Congratulations to the 2017 University Scholars
Major: Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Title: Effect of Silk-Based Hydrogel Topography on Intestinal Epithelial Cell Morphology and Wound Healing in Vitro
Committee: Kelly Burke, Chemical Engineering (chair), Juliet Lee, Molecular and Cell Biology, Charles Giardina, Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Summary: Recent advances in the field of biomaterials have suggested that cells cultured on substrates resembling the native tissue extracellular matrix adopt phenotypes that more closely resemble the in vivo tissue compared to cells cultured on nonmimetic constructs. Understanding the effect of culture substrate on tissue formation can allow for applications in bioengineering, including tissue remodeling and in vitro disease model development. Although biomaterials optimized for regeneration of tissues such as bone and cartilage have been widely studied, there is little research on culture substrates for intestinal epithelium. The goal of this work is to tune the topography of a cytocompatible hydrogel derived from silk fibroin protein to support intestinal epithelial cell attachment and development into a functional epithelium in vitro and to analyze the effect of hydrogel topography on cell morphology and wound closure capacity in the healthy and diseased states.
Marisa Boch is an Honors student from Waterford, CT, majoring in Chemical Engineering and MCB. Her research interests are centered in the biomedical sciences, particularly in tissue engineering. Outside of academics, she is an active member of the UConn Dance Company, MEDLIFE: UConn, and the Women in STEM mentoring program. She plans to attend medical school after graduation, ultimately specializing in pediatric emergency medicine.
Major: Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Title: Selective Insertion of Inducible Murine Bax into Cancer Using CRISPR/Cas9
Committee: Pramod Srivastava, UConn Health (chair), David Daggett, Molecular and Cell Biology, J. Peter Gogarten, Molecular and Cell Biology
Project summary: The advent of the gene editing system CRISPR/Cas9 has given researchers unprecedented access to enzymatically identify and manipulate eukaryotic genomes. While most research involving the system has focused on using its function to create and study gene knockouts/knockins to identify gene function and interactions, it is possible that the specificity and efficiency of Cas9 can be taken advantage of to target cytotoxic genes to cancer cells while avoiding normal cells. Such a system would revolutionize cancer treatment by, for the first time, introducing a personalized treatment regimen that avoids the oftentimes devastating side effects associated with conventional therapeutics.
Ryan Englander is pursuing a double major in MCB and Chemistry with an Honors in MCB alongside a Plan B Master’s in MCB with a focus in Genetics and Genomics. In his free time, he likes to remain active in the realm of politics; he volunteered in the Bernie Sanders campaign and helped organize and spoke at the recent ResisTRUMP rally here at Storrs. After graduation, he plans to enroll in a combined MD/PhD program, after which he will pursue research in the field of cancer.
Major: English and Economics
Project Title: The Western Madwoman: A Feminist History and Economic Study in Novel Form
Committee: Ellen Litman, English (chair), Veronica Makowsky, English & Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Delia Furtado, Economics
Project Summary: The aim of this research project is to explore the interactions of history, feminism, and economics as they converge in Western feminine archetypes of mental illness. This project is based in the construction of a novel that uses alternating third-person narratives to detail the lives of two young women: one diagnosed with hysteria in Victorian London, and one a modern-day college student, struggling with anxiety and anorexia. This project will conclude in a polished piece of creative fiction, as well as an accompanying essay, which will describe the writing process, and discuss in more depth the economics behind the choices both protagonists make in the pursuit of utility.
Rebecca Hill is an English and Economics major, with a minor in Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies and a Concentration in Creative Writing. She has previously researched male depression in contemporary literature as a Holster Scholar, and been awarded the Jennie Hackman Memorial Prize for Short Fiction. Upon graduation, she plans to pursue an M.F.A. in Creative Writing.
