobacter crescentus

My lab investigates mechanisms that control the cell cycle and nutrient uptake of the bacterium Caulobacter crescentus. Caulobacter is uniquely adapted to living in low-nutrient environments including lakes, rivers and even tap water. This project investigates mechanisms used by Caulobacter to acquire nutrients in these oligotrophic environments. Specifically, the project will focus on a class of transport molecules (TonB Dependent Receptors) on the surface of Caulobacter and their role in nutrient acquisition. Students will use genetic, molecular, biochemical, and bioinformatics techniques to investigate these transporter molecules. Students applying for these positions should have taken (or be taking) Genetics.

At the beginning of the project period, I’ll work closely with students to outline the experimental goals and guide them in the molecular, genetic and microbiological techniques to carry out the experiments outlined in the proposal. We will meet informally on a daily basis but will also have an organized weekly lab meeting and journal club meeting.

Students will benefit from this research in many ways. They will learn how to craft a hypothesis and design a series of experiments to test that hypothesis. They will learn many different techniques such as constructing gene deletions and inducible genes, performing chemical sensitivity assays, quantitative PCR, growth curves, and fluorescent and DIC microscopy. They will learn how to collect and analyze data and how to troubleshoot when things go wrong.

Eric Cole – Ciliate Developmental Genetics

Our lab is testing the hypothesis that ciliates signal one another prior to mating via RNA or proteins that are shed via extracellular micro-vesicles, and that these membrane-bound, extracellular messages might result in a developmental response during conjugation.

Students will spend an intense training period, and then meet twice weekly to assess progress, brainstorm and trouble-shoot problems. Students will gain cross-training experience involving whole-cells, organelle isolation, protein and RNA analysis. This can move forward to gene-cloning, GFP-tagging and fluorescence microscopy.

Eric Cole – Hurricane Oysters

Students will explore the evolution of life history traits of the scaly pearl oyster collected on San Salvador Island in the Bahamas. There will be an opportunity for field study (at student expense) to the island in June. In the lab, students will perform wax-histology and light microscopy to determine gender of oysters from a year-long field project already underway, and evaluate gender-switching dynamics.

Student will meet twice a week to trouble shoot problems and design next steps. Professor will be available daily for consultation. Students will develop skills involving histological preparation and light microscopy, as well as work with experimental design and data analysis.

Jay Demas – Retinal Circuits

My lab studies the neural circuits that process sensory information. In particular, we focus on retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), the output neurons of the vertebrate retina that communicate with the brain. We use this system because it is readily accessible and the retinal circuitry that feeds into these cells can be readily manipulation with pharmacological and genetic techniques. There are two broad problems we are working on currently. First, bipolar cells are a type of retinal interneuron that provides excitatory input onto RGCs. There are many types of bipolar cells in the vertebrate retina, and the function of different types of bipolar cells in visual processing is poorly understood. We will use a classic signal processing approach from engineering to assess the role of a genetically defined subset of bipolar cells. We will measure the responses of retinal ganglion cells to a battery of visual stimuli, comparing RGC responses in mice where these bipolar cells are genetically deleted to responses in mice where these bipolar cells are intact. Differences in the visual processing of these two mouse strains will reveal much about the role of these interneurons in visual processing. Second, we will collaborate with Dr. Steve Freedberg to examine the retinal circuits involved in navigation by hatchling turtles. When turtles hatch, they must navigate solo from their nests on land to the water sources that will become their home. Previous work has shown that a number of freshwater turtle species navigate to water using light cues. In a number of mammalian species, a small minority of RGCs are themselves photoreceptors and are called intrinsically photosensitive RGCs (ipRGCs). Our preliminary data indicate that hatchling turtles do have ipRGCs, raising the possibility that these cells play a role in navigation. Using a combination of pharmacology, in vitro electrophysiology, and behavioral assays, we will measure the relative contribution of classic RGCs and ipRGCs to hatchling navigation.

Students will work closely with me throughout the summer, but especially so at the start as they are trained in the techniques they will need to master to work independently.  My office is across the hall from my lab, and when I am not physically in the lab I remain accessible to students. Students will learn basic laboratory techniques (reagent preparation, dissection, microscopy, and how to design experiments, analyze data, and generate figures).

Steve Freedberg – Computer programming of evolutionary models

Although natural selection is generally thought to act on the survival and reproduction of individuals within populations, aggregations of individuals may also behave as cohesive units, providing the opportunity for natural selection to act on groups or even species. While mathematical modeling has been applied to questions related to higher levels of selection, these models often ignore the time-dependency of selection, which may allow for the evolution of group-beneficial adaptations. This project will offer one student the opportunity to write individual-based population genetic simulation models to ask questions relevant to higher level selection. Ideally, the resulting program will be able to describe the ecologically parameter space allowing for selection to operate.  Students should have a solid background in computer programming, ideally with experience in Perl or a related language.

The student will work directly with the professor to develop and revise the model. In addition, because the student may have limited exposure to the literature relevant to the research, the student and professor will work together to read and incorporate existing theory into their model. Towards the end of the summer, the student and professor will work to write up the results for future publication.

The student will learn programming skills and will gain valuable experience processing primary literature. The opportunity to apply computational skills to primary research will be invaluable for a young computer scientist/biological modeler.

Steve Freedberg – Gene introgression in turtles

When reproductive barriers break down, hybridization can lead to gene flow between evolutionarily distinct species, a process known as genetic introgression. Recently, we identified a complex of freshwater turtle species that are capable of hybridization and introgression in parts of their range. This gene exchange is noteworthy in light of the fact that the species diverged several million years ago and show extensive morphological and behavioral divergence. We are interested in examining the genetic consequences of hybridization in these turtles in a large area of sympatry.

The student working on the proposed project will develop novel genetic markers for detecting hybridization in previously collected samples, ultimately helping to determine how mechanisms of reproduction isolation are operating in this system. The project will involve laboratory methods for genetic analysis, as well as statistical programs and the use of software for designing genetic markers.

The student will work directly with the professor to design and amplify molecular markers. The professor will also provide extensive training in laboratory techniques. In addition, because the student may have limited exposure to the literature relevant to the research, the student and professor will work together to read and incorporate existing theory into their model. Towards the end of the summer, the student and professor will work to write up the results for future publication.

The student will learn valuable bioinformatics skills in the development of genetic markers for their study. In addition, they will gain experience to laboratory techniques and analysis that will be invaluable for their development as scientists. Most importantly, they will gain experience playing a central role in the development of a primary research project.

Laura Listenberger – Cellular Mechanisms of Lipid Storage

My lab studies the lipid droplet, the intracellular storage compartment for excess fat. The storage and utilization of excess fat is controlled by proteins that interact with the lipid droplet surface, but the characteristics of the lipid droplet that make this structure recognizable to interacting proteins are not known. Thus, we aim to understand how the structure of the lipid droplet surface facilitates binding of particular proteins. Our experiments use a variety of standard techniques in biochemistry and cell biology (including mammalian cell culture, subcellular fractionation, polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, and western blotting) to identify features of the lipid droplet surface that promote protein binding.

I will work closely with students at the beginning of the project period, explaining and demonstrating techniques, recommending specific articles to read, and outlining the experimental goals.  As students gains confidence and proficiency in their lab work, they will take more responsibility for planning and executing experiments. However, I will still be available for daily consultation as I will be working on a similar project in the laboratory with the students and/or working on a writing project in my office across the hall from the lab. I expect lots of questions and will be present and available to assist. Throughout the summer we will meet at least weekly for formal progress reports.

Students gain proficiency in several standard techniques in the field. They gain confidence in their ability to design experiments and critically analyze their work.  We practice both oral and written communication. I expect my students to be able to thoroughly explain their work and present their results at both on-campus and off-campus symposia. Lastly, my previous research students have used their experience in my lab to gain entrance to medical or professional schools.

