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Spring 2024 Research and Creative Fair Participants

This bi-annual event, held during the Spring and Fall semesters, is hosted by the Office of the Provost in collaboration with the Student Success Hub, and is open to the public. 

The Fair is open to all undergraduates, including those engaged in study within the  Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences,  STEM, and Health Sciences. While poster presentations are most common, projects presented in formats other than a poster will be considered. 

Note: students can receive Outside the Classroom Curriculum (OCC) credit for attending this event.

Use the menu below to view the the Spring 2024 semester's proposals!

Ilana Kersh - Poster Board 1

An investigation of comorbidities: an analysis of symptoms, quality of life, and poor health outcomes in patients with knee osteoarthritis and hypertension

School of Public Health

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Elizabeth Schlenk and Dr. Ada Youk

Approximately 25% of United States adults report having at least one comorbidity (Boersma et al., 2020). Defined as the combination of two or more chronic illnesses, comorbidities are associated with poor health outcomes, more difficulty managing illness, and more costly and timely methods of care. Osteoarthritis (OA) affects roughly 32.5 million US adults per year, with many of these adults reporting one or more comorbidities. This study examined 182 individuals with OA of the knee and hypertension to better understand the effects of symptoms and additional comorbidities on health-related quality of life (HRQoL). Using HRQoL and comorbidity questionnaires, a literature review, statistical analyses, and a correlational descriptive design, this study allowed me to better understand the quality of life, comorbidity patterns, and symptomology of those with OA of the knee and hypertension. Preliminary results indicated that anxiety, depression, and bone fracture are the most common and debilitating comorbidities in the sample (p<.05). Individuals with anxiety had SF-36 scores as low as 40.37, significantly lower than those without anxiety (p<.001). Joint pain, back pain, and fatigue were seen to be the most frequent and debilitating symptoms in the sample. There was a significant decrease in physical and mental quality of life (p<.05), with the lowest scores found in those with the above comorbidities and symptoms. This study has demonstrated that patients with OA of the knee and hypertension have comorbidities and symptoms that significantly decrease HRQOL, highlighting the implications of comorbidities not just physically, but mentally as well.

Diana Randall - Poster Board 2

Mentor ChatBot - BloomBuddy

School of Computing and Information

Faculty Mentor: Angela Stewart

The development of an AI mentor chatbot named BloomBuddy, utilizing OpenAI’s Assistant Playground, addresses the retention gap among women and underrepresented groups in STEM disciplines. Despite initial interest in STEM degrees being roughly equal across ethnicities at 18-20%, data shows a significant disparity as students progress through undergrad. For instance, 29% of Latino students and 22% of Black students who initially intend to major in STEM ultimately graduate with STEM degrees, compared to 43% of white students. This disparity persists even after accounting for various factors, underscoring the necessity for targeted support. Moreover, women, in particular, tend to begin with slightly less interest in STEM fields than men, emphasizing the importance of early exposure. However, for non-white women, additional retention efforts are crucial as the diversity gap tends to widen during undergrad. BloomBuddy aims to improve retention rates by providing tailored support and resources to underrepresented undergraduate students, thereby bridging the diversity gap in tech and fostering inclusivity and accessibility.

Dylan LeCroy - Poster Board 3

Developmental changes in local prefrontal circuitry supports maturation of working memory

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Finnegan Calabro

Adolescence is a period of significant maturation of cognitive control, supported through refinement of synaptic circuitry in prefrontal cortical regions. Plasticity in these regions, driven by ongoing synaptic pruning and refinement of excitatory-inhibitory neurotransmitter systems, may reconfigure local functional circuitry to support the emergence of adult-like executive functions. Here, we used data from a longitudinal cohort (n=162 individuals ages 10-30, scanned up to three times each at 18mo intervals, n=267 total sessions) with MRI and fMRI data acquired at 7 Tesla, to compute regional homogeneity (ReHo). ReHo provides a measure of the local functional connectivity across the brain. We identified widespread decreases in ReHo, including in prefrontal cortex, suggesting a sparsification of connections and increased specialization of functional circuits through adolescence. Decreases persisted after controlling for head motion, and were similar across neighborhood sizes of the nearest 7, 16, and 27 voxels. Interestingly, whole-brain ReHo values were significantly associated with developmental improvements in working memory performance. We will expand these results to include whole-brain voxel-wise assessments of age-related change, and consider associations with other indices of neurophysiological maturation (e.g., intracortical myelin) to supplement of primary findings so far. These results suggest remodeling of prefrontal circuitry through adolescence which supports the maturation of neural systems supporting adult-like executive functioning.

Eliana Brenner - Poster Board 4

APP and DNA damage in Alzheimer's Disease

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Professor Karl Herrup

Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is a neurodegenerative disease characterized by memory loss, communication difficulties, and cognitive decline. At the moment, there is no effective treatment for this devastating disease. Indeed, even the biological basis of disease pathogenesis remains uncertain. Aging is the greatest single AD risk factor and is thus a key component to understanding the disease. Several lines of evidence suggest that the accumulation of unrepaired DNA damage is a major driving force of aging. Data from mouse models with inhibited DNA damage repair mechanisms suggest that an important connection between aging and AD involves the amyloid precursor protein (APP). APP is best known as the parent protein of the β-amyloid peptide (Aβ) whose aggregation results in the amyloid plaque deposits that are a pathological hallmark of AD. Using a mouse mutant (Atm-/-) with defective DNA damage repair, I have shown that the increase in DNA damage in the Atm-/- neurons is associated with an increase in APP levels. A two-way relationship is suggested from comparable studies of mouse models of AD that overexpress APP. The APP overexpressing neurons of these mice showed an increase in DNA damage. Overall, there appears to be a relationship between APP and DNA damage that may help explain the age-dependence of AD and its accompanying pathology.

Niharika Welling - Poster Board 5

KX-6 is a Novel Inhibitor of Actin-Pfn1 Interaction in Tumor Angiogenesis

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Partha Roy

Angiogenesis is the development of new blood vessels from pre-existing ones. Actin and one of its binding proteins profilin1 (Pfn1) play an important role in driving angiogenesis. Binding to actin, Pfn1 is a small molecule that helps promote and regulate actin polymerization. When these interactions become unregulated, an uncontrollable amount of blood vessels can form leading to aberrant angiogenesis. For instance, when a body is invaded by cancer, excessive angiogenesis feeds the tumor cells with nutrients and oxygen allowing the cancer to spread. The inhibition of actin-Pfn1 interactions can impede the formation of new blood vessels, effectively halting the process of angiogenesis. The objective of the present study was to determine a novel small molecule inhibitor of actin-Pfn1 interactions in human endothelial cells (hmVEC). We have previously demonstrated that three novel small molecule inhibitors, C2, C74 and C74 H, impede the formation of new blood vessels in angiogenesis assays and reduce proliferation of human endothelial cells in vitro. Out of the three, C74 H showed the greatest efficacy without cytotoxicity. To try and improve C74 H’s efficiency, R groups on the backbone of the molecule were modified to create a set of new compounds to test. These compounds were tested in biological assays like angiogenesis and proliferation assays to evaluate their biological activity. They were also tested for cytotoxicity at different concentrations. This study has identified a new inhibitor that surpasses the efficacy of the existing ones called KX-6.

