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2022 Spring Undergraduate Research Fair

Jordann Antoan - Poster Board 1

Black Lived Experiences of Stroke

School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Elizabeth Skidmore

People who are African American have a greater propensity for stroke, sustain more severe disability, and experience less functional recovery compared to people who are White. However, the experiences and perspectives of this population have not been thoroughly explored. This study explored perspectives about stroke, healthcare, and rehabilitation among people who are African American and sustained a stroke. We conducted 13 semi-structured interviews examining the perspectives and experiences of adults who: (1) identified as Black or African American and (2) sustained a stroke at least 3 months prior to the interview. Participants were recruited through electronic advertisements on social media sites, presentations at local support groups and rehabilitation centers, university research registries, and previous stroke rehabilitation studies. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and checked for accuracy before undergoing coding and thematic analyses conducted by a team of rehabilitation and health disparity scientists. Four major themes emerged: 1) Intersectionality of Race, Health, and Healthcare, 2) Healthcare Access, Quality, 3) Provider Interactions and Communication, and 4) Varied Personal Perspectives and Experiences. Multiple sub-themes pertained to provider-patient listening and understanding, trust, education, and patient and family agency, as well as personal experiences of stroke and personal health management decisions. Major themes and sub-themes draw awareness to and educate healthcare professionals on the nuanced experiences of African American people after stroke; and point to focused strategies for provider training, community education, and improved healthcare access and quality to be more responsive to the needs of this population.  

Kush Batra - Poster Board 2

Neuronal Circuit Basis of Resistance to Motor Deficits in a Parkinson’s Disease Mouse Model

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Mac Hooks

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects control of movement. Specifically, dopamine (DA) producing neurons progressively die. The loss of DA input to brain circuits results in patients with PD symptoms such as slow movement, tremor, limb stiffness, and impaired coordination. PD is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder, affecting ~2% of those 80 years or older, but there is minimal understanding as to why DA neurons die and there remains no cure.

This project assesses motor behaviors following DA depletion in mice as a model of PD. Two different genotypes will be used: one group is missing a specific gene, Vesicular Glutamate Transporter 3 (knockout, VGluT3-/-), and a control group (wild type, VGluT3+/+). Notably, VGluT3-/- knockout mice do not experience motor deficits after DA depletion as wild type mice do. The main objective of this research is to assess in detail what different normal motor behaviors the VGluT3-/- knockout mouse retains after loss of DA. Although it is unknown how deleting this gene offers neuroprotection, we hypothesize that differences in neural circuit plasticity - how neuronal connections change - is responsible for retaining normal control of movement. This is in part due to preliminary data that shows anatomical changes in specific circuit locations in wildtype (but not knockout) mice following DA depletion. The findings of this motor study will provide insight into how this gene deletion provides neuroprotection, with a goal of exploiting this in a clinical context to protect against neurodegenerative diseases."

Christian Beatty - Poster Board 3

Telepresence Mower

University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg

Faculty Mentor: Michael Pry 

Background: In the summer of 2021, I earned extra money by mowing lawns. In response to increasing demand, I hired employees to help me. Unfortunately, few people were reliable. I decided that a robotic lawnmower would be able to solve this problem by lowering the number of workers needed or by allowing me to hire people from further away. Doing the latter would increase the number of job candidates to choose from and therefore increase my probability of finding a quality employee. Currently, robotic lawnmowers are expensive and must be constrained by artificial boundary markers such as a buried wire or be controlled directly by an on-site operator. A new technology must be developed to overcome these limitations.

Project Goals: Design a technology that will allow one person to simultaneously manage two or more lawnmowing robots from anywhere. The robots must not require artificial boundary markers to function. These objectives can be divided into four smaller goals:

  1. Create the software and network infrastructure for human control of the robot from remote locations via internet.
  2. Design and build a chassis capable of moving a lawnmower using affordable yet robust parts.
  3. Implement semi-autonomous features such as automatically cutting areas outlined by a human driver.
  4. Develop safety features. 

Research method used: Iterative prototyping for each proposed element of the design.

Outcomes of research/summary of findings: Initial prototype of software components and network infrastructure was successful. The next phase will focus on the physical design of the robot.

Jack Carnovale - Poster Board 4

Residential Picogrid and Digital Twin Modeling 

Swanson School of Engineering

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Robert Kerestes

With the current energy transition from fossil fuels to more renewables, as well as a higher demand on electricity, the current infrastructure often cannot adapt. This leads to issues such as outages and increased rates on electricity. With the implementation of smart grids and digital twin modeling, many of these issues can be largely resolved. The objective of this research is to build a functioning picogrid, or a single load, small scale microgrid. This is achieved combining an electrical load test bench in the Benedum Hall Electrical Power Systems Lab with rooftop solar and battery storage. This testbed models a real-world, residential system with off-grid capabilities. It also uses a digital representation of the physical system (digital twin) to analyze and model the system in real time. This takes energy usage, pricing, and weather signals into account. Analyses using the digital twin lead to physical adaptations and optimizations of the operation of the picogrid. With experimental data and machine learning, we can improve an algorithm to control our system for the most green, efficient, and cost-effective energy use. As this algorithm is developed, it could be used to resolve issues on a larger scale.

Chelsea Carver - Poster Board 5

Examining the Relation Between Parental Praise, Affirmation, and Corrective Feedback and Preschool-Aged Children’s Math and Language Skills 

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Melissa Libertus

Prior research has shown associations between parent and teacher feedback and school-aged children’s academic outcomes, specifically that positive feedback is positively related to children’s academic outcomes while negative feedback can be positively or negatively related to children’s academic outcomes. Little is known about the relation between domain-general versus domain-specific parental feedback and younger children’s academic skills. The present study examines how positive and negative types of general and math-specific parental feedback relate to four-year-old children’s concurrent math and language skills and change in math skills over a one-year period. Parent-child dyads (n=91) were observed completing three different semi-structured tasks, after which dyads completed math and language assessments. General affirmation was positively associated and general corrective feedback was individually and uniquely negatively associated with children’s concurrent math outcomes. General praise was individually and uniquely positively associated with children’s expressive vocabulary and change in math outcomes. Math-specific feedback was not significantly related to children’s math or language outcomes, except for the relation between math-specific corrective feedback and children’s concurrent math abilities. This study suggests that the relations between parental feedback and young children’s academic outcomes depend on the type and domain-specificity of the feedback.

Nehal Chakraborty - Poster Board 6

An Operant Behavioral Assay to Detect Hidden Hearing Loss in Mice

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Manoj Kumar 

Continuous or abrupt exposure to loud noises can results in Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). When this phenomenon occurs, the cochlea sends fewer electrical signals to the brain. Interestingly, there is a complex network of neurons that work to restore auditory function even after NIHL. However, this does not restore our ability to process sound in a noisy background. In my auditory neuroscience lab, I am researching the role of somatostatin (SOM) neurons in the ability to distinguish tones from background noise. My mentor Dr. Kumar's preliminary results show that NIHL leads to reduced SOM activity in the brain. My research question is, can hearing ability be restored by chemogenetically activating SOM neurons after NIHL? I hypothesize that after inducing hearing loss in mice, activating SOM neurons will lead to improved detection of tones in background noise. We will measure mice's hearing by observing their ability to detect tones in the presence of background noise. I am currently training mice to distinguish 12 kHz tones from white noise. They cross a behavior box in response to the tones to avoid a mild foot shock. I will then inject a chemogenetic reagent called Flex-DREADDS into the mice, which will allow me to increase the activity of SOM neurons. When I increase the SOM activity, I would expect the mice to be able to distinguish tones better. My research will reveal the neural circuit mechanisms underlying hearing loss and has the power to reveal potential therapeutic targets for the treatment of NIHL. Over the next few months, I will gather data after inducing hearing loss and after chemogenetic treatment, and will compile results in a poster presentation. 