John Schade and Kyle Whittinghill – The Polaris Project: assessing the impacts of climate change in Minnesota and Siberia

The Polaris Project is a multifaceted effort that includes a summer field course and research experience that will take place in Minnesota in June and in the Siberian Arctic in July of 2014. The unifying scientific theme of the Polaris Project is the study of the potential effects of climate change on the cycling of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. One St. Olaf student will work with us to develop a project during the month of June studying agricultural lands, restored prairies and small streams on and around campus, which will be part of a comparative project also conducted in a permafrost-dominated watershed in the East Siberian Arctic in the month of July. The selected student will complete a 10-week summer research experience and will have the opportunity to collaborate with us and an international team of scientists on a comparative research project in Minnesota and Siberia. We will also return to campus after traveling to Siberia to complete analyses and present research results to the St. Olaf community during the end of summer research symposium

We plan to provide a broad research framework for the student in the beginning of the project to help guide project development. The student will be expected to explore ideas within this broad framework using the scientific literature and observations of field sites to develop questions and hypotheses the fit their individual interest. We will work closely with the student during the initial stages of the summer to guide project development, but the student will have the opportunity to shape the project to their own interests. Schade and Whittinghill will share mentoring duties throughout the summer, however Whittinghill will be the principal mentor in June and Schade will travel to Russia with the student and act as principal mentor in July. All participants will spend time together in early June, in mid-summer just prior to the trip to Russia and during the last week to help the student prepare for their final presentation. These meetings will ensure a well-integrated project and mentoring program for the student.

The student will have the opportunity to develop their research abilities, both in terms of better understanding the intellectual skills necessary to develop and articulate interesting questions and rigorous hypotheses, and in terms of field, laboratory and quantitative skills necessary to complete and communicate their project.

Kevin Crisp – Wireless Implantable Medical Technologies

We are working on an NSF-funded project to develop an implantable wireless technology capable of detecting nerve activity and relaying this information to a physically distant detector. Our focus is on reducing the dependence of said devices on proximal power sources.

The student will work on a research team consisting of myself, my full-time research scientist, and students from the McNair Scholars program. As team members, they will be expected to contribute to the progress of the group through both independent and collaborative work. Self-motivation and a strong desire to learn are essential. I’m looking for a hard-working, fast-learning, resourceful student who is willing to learn whatever they need to know to complete the project and willing to devote themselves single-mindedly to it this summer. Familiarity with neurophysiology, basic electronics, or the medical device industry is desirable.

Students will learn about basic electronics, radiotelemetry, neurophysiology and computer simulation techniques as they apply to the development of novel medical technologies.

Kathleen Shea – Ecology of the St. Olaf Natural and Agricultural Lands

Students working with me will focus on ecological research on the St. Olaf Natural and Agricultural Lands. Projects will examine plant species diversity, size and growth rates, as well as soil characteristics in restored forest and/or prairie ecosystems. We will also examine the effects of different agricultural tillage and fertilizer practices on soil quality and agricultural yields in consultation with local farmers. Students will learn about management of natural areas through invasive species removal, watering tree seedlings, planting seeds, and other needed management tasks.

I meet with students daily to discuss research plans, related scientific papers, data collection and/or data analyses. I may need to travel for short time periods during the summer and will make sure that students have detailed plans for working and other faculty to contact while I am gone.

Students will learn a variety of field and lab skills that will be useful for future research, environmental education, or natural resource management positions. They will learn much about the natural history or the St. Olaf Natural Lands and have the opportunity to continue working on Natural Lands projects in the future. The experiences in research and management will help students decide if they want to do more research in the future and may help focus career objectives.

CHEMISTRY

Douglas Beussman – Human Scent Differentiation

This project will involve using GC/MS techniques to characterize human scent profiles. Slight differences in normal human scent patterns are used by canines to differentiate humans. We are interested in developing a laboratory-based technique that can be used to investigate these scent differences. The volatile organic compounds found in normal human scent are at extremely low concentrations, often ppb or ppt levels and thus require a very sensitive technique to profile these compounds. Possible applications of this GC/MS scent profiling method include forensic case work and disease state detection.

Students will work closely with Dr. Beussman initially as they learn the protocols and instrumentation and will become more self sufficient as the summer progresses. Students will learn how to use the GC mass spectrometer to analyze trace samples, interpret results and become independent researchers.

Douglas Beussman – Lab Development

Students interested in developing experiments to be incorporated into various teaching labs are encouraged to apply. A variety of different labs are available for development including electrochemistry, fluorescence or Raman spectroscopy, and GC or MALDI mass spectrometry. The goal will be to develop one or more experiments to be used in the St. Olaf curriculum next year. A student working on this project will be involved in selecting what sort of samples will be analyzed as well as developing and optimizing the methods used for the analysis. The theme of these labs could involve forensics, environmental analysis, food analysis, pharmaceutical processes or any other context of interest to the student.

Students will work closely with Dr. Beussman initially as they learn the protocols and instrumentation and will become more self sufficient as the summer progresses. Students will learn how to design, test, modify, and write-up science experiments aimed for teaching labs. They will learn how the instrumentation works as well as what information needs to be included in a lab manual to make the lab educational while still ensuring that students can complete it. While this project would benefit any student interested, it is particularly suited for students thinking of a career in academics at any level.

Douglas Beussman – Drug Analysis in Commercial Products

Drugs are prevalent in a number of commercially available products. “Bath salts” are an example of drugs being sold legally. While most of the ingredients are legal, they chemically mimic illegal substances. As soon as the compounds are added to the list of illegal drugs, the manufacturers change the ingredients. Another example is nutritional supplements. While they don’t generally contain illegal substances, they often contain substances banned by athletic organizations. This project aims to develop analytical methods for the rapid analysis of these substances using LC-MS. A student working on this project will learn how to develop an analytical method as well as how to operate and maintain the LC-MS mass spectrometer.

Students will work closely with Dr. Beussman initially as they learn the protocols and instrumentation and will become more self sufficient as the summer progresses. Students will learn how to use the LC mass spectrometer to analyze  samples, interpret results and become independent researchers. LC-MS is a skill of growing demand in the analytical sciences and students with experience to this technique will be quite marketable.

Douglas Beussman – Tetrahymena Proteomics

This NSF-funded project includes collaborating with Dr. Cole in the Biology Department, as well as research groups at Drake University in Iowa, Claremeont Colleges in California and Missouri State University, on the identification of proteins isolated from Tetrahymena thermophila, using proteomic methods. Isolated proteins will be digested and analyzed using mass spectrometry techniques with the MALDI-TOF/TOF instrument and screened against a database of proteins predicted to exist based on the genome. Peptides from potentially identified proteins will be fragmented in the mass spectrometer in order to sequence the peptides for confirmation of protein identification.

Students will work closely with Dr. Beussman initially as they learn the protocols and instrumentation and will become more self sufficient as the summer progresses. Students will learn how to perform state-of-the-art proteomic analyses, use the MALDI-TOF mass spectrometer, interpret results and become independent researchers.

Douglas Beussman – Isotope Ratio Analysis of Threads

This National Institutes of Justice (NIJ) funded forensics project uses the isotope ratio mass spectrometer at St. Olaf to analyze clothing threads. This project will look at small differences in isotope ratios of threads which are otherwise often indistinguishable. By determining the isotope ratios, differences between fabrics made at different locations or time can be observed, allowing for threads to be distinguished from one another, adding forensic value to thread analysis.

Students will work closely with Dr. Beussman initially as they learn the protocols and instrumentation and will become more self sufficient as the summer progresses. Students will learn how to use the state-of-the-art isotope ratio mass spectrometer, interpret results and become independent researchers.

Keir Fogarty – Quantitative, Automated Image Analysis Methodologies for Determination of Protein Behavior in Diverse Cellular Populations.