Nisha Kantesaria - Poster Board 6

Longer Sleep Duration Predicts Greater Increase in Self-Reported Happiness Following a Monetary Reward Task in Adolescents

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Brant Hasler

 Estimates suggest that upwards of 80% of adolescents obtain fewer than the recommended hours of sleep (i.e., 8-10 hours/night). Short sleep duration is known to be associated with decreased emotion regulation and increased risk for the development of mood disorders – however, the data are inconsistent with respect to how sleep duration associates with the processing of positive emotions specifically. The objective of this project was to examine how prior night’s sleep duration correlates with positive emotion changes in response to monetary reward in a sample of high-school age adolescents. Since the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) has been linked with reward processing (and reward receipt, in particular), we examined neural activity in this region during reward outcome as a mediator of the association between prior night sleep duration and change in positive emotion.

Matthew Lettieri - Poster Board 7

Correlation between Positive Airway Pressure and Medication Adherence: The Healthy User Effect

Swanson School of Engineering

Faculty Mentor: 

Despite the efficacy of positive airway pressure (PAP) for the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), adherence remains challenging and negatively impacts both therapeutic effectiveness and assessments of related outcomes. It is unclear if low adherence is solely due to intolerance of PAP, or if this reflects overall adherence with medical therapies. We sought to correlate PAP use with medication adherence to determine if poor adherence with PAP was specific to this treatment, or if it represented an overall global compliance with medical therapy.

Heather Diegert - Poster Board 8

Enhancing Robustness Against Adversarial Images: The Synergy of Debiased Models and Defense Mechanisms

School of Computing and Information

Faculty Mentor: Bill Garrison

Deep learning has become integral to various fields and applications due to its remarkable ability to handle complex data. However, its widespread use presents security risks, notably with adversarial examples: input intentionally crafted to cause the machine learning model to misclassify. Adversarial examples can lead to unpredictable model behavior by exploiting the natural vulnerabilities of the model. Previous studies highlight the importance of unbiased neural networks, which balance shape and texture considerations when classifying images. Neural networks with this deliberate balance between shape and texture bias are significantly more robust, making them less susceptible to adversarial attacks. This study aims to extend existing research by examining the performance of such neural networks against diverse adversarial attacks, particularly when integrated with traditional defense mechanisms such as adversarial training and input transformations. By evaluating the effectiveness of these amalgamated approaches, this research will offer valuable insight into strengthening the resilience of deep learning systems against adversarial threats.

Rohini Das - Poster Board 9

The Brain Web-App – a Novel, Personalized, Non-invasive App to Measure Learned Models in the Brain – Deployed to Quantify the Impact of Sleep in Consolidating Prior Learning

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Alon Baram

Despite the recent remarkable advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI), humans still learn orders of magnitude faster (Tsividis et al., 2021). Our brains have evolved to figure out hidden structures of problems and use this knowledge to generalize across similar problems, enabling complex rapid inferencing even when limited to sparse data (Behrens et al., 2018). Recent ground-breaking discoveries suggest that spatial relational inferences in the brain are based on internal representations of the world as two-dimensional cognitive maps (Moser et al., 2015). These internal models are supported by the neural mechanisms in the entorhinal hippocampal system including place cells and grid cells (Hafting et al., 2005). Moreover, these cells spontaneously recapitulate old and explore new spatial trajectories during periods of slow wave sleep – a phenomenon known as replay (Ólafsdóttir et al., 2015). Replay is known to play a critical role in consolidating the learned structure of spatial tasks and enabling generalization, a benefit that may operate below the level of conscious awareness (Liu et al., 2021). More recent studies in humans suggest that the mechanisms for constructing the spatial cognitive map may be examples of a more general coding mechanism capable of building cognitive maps covering any nonspatial or abstract domain (Behrens et al., 2018; Eichenbaum 2017; Epstein et al., 2022). If so, could rest or sleep – associated with replay – also preferentially facilitate the learning of structure in non-spatial abstract tasks thereby allowing superior performance for inferencing? How could one quantify the impact of sleep on inferencing in abstract tasks in general environments on a mass scale completely outside of lab settings without the burden of invasive or expensive apparatus?

In this work, I aim to answer both of these questions. First, I built a Cloud-native, software application, The Brain App, which invites users to play an interactive “Card Memory Game” with scheduled learning and testing phases separated by a time delay. In the testing phase, the app scores the users’ mental model of the structure of relationships experienced in the learning phase. Second, I employed The Brain App to measure learning among a cohort of 68 human subjects divided into two groups: the Diurnal (Control) Group vs. the Nocturnal (Manipulated) Group. The differences in the aggregate learning metrics between two groups provide the first-ever experimental evidence out of the lab environment that indeed, sleep facilitates the learning of structure in non-spatial abstract tasks with improved inferencing, perhaps giving some adage to the phrase “Let’s sleep on it.”

My work provides a general end-to-end framework for personalized non-invasive cognitive metrics to quantify learning in any human subject. The Brain App can be tuned to monitor cognitive health in a neurodegenerative patient or to track learning of arithmetic among elementary students. Uncovering the Code of Human Thought is one of the greatest scientific quests ever undertaken, and the current and future work with The Brain App will play a role in this quest to understand the basis of cognition and to help engineer cognition in artificial intelligence systems.

Gina Boito - Poster Board 10

The Effects of a Social Belonging Intervention on Depression and Anxiety Symptoms

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Thomas Kamarck

Disparities in achievement and opportunity between historically underrepresented college students and their peers continue to plague the American university system. Social belonging interventions have been shown to effectively improve many aspects of disadvantaged students' educational experiences, such as raising test scores and improving grade point averages. However, no studies to date have investigated if these interventions will also effect students' depression and anxiety symptoms. The present study will examine a cohort of students from the University of Pittsburgh (N = 132) that either received a social belonging intervention or control ice breaker activity during a Macroeconomics class. We will run two sets of linear regressions - one with anxiety as the outcome and one with depression as the outcome - for each intervention condition. Moreover, we will also compare symptomology between those with a history of childhood trauma and those without. We hypothesize that students who had received the intervention will report fewer depression and anxiety symptoms, and that childhood trauma will moderate the impact of the social belonging intervention on symptomology, in that the difference in symptoms between those who experienced the intervention and those who did not will be larger among those who reported having experienced childhood trauma than among those who did not.

Jacob Ponce - Poster Board 11

Understanding the Impact of Living Situations on Cognitive Health and Verbal Ability in Aging Populations

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Beth Snitz

Due to a rapidly increasing median age in the United States, social and environmental factors that affect healthy aging and cognitive function have emerged as topics for investigation and discussion. Very few studies have examined the association between living situation and cognitive health in the context of close relationships and loneliness. The present study cohort comprised 191 clinically unimpaired individuals currently living independently, selected from a total of 487 total individuals sourced from the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh. Participants were categorized based on their living situation- living alone (n =55 ) or living as married (n = 137)- which was separate from marital status and sourced from a demographic questionnaire. Participants qualified for the “living as married” status even if they were not currently married to their domestic partner. Likewise, participants qualified for “living alone” status if they were married but were not living with a domestic partner for any reason. The neuropsychological batteries included tests for verbal abilities (FAS, Animals, Vegetables), memory (Word Recall Delay), executive functions (Trails B), visuospatial skills (Benson Complex Figure-Copy), and a general cognitive assessment (Montreal Cognitive Assessment total raw score, uncorrected). We hypothesized that individuals living as married would demonstrate superior verbal processing skills, as assessed by the FAS, Animals, and Vegetables tests, without significant variations in memory, executive, visuospatial, and general cognitive functions. ANOVA tests conducted on the data reveal a significant effect of living situation on verbal processing abilities when controlling for age, sex, and education, with marked differences observed in the FAS and Animals tests, but not in the Vegetables test. In contrast, living situation did not have a significant relationship with performance in memory, executive, visuospatial, or general cognition.

