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Undergraduate Research Program

2011-12 Cohort

Meg Ainsley - Social Sciences, Anthropology

Mentor: Walter Andrews, Near Eastern Languages and Civilization

Where are they now?
Meg is in London attending University College London pursuing a M.A. in Digital Humanities and Arabic.

UW research project
The Ottoman Text Archive Project, Svoboda Diary Project

Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
Given the current state of Iraq, without preservation efforts, texts like the Svoboda diary could have been destroyed. This project helps keep the history of Iraq in the late 19th century alive. This is also the time when the Ottoman Empire was dissolving. Valuable historical information about this era is contained in this diary, making it invaluable to researchers interested in the time period.

What is the most exciting and/or rewarding aspect of your undergraduate research experience?
I feel that I help keep history alive since I am an avid history lover this is an indescribable feeling. Being able to extend my knowledge of near eastern history, the Arabic language, and the cultivation of invaluable technical skills has made my involvement with the Svoboda Project one of the best experiences of my life.

Katy Atakturk - Earth and Space Sciences

Mentor: Karl Lang, Earth and Space Sciences

Jayleen Bowman - Sociology

Mentor: Chandra Childers, Sociology

UW research projects
1. Social Determinants of Seattle Community Court Defendants
2. Social Order and the Genesis of Rebellion: Mutiny in the Royal Navy

Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
1. Community Court is an alternative court program; rather than go to jail, non-violent misdemeanor offenders who enter the program can help themselves by completing community service and making a variety of comprehensive social service linkages to help address the root and underlying issues of repeated criminal behavior. My research focuses on defendants who are (1) charged with committing a theft offense and (2) must make a housing and/or chemical dependency social service linkages. By categorizing these offenders, I hope to see a trend in defendant characteristics which may explain the determinants of the those populating Seattle Community Court.

2. Mutiny is among the most serious and feared challenges of social order. Mutinies are not simply a spontaneous reaction to grievances, for they are quite rare, while the poor treatment and difficult lives of seamen are all too common. Using systematic data on Royal Navy ships, this research seeks to ask why shipboard social order shifts, tipping members of a crew towards mutiny.

When, how, and why did you get involved in undergraduate research?
I was introduced to undergraduate research by enrolling in a practicum class offered through the Sociology Department. It’s amazing how beneficial it is to become an active member in ones department. For me personally, every research opportunity has been introduced by a faculty member because they know my interests, experiences, and aspirations as an undergraduate student. I owe it to my department.

Kelsey Braxton - Physics, Astronomy

Mentor: Bruce Balick, Astronomy

UW research projects
1. Galaxy Formation
2. Planetary Nebula

Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
1. Using the gas of six nearby galaxies to determine how they formed.
2. Searching for planetary nebula in open star clusters.

What is the most exciting and/or rewarding aspect of your undergraduate research experience?
The most exciting aspect is the research itself. It is finally getting those results after spending so much time struggling through the process over and over again.

Becca Emery - Psychology and Philosophy

Mentor: Kevin King, Psychology

Where are they now?
Becca is pursuing a joint PhD in Clinical Psychology and Biological Health at the University of Pittsburgh. She will be studying weight regulation and smoking cessation during and after pregnancy.

UW research project
The Moderating Role of Negative Urgency on the Dual Pathway Model of Bulimia Nervosa

Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
Binge eating itself is a symptom of both binge eating disorder (BED) and bulimia nervosa and may lead to major health consequences such as weight gain, heart attack, and diabetes. Given the issues surrounding binge eating, I became interested in better understanding what places an individual at risk for such behavior. Essentially, my research looks at personality traits, specifically impulsiveness, that serve as risk factors for binge eating in an attempt to better understand what motivates people to binge. What I’ve found is that individuals who are highly impulsive are more likely to binge eat particularly under certain circumstances, such as when they experience negative mood.

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research in your field?
There is a wide variety of research going on in the psychological sciences and I would encourage anyone interested in studying psychology to get involved. However, I would strongly advise students to avoid choosing an area of study that simply sounds ‘cool’. Do some research before you start researching. Find something that you’re truly interested in and learn about what research in that area entails to make sure it’s something you might enjoy before jumping into it.

Lisa Nguyen - Biology (Physiology)

Minor: Bioethics and Humanities
Mentor: Helen Dichek, Pediatrics

UW research project
Role of Hepatic Lipase in Diet-Induced Obesity

Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
Hepatic lipase (HL) is an enzyme in the liver that hydrolyzes intermediate-density lipoproteins (IDL) into low-density lipoproteins (LDL), which is also known as bad cholesterol. HL breaks down lipoproteins, releasing free fatty acids, and it is hypothesized that this triggers increased food intake in the central nervous system. Using a mouse model with the human HL gene, we are testing the effects of regular food and high fat diet food on weight gain and food consumption.

What is the most challenging and/or sometimes frustrating aspect of your undergraduate research experience?
The most challenging aspect of my undergraduate research experience is running into a problem (such as contamination) that can bring your work to a stop. It’s frustrating, but it is a great learning experience to learn to troubleshoot your work!

Max Schumm - Biochemistry

Mentor: Jesus Lopez-Guisa, Seattle Children’s Research – Center for Tissue and Cell Sciences

Where are they now?
Max is interning in the Quality Assurance Department at Highland Hospital, a public trauma center in Oakland, California. He will be involved with projects enhancing patient experiences and improving patient outcomes.