Major: Structural Biology and Biophysics and Chemistry
Project Title: Computational Analysis of Structural Transitions of the Poliovirus Capsid in its Cell Entry Pathway
Committee: Eric May, Molecular and Cell Biology (chair), J. Peter Gogarten, Molecular and Cell Biology, Jose Gascon, Chemistry
Project Summary: Poliovirus, as the carrier virus for polio, is the most well-known of the large Picornavirus family of viruses. Though poliovirus capsid structure is well-documented, there is limited understanding of the mechanism of cell entry, or internalization. Since the structure of picornaviruses is known to be conserved, uncovering the steps critical to this process may be useful in prospective anti-viral strategies targeting all picornaviruses. This project entails converting existing microscopy data on polioviruses to a simplified Gō model, which can then be analyzed using molecular dynamics (MD) simulations to identify kinetic and thermodynamic pathways critical to viral externalization.
Maneesh Koneru, of Trumbull, CT, is pursuing a double major in Structural Biology/Biophysics as well as Chemistry, along with a minor in Mathematics. After graduation, Maneesh aims to work towards both an MD and PhD within the field of viral biophysics.
Major: Computer Science and Engineering
Project Title: Characterizing the Accuracy of Gene Tree Rooting Methods Using a Simulation Framework
Committee: Mukul S. Bansal, Computer Science and Engineering (chair), J. Peter Gogarten, Molecular and Cell Biology, Ion Mandiou, Computer Science and Engineering
Project Summary: The objective of this project is to construct a probabilistic simulation framework for the evolution of gene families that expands upon the capabilities of existing frameworks and generates simulated data sets of species trees, gene trees, and gene sequences, which will then be used to compare and characterize the accuracy of the methods that are most commonly used to temporally orient, or root, a gene tree. The purpose of this project is to help biologists accurately identify the root of a gene tree, as that will allow them to construct accurate evolutionary histories and properly understand how genes and species evolve, which will directly benefit our understanding of evolutionary biology.
Soumya Kundu is pursuing dual B.S.E./M.S. degrees in Computer Science and Engineering with a minor in Mathematics. He is an undergraduate researcher in Dr. Mukul Bansal’s Computational Biology Laboratory and a School of Engineering Senator in the Undergraduate Student Government. After graduation, Soumya plans to pursue a Ph.D. in Computer Science.
Major: Biological Sciences
Project Title: Apoptosis Via Cell-Cycle Protein Wee1 and PDK4 interaction in Hepatocellular Carcinoma
Committee: Li Wang, Physiology and Neurobiology (chair), Mary Bruno, Molecular and Cell Biology, Thomas Abbott, Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Summary: Hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer) incidence is the third most common cause of cancer-attributed mortality. While studying the liver cancer disease model, a line of pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase 4 (PDK4) knockout mice exhibited tumorigenesis and subsequent massive apoptosis after treatment with a mild carcinogen. This project aims to understand the gene expression interactions between Wee1, a cell-cycle protein down-regulated in these mice, and PDK4, a regulator of metabolic function. This novel cross-talk of pathways leading to apoptosis in liver cancer could shed light more about disease onset and possible therapeutic targets.
Matthew Lin is pursuing a B.S. in Biological Sciences with a minor in Chemistry and an M.S. in Genetics and Genomics. From East Lyme, CT, Matt enjoys playing music and soccer, participating in service trips with the Medical Humanitarian Society and the Bridge to Guanin to deliver medical care to underserved populations, and developing a balanced lifestyle with his fraternity, SigEp. Matt hopes to earn an M.D./Ph.D and combine genetic engineering with immunology to target disease.
Major: Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Title: Fluorescent Phosphoantigen Prodrugs as Ligands of the BTN3A1 Receptor
Committee: Andrew Wiemer, Pharmaceutical Sciences (chair), Olga Vinogradova, Pharmaceutical Sciences, Adam Zweifach, Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Summary: T cells are of interest in cancer immunotherapy because of their specificity in expressing antigen receptors, memory of antigens, and ability to respond to novel antigens. Vγ9Vδ2 T cells, specifically, are considered a link between adaptive and innate immune responses because of their ability to generate an adaptive, antigen-specific response as well as be activated directly by pathogen-associated molecular patterns and phosphoantigens. This project investigates the stability of two novel fluorescent phosphoantigens, and furthermore, their ability to activate Vγ9Vδ2 cells through binding to the intracellular region of BTN3A1. The information gathered will continue research for stable phosphonate prodrugs that can overcome the charge barriers of crossing biological membranes, bind to the intracellular domain of BTN3A1, and effectively target tumor cells.