My research focuses on the application of biophysical fluorescence imaging techniques towards the understanding of biological systems. Specifically, my research project involves the development of an automated analysis platform that analyzes cellular microscopy images using spatial data analysis techniques. In cellular biology, fluorescent images of cells are often used to study protein expression levels (i.e. concentration/fluorescent intensity), and protein localization (i.e. where the protein is located in a cell/image). The expression and localization information contained in these images can provide a window into protein function, interactions and reaction equilibrium. A difficulty encountered in such studies is that every cell exhibits unique size, morphology, and protein expression levels. Scientists often qualitatively seek representative images of cells exhibiting characteristic protein expression and localization to infer the behavior of the overall population.  This methodology introduces personal bias in the selection of cells which are assumed to be representative of the population average behavior.  Clearly, there is a need to bring quantitation and statistical weight to cellular imaging studies so that protein behavior can be studied for a population of cells in an unbiased, thorough manner. To accomplish this, my research group has been working on adapting spatial data analysis techniques used in Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to the analysis of cellular fluorescence images. Goals of our study include; (I) understanding how protein concentration gradients in cells influence local reaction equilibria, (II) identifying different subpopulations of cells expressing identical proteins which exhibit a range of behaviors due to fluctuating conditions in individual cells, and (III) developing image reconstruction methodologies so that average behaviors of populations or sub-populations can be accurately visualized. Students working on this project can expect to get an introduction to molecular biology techniques (protein purification, molecular cloning), biophysical fluorescence microscopy techniques (scanning confocal microscopy, number and brightness analysis, fluorescence correlation imaging), as well as experience in developing a spatial data analysis program and sophisticated image analysis techniques. The project encompasses three fields of study:

Field 1: Microbiology/Biochemistry. The research mentor will train students in aspects of cell culture, biological reagent preparation, protein purification, and biological assays. Cellular samples which express a fluorescent protein of interest will be prepared for imaging by microscopy. To accomplish this, the student will gain experience in molecular cloning, protein purification and biological assays for creating the reagents required for fluorescent protein expression and control experiments involving purified fluorescent proteins. In addition, the student will be trained in cell culture and transfection protocols to induce cellular samples to express the protein of interest. Finally the student will explore cell-growth surface chemistries so that cell growth on varying substrates can be explored.

Field 2: Microscopy. The research mentor will train students in sophisticated microscopy techniques, such as confocal microscopy and image correlation microscopy, which will allow for the precise imaging of fluorescent cellular samples. The research mentor will impart a working knowledge of the instruments, as well as safety and proper use guidelines which will enable students to independently work in a microscopy laboratory. In addition, the research mentor will educate students in sophisticated microscopy modalities, such as scanning correlation spectroscopy, which represent specialized knowledge in the field of microscopy.

Field 3: Spatial Data Analysis/Computer Programming. The research mentor will train students in the use of Java and R computer programming languages for the modification, refinement, and expansion of a cell image spatial data analysis (CISDA) program developed by my research group. In addition, the student will be trained in spatial data analysis methodologies traditionally used in Geographical Information Systems (GIS). The goal is to develop a user-friendly program capable of running CISDA in an automated manner for hundreds of images, with output data that is clear, concise and analytically powerful.

For students in the natural sciences, research-oriented laboratory experience has become critical for not only admission into graduate school, but also for opportunities in industry. In addition, particularly in the field of biology, interest in the benefits of interdisciplinary approaches is peaking. This project trains students in the techniques of biophysical chemistry, biomolecular science, and spatial data analysis, providing them with a set of skills which will set them apart from students with experience from more traditional scientific backgrounds. Increasingly, both graduate schools and employers are interested in people who have demonstrated a degree of multi-disciplinarity, and a familiarity with cutting edge technology and analysis techniques. In addition, I still have a good working relationship with my postdoctoral mentors in biophysics and virology at the University of Minnesota. Their close proximity allows for me to encourage students to participate in research “field-trips” to truly state of the art facilities not accessible to the average undergraduate student at a liberal arts college like St. Olaf. In addition, it gives St. Olaf students an opportunity to witness working graduate-level labs first-hand so that they can get a picture of what graduate student life is like and better make an informed decision concerning their future.

Laura Listenberger – Cellular Mechanisms of Lipid Storage

My lab studies the lipid droplet, the intracellular storage compartment for excess fat. The storage and utilization of excess fat is controlled by proteins that interact with the lipid droplet surface, but the characteristics of the lipid droplet that make this structure recognizable to interacting proteins are not known. Thus, we aim to understand how the structure of the lipid droplet surface facilitates binding of particular proteins. Our experiments use a variety of standard techniques in biochemistry and cell biology (including mammalian cell culture, subcellular fractionation, polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, and western blotting) to identify features of the lipid droplet surface that promote protein binding.

I will work closely with students at the beginning of the project period, explaining and demonstrating techniques, recommending specific articles to read, and outlining the experimental goals.  As students gains confidence and proficiency in their lab work, they will take more responsibility for planning and executing experiments. However, I will still be available for daily consultation as I will be working on a similar project in the laboratory with the students and/or working on a writing project in my office across the hall from the lab. I expect lots of questions and will be present and available to assist. Throughout the summer we will meet at least weekly for formal progress reports.

Students gain proficiency in several standard techniques in the field. They gain confidence in their ability to design experiments and critically analyze their work.  We practice both oral and written communication. I expect my students to be able to thoroughly explain their work and present their results at both on-campus and off-campus symposia. Lastly, my previous research students have used their experience in my lab to gain entrance to medical or professional schools.

Greg Muth – The Science Alliance: Science Education and Outreach

This non-traditional summer research project continues our community outreach effort to get elementary students excited about science and gives Oles the opportunity to inspire our next generation of researchers. The goal of the summer portion of the project is to research and develop hands-on classroom activities for elementary school students centered on the principles of renewable energy and other areas of science. The project continues during the academic year with training of volunteers and dissemination of the materials and curriculum throughout the community in a science-outreach program. This project is ideal for a student interested in science education. A vital component for the success of this project is coordination and implementation during the academic year.  Preference will be given to those individual able to do so.

After the initial training period, the students will take primary responsibility for the project. The goal is to empower the students with the confidence and to generate their own ideas for teaching and the skills and resources to see their ideas to implementation. The working relationship range from daily hands-on guidance to complete independence with room to encourage creativity and expression.

A primary goal of the project is for students to take ownership of the development and dissemination of the curriculum they develop. There is opportunity for complete independence, an opportunity to provide leadership, and an opportunity for mentoring the next generation of scientist.

Jeff Schwinefus – DNA and RNA Stability in Glycine Betaine, Proline, and Urea Solutions: Correlating Small Molecule Interactions with Nucleic Acid Surfaces

Cosolutes, small naturally-occurring solutes such as amino acids, nucleic acid precursors, simple sugars, and metabolites, can dramatically modulate the stability of DNA and RNA. The long-term objective of this project is to elucidate the fundamental principles of cosolute stabilization or destabilization of nucleic acid secondary and tertiary structures, so as to better understand how cosolute interactions influence biopolymer folding, biochemical reactions, and biopolymer folding diseases. Investigations this summer will focus on the cosolutes glycine betaine (GB), L-proline, and urea. We hypothesize cosolute interactions with the solvent-accessible surface area that would be exposed to solvent during an unfolding event drive nucleic acid stabilization or destabilization and can be used to probe changes in accessible surface area during biochemical reactions. Thermodynamically favorable interactions with the surface area exposed during unfolding drive destabilization of nucleic acid secondary and tertiary structures while unfavorable interactions stabilize such structures. Additionally, quantifying these interactions in molecular detail will lead to insights in both protein and nucleic acid folding and help equip the undergraduate students involved in this project with a critical and quantitative way of thinking about biopolymer folding. Applicants should have completed Chem or CHBI 126 by May 2014.

I will work closely with students involved in this project. They will be responsible for gathering data and conducting experiments. I will develop the theory, experimental design, and aid in collection of data as well. I welcome student feedback to further refine experiments and data collection. We will use multiple techniques (partition assay, vapor pressure osmometry, differential scanning calorimetry, and uv-absorbance spectroscopy) during the summer and expose students to multiple types of experiments.

Students will gain experience with a vapor pressure osmometer, uv-spectrophotometer, and differential scanning calorimeter. They will also gain experience designing experiments and writing manuscripts.

