2014 University Scholars

Kaitrin Acuna

Major: Fine Arts: Concentration in Photography
Project Title: Painting Music: a Photographic and Textual Interpretation of Synesthetic Perception
Committee: Frank Noelker, Art & Art History (chair), Ray DiCapua, Art & Art History, and Anke Finger, Literature, Culture & Languages

Synesthesia is a sensory and perceptual condition in which an individual’s senses blend together. For these people, synesthetes, seeing sound or tasting music are not abnormal occurrences. This project is a book that will be based upon the experiences of a few dozen synesthetes, including Kaitrin herself. In addition to the text, the book will include images constructed on the premise of strange and beautiful synesthetic experience and perception.

Kaitrin is from East Lyme, Connecticut and is studying perception through both photography and psychology. After graduation, she plans to travel, teach, and become involved with many unconventional art projects. She hopes to always remain fascinated by finding inspiration in unexpected places.

Robert (RJ) Anderson

Majors: Individualized Studies: International Development, Human Rights
Project Title: Bridging Theory and Practice: A Critical Examination of Modern Day Slavery
Committee: Cathy Schlund-Vials, English (chair), Glenn Mitoma, Human Rights Institute, and Samuel Martinez, Anthropology

There are roughly 30 million people held in conditions of servitude around the world. These modern day slaves have been the focus of a documentary that RJ and fellow University Scholar David Pereira have been working on for over two years. To complement the documentary, this project involves writing a critical guidebook that academically grounds the film’s content. The goals are twofold: to critically examine and heighten awareness around human trafficking, and to consider how mediated images of humanitarian concern resonate within the contemporary civil sphere, both interacting and constructing social, economic, and political structures of power.

RJ originates from Cheshire, CT, and upon graduation plans to enter a doctoral program in History. Around campus, he can be found working at the Rainbow Center, the Dodd Center, or singing with his acapella group Extreme Measures, among other activities.

Antonio Campelli

Major: Fine Arts
Project Title: Recording Remains: Reading the Book Format As Installation
Committee: Ray DiCapua, Art & Art History (chair), Kathryn Myers, Art & Art History, and Laurie Sloan, Art & Art History

With an increasing societal emphasis on technological progress, books are rapidly being replaced by digital media. Antonio’s project will research the historical progression of the page format as a means of relaying information, with particular regard to the fundamental utility of various page designs – from ancient scrolls, to manuscripts, to webpage format. Utilizing installation art as a means of conceptual analysis, each exhibition will focus on a different aspect of how humans have responded to changes in book formats, revealing it to the audience in an engaging and interactive manner using a variety of artistic mediums, including painting, sculpture, and video art.

Antonio is an Art major concentrating in Painting and Installation. He is from Tolland, Connecticut and was homeschooled for high school before earning an Associate’s Degree in Environmental Engineering at Manchester Community College. After graduating he intends to pursue an MFA in Studio Art and Creative Writing.

Sharon Casavant

Major: Nursing
Project Title: Breaking Through: Understanding the Breastfeeding Barrier Phenomenon
Committee: Jacqueline McGrath, Nursing (chair), Anastasios Tzingounis, Physiology & Neurobiology, and Georgine Burke, University of Connecticut School of Medicine and Dentistry

The benefits of breastfeeding are well documented, but a recent SURF study indicated that more than 65% of very low birth weight premature infants were not receiving breast milk upon discharge from a neonatal intensive care unit. In an expanded investigation, this project will focus on previously unstudied environmental factors affecting breastfeeding outcomes and assessing the mother’s own perception of her ability to supply milk given; this is the most common reason for ending breastfeeding prematurely. The ultimate goal is to share findings and make recommendations regarding NICU caregiving policies in an effort to create the best possible outcomes for these vulnerable human beings.

Sharon is from Bozrah, CT. She is studying Nursing and plans to pursue her Ph.D. She is married to Don Casavant of the Mohegan Tribal Fire Department and mother to Cody, Austin and Danny. In their free time, Sharon and her family like to hike the mountains of Vermont.

Andrea DiVenere

Majors: Chemical Engineering, Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Title: Rational Antisense Design
Committee: Ranjan Srivastava, Chemical & Biomolecular (chair), Kenneth Noll, Molecular & Cell Biology, and Joerg Graf, Molecular & Cell Biology

There is a current deficiency in the inhibition of prokaryotic gene expression. Antisense – which provides a physical impedance to the genetic code – is a promising technology for prokaryotic genetic inhibition. However, many current models try to block genetic sequence without ever considering the passageway to get there. This project takes a thorough and fundamental thermodynamic analysis of the innate genetics, specifically the mRNA structure, to design and develop an efficient and readily adaptable antisense molecule. It will be capable of both accessing and specifically binding to the mRNA thereby obstructing genetic expression. If the bacteria evolve, another assessment will rapidly output a new sequence, thus providing a timely adaptable response to the growing concerns of bacterial resistance.