Melanie Custodio - Poster Board 7

Hispanic and White Mothers’ Beliefs and Attitudes about Math and Literacy 

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Melissa Libertus

Children’s early academic skills are related to their later achievement in school (Duncan et al., 2007). Recent evidence has suggested that parents can help shape and promote their children’s early learning (Elliott et al., 2020; Galindo & Sheldon, 2012). In particular, parental beliefs and attitudes toward learning have been shown to relate to their engagement in educational activities with their children (Sonnenschein et al., 2012). This work finds that parents typically prioritize and prefer literacy activities to math activities (e.g., Cannon & Ginsburg, 2008). However, many of these studies consisted of mostly White families and focused predominantly on parents of preschool- and school-aged children. Those studies that do include more diverse samples tend to find differences in parents’ engagement in academic activities between White and Hispanic/Latino parents (Sonnenschein & Galindo, 2015). However, it remains unclear how parents prioritize literacy and math with their younger children, and especially whether Hispanic families may differ from White families in their beliefs and attitudes regarding math and literacy for this age group. The present study consisted of 54 mothers of toddlers (18 White mothers and 36 Hispanic/Latino mothers). All mothers were surveyed about the importance of math and literacy for young children, as well as asked about their attitudes toward math and literacy. Replicating previous work, we found that overall mothers enjoy literacy more than math and believe literacy skills are more important than math for their toddlers. Critically, these findings were similar for the Hispanic mothers and White mothers, as they did not significantly differ in their beliefs and attitudes about math and literacy. Future studies should investigate how parental beliefs and attitudes relate to toddlers’ performance in math and literacy, as well as how these patterns may differ based on the race or ethnicity of families. 

Keywords: Mothers, Math, Literacy, Beliefs, Attitudes

Samantha Rae - Poster Board 8

The Association Between Economic Stress and Accuracy of Episodic Memory

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: N/A 

Loss of episodic memory has been found to be an important preliminary diagnostic marker for neurodegenerative diseases and disorders, such as Alzheimer's Disease (AD) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As such, it is important to identify which populations are most at risk for episodic memory loss writ-large. The current study explores how economic stress and accuracy of episodic memory relate. Within a Qualtrics survey, economic stress was measured by a self-reported placement within an income bracket range in the levels of $0 to $19,999, $20,000 to $39,999, $40,000 to $59,999, $60,000 to $79,999, or $80,000 to any dollar number higher. In the survey, accuracy of episodic memory was measured by the self-reported percentage correct on the MemTrax online memory test. No significant association between family-related income stress and episodic memory was found, r(114) = .03, p = .377. Additionally, no significant association between personal-related income stress and episodic memory was found, r(98) = -.10, p = .153. Although these findings were not significant, it is still important to look into research of this kind. With continued research into this field of study, more conclusive treatments for neurodegenerative diseases and disorders may be developed as the populations most affected become more isolated and subsequently more studied. This study was one of the first of its kind, particularly in its combined usage of the Memtrax online memory CRT test and of its focus on income-related stress. That being so, this study may serve as a valuable pilot for future studies.

Joshua Dewald - Poster Board 9

VOF Modeling of Annular Gas-Liquid Flow Regimes in Horizontal Pipes

Swanson School of Engineering

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Loh Wai Lam

A computational model of the annular gas-liquid flow regime was developed to validate experimental findings, existing theory, and to pave the way to develop more accurate predictive CFD models for annular flow regimes. These regimes are important to the oil and gas industry because they tend to offer significant reduction in pressure losses in the transport of heavy oils. The Volume of Fluid (VOF) model, an established multiphase model which produces clear fluid interfaces, is applied using ANSYS Fluent to a 50 [mm] pipe to simulate the flow regime using air and water at STP. The model, in conjunction with the RANS based SST k-w turbulence model, was developed over a pipe length of 5 [m]. Unique hi-speed footage of annular flow from the NUS Multiphase Flow Loop and flow regime maps are used as a guide for boundary conditions. As a result, a wavy annular flow regime is observed to develop between roughly 0.75 – 1.5 meters downstream of the inlet. Axial velocity data are post processed and a GCI study, the ASME standard for discerning discretization error [1], was conducted revealing average variation up to ±44.48 [m/s] with an apparent order p = 5.43. The portion of the pipe where the flow regime is observed resembles the observations made at the NUS facilities and were achieved using superficial velocities within the predicted region of the flow regime maps. However, with significant variation present, the model requires further refinement.

Noah French - Poster Board 10

Single Crystal Fiber Optics

Swanson School of Engineering

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Paul Ohodnicki 

Single crystal fibers have shown exceptional promise for a wide range of sensing, lasing, and communication applications due to their high melting points and ability to handle high power densities. However, current single crystal fibers lack a proper cladding, which is a coating that helps fibers better contain light. The lack of a cladding greatly affects the quality of single crystal fibers, resulting in losses of power and information. Here at Pitt, we are investigating the ability for dopants to be used in the creation of an effective cladding for single crystal fibers. The purpose of my research is to investigate how dopants effect the waveguiding properties of single crystal fibers. I have been creating a physics simulation of key parameters such as numerical aperture, refractive index profile, and modes of propagation for common dopant profiles within single crystal fibers to assess and model the ability for dopants to be used in cladding development. I have completed an in-depth literature review into relevant dopant research and recent developments in numerical simulation techniques, and I recently began to compile and implement these findings into the development of a program in MATLAB. This research has led to the creation of a program which maps dopant profiles to refractive index profiles in YAG single crystal fibers. I am currently working on implementing mode calculations by using assorted open-source code and commercial software like Lumerical.

Eric Gliniak - Poster Board 11

Identifying Splenic Dysfunction in Novel Mouse Model of Triosephosphate Isomerase Deficiency

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Nancy Kaufmann  

Michael J. Palladino, Gregg E. Homanics, Tracey Myers

Department of Pharmacology: University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases  

Triosephosphate isomerase (TPI) deficiency is a severe metabolic disorder which is characterized by hemolytic anemia, progressive neurologic and muscular degeneration, and a reduced lifespan. Recently, we have developed a novel mouse model which mimics the four major symptoms of TPI deficiency. This new model has provided numerous opportunities for characterizing and further understanding the pathology of this disorder. Through general observation it was noticed that the spleen of symptomatic mice was abnormal in size, color and weight. In order to determine if splenic pathology is present, a histological analysis was performed with splenic tissue from symptomatic mice and their littermates. Spleens were dissected, fixed, sectioned and stained with hematoxylin and eosin. Samples were imaged using brightfield microscopy and analyzed using the software ImageJ. We have found that TPI deficient mice show significant splenic enlargement, which is a common sign of splenic dysfunction. In addition to this, the area of white pulp, which is made up of lymphoid tissue, was decreased in symptomatic mice. Lastly, splenic samples from symptomatic mice show signs of stress erythropoiesis, which is a complicated response to hemolytic anemia. These results indicate that splenic dysfunction is a part of the pathological mechanism of TPI deficiency. This study and further studies in the mouse will be useful in understanding the pathogenesis of TPI deficiency and may lead to the identification of new therapeutic targets. 

