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2016 Honors Summer Fellows

Rebecca Cotton | Carbon Storage in Great Lakes Region Forests

My thesis research seeks to determine how rising temperatures and earthworm presence affect carbon storage in forest soils in the Great Lakes region. Previous studies have found that forests in this area store large amounts of carbon, and about 44% of this carbon is stored in the forest soils. Rising temperatures and the introduction of earthworm species are two ongoing processes in the region that can alter carbon cycling in soil. Rising temperatures generally accelerate decomposition, promoting the loss of soil carbon as CO2 is released into the atmosphere. Earthworms mix soil horizons (layers) and break down large plant detritus, like fallen leaves and dead grass, which sometimes results in a net loss of soil carbon, and sometimes in a net gain of soil carbon. Through an experimental study, I am working to understand how these two processes affect soil carbon storage in forests in the Great Lakes region.  

Eliza Cadoux | Disclosing Sexual Assault Through Feminist Performance Art

Trauma, defined by scholar Cathy Caruth as “unclaimed experience”, is marked by dissociation and a lack of control over one’s narrative. Soaring national rates of sexual violence combined with a culture of silence and isolation for survivors cause the potential risks of disclosure to be interpersonally and psychologically punishing. Disclosure is hard, and social reaction to it is transformative to the survivor experience. Embodied feminist performance art creates the opportunity for claiming trauma, revealing it to an audience, and possibly working through it in the process.

My thesis will attempt to weave the fields of performance studies, gender studies and trauma studies to create a performed work and a written work. My performance piece will involve rape disclosure in busy public settings, such as plazas and intersections. It will combine recorded audio, spoken text, and body art. My written thesis will consist of three parts: the first will cover phenomena in feminist performance art that handles gendered violence and the artists emblematic of different styles, the second will read my own performance in the context of performance and trauma studies, and the third will read video and text of the audience’s reactions to my performance to theorize around reception and the survivor body. 

Jenny Tou | Communication/Rehabilitation Using Non-Invasive Customized Electrodes

A non-invasive, electroencephalography (EEG)-based computer interface (BCI) allows users to interact directly with the computer with brain activity without surgical procedures. The device can be used for communication (e.g. type on a keyboard), control (e.g. move the cursor) and rehabilitation (e.g. stimulate muscles according to a stroke patient's intent). Studies have shown that P300-based BCI performs better when used by typical developing participants compared to those with disabilities. An EEG-based BCI that uses the P300 response usually collects data from a default set of electrodes with fixed locations. The number and location of electrodes were researched and developed for able-bodied participants. While populations with impairments need the technology the most, there is no systematic analysis on BCI accuracy and number of electrodes required using the electrode selection method for this population. Custom electrode subsets could address potential physiological difference among individuals, and thus might be particularly useful for subjects with disabilities. Electrode selection and custom electrode subsets also allow for minimizing number of electrodes. My project will investigate the effect of a customized electrode subset on P300-BCI accuracy, in particular for subjects with cerebral palsy (CP). Additional analysis with subjects with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and Neuromuscular Disease (NMD) will also be included.

Kaitlyn Schuster | Hellenistic Poetic Recusatio and Its Appropriation by Latin Love Elegists

My thesis in Classical Studies focuses on the Hellenistic poetic recusatioand its formulaic appropriation from Greek literature by the Latin love elegists of the Augustan “Golden Age”.  In the Hellenistic period, the recusatio was not so much a formula as it was a casual strategy that scholar-poets like Callimachus used to distance themselves from rival groups of literati, and from the styles in which such adversaries composed. In Roman literature—and particularly in the texts of Ovid, Tibullus, and Propertius—the recusatio finds maturity and significance not only in the aforementioned sense, but also as a way by which the elegists undertook serious social commentary of the Augustan regime, recusing themselves both artistically and politically from their cultural milieu. In researching the recusatio and the different corpora in which it appears, I hope not only to learn more about these authors and the contexts to which they were reacting, but also to identify the recusatio as a noteworthy ancient juncture of “art for art’s sake” and art as counterculture.