Andrea is undertaking a dual degree in Chemical Engineering and Molecular and Cell Biology. After graduation, she hopes to pursue a doctorate in a combined Bio-chemical Engineering program to eventually enter the Biologics field of pharmaceutical research.

Kelsey Dutta

Majors: Physiology and Neurobiology, Electrical Engineering
Project Title: Stimulation Coding for an Auditory Midbrain Implant
Committee: Heather Read, Psychology (chair), Joseph LoTurco, Physiology & Neurobiology, and Monty Escabi, Electrical & Computer Engineering

The cochlear implant fails to provide treatment for subsets of the deaf population who lack auditory nerve fiber function. However, designing implants for higher-order brain areas will narrow the gap between normal and prosthetic hearing and allow us to bypass damaged lower-order neurons. Current auditory midbrain implants are essentially a direct replica of cochlear implant signal-processing technology, and are not optimized to physiology and organization of the midbrain. The goal of this project is to develop signal processing algorithms for electrical stimulation of the auditory midbrain that are optimized for the physiology and organization of this structure.

Kelsey is a dual degree student in Physiology and Neurobiology and Electrical Engineering. After graduation, she plans to pursue a graduate degree in the field of neuroscience.

Haley Garbus

Major: Psychology
Project Title: Assessing the Neuroprotective Effects of Cooling as a Treatment for Preterm HI Injury
Committee: R. Holly Fitch, Psychology (chair), Ted Rosenkrantz, University of Connecticut Health Center, and James Chrobak, Psychology

Hypoxia-ischemia (HI) is a condition where the brain is deprived of oxygenated blood. It affects premature infants and results in learning and developmental delays, including disorders such as ADHD. Haley’s study seeks to determine whether whole-body cooling of affected individuals will reduce the impact of HI. She will work with a rodent model for premature HI injuries in order to determine what kind of neurporptective properties whole- body cooling has following an HI event. This project will increase knowledge about the role of early intervention following birth trauma and will give insight on how to prevent learning delays in affected children.

Haley is a psychology major with an interest in behavioral neuroscience. Her current project is a continuation of a previous study in which she investigated the differences between the outcomes of term and preterm HI injuries. Additionally, she is the Assistant Executive Director of GUARD Dogs and DJs for WHUS.

Matthew Greenwood

Majors: Physiology and Neurobiology, Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Title: Investigation of the Lipid Dependence of Respiratory Complex IV Activation using Nanoscale Bilayers
Committee: Nathan Alder, Molecular & Cell Biology (chair), Anastasios Tzingounis, Physiology & Neurobiology, and Victoria Robinson, Molecular & Cell Biology

Respiratory Complex IV is a vital member of the electron transport chain found embedded in the inner membrane of the mitochondria. Complex IV is a major contributor to the electrochemical gradient exploited to generate ATP, the energy currency of all life. Cardiolipin is the signature lipid of the mitochondrial inner membrane and is known to have an effect on the enzymatic activity of complex IV. This project seeks to characterize the relationship between cardiolipin and complex IV using the nanodisc model membrane system by identifying the molecular basis by which cardiolipin activates respiratory complex IV.

Matthew is pursuing a double major in Physiology and Neurobiology as well as Molecular and Cell Biology.  He is an undergraduate researcher in Dr. Nathan Alder’s biochemistry laboratory.  A graduate of Cheshire High School, Matthew plans to attend medical school following graduation.

Julie Klaric

Major: Biology
Project Title: Discovering the Substrate Specificity of all Eight Human Conserved Herpesvirus Protein Kinases
Committee: Daniel Schwartz, Physiology & Neurobiology (chair), Paulo Verardi, Pathobiology, and Victoria Robinson, Molecular & Cell Biology

Conserved herpesviral protein kinases (CHPKs) are a group of enzymes present in all eight of the human herpesviruses. There is an urgent need for research on human herpesviruses because these viruses establish latent, lifelong infections and can cause a variety of syndromes in humans. Julie’s project focuses on the problem of understanding the physiological function of all eight CHPKs. The methodologies utilized in this project involve molecular cloning in Escherichia coli bacteria and a strategy developed by Dr. Schwartz, known as ProPeL. The goal of this project is to discover the phosphorylation site sequences and potential host targets of each CHPK.