Caroline Liu, from Westford, MA, is majoring in Molecular and Cell Biology and minoring in Health Care Management and Insurance Studies. She enjoys clinical research at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, serving on the Panhellenic Council, and taking on active roles in Alpha Zeta Omega Pharmacy Fraternity. She plans to attend medical school and ultimately become a pediatrician.
Major: Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Title: Autophagy in Development and Disease: From Model Organisms to Clinical Samples
Committee: Kenneth Campellone, Molecular and Cell Biology (chair), Nathan Alder, Molecular and Cell Biology, David Daggett, Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Summary: Autophagy (literally “self-eating”) is a complex mechanism of intracellular degradation and recycling that is important for maintaining homeostasis and responding to stress. This process is necessary for proper embryonic development, and is altered in a variety of human diseases ranging from cancer to diabetes. Galloway-Mowat Syndrome (GMS) is an inherited disorder characterized by neurodevelopmental delay and progressive kidney disease that is prevalent in Amish communities. Amish individuals with GMS possess genetic mutations that give rise to cellular defects in autophagy. This project will study how inactivation of homologous genes in the model organism Danio rerio (zebrafish) influence development, as well as how the GMS-associated mutations affect the metabolic state of human patient cells.
Alyssa Mathiowetz is a junior majoring in Molecular and Cell Biology and minoring in Food Science. She is an undergraduate researcher in the Campellone Lab and hopes to pursue a graduate degree in Nutritional Biochemistry. Outside of academics, she enjoys hiking, cooking, and volunteering at a local elementary school.
Major: Environmental Chemistry
Project Title: Analyzing the Role of Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) Signaling in the Repair of Osteoarthritic Cartilage
Committee: Caroline Dealy, Reconstructive Sciences UCHC (chair), Michael Hren, Chemistry, Mary Bruno, Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Summary: Osteoarthritis is a painful condition that degenerates the articular cartilage in joints. Current treatment methods are limited because cartilage is not readily able to repair itself. The goal of this project is to study the use of growth factors, which stimulate the proliferation of resident progenitor cells to repair traumatic damage to the joint cartilage. A mouse model will be developed to exhibit cartilage damage, and histology will be used to confirm that the defect does not heal on its own. This model will be used to study the activation of growth factor signaling in the joint will induce cartilage healing by stimulating progenitor cells. Nanoparticles in which the growth factor has been encapsulated, will be utilized to exogenously promote the repair of joint cartilage damage. These experiments will support development of a clinically relevant approach to prevent osteoarthritis by stimulating cartilage repair by the body’s own cells.
Bridget Oei is an environmental science major with a focus in environmental chemistry. Bridget enjoys participating in environmentally focused as well as medical research. Her plans after graduation are to attend medical school and continue research, in addition to working and traveling to promote global health.
Major: Chemistry and Music
Project Title: Illuminating New Approaches to the Synthesis of Fluorine Containing Compounds
Committee: Nicholas Leadbeater, Chemistry (chair), Amy Howell, Chemistry, Eric Rice, Music
Project Summary: Nearly twenty percent of all current pharmaceuticals on the market today contain at least one fluorine atom; thus, the pharmacological importance of this element cannot be denied. The development of sustainable and scalable methods to access fluorinated products is desirable. This project will seek to use visible light as a “reagent” to power a dual catalytic cycle of an environmentally-friendly oxidant ACT and a photocatalyst. Specifically, trifluoromethyl ketones will be targeted through three distinct approaches. The ultimate outcome of these studies will be the formalization of cleaner and greener methods for fluorination that mitigates chemical waste.
Vincent Pistritto is currently pursuing a dual degree in chemistry and music with the intention of obtaining a Ph. D. in chemistry after graduation. He has co-authored one publication in addition to submitting another manuscript for review. He is active on campus as a member of the Wind Ensemble as well as serving as a student coordinator for Honors Initiatives for Prospective Students (HIPS).