Isabel Sichlau - Poster Board 12

The Impact of Maternal and Paternal Spatial Talk on Early Spatial Learning

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Melissa Libertus

Early achievement in spatial tasks is correlated with higher math achievement and adeptness for the STEM fields. Further, previous studies have shown that parent-child interactions play an important role in mathematical learning. This project seeks to investigate whether overall parents’ use of spatial language relates to their toddlers’ spatial skills and whether mothers and fathers differ in their use of spatial language. Additionally, I will examine potential differences in associations between parental spatial language and toddlers’ assessed spatial skills, between mothers and fathers. A majority of previous research on parent-child interactions effect on child spatial skills has focused only on mother’s spatial inputs. This project will expand the body of literature on spatial learning by including the influence of both parents.

Madeline Bozenko - Poster Board 13

Effects of α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor allosteric modulators and environmental enrichment on sustained attention and cholinergic neurotransmission after controlled cortical impact injury

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Corina Bondi

Enhancing acetylcholine (ACh) transmission after traumatic brain injury (TBI) may ameliorate cognitive deficits, especially when combined with noninvasive rehabilitation. We predicted that chronic NS-1738, a novel α7 nicotinic ACh receptor (α7-NAChR) positive allosteric modulator (PAM), will improve sustained attention post-TBI, alone and in combination with environmental enrichment (EE). Blocking α7-NAChRs with methylycaconitine (MLA) will attenuate the effects of NS-1738, confirming its mechanism of action. We also investigated effects of daily 4BP-TQS, a α7-NAChR allosteric agonist on sustained attention post-injury. Adult male and female rats were trained in the 3-choice serial reaction time task (3-CSRT) prior to right parietal TBI or sham injury. Rats were randomized to NS-1738 (5 mg/kg) or vehicle (saline), as well as daily EE (6h) or standard housing for 28d starting post-injury day (PID) 1. Male subgroups also received daily α7-NAChRs blockade via MLA (3 mg/kg) injections. 3-CSRT retrials occurred on PID 14-24. Medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) Western blots assessed cholinergic markers [acetylcholinesterase (AChE), choline acetyltransferase (ChAT), and α7-NAChR]. Microarray analysis examined serum inflammatory gene expression. Statistical analysis utilized ANOVAs with Newman-Keuls post hoc tests. TBI rats of both sexes exhibited impaired sustained attention (p<0.05) and ChAT disruptions in mPFC and basal forebrain, which were improved by chronic NS-1738+EE housing in male rats (p>0.05). Moreover, NS-1738+EE rendered an additive effect on lowering omissions and improving serum inflammatory markers (p<0.05). TBI groups that received MLA demonstrated a reinstatement of performance deficits, as hypothesized. Interestingly, injured male rats that received 4BP-TQS on re-test days did not display attentional recovery compared to vehicle-treated TBI rats (p>0.05). Our findings support benefits of a α7-NAChR type I PAM, as well as of EE treatment after experimental TBI on sustained attention and cholinergic neurotransmission.

Madeline Wolfe - Poster Board 14

Tackling the major Epstein-Barr virus oncoprotein, LMP1: Strategies to Encourage Knock-in using CRISPR/Cas9

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Kathy Shair

Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) is a DNA tumor virus with known associations to many cancers such as gastric carcinoma, Burkitt lymphoma, and nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC). NPC is a rare tumor of the nasopharynx endemic to Southeast Asia, and nearly 98% of global NPC cases (78,100 in 80,000) are EBV-associated. To understand why only some individuals with EBV develop NPC, we study the principal EBV oncoprotein, latent membrane protein 1 (LMP1). LMP1 is a critical virulence factor which contributes to virus reactivation and immortalization of the host B cell, and can be classified phylogenetically into 7 strains. Thus, LMP1 genetic variation may be a potential risk factor for EBV derived NPC. To mimic LMP1 variation in the lab, we will knock-in different strains of EBV using CRISPR/Cas9. In general, knock-in using CRISPR is efficient on the order of ~0.1%. To maximize the potential for a knock-in event, we first generated an EBV deletion mutant, ΔLMP1. Following knock-out and subsequent clone isolation, we deprived cells of G418 to reduce the number of EBV copies per cell. We tested two strategies for knock-in: electroporation with ribonucleoprotein (RNP) complexes or transfection of an all-in-one plasmid coupled with different drugs to encourage accurate knock-in. We find that RNP electroporation is the most efficient for knocking-in the different LMP1 strains. Upon successful isolation of LMP1 knock-in cell clones, we will be able to reactivate and infect additional cell lines to analyze all the EBV strains in the context of viral reactivation.

Audrey Smith - Poster Board 15

Canid Diets and Social Roles in Ancestral Maya Communities of the Belize River Valley

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Claire Ebert

For millennia dogs (Canis familiaris) have fulfilled various biological, functional, and companionship roles to humans. In the Maya lowlands, studies have explored human-canid relationships involving high levels of dog consumption, though zooarchaeology and epigraphic sources have suggested important ritual roles beyond food. This study explores the social role of dogs in the Belize River Valley from the Preclassic through Terminal Classic period (~1000 BC-AD 900/1000) via stable isotope analyses (δ13Cco, δ15Nco, δ13Cap). The results indicate a spectrum of diets reflecting differences in human-canid relationships through time. Preclassic (1000 BC-AD 300) dogs consumed lower proportions of C4 foods like maize, suggesting they likely lived away from human settlements. Dog remains from Classic ceremonial deposits typically have higher δ13Cco and δ13Cap values, suggesting purposeful feeding of animals for ritual activity. Classic period management may be linked with the increasing importance of dogs as symbolic ritual agents instead of food.

Sela Wyetzner - Poster Board 16

Caregiver Gestures: How do Caregivers use Gestures with their Babies and what Impact does this have on their Babies’ Communication?

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Danny Shaw and Jana Iverson

Gesturing reflects a speaker’s thoughts and can improve communication (Goldin-Meadow & Alibali, 2012). Adults use both symbolic (metaphoric, iconic, etc.) and non-symbolic (beat) gestures when speaking with other adults, and both types of gestures improve recall in listeners (So, Chen-Hui, & Wei-Shan., 2012). When caregivers communicate with their infants, they use more discrete and simple gestures, using less abstract gestures such as metaphoric and beat gestures (Bekken., 1989). Infants around the age of 5.5 months old are attracted to their mother’s faces when their mothers use touch and hand gestures with an expressionless face. Additionally, the infants engage in expressive behaviors (such as smiling and cooing) and eye gaze at their mothers’ hands and faces (Stack & Arnold, 1998). Typically developing infants begin using deictic gestures to communicate as early as 8 to 10 month of age (Behne et al., 2011; Ramenzoni & Liszkowski, 2016). All this considered, there is little research done on how caregivers use gestures with their babies, and the effect that this has on their babies’ communication. The goal of this study is to examine what kinds of gestures caregivers use with their babies, and how these gestures impact the amount that the babies communicate.

This study seeks to answer two questions: (1) Do caregivers gesture with their babies and do they use more adult-like gestures or infant-style gestures and (2) What effect do different caregiver gestures have on the amount that infants gesture and vocalize?

Participants included twelve month-olds (n=14) and their caregivers. Caregivers were instructed to interact with their infants as they normally would for 30 minutes, and the middle 10 minutes of this naturalistic observation were coded using Datavyu. First, all caregiver gestures were identified and coded into two categories: infant-style gestures and adult gestures. Infant-style gestures include points, shows, gives, reaches, and conventional gestures. Adult gestures include pantomimes, metaphoric gestures, iconic gestures, beat gestures, touching, and demonstrating. We also identified whether caregivers coordinated their gestures with speech. All infant vocalizations and gestures in response to caregiver gestures were identified.