Dipannita Kalyani – Nickel Catalyzed Carbon-Carbon Bond Formation

The ubiquity of hydrocarbons (including arenes and alkanes) in petrochemical sources has resulted in a continuously growing demand for selective conversion of these compounds into functional materials. In particular, the development of atom economical, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly methods for the construction of Carbon–Carbon bonds using hydrocarbons is very desirable. This is because Carbon–Carbon bonds are found in a variety of compounds including fuels, pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, conjugated materials, and commodity chemicals. The overall goal of the proposed research is the development of mild, and efficient methods for the formation of Carbon–Carbon bonds using nickel and palladium catalysts. The projects will provide students experience with state of the art laboratory techniques and research methods for organic/organometallic chemistry. The research experience is expected to be invaluable for students considering a graduate study in chemistry or a job in the chemical industry.

I will meet with students regularly both in and outside of lab to assist them in advancing their research projects. Each student will have their own individual smaller projects within the broader goal of my research program.

The proposed project will provide organic chemistry laboratory research experience to the undergraduate students. Such experience is expected to be invaluable toward their further career pursuits including a graduate study or a job in the chemical industry. Furthermore, it will expose them to a cutting edge area of organic chemistry. The funds available from the grants will also enable the participating undergraduate students to present their research results in a national chemistry conference. Most importantly, the research experience will allow the students to hone their critical thinking and problem solving skills.

COMPUTER SCIENCE

Dick Brown – CSinParallel: Parallel and distributed computing for CS students across the nation

The rise of multicore computing and “cloud computing” mean that all CS students now need competency in parallel and distributed computing (PDC) in order to be prepared for their careers. Student researchers in the CSinParallel project have a unique opportunity to contribute to this international movement in CS education, by helping to research, develop, produce, and improve modules for teaching PDC (csinparallel.org). This summer’s projects include: improvements in the St. Olaf-developed and widely recognized WebMapReduce simplified interface for Big Data computing; researching and creating modules that focus on parallel design patterns and “exemplar” applications to other disciplines and concerns, such as DNA comparison and traffic flow analysis; improving portability and performance of WebMapReduce; researching, documenting, and deploying CSinParallel modules on new parallel computing platforms; preparing for and supporting upcoming regional workshops for professors at other institutions to teach more PDC; and preparing materials for publication. Special equipment includes St. Olaf’s Beowulf clusters, 32-core and 64-core computers, LittleFE portable cluster, Galileo boards for creating Internet of Things applications that use PDC, and high-performance graphics cards for accelerated computations, as well as external resources provided by Intel, Amazon, and others. Preparation: Minimum of CS 251; courses with significant parallel computing such as CS 300, CS 284, CS 273 are assets.

Summer research in CS occurs within a dynamic community, in which students and faculty collaborate to accomplish research goals. Each student researcher has responsibility for a particular goal or goal group, although students ordinarily collaborate with others to accomplish those goals, e.g., by consulting to share expertise, or by teaming together to accomplish related goals or common stages in their processes. The professor, who relocates his office functions to the lab, specifies the requirements, interacts with the student researcher(s) to determine strategies and select among design and technology choices, assesses individual and overall progress, and obtains resources needed for projects to succeed. Student researchers spend their time: creating software, working with hardware, and producing and presenting written materials, talks, and other deliverables; and interacting with each other, the directing professor, and others on and off campus connected to the work. In particular, CSinParallel researchers will interact with faculty off-campus as they create tools and materials for teaching parallel and distributed computing and in preparation and support for CSinParallel faculty workshops.

A CSinParallel summer research student gains the experience of being a full collaborating partner in a research project that has a highly visible leadership position in an urgent national reform movement in CS education. This includes basic background research, acquiring technical expertise, applying results of such investigations to create expository materials and computational support resources that address relevant and pressing needs, preparing for dissemination at international conferences and special events, and often authoring or co-authoring papers and other professional submissions and presenting such work. Their pivotal involvement in these activities commonly bring them into direct contact with other industry and academic leaders, sometimes leading to career opportunities after graduation. They also gain deep and valuable experience with parallel computing, providing a tangible advantage in an emerging area that is increasingly affecting all forms of computation, from personal phones to peta-scale web services to high-performance scientific computing.

Dick Brown – HiPerCiC: Custom Web Applications for All Disciplines

Virtually any discipline on campus can benefit from applications of Computer Science, and undergraduates using St. Olaf’s HiPerCiC software framework can create web-based applications for the research interests of individual faculty members across campus that makes it practical to consider research questions in other disciplines that were impractical before now, in collaboration with faculty across the campus. Some current HiPerCiC examples: finding all quotations in one large text of another large text; simulating hundreds of thousands of different plants to assess the way the respond to nitrogen-rich environments over time; simulating the performance of stock-future investment strategies using S&P 500 data; and interactively visualizing combinations of historical data sets through maps. HiPerCiC seeks two student researchers, one to lead extension and further development of the HiPerCiC framework, and one to lead improvements in user-interface quality of HiPerCiC applications. Both students will collaboratively develop existing and new HiPerCiC applications during the summer, including Digital Humanities applications. HiPerCiC is the basis for the interdisciplinary course IS 201, to be offered in upcoming years, which focuses on the creation and deployment of new and ongoing applications of high-performance computing in multiple disciplines. Preparation: Good programming skills and interest in systems, user interfaces and/or interdisciplinary applications of CS; systems coursework such as CS 273, 284, 300, or IS 201 are assets.

Summer research in CS occurs within a dynamic community, in which students and faculty collaborate to accomplish research goals. In the HiPerCiC effort, students carry out the actual research, under the direction of Prof. Brown and in close consultation with faculty members in other disciplines whose applications they are creating or extending, who serve as “domain experts.” Each student researcher has responsibility for particular goals, although students ordinarily collaborate with other CS summer researchers to accomplish those goals, e.g., by consulting to share expertise, or by teaming together to accomplish related goals or common stages in their processes. The professor, who relocates his office functions to the lab, specifies the requirements according to interactions with the domain expert, interacts with the student researcher(s) to determine strategies and select among design and technology choices, assesses individual and overall progress, and obtains resources needed for projects to succeed. Student researchers spend their time: creating software; working with hardware; producing and presenting written materials, talks, and other deliverables; and interacting with each other, the directing professor, the domain expert, and others on- and off-campus connected to the work.

This project combines the design and implementation of user interfaces, a sought-after field that is an appropriate and natural area of study within CS, with forward looking computing technologies, such as parallel computing (emerging as a critical and timely knowledge area in computer science). The concepts and skills this student will acquire in this project will readily transfer to other user-interface framework systems, and both widen that student’s education in CS principles and provide practical background that is invaluable for extending, creating, and deploying user interfaces. In fact, part of the original motivation for HiPerCiC was a recommendation in the most recent CS program review to provide opportunities for students to pursue these valuable technologies. The project will also develop that student’s ability to carry out research projects, which will serve her/him throughout the remainder of her/his time at St. Olaf, and will prepare that student for future research work, perhaps in graduate school.

Finally, participation in interdisciplinary undergraduate research will widen that student’s exposure to and (likely) interest in applications of CS in collaborative research involving other fields. The interdisciplinary collaboration itself develops highly beneficial team-project and interpersonal communicatin skills. Also, a student’s central role in producing innovative applications of parallel computing to problems of scholarly interest in other disciplines has potential to contribute towards professional publication opportunities, under the direction of the “domain” professor being served by the HiPerCiC project.

Steve Freedberg – Computer programming of evolutionary models

Although natural selection is generally thought to act on the survival and reproduction of individuals within populations, aggregations of individuals may also behave as cohesive units, providing the opportunity for natural selection to act on groups or even species. While mathematical modeling has been applied to questions related to higher levels of selection, these models often ignore the time-dependency of selection, which may allow for the evolution of group-beneficial adaptations. This project will offer one student the opportunity to write individual-based population genetic simulation models to ask questions relevant to higher level selection. Ideally, the resulting program will be able to describe the ecologically parameter space allowing for selection to operate.  Students should have a solid background in computer programming, ideally with experience in Perl or a related language.