Major: Political Science
Project Title: An Unlikely Populist: Donald Trump, the Language of Populism and the Politics of Resentment
Committee: Virginia Hettinger, Political Science (chair), Peter Baldwin, History, Kimberly Bergendahl, Political Science
Project Summary: Pundits and political scientists alike were stunned by Donald Trump’s success in the Republican primary and, even more so, in the general election in 2016. For this project, I plan to examine Trump’s use of the language of populism and compare it to the use of this language by other conservative populists in post World War II America. The project will present a definition of populism based on existing literature and, using recordings of Donald Trump’s campaign rallies, show how his rhetoric made him a populist candidate. In addition, the project will examine groups he classified as “the elite” (as opposed to “the people”), including politicians and the media among others.
Jared Quigley is a Political Science major with a minor in History and a Special Program in Law participant from Trumbull, Connecticut. In addition to participating in undergraduate research on congressional elections, Jared is the president of the Moot Court team, hosts a weekly radio show on WHUS and enjoys running in his free time. Upon his graduation from UConn, Jared plans to attend law school.
Major: Physiology and Neurobiology
Project Title: Validation of a Novel Inhibitor for Epilepsy Associated with KCNQ2 Channels
Committee: Anastasios Tzingounis, Physiology and Neurobiology (chair), Daniel Mulkey, Physiology and Neurobiology, Mary Bruno, Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Summary: KCNQ2 potassium channels are critical controllers of neonatal brain activity. A growing number of gain-of-function pathogenic KCNQ2 variants have been reported in patients with severe neonatal epilepsy. Currently there are no specific KCNQ2 channel inhibitors to block the activity of these channels. The goal of my project is to provide insight into the drug “HN38” as a potential treatment for the gain-of-function variants of KCNQ2 potassium channels. I will determine the selectivity of HN38 on KCNQ channel family members, as well as determine whether this drug can inhibit gain-of-function variants identified from pediatric epilepsy patients.
Elizabeth Rodier is a Physiology and Neurobiology major and Spanish minor from Avon, Connecticut. In her free time she enjoys going for long runs, knitting, and trying new food. After graduation, Elizabeth plans to attend medical school.
Major: Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Project Title: Effects of a Series of Predictors on Successful Avian Dispersal of the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid
Committee: Morgan Tingley, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (chair), Chris Elphick, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Robert Bagchi, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Project Summary: The hemlock woolly adelgid is an invasive insect that parasitizes the eastern hemlock, thereby altering eastern forest ecosystems. The dispersible life stage of the adelgid is most abundant in the first weeks of May, coinciding with peak songbird migration in the northeast. This project tests the hypothesis that birds spread adelgid infestation by carrying adelgids to uninfested hemlocks during spring migration. The aim of this study is to determine the relative importance environmental factors conducive to this ecological process by monitoring the presence of adelgids on wild birds and quantifying transfer rates of adelgids from perching birds to hemlock branches.
Nicholas Russo is an Ecology and Evolutionary Biology major from Rhode Island, and a tutor at the Writing Center. An avid birder, he is president of the UConn Birding Club and plans to pursue a PhD in avian ecology.
Major: Mechanical Engineering
Project Title: Using a Cylindrical Coordinate System to Facilitate Multi-Material 3D Printing
Committee: Xu Chen, Mechanical Engineering (chair), Iddo Ben-Ari, Mathematics, Jeffrey Meunier, Computer Science and Engineering
Project Summary: 3-D printing as a new form of manufacturing has shown great promise in terms of the novel geometries it can produce and its ease and efficiency in doing so. However, like many other forms of manufacturing, it produces parts in single materials to be combined with others later. This project aims to use the mathematical advantages of the cylindrical coordinate system to build a prototype printer that can use multiple materials simultaneously to create composite structures with useful properties.
Dennis Scheglov is a Mechanical Engineering major and Math minor from New Milford, CT. He is an undergraduate researcher in the MAC3 and AIM laboratories and plans to continue on to graduate school in either robotics or additive manufacturing.
