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Research in Bioengineering

An Ethical Analysis of the De-extinction of the Woolly Mammoth

By Carson M Longendorfer

During my time studying Bioengineering at UMass Dartmouth I have learned a lot about the vast potentials of biotechnology. I recall one topic that really struck a chord with me from my BIO 121 class, de-extinction. The professor described to us how a researcher in Australia, had brought the southern gastric brooding frog back from extinction in his lab by using the same technology that made Dolly the sheep a reality. He also briefly mentioned to us that another research group, wanted to use de-extinction to bring an ancient ice age species, the woolly mammoth, back into the wild. I was compelled to read up on this a little more and I learned that the project is lead Dr. George Church at Harvard University who is helping to develop the genetic editing technology known as CRISPR/Cas 9 (Shapiro, Beth). Using this technology he is attempting to swap out pieces of the genome of a somatic elephant cell until it resembles that of a woolly mammoth (Shapiro, Beth). This cell would then be implanted into an elephant embryo and carried to term by an elephant until the mammoth is born (Shapiro, Beth). I found this to be a really interesting use of biotechnology as well an intriguing ethical question, I was inspired. I became interested in further delving into the ethical implications of de-extinction, and so, I was very excited to learn about the summer grant opportunity from the OUR.

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I decided to take a two-pronged approach in my research, first analyzing the scientific justifications and oppositions and secondly the philosophic implications that the de-extinction of the woolly Mammoth poses. One of the major justifications for Church’s project is its potential benefits to the environment. Sergey Zimov hypothesized that the changes to the environment during the transition from the pleistocene to the holocene era did not cause the mass extinctions that included the woolly mammoth but instead, It was the extinctions that caused the environmental changes (Zimov, S. A.). He was able to support this hypothesis by fencing off an area in Siberia and relocating a few species of large herbivores. The herbivores eat the grass and stimulate the growth of more completely transforming the swamp to grasslands within one year (Zimov, S. A.). Grasslands are preferable to wetlands because wetlands release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere causing global warming and when the wetlands are fed by the melting of the permafrost underneath, this could be very bad for the environment (Shapiro, Beth). Zimov wants to expand the experiment that he calls Pleistocene Park to cover a large area of Siberia and to include the woolly mammoth (Zimov, S. A.). The mammoth is especially good for this purpose because of its large size, it tramples the snow which acts as an insulator keeping the ground warmer (Shapiro, Beth). By disturbing the snow, it allows for more cold air to reach the permafrost keeping it more frozen (Shapiro, Beth).

 

Pleistocene Park, Russia. Photograph available at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/film/jurassic-world/pleistocene-park-dna-dinosaurs/. Courtesy of The Telegraph.

 

In this way, a compelling Utilitarian argument can be made because the suffering of a few elephants as well as the objectification of the hybrid mammoth can be justified for the benefit of the entire planet and every species on it. Environmental ethicist, Robert Elliot claims that nature cannot be restored after having been damaged because original nature has an intrinsic value that can’t be regained because it can never be the same as it was (Elliot, Robert). Therefore, the only real way to preserve nature is to stop causing further damage and using de-extinction as a restoration method is unhelpful and even more damaging (Elliot, Robert).

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I plan to submit my research to the Penn Bioethics Journal, a peer-reviewed journal for undergraduates. I am grateful for the opportunity that the OUR has provided for me and I hope that this experience with bioethics research is only the beginning of a successful future career as a bioethicist.

 

References

Elliot, Robert. Faking nature: the ethics of environmental restoration. London: Routledge, 2007.

Film, Telegraph. “Is Jurassic World closer than we think?” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 3 Sept. 2015, www.telegraph.co.uk/film/jurassic-world/pleistocene-park-dna-dinosaurs/. Accessed 29 Aug. 2017.

Shapiro, Beth. How to clone a mammoth: the science of de-extinction. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016.

Zimov, S. A. “ESSAYS ON SCIENCE AND SOCIETY: Pleistocene Park: Return of the Mammoths Ecosystem.” Science 308, no. 5723 (2005): 796-98. doi:10.1126/science.1113442.

Research in Bioengineering

Investigation of In Vitro Vitamin B6 Treatment to Reverse Deterioration of Bone Mechanical Properties

By Jacob Aaronson

 

In the summer of 2017 I was granted a grant from the OUR to join Bioengineering Professor Dr. Lamya Karim’s lab and worked alongside undergraduate Bioengineering student John Riordan to conduct a research project concerning the testing of the properties of bone that were placed in a simulated diabetic environment. This was an interdisciplinary project that allowed us to work with techniques from bioengineering, mechanical engineering, biochemistry, and biology.  Ever since I took a class in Biomechanics in the third year of undergraduate studies, I have been interested in exploring the mechanical properties of human body tissues such as bone. Through this OUR-funded project, I exercised this interest through hands on research and design.

Portrait of Jacob Aaronson

From previous research it has been found that patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus have an increased risk of bone fracture compared to non-diabetics [1]. These patients have normal or high bone mass, which is typically beneficial for bone. This suggests factors other than bone mass, such as changes in bone quality, may play an important part in diabetic fractures. In this study, I looked at a possible method to inhibit harmful protein crosslinks that can accumulate in diabetic patients. I chose Vitamin B6 as the inhibitor because it showed promising results in rat bone [2]. However, it has never been tested in human bone. With this fact in mind, the goal of this project was to look at changes in protein crosslinks and mechanical properties of bone specimens after being placed in a simulated type 2 diabetic environment and to test how Vitamin B6 might prevent these changes.

Jacob Aaronson (Back) and John Riordan (Front) making solutions for incubation of cortical bone specimens

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In the first part of this project, my main task was to work with human donor bone (tibias or “shin bones”) that I cut and polished down to small testable sizes. I used a low-speed diamond blade saw and polishing machine to accomplish this task. Once all the specimens were ready, we then incubated them in control and type 2 diabetic environments (a chemical solution with ribose sugar) with and without Vitamin B6. The bone samples were incubated in these solutions for 10 days at 37ºC with pH maintained between 7.2-7.6 to represent the human body environment.