Analyses revealed that caregivers produce both adult and infant-style gestures with their twelve-month-old children. There was a significant difference in the amount of these types of gestures used, with infant-style gestures being used more often (F(1, 26) = 30, p < 0.05). For the infant-style gestures, showing occurred more often than all other gesture types (ps < 0.05). For the adult gestures, demonstrating occurred more often than all other types of gestures (ps < 0.05). Caregivers frequently produced language while gesturing (about 50% of the time) and there was no significant difference in the production of language with adult vs. infant-style gestures (p > 0.05). When looking at infant responses to caregiver gestures, there was no significant difference in infant gesturing in response to adult gestures vs. infant-style gestures (p > 0.05). However, children responded with vocalizations significantly more when their caregivers produced infant-styles gestures than when they produced adult gestures (F(1, 24) = 4.975, p < 0.05).

Jessica Mackowski - Poster Board 17

Investigating the contributions of the PERK arm of the unfolded protein response to normal hearing and the cochlear response to excessive noise exposure

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Christopher Cunningham

Hearing loss occurs in billions of individuals worldwide, yet there are no effective biological therapies to restore hearing. Hearing loss frequently occurs due to damage to hair cells of the cochlea, such as by exposure to intense noise, aging, infection, certain chemotherapeutic drugs, and genetic mutations. The mechanisms by which hearing loss insults damage to cochlear hair cells are not well understood. Endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress is a common cellular phenomenon associated with many forms of hearing loss. Although little is known about the cochlear response, cells in other tissues activate the unfolded protein response (UPR), a phenomenon comprised of three distinct pathway, arms, in attempts to mitigate ER stress. Consistent with elevated ER stress, many forms of hearing loss involve upregulation of UPR-associated molecules. Here, we investigate the importance of the PERK arm of the UPR in normal cochlear function and after excessive noise exposure. To investigate the functional importance of Eif2ak3/PERK in the cochlea, we generated an inner-ear-specific conditional EIf2ak3/PERK knockout mouse (PERK c-KO). Using quantitative PCR (qPCR) we confirmed Eif2ak3 mRNA expression in wildtype mice. We observed significant knockdown but not total knockout of Eif2ak3 mRNA in the cochlea of PERK c-KO mice. We investigated the impacts of the PERK arm of the UPR on auditory function by measuring hearing thresholds of PERK c-KO mice using Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) testing, before and after induced noise induced hearing loss (NIHL). We found no significant differences in ABR thresholds between wildtype and PERK c-KO mice, potentially due to residual Eif2ak3/PERK expression in PERK c-KO mice. More investigation is needed to further analyze the function of PERK in the cochlea, the mechanisms underlying cochlear ER stress and the UPR response, and their implications in mammalian auditory function.

Haotian Yin - Poster Board 18

Examining the relationship between feelings of belongingness and homesickness

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Irene Frieze

Homesickness, characterized by discomfort or distress from separation from home, significantly impacts individuals' mental health, particularly among first-year college students. This study aimed to explore the correlational relationship between an individual's sense of belongingness and the intensity of homesickness experienced. We hypothesized that a stronger feeling of belongingness is associated with less homesickness. A total of 316 first-year college students aged 18 to 19 at the University of Pittsburgh participated in this study (n = 316). Homesickness was assessed through Qualtrics survey with the Homesickness Scale. Belongingness was assessed with both the Malone General Belongingness Scale and the Goodenow Scale, which adapted to the University of Pittsburgh context. The study conducted a Pearson correlation analysis to examine the relationships between students’ feelings of belongingness and homesickness. Results revealed that both measures of belongingness were significantly negatively correlated with homesickness, with the Goodenow Scale showing a stronger negative correlation (r = -.672, p < .001) compared to the Malone General Scale (r = -.603, p < .001). These findings are consistent with our hypothesis, viz. a stronger feeling of belongingness is associated with less homesickness. This study suggests that students who perceive a higher degree of acceptance within their university community are less likely to experience the emotional distress commonly associated with homesickness. Future suggestions of policy making within educational environments should prioritize to create a supportive, inclusive, and engaging communities to confront the challenge of homesickness and enhance the overall university experience for first-year students.


Su bin An - Poster Board 19

Effect of Caregivers’ Stress on Social Stress of Adolescents at High-Risk for Psychosis

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Leslie Horton

In the past two decades, researchers have dedicated efforts to identifying and evaluating individuals at clinical high risk of psychosis (CHR-P). Those at CHR-P are mainly identified by the presence of milder psychotic symptoms, such as unusual thought content, grandiosity, delusions, hallucination, and disorganized communication (Hasmi et al., 2021; Devoe et al., 2018). Within 2 years, 20-35% of adolescents at CHR-P may transition to psychosis (Addington et al., 2020). Among the myriad factors influencing the development of psychosis in youth, social stress, such as instances of stressful, negative social interactions perceived by adolescents, including tensions in personal relationships, social rejection, social hostility, and family disintegration, has emerged as a critical contributor. Previous research has indicated that repeated perception of social stress plays a pivotal role in both the onset and progression of psychosis, and can exacerbate symptom severity among youth at CHR-P (Bentley et al., 2016). Despite this importance of social stress, the effects of caregivers' stress on the social stress of CHR-P adolescents remain largely unknown.

The current project aims to fill in this gap by specifically examining the association between parental stress and parent-child interactions, and how these factors impact the social stress perceived by adolescents at risk of developing psychosis. It is hypothesized that: (1) adolescents with caregivers who have higher levels of stress will report lower quality of caregiver-adolescent relationships, (2) poorer quality of caregiver-adolescent relationships will be associated with higher social stress reported by adolescents at CHR-P. Based on these two predictions, it is further hypothesized that (3) caregivers with elevated stress levels would be associated with higher levels of social stress perceived by adolescents at CHR-P.

Approximately 42 adolescents aged 13-20, recruited for the YETI Phone Study at the University of Pittsburgh, and their parents, will participate in this study. Previously collected ecological momentary assessment data (EMA) will be used to measure the adolescents' stress. To measure caregivers' stress, the Parental Stress Scale (PSS; Louie et al., 2017), an 18-item self-report questionnaire will be utilized. Finally, the Parent-Adolescent Relationship Scale (PARS; Burke et al., 2021) will be used to measure the quality of parent-adolescent relationship, in the adolescent perspective.

This study bridges developmental and clinical psychology, psychiatry, and family studies, which may offer fresh insights on how caregivers’ stress have an impact on social stress of adolescents and contribute to developing therapeutic interventions that could alleviate psychotic symptoms and reduce transitions to psychosis among at-risk adolescents.

Krit Ravichander - Poster Board 20

Emma: The Peer-Tutor Robot

School of Computing and Information

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Erin Walker

In this pilot study, we investigate the efficacy of leveraging Emma, an AI-driven educational agent, to enhance middle school students' math learning experiences. Our approach focuses on refining Emma's dialogue patterns to engage students effectively while incorporating gestures to facilitate comprehension. Initially, we analyze Emma's dialogue, aligning it with middle school cognitive abilities and learning styles. Additionally, we explore the integration of gestures, initially through manual interventions and progressing towards automation. Employing mixed-methods research, we triangulate quantitative assessments of learning outcomes with qualitative analyses of student engagement and perception. By elucidating the impact of Emma's dialogue and gestures, this study contributes to the optimization of AI-driven educational technology, offering insights into fostering meaningful learning interactions in educational settings.

