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Natural Science and Mathematics Blog

SNSM

Instead of working a mundane summer job this summer, Sarah Bonson (’17) will be synthesizing gold in the laboratory. No, this isn’t alchemy but rather a research project about the best way to create microscopic capsules (called “micelles”) for delivering drugs to a very localized and specific location in the body. Sarah will be working with Dr. Patti Kreke, Associate Professor of Chemistry, and two collaborators from the University of Alabama to synthesize and characterize these gold-covered nanoparticles thanks to a Summer Research Internship Award (SRIA) from the School of NSM.

The SRIA program is funded by donors who recognize the importance of creating opportunities for our students to conduct authentic research with faculty members. “Faculty-student research is only possible at a student-centered university like the Mount with a low student-to-faculty ratio,” according to Dr. Jeffrey Simmons, Dean of the School, “and faculty who are dedicated to educating and training the next generation of scientists.” Students gain valuable laboratory skills, mastery of state-of-the-art instrumentation, and the experience of directing their own research project.

The other three awards went to: 1) Timothy Schwemler (’16) who will work with Dr. Garth Patterson, assistant professor of chemistry, on new methods for detecting plant stress using vapor analysis; 2) Emily Luetkemeyer (’16) who will work with assistant professor of psychology, Dr. Caitlin Faas investigating the effectiveness of child-directed learning on personal development; and 3) Katherine Wu (’17) who will be mentored by Dr. Abigail Kula, assistant professor of environmental science, in research on the interactions between the monarch butterfly and milkweed plants.

All of us at the SNSM are extremely grateful to the generous donors who have supported this program over the last four years. Click here to donate and help grow this program so that more students can further their research experience.

Joe

Joe Appleton C’16 is currently the President of the Mount’s chapter of the Association of Computing Machinery. As President, Joe has held monthly meetings with other officers of the club in order to learn more about the latest news in the realm of computer science. Last semester his club took a trip to CCSCE, which is a regional conference designed to promote the exchange of information among college personnel. Joe mentions “It was a great experience and made us feel like true scholars of computer science, and we look forward to bringing more students to conferences such as this one.” Joe also sits as the returning Vice President of the Student Government Association. Keeping a busy schedule and balancing so many responsibilities has certainly given Joe valuable experience for life after college. “I would recommend a position in SGA to anyone who thinks they have at least an inkling of interest, but be aware that it is certainly a large commitment. I love playing a part in the development of my University; staying involved makes me enjoy my stay at the Mount even more.” –Joe Appleton

As if being a two time Vice President of SGA and President of the Association of Computing Machinery was not enough, Appleton also has been participating in the COMAP competitions since his freshman year! Joe explains, “COMAP stands for the Consortium for Mathematics and Its Applications so it’s like a fancy way of saying look at all the cool stuff math can do!” The breakdown of this competition typically is as follows: two problems are released on a Thursday night and teams of three people work on one of the problems for the next 96 hours. Each team works to construct a mathematical model in order to solve a real life problem. This year Joe and his group decided to pick the problem of “Ebola Eradication” which asked to find an effective way to distribute a hypothetical Ebola medicine in order to stop the spread of the virus. With the help of teammates Nick Navarro and Carmen Morales, Joe’s group was able to present a 20-page report as their solution to their problem. Their research found that distribution of such a medicine would not be feasible unless the public health and education standards of the currently affected West African countries was significantly raised.

This summer Joe has two plans of action that consist of an internship back in his home town of Mohnton, PA and studying at Cambridge. His internship is scheduled to be at Boscov’s, a regional department store, where he will be coding in Java, SQL, and maybe even a bit of PHP and HTML. Towards the middle of the summer he will be spending a month at the University of Cambridge where he will be studying in the International Security and Intelligence Program at Pembroke College. Joe describes, “Honestly, I have never been more excited about something. This will be the first time I am leaving the country and the purpose is to study at one of the most prestigious academic centers in the world. How cool is that?” Reflecting on his experiences at the Mount and the opportunities presented to him for this summer Joe mentions that “I don’t have too many interesting stories, but I do feel the need to mention my father. If he were still with us today, I know he would be proud.”

Joe Appleton has flourished as a member of the Mount Community and serves as a great example of the type of leadership that the School of Natural Science and Mathematics produces. We wish Joe nothing but the best of luck this summer and his future endeavors as he continues to pursue greatness.