Diamond blade saw used to cut bone beams

The second part of this project involved gathering data on the incubated bone specimens. When first looking at the post incubation samples, we saw a significant difference in color between ribose and control groups. Samples in ribose solutions were brown, which indicates a buildup of the protein crosslinks. Meanwhile control groups had no significant color change. A biochemical assay was run to measure the crosslink content, and cyclic reference point indentation (RPI) tests were used to measure the mechanical properties of bone after incubation.

Cortical beams treated with ribose (top) and cortical beams treated with no ribose or vehicle group (bottom)

From the data, we did not detect our expected differences in crosslinks or mechanical properties between the Vitamin B6 treated group compared to the non-treated group. This may be due to our small sample size and/or the Vitamin B6 dose being too low. Although we did not detect any differences from the hypothesized inhibitory effects of Vitamin B6, we did have other key findings:

  • In vitro incubation with ribose does increase AGEs (protein crosslinks) in human cortical bone
  • Indentation tests showed there were deteriorated bone mechanical properties in a simulated diabetic state
  • Bone specimens with higher crosslink contents had weaker mechanical properties

 

There was a trend for higher indentation distance (represnting weaker mechanical properties) and significantly more crosslinks in the ribose treated group (R) compared to vehicle controls (VEH).

  

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I plan to continue working on this project during the upcoming academic year. Further work needs to be carried out to test the effects of Vitamin B6 on bone at different doses, specifically a higher amount than what was carried out in this study. Also, there needs to be other modes of mechanical testing besides RPI to get a better picture of what is happening to the mechanical properties of bone after glycation. In the near future, we plan on working with collaborators in the Mechanical Engineering Department to use various modes of mechanical testing.

From this experience, I have learned that research projects require countless amounts of planning, organization, and collaboration. I am thankful that I have developed these types of qualities during my time as a summer undergraduate researcher. My plan is to apply this research experience to graduate school, industry, and everyday life. Working on projects that are aimed to help restore health to many people will be something I always find highly motivational and invaluable.

I would like to thank the Office of Undergraduate Research for presenting me with this highly sought-after opportunity. I would also like to thank Dr. Lamya Karim, John Riordan, and the Mechanical and Civil & Environmental Engineering departments for all the help they provided in carrying out this project.

 

References

[1] Janghorbani et al (2007), “Systematic Review of Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus and Risk of Fracture,” American Journal of Epidemiology 166 (5/1). doi.org/10.1093/aje/kwm106

[2] Saito, M., Fujii, K., Mori, Y., & Marumo, K. (2006), “Role of collagen enzymatic and glycation induced cross-links as a determinant of bone quality in spontaneously diabetic WBN/Kob rats,” Osteoporosis International 17(10). doi:10.1007/s00198-006-0155-5

Research in Art History and Curatorial Studies

Artistic Responses to Presidential Elections and other Political Challenges

By Mariah Tarentino

 

The United States has a rich history of politically motivated art, from the first political cartoons of the American Revolution to the socially conscious artists involved in civil rights movements of the 1950s and 60s and leading up to works of today disseminated on social media and as street art. In 1972 Andy Warhol created “Vote McGovern” for the George McGovern Presidential campaign. Rather than portraying McGovern, Warhol decided to represent his opponent in a negative light. During the 2008 elections, the Barack Obama “Hope” poster–designed by the renowned graffiti artist Shepard Fairey–was widely described as iconic and came to represent the 2008 presidential campaign. The image became one of the most important aspects of Obama’s campaign messages, and arguably affected the perception of Obama in a positive way. By contrast, graffiti art and posters of President-elect Donald Trump, produced by designers and graffiti artists, were largely negative. Why do artists react to presidential elections? How does art affect the decision of voters? What can we learn from these artistic interventions? By looking at the trajectory of these artistic responses, we can better understand the relationship between art and politics: the ways in which art making can have an impact on the general public and how art becomes a tool of resistance for political dissidents.

 

Left: Andy Warhol’s “Vote McGovern.” Courtesy of MOMA. Available at https://www.moma.org/collection/works/68705 © MOMA; right: Shepar Fairy’s “Hope.” Courtesy of Wikimedia. Available at https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/5/55/Barack_Obama_Hope_poster.jpg © Wikimedia.

 

In the 2016-17 polarized election cycle in the US, artists used their platforms to make a stand for their beliefs. The political art of the past year has come to the forefront of protests, awareness campaigns and the like. This art has focused on a wide range of themes, from women’s rights, racial justice, LGBTQ+ rights, and criticism of the economy, to foreign policy, and politicians themselves.

These depictions of political issues have clear and cutting messages. Through examining the works of artists, one can gain greater insight into the current unrest within our nation. And by analyzing what makes political art effective in its goals, artists can gain greater understanding of how to successfully use their skills to become an activist who is engaged in the society.

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My fascination with the topic of artistic responses to Presidential elections and other political challenges is owing to my interest in art and activism. I major in Art History with a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies. In the past three years, I have been a student employee at the Center for Women, Gender, and Sexuality (CWGS) at UMass Dartmouth. During my time at CWGS, I have been involved in multiple projects, including facilitating bystander intervention training and organizing awareness campaigns for issues like street harassment, domestic violence, and sexual assault. Additionally, I have had the opportunity to attend conferences on reproductive justice, which instilled in me a sense of civic duty and activism. In April 2015, I combined my passion of art and social issues through an exhibition featuring the art of sexual violence survivors. Through this exhibition process, I saw firsthand the power art has to convey powerful messages. I have seen this again in the current political climate. As the University of Massachusetts has a respected art college and a strong sense of civic and community engagement, it seems appropriate to conduct a research on the topic of art as activism and the role of the artist as an activist. In what follows, I provide a summary of my research, which was supported by a generous fund from the OUR, granted to me in Spring 2017.