Peter Wood - Poster Board 21

Assaying Extracellular Matrix Gene Expression by Vertical Endplate Chondrocytes in 3D Hydrogel Culture

Swanson School of Engineering

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Peter Alexander

Intervertebral disc degeneration (IDD) affects over 50 million Americans annually and is a main contributor to lower back pain. Treatment options are palliative in nature before surgery is required. Currently, there are no existing FDA-approved therapies for the prevention or medical treatment of IDD.

This lack of therapies may reflect non-representative models to study disease pathogenesis and therapeutic interventions. Animal models are powerful tools for the study of IDD; however, mechanistic analyses still require reductionist approaches offered by explant and cells culture systems. Monoculture and transwell systems have long been tools for drug testing, but can often be too simplistic and have produced little in the development of effective IDD therapies.

Human cell-based microphysiological systems (MPS) are hypothesized to provide a stronger test bed for therapeutic testing by building better, more complete tissue analogs. An MPS to model IDD should include the three cell types of the intervertebral disc (IVD): the nucleus pulposus, annulus fibrosus, and the vertebral endplate.

The focus of this study is the vertebral endplate cartilage (VEC), which is involved in nutrient transport in the IVD and load distribution. The goal of this study is to improve an existing 3D model of the VEC, which comprises primary VEP cells encapsulated within photocrosslinked (PXL) methacrylated gelatin (mGel) in TGFβ3 supplemented growth medium under standard, normoxic (18% Oxygen) culture conditions.

In this study three changes were studied in the VEP model: (1) the addition of hyaluronic acid (HA) to a photocrosslinkable gelatin scaffold (mGel) for more physiological cell-matrix interactions, (2) the enhancement of TGFβ3 signaling by BMP6, and (3) culture in a hypoxic and low glucose culture environment to mimic the in vivo growth environment.

Malini Harinath - Poster Board 22

Characterizing the myofibroblast response to tension in vivo using the non-human primate model

Swanson School of Engineering

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Katrina Knight

Pelvic Organ Prolapse (POP) is the herniation of pelvic organs into the vagina [1]. Up to 50% of women will develop this condition during their lifetime [2]. POP is treated surgically via a sacrocolpopexy, wherein synthetic mesh is sutured to the vagina. While mesh placement mechanically corrects for POP, many women have reported complications such as pain and mesh exposure [3,4]. The etiology of mesh complications is likely multifactorial and recent research suggests that increased mesh burden and the host immune response may be contributing. The pores of most synthetic meshes tend to collapse and the mesh wrinkles when tensioned. This in turn increases mesh burden, defined as the amount of material (i.e., mesh) in contact with the tissue. Indeed, a previous study using the non-human primate (NHP) showed that mesh deformation characterized by pore collapse and/or mesh wrinkling led to mesh exposures [5]. An abundance of myofibroblasts surrounding meshes with high mesh burden were observed 12 weeks after implantation which is atypical of the normal wound healing response and a likely mechanism of pain for patients. The purpose of this project is to study the impact of tension in the presence and absence of mesh deformation on the myofibroblast response in vaginal tissue.

Kelsey Minter - Poster Board 23

Emotional Suppression and Framing Modalities Among Black Youth Exposed to Community Violence: An Exploratory Mixed Methods Analysis

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Alison Cuybah

Black youth are disproportionately exposed to violence, which can profoundly affect their mental and physical health. Understanding the diverse coping strategies employed by Black youth in the context of violence exposure is crucial for promoting their overall well-being. Emotional suppression and framing, compared to other coping mechanisms, remain relatively understudied, particularly concerning Black youth. This study aims to investigate how youth impacted by community violence frame and suppress their experiences. Additionally, the study seeks to explore the relationship between different types of framing and suppression and the levels of mental health symptomatology in the same youth. Emotional suppression and negative framing are commonly viewed as maladaptive coping strategies, and thus, they are hypothesized to be associated with higher levels of anxiety, depression, and PTSD symptoms. Conversely, positive framing is anticipated to be linked to lower levels of anxiety, depression, and PTSD due to its function as an adaptive coping skill.

Kay Bajpai - Poster Board 24

IGF-1- dependent changes in alveolar macrophages’ ability to phagocytose identified between germ-free and wild-type mice

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Rachel Gottschalk

Macrophages are tissue-resident innate immune cells that functionally maintain tissues in homeostasis and support host defense against invading pathogens. An organism’s commensal microbiome is known to contribute to immune health, and thus the absence of the resident microbiota causes systemic changes to various tissue environments where macrophages are present. Initial RNAseq data suggests that alveolar macrophages in germ-free mice have a pro-inflammatory profile compared to wild-type. Due to this, we are examining how alveolar macrophages of germ-free mice phagocytose comparatively, and whether there is a difference in how effectively germ-free alveolar macrophages clear out potential pathogens and inhaled debris present in alveoli.

Insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) and its receptors were pursued due to its high presence in wild-type mice and significantly lower concentration in germ-free mice. This was confirmed by a decrease seen in the ELISA of BAL fluid and literature evidence of a similar lack of IGF-1 in other tissues of germ-free mice. We hypothesize that a decrease in the ligand IGF-1 will diminish macrophages’ ability to phagocytose, as suggested by data showing the decrease of transcription factors, like CCAAT/enhancer-binding protein beta (CEBPβ), which in other contexts promotes phagocytosis in response to IGF-1 stimulation.

We are now connecting IGF-1 signaling to the homeostatic, anti-inflammatory profile of alveolar macrophages and are working to link IGF-1-dependent changes in transcription factor activity, like the corresponding decrease seen in (CEBPβ), to important homeostatic alveolar macrophage functions. Defining the differences in phagocytosis between germ-free and wild-type mice will provide insight into how microbial-dependent signals such as IGF-1 influence alveolar macrophage function and lung homeostasis.

Rachel Turkington - Poster Board 25

Mechanisms of metal nephrotoxicity: A review of recent findings

School of Public Health

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Alison Sanders

The kidney is vulnerable to toxic metal injury during the filtration, secretion and reabsorption processes requisite for excretion of wastes, solutes, and xenobiotics. Understanding the mechanisms of metal-induced kidney damage provides insight into the pathophysiology of kidney disease and the susceptible nephron segments. While metal nephrotoxicity is well-established, the mechanisms of toxicity for some metal(loid)s and metal species are still unclear. This review included updated mechanistic findings from research conducted between 2015 and 2023 that assessed metal nephrotoxicity. The metals examined included arsenic (1), bismuth (1), cadmium (6), chromium (1), lead (2), platinum (1), and uranium (1) as individual toxicants and as mixtures (3). The published studies examined new advances in biomarker discovery, toxicant transport in the kidney, effects of sub-chronic exposure, and novel devices and model systems for nephrotoxicity assessment. In vivo studies using rats and mice, identified consistent pathophysiological readouts for apoptosis, autophagy, damage to cell junctions, oxidative stress, and ion imbalance or dysregulation. Mechanisms of damage and the severity of injury were metal- and dose-dependent. The proximal tubule was the most prevalent target segment of the nephron for metal-induced injury, specifically by cadmium, lead, uranium, platinum, and mixtures that included these metals. Evidence also suggested that removal of damaged renal tubule cells can contribute to removal of metals from the kidney and reduce overall body burden, an important finding for population-based studies examining urine-derived metal concentrations. For example, cadmium exposure (singly and as a mixture) consistently demonstrated increased levels of urinary protein (e.g., albumin) excretion, as evidence of increased glomerular barrier permeability. There is a clear need to understand the metal-induced mechanisms of nephrotoxicity and key research gaps to be filled. Exposure to toxic metals is associated with adverse kidney health and function, yet effects of exposures during development and kidney formation are understudied. We also observed a lack of sex- or gender-stratified studies, particularly for metals like cadmium, arsenic, and platinum. Recent studies have begun to combat challenges in discovering the specific molecular and biochemical mechanisms, but longitudinal designs are necessary to extend this work to exposures to low doses and mixtures over a lifetime. Similarly, recent studies employing novel technologies such as the kidney-on-a-chip device can assess metal responses to glomerular endothelial cells and effects on kidney barrier permeability. However, approaches such as human kidney organoid models are needed to inform the 3D kidney environment and microvasculature. In the context of a shifting global environment, applications of these novel technologies would serve to inform chronic kidney disease of unknown (CKDu) origin where heat stress and toxicant exposures are concomitant.