The student will work directly with the professor to develop and revise the model. In addition, because the student may have limited exposure to the literature relevant to the research, the student and professor will work together to read and incorporate existing theory into their model. Towards the end of the summer, the student and professor will work to write up the results for future publication.

The student will learn programming skills and will gain valuable experience processing primary literature. The opportunity to apply computational skills to primary research will be invaluable for a young computer scientist/biological modeler.

ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES

Charles Umbanhowar Jr – Environmental History from Lake Sediments

Lake sediments, and the chemical and biological fossils they contain, represent a rich source of information for reconstructing environmental history over times spans ranging from 100s to 1000s of years. This project will involve working with lake sediments from the northern Great Plains and from central Labrador. The northern Great Plains work will be focused on reconstructing bison grazing intensities over the last 10000 years based on counts of fungal spores extracted from sediments. The Labrador work will include analysis of fire history (from microscopic charcoal) and lake productivity (from biogenic silica) and lake organic carbon (including isotopes). Desired skills include ability/interest in extensive microscope work and a strong background in chemistry, and comfort with working with automated sampling equipment.

The students will be working closely with me. We will work together on sample preparation and analysis. The first 8 weeks of project will be lab intensive while the student and I work together in the laboratory on spore, charcoal, and carbon analysis. The last two weeks of semester will be more heavily focused on analysis of data and integrating of our work with the published literature. Students will learn new microscopy skills, as well as new analytical laboratory techniques and the use of advanced instrumentation.

Diane Angell – Biodiversity Small Mammals and Bumblebees on Remnant and Reconstructed Prairies

A number of prairie animal species are declining in Minnesota, and several small mammals and bumblebee species are currently on a species of conservation concern list for the state of Minnesota. As prairies have disappeared in this area, colleges and private landowners have planted prairies in an effort to restore some of the lost biodiversity. One expectation of these restorations was that they would eventually be colonized by animal species that historically would have inhabited prairies in this region. Research in general shows that the plant communities in these reconstructions can be quite different from neighboring remnant prairies. Our research involves comparing the small mammal and bumblebee communities in the two types of prairies in and around Northfield. Both small mammals and bumblebees play valuable roles in ecosystems. Attention has recently been focused on bumblebees, since they may have direct economic impacts due to their pollinating services to local fruit and vegetable growers. Although small mammals do not have direct economic impacts, some evidence suggests bumblebees rely on small mammal burrows for suitable hive placement. This summer we will continue to survey both small mammals and bumblebees on Carleton and St. Olaf’s reconstructed prairies as well as remnant prairies in the area to determine what species tend to use each type of prairie and will also begin to explore the role small mammal burrow density might have on bumblebee hives.

Research students need to be independent, enthusiastic and have an eye for detail as we learn the different species of small mammals, bumblebees and plants in Minnesota prairies. I will work in a variety of different ways with students. There will likely be days when I work in the field one-on-one with students trapping and surveying for small mammals and bees and other days where students can do much of the work on their own once we have set up the project.

In addition to learning more about the role of small mammals and bumblebees in prairie ecosystems, students will gain hands-on experience making decisions about research procedures and sampling schemes. They will also learn how to handle and identify bumblebees and small mammals along with a number of prairie plant species. Such animal handling experience is often required for students applying to veterinary schools. Students will gain experience reading and summarizing primary literature, interacting and explaining their research with community members (since we often sample off campus). Students will also gain experience analyzing their data using R and creating a poster.

John Schade and Kyle Whittinghill – The Polaris Project: assessing the impacts of climate change in Minnesota and Siberia

The Polaris Project is a multifaceted effort that includes a summer field course and research experience that will take place in Minnesota in June and in the Siberian Arctic in July of 2014. The unifying scientific theme of the Polaris Project is the study of the potential effects of climate change on the cycling of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. One St. Olaf student will work with us to develop a project during the month of June studying agricultural lands, restored prairies and small streams on and around campus, which will be part of a comparative project also conducted in a permafrost-dominated watershed in the East Siberian Arctic in the month of July. The selected student will complete a 10-week summer research experience and will have the opportunity to collaborate with us and an international team of scientists on a comparative research project in Minnesota and Siberia. We will also return to campus after traveling to Siberia to complete analyses and present research results to the St. Olaf community during the end of summer research symposium

We plan to provide a broad research framework for the student in the beginning of the project to help guide project development. The student will be expected to explore ideas within this broad framework using the scientific literature and observations of field sites to develop questions and hypotheses the fit their individual interest. We will work closely with the student during the initial stages of the summer to guide project development, but the student will have the opportunity to shape the project to their own interests. Schade and Whittinghill will share mentoring duties throughout the summer, however Whittinghill will be the principal mentor in June and Schade will travel to Russia with the student and act as principal mentor in July. All participants will spend time together in early June, in mid-summer just prior to the trip to Russia and during the last week to help the student prepare for their final presentation. These meetings will ensure a well-integrated project and mentoring program for the student.

The student will have the opportunity to develop their research abilities, both in terms of better understanding the intellectual skills necessary to develop and articulate interesting questions and rigorous hypotheses, and in terms of field, laboratory and quantitative skills necessary to complete and communicate their project.

Kathleen Shea – Ecology of the St. Olaf Natural and Agricultural Lands

Students working with me will focus on ecological research on the St. Olaf Natural and Agricultural Lands. Projects will examine plant species diversity, size and growth rates, as well as soil characteristics in restored forest and/or prairie ecosystems. We will also examine the effects of different agricultural tillage and fertilizer practices on soil quality and agricultural yields in consultation with local farmers. Students will learn about management of natural areas through invasive species removal, watering tree seedlings, planting seeds, and other needed management tasks.

I meet with students daily to discuss research plans, related scientific papers, data collection and/or data analyses. I may need to travel for short time periods during the summer and will make sure that students have detailed plans for working and other faculty to contact while I am gone.

Students will learn a variety of field and lab skills that will be useful for future research, environmental education, or natural resource management positions. They will learn much about the natural history or the St. Olaf Natural Lands and have the opportunity to continue working on Natural Lands projects in the future. The experiences in research and management will help students decide if they want to do more research in the future and may help focus career objectives.

MATHEMATICS

Tina Garrett and David Castro – The Mathematics of Atonal Musical Structures

Within the growing sub-field of music theory known as transformational theory, recent work by Dmitri Tymoczko, Steven Rings, Clifton Callendar, et al., has developed the traditional relationship between math and music to an unprecedented degree. These authors (and others) employ sophisticated mathematics in order to model various musical structures and their interactions. To date, however, the most influential work has largely focused on tonal or diatonic music, meaning that fully chromatic or atonal music remains a rich area for research. To that end, the goal of our summer research project is to examine Allen Forte’s list of atonal set classes using the tools and concepts of combinatorics. This research will evaluate the notion of sets, as it is understood by music theorists, for its analytical validity and effectiveness.

David Castro will oversee the major aspect of the project question — what type of analyses make sense in the atonal setting. Tina Garrett will provide the mathematical expertise and combinatorics background. The students will have the opportunity to work at this intersection of music and mathematics and learn to look at a music theory problem from a different perspective. The project also provides insight into the application of combinatorics.

NEUROSCIENCE

Shelly Dickinson – Impact of caffeine on alcohol’s effects in mice

Co-consumption of caffeine and alcohol is common, but their interactions are not scientifically well-understood. This work is geared toward understanding the behavioral effects of combined alcohol and caffeine administration in adolescent mice and determining the neural mechanisms involved in those effects. Briefly, we’ll be using place conditioning, taste conditioning and/or locomotor activity assays to measure the behavioral effects of alcohol after chronic or acute caffeine administration in adolescent (teenage) mice. Depending on the interests of the student investigator(s), we’ll look at the impact of using dopamine receptor antagonists on the alcohol-caffeine interaction and/or look at the molecular changes in important brain areas that accompany the behavioral changes. Required student background: Some statistics and either Psychology 238 or Neuroscience 239

We will work together very closely during the first two weeks, with lots of reading and discussion (sometimes under the trees on the quad!) and animal handling practice. As you become adept at the mouse work and are collecting behavioral data you will see less of me because you will need me less. Some weekend mouse work is likely, but we’ll keep it to a minimum! I like to have at least a brief check-in meeting every day, with a longer lab meeting once a week.