Class

If you were outside in front COAD this past Tuesday, you may have seen students behaving rather oddly, hanging out next to lampposts dueling with one another. These students are in Dr. Rosie Bolen’s Evolution class, and they were conducting a simulation of territorial contests. In the wild, males of many species fight with one another to obtain territories with valuable resources (e.g., food, water, shelter, or mates). Males who succeed in obtaining high quality territories will have more offspring. However, instead of engaging in physical fights over territories, males often exchange ritualistic display behaviors to signal their ability and/or willingness to escalate to physical combat (also called “resource holding potential”, or RHP). That way males who are not likely to win a physical fight (e.g., small, weak, or inexperienced males) can bow out before any injuries are inflicted.  

Evolutionary theory suggests that there are constraints that keep these territorial contest signals honest. A weak male could bluff a high RHP (willingness to fight), which may gain him a territory he wouldn’t have otherwise obtained. But, if the other male calls his bluff and persists in the contest, the dishonest male is likely to suffer negative consequences (injury, lowered reproductive success, etc.). The idea is that individual males will produce more offspring if they signal their RHP honestly. The simulation the students performed tested this hypothesis that honest signaling can evolve by natural selection.

In the simulation, “territories” of low, medium, and high quality were set up by the lampposts in front of the Science Building. The students were randomly assigned different amounts of “energy units” and set out to obtain a territory. A student could challenge a territorial owner to a contest, at which point each student would spend one energy unit at a time, back and forth until one person gave up and left the territory. At the end of a trial, students who successfully obtained territories then had a number of “offspring” based on the quality of the territory they obtained and the number of energy units they had left. Students who didn’t obtain a territory produced no offspring.

The students conducted two different versions of the simulation. The first version simulated dishonest signaling, in which students were assigned energy units on a piece of paper they didn’t reveal to anyone else. Students could use nonverbal gestures to indicate their RHP and could bluff if they wanted to. In the second version, energy units were represented by pennies in a paper bag. Students shook their bags during the contests; the sound of the bag shaking could only be an honest signal of their RHP.

After conducting five trials of each version of the simulation, we analyzed the data and found that the results supported our hypothesis. On average, in the honest signaling trials the student had more energy remaining and produced more offspring than in the dishonest signaling trials. This experiment demonstrated that honest signaling can evolve by natural selection. This finding is supported by many field and laboratory studies of non-human animals, but the Evolution students discovered this result by experiencing it themselves in a fun and entertaining simulation of territorial contests.

GMO

-Matthew R. Rittler, Ph. D., Director, Masters Biotechnology Management

The topic of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) is of significant public and scientific interest. Discussions of GMOs are fraught with strong feelings, a wide range of social and scientific values and knowledge, and much ongoing confusion. A lot of the conversation surrounding GMOs is centered on the topic of food safety. To what extent do GMOs bring an inherent “goodness” or “badness” into the food chain we consume? The topic of food safety is an important one, of course, but there is a much wider-range of potential ethical issues related to GMOs that has been under-examined. What are some other important ethical issues surrounding GMOs?

Information on panel discussion focused on GMOs - April 9 at the Mount

First, there is the tight link between genetically modified crops and the input traits which are selected for these plants. The overwhelming majority of genetic modification in plants has been to alter the way we are able to use chemical herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides. As a result of genetically-engineering the crops to withstand chemical application, there is increasing incidence of those same chemicals failing to produce the desired results. Nature always finds a way, and some plants considered weeds have started to develop a resistance to the chemicals meant to eradicate them.

As a result of this resistance, there is an increased need for more and more chemical applications. Pesticide use is increasing by almost the same amount. If a potential problem with GMO use may lead to pesticide resistance (e.g., “superweeds”) are there viable alternatives that can offer solutions to this cycle—to help us break out of this system of growing chemical use to increase crop yields? Likewise, what will ultimately be the impact to farmers in developing countries? In many cases the ease with which weeds and pests can be controlled has led to booming agricultural markets in developing countries.

Another ethical issue with GMOs gaining more traction of late is the issue of labeling foods. In the 2014 election cycle, both Oregon and Colorado citizens voted "no" on ballot initiatives requiring certain labels on food products that contained GMOs. Voters may have had more pressing concerns on their minds, like jobs, healthcare, or the economy. Or perhaps, like many people new to this topic, those voters were unclear about what these regulations would actually mean to them, as a consumer. A frequently cited problem with GMO labels is that they may not offer clarity or specifics about which ingredient is genetically modified in a final food product they are purchasing. For example, on a bag of pretzels, is the GMO ingredient the wheat, or is it the vegetable oil or corn syrup used to flavor them? Adding to the confusion, without mandated standards for labeling, an item considered as a GMO in one state might not be categorized as GMO in another. This means consumers will be given non-specific and sometimes unreliable and incomplete information. Very obviously, this is a topic that needs to be further debated. More broadly, this issue deals with a person’s ability to control what they eat and grow, an issue that resonates with us all.