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2016 was a year of rising socio-political tensions, which the election only seemed to bring to a boiling point. Between the Dakota Access Pipeline, Flint, Michigan still in need of clean water, arguments of religious freedom and gay rights, the disentrancement of the working class, and the ever-growing list of innocent Black Americans killed at the hands of police- everyone seemed in agreement that something had to give, but few agreed on what. The country held its breath as election results trickled in and a collectively exhaled, some in relief and some in shock, when Mr.Trump became President Trump. In all this unrest and apprehensiveness, art found itself in the center of the conversation.

Art worked to facilitate debate and convey messages, and it varied as much as the issues it attempted to address. It was seen on protest signs, in art museums, and on the internet. However, the common thread appeared to be that the art made use of appropriation and irony to convey its messages; it referenced images and messages of the oppressor, in part to illuminate the wrongs and in part to reclaim the very same images. Saint Hoax’s Make America Misogynistic Again is a prime example in this vein.

I was most interested in the protest images that came out of the election and inauguration. My OUR funded research consisted of two parts: 1) a research paper that examined this political art and attempted to place it in a broader historical context; 2) an exhibition of local artists’ works regarding the 2016 elections. The Frederick Douglass Unity House at UMass Dartmouth was gracious enough to host my exhibition (The Art of Resistance). The goals and values of the Unity House in creating discussion, providing support, and educating the community aligned perfectly with my goals for this exhibition.

Left: Poster of “The Art of Resistance,” a juried show designed and curated by Mariah Tarentino; right: Portrait of Mariah Tarentino near the Public Art Projects at the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston.

 

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My show facilitated a dialogue at the time when political issues effected our campus community and other surrounding communities we all belong to. It also gave students a platform to discuss politics in unique and creative ways. In my call to artists, I tried to keep submission guidelines as open as possible. I hoped that the exhibit would inspire and empower others to act, be it through art, protest, calling representatives, or other avenues. The exhibition took place in mid-April and featured the works of students Ashley Lima, Joel Rivera, Grace Augello, Shannon Morrell, and Chloe Bartlett, and alumni Johnus Derby. It included photographs, paintings, digital works, and protest signs. The diversity of the works on display was a small glimpse into the diversity of works from artists around the country.

Additionally, I wrote a paper analyzing works from all election cycles reaching from 2016 to Nixon. The paper revealed trends not only in art, but also in politics; through multiple case studies I discussed the ways in which artists and creative agents have approached political issues and described how they have chosen to agree or disagree. The research conducted for this paper allowed me to craft a theme for the 2017 UMass Dartmouth Art History Annual Undergraduate Symposium: Art and Activism. In my capacity as the President of the Art History Club, I was responsible for organizing this year’s symposium, which required coming up with a theme.

The research grant from the OUR also allowed me to advance my career goals by enabling my extra-curricular activities in the Department of Art History and I am grateful for that. The funding  facilitated a professional exhibition with ample publicity. It also provided support for my research at key libraries in the greater Boston area. I intend to attend graduate school in curatorial and museum studies. Eventually, I’d like to pursue a career in curation, featuring the works of artists who focus on challenging social and political issues.

 

Research in Music

Spheres of Influence

By John Dalton
 

My four years at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth have been a personal artistic journey–a journey of self-examination, developing not only as a musician but as an innovator and a researcher. Throughout this journey I have constantly asked myself: Who am I as an artist? What should I do to find my own unique, creative voice? These are, of course, never ending questions. But for now I can say that being at UMD’s Music Department has given me a foundation to pursue a career in music that is more than just a performer. It is a career that is combined with research and innovation.

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 John Dalton’s Spheres of Influence. Click on the image to play the video.

 

Every senior music student is required to put on a recital to showcase what they have accomplished in their time at the university.  As an honors student, I knew I had to aim for something more ambitious. Therefore, I decided to put together a group of not only my peers, but of professional musicians and one of my Professors. The group includes current students (myself and Caitlin Walsh), two alumni (Miles Flisher and Sean Farias), and one of my professors (Jim Robitaille). This is a quintet that consists of saxophone (Caitlin), guitar (Jim), piano (Miles), bass (Sean), and drums (myself). Bringing together this group of people required not only research and coordination, but also financial support. Thanks to a grant from the OUR I successfully executed this complicated project.

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As a jazz musician one makes the decision to throw themselves into a continuum– the rich and vast legacy of many creative minds who advanced this form of music. I am interested in creating new jazz music and finding my own personal approach to both improvisation and composition. In doing so, I get inspired by many sources of influence. At my core, I am intrigued by the post-bop traditions of the 1960’s, which includes such artists as John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, and Eric Dolphy. I have also begun to draw inspiration from successful contemporary jazz musicians,  including Brad Mehldau, Donny McCaslin, and Kneebody. Also, as a jazz drummer, I am inspired by masters of the instrument such as Elvin Jones, Roy Haynes, Jack Dejohnette, Tony Williams, Bob Moses, Paul Motian, Brian Blade, Jorge Rossy, Nate Wood, Mark Guiliana, as well as local drummers Luther Gray and Chris Poudrier. These influences continue to color my approach as I try to reach for something that is uniquely my own expression. To achieve this goal, I have created a group under the moniker of Spheres of Influence.

Spheres of Influence is my own modular ensemble, which aims to perform both my own music and the music that I resonate with. A Sphere of Influence is an international relations term which denotes the region in which one nation holds power or influence. I decided to co-opt this term for my own work as the name allows for the group to be modular. Each group under this moniker represents its own sphere and its own artistic place, thus changing the influences made by other groups. In improvised music the range of individual players in any particular configuration can change the nature of the music. What unifies the concept though is the overall character of the music played by the whole group. The music is always guided by certain aesthetic principles–principles that are universal between different iterations.