Maria Egidio - Poster Board 26

The Effects of Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxal 5 Phosphate) Supplements on Oxidative Stress in Mesenchymal Stem Cells 

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Bridget Deasy

Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are multipotent, which means they can differentiate into many kinds of tissue, such as muscle and cartilage. The role of MSCs in the human body is the renewal, regeneration, and replacement of damaged or lost cells in connective tissues. Since these cells have a high proliferation potential and can differentiate in vitro, they are a promising future treatment for tissue damage caused by orthopedic diseases, injury, and aging.

However, oxidative stress threatens the health and longevity of MSCs. Oxidative stress is the natural accumulation of reactive oxygen species within a cell, and it disrupts signaling pathways in the MSC microenvironment. This hinders the regenerative abilities of MSCs, and leads to aging and cell death. MSC efficacy and function, which are important factors for the success of future therapeutic treatments, depend on a healthy microenvironment that is free of oxidative stress. There is evidence to believe that pyridoxal 5 phosphate (PLP), the active coenzymatic form of vitamin B6, can combat oxidative stress. While there has been much research on the effects of PLP deficiency in mammalian cells, not much is known about how PLP may affect oxidative stress in MSCs. PLP is a cofactor for metabolic processes such as the synthesis of glutathione, an essential antioxidant. Glutathione plays an important role in disrupting oxidative stress, and can potentially deter the onset of cell death. Therefore, there is evidence to suggest that PLP supplements may enhance the longevity and functionality of MSCs, increasing their efficacy in regenerative therapy. In this study, we found that short term treatment with PLP reduced cell death and increased proliferation in MSCS exposed to oxidative conditions. We will also present results of studies looking at the long-term effect of MSCs exposed to PLP for 6 weeks and the effect of PLP on in vitro aged MSCs.

Tiffany Fuentes - Poster Board 27

Methionine Restriction Improves Healthspan Without Affecting the Occurrence of Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Andrey Parkhitko

Metabolism of methionine and tyrosine in the body is negatively affected by aging, and restricting methionine consumption or targeting the levels of enzymes in the tyrosine degradation pathway (TDP) has shown to extend lifespan across different species. Moreover, we and others have shown that methionine restriction (MetR) has had several positive impacts in reversing age-dependent phenotypes to young states, improving health markers, and even suppressing tumor growth in mice. However, the effect of MetR started late in life to treat age-related diseases has not been thoroughly studied. In this study, we aim to observe the effect of MetR on the occurrence of Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH), an age-related disease that affects about 90% of men over the age of 80. To determine the effect of MetR on the development of BPH, we applied long-term dietary MetR or the TDP enzyme inhibitor, Nitisinone, to 18-mo old male and female C57Bl/6J mice. We then stained prostrate samples with the proliferative marker (KI-67), macrophage infiltration marker (CD68), and Masson’s trichrome to evaluate extracellular matrix deposition. Surprisingly, dietary MetR did not significantly affect or reverse the phenotype and occurrence of BPH most mice prostate lobes. Nevertheless, we did observe a trend where MetR prevented proliferation and reversed some lobes to young state, but it did not reach statistical significance. These findings indicate that MetR started late in life to treat BPH has little to no effect. Continuing to study and further understand the effects of MetR in the physiology of different organs will help reach the goal of finding therapeutic interventions for different age-related diseases that currently limited treatment options.

Rachel Lau- Poster Board 28

Vitamin D Promotes Skeletal Muscle Stem Cell Health by Interacting with Signaling and Metabolic Pathways

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Burhan Gharaibeh

Muscle cells regenerate via myogenesis, which is crucial to maintaining muscle mass and responding to skeletal muscle injury. Micronutrients have been found to play a role in maintaining tissue health and homeostasis in muscle cells, with one such micronutrient being vitamin D. Vitamin D is a type of fat soluble secosteroid that can be obtained endogenously or exogenously and is most known for its role in calcium and phosphate homeostasis. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with muscle-related symptoms such as muscle fiber atrophy and increased risk of musculoskeletal pain, which indicates it may have a role within muscle cells (Domingues-Faria et al., 2017). Satellite cells are a type of muscle stem cell that, with aging, lose their quiescence and tend to differentiate prematurely, which are events associated with a master regulator known as the Notch signaling pathway. These cells also express vitamin D receptors (VDR), and administration of vitamin D supplementation to human-derived myoblasts has shown increased expression of genes associated with Notch signaling, suggesting that vitamin D may have a role in the management of aging in satellite cells (Alfaqih et al., 2022). In addition to aging and regeneration, evidence suggests that vitamin D may also play a role in the regulation of mitochondrial function in skeletal muscle (Latham et al., 2021). Through both in vivo and in vitro methods, data has shown that vitamin D supplementation in older people has a direct link to effects that suggest a change in the expression of the main regulators of mitochondrial oxidation, such as improved ATP availability in cells, increased oxygen consumption, and increased resting energy expenditure (Salles et al., 2022). The effects of vitamin D supplementation on the physiology of skeletal muscles has been increasingly explored in recent years, yielding results with the recurring theme that vitamin D plays a role in cellular processes with a direct effect on muscle function and metabolism. However, the mechanisms underlying vitamin D action on human muscle tissue are still unclear, and further clarification may allow for a better understanding of its effects on the processes of muscle cell proliferation, differentiation and protein synthesis. In this poster, we will describe the current understanding of the role of vitamin D in muscle cells and explore future directions in examining the role of vitamin D in the aging of muscle cells.