Julie is currently a student researcher in the Schwartz Laboratory. She plans on graduating with a combined B.S. in Biology and M.S. in Structural Biology, Biochemistry, and Biophysics (SB3). Her post-graduate goals involve obtaining a Ph.D. in SB3 and becoming a biochemistry professor with her own research laboratory.

Stephanie Knowlton

Major: Biomedical Engineering
Project Title: Spatiotemporal Monitoring of Oxygen and Reactive Oxygen Species for Tissue Engineering Applications
Committee: Pinar Zorlutuna, Mechanical Engineering (chair), Douglas Adamson, Chemistry, and Leslie Shor, Chemical & Biomolecular

This research presents a novel method of sensing the presence of oxygen and reactive oxygen species in three dimensions and over time. This method is precise and can be executed without damaging the sample. Three-dimensional oxygen sensing is integral in the development of vascularized engineered tissues capable of delivering oxygen to the tissue. Simultaneous sensing of oxygen and cytotoxic reactive oxygen species is vital to studying cardiac ischemia and oxidative reperfusion injury when oxygen is returned to the heart tissue following a heart attack. These findings will contribute to tissue vascularization studies as well as research into therapies to reduce tissue damage due to heart attacks.

Stephanie is from Tolland, CT and is studying biomedical engineering with a minor in mathematics. She is a sister and the VP of Academics of Phi Sigma Rho, a sorority for women in engineering. With a passion for tissue engineering, she hopes to continue on to earn her Ph.D.

Peter Larson

Major: Pathobiology
Project Title: Logical Vaccinia Virus Vectors
Committee: Paulo Verardi, Pathobiology (chair), Daniel Gage, Molecular & Cell Biology, and Guillermo Risatti, Pathobiology

The project objective is to create a model system for the development of a “logical” vaccinia virus vector. This system would allow programmable vaccinia viruses to process two inputs into a single output using Boolean logic; such a design would have numerous applications in synthetic biology, vaccine development, gene therapy, and most notably could serve as a powerful oncolytic viral therapy agent wherein the virus could enter a cell, assess for activity of cancerous genes, and decide whether to kill the cell or kill itself.

Peter is a Pathobiology major from New Canaan, CT. While his other great passions include firefighting and ballroom dancing, he ultimately aspires to an MD/PhD and a career of translational research on infectious diseases.

Andrew Lawson

Major: Computer Engineering
Project Title: Decentralized Control of Multiple UAVs for 3-D Map Generation
Committee: Shalabh Gupta, Electrical & Computer Engineering, (chair), Robert McCartney, Computer Science & Engineering, and Ashwin Dani, Electrical & Computer Engineering

The ability for a mobile robot to track its own position and make decisions about its location in a foreign environment is a very active area of research in robotics. Recently, researchers have shown that sensor-equipped “quadcopter” (four-rotor helicopter) robots are capable of autonomously flying through an area while producing an accurate 3D representation of the environment. Andrew’s project aims to expand upon this concept by introducing multiple quadcopters equipped with a Microsoft Kinect, allowing cooperative, efficient mapping of an unknown area without human intervention.

Andrew is a junior from Portsmouth, RI majoring in Computer Science and Engineering. He belongs to the L.I.N.K.S Laboratory at Storrs and enjoys long-distance running in his free time. After graduation, Andrew is planning to obtain a Master’s degree or work in the computational sciences.

Alexander Lawton

Major: Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Title: Analysis of Muscle Stem Cell Programming
Committee: David Goldhamer, Molecular & Cell Biology (chair), Mary Bruno, Molecular and Cell Biology, and Masakazu Yamamoto, Molecular and Cell Biology

Satellite cells (SCs), also called muscle stem cells, can give rise to contractile myofibers, and are important in skeletal muscle maintenance and repair. In adult mice, SCs are usually maintained in a nonproliferative (quiescent) state, but can be activated to form myofibers through a complex process known as myogenesis. Depending on signals from the local environment, SCs will upregulate and downregulate various genes, driving them through this series of morphological and molecular changes. Alex would like to investigate the role of two such genes, MyoD and Myf5, in adult myogenesis, and further understand how they contribute to satellite cell identity.

Alex is a junior double majoring in Molecular and Cell Biology and Spanish. He is currently considering graduate school and medical school as post-graduation options. In his free time, he enjoys rock climbing and slacklining.