Catherine Cerny | Utilizing Galaxy Clusters to Find Other Galaxies

The early universe has long been a source of fascination for many scientists. However, the information needed to study the first stages of the universe is difficult to obtain because most objects at redshifts z ~ 9-12, a range that corresponds to a timescale of over 13 billion years ago, are too faint to observe with modern telescopes. My project aims to resolve this problem by utilizing galaxy clusters, which are massive super-structures composed of numerous gravitationally-bound galaxies, as natural 'cosmic telescopes' in order to find galaxies at these high redshifts. Galaxy clusters can function similarly to telescopes because they are massive enough to produce a strong gravitational field, capable of deflecting light from objects located behind the cluster. This deflection magnifies background objects and can cause them to appear many times their original size. This process, known as gravitational lensing, also makes objects brighter and can subsequently be used to find faint objects at high redshifts. My thesis will focus on creating detailed lens models of the magnification effects of several galaxy clusters that are candidates for finding high redshift galaxies. I will construct these models by applying gravitational lensing techniques to create a mass profile for each cluster, which will require me to quantify the distribution of visible and dark matter within the cluster.

James Lawniczak | Shifting Selectivity of Fluorination Towards Benzylic C-H Bonds

Fluorine is a critical element of the molecular structures of important pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, and tracers for positron emission tomography. A particular challenge of fluorination is selective installation of fluorine at the desired site of the substrate, with minimal production of undesired side products. Amines, an important class of organic compounds found in the majority of pharmaceuticals, are particularly challenging for C-H fluorination due to the undesired fluorination of the amine nitrogen. To our knowledge, no strategy currently exists to fluorinate benzylic C-H bonds on unprotected amines.  My thesis will focus on applying a novel strategy to shifting selectivity of fluorination towards benzylic C-H bonds. My research will utilize inexpensive Fe catalysts known to yield selective C-H fluorination. Ultimately, I hope to achieve selective fluorination of benzylic C-H bonds on amines.

Siddhant Dogra | Polyphosphate's Interaction with Client Proteins and Its Dual Role as an Iron Storage Molecule

Proteins play crucial roles in almost every biological process imaginable; for that reason, protein destabilization in high heat environments or through chemical denaturants has dire consequences. Neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s are characterized by the presence of insoluble protein aggregates that are just clumps of unfolded proteins. Protein chaperones work to keep proteins folded in these dangerous conditions. My work studies a molecule called inorganic polyphosphate, composed of a varying number of phosphate groups. Polyphosphate was recently shown to act as a protein chaperone, but is very different structurally from previously characterized chaperones. Using biophysical and biochemical techniques, I am studying how polyphosphate interacts with and protects its client proteins, as well as its potential dual role as an iron storage molecule.

Jonathan Williams | Interaction Between Two DNA-binding Proteins in the Shelterin Complex

Before human cells can divide, they must replicate, or copy, their DNA in order that each daughter cell receives the cell's genetic information.  However, because our chromosomes are linear and the DNA replication machinery of the cell cannot begin the copying process at the end of a DNA strand, a small amount of DNA is lost from chromosomes with each round of DNA replication and cell division.  Telomeres are repetitive sequences of DNA at chromosome ends that prevent erosion of genes within the chromosome as DNA is lost in the process of replication.  My research studies shelterin, six-protein complex at telomeres which is important for maintaining the lengths of telomeres and preventing aberrant recognition of chromosome ends as DNA damage.  In particular, I am investigating the interaction between two DNA-binding proteins in the shelterin complex.


Wenli Zhao | Gauge Gravity Duality in Various Settings

AdS/CFT, a conjecture firstly proposed in 1997, states that a string theory or M-theory formulated in Anti-de-Sitter Space(AdS) is equivalent to a Conformal Field Theory(CFT) formulated on the AdS boundary, in the sense that there is a one to one map between their states and dynamics. In 2008, a N=6 Chern Simons Matter theory later known as ABJM theory was proposed to be the CFT dual of M theory and IIA string theory in two different limits, and the test of AdS/CFT has been done up to the sub-leading logarithmic term in one loop correction. Yet a complete one loop calculation has not been done, and there have been intriguing features observed in ABJM theory such as even/odd Chern Simons level dependence of the partition function that could not be explained at the classical level in the dual picture. Motivated by such curiosities, part of my research has been on computing one loop free energy of eleven dimensional supergravity as a low energy limit of M theory, and comparing it to the ABJM results. Although such calculation does not directly test AdS/CFT at one loop order, it provides hints on where the even/odd k dependence of ABJM partition function comes into play as well as what functional structure one might expect for the one loop contribution of M theory beyond supergravity, assuming AdS/CFT.