Major: Biological Sciences and Psychological Sciences
Project Title: Depression, Dopamine, and Drug Treatments Examining the Effect of Novel Dopamine Transport Blockers on Effort-Related Motivational Behaviors in Rats
Committee: John Salamone, Psychological Sciences (chair), James Chrobak, Psychological Sciences, Alexander Jackson, Physiology and Neurobiology
Project Summary: Mental illness is extremely common, affecting 1 in every 4 adults, and among all mental illnesses, depression is probably the most common. Although depression is commonly labeled as an affective disorder, the most debilitating symptoms are psychomotor/motivational dysfunctions such as anergia, fatigue, and psychomotor slowing. Not only are they extremely disabling, but they are also some of the most difficult symptoms to treat. The goal of this project is to study animal models of effort-based choice that can be used as the foundation for developing drug treatments for depression and other mental illnesses characterized by these symptoms. Specifically, this project will be investigating the ability of two novel dopamine transport blockers to increase high-effort activities and reverse the effects of motivational impairments in rats.
Rebecca Schwartz is a double major in Biological Sciences and Psychological Sciences with a minor in Neuroscience. She hopes to attend medical school to become a psychiatrist after graduation. Outside of academics, Rebecca enjoys singing as the music director of Notes Over Storrs (one of UConn’s a cappella groups) and in the UConn Chamber Singers.
Major: History and English
Project Title: The Tale of the “Fallen” Woman and the Influence of Sensation Literature on Journalistic Accounts of Prostitution in the United States. 1870-1917
Committee: Peter Baldwin, History (chair), Wayne Franklin, English, Michele McElya, History
Project Summary: In the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, the “seduced” or “fallen” prostitute was a ubiquitous figure in American fiction. This portrayal decreased her responsibility for her “immoral” occupation and warned impressionable young women to resist sexual temptations. Journalistic accounts of prostitution during this period often echoed the language and themes found in popular fiction, and prostitutes themselves often adhered to the seduced woman narrative when recounting how they became involved in sex work. I will analyze how the journalistic discussion of prostitution in the U.S. from 1870 to 1917 echoes the themes and tone of fictional works on the topic, particularly sensation literature.
Helen Stec is a history and English double major and Honors student from Wethersfield, Connecticut. After graduating, she hopes to earn a Ph.D. in nineteenth-century American history. Her hobbies include long-distance running, knitting, reading, and writing.
Major: Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Title: Identification of Novel Secondary Metabolites from the Trachymyrmex septentrionalis Symbiotic Community
Committee: Marcy Balunas, Pharmaceutical Science (chair), Spencer Nyholm, Molecular and Cell Biology, Jonathan Klassen, Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Summary: Symbiotic communities have become a focal point in the natural product drug discovery field. The secondary metabolites that are produced in symbiotic communities are important as they provide the foundation for future therapeutic uses in the medical field. This project specifically focuses on host-microbe symbioses in the Trachymyrmex septentrionalis fungus-growing ant community in relation to drug discovery. This study aims to isolate and determine the chemical structures of novel secondary metabolites being produced in the symbiotic community. In addition, the bioactivity of the secondary metabolites will be tested to determine the antimicrobial properties which will help determine potential therapeutic effects of the compounds.
Brendan Stewart is from Wethersfield, CT and pursuing a degree in Molecular and Cell Biology with a minor in Spanish. He is on the club swim team and is also president of MEDLIFE: UConn, leading medical volunteer trips to South America to serve underdeveloped communities. After graduation, Brendan plans on attending medical school.
Major: Chemical Engineering and Environmental Engineering
Project Title: Hydrated Sodium Carbonate Powders as a Solid Sorbent for Carbon Dioxide, Sulfur Oxides and Nitrogen Oxides
Committee: Luyi Sun, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (chair), Daniel Burkey, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Alexander Agrios, Civil and Environmental Engineering
Project Summary: This project is an investigation into hydrated sodium carbonate powders (HSCPs) as a sorbent for carbon dioxide, sulfur oxides, and nitrogen oxides. HSCPs are made from various ratios of sodium carbonate powder mixed with dry water, which is a powder composed of water droplets coated with silica The goal of this project is to find optimal conditions for uptake of these pollutants by HSCPs, and to use that data to develop a process for the industrialization of HSCPs. HSCPs would be most useful if they could be integrated into large industrial point-sources of air pollution to capture the gaseous pollutants.