Patrick Lenehan

Major: Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Title: The Role of RNA Transcripts in the Formation of Centromere Complexes in Drosophila
Committee: Barbara Mellone, Molecular & Cell Biology (chair), Charles Giardina, Molecular & Cell Biology, and Rajeswari Kasi, Chemistry

Though the centromere has historically been considered a transcriptionally silent region of the chromosome, recent studies indicate that the process and/or products of transcription may actually be necessary for centromere formation. This project will examine whether RNA transcripts are necessary for the proper localization of centromere proteins (specifically CID and CENP-C) and for interactions between these proteins to form centromere complexes. The project will test the hypothesis that RNA transcripts serve to protect centromere proteins against ubiquitin-mediated proteasomal degradation.

Patrick is a junior MCB major with a PNB minor. He currently works in Dr. Mellone’s lab (MCB), and plans to go to medical school after graduating. Outside of class and lab, he spends most of his time playing basketball as a walk-on player with the UConn Men’s Team.

Xiao Li

Major: Physiology and Neurobiology
Project Title: Analysis of Theta Activity in the Hippocampus During Learning in Rats
Committee: Etan Markus, Psychology (chair), David Miller, Psychology, and Joseph LoTurco, Physiology & Neurobiology

Xiao Li’s university scholar project involves using electrical physiology to study learning in rats. The primary focus is on a structure in the brain called the hippocampus. This structure is responsible for short term memory processing as well as learning and spatial navigation. In order to observe what changes occur during learning, Xiao will observe a brain wave called theta. This wave is typically from 4-12 hertz and it has been shown to increase during learning. The tasks will involve a plus shaped maze; one is a hippocampal based spatial task and the other will be a prefrontal and striatum based response task.

Xiao is a junior physiology and neurobiology student in the Honors Program. She has been working in the Markus lab in the behavioral neuroscience department for four semesters. During that time, she has presented a poster at Frontiers of Undergraduate Research and participated in the Holster First Year project.

Katelyn McFadden

Major: Animal Science
Project Title: The Effects of Poor Maternal Nutrition on Expression in Liver in Offspring
Committee: Kristen Govoni, Animal Science (chair), Sarah Reed, Animal Science, Steven Zinn, Animal Science, and Ji-Young Lee, Nutritional Sciences

Poor maternal nutrition during gestation can impact the growth and health of offspring. The liver is a center of metabolic activity, critical in lipid metabolism, and secretes many key factors of the somatotropic axis involved in growth. Poor maternal nutrition can affect liver development and therefore secretions of growth factors and metabolism. However, the mechanisms behind these changes are not well known. The objective of this study is to determine the effects of poor maternal on the gene and protein expression of factors involved in lipid metabolism and the somatotropic axis in the liver of offspring using sheep as a model.

Katelyn is an Honors Animal Science major from Glastonbury, CT. She began working in Dr. Kristen Govoni’s laboratory her senior year of high school and has been involved in a large collaborative study in the Animal Science department since her freshman year. She plans on attending veterinary school after graduation.

Fariya Naz

Major: Psychology
Project Title: Neural Mechanisms for Behavioral Differences on Visual Integration in Schizophrenia
Committee: Chi-Ming Chen, Psychology (chair), James Chrobak, Psychology, and Emily Myers, Speech, Language & Hearing

Cognitive functions like planning, reasoning, inhibiting as well as working memory are disrupted in schizophrenia. Cognitive impairments precede psychotic symptoms, and findings have consistently shown deficits in visual integration. Specifically, the visual integration disturbance in schizophrenia pertains to both an impaired basic visual processing system as well as reduced feedback from visual attention regions that should actually be amplifying relevant visual representations in contrast to irrelevant information. The goal of this project is to identify differences and establish a baseline in the neuronal oscillations for a visual integration task in individuals with schizophrenia and healthy participants using electroencephalograms (EEGs).

Fariya is from Danbury, CT and is majoring in Psychology and minoring in Cognitive Science. Upon graduation, she hopes to attend graduate school for clinical psychology.

David Pereira

Major: Fine Arts: Communication Design
Project Title: Visualizing Distant Suffering
Committee: Cathy Schlund-Vials, English (chair), Mary Banas, Art & Art History, and Mark Zurolo, Art & Art History

In addition to completing a documentary about human trafficking, this project will extend investigation of the college student-distant sufferer relationship through printed media. Through designing, printing, and displaying large-scale posters throughout the UConn campus, the project will encourage students to educate themselves about human trafficking and provide them with the means to do so. A visual identity that these posters will share with the documentary and an upcoming guidebook written by fellow documentarian RJ Anderson will help to unify all initiatives as a single comprehensive and multidisciplinary study.

David is in his third year at UConn, studying Communication Design. His research interests include the theory and practice of visual rhetoric through typography, images, and composition, especially in human rights discourse.