Gunes Cinemre - Poster Board 29

Effects of vitamin B6 in age-related muscle loss

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Bridget M. Deasy

Muscle stem cells (MuSCs), also known as myosatellite cells or satellite cells, are self-renewing adult stem cells located beneath skeletal muscles that are dormant under normal conditions but activated to facilitate the regeneration of muscle cells when a muscle cell is injured. Vitamin B6 is a water-soluble antioxidant found in rice, nuts, raisins, cereals, salmon, tuna, turkey, and chicken with six vitamers called pyridoxine, pyridoxal, and pyridoxamine, and their phosphorylated coenzyme forms, and the most important one being Pyridoxal 5'-Phosphate (PLP). Vitamin B6 and its isomers have many roles, mostly as coenzymes, in carbohydrate, lipid, nucleic acids, and amino acid metabolisms, cell signaling, immune function, cognitive development, hemoglobin formation, and gluconeogenesis. Recent studies have shown that a deficiency in B6 vitamers can contribute to the development of sarcopenia, which is the age-related loss of muscle mass and strength. Many novel research studies and articles suggest several potential methods to explain the association between sarcopenia and vitamin B6: relating to PLP-dependent enzyme functions, protein synthesis rate in skeletal muscles, carnosine production, and satellite cell proliferation. Some studies show that vitamin B6 addition increases the activation of specific PLP-dependent enzymes, alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and glycogen phosphorylase. ALT is highly impacted by vitamin B6 deficiency and studies show that low ALT levels, due to low vitamin B6 levels, cause a decrease in the catalytic activities of many metabolic pathways. Glycogen phosphorylase, the activation of which increases with high vitamin B6 levels, provides more energy to muscle cells by breaking glucagon. Another way the studies show this association is through the production of carnosine, a dipeptide that is formed through a metabolic pathway that turns ornithine into carnosine using another PLP enzyme. Carnosine has several beneficial functions like pH buffering due to histidine amino acid and increased muscle glycogen levels which provide energy and it can also have anti-oxidant and anti-aging effects. Other studies show an association between an increase in carnosine and an increase in exercise performance. Some studies show that satellite cell renewal and proliferation decrease in a low vitamin B6 diet and vitamin B6 may play an important role in myogenesis as pyridoxal levels increase as more myoblasts differentiate. Other studies show that vitamin B6 deficiency leads to a decreased protein synthesis rate in the skeletal muscles of growing rats while vitamin B6 supplementation leads to increased muscle weight in the skeletal muscles of growing rabbits. Additionally, vitamin B6 may directly influence age-related muscle loss with its antioxidant function against reactive oxygen species (ROS) since increased oxidative stress is an important feature of age-related muscle loss. Here we will present the current understanding of the role of vitamin B6 in skeletal muscle function.

Sydney Gregg - Poster Board 30

Neuropeptide Release from s-LNV Leads to Uncharacteristic Time-Dependent Release from l-LNV.

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Edwin Levitan

Neuropeptides are released from clock neurons to control circadian rhythms and sleep. Previous studies have shown that neuropeptide release occurs from the somas of s-LNV clock neurons in the late night and from their terminals in the morning. However, the targets of this released neuropeptide is unknown. We used the SNPF1.0 probe to observe when this release occurred and where it was targeted to. Our results showed that release from the s-LNV somas was able to reach the l-LNV somas, but unable to travel the shorter distance and target the l-LNV terminals. This signaling from the s-LNV allowed for neuropeptide release within the l-LNV somas even during uncharacteristic times. Additionally, during the late day when neuropeptide is not typically released, this barrier between the cell body of the s-LNV and the l-LNV terminals seemingly disappears. This somatic communication plays a large role in regulating the duration of night sleep.

Jesse Kimball - Poster Board 31

Neuropilin-1 mediates signaling between sensory neurons and T cells

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Jami Saloman

Neuropilin-1 (NRP1) is a transmembrane glycoprotein found in both neurons and T cells that acts as a co-receptor for ligands vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGF-A) and semaphorin (Sema3A). NRP1 was originally discovered as a neuronal adhesion molecule that is important during development, and has since been identified as a receptor for class 3 Semaphorins. These Semaphorins were originally identified as axon-guidance molecules, and have since been implicated in immune responses. While past studies have investigated NRP1 interactions between dendritic cells and T cells as having a role in activation and proliferation of the immune response, our study aimed to uncover the role of NRP1 in interactions between sensory neurons and T cells. Co-culture experiments showed that a NRP1 knockout in neurons results in earlier activation, proliferation, and pro-inflammatory cytokine release.

Jui-En Lee - Poster Board 32

Discriminating Tumor Rejection Antigens Shared by Both Primary and Metastatic Tumors

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Robert J. Binder

Osteosarcoma presents itself most commonly in the metaphyseal plate of the long bones of the body and commonly affects adolescents and individuals over 65. Current treatment of osteosarcoma consists of chemotherapy and radiation followed by resection as a final option. This has been the standard of care for over 50 years and attempts to incorporate immunotherapy have been met with limited success. In addition to the primary tumor, metastases are also a concern for affected patients with the lungs being a common site. Our lab has previously shown a higher incidence of tumor rejection antigens within primary osteosarcoma tissue compared to other sarcoma types (e.g., liposarcoma). This is in part a result of poorer anti-tumor immune responses. Tumor rejection antigens were characterized using a novel algorithm, Differential Agretopic Index (DAI). Based off our prior findings, we investigated the extent of overlap of tumor rejection antigens expressed by primary (K12) and derivative metastatic (K7M2) murine osteosarcomas. Our initial experiments include developing tumor-specific CD8+ T cells, establishing the DAI -defined peptides for these tumors, and constructing appropriate tetramers to track antigenic T cell responses in vivo. These tools will allow us to examine the transformation of tumor rejection antigen landscape as tumors progress and metastasize and lead to novel cancer immunotherapeutics.

Eli Anish - Poster Board 33

Effects of "parental resetting" on infant reaching development

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Klaus Libertus

Parent-infant interactions are critical for healthy development. For example, object-focused interactions scaffold reaching skills during early infancy. However, the importance of parent-infant interactions for reaching development remains unclear. The current study examines the impact of task resetting – a non-verbal social exchange – on infants' reaching skill development. A total of 84 parent-infant dyads were observed weekly for 8 weeks starting around 3.5 months of age. Observations were completed remotely and included a 1-minute reaching task each week. Parents also completed the Early Motor Questionnaire (EMQ) at 10-month follow-up. Trained observers quantified parents’ engagement in resetting behaviors, the child’s latency to first object contact, and the child’s object exploration strategy. Parents were divided into “high” and “low” resetting tendency groups. Between-group comparisons revealed that infants in the high resetting group showed a significantly shorter latency to contact than infants in the low resetting group. Further, infants in the high resetting group showed steeper increases in touching proportions than infants in the low resetting group. At the 10-month follow-up, ANCOVA results revealed that infants in the high resetting group scored significantly higher on the fine motor and perception-action domains on the EMQ. Together, these findings demonstrate that parental resetting behavior may encourage the development of reaching skills during early infancy and have long-term consequences on subsequent infant motor development. Resetting behaviors may provide a new avenue for designing parent-guided interventions targeting reaching skills.

Nandini Rastogi - Poster Board 34

Mothers’ and fathers’ number talk to toddlers and associations with toddlers’ number skills

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Melissa Libertus

Parents’ math engagement in the home is important for their children’s math skill development prior to school entry (Daucourt et al., 2021). Both the frequency and type of parental number talk (discussions of number concepts) is related to children’s math performance (Levine et al., 2010; Gunderson & Levine, 2011). However, previous research exploring numeracy engagement in the home focused primarily on mothers of young children, and particularly those with preschool- and school-aged children. We aimed to examine how mothers and fathers use number talk with their toddlers, and how their number talk may relate to their toddlers’ number skills. In a sample of 124 children aged 2-3 years (M=30.8 months, SD=3.36 months, 52% female) and their mothers and fathers, we found that mothers and fathers did not differ in their overall rate of number talk to toddlers during semi-structured observations, t(123) = 0.13, p = .896. Additionally, mothers’ and fathers’ rates of number talk to toddlers were significantly correlated (r=.20, p=.029). Critically, there were associations between mothers’ rate of number talk and toddlers’ number skills (assessed as performance in Point-to-X and Give-N tasks), even when controlling for fathers’ rate of number talk (beta=-0.18, p=.055). However, no significant associations were found between fathers’ number talk and toddlers’ skills. These results may indicate that mothers’ number talk is more compensatory compared to fathers’, and more work is needed to understand how parents can best support toddlers’ early number skills.