This project will give students needed research experience for graduate school and will provide a variety of technical skills including animal husbandry. In addition, students will gain a great deal of practice reading and critiquing primary literature. They will learn about experimental design and analysis, and will present their findings at two conferences.

Jay Demas – Retinal Circuits

My lab studies the neural circuits that process sensory information. In particular, we focus on retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), the output neurons of the vertebrate retina that communicate with the brain. We use this system because it is readily accessible and the retinal circuitry that feeds into these cells can be readily manipulation with pharmacological and genetic techniques. There are two broad problems we are working on currently. First, bipolar cells are a type of retinal interneuron that provides excitatory input onto RGCs. There are many types of bipolar cells in the vertebrate retina, and the function of different types of bipolar cells in visual processing is poorly understood. We will use a classic signal processing approach from engineering to assess the role of a genetically defined subset of bipolar cells. We will measure the responses of retinal ganglion cells to a battery of visual stimuli, comparing RGC responses in mice where these bipolar cells are genetically deleted to responses in mice where these bipolar cells are intact. Differences in the visual processing of these two mouse strains will reveal much about the role of these interneurons in visual processing. Second, we will collaborate with Dr. Steve Freedberg to examine the retinal circuits involved in navigation by hatchling turtles. When turtles hatch, they must navigate solo from their nests on land to the water sources that will become their home. Previous work has shown that a number of freshwater turtle species navigate to water using light cues. In a number of mammalian species, a small minority of RGCs are themselves photoreceptors and are called intrinsically photosensitive RGCs (ipRGCs). Our preliminary data indicate that hatchling turtles do have ipRGCs, raising the possibility that these cells play a role in navigation. Using a combination of pharmacology, in vitro electrophysiology, and behavioral assays, we will measure the relative contribution of classic RGCs and ipRGCs to hatchling navigation.

Students will work closely with me throughout the summer, but especially so at the start as they are trained in the techniques they will need to master to work independently.  My office is across the hall from my lab, and when I am not physically in the lab I remain accessible to students. Students will learn basic laboratory techniques (reagent preparation, dissection, microscopy, and how to design experiments, analyze data, and generate figures).

Gary Muir – The Neural Basis of Navigation

My research program is guided primarily by questions about the neural mechanisms of spatial cognition and navigation. The firing activity of “head direction” cells in the brain is thought to represent the animal’s perceived “sense of direction,” or orientation, by acting something like an internal compass. How is this neural signal generated? What role do these cells play in enabling us to re-orient following a period of disorientation? To answer these questions, students will have the opportunity to observe a “behaving” brain in action by recording the activity of single neurons in freely moving rats. Students will be involved in small animal handling and surgery; single-unit electrophysiological data collection and analysis; and public presentation of the results. Given the nature of the work, two desirable skills for applicants are good fine motor skills and patience. Students interested in continuing the project into the academic year as independent research are especially encouraged to apply.

Students involved in this project will work closely with the professor and each other in a small team throughout the 10 week research period. In addition to being mentored by the professor in learning appropriate research techniques in the lab, we will have regular opportunities to discuss relevant literature as a team. Students will learn a number of skills both specific to the lab research we will be conducting (e.g., small animal surgery, electrophysiological methodology) as well as general skills related to scientific inquiry (e.g., how to ask questions in science, and how to (try to) answer them). We will also be holding regular Journal Club discussions around literature, both assigned by me and introduced by the student(s).

Kevin Crisp – Wireless Implantable Medical Technologies

We are working on an NSF-funded project to develop an implantable wireless technology capable of detecting nerve activity and relaying this information to a physically distant detector. Our focus is on reducing the dependence of said devices on proximal power sources.

The student will work on a research team consisting of myself, my full-time research scientist, and students from the McNair Scholars program. As team members, they will be expected to contribute to the progress of the group through both independent and collaborative work. Self-motivation and a strong desire to learn are essential. I’m looking for a hard-working, fast-learning, resourceful student who is willing to learn whatever they need to know to complete the project and willing to devote themselves single-mindedly to it this summer. Familiarity with neurophysiology, basic electronics, or the medical device industry is desirable.

Students will learn about basic electronics, radiotelemetry, neurophysiology and computer simulation techniques as they apply to the development of novel medical technologies.

PHYSICS

Brian Borovsky – The Molecular Origins of Friction and the Physics of Micromachines

The goal of our research is to understand the force friction between surfaces at a molecular level. Why does friction exist? What atomistic interactions inhibit the sliding of one surface over another and generate heat? How can friction be controlled or minimized, especially within mechanical systems that may be constructed from nanometer-scale components? Answering these questions helps expand human knowledge of the physical world while also addressing key challenges faced by developers in the areas broadly known as microtechnology and nanotechnology. Ever since the modern study of friction began in the 1980s, researchers have been revealing surprising ways in which the simple laws of friction for everyday objects fail to describe the physics of ultra-small machines.

In the Borovsky research group, we create a microscopic high-speed contact by loading the tip of a sensitive force probe onto the surface of a vibrating quartz crystal. The speeds and contact sizes produced are similar to those encountered in emerging technologies such as microscopic sensors and computer hard disk drives. One area of emphasis is to develop the probe-quartz resonator apparatus itself as a fundamental tool for measuring friction and test the limits of the classical friction laws. Research students are engaged in both the experimental and theoretical aspects of this work. In addition, we are pursuing collaborative work with investigators from Luther College and Auburn University to study a class of molecular monolayers called alkanephosphonates. These may be effective coatings for micromachines assembled from metal oxides rather than silicon. Our goal is to determine how the length of the lubricant molecules and the choice of substrate affect the levels of friction and the onset of wear. Lastly, collaborations are in the early stages with engineers at major manufacturers of hard disk drives.

Research students will work closely with Prof. Borovsky in all aspects of the work. The experience will be similar to that of a graduate student entering a university research group. As the summer progresses, students are expected to gain greater ownership of their projects and to work more independently. Meetings and interactions with Prof. Borovsky will occur on a daily basis.

I expect that students will benefit in several ways through this research, on levels that are academic, professional, and personal. In the past, I have observed students become more mature scientists, by engaging in an active area of research full of open-ended and unanswered questions. Students may also discern their career goals better by first-hand exposure to life as a professional researcher. They may also gain confidence through overcoming the challenges associated with learning new knowledge, developing skills, and presenting technical information to the public.

Jay Demas – Retinal Circuits

My lab studies the neural circuits that process sensory information. In particular, we focus on retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), the output neurons of the vertebrate retina that communicate with the brain. We use this system because it is readily accessible and the retinal circuitry that feeds into these cells can be readily manipulation with pharmacological and genetic techniques. There are two broad problems we are working on currently. First, bipolar cells are a type of retinal interneuron that provides excitatory input onto RGCs. There are many types of bipolar cells in the vertebrate retina, and the function of different types of bipolar cells in visual processing is poorly understood. We will use a classic signal processing approach from engineering to assess the role of a genetically defined subset of bipolar cells. We will measure the responses of retinal ganglion cells to a battery of visual stimuli, comparing RGC responses in mice where these bipolar cells are genetically deleted to responses in mice where these bipolar cells are intact. Differences in the visual processing of these two mouse strains will reveal much about the role of these interneurons in visual processing. Second, we will collaborate with Dr. Steve Freedberg to examine the retinal circuits involved in navigation by hatchling turtles. When turtles hatch, they must navigate solo from their nests on land to the water sources that will become their home. Previous work has shown that a number of freshwater turtle species navigate to water using light cues. In a number of mammalian species, a small minority of RGCs are themselves photoreceptors and are called intrinsically photosensitive RGCs (ipRGCs). Our preliminary data indicate that hatchling turtles do have ipRGCs, raising the possibility that these cells play a role in navigation. Using a combination of pharmacology, in vitro electrophysiology, and behavioral assays, we will measure the relative contribution of classic RGCs and ipRGCs to hatchling navigation.