My vision for this group was to put on a free public concert in the College of Visual and Performing Arts’s main auditorium, showcasing a program of primarily original jazz compositions. The performance was also recorded and released as a high-quality video (view it above). While this concert was a collaborative effort between many musicians, a great deal of individual work went into it.

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Left: Rehearsal at the College of Visual and Performing Arts’s main auditorium; right: Portrait of John Dalton during performance. Photographs courtesy of Dan Waterman.

 

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Perhaps the best place to start describing my individual contribution, is the work I put in practicing my instrument. I also practiced particular material for this recital and this ranged from different grooves and time feels to soloing ideas. I had been thinking about the general idea of the recital in my practicing for some time, but there were still many concrete steps that I had to take.

Many of these steps taken have occurred in no particular order (in fact, they were often simultaneous). But I have compiled and listed them here in a fashion that makes sense in a chronological order. The first step I took was figuring out which musicians I wanted to work with. I knew right away that I wanted to have both Miles Fisher and Caitlin Walsh on the program, as they are two of my closest friends and collaborators. I also knew, pretty early on, that I wanted to have my professor and project advisor, Jim Robitaille. Professor Robitaille is a master musician who has worked with many talented musicians, in addition to being an excellent player and composer himself. I wanted to use this opportunity to collaborate and perform with him. Finally, I decided to hire Sean Farias to round out the group because he has an excellent reputation in the Boston area as a musician.

I also put a great deal of effort into writing and arranging some of the pieces. In this concert four of the nine tunes are my own compositions, including two new pieces I had written over the summer. I also had to compile the other pieces for the group, which included three more original compositions (each written by separate members of the group and two covers). During this process, I also thought about how the pieces should be arranged, according to both my tastes and the tastes of my fellow musicians.

After these preliminary stages, I began to figure out the details for booking the space. I decided to use the main auditorium as I felt it would be an appropriate venue for the musicians I had chosen. In this stage I also started to work on assembling promotional materials, which included designing a poster, as well as contacting various promotional outlets (for both inside and outside of the school). During the process, I came across the OUR grant opportunities, and decided to apply. I was lucky enough to be awarded a generous amount that helped support part of the recital and the research that went into the making of this music.

The next item on the agenda was organizing two rehearsals. Due to the busy schedules of the chosen musicians, I booked two rehearsals in October, well in advance. The first rehearsal was an interesting experience; it was my first time directing a group like that. It was especially strange having to give directions to Professor Robitaille and Sean, due to their reputations and stature as musicians. In the second rehearsal I was able to better ascertain my bearings and give more clear instructions. It was a great experience, as I learned to examine the group sound, and make sure that people were playing their parts. It was also interesting to experiment with different ensemble textures, which I felt needed to be worked in, making sure that pieces had a certain flow to them. If this were a more regularly working group, these sorts of textures and dynamics would not need to be said, as they could be formed spontaneously. However, due to time constraints it was the most logical choice.

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Spheres of Influence in action. Photograph courtesy of Dan Waterman.

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The day of the concert was very gratifying. Playing with musicians of this caliber is not only exciting, but also educational. There is also a level of comfort and trust; and this gives an amazing feeling. Indeed, this is part of the beauty of this kind of art form. Jazz is a communal experience, and the relationships one has with other musicians has an impact on one’s own musical style. When there is a deep connection between musicians, it can be felt in the way they play together.

Another interesting facet of this performance was the extent to which the results were different from my own personal expectations. Many of the solos took on different directions than what I had anticipated. I really enjoyed this aspect of the project, as it is those unexpected turns that bring about some of the most powerful moments in improvising. Of course, sometimes these risks don’t pay off, but they have to be done as part of the process. The thrill of improvising when everything comes together makes the process worth the risk of things not working out.

This performance was positively received by both my peers and mentors, which I greatly appreciate. My greatest achievement was that I inspired some of the younger musician peers at the University to work hard and diligently at their craft. Throughout the process of researching and developing this music, I learned that my art can be a positive force for change in the world– whatever that may be: from advocacy to suggestion of a better future, or even making someone’s day a little better.  I  hope that this concert can also contribute to my future research on the development of improvised music.  I look forward to searching for new sounds, while also pay homage to those that came before me. Above all, I hope that my music will continue to build upon the rich foundation that I, and many others here at UMass Dartmouth, draw inspiration from.

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As far as future plans, I would like to make this a regular, working group. Upon receiving the recordings, I was very pleased with the overall group chemistry, but I believe that this group could become a more cohesive unit. I felt that the performances ran into errors that would not be an issue if we were a group that played more regularly. Because of this, I would like to perform with this iteration of the group whenever the opportunity arises. Additionally, I would  like to start making inroads in the Boston jazz scene, performing with as many different musicians as possible– both as a leader and sideman. Overall, I am very happy with how this concert turned out. It was an honor playing with gifted colleagues and mentors, and I hope to do it again in the near future.

Research in Social Psychology

Researching the Psychosocial Well-Being of Siblings of Children with Disabilities

By Catrina Combis

 

Through UMass Dartmouth Honors Program and thanks to a research grant from the OUR, I launched a research study titled “The Relationship Between Having a Sibling with a Developmental Disability and Indicators of the Typically Developing Sibling’s Psychosocial Well-Being.” While brainstorming ideas in an introductory Psychology class at the beginning of my research process, I immediately thought of my own sibling. My sibling was diagnosed with anxiety and depression while we were both in high school, and the consequent unusual behaviors greatly impacted all of our lives. As a Psychology major I strove to learn more about my sibling’s diagnoses, and decided to dedicate my professional life to children with developmental disabilities.