A third issue that frequently comes up in discussions of GMO usage is the “naturalness” of GM plants. When you look at the environment, is it “natural” that there are GMOs in a field? It is a question you could ask of any plant in a field. For thousands of years the human race domesticated plants. Now, suddenly, there are these plants called GMOs which are perceived to be a problem. It could be argued that the concept of genes is constantly changing. In the course of scientific progress earlier knowledge is always becoming outdated and replaced. If we say that the inherent “naturalness” of a plant is connected to their genes, then so our concept of naturalness will also change and evolve. Could the current genome of a plant be considered “sacred?” In many ways GMO production is simply a form of evolution, which is not an unnatural process. That being said, the more broad issue here is an issue of integrity. Should we, as humans, be allowed to open up the genome of plants and insert things into them that would never have been inserted? Often, because of more deeply-held spiritual views, this issue is much more difficult to address.

The use of GMOs is a very complex topic. In many cases, debate on the issue brings about more questions than answers. No longer is this issue a conversation between molecular biologists, because as the world’s population continually grows, there is considerable pressure on the agriculture industry to meet the growing demands on food and nutrition — an issue that truly affects humanity in its global context. It is incumbent on the scientific community to not position the food security debate as one of science versus anti-science, and thereby driving a wedge in public policy decisions.

Sans

SANS has launched the third SANS CyberTalent Fair (formerly called the National Cybersecurity Career Fair), a two-day virtual event that attracts thousands of online attendees seeking career and job opportunities in cybersecurity. The SANS CyberTalent Fair (SCTF) will be held May 14-15, 2015, and provides jobseekers and students with the opportunity to market themselves to leading companies in cybersecurity and engage with employer representative in a unique virtual setting. SANS held the first two career fairs in partnership with Cyber Aces in 2014, with approximately 6,700 total registrants connecting with 27 unique employers at the two events. To register go to https://app.brazenconnect.com/events/SANS-cybertalent-fair

Email/ Facebook/Blog/Website/LinkedIn

Take a minute and check out the SANS CyberTalent Fair (SCTF), a virtual career fair hosted by the SANS Institute that will allow you to directly connect with employers about cybersecurity job opportunities in an online setting two days this May! SCTF will be held May 14-15, please don’t wait to register – sign up now at https://app.brazenconnect.com/events/sans-cybertalent-fair

SCTF uses an innovative event platform that will allow for dynamic one-on-one chats with company representatives and groups chats in each employer booth. In the event, candidates can also view and apply for jobs. Past companies participating include Palantir, Cisco, American Express, Solutionary, NBC Universal, Juniper, CBS, Mayo Clinic, Partners Healthcare, Stroz Friedberg, United Health Group, PwC, Accenture, the US Army’s INSCOM, and more!

Registrants are also invited to take the SANS CyberTalent Assessment exam at no cost. Register now at https://app.brazenconnect.com/events/sans-cybertalent-fair and connect with SANS CyberTalent on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn

Twitter

Handle: @SANSCyberTalent

Hashtag: #SANSCTFair

John

John Andjaba presented research at the 249th Spring American Chemical Society (ACS) National Meeting in Denver Colorado, March 22-26, 2015. John presented a poster on the work he has done in the Bradley Group over the past two and a half years. John also attended several events related to our ACS student chapter development, applying to graduate school, and talks by premiere national and international chemical researchers. Keep up the good work John!

UALA

Motivated and talented students are invited to apply for paid summer research internships to gain hands-on research experience in cyber security and forensics, in particular, the security and forensics problems in mobile computing, cloud computing, and social computing. This opportunity is open to only ten students across the country.

Highlights:
- Eight week paid program (May 25 to July 17, tentative) - $4,000 stipend in total
- Travel, housing, and meals will be provided as necessary
- Open to all academic level (Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, & Senior) students in computer science or related majors
- Students in Math, Physics, or Engineering are also encouraged to apply

Where: NSF REU Site at UALR - Project Lead: Dr. Mengjun Xie
When: May 25 - July 17, 2015
Application Deadline: March 31, 2015
Requirements: Students must be U.S. Citizen or Permanent Residents
Qualifications: GPA of 3.0 or above
Further details and information, please visit: https://sites.google.com/a/ualr.edu/cs-reu-site-ualr/.  

 
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