Students will work closely with me throughout the summer, but especially so at the start as they are trained in the techniques they will need to master to work independently.  My office is across the hall from my lab, and when I am not physically in the lab I remain accessible to students. Students will learn basic laboratory techniques (reagent preparation, dissection, microscopy, and how to design experiments, analyze data, and generate figures).

David Nitz – Atomic Spectrum Analysis

This project is an opportunity for a student with a combined physics and programming background to help launch a new investigation of the visible/near-uv spectrum of the rare earth element dysprosium (Dy) and to contribute to the upgrading of software used to analyze the spectra. Desirable qualifications (in order of preference) include: (1) completion of Physics 244/245 by the end of the spring 2014 semester; and (2) programming experience at a level comparable to the Software Design course.

My student and I will consult on a daily basis during the 10-week research period with the possible exceptions of a few days in June when I attend a conference and another one week period when I may be out of town (not yet scheduled). Consultations will include providing regular feedback on the student’s work and suggestions for strategies to employ as the project develops. I will be on campus working on completion of a similar previous project and complementary aspects of this project in close coordination with the student as my primary upcoming summer activities.

The student working on this project will gain experience (1) working closely with a faculty member on a significant scientific project which will be collaborative while providing opportunity for independent work; (2) working with concepts of quantum physics as encountered in spectroscopy and with numerical methods of data analysis; (3) learning to evaluate subtle clues about the nature and quality of individual pieces of data and to exercise appropriate scientific judgment in the analysis process; (4) working with and making contributions to a complex spectrum analysis software package and associated issues of archiving a large volume of results in a complete, efficient, and accessible manner; and (5) documenting work in a way which will allow others to understand exactly what was done and how.

Robert Jacobel – Geophysical Studies of Ice and Climate in Polar Regions

Ice and Climate Geophysics Group (CEGSIC). The world’s glaciers and ice sheets are a critical element in the global climate system now undergoing major change. Our group uses geophysical techniques: ice-penetrating radar and satellite imagery, to examine the surface, interior and base of ice sheets and glaciers. The characteristics of ice internal layers and the basal conditions that we measure with our radar, give us information about the evolution of the ice and enable us to study relationships between ice flow and climate change. Currently we are in the fourth year of an Antarctic multidisciplinary research project, a collaboration of biologists and geoscientists studying a series of connected lakes beneath the ice in Antarctica. We completed two years of field work in 2010-12 and are now focused on the analysis of data in preparation for drilling into one of the lakes. We also have radar and GPS data acquired in Greenland in the summer of 2012 that we are interpreting, and we will be readying the radar system for more field work in the coming year.

Members in our group work extensively with computers and software to analyze ice-penetrating radar data and satellite imagery as well as learning to write new code in Matlab. We also utilize geopositioning satellite (GPS) data and satellite remote sensing imagery, together with geographic information software (GIS), to establish the spatial context for our radar results. Part of our summer research involves using radar and GPS in a local field setting so that all in the group have the opportunity to acquire new data and work through the analysis process from start to finish. We will read papers and proposals from our colleagues and present our own results to the community. Our research is supported by grants from the Office of Polar Programs, National Science Foundation.

Students interested in this project should plan to visit with Bob Jacobel to get detailed answers to related questions about how the group operates and what the expectations are for a student researcher.

PSYCHOLOGY

Shelly Dickinson – Impact of caffeine on alcohol’s effects in mice

Co-consumption of caffeine and alcohol is common, but their interactions are not scientifically well-understood. This work is geared toward understanding the behavioral effects of combined alcohol and caffeine administration in adolescent mice and determining the neural mechanisms involved in those effects. Briefly, we’ll be using place conditioning, taste conditioning and/or locomotor activity assays to measure the behavioral effects of alcohol after chronic or acute caffeine administration in adolescent (teenage) mice. Depending on the interests of the student investigator(s), we’ll look at the impact of using dopamine receptor antagonists on the alcohol-caffeine interaction and/or look at the molecular changes in important brain areas that accompany the behavioral changes. Required student background: Some statistics and either Psychology 238 or Neuroscience 239

We will work together very closely during the first two weeks, with lots of reading and discussion (sometimes under the trees on the quad!) and animal handling practice. As you become adept at the mouse work and are collecting behavioral data you will see less of me because you will need me less. Some weekend mouse work is likely, but we’ll keep it to a minimum! I like to have at least a brief check-in meeting every day, with a longer lab meeting once a week.

This project will give students needed research experience for graduate school and will provide a variety of technical skills including animal husbandry. In addition, students will gain a great deal of practice reading and critiquing primary literature. They will learn about experimental design and analysis, and will present their findings at two conferences.

Jeremy Loebach – Long term training for cochlear implant users

Cochlear implantation has proven to be a successful treatment for profound hearing loss in individuals who do not receive a benefit from hearing aids. Although most implanted individuals acquire the ability to perceive sound, substantial variability in outcome and benefit for speech recognition has been observed across cochlear implant (CI) users that cannot be accounted for by differences in etiology, onset and duration of deafness, age at implantation, or surgical and physiological factors. Despite extensive research efforts, understanding the variability in outcome and benefit for speech recognition in CI recipients remains a significant clinical problem. This variability may derive, in part, from the lack of standardized training and rehabilitation protocols after implantation. CI recipients differ substantially in speech perception abilities before implantation, the rate of decline of these faculties during auditory deprivation, and the ability to successfully apply the necessary perceptual and cognitive skills to develop robust speech perception abilities after implantation. These factors may place CI users at fundamentally different starting points, thereby affecting the amount of benefit they will receive from their implant. It is possible that explicit training will provide implantees with a foundational set of neurocognitive skills that they can use to better develop auditory and speech processing proficiency, thereby reducing some of the variability observed in outcome and benefit. This project will investigate a new training and rehabilitation program for postlingually deafened adult CI users. The objective of our research is to develop optimal training and rehabilitation paradigms for use in postlingually deafened adult CI users. Our central hypothesis is that training using a variety of materials (words, meaningful sentences, anomalous sentences, environmental sounds), tasks (word recognition, sentence recognition, environmental sound recognition, and the identification of talkers by voice), and talkers will help facilitate adaptation to electric hearing after implantation, produce robust generalization to novel materials and talkers, and increase the perception of speech in noise and other difficult listening environments. We further hypothesize that the cognitive abilities that are modified during this high variability training will help to enhance a set of general auditory perceptual abilities that currently differ across CI users, and contribute significantly to the individual variability in measures of outcome and benefit observed after implantation. In this project, students will help design and refine the training program, recruit and test adult cochlear implant users, and evaluate the data.

Students will work closely with me throughout the project. They will also be expected to work independently as well as in small groups over the course of the summer. There will be substantial variability across the project period, given that the participant recruiting and testing will depend upon the schedule of the individual cochlear implant users. Students will get the opportunity to participate in all stages of the research project, from design, to data collection and analysis, to interpretation. They will also get to work with a clinical population (postlingually deafened adult cochlear implant users).

Donna McMillan – Extraversion and expressivity

The concept of extraversion includes elements of energy and enthusiasm, and related theoretical perspectives suggest that extraversion may be associated with arousal-seeking behavior.  In a series of studies, our research explores the extent to which these elements affect extraverts’ preferences and the ways that they respond to stimuli and express themselves. Our findings suggest that extraversion is associated with a tendency to give more extreme responses to a wide variety of positive and neutral (but not negative) self-relevant and non-self-relevant question types, including ratings of personal qualities, photographs of natural scenes, and hypothetical scenarios. Our research suggests that extraverts prefer more extreme words and even show a preference for more extreme or stimulating combinations of letters in made-up nonsense words. This summer’s work will consist of consolidating these projects and preparing them for publication, as well as designing the next study in this research program. Thus the student researcher will need to be knowledgeable about personality psychology, be very comfortable doing literature review in psychology, have excellent writing skills, and be able to be a creative collaborator.