 

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Left to right: Ramzy Rajeh, Kimberly Schoener, Dr. Christina Cipriano, and Catrina Combis. Rajeh and Schoener help code Combis’s interviews and Dr. Cipriano is Combis’s supervisor.

 

The purpose of my OUR-funded research is to determine how having a sibling with a developmental disability impacts a typically developing sibling (TDS). Once concluded, this research will hopefully fill the gap in the current knowledge about the TDS’s psychosocial well-being as well as other factors, including the relationship they have with their parents. It is essential to understand the relationship between both siblings in order to comprehend how that relationship affects the development and life of the TDS. The research will also highlight the indicators of the TDS’s psychosocial well-being.

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When a member of a family receives a medical diagnosis, it can have layers of impact on the larger family unit. Siblings of children with developmental disabilities are a classically understudied population. Only recently has there been a rise in studies on siblings of children with developmental disabilities (Stoneman, 2005). Sibling relationships are one of the most significant relationships that humans develop and are strongly related to psychosocial adjustment (Pollard, Barry, Freedman, & Kotchick, 2013). Although much is known about the impact and trajectory of the child with a developmental disability, less is known about their siblings.

Developmental disability is operationalized in this research as they are described in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The IDEA federally mandates that schools serve the educational needs of eligible students with disabilities and ensures students with disabilities have access to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). It includes a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Intellectual Disability, Multiple Handicap, Emotional-Behavioral Disorder, and Learning Disability. Typical development is operationalized as the absence of an IDEA designation. Under the direction of Dr. Christina Cipriano, Assistant Professor in the Psychology Department, I submitted and received IRB approval to compile a list of psycho-educational batteries alongside my own developed questionnaire, to assess TDS mental health and well-being in the community. Using the Qualtrics platform, I recruited and surveyed participants, and then randomly selected a proportion of participants to take part in an information gathering interview. I am currently analyzing the Qualtrics and interview data using a mixed-methods approach. These include descriptive and inferential analyses, and open coding for themes. I will be presenting my findings at the Annual Meeting of the Council for Excepional Children (CEC) in Boston this Spring and will be writing up my findings for publication in a peer-reviewed psychology journal.

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I have always enjoyed spending my time with children since my teenage years and this interest has been furthered by the professional connections I have developed during my undergraduate education: While a student at UMass Dartmouth, I have worked for and interned for various organizations involving children. I worked for the America Reads Program through UMass Dartmouth’s Leduc Center for Civic Engagement where I tutored and mentored students in schools and after school programs in Fall River and New Bedford. I also interned with the South Coast Autism Center where I modeled social skills for young boys with Autism and learned a lot more about Autism through observing and interacting with many children. I am currently interning with Horizons for Homeless Children where I play and interact with homeless children in homeless shelters that have established therapeutic play spaces. As an undergraduate student, I have also worked for two professors, Dr. Christina Cipriano and Dr. Meredith Dove, on their respective research studies. Dr. Cipriano’s research is on the Recognizing Excellence in Learning and Teaching (RELATE) tool for special education classroom observation. Dr. Dove’s research is on nutrition and physical activity in childcare settings.  My experiences with children along with the research opportunities at UMass Dartmouth, have formed my professional trajectory. Right now I am in the process of preparing my applications for graduate school and I look forward to pursuing a career in supporting children and their families.

 

References

Pollard, C. A., Barry, C. M., Freedman, B. H., and Kotchick, B. A. (2013). Relationship quality as a moderator of anxiety in siblings of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders or down syndrome. Journal of Child and Family Studies 22 (5), 647-657. doi:10.1007/s10826-012-9618-9

Stoneman, Z. (2005). Siblings of children with disabilities: Research themes. Mental Retardation 43 (5), 339-350.

Research in Mathematics

Strong Stability Preserving Sixth Order Two-Derivative Runge–Kutta Methods

By Gustavo Franco Reynoso

 

This past summer I joined Professor Sigal Gottlieb and PhD student Zachary Grant in their Computational Mathematics research on “Strong Stability Preserving Sixth Order Two-Derivative Runge-Kutta Methods.”  It was a great experience that has helped me understand my abilities and my interests. Before I explain the project, I would like to go back in time to provide some background information about my research.

When I first started taking Computational Mathematics curriculum courses back in 2012, I never thought research is what I wanted to do. In 2012 I joined a class called CSUMS that was centered on independent undergraduate research.  Even though I enjoyed the class, research was not on my mind.  Eventually, I started taking higher level classes and realized that research was the base of everything I did, whether it be in my Civil Engineering classes or in my Math classes.  Subsequently, I decided to do research independent of classwork.

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Left: Portrait of Reynoso at work; right:The first page of a study conducted by Reynoso, Gottlieb, and Grant.

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This past summer I approached Dr. Gottlieb to see if she would let me join her research group. She warmly accepted and started to instruct me in the topics I needed to learn. This was just the start. Shortly thereafter an OUR summer grant enabled me to work with Dr. Gottlieb on a research titled “Strong Stability Preserving Sixth Order Two-Derivative Runge-Kutta Methods.” Hyperbolic partial differential equations (PDEs) describe a wide-range of physical phenomena in a variety of fields, such as aeronautics, oceanography, and astrophysics. These equations describe solutions that have wave-like behavior, such as fluid flows and gravitational waves. In many cases, the physical behavior of this phenomenon and the related solutions to the hyperbolic PDE develop sharp gradients or discontinuities. In such cases, the numerical methods used to approximate the solutions in space and evolve them forward in time need to be very carefully designed so they can handle the discontinuities and remain stable and accurate.

The design of high order Strong Stability Preserving (SSP) time-stepping methods that are advantageous for use with spatial discretizations and that have nonlinear stability properties needed for the solution of hyperbolic PDEs with shocks, has been an active area of research over the last two decades. In particular, the focus has been to design high order methods with large allowable time-step. SSP methods in the multistep and Runge-Kutta families have been developed. However, these methods have order barriers and time-step restrictions. The focus of this project was to develop new SSP time discretizations by further exploring the class of multi-derivative Runge-Kutta methods.