Ellyana Gomez - Poster Board 12

Analyzing Impact of Unpaid Maternity Leave on the Careers of Low-Wage Workers

School of Social Work

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Sara Goodkind

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) has long been used as a maternity leave option for low income workers who do not have paid maternity leave benefits at their jobs or do not qualify for paid time off through the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). As low wage workers often rely on TANF benefits rather than work benefits for maternity leave income, job stability, wage increases, and career projection can often be affected as a result. This study aims to measure the impact maternity leave has on the wages and career of the birthing parent. 

Stephanie Hachem - PowerPoint 13

Optimization of Protocols for Producing iNSCs and Neurons from Common Marmoset Dermal Fibroblasts via hSOX2 and Small Molecule Treatment 

Swanson School of Engineering

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Afonso Silva

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia in older adults, affecting over 50 million people worldwide. The primary symptoms of AD are memory loss, cognitive impairment, mood and behavioral changes, and death. Despite several decades of intensive research on the root causes for AD, its pathology is still poorly understood, and, to date, there is no cure for this devastating disease. There’s a strong need to identify better animal models that can bridge the translational gap and help us identify potential therapeutical avenues. We hypothesize that the common marmoset (Callithrix jacchus) is the ideal non-human primate model for AD. We used CRISPR/cas9 gene-editing techniques to generate marmosets expressing mutations in the presenilin-1 gene that causes familial AD in humans. When compared to age- and sex-matched wild-type non-carrier marmosets, these animals express elevated plasma levels of beta-amyloid. We are currently investigating the presence of AD biomarkers in skin-derived fibroblast cells cultured in vitro, and optimizing a protocol to produce induced neuronal stem cells (iNSCs) from the fibroblasts. Recently, induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) derived from somatic cells have been used to rapidly create neuronal cultures as an in vitro testbed for AD phenotypes and therapies without the cost and time of in vivo research. Like iPSCs, iNSCs can be produced from fibroblasts via overexpression of specific transcription factors (e.g., SOX2) or chemical treatment. We treated WT and AD marmoset fibroblasts with human SOX2 lentivirus and small molecules to produce cells with iNSC (cluster) or neuronal (dendrite) morphology. Cells were positive for the iNSC markers NESTIN and PAX6. Our next steps will be to characterize iNSC and neurons for AD-related phenotypes. This work will allow testing disease mechanisms and significantly extend the usefulness of our marmosets as translational models of AD.

David Hall - Poster Board 14

Engaging Epidemic: Nineteenth Century Protestant Conceptions of Cholera

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Paula Kane

Epidemics extend far beyond physical sickness and pain. They break apart communities and inspire fear in a population, which is not always addressed by secular public health and medical authorities. This was the case in the nineteenth century as epidemics of cholera swept through the United States. In that context, American Protestants worked to understand and incorporate cholera into their religious cosmos in a variety of ways and developed ideas around the causes and meaning behind the sickness. Previous medical and social histories have only briefly addressed this vibrant religious discourse around cholera, often oversimplifying it as a monolithic belief that God had sent the epidemics. Upon deeper examination, there are much more complicated dynamics that worked to engage the epidemic itself and how the Protestants positioned themselves in relation to the disease. These Protestant Americans sought to incorporate cholera theologically into their worldview to make meaning out of suffering and use that to fuel various movements from temperance to missionary efforts. This is demonstrated in sermons and publications from Methodists, Presbyterians, and Anglicans from the nineteenth century in the Eastern United States where cholera posed a greater threat. Understanding how religious groups conceptualize disease is critical not only to humanities scholars but also the healthcare industry, with how these beliefs can impact public health and overall treatment. This kind of religious engagement with disease continues even today with the present pandemic and generates ideas that impact all our lives.

Ivy Hill - Poster Board 15

Conservative and Surgical Intervention for Improving Pain and NAHS Scores in Military Personnel with Femoroacetabular Impingement (FAI) 

School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Michelle Varnell

Background: The intense load-carrying and endurance exercise in military training leads to a high prevalence of hip injuries and maladaptive body compensations.1 Bony abnormalities on either the femoral head or acetabulum result in abnormal motion of the hip joint and subsequent femoroacetabular impingement.2,3 Soldiers normally receive a disability referral for conservative treatment, and if failed, surgical intervention follows.

Focused Clinical Question: Is conservative or surgical intervention more effective in treating pain and improving NAHS in military personnel with FAI? 

Data Sources: Google Scholar and PubMed were the databases used to find relevant literature. Key words used: “treatment of FAI”, “military”, “femoroacetabular impingement”, “NAHS”, “pain outcomes”. 

Study Selections: Inclusion criteria included articles that looked at treatment of FAI (conservative and/or surgical) and patient outcomes (NAHS and/or pain) in an active-duty military population. Exclusion criteria included articles that examined the effects of other hip and groin comorbidities on FAI management, as well as studies published earlier than the last 10 years. 

Data Extraction: The Nonarthritic Hip Score (NAHS) and pain outcomes were measured. 

Summary Measures: Mean NAHS and pain outcomes at baseline and then subsequent follow-ups to determine if a difference between preoperative and postoperative scores was present. 

Evidence Appraisal: Each article was individually assessed using the NIH Study Quality Assessment Tools. Strength of recommendation was appraised for all sources collectively using the Strength of Recommendation Taxonomy (SORT). Four of the five articles received an individual quality rating of fair.1,6,9,11 Bennett et al. received a quality rating of good. Search Results: Two prospective cohort, two retrospective cohort, and one matched-paired analysis met the inclusion criteria for this critical appraisal. 

Data Synthesis: Four of the five appraised articles showed decreased hip pain with conservative and/or surgical intervention for symptomatic FAI.1,2,9,11 Three of the five appraised articles did not report NAHS outcomes with conservative and/or surgical intervention for symptomatic FAI. The remaining two articles that did contain NAHS findings were not in agreement with one another – Allan et al. found no statistically significant difference, while Bennett et al. did. 

Evidence Quality: Research on FAI treatment in the military population, while up-to-date and fair in quality, is quite limited in quantity. The overall strength of recommendation for this body of research was evaluated with a SORT: B. 

Conclusions: Military standards of training continue to change and adapt to the increasingly diverse demographic that enlists in the armed forces. This critical appraisal revealed that statistically and clinically significant improvements in patient-centered outcome measures often combine surgical and conservative intervention for FAI as part of an evidence-based care pathway.