This is a highly collaborative project, and the student researcher and I typically will meet several times each week.  While we will work closely together, the student also will need to be able to independently find, summarize, and analyze related literature as well as write drafts of portions of the project. The student researcher will gain experience integrating theory and empirical results in psychology, in doing literature review, in manuscript preparation, and in design of a future study. If the student is interested, we will continue during the academic year 2014-15 and conduct the study that we design this summer.

Gary Muir – The Neural Basis of Navigation

My research program is guided primarily by questions about the neural mechanisms of spatial cognition and navigation. The firing activity of “head direction” cells in the brain is thought to represent the animal’s perceived “sense of direction,” or orientation, by acting something like an internal compass. How is this neural signal generated? What role do these cells play in enabling us to re-orient following a period of disorientation? To answer these questions, students will have the opportunity to observe a “behaving” brain in action by recording the activity of single neurons in freely moving rats. Students will be involved in small animal handling and surgery; single-unit electrophysiological data collection and analysis; and public presentation of the results. Given the nature of the work, two desirable skills for applicants are good fine motor skills and patience. Students interested in continuing the project into the academic year as independent research are especially encouraged to apply.

Students involved in this project will work closely with the professor and each other in a small team throughout the 10 week research period. In addition to being mentored by the professor in learning appropriate research techniques in the lab, we will have regular opportunities to discuss relevant literature as a team. Students will learn a number of skills both specific to the lab research we will be conducting (e.g., small animal surgery, electrophysiological methodology) as well as general skills related to scientific inquiry (e.g., how to ask questions in science, and how to (try to) answer them). We will also be holding regular Journal Club discussions around literature, both assigned by me and introduced by the student(s).

Carlo Veltri – MMPI-2-RF Meta-Analysis

The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory – 2 – Restructured Form (MMPI-2-RF) is the latest iteration of the most commonly used measure of personality and psychopathology in the United States. Since its publication in 2008, well over 100 articles have been published examining the test’s utility in such tasks as predicting who is likely to complete a batterer’s intervention program, identifying respondents who have exaggerated symptoms of mental illness, predicting which patients are likely to experience complications from bariatric surgery, and differentially diagnosing Bipolar Disorder from Major Depressive Disorder. One of my research interests involves the careful examination of the properties and utilities of this test to better guide psychologists who use it in their day-to-day work. Our aim with this project is to use meta-analytic techniques to provide a picture of the general strengths and limitations of the MMPI-2-RF, look for any systematic differences in performance across the settings or populations with which it is used, and identify areas of application in need of additional empirical investigation. Summer research assistants will systematically review the research literature on the MMPI-2-RF and use a coding scheme to record variables of interest for inclusion in our dataset. Research assistants will then be expected to develop a question appropriate for meta-analytic investigation and use the research skills they have acquired to answer it. Students applying for this project should demonstrate a strong interest in the assessment of personality/psychopathology, psychometrics, or both. Ideal candidates will have relevant coursework in psychology as well as advanced courses in statistics.

Early in the summer, research assistants will meet with me on a daily basis to learn about meta-analysis and develop expertise in utilizing our coding scheme. After they have learned to use the coding system, research assistants will be expected to work independently to code the data. Weekly meetings will occur for the remainder of the summer in order to check coding fidelity as well as support the development and completion of assistants’ self-identified research project.

Students will learn the theory and skills needed to conduct meta-analytic research which has become increasingly important in psychology and is widely used in many other fields as well. Students will also have a chance to develop and answer their own research question within the larger scope of the project. Research assistants who are motivated and capable will be given the opportunity to continue working on the project as we prepare it for presentation and publication.

SCIENCE EDUCATION

Greg Muth – The Science Alliance: Science Education and Outreach

This non-traditional summer research project continues our community outreach effort to get elementary students excited about science and gives Oles the opportunity to inspire our next generation of researchers. The goal of the summer portion of the project is to research and develop hands-on classroom activities for elementary school students centered on the principles of renewable energy and other areas of science. The project continues during the academic year with training of volunteers and dissemination of the materials and curriculum throughout the community in a science-outreach program. This project is ideal for a student interested in science education. A vital component for the success of this project is coordination and implementation during the academic year.  Preference will be given to those individual able to do so.

After the initial training period, the students will take primary responsibility for the project. The goal is to empower the students with the confidence and to generate their own ideas for teaching and the skills and resources to see their ideas to implementation. The working relationship range from daily hands-on guidance to complete independence with room to encourage creativity and expression.

A primary goal of the project is for students to take ownership of the development and dissemination of the curriculum they develop. There is opportunity for complete independence, an opportunity to provide leadership, and an opportunity for mentoring the next generation of scientist.

STATISTICS

Sharon Lane-Getaz – Researching Curriculum and Assessments for Bridging the College and Advanced Placement Statistics Gap (CAPS-Gap)

This project will conduct background research for Bridging the College and Advanced Placement Statistics Gap (CAPS-Gap). The students and I will review and summarize existing statistics education standards including: Advanced Placement topic guidelines, Common Core Initiatives for High School Statistics and Probability and Guidelines for Assessment and Instruction in Statistics Education (GAISE) endorsed by the ASA for both the K-12 and the College Report. We will also summarize survey results from a CAPS-Gap Needs and Interest Survey administered to AP Statistics Readers in January 2014. Given these criteria, we will categorize existing curricula and assessments that may address the gap between AP Statistics courses and a rigorous, second course in statistics at the college level. The team will recommend activities and assessments to address the proposed CAPS-Gap module objectives. Students should have completed at least one and preferably two Statistics courses at St. Olaf and should have completed an Educational Psychology course.

I will work collaboratively with students in identifying curricula and articles that will inform our background research. For example, I will provide information regarding existing statistics education standards, and will also suggest curricula to review. The students will gain insight into statistics education research and will be likely candidates to be involved in aspects of the the proposed three-year NSF project which will engage CIR Fellows and CURI summer researchers in all aspects of the project from design through dissemination.

Laura Boehm – Spatial-temporal variation in health effects of fine particulate matter

Previous research has suggested a connection between ambient particulate matter (PM) exposure and acute health effects, but the effect size varies across the United States. Variability in the effect may partially be due to differing community level exposure and health characteristics, but also due to the chemical composition of PM which is known to vary greatly by location and over time. The goal of this research is to identify which chemical components of PM are most strongly associated with health endpoints and to investigate the seasonal variation of these effects. The ideal candidate has successfully completed Statistical Modeling (ST272) and is interested in further pursuing statistics.

The students and I will determine a meeting schedule (1-3 times weekly, or as needed). Email communication is always available. Students will have the opportunity to apply cutting edge statistical methodology – which they would never see in a class – to an important and interesting problem. They will gain experience in using the statistical software program R, in analyzing real and complex data, and in creative thinking about statistical modeling approaches.

Katie Ziegler-Graham and Mary Walczak – Understanding Course Trajectories of St. Olaf Students

St. Olaf students who begin college in science courses take a wide variety of paths through college. Some stay in science, some switch between sciences, and others choose to major in something other than science. This project will investigate the course-taking trajectories of several groups and class years of St. Olaf students in an effort to address these research questions: (1) In which courses do students begin their science education at St. Olaf? (2) What effect does placement (either Advanced Placement or math or chemistry placement) have on student retention in science and how much science they take as an undergraduate? (3) What courses are barriers to continuing in science?  Is the decision to stop taking science classes performance (grade) based? (4) Where do the students that choose to major in something other than science go? Students who have completed Stat 272 and/or CS 125 by Summer 2014 are eligible to apply for this project.

Students will work in consultation with the two faculty mentors, with daily check-in and reporting. During the beginning of the project, as the work is developing, there will be greater interaction, but as the project matures the students will work more independently. Faculty will be available for consultation every day. Students working on this project will use R, the statistical programming language, and thereby strengthen their skills with this important tool.  They will also learn about research with human subjects and the protections put in place in such studies.