Non-relativistic holography(Such as Lifshitz and Schrodinger holography) receives increasing attention recently, due to their applications in condensed matter physics (such as in quantum hall effects).  An intriguing question is thus whether certain techniques such as localization methods in the relativistic supersymmetric case could be adapted into the non-relativistic case, so that one can obtain a better understanding of such holography by studying exact results. Yet a preliminary question would be what curved backgrounds admit non-relativistic supersymmetric field theories. A systematic approach to answer such questions in the relativistic setting has been outlined by Festuccia and Seiberg, and the non-relativistic torsion free case has been addressed by Gino Knodel, Pedro Lisbão, and James T. Liu. Continuing the work of the latter, I would try to answer that question in the case of N=2 torsionful Newton Cartan Supergravity in my research for this summer. 

Dena Ballouz | Parkinson's Disease and DREADDs

Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a chronic, neurodegenerative disorder characterized by a loss of nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons and various motor symptoms. People living with PD have twice the risk of falling and are often seriously injured because of it. It has been shown that increased falls are caused by the loss of both dopaminergic and cholinergic neurons. In my thesis, I am looking at using DREADDs (Designer Receptors Exclusively Activated by Designer Drugs) to determine the cholinergic neurons involved. By using the DREADDs to inhibit specific cholinergic neurons in the brain, we can see which are implicated in increasing falls in a rat model, and are partly responsible for increased falls in PD patients. I will be quantifying my results using histology and micro-dialysis. This has many implications for future studies and possible treatments. 

Lexi Andre | Classical Studies and the Fight Against Human Trafficking in the US

My thesis aims to merge two of my passions: classical studies and the fight against human trafficking. I will be drawing parallels between ancient and modern prostitution, examining to what extent prostitutes were and are sex slaves. To what extent is the existence of sexual slavery recognized by the respective societies? How is it perceived? What is the perception vs. the reality of prostitution? What factors lead to the continued existence of sexual slavery in our world today? To answer these questions, I will be looking at the portrayals of prostitutes in Roman and Greek comedy, papyrus fragments that discuss the trade in prostitutes, fictional letters between courtesans, and other classical literature. For the modern aspect, I will focus my research on human trafficking in the United States with an emphasis on Michigan, potentially including case studies of local prostitutes.

Enze Xign | The CXCL10 Recruitment Pathway and Immune Responses to Infection

My thesis project will focus on the immune response to the infection ofCryptococcus neoformans (C. neo)an opportunistic fungal pathogen that is a threat to immunocompromised and sometimes non-immunocompromised patients. The fungus first infects the lungs, then disseminates to the central nervous system. Mortality in C. neo infections is chiefly associated with CNS infection but little is known about immune responses against C. neo within the CNS. Using an IV model of disseminated cryptococcosis, I will be able to compare inflammatory readouts in two strains of mice; one resistant (CBA/J) and one susceptible (C57BL/6). Pilot studies have C57BL/6 increase in brain cell number by 15 fold by 21 days post infection (dpi), half of which are CD4+ T cells. There was also a massive increase in proinflammatory cytokine IFNg, which can be secreted by CD4+ T cells. In comparison, CBA/J recruit fewer CD4+ T cells and have a smaller increase in IFNg levels. This suggests that CD4+ T cells may contribute to pathology and neurological symptoms. I will specifically be studying the CXCL10 recruitment pathway, which has been previously shown to promote CD4+ T cell to the CNS in other inflammatory disorders, in the context of C. neo infection. 