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  1. Allan R, Cassidy RP, Coppack RJ, Papadopoulou T, Bennett AN. Biomechanical and clinical outcomes in response to inpatient multidisciplinary hip and groin rehabilitation in UK military personnel [published online ahead of print, 2021 Feb 22]. BMJ Mil Health. 2021; bmjmilitary-2020-001588. doi:10.1136/bmjmilitary-2020-001588
  2. Bennett AN, Nixon J, Roberts A, Barker-Davies R, Villar R, Houghton JM. Prospective 12-month functional and vocational outcomes of hip arthroscopy for femoroacetabular impingement as part of an evidence-based hip pain rehabilitation pathway in an active military population. BMJ Open Sport Exerc Med. 2016;2(1): e000144. Published 2016 Aug 9. doi:10.1136/bmjsem-2016-000144
  3. Chaudhry H, Ayeni OR. The etiology of femoroacetabular impingement: what we know and what we don't. Sports Health. 2014;6(2):157-161. doi:10.1177/1941738114521576
  4. Coppack RJ, Bilzon JL, Wills AK, et al. Physical and functional outcomes following multidisciplinary residential rehabilitation for prearthritic hip pain among young active UK military personnel. BMJ Open Sport Exerc Med. 2016;2(1): e000107. Published 2016 Apr 1. doi:10.1136/bmjsem-2015-000107
  5. Thomas DD, Bernhardson AS, Bernstein E, Dewing CB. Hip Arthroscopy for Femoroacetabular Impingement in a Military Population. Am J Sports Med. 2017;45(14):3298-3304. doi:10.1177/0363546517726984
  6. Yoo JI, Lee TH, Kim JY, Kim JH, Ha YC. Outcomes of Hip Arthroscopy in a Military Population Are Similar to Those in the Civilian Population: Matched Paired Analysis at 2 Years. Arthroscopy. 2018;34(7):2096-2101. doi: 10.1016/j.arthro.2018.02.015
Charles Hogan - Poster Board 16

Children with Incarcerated Parents

School of Social Work

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Brooke Rawls 

When assessing the impact of parental incarceration on children, it's important to note what the specific types of impact are. I have broken the adverse effects on children within the context of three distinct effect groups: mental health, physical health, and education. By breaking it down into these groups, the entire multi-faceted effect of parental incarceration is more easily exposed. Furthermore, the distinction between a single parent's incarceration and dual-parent incarceration and how that in turn effect's the impact on children is an important discrepancy to note. The current criminal justice system ignores the realities of children with incarcerated parents, so it's paramount to create as many resources as possible for such a vulnerable population. I will outline such resources. So, what are the effects of being a child with an incarcerated parent?

Sarah Hulse - Poster Board 17

Fighting Takes Away from Living: War Metaphor Use and Emotion Suppression in Metastatic Breast Cancer

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Margaret Rosenzweig 

Emotional distress has been referred to as the sixth vital sign of cancer care, with a variety of emotion regulation strategies employed to assist patients in navigating their diagnosis and experience of illness. The war metaphor is one such strategy used frequently in breast cancer to inspire individuals in a “fight” or “battle” against cancer. Despite the prominent use of war terminology, the emotional impact of this language has not been examined in an academic setting nor with consideration toward patients with metastatic breast cancer (MBC). This study involved a qualitative assessment of a semi-structured interview including questions about the impact of the war metaphor. Participants (n=22) had been diagnosed with MBC for at least 6 months or following 1 disease progression and were undergoing treatment at an NCI designated cancer center in Western Pennsylvania at the time of interview. Preliminary findings suggest that the war metaphor is a barrier to illness acceptance, prompting patients to suppress their deeper emotions by focusing on cancer as an opponent to be conquered. Faced with the progressive, life-limiting implications of MBC, patients perceive the “battle” against cancer as unfair. They would prefer to emphasize the importance of simply living every day instead of focusing on the broader “fight.” Patients with MBC might benefit from the adoption of neutral language in cancer-related media and healthcare environments.

Hunsica Jayaprakash - Poster Board 18

Predicting Beta-Amyloid Accumulation Based on Structural Magnetic Resonance (MR) Images Using Unsupervised Learning Techniques: An Investigation of Alzheimer’s Disease

School of Computing and Information

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Joseph Yurko 

Alzheimer's Disease (AD) is the sixth leading cause of the death in the United States. AD is a process of progressive neurodegeneration of brain structure and function. This process of neurodegeneration begins years prior to significant cognitive decline and is associated with cerebral beta amyloid (Aβ) accumulation. Aβ is a neurotoxic protein which is found in healthy individuals; however, at abnormal levels it has been associated with a series of events that lead to network breakdown of the nervous system. This early stage of significant amyloid pathology without overt cognitive dysfunction is known as pre-clinical AD. Earlier studies have showed that Aβ deposition occurs in a stochastic manner, and it is known there is a strong association between Aβ accumulation and neurodegeneration. Thus, it is possible to hypothesize that neuronal loss –neurodegeneration - will occur asymmetrically.  

Previous literature has focused on severe cases of AD and healthy controls; however, there are fewer studies on identifying potential AD markers on pre-clinical AD individuals. This early stage of the disease is crucial for prevention and detection of high-risk individuals since overt cognitive decline is still absent. Thus, my research project aims to predict Beta-amyloid accumulation from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in a novel approach using an unsupervised learning technique - Principal Component Analysis (PCA) - to find prominent clusters or regions of interest. We hypothesize that dimensionality reduction will aid in fitting predictive models to generate accurate estimates of Aβ and will enhance our understanding of early Aβ deposition and its interactions with structural and functional neuronal loss.  

Brigit Joseph - Poster Board 19

Effectiveness of Vagus Nerve Stimulation among Pediatric Patients with Non-accidental Trauma Related Epilepsy 

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Taylor Abel 

Authors: Brigit Joseph, Nallammai Muthiah, and Taylor Abel 

Purpose: Epilepsy following non-accidental trauma (NAT) in pediatric patients occurs in 18% of NAT cases. Many of these patients will develop drug-resistant and surgically untreatable epilepsy. For these patients, vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is a palliative surgical treatment option. The purpose of this study was to investigate the effectiveness of VNS among pediatric patients who experienced NAT and subsequently developed posttraumatic epilepsy compared to those with nontraumatic epilepsy. 

Methods: We performed an 11-year retrospective analysis of VNS implantations for drug-resistant epilepsy at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Data on patient demographics and clinical outcomes were collected within 12 months of VNS implantation and at one-year post-implantation. Patients were split into two groups based on their etiology of epilepsy: NAT or non-NAT. Statistical analyses were performed to compare the NAT group to the non-NAT group, and significance was assessed at the alpha=0.05 level.

Results: This analysis included data from 370 pediatric VNS patients: 9 patients had NAT-related epilepsy and 351 patients had non-NAT related epilepsy. The difference in the age of seizure onset between groups was 0.33 + 0.71 for NAT. patients and 3.3 + 4.07 for non-NAT patients (p<0.01). Prior to VNS surgery, NAT patients took an average of 2.5 + 0.19 antiseizure medications (ASM)s while non-NAT patients took an average of 2.2 + 0.82 ASMs (p = 0.316). At one-year post-VNS, NAT patients took an average of 2.8 + 1.03 ASMs while non-NAT patients took an average of 2.3 + 0.91 ASMs (p = 0.153). In this sample, 71% of NAT patients experienced >50% seizure frequency reduction after VNS, compared to only 48% of non-NAT patients 0.478 (p = 0.269).

Conclusion: VNS appears to allow a higher proportion of pediatric patients with NAT-related epilepsy to achieve >50% seizure frequency reduction compared to other etiologies of epilepsy. While our effect size was not statistically significant, our results underscore the need for larger and multi-center studies to validate the effectiveness of VNS for pediatric NAT patients with drug-resistant epilepsy.