UW research project
The Role of IL-6 in the Nephrotoxic Serum Nephritis Mouse Model

Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
A major problem with kidney related injuries is that they end in kidney failure regardless of their main cause of first insult, a process known as renal fibrosis. Interleukin-6 (IL-6), a pro-inflammatory protein secreted by white blood cells, we know to play a significant role in the inflammatory and fibrotic process as seen in kidney disease. We have genetically engineered mice that have the IL-6 gene deleted only in cells prominent in the immune response. After injecting these mice with a serum that invokes a strong inflammatory response in the kidneys, we sacrifice the mice and harvest the kidneys. It is my job to analyze the gene expression in the IL-6 depleted kidney tissue and analyze tissue sections to determine differences in gene expression as well as progression and level of disease.

What is the most exciting and/or rewarding aspect of your undergraduate research experience?
Undergraduate research has been rewarding in many lights. I’ve learned the ability to critically read and think my way through problems and errors that occur at the lab. These skills transcend into my daily life and have helped me academically and socially. My research has also complemented my coursework and has helped me to better understand the material I’m learning in the classroom.

Sarah Szewczyk - Electrical Engineering, Linguistics

Mentor: Rich Christie, Electrical Engineering

Where are they now?
Sarah is pursuing a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering at the UW.

UW research project
The effect of wind incentives on US power markets

Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
Wind energy is the fastest growing renewable resource for electric power in the US. Incentives exist at local, state, and federal levels that impact how much wind energy is being produced. We want to know if these incentives are helping to get more wind energy on the grid, and if so, how the wind energy is affecting the energy supply mixture.

What is the most exciting and/or rewarding aspect of your undergraduate research experience?
The most rewarding part of my research experience has been going deep into a subject that just one year ago, I had no idea even existed. I may not be an expert yet, but I have more specialized knowledge on the subject than I did just last year.

Anning Yao - Bioengineering

Minor: Mathematics
Mentor: Pierre D. Mourad, Neurosurgery

Where are they now?
Anning is pursuing a graduate degree in the Bioengineering Department at the University of Pennsylvania.

UW research project
The use of ultrasound elastography as an imaging tool for stroke

Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
Ultrasound elastography is a technique that measures local tissue deformation from ultrasound-induced shear wave propagation within tissue from which it derives estimates of local tissue stiffness. We are currently building a research device with the capability of generating elastic images using Verosnoics ultrasound engine, which allows complete control over all aspects including data acquisition and processing, image formation and display, and user interface, for stroke detection. We surgically induce ischemic stroke on mice and image using the built device. We optimize the imaging device using the information reflected from the elastic images and the histology results of the stroke animals.

What is the most challenging and/or sometimes frustrating aspect of your undergraduate research experience?
Since the stroke imaging project was in the nascent stage when we first started, a great amount of preliminary studies and preparations were needed. It was very frustrating because we had to keep changing experimental protocols due to gross imaging artifacts. Instead of living with frustration, the appropriate use of logical thinking, engineering skills, and collaboration with experts eventually led us to the correct solution. One of the most valuable lessons I have learned from medical research is that even if it does fail most of the time, I can never lose hope because I do not know when I will see that light at the end of the tunnel. Perseverance to a researcher is like a blueprint to the construction of a house: extremely essential.

Martha Zepeda - Biochemistry, Biology (Molecular,Cellular, Developmental)

Mentor: Merrill Hille, Biology

Where are they now?
Martha is pursuing her PhD in Molecular, Cellular Biology at Harvard University.

UW research projects
p120catenin and the RhoA GTPase Interaction during Early Gastrulation in Zebrafish.

Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
I look at a small protein (RhoA) that is involved in mediating necessary cell movements during tissue layer differentiation in early embryonic development in zebrafish. This small protein is in turn regulated by a larger protein (p120 catenin), and so I make mutations in specific amino acids in RhoA and inject it into zebrafish embryos to see what happens, and I also make mutations in p120catenin to see how those mutations affects its regulation of RhoA.

What is the most challenging and/or sometimes frustrating aspect of your undergraduate research experience?
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of my experience has been the lack of preparation that I had for dealing with failure. When I first started, any experiment that failed I blamed on myself, and while it is true that human error can have an impact, more often than I would like an experiment simply does not give the results I need/expect. The experimental set up can have been meticulously planned and backed up with concrete reasoning and still results are hard to come by and even harder to draw intuitive conclusions from. Yet, I have realized that that is simply the nature of the research I do and that unexpected results are not bad results but rather mini puzzles to decipher and the beauty of research is that deciphering them is something I can feel ownership of.

Eunice Zhang - Neurobiology

Minor: Chemistry
Mentor: Barbara Wakimoto, Biology

Where are they now?
Eunice is working as a Patient Navigator at ICHS (International Community Health Services- a community health center in Seattle’s International District) through AmeriCorps.

UW research projects
Identifying the role of dGCS1 in Drosophila fertilization

Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
The process of a sperm entering an egg during fertilization is not well-understood for any organism. Our lab uses Drosophila melanogaster, the fruit fly, as a model organism to learn about sperm-egg interactions. My project focuses on a protein called GCS1, originally identified as a fertilization molecule in flowering plants. We found that fruit flies also express a version of this protein, called dGCS1, which is essential as a fertilization molecule. The gene encoding for dGCS1, when mutated, results in male sterility. This is exciting because plants and animals show such diverse modes of sexual reproduction. The fact that they may share a common protein suggests that GCS1 has played a fundamental role in fertilization throughout evolutionary history and may have possible implications for human fertility.

What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research in your field?
Definitely consider what you want in a mentor. I think developing and having a good mentor-mentee relationship is probably the most important and gratifying part of undergraduate research. Don’t limit yourself to, “But I only want to work in a neurobiology lab!” The subject of research is not as important as the people whom you will be working with. As an aspiring neurobiology major at the time I started research, I never thought I would be working in a lab studying fertilization. But I found such a close camaraderie in my co-workers and mentor in my lab that has really shaped my research experience, that I might not have had if I had decided to only limit myself to labs based on research topic. I am so grateful for all the ways in which my mentor has helped me grow!