My main job at the beginning was to derive the order conditions needed to design higher order multi-derivative methods. I derived the two derivative Runge-Kutta order conditions up to 6th order using what is known as Butcher trees.  Just the one derivative derivation had 37 trees, after including the second derivative, it increased tremendously. Some trees had around 15 sub-derivations; this was a tedious job that taught me a lot on how to be efficient and optimal. After deriving all the order conditions, they had to be included into a code that finds numerically optimal multi-derivative Runge-Kutta methods and tests these methods for accuracy and for the sharpness of the SSP condition on test problems used previously in the SSP field. We were able to find methods that gave us sixth order accurate, and after doing so we found that there are 7th order methods that work as well.

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This experience led me to realize how I want to further my education. Thanks to a summer grant from the OUR as well as help from Dr. Gottlieb and Zack Grant, I have decided to pursue a PhD at UMD in Engineering and Applied Science. This will be an amazing experience and I very much look forward to it. To all students out there who have yet to find the beauty hidden in the intricate curiosity that some call research, I recommend that you get involved in research as soon as possible. If you find that you don’t like it, it is easy to get out; but, if you find it luring and attractive, you will feel like you have lost time not doing it earlier. Research is not boring, as many students might think. It is challenging and never definitive or monotonous. You’re always learning something new. Even if you try it once and don’t like it, you could still try it again, because there are so many topics unexplored that you are bound to find something you find interesting.

I’d like to leave you with this quote by the American biochemist and peace activist, Linus Carl Pauling:

“Satisfaction of one’s curiosity is one of the greatest sources of happiness in life.”

 

Research in Biochemistry

Studying the Potential Applications of Dipeptide Nanomaterials

By Lisa Perreault

 

I am a senior biochemistry major at UMass Dartmouth, pursuing the 4+1 BS/MS program degree path. In addition to being a full time chemistry student, I am a chemistry teaching assistant and an undergraduate student researcher. Since the spring semester of 2015, I have been involved with the Mayes Research Group, which focuses on computational and theoretical chemistry. During my time in the group, I have been working on a dipeptide nanotube modeling project, which is centered on the self-assembly of this innovative nanomaterial. This research was partially funded through a grant from the OUR. All of our calculations run on the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center (GHPCC), a state wide computing cluster with high computing capabilities. Using the GHPCC allows my calculations to be carried out quickly and efficiently, while teaching me a unique set of computing skills that not many undergraduates get to learn. After graduation, I hope to take what I have learned at UMass Dartmouth as a student researcher and apply it to a career in pharmaceutical drug development.

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Left: Portrait of Perreault; right:The molecular structures of (a.) linear YY, (b.) cyclic YY, (c.) linear WY, and (d.) cyclic WY

 

Dipeptide nanomaterials are a relatively new and unique biomaterial with many potential applications. Their organic nature, rigidity and flexibility make them safe, yet strong, lending them to biological applications, such as biosensing, tissue engineering, and biological scaffolds.  Their semiconductor properties make them potential alternatives for electrical materials, such as solar cells. During the past several years, these dipeptide nanomaterials have risen in scientific interest and their properties have been investigated on a both a macro and micro scale. However, much is still unknown about the self-assembly of these dipeptide nanostructures. The aim of my research is to investigate the self-assembly of aromatic dipeptide nanotubes, using a variety of quantum computational methods. Four dipeptides are considered in my research: linear dityrosine (YY), cyclic YY, linear tryptophan-tyrosine (WY), and cyclic WY.

The basic theorized mechanism of nanotube self-assembly is that monomers form small aggregates, which then form rings, which stack to form tubes. So far, a bottom-up approach has been used to model the initial steps of nanotube self-assembly in order to study the fundamentals of the process. Progress so far can be broken down into three basic stages: a study of each of the four dipeptides, a study of their dimers, and a study of hexamer rings made from these dipeptides.

In the first stage of the study, the exact structure and energetics of linear YY, cyclic YY, linear WY, and cyclic WY were determined. Spartan software was used to determine all of the geometrically and energetically favorable conformations of each dipeptide. From there, the fifteen lowest energy conformers were analyzed further using GAMESS (General Atomic Molecular and Electronic Structure) to determine more accurately the lowest-energy conformer of each dipeptide, representing their most stable form. Geometric, molecular orbital, and IR spectra calculations were also performed to analyze the molecular trends present in low-energy conformers. The most important similarity between the most stable conformers of the four dipeptides is their stabilizing interactions. Each dipeptide has a relatively high dipole moment, implying that there are important polar interactions involved in their stabilization. Additionally, each dipeptide is characterized by highest occupied molecular orbital (HOMO) and lowest unoccupied molecular orbital (LUMO) consisting of mainly π and π* orbitals, respectively, suggesting that π-π* stacking interactions are also important. Finally, the addition of acetone solvation lowered the energy of each conformer, suggesting the solution stabilized the dipeptides and stimulates self-assembly experiments.

wwLeft: Examples of the (a.) side by side, (b.) stacking, (and c.) T orientations studied, using the cyclic YY dipeptide; right: An example of the hexamer ring, using the linear YY dipeptide

 

In the second stage of the study, dimers of each of the four dipeptides were studied. The lowest energy conformers from stage one were dimerize in three orientations: a linear “side by side” interaction, a parallel “stacking” interaction, and a perpendicular “T” interaction. GAMESS was used to optimize and analyze the dimers. Again, the geometries, energetic properties, molecular orbitals, and IR spectra of each system were investigated. Analysis of these properties showed that the stacking interactions have the overall lowest energy, the greatest binding energy, the most hydrogen bonding between dipeptides, and the tightest packing of the dipeptides. This suggests that dipeptides have a tendency to stack above one another in the early steps of their self-assembly.