Jennifer Kandray - Poster Board 20

Heinz Chapel in the Digital Era 

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Thomas J. Morton

The focus of my research for the centers around Heinz Chapel, located at the University of Pittsburgh and making it truly accessible to anyone with an internet connection at any time. I am taking important information about the building, its architecture, and history, and compiling it into an interactive virtual “walk-through” of the structure. I highlight many key physical details that make Heinz Chapel unique, including its exterior, windows, and gallery through photography, 360˚ images, and text boxes or voiceover videos within an online platform (such as ArcGIS) to bring Heinz Chapel to a digital life throughout its construction, completion, and through showing what almost was. Building on existing knowledge, the collections of works and resources at the University of Pittsburgh’s Archives and Special Collections, the outcome of this project can be a major resource by itself for those who are local and those who are nowhere near Pittsburgh. Utilizing the original building plans, sketches, blueprints, along with other relevant documents of Heinz Chapel located within the University’s collection make this project an added piece to the University of Pittsburgh and its library of works.

Hui Liu - Poster Board 21

Identification of a Small Molecule Inhibitor That Disrupts Biomolecular Condensate Formation of the Bacterial Segregation CTPase ParB 

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Seth Childers

Despite their lack of typical organelles, bacteria are able to utilize phase separation as a compartmentalization mechanism to organize biochemical processes within biomolecular condensates, which are effectively membrane-less organelles. One such condensate is ParB, a CTPase which is involved in bacterial chromosome segregation as part of the broadly conserved ParABS system. In this study, we identified a small molecule which specifically disrupts the liquid-liquid phase separation properties of ParB in vivo and in vitro. In broader terms, these studies demonstrate that biomolecular condensates associated with pathogens, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases could be a suitable drug target for treatment strategies that disrupt their formation.   

Ryan MacElroy - Poster Board 22

Simultaneous Bulk and Local Polymer Crystallization Analysis Using Microfluidic Dilatometry

Swanson School of Engineering

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Sachin Velankar 

Polymer crystallization kinetics can be characterized by the local spherulite growth velocity and the bulk crystallization rate. For the case of polyoxacyclobutane (POCB) and water mixtures of interest, determining these rates conventionally is inefficient for two reasons. First, it requires two separate experiments, one for local growth velocity measurement and one for bulk crystallization analysis. Second, while differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) can measure the bulk crystallization rate of a single-phase polymer, POCB-water mixtures are two-phase prior to co-crystallization, which is beyond the capabilities of DSC. Thus, bulk crystallization studies require dilatometry, which requires large volumes of material. The microfluidic dilatometer allows for local crystallization to be analyzed via microscopy and bulk crystallization to be analyzed via dilatometry- all in one experiment. It can dramatically increase the rate and facility of experimentation for determining crystallization kinetics while also reducing the volume of material used. A prototype of the device has demonstrated proof of concept, but more design iterations are required to improve device performance.

Kalina McNeil - Poster Board 23

Children’s Use of Math Elicitations Supports Their Own Math Learning 

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Melissa Libertus

We use math skills every day when we go shopping or determine travel distance. Math abilities are related to key outcomes, including better health, greater chance of full-time employment, and higher income (Agarwal & Mazumder, 2013; Currie & Thomas, 2001; Reyna & Brainerd, 2007). Individual differences in math are present as early as the beginning of formal schooling (Jordan et al., 2006). Previous work finds that parents support their children’s early math learning through encouraging conversations about math (Levine et al., 2010). No work has looked at how children spontaneously discuss math without parent encouragement, which may be a key information-seeking technique that helps children shape their own math learning.  We examined children’s math elicitations (questions and prompts designed to elicit a math response) during naturalistic free play in both lab and home settings in 119 parent-child dyads (62 boys; M age = 3.9 years). We were interested in cases where parents were not previously discussing math concepts, but children elicited math content relevant to their parents’ prior conversation. We found that children who used more math elicitations had larger growth in math skills over 6 months, even when controlling for their overall elicitations and baseline math performance, β = 0.35, p = .001, suggesting that children who take what their parents are saying and make it math-related may promote their own math learning. This stresses the importance of considering how children directly shape the home environment in addition to thinking about parents’ influences on children’s learning.  

Elizabeth Medvedeva - Poster Board 24

Transparent Conductors by Crack Film Lithography

Swanson School of Engineering

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Paul Leu 

This work focuses on making crack film lithography a scalable and affordable process. Crack film lithography is a method that uses a self-cracking sacrificial layer on a transparent substrate as a template for forming metal grids. Metal grids made through crack film lithography work extremely well as transparent conductors because they combine high transmittance properties with low sheet resistance. Transparent conductors are integral in devices such as solar cells, flexible electronics, and LEDs/OLEDs. While there are several methods for creating metal grids, the grids formed using crack film lithography are able to achieve a very high aspect ratio, meaning the wires achieved are thin in width, not hindering transmittance, but have a high height which allows for good conductivity. In order for crack film lithography to be used on a large scale, it is integral to develop a metal deposition method besides thermal evaporation. Thermal evaporation is costly and difficult to do on larger substrates. In this work, metal is deposited using a silver ink, which can be spin coated onto the crack template. Spin coating is much cheaper, and if successful, would enable crack film lithography to be a competitive method for creating metal grids on a large scale. 

Charlie Murphey - Poster Board 25

Prodromal Physiologic Changes During Copper Sulfate-Induced Nausea and Vomiting: Potential Use of Intestinal EMG Recordings as a Marker for Nausea 

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Bill Yates

Although emetic responses are present during many disease states, there is no consensus regarding the physiologic changes that signal the onset of nausea. In this study, 10 adult felines (6 males and 4 females) were instrumented to chronically record, during the awake state, the electrocardiogram, diaphragm and abdominal muscle electromyographic (EMG) activity, and EMG activity from the stomach and duodenum before and after the gavage or intragastric infusion of saline or copper sulfate (CuSO4, doses ranging from 83 to 322 mg). Intragastric CuSO4 is a prototypical emetic stimulus that triggers emesis primarily by activating a gastrointestinal vagus nerve-to-brain pathway. CuSO4 infusion elicited a significant increase in heart rate, decrease in respiratory rate, and a disruption in gastric (baseline~6 CPM, cycles-per-minute) and intestinal (baseline~20 CPM) EMG activity several minutes prior to vomiting. The change in EMG activity was most consistent in the intestine. Administration of saline did not induce these physiologic changes. Increasing the dose of CuSO4 did not alter the physiologic changes induced by the treatment. In some animals, a second bout of vomiting occurred following the first episode, when prodromal changes of the intestinal EMG were less pronounced. It is postulated that the intestinal EMG activity was related to a retrograde movement of chyme from the intestine to the stomach. These findings suggest that monitoring of intestinal EMG activity may be the best indicator of the onset of nausea following treatments and in disease conditions associated with emesis.