Naila Razzaq

Majors: History, Spanish
Project Title: Embodying God’s Final Word: Understanding the Cessation of Prophecy in Judaism, Christianity and Islam
Committee: Stuart Miller, Literature, Culture & Languages (chair), Hassanaly Ladha, Literature, Culture & Languages, and Daniel Caner, History

Prophecy is the most important cornerstone of the monotheistic tradition. In Judaism, Christianity and Islam, prophets embody the will of God through their inspiration and teachings. Despite the importance attached to prophets, there appears to be a time in each monotheistic religion when the steady stream of prophecy suddenly comes to an end. This project will conduct a comparative study of Jewish, Christian and Islamic texts from the second through the thirteenth century regarding this issue of the “end” of prophecy. The project hopes to address the following: where and when did the idea of the finality of prophecy emerge and how was “prophecy” understood in each particular religious context? Who, if anyone, was designated the “last prophet” and by whom? What is the relation between prophecy and scripture? What connections were (and are) there between the texts and beliefs of Jews, Christians and Muslims from the Early Medieval period regarding prophecy and how did each group shape a distinct culture of understanding in this period? The underlying purpose of this project is to problematize the intersections between history and literature, fact and fiction, and reason and revelation.

Naila is pursuing a major in Near Eastern History with a minor in Spanish. After gradation she hopes to obtain a Ph.D. in comparative literature and Islamic History and research the interactions between Jews, Christians and Muslims in the early Islam period. Naila hopes to continue traveling, studying and learning new languages.

Kimberly Rebello

Major: Chemistry
Project Title: Synthesis of C8 and N2 Deoxyguanosine Adducts of 6-Nitrochrysene, A Cancer-Causing Agent
Committee: Ashis Basu, Chemistry (chair), Amy Howell, Chemistry, and William Bailey, Chemistry

6-Nitrochrysene is a carcinogen that has been shown to cause lung, breast, and other forms of cancer. This derivative of chrysene causes cancer by attaching itself in a particular way to DNA bases, which may cause mutation in critical gene sequences. As there are multiple ways that a DNA base can be damaged by a carcinogen, different adducts can be formed. Cancer occurs when the body is unable to repair certain DNA damages. Cancer-causing agents, such as 6-nitrochrysene, cause a mutation within DNA that the body cannot repair. This project focuses on the synthetic production of two of these adducts to allow for further studies into how cancer is initiated.

Kimberly is pursuing a major in Chemistry and has completed a minor in Mathematics. After graduation, she plans to attend medical school and continue research in the field of biochemistry. In her spare time, she enjoys painting and playing the alto saxophone and violin.

Mary (Molly) Rockett

Major: Political Science
Project Title: Expectations and Confidence: Assessing Trial Court Legitimacy in a Politicized Era
Committee: Virginia Hettinger, Political Science (chair), Lyle Scruggs, Political Science, and Douglas Spencer, University of Connecticut School of Law

Lacking powers of either purse or sword, the strength of our judicial system has always relied on perceptions of legitimacy. Concerns for the preservation of judicial legitimacy deepened following the Supreme Court decision in Republican Party of Minnesota v. White (2002), which liberalized regulations regarding judicial elections. These electoral contests have become increasingly politicized since, with candidates producing attack-advertisements and engaging in policy promises from the campaign trail. Molly’s project will consider whether the rise in judicial elections is eroding public trust in the court systems, accounting for expectancy theory and focusing on the trial and probate level.

Molly is majoring in Political Science and plans to attend Law School after graduation. She works as an RA on campus and serves on her local Board of Education.

Rebecca Wiles

Major: Chemistry
Project Title: Reimagining Fluoroform: From Greenhouse Gas to Chemical Workhorse
Committee: Nicholas Leadbeater, Chemistry (chair), William Bailey, Chemistry, and Mark Peczuh, Chemistry

The goal of this project is to develop methods to incorporate fluoroform into organic molecules and reduce our dependence on chlorofluorocarbons. A number of reagents are available for fluorine incorporation; however, most of these are produced using ozone-depleting CFCs. To avoid the use of these compounds, attention has been given to utilizing fluoroform in their place. By following this route, not only is the use of ozone-depleting compounds eliminated, but fluoroform, a potent greenhouse gas which is produced on massive scales as an industrial by-product, is consumed and not allowed to enter the environment.

Rebecca is a chemistry major from Londonderry, NH. Currently she is involved in environmentally friendly organic synthetic research, and plans to pursue a Ph.D. in organic chemistry upon graduation from UConn. In her free time, Rebecca plays the piccolo in the UConn Marching Band.