Jonas Sese | The Methodology of Herodotus

Herodotus, an Ancient Greek Historian, has both been coined as the “Father of History” and criticized for a lack of discernment and reliable methodology.  In my paper, I will illuminate the extent to which Herodotus was a discerning, self-conscious story teller, who sculpted his work mindful of the audience who would receive it.  I will examine the varying ways Herodotus introduces stories and discusses his sources, the way in which he focalizes his narrative, especially through the use of ascribed emotions, and the “rhythm” of these stories—their varying duration and speed.  I will discuss the extent to which a firm methodology can be established for the Histories in regards to these narrative techniques, and assess how this methodology affects our perception of Herodotus as an author.

Carl Helstrom | Father Charles Coughlin: A Lens to Irish-American Conflict

My thesis will focus primarily on Father Charles Coughlin and the conflicts between him and other major Irish-American and Catholic figures. I will examine his philosophical roots, which come from a fusion of medieval Catholic doctrine, newer papal encyclicals, and American agrarian populism. I will also examine how his opponents, like Msgr. John Ryan, used these same philosophies to argue against Coughlin and for more liberal programs like the New Deal. To investigate these topics, I will examine secondary literature on Coughlin, as well as his radio sermons, his personal correspondence, and his public exchanges with opponents. My goal is to use Coughlin and his conflicts as a lens through which to view the larger ideological debates within the Irish-American community, which at that time was entering the last stages of assimilation into the American mainstream.

Max Carrillo-Ostrow | Improving California Water Policy

My research focuses on inequality in California water policy, and how the state can improve its water utility system as it adapts to a long term reduction in total water usage. Approximately 16% of California residents live below the federal poverty line, and almost 4 in 10 live in or near poverty. How these least privileged residents’ water access will change is both a crucial and inadequately addressed challenge as California aims to reduce its water use by at least 25% and redesign its water system for the 21st century. These necessary cuts are the result of unsustainable past consumption combined with the effects of climate change. I will approach the issue from two primary directions: philosophical and economic. Philosophically, I will examine whether access to a sustenance amount of water is a basic human right and what obligation the state of California might have to ensure such access.  Economic considerations naturally follow, namely how the state might fulfill its ethical obligations in an efficient manner.

Sonalee Joshi | Minorities and SAD

Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is one of the most prevalent mental illnesses in the United States. Very little is known about how SAD manifests in those from minority backgrounds as most studies and treatment methods focus primarily on Caucasian participants. There is evidence to suggest that SAD is more prevalent within the African American population compared to other racial groups; however, current forms of treatment are not sensitive to possible racial differences that may interact with symptom presentation. This study uses a modified Implicit Associations Test (IAT), a categorization task that assesses automatic associations between pairs of classifications, to determine how interracial and same-race interactions affect symptoms of SAD in Black and Caucasian participants. I will also have participants complete self report measures of SAD symptoms and internalized racism to understand the relationship between increasing levels of SAD symptoms and these automatic associations. The primary goal of this research project is to understand race effects in SAD in an underrepresented population in research. The findings from this study could have implications for treatment of SAD in minority groups.

Eli Scheinholtz | Relationships Between Media Consumption and Voter Learning/Behavior

My research will be dedicated to examining the relationship between news consumption and voter learning and behavior. This relationship has become strained due to the development of new media that has brought both a tremendous surge in the availability of news content, but also a decline in the substantive quality of news. This brings into question if voters, who are now tasked with combing through a tremendously noisy media environment to find relevant public affairs information, are able to choose candidates that best align with their values, or “vote correctly." In order to do so, I hope to employ a survey experiment to test how controlling media use affects voting behavior, and if voters receiving information about an election solely through new media are still able to channel this into voting correctly, compared to those receiving traditional media. In doing so, I hope to develop a more holistic understanding of how the shifts in the media landscape also brings with it shifts in voters’ political knowledge, engagement, and behavior.