Katherine Oppenheimer - Poster Board 26

Defining Regulators of Alpha-arrestin-mediated Trafficking of the Mammalian Potassium Channel Kir2.1

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Allyson O'Donnell

The mammalian inward rectifying potassium (K+) channel Kir2.1 plays a significant role in maintaining K+ homeostasis. Several Kir2.1 mutations that lead to disease are linked to defective channel trafficking to the PM, highlighting the importance of trafficking in Kir2.1 channel regulation. Our previous studies identified the alpha-arrestins, a dynamic group of protein trafficking adaptors, as key regulators of Kir2.1. Alpha-arrestins selectively bind to membrane proteins and ensure that membrane proteins relocalize within the cell in response to signaling cues. To define the machinery involved in alpha-arrestin-mediated trafficking of Kir2.1, we used yeast as a model system. By generating mutations in key protein trafficking machinery, including Apl2, Vps4, Vrp1, and Vps35, each of which control distinct intracellular sorting pathways, we have defined the role of these pathways in relation to the alpha-arrestins. Using a functional readout for Kir2.1 activity at the cell surface and Kir2.1 fusion to a fluorescence activating protein (FAP), we assessed the ability of alpha-arrestins to stimulate Kir2.1 trafficking to the cell surface in the presence of absence of these key trafficking components. From these studies, we found that AP-1, a clathrin adaptor important for Golgi-to-endosome sorting, interferes with alpha-arrestin-mediated trafficking of Kir2.1, as in the absence of the Apl2 subunit of AP-1 the alpha-arrestins are better able to stimulate Kir2.1 surface activity. In contrast to AP-1, loss of Vrp1, a nucleator of branched actin assembly that is needed for endocytosis, improved the ability of several alpha-arrestins to stimulate Kir2.1 localization to the plasma membrane, but alpha-arrestin Aly2 was completely dependent upon Vrp1. This suggests that Aly2 operates on a pool of Kir2.1 that is available only after endocytosis. In the absence of retromer, an endosome-to-Golgi sorting complex, alpha-arrestins Aly1 and Art5 failed to stimulate Kir2.1 localization to the PM, indicating that retromer is needed for these alpha-arrestins to act. Finally, when multivesicular body formation is blocked, as occurs in vps4∆ cells, alpha-arrestins Aly1, Ldb19 and Art5-mediated localization of Kir2.1 to the cell surface is diminished. This demonstrates that MVB sorting must be intact for these alpha-arrestins to function. Taken together, we begin to piece together the dynamic interplay between alpha-arrestins and intracellular trafficking regulators using Kir2.1 as a model membrane cargo. 

Katrina Ortiz - Poster Board 27

Physician’s Recommendations for Lifestyle and PT interventions for Knee-Osteoarthritis (Knee-OA) in an Integrated Health System

School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Samannaaz Khoja

Purpose/Hypothesis: Despite lifestyle interventions being frontline evidence-based approaches for managing knee osteoarthritis (OA), they are not recommended often. Prior qualitative research suggests that these interventions are considered low priority by physician providers. Other providers such as physical therapists, behavior specialists, and exercise coaches are integral to improving guideline-based care to patients with this condition. Therefore, this study aimed to describe how often lifestyle and physical therapy (PT) recommendations for knee-OA were captured in the Electronic Medical Records (EMR) of an integrated health system.
Methods: We retrospectively analyzed EMR data of 137 randomly selected patients who presented to a physician for new complaint of knee-OA and had an eligible knee-OA diagnosis (ICD-10-CM codes). Using relevant procedure codes, we extracted relevant lifestyle (e.g. referral to an exercise coach, nutritionist) and PT referrals at the index visit and up to one year later. To identify recommendations that may not be captured via referral, we further analyzed textual data in physician notes using a simple thematic and iterative approach. We annotated and categorized clinical notes with appropriate keywords for interpretation. We manually examined notes to observe patterns and ensure relevant use of keywords and phrases, such as exercise, weight loss, and knee exercises. 

Results: Our sample comprised of mostly females (62%), with mean age 65±11 years and mean BMI 32±7 kg/m2, who were seen for new episode of knee-OA in ambulatory clinics of an integrated health system. Lifestyle-related referrals were found in only 5 (3.6%) patients total. Qualitative analysis of clinician notes revealed lifestyle recommendations in clinical notes of 20 (14.6%) patients at index visit, and 13 (9.5%) within 1-year follow up. Lifestyle recommendations ranged from general advice, to detailed standardized patient education materials on weight loss or knee pain-related care and exercises. Additionally, physician providers recommended PT to 29 (21.2%) patients at index visit and 16 (11.7%) within 1-year follow up. For PT referral codes, only 25 (18.2%) were identified at index visit and 15 (10.9%) at the follow-up. Alternative treatments (mainly drugs or injections) were found in clinical notes as well. Overall, 122 (89.1%) of the patients were prescribed pain medications; among these patients, 28 (20.4%) also received lifestyle recommendations or referrals while 31 (22.6%) also received PT recommendations or referrals. The remaining 63 (46.0%) had the pharmacological treatment alone for knee-OA. 

Conclusion: Lifestyle and PT recommendations and referrals for patients with knee-OA seem underused, with less than a quarter of patients receiving either recommendation. Guideline-based treatments also appear to be rarely used during physician visits. Health systems need to improve the electronic recording of and patient access to evidence-based interventions without additional burden to physician providers.

Ruvi Ranatunga - Poster Board 28

Incorporating Biotechnology Curriculum for Undergraduates at the School of Nursing

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Lisa Parker 

Bioethics is a multidisciplinary field specializing in the study of scientific innovations and their ethical implications on people and society. Bioethics is integral to the development and success of other STEM disciplines, ranging from health science education to industry to research. Biotechnology is an area of research that is not only heavily involved in these and other STEM disciplines but requires a strong bioethics background due to the nature of its direct and controversial implications in today’s world. The purpose of this research is based on the need for more undergraduate/pre-professional education in biotechnology that pairs with the STEM classes many college students already take. A biotechnology course at Pitt was designed for a specific subset of pre-health professional undergraduates at Pitt: BSN students. Bioethics and Philosophy professors at Pitt collaborated to design the syllabus for this course, while the undergraduates on the team collaborated to find research articles and analyses of different types of biotechnology that were relevant to the topics covered in the syllabus. Examples of these topics include genetic engineering, deep brain stimulation, and assisted reproduction, among others. These readings were then organized by strength based on how difficult they would be for students with limited background in bioethics/biotechnology to understand. After multiple selection meetings with the review board within the School of Nursing, the class is in its final stage of approval and will be ready to be offered as a class for BSN students in 2023. This class is a sign of progress in developing a more well-rounded curriculum for health-science students, with the overall goal of developing health professionals who are able to care for their patients while adjusting treatment plans based on specific patients needs.

Aliana Rao - Poster Board 29

The Intersectionality of Religion and Medicine in the Health Humanities

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Uma Satyavolu

This research focuses on determining the intersectionality of religion and medicine/health throughout the years through a literature review completed under the Health Humanities Undergraduate Research Program in the Department of English. The two have impacted each other greatly, contributing to new findings in the field of medicine and the founding of new religious sects. While originally very religious, medicine has become more secular as the years have passed. This research begins with Ancient Medicine and continues through to modern-day practices, tracing the influences of religion on medicine and its applications in the field of health. 

Ancient Medicine (450 BCE - 1600 CE) focuses on the major influences such as Hippocrates, Galen, and Asclepius. Additionally, various historical events impacted the development of medicine including the emergence of hospitals, the 4th Lateran Council. A focus on gender has also been determined during this period, involving the decreased importance and involvement of women in the process of healing. 

Development of Modern Medicine (1600-1950) involves topics such as mood disorders, ethnomedicine, and the development of religious sects through the alignment of religion and medicine. The focus of this section is largely based on Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, a text referencing mental afflictions we now define as depression and anxiety. Various ethnic practices are also identified and researched, such as the presence of secret doctors in African American communities, rising largely from slavery in the United States.

Modern Medicine (1950-Present) focuses on concepts that are prominent in today’s field of healthcare including cultural competency, the treatment of women, the intersection of religion and mental health, and the secular perspective. Topics researched during this section emphasize the focus on mental health through a religious lens and the idea of westernized medicine versus eastern practices potentially causing a rift during patient care.