Zachary Miller - Poster Board 35

Analyzing Vaginal Extracellular Matrix Surface Mechanics for Matrix-Based Pelvic Organ Prolapse Repair

Swanson School of Engineering

Faculty Mentor: Pamela Moalli

Pelvic organ prolapse (POP) is a prevalent medical condition marked by the descent of pelvic organs into the vaginal canal. Traditional POP repair relies on surgical interventions, often employing synthetic mesh implants, but concerns about complications such as mesh erosion, infection, and stress urinary incontinence underscore the need for alternative solutions with enhanced biocompatibility and reduced risks [1, 2].

Our current research focuses on utilizing vaginal extracellular matrix (vECM) hydrogel-encapsulated meshes to overcome limitations associated with traditional POP repair materials. Currently, the mechanics of vECM fibers remain poorly understood, posing a significant challenge in the development of POP repair solutions. The integration of hydrogels aims to alleviate the foreign body response and inflammation triggered by polypropylene (PP) mesh, thereby reducing the likelihood of complications. Exploring materials beyond PP could achieve higher efficacy rates. However, designing repair materials mechanically similar to native tissue is challenging without a more comprehensive understanding of vECM fiber mechanics.

Braylee Fetterolf - Poster Board 36

Analyzing patterns of disease progression in patients with LOPD

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Paula Clemens

Pompe Disease is a rare disease, and is also referred to as Glycogen Storage Disease II. It is characterized by a deficiency in the GAA protein, resulting in a buildup of glycogen in muscles. Ultimately, this leads to severe and irreversible muscle atrophy. The longitudinal observational study described in this paper investigates Late Onset Pompe Disease (hereby referred to as LOPD). Because it is such a rare disease, the disease pathology is still not fully understood. The study described in this paper follows 15 subjects who are enrolled in the Pompe registry (hereby referred to as the registry) with the purpose of learning more about patterns of disease progression. LOPD has a highly variable age of symptom onset. It was expected that lower limbs and muscles of respiration are particularly targeted by LOPD. This was supported by the subject data, though respiration weakness and lower limb weakness did not always occur equally or concurrently in subjects. Some subjects experienced severe impairment in breathing abilities while lower limb weakness was only slight, and others experienced the opposite. The biomarker Hex4 was also collected and analyzed in subjects. It was predicted that a decrease in Hex4 would correlate to decrease in symptom severity due to the biomarker’s ability to represent glycogen buildup. The subject data supported this claim. Antibody data in response to Enzyme Replacement Therapy (hereby referred to as ERT) was also considered, though no clear pattern was found between patients’ immunogenicity records.

Natalie Hancher - Poster Board 37

Tackling the major Epstein-Barr virus oncoprotein, LMP1: Strategies to Encourage Knock-in using CRISPR/Cas9

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Daniel Williams

Public spaces, although named as open locations for everyone, are often closed off to certain sectors of the population, namely the unhoused. This unapproving nature that society has of unhoused people can be seen in the hostile architecture of these areas. Hostile architecture, also known as anti-homeless architecture, is an urban design strategy that specifically targets populations that often rely on public spaces and attempts to restrict behaviors that society deems as “undesirable” in these public locations, including sleeping, skating, and other actions of these often marginalized groups. Some examples of this type of architecture are arms or other protrusions in the middle of benches, spikes, curved or small features you can only lean on, art made to take up space, among others.

To best map these features, I have created a Survey123 form so these features can be crowd-sourced and continually recorded. I ran spatial analyses with the use of ArcGIS Pro to identify hotspots of that specific architecture and places where amenities, like homeless shelters and assistance, would be beneficial. The city of Pittsburgh, although cited as a clean and safe place to live, has many faults and places for improvements. My goal is to point out the spots of weakness and recommend projects and things to implement in order to make the city equitable and livable for all.

Ainsley Kindred - Poster Board 38

Rescuing sustained attention capability in aged male rats using a combined therapy via α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor allosteric modulator and environmental enrichment after experimental brain trauma

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Corina Bondi

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) poses significant challenges for elderly populations, often exacerbating existing age-related cognitive decline. Pharmacological strategies that enhance acetylcholine (ACh) transmission may ameliorate cognitive deficits, especially in conjunction with noninvasive rehabilitation, mirroring clinical approaches. We have shown before that a parietal cortex TBI induces sustained and significant deficits of complex attention in young adult rats, males and females.

Tatyana Olevich - Poster Board 39

Audio and Visual Modality's Effects on Memory Consolidation

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Marc Coutanche

Retroactive interference is a disruption that occurs directly after an individual has been exposed to new information. Due to this event, individuals oftentimes have trouble recalling information that was previously learned. In the experiment, we tested how different types of audio and visual modality would influence memory consolidation. We hypothesized that the strongest memory consolidation would result from wakeful rest as a retroactive interference, followed by the condition with a full video including naturalistic audio. We presented participants with fractal and Dutch word pairings. The participants were then separated into conditions consisting of viewing an 8-minute video with either narration or naturalistic audio. Some participants viewed these videos on TikTok in segments and others viewed them without segmentation. The control condition was 8-minutes of simple wakeful rest. Participants were then asked to answer a series of questions relating to their ability in retrieving the placement of the fractal and Dutch word pairings. We predict that results will yield higher retrieval scores in the wakeful rest condition. Moreover, conditions with only naturalistic audio and a non-segmented video will result in higher retrieval accuracy when compared to conditions with narration and segmented video. This would suggest that viewing segmented videos with narration, that are similar to short-form videos that are commonly viewed today on a variety of social media platforms, results in poorer memory consolidation.

Florian Reihl - Poster Board 40

Digital Literacy among Returning Citizens

School of Computing and Information

Faculty Mentor: Aakash Gautam

Returning community members, such as formerly incarcerated individuals (who we call “returning citizens”), face significant barriers in their reentry. Adapting to a digitized society adds further complexity to their reentry journey. For instance, research has found that stable employment is a significant factor in successful reentry. However, as society becomes more reliant on technology, such as in job search, access barriers widen, exacerbating the challenges faced by this vulnerable population. To address the gap in digital literacy among returning citizens, we have been working with a non-profit organization to develop a web application to support digital literacy. Our system provides resources to navigate technology in everyday life, including managing finances using technology, and keeping oneself safe online. Our partner organization is using the web application, and we are currently evaluating their use, and iterating on it. The findings of our ongoing research will contribute to the field of digital literacy among marginalized groups, particularly its value in supporting empowered reentry among returning citizens. We are working on providing similar tailored services to other non-profit organizations in Western Pennsylvania.

Dylan Mathew - Poster Board 41

Analysis of a sleep enhancement intervention in those at risk for Alzheimer's disease: Links with memory and excitotoxicity

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Kristine Wilckens

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, with over 6 million people living with the disease in the United States, estimated to have cost the country over 300 billion dollars in 2023 (The Alzheimer’s Association). Difficulty sleeping is common in older populations, especially in those at risk for AD. It is driven by aging and neurodegeneration but also by changes in sleep habits. Older adults tend to spend excessive time in bed (TIB), leading to less efficient sleep, which can result in insomnia. Sleep has been shown to be a modifiable health behavior for cognition and deteriorates for those at risk for Alzheimer's disease (AD). Preliminary studies performed by the Wilckens lab confirm that TIB restriction increases sleep efficiency and slow wave activity (SWA) in older adults and suggest that interventions that increase SWA are associated with improved cognition.

In AD, the hippocampus displays excitotoxic hyperactivation, whereby the characteristic protein inclusion of AD, beta-amyloid protein (Aβ), accumulates and blocks glutamate receptor