Kimmie Hamrick | ZNRF3 in Adrenal Cancer and Noncanonical Wnt Signaling

The goal of my research is to explore the role of a gene called ZNRF3 in adrenal cancer, looking specifically at how it may be involved in an intracellular pathway known as noncanonical Wnt signaling.  The adrenal gland is a small, triangular shaped endocrine gland situated above the kidney, and it is comprised of two distinct regions: the medulla and the cortex, which each produce important hormones for your body to function, including adrenaline (medulla) and the stress hormone cortisol (cortex). Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is a rare endocrine malignancy of the adrenal gland that is aggressive, difficult to detect, and usually has poor prognosis, creating a great need to identify new potential therapeutic targets.  My research is based upon genomic studies’ findings that alterations in the gene ZNRF3 were present in cases of ACC, and patients with these alterations showed decreased overall survival.  ZNRF3 is a known tumor suppressor in other tissues, as it acts a negative feedback regulator of canonical (the first characterized form of) Wnt signaling. These observations are particularly interesting given that both clinical observations and genetically engineered mouse models have previously suggested the involvement of canonical Wnt signaling in adrenal development, homeostasis, and cancer. While ZNRF3 likely plays an important role in canonical Wnt signaling in the adrenal gland (an area currently under investigation in the Hammer laboratory), we also hypothesize that ZNRF3 may influence noncanonical Wnt pathways. This hypothesis is based on several previous observations. First, while gain-of-function mutations in CTNNB1, the gene encoding β-catenin (i.e. activating canonical Wnt signaling), are found in both ACCs and ACAs (benign adenomas), ZNRF3 mutations only occur in ACCs.  Second, unsupervised expression-based clustering of human ACC tumors shows that ZNRF3-altered tumors do not fully cluster with CTNNB1 mutated tumors. Finally, the Hammer lab’s recent research suggests that ZNRF3 is expressed in regions of the adrenal cortex where canonical Wnt signaling is present as well as regions where canonical Wnt signaling is not. Based on these observations, I would like to examine and elucidate the possible role that ZNRF3 plays in noncanonical Wnt signaling.

Alexandria Kolenda | Relationships Between Schizophrenia, Cardiovascular Disease, and Epigenetic Factors

My thesis will examine the relationship between schizophrenia, cardiovascular disease, and epigenetic factors. Current treatments for psychosis are limited and there is a growing need to target the “non-traditional,” or negative symptoms of psychosis such as lack of motivation. This lack of motivation often manifests itself in a withdrawal from regular social and physical activity. I believe that the resulting lack of exercise contributes to the fact that, compared to the general population, individuals with psychotic disorders exhibit significantly higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke due to a cluster of conditions collectively known as metabolic syndrome or MetS. As there are no effective treatments for negative symptoms and MetS is often undertreated, it is essential to develop a better understanding regarding the pathophysiology of these symptoms. I will directly address this gap in the research literature by examining how certain methylation patterns may predispose people with psychosis to experience negative symptoms and MetS. 

Chloe Rybicki-Kler | Global Warming and Eco-terrorism in Foucault’s Lectures on Biopolitics

What will be the fate of our planet? A new wave of environmental-dystopian fiction speculates on the ever-evolving relationship between society and the ecosystems that sustain it, often with mixed cynicism and hope. Literary theorists of the last half-century, most notably Michel Foucault, have responded in kind to developments in environmental science as a means of understanding social and political phenomenon. The aim of this thesis is to uncover and interrogate the anxieties that drive contemporary literature’s fascination with global warming and eco-terrorism in the context of Foucault’s trilogy of lectures on Biopolitics at the College De France.

Joris Vonmoltke | How Capitalist Frameworks and Electoral Regimes Impact Income Inequality in Germany, Ireland, and Finland

In recent years income inequality and its causes have garnered considerable attention both in the academy and within the mainstream social discourse. Especially the rapid increase of inequality across the developed nations has sparked intense debate. Following Soskice and Hall’s varieties of capitalism framework I will compare differences across, Germany, Ireland, and Finland in order to determine how political parties in power and their relative strength over time contribute to the differing rates of increasing income inequality. Drawing further on Iversen and Soskice’s work concerning the role of electoral regimes in ensuring redistributive outcomes, I plan to analyze the changes in partisan advantage over time in order to determine what role party strength plays in post-tax and transfer income distribution. Looking at post tax and transfer data for both average incomes and income shares will allow me to isolate the political origins of these differences.