My research reflects an overall change in the practice of medicine from being solely religious to largely secular. This change is shown through the three time categories I created, the shift being largely recognized during the end of the Development of Modern Medicine. By the time Modern Medicine arrives, secular medicine is practiced heavily, especially in westernized locales. Modern-day concepts such as cultural competency have grown as westernized medicine has interacted at greater levels with eastern practices. The results illustrate a definite change in the application and practice of religion in the field of medicine in the modern-day as compared to ancient times. 

For a more in-depth look at the research, feel free to visit:

Nandini Rastogi - Poster Board 30

Examining Math and Literacy Beliefs and Engagement in Fathers of Young Children

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Melissa Libertus

The development of early math skills has been shown to predict children’s later academic achievement (Duncan et. al., 2007; Jordan et. al., 2009). Previous work finds that parents can help to facilitate children’s learning of math and literacy skills in the home (e.g., LeFevre et al., 2009). However, parents tend to prioritize literacy over math and show less engagement in math activities, less enjoyment of math, and beliefs that math is less important than literacy overall (Cannon & Ginsburg, 2008; Skwarchuk et. al., 2014). Critically, this past work focused primarily on the mothers of young children, and particularly those with preschool- and school-aged children. The current study aims to examine whether similar patterns exist for fathers of younger children. A diverse sample of 42 fathers of 2-year-olds (26 Hispanic/Latino, 16 non-Hispanic/Latino) was asked to report their attitudes toward math and literacy, beliefs about the importance of math and literacy for their child, beliefs about their own importance in teaching their child math and literacy, and their engagement in math and literacy activities with their child. We find that similar to mothers, fathers prioritize and enjoy engaging in literacy more than math with their children. These findings emphasize the amplified priority placed on literacy in the home environment and implicate the need for interventions encouraging both mothers and fathers to engage in a more balanced set of activities with their children. Future work should examine potential differences between mothers and fathers in interactions with their children as well as assessing how mothers’ and fathers’ engagement in math and literacy are related to children’s development of these skills. 

Laura Ruckenstein - Poster Board 31

Comparing Spatial Talk and Number Talk in Parent-Child Dyads 

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Melissa Libertus

Laura R. Ruckenstein, Alex M. Silver & Melissa E. Libertus

Children’s early math skills are important predictors of their later academic achievement (Duncan et al., 2007; Jordan et al., 2009). Previous research has found that parental math talk (i.e., discussions about math concepts) and activities involving math with children are related to their math performance (Gunderson & Levine, 2011; Ramani et al., 2015). While most previous research has studied overall math talk, combining spatial talk (i.e., discussions of shapes and spatial relations) and number talk (i.e., discussions of numbers) or examined spatial or number talk in isolation (Levine et al., 2011; Pruden et al., 2011), it remains unknown whether families prioritize one type of math talk. The current study aims to directly compare parents’ and children’s spatial and number talk, focusing on elicitations (i.e., questions or prompts used to seek information about a particular topic) about number and spatial concepts. 148 parent-child dyads (child mean age = 3.9 years; 78 boys) were observed during free play interactions both at home and in a laboratory setting. We compared spatial and number elicitations from both the parent and the child across both contexts. We found that both parents and children used spatial elicitations significantly more often than number elicitations (t(147) = 8.08, p < .001 for parents, t(147) = 6.47, p < .001 for children). This suggests that both parents and children may be more comfortable including spatial discussion in their conversations, may be more interested in spatial concepts, or may prioritize learning about spatial concepts. Future work should consider the implications of this preference for eliciting information about spatial concepts for children’s performance, attitudes and interest in spatial and numerical concepts.

Rayna Schoenberger - Poster Board 32

Modulation of Fetal Liver Organoid Vascularization and Hepatic Function Using Distinct GATA6

Swanson School of Engineering

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Mo Ebrahimkhani

Induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)-derived organoids have the potential to revolutionize regenerative medicine and drug screening, yet they currently lack the cell type variety and function required to recreate human tissue. Previously, Guye and Ebrahimkhani et al. showed that differential expression doxycycline (dox)-inducible GATA6-EGFP resulted in the formation of multiple cell types from endoderm and mesoderm lineages responsible for generation of hepatocytes, cholangiocytes, pericytes, and endothelial cells of the liver. These cultures are called fetal liver organoids (FeLOs). However, the critical impact of GATA6 levels on vascularization and hepatic secretory activity requires further study. To address this, we generated an iPSC clonal library with each line uniformly expressing a unique copy number of GATA6-EGFP. We found that lower GATA6 expression levels encouraged increased differentiation toward mesoderm and definitive endoderm cell lineages, and we saw a corresponding increase in the levels of vascularization and hepatic secretions in the differentiated organoids. These data indicate that the cell types arising and their eventual function can be manipulated by varying the levels of GATA6 in developing FeLOs, paving the way for future optimization of GATA6 expression to tailor organoid development for different scientific and clinical applications.

Sean Steinle - Poster Board 33

Common Archetypes of Game Progression in the NFL

School of Computing and Information

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Joseph Yurko 

In this paper, we seek to uncover, explore, and predict common archetypes of NFL games. We will accomplish this by formulating a supervised learning problem that predicts a sequence of win probability values given a set of pregame statistics like team record, team rating (ELO), passing yards, and more. Our initial dataset contains win probability values for each play, so our project will create standardized win probability timestamps by interpolating win probability predictions. 

We are interested in predicting the interpolated win probability time series using pregame statistics. The values within each time series are highly correlated and thus we will exploit that correlation through Principal Component Analysis (PCA). After further studying patterns based on the reduced dimension latent space, we will train multiple models to predict the Principal Components and reconstruct the interpolated win probability time series. Resampling techniques will be used to tune and identify the best performing model. This predictive modeling workflow enables interpreting which of the pregame statistics are most important at predicting the dynamics of the game because of the interpretation associated with PCA. We will therefore be able to identify which common NFL game archetypes are more difficult to accurately predict. Such information may benefit game strategy, scouting, and sports betting applications.

Our project will use play-by-play data from the R package, nflfastR. The data includes pre-generated win probability estimates from nflfastR. Data is available from 1999 to 2022, but we will only consider data from 2015-2022 due to changes in NFL play style. There are 1,889 games over this span, and thus 113,340 samples of win probability timestamps."

Emily Stephens - Poster Board 34

The Orientalization of Pocahontas and Native American Women

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Meredith Guthrie

Disney’s depiction Orientalizes Native American women through its romanticization of colonization. By examining past representations of Native Americans known as the "Hollywood Indian" and the double stereotypes of noble good "Indians" and savage "Indians". I am also examining Disney's depiction of gender and the messaging they send their young audience by commodifying Native American women. Disney uses the tools of Orientalism and colonization to rewrite history and ignore the atrocities native populations faced during early America.