To investigate the interaction between the dimers even further, an energy decomposition calculation was carried out in GAMESS on each dimer.  This calculation computes the types and amounts of interactive forces present between two molecules. It showed that the dominant interacting force in each of the dimers was electrostatic energy (accounting for ~50% of the total interaction energy) and polarization energy (accounting for ~30% of the total interaction energy). This implies that the dipole-dipole interaction between peptide bonds and the non-covalent interactions of the peptide termini play an important role in the interactions between multiple dipeptides.

In the third stage of the study, hexamer rings of each of the dipeptides were studied. The lowest-energy conformers from stage one were arranged into six-membered rings and optimized using GAMESS. Again, the geometric, energetic, orbital, and IR properties were analyzed. The binding energies were calculated to be moderately large, suggesting that the dipeptides have high affinity for each other in this ring arrangement. Linear YY and linear WY have binding energies nearly twice as large as those of their cyclic counterparts, suggesting that they will self-assemble more readily than cyclic YY and cyclic WY. The inner and outer diameters of each ring were calculated and compared against experimental data for the highly studied diphenylalanine nanotube, revealing that these four nanotubes will be slightly larger, due to large side chains and higher polarity.

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I hope to continue working on this project for the rest of the academic year at UMass Dartmouth. The project can take several directions from here. This includes combining the rings into stacks to model complete nanotubes and performing molecular mechanics calculations on the large system to determine if any new molecular interactions arise in the nanotube system. It will also shows the interactions that occur between a field of nanotubes. Another possible trajectory is to model and study the mechanical properties of the nanotubes to reveal their strength and flexibility, which would be important for applications. The path that I will choose to study first is the interaction of these dipeptides with surface materials. This also has implications for the application of dipeptide nanotubes; it shows if the nanotubes will be compatible with the surfaces. Above all, it demonstrate the ways in which the nanotubes interact with these surfaces.

Research in Political Science

Voter Decision-Making in Low Information Elections

By David Borges

 

An astonishing number of elections in the United States occur at the local level. Because of various factors, these elections are low-turnout and low-information affairs. Frequently, regarding these local elections, the general electorate is woefully uninformed, and certain variables available to voters in more high-profile elections are unavailable to voters. Regardless, voters still head to the polls to cast their votes for candidates running for various positions in their local municipality.

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While much research has been dedicated to evaluating voting determinants in higher profile elections, like those concerning presidential, senatorial and congressional contests, little has been dedicated to studying the more local level. Considering the magnitude and frequency at which local elections occur, Professors Shannon Jenkins and Doug Roscoe saw it fit to dedicate time to study how voters in low-information, local elections make their decisions. Thus, I was asked to spend time over summer break to help in this study and sought OUR funding to do so.

As a result I, alongside Professors Jenkins and Roscoe, was involved in multiple aspects of conducting a research, including data collection, imputing data into SPSS, conducting a literature review, formulating hypotheses, looking for patterns in the data and finally obtaining results and reaching conclusions. The work was originally prepared for and presented at the 2016 New England Political Science Association Conference and was just recently sent to the New England Journal of Political Science for publication. It is currently under review.

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The poster of the 2016 New England Political Science Association Conference, where Borges presented the final results of his research in conjunction with his supervisors.

 

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Participating in this OUR funded project was a worthwhile endeavor. I have been able to use what I learned from this research both professionally and personally. Living in a small town with a similar form of government as in the one we studied, I can apply findings from our research to my own community. Being interested in politics, I have and will continue to become involved in local politics in my hometown. As such, I can use what I learned to help impact my community in a meaningful way. Understanding who votes and how they decide whom to vote for in these local, low-information elections is a significant advantage.

 

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Sample data analysis from Borges’s OUR funded research

 

Finally, by participating in this project I was able to work with two seasoned and distinguished researchers, thus learning the process of developing and implementing research much more thoroughly. Learning about the process in class is one thing, but it is a whole new experience carrying out the process from a different perspective. This experience has been extremely valuable to me, thanks to the OUR. Partaking in research provides undergraduate students with so many ways to explore their interests and bring their educational experience to a whole new level.

Research in Photojournalism

A Photo-journalistic Journey into Okinawa

By Lizzy Santoro

 

I am a dual major in Photography and Political Science. My passion for social and political issues always compliments my artistic side. In summer 2016 I received an OUR summer grant to study the culture of the American military community of Okinawa, Japan. My decision to do a photo-journalistic research in Okinawa was motivated by a personal experience. My journey began when I joined an Okinawan martial arts dojo, Kodokai, seven years ago. My Sensei is a Marine Corps veteran who was stationed in Okinawa during the seventies and learned martial arts during his time there. He truly immersed himself in the culture and became versed in the conflict between the Okinawans and American military. By going to the dojo five days a week, three/four hours a day, for seven years I, too, learned about the culture and the relationship between the American military and Okinawa.

 

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Left: Portrait of Santoro at UMass Dartmouth quad; right: Santoro’s photograph of two Okinawans taking a selfie with an American at Gate Two street in Okinawa, 2016.

 

There are 5 times as more American bases in Japan than in Afghanistan and 75% of those bases are located in just 0.6% of Japan’s landmass, on the island of Okinawa. This over-saturation of American military on a very small landmass has affected the area in a large number of tangible ways- both positive and negative. Okinawa’s economy, culture, and history have been strongly influenced by America; conversely, thousands of Americans have been shaped by the Okinawan culture and society.

 

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Left: American soldier shares rations with Okinawan children in 1945; right: Santoro’s photograph of the Osprey helicopters on Futenma Air Base, 2016.