Brendan Berg | Versatile Magnetic Nanoparticle Systems in Disease Diagnoses and Treatment

Development of nanoparticle technology is of particular interest currently in the biomedical research community due to the variety of potential applications in the diagnosis and treatment of disease. The aim of this project is to develop a versatile magnetic nanoparticle system, and then to explore some of its potential applications. The core of the system is a nanoscale matrix of a hydrophobic polymer called poly-lactic-co-glycolic-acid (PLGA), which can encapsulate both hydrophobic drug molecules and small magnetic iron oxide nanoparticles. This hydrophobic core is surrounded by a monolayer of lipids, which serve several purposes: (1) in a drug delivery system, the lipids reduce the access of an aqueous environment to the polymer, reducing hydrolysis and slowing the rate at which drug molecules escape the system; (2) the lipid system we use (a mixture of DSPC and DSPE-PEG(2000)) contains groups through which it is possible to conjugate other molecules to the surface of the core nanoparticle; and (3) the lipid shell aids in the stability and dispersity of the nanoparticle system in aqueous environments. The first step in the project is to modify an established protocol for lipid-coated PLGA nanoparticle synthesis to achieve encapsulation of iron oxide nanoparticles. Once this has been demonstrated, we are interested in exploring a preliminary result that indicates that nanoparticles surface-coated with oligosaccharides can achieve surface interaction with immune cells, which may result in manipulability of immune cell movement by magnetic fields. Another direction we may explore is the use of this technology in developing an experimental cancer vaccine, by encapsulating both iron oxide and protein epitopes characteristic of a particular cancer. The system could then be concentrated in lymph nodes using magnetic fields and help “train” the immune system to more aggressively attack cells expressing the given epitope, leading to an elevated immune response against the form of cancer in question.

Patrick Mullen | Where Are the Queer Central Americans in Latinx Studies?

Though research on Central Americans’ place and sense of self in the U.S. has grown in recent years, scholars have generally ignored the role that those who are LGBTQ+ play in shaping and reformulating notions of diasporic Central Americanness, even when research subjects openly identify as such. Given these lacunae, my study aims to investigate the ways in which specifically queer Central American-American artists navigate and narrate their intersecting identities and life histories through their art practice. Close readings of exemplary works by the artists at the center of this study will be complemented by a series of oral history interviews conducted with them, not only contextualizing their artistic corpuses, but documenting their lives and stories in such a way that they can be shared independently of the thesis. These recordings will ultimately serve as a tool to promote queer Central American-American voices within the academy, as well as provide the impetus for a collaborative online archival space that can serve the needs of the artists, academics, and the public.

Dylan Nelson | Degradation of Native American Indian Environments: Zortman Mining Inc. and the Clean Water Act

From 1979 to 1997, Zortman Mining Incorporated, a subsidiary of the multinational Pegasus Gold Corporation, operated two cyanide heap leach gold mines in the Little Rocky Mountains just outside the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in north-central Montana. Despite enthusiastic community disapproval and evidence that the mines had violated the Clean Water Act, federal and state regulatory agencies approved 11 expansion projects for the mines in those 18 years. The last expansion was approved in late 1996 after a series of lawsuits that involved not just Pegasus and tribal government, but also Indian community organizations, state and national environmental organizations, and multiple departments of the Montana state government. My thesis will seek to explore the historical context, origins, nature, and outcomes of this legal battle. Especially since nothing has been written on it, my first goal will simply be to outline the events and their consequences: what was the nature and extent of the mines’ pollution, who cooperated with whom during the lawsuits and to what ends, and what have been the lasting effects on the Fort Belknap community. I will give special attention to the cultural dimensions of Indian resistance to the mines and to the legal recognition of a “unique” connection between the Fort Belknap community and the Little Rocky Mountains. Assessing the actions of state and federal environmental regulatory agencies will also be a high priority. By rooting this fairly recent story in a history of extractive mining in the West and Plains Indian oral traditions, I hope to explore the ways in which mainstream American cultural and political narratives attempt (and fail to) understand Indians and their environments, how that interface has influenced environmental regulation in Indian country, and how degradation of physical environments serves as a focal point for the cultural, political, and economic relationships between Indians and non-Indians in Montana.