Sophie Tayade - Poster Board 35

Conflict, Competition, and Collaboration: Thomas Starzl’s Team of Colleague-allies and Colleague-adversaries in Transplantation Science 

School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. M. Kathleen Kelly

Surgeon and biomedical scientist Thomas Starzl’s (1926-2017) contributions to modern medicine, especially the field of transplantation, are vast and include innovation to the transplant technique and the first successful liver transplant in 1964. The Dr. Thomas E. Starzl, M.D. Papers, a recently opened archive in the University of Pittsburgh’s Archives & Special Collections, documents these ground-breaking contributions and includes letters, publication drafts, and memos from his personal and professional life. This paper investigates how Starzl strategized scientific team building and collaboration to encourage multidisciplinary sharing and network building. It reveals how he built a cooperative international community of collaborators in tandem with his own research team, and how he personally approached interaction with interprofessional colleagues with whom he strongly disagreed or closely competed. Evident in Starzl’s archival materials as well as his autobiographical account of transplantation history, The Puzzle People: Memoirs of a Transplant Surgeon, is his ability to unite skilled and often competitively minded rival colleagues to address key issues like organ rejection and allocation in the early years of the field (~ 1960-1980). Theories from feminist epistemology and history of philosophy and science, combined with two high profile historical cases reflecting different leadership styles, aid in the analysis of key events and relationships from Starzl’s career. New language (the terms colleague-competitor, colleague-ally, and colleague-adversary) is introduced to describe the potential of colleagues to collaborate and compete and to help characterize Starzl’s approach to team building. In the face of competition to be the first to transplant various organs or innovate a particular process, Starzl invited a diverse array of colleagues into conversation and collaboration. Anyone, but especially aspiring health science professionals, can learn a lot from how Starzl strategized scientific team building to encourage multidisciplinary collaboration. Understanding the strengths of Starzl’s approach to interacting with colleagues with whom he strongly disagreed or closely competed is fruitful to those interested in constructing a professional network in tandem with their support system."

Zhen Wu - Poster Board 36

The Effect of Animations Using Real-world Analogies on Diverse Computer Systems Students

School of Computing and Information

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Sherif Khattab

It is a challenge to engage students when teaching them abstract and complex computer systems concepts, such as buffer overflow, memory management, concurrent execution, and process synchronization. Past research has shown that interactive animation and real-life analogies make STEM concepts more approachable and help students achieve better learning outcomes. Based on these findings, we introduce interactive analogies into learning the concept of buffer overflow. More specifically, we created a dry-cleaning shop animation tool ( targeting K-12 and undergraduate students. To assess the effectiveness of our tool, we are in the process of conducting a user study, in which students use our animation tool to learn about buffer overflow and take pre- and post-assessment on the concept. Our goal is to make CS learning more accessible to diverse students, regardless of their background and age.

Liangge Yu - Poster Board 37

Quantifying Intraspecific Tolerance to Herbivory in Duckweeds

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Cara Faillace

Phenotypes, which are determined by genotypes, are the observable sets of traits of organisms in a population upon which natural selection acts. Thus, quantifying differences in phenotypes under a given selective pressure helps us to understand evolutionary outcomes. Our experiment examines the phenotypic differences in tolerance to aphid herbivory for 15 genotypes of two species of duckweeds, Lemna minor and Spirodela polyrhiza. For each genotype, we compare an experimental treatment with 10 aphids to a no-herbivory control. During the 2-week experiment, the number of duckweed fronds will be counted twice a week. At the conclusion, the number of aphids will be counted directly, while the final number of duckweed fronds will be counted from photos using ImageJ.  Using reaction norms, we will then quantify duckweed tolerance to herbivores. We expect that the number of duckweed fronds will differ between experimental groups and that genotypes will vary in their tolerance to duckweed herbivory. The results of this experiment provide information on phenotypic variability in duckweed genotypes of two species to insect herbivory, an important structuring factor in many plant communities.

Sara Zdancewicz - Poster Board 38

Characterizing the Drug-protein Interaction between Profilin and Anti-angiogenic Molecules, C2 and C74

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Andrew VanDemark

My research is centered around gaining insight about how the anti-angiogenic molecules C2 and C74 bind to profilin in order to improve rational design of a compound that prevents visual impairment after eye injuries. The healing of severe eye injuries is often disrupted by excess blood vessel growth, a condition called pathologic ocular angiogenesis, in areas like the retina or cornea and can lead to vision loss of the patient. C2 and C74 function as anti-angiogenic molecules by preventing the interaction of two proteins, actin and profilin. The profilin-actin interaction leads to formation of cytoskeletal filaments that aid in cell motility, which is necessary for blood vessel growth. Upon addition of the drug, these proteins no longer interact and filament formation lessens. Data supports the hypothesis that these compounds bind to profilin, and my research focuses on the quantification of the interaction, and visualization of the complex. Using various biochemical assays, I can determine the binding affinity of the protein and drug to use as a baseline of efficacy for future compounds. This allows us to find the best candidate for therapeutic use from future iterations. I will also co-crystallize profilin and the candidates to determine the structure of the complexes and identify key portions of the protein affected. By pursuing these questions, we gain a better understanding of the current compound efficiency and, using knowledge gained from complex visualization, can create future drugs with increased binding strength and potency to be viable therapeutics. 

Adarsh Mallepally - PowerPoint 39

3D Skeletal Muscle Constructs to Model Age-related Declines in Muscle Function and Regeneration

Swanson School of Engineering

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Fabrisia Ambrosio 

Engineering Sarcopenia, defined as age-related declines of skeletal muscle mass and functional capacity, often results in physical disability in the elderly. Traditional two-dimensional (2D) platforms remain the most commonly used in vitro platforms to investigate aging-induced phenotype changes of muscle cells. However, 2D models fail to faithfully represent the behavior of cells under in vivo conditions. By contrast, bioengineered three-dimensional (3D) organ models offer a unique opportunity to recapitulate muscle structure and function in vitro. The purpose of this study was to develop 3D muscle constructs to model aging effects on skeletal muscle. Utilizing 3D printing and soft lithography, we engineered polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) frames that enable 3D cell culture and provide uniaxial tensile force to induce the formation of aligned myotubes, mimicking aligned myofibril structure in vivo. We used muscle progenitor cells (MPCs) that were isolated from young (3-5 months) or old (21-23 months) mice to build young muscle constructs (YMC) and old muscle constructs (OMC) within PDMS frames, respectively. MPCs were embedded into hydrogels and induced for myogenic differentiation to form aligned myotubes. We validated our novel model by measuring twitch and tetanic contractile forces in response to 1 Hz and 40 Hz electrical pulses. Compared to YMC, OMC contained smaller myotubes and displayed a restricted force generation, which was consistent with well-established sarcopenic declines in older individuals. Overall, we propose that our engineered muscle aging model can be used to investigate mechanisms underlying aged muscle dysfunction and to evaluate the efficacy of therapeutic drugs for muscle repair.

Judy Zhang - Powerpoint 40

The Stigmatization of Menstruation in Spain: Causes and Consequences

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Sandy Calahorrano 

Despite the fact that women make up half of the world’s population, menstruation is consistently stigmatized in many nations, including Spain. Within Spain, several factors, including the influence of religion, education about menstruation (both the lack of education as well as the limited, biased education that does exist), and messaging portrayed in popular culture have contributed to the vilified lens through which menstruation is viewed. This perception of menstruation as a taboo manifests into very significant, tangible consequences. With conversations about menstruation being avoided, girls and women are left without sufficient knowledge of their reproductive health. This results in missed school and work days due to uncertainty on how to manage menstrual symptoms, the perpetuation of misconceptions surrounding menstruation that negatively impact both physical and mental health, and a lack of discussion and advocacy for the public health crisis of “period poverty.” The understanding of these contributing factors and consequences of menstrual stigma in Spain provides a framework with which to begin addressing the problematic perception of menstruation as a taboo. Additionally, the poems of Nicaraguan author Giocanda Belli have had great repercussions in the Spanish-speaking world, and an analysis of her poem “Menstruación” showcases the transition of menstruation from a taboo into a source of empowerment for girls and women.