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In my recent travel, I did my best to tell the story of the American military presence in Okinawa through both texts and images. I took notes as I explored different places. I interviewed both Americans and Okinawans. I did research on my own and I captured the culture, utilizing the elegance of the frozen moment that only photographs can provide. It is important to note that my photographs are not just representations of reality; they are mediated images with deep meanings. Indeed, I did my best to capture important moments and locations and I “framed” these moments and locations in meaningful ways. Even though the final product–an illustrated book–ended up being not too long, it definitely proved to be very challenging. The recent history of Okinawa is incredibly complicated. It includes 70 years of injustice and Okinawan bitterness at both the Japanese and the American central governments. At the macro level, there are fierce political debates about how necessary the bases are in Okinawa, whether the Okinawan people have been subjugated by American and Japanese superpowers, and whether the bases do more harm than good. But there is also a less polarized micro reality. Most Americans are just doing their jobs. They were given relatively no choice to be stationed in Okinawa and are just fulfilling their duty as honorably as possible. Simultaneously, most Okinawans are just living their daily lives as best as they can, and as harmoniously as possible with their American neighbors.

 

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Santoro’s photograph of a neighborhood near the American base, 2016. American iconography and English Signage are fairly common throughout Okinawa, but they are especially prevalent near the bases.

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There were more challenges than just the complexity of my research topic. I struggled particularly with the writing portion of this project because my upbringing put me on both sides of this debate. I grew up in a military family, with a father who was a Naval Commander and a brother training to be a Marine Corps officer. On the other hand, I have strong personal relationships with several people who are somewhat critical of the American military presence in Okinawa. The only way I could navigate through these conflicting emotions was to tell the story as historically accurate as possible. The result of this strategy is a book that is as removed from myself as I could manage; however, the origins of this book could not have been more personal because, for me, this research project is about a place where my second home was conceived. To read my book and to see more of my photographs, please click on the book’s cover:

 

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Research in Child Psychology

Emotional Differences in Preschool-aged Children

By Alicia Cronister-Morais

 

During my first semester as a transfer student here at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth I was presented with an opportunity to join a research study. Dr. Robin Locke-Arkerson was looking for interested students to participate in research conducted in her Child Emotion Center. Research projects in the Child Emotion Center examine emotional development in children, with specific interest in understanding how various emotional, cognitive, and biological processes influence social and emotional behavior.  Current and future projects  of the center include individual differences in emotional behavior, emotional understanding, neuroendocrine (cortisol) and cardiac physiology, attention, language, aggressive behavior, bullying, victimization, peer rejection, and loneliness.

Initially I started working in the Child Emotion Center as a volunteer, but my interest in research compelled me to participate at a greater level. I first assisted with a National Institute of Health (NIH) – funded study that examines multiple factors associated with emotional differences in preschool-aged children. Later, this complex study of child emotion gave me the opportunity to train on various behavioral, cognitive, and biological assessments.  Given the multitrait-multimethod design employed by the study, I was exposed to various forms of data collection, including child interviews, physiological assessments, teacher- and parent-reports, as well as behavioral measures. The behavioral measures are very expansive, with many tasks spanning the realm of various emotions. The interview measures tap into child receptive language skills and knowledge of their own and others’ emotions. I feel the cumulative exposure to the preparation and implementation of this study in Dr. Locke-Arkerson’s lab prepared me to partake in an individual research project. The summer grant I received from OUR and the CAS Dean’s summer research fellowship provided me with the funds to examine unique research questions within this complex study on child emotion. I independently carried out all roles required to conduct this research project. I was invested in all aspects of the study from the beginning (participant recruitment) to the end (participant compensation).  I interacted with many of the school staff and families that so kindly volunteered to participate in this important research on child emotion.  Most importantly, the OUR summer grant and CAS Dean’s fellowship provided an opportunity to examine questions on how language comprehension and emotion knowledge relate to peer rejection and externalizing behavior.  Preliminary findings from my research indicate that children with lower recognition of emotional faces and emotional situations were more likely than other children to be rejected by their peers. Furthermore, a child’s tendency to attribute anger to non-anger faces was also associated with greater peer rejection.  In addition, language comprehension was related to emotion knowledge and attention problems.

 

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Cronister-Morais administering the Peabody Picture Vocabulary test (Dunn & Dunn, 2007) as an assessment of receptive language during an interview with a preschool-aged child, 2016.

 

During this period I also submitted an abstract to present some of the preliminary results from my OUR and CAS Dean’s fellowship funded study at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) to be held in Austin, TX in April 2017. A future goal of mine is to submit a manuscript based on my findings for publication in a peer-reviewed journal of psychology.

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Being offered the opportunity to work at a greater capacity on this research project helped me understand the many different techniques employed by researchers to gain additional insight and information into how to improve everyday life. In particular, I am thankful for understanding how children’s language and emotion knowledge are important for adaptive social functioning and how they could be helpful in guiding early intervention and prevention. Recognizing deficits at an early age increases the ability to facilitate improvement in important aspects of a child’s relational functioning.

In addition to addressing my own research questions, the data collection that occurred under the OUR summer grant and CAS Dean’s fellowship will be used to address goals of a broader future research. Research in psychology is very important: it helps elucidate what makes people think, feel, and act in certain situations. It can also give clinicians a better understanding of how relationships within families can improve. As a Psychology major, I wanted to get more involved with research in the field. When I first started at the university I hoped to gain as much experience within the discipline of psychology as I could; I wanted to better understand how research is conducted. The opportunity to work in Professor Locke-Arkerson’s lab with an OUR summer grant and CAS Dean’s summer fellowship was extremely valuable to me. Above all, it prepared me for graduate programs in clinical psychology. Choosing the clinical psychology path, I want to develop treatment models based on the factors that influence social development. Understanding how and why research is conducted has helped me in term of my future career goals. I look forward to assisting children and families develop the skills needed for productive relationships and better social interactions.

 

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