William Tait is a junior chemical engineering and environmental engineering dual major in the honors program at UConn. William does research in Dr. Luyi Sun’s laboratory in the Institute of Materials Science. When not in class or the lab, William enjoys swing, blues, and ballroom dancing.
Project Title: A Novel Approach to Strain Engineering Making Films Thick Again
Committee: Barrett O. Wells, Physics (chair), Norah Berrah, Physics, Jason Hancock, Physics
Project Summary: STO is a particularly enigmatic material. According to calculations, it should have a ferro- electric transition at about 35K, but in bulk this transition cannot be found experimentally. If, however, you do anything to STO, such as dope, reduce, or strain it, the ferroelectric phase is easily found. Additionally, it should have a superconducting transition at about 0.35K, which is easy to find in bulk and film. Recent work found that isotope substitution increased the transition temperature by a factor of 1.5, contrary to theory. Additionally, the isotope effect induces ferroelectricity in STO, which should kill superconductivity, not enhance it. The current working theory is that the superconductivity is actually coupling to the dielectric response, instead of the atomic vibrations. Strain enhances the dielectric response of a material, but does not significantly alter the vibrational structure, making it a good way to understand this unconventional superconductivity.
Hope Whitelock is a physics major from Redding, Connecticut. She is an undergraduate research in the Wells group, and intends to pursue a doctorate after graduation. In her free time she enjoys climbing and playing the ukulele.
Major: Biological Sciences
Project Title: Structural Variations in Circulating Lipopolysaccharide May Increase Severity of Exercise-Induced Heat Illness
Committee: Elaine C. Lee, Kinesiology (chair), Nichole Broderick, Molecular and Cell Biology, Carol Pilbeam, Medicine Orthopedics
Project Summary: Exercise-induced increases in circulating lipopolysaccharide (LPS; a component of gram-negative bacterial cell walls) may result from LPS leakage from the GI tract following exercise, heat, and dehydration stress. Circulating LPS may trigger inflammatory responses including increased core temperature, cell pyroptosis, and septic shock. Variants of LPS inner heptose structure may trigger these responses differently. This project will explore whether LPS structural variants determine if an individual has increased risk for exertional heat illness or more severe related pathophysiology post exercise. The composition of the gut microbiome of individuals may play a role in which LPS variants are present post exercise, and the inter-individual variability in exertional heatstroke risk and severity of pathophysiology in field studies.
Skylar Wright is a Biological Sciences major with minors in Psychology and Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies from Bristol, Connecticut. She has research experience in the Lee Lab in Storrs and the Pilbeam Lab at UCHC. She plans to pursue a career as a physician-scientist.
Xiuyi Alexander Yang
Major: Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Title: A Novel Application of FRET Based Biosensors in High-Throughput Screening for Modulators of PKC Signaling
Committee: Adam Zweifach, Molecular and Cell biology (chair), Charles Giardina, Molecular and Cell Biology, David Knecht, Molecular and Cell Biology
Project Summary: Activation of protein kinase C (PKC) is a strongly implied target for therapeutic agents in the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). PKC activity is difficult to track in live cells largely due to the conformational and locational changes upon activation. We will utilize Forster Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET) based biosensors to detect PKC activation in live cells in real time with extremely fine precision. The innovation of this assay is the simple add-and-mix nature of the procedure which allows the assay’s use in plates. We propose to create a high-throughput assay which can detect PKC activation in live cells in response to compounds by using flow cytometry to analyze FRET efficiency in live cells transfected with FRET based biosensors. The long term goal of this project is to expand the assay from the lab to a fully machine automated industrial scale screening assay.
Xiuyi Alexander Yang is an MCB major originally from Arlington, MA and is working in Dr. Zweifach’s lab. He plans on pursuing the dual M.S./B.S. Degree in Molecular and Cell Biology with a concentration in Cell and Developmental Biology. He enjoys playing basketball and going to all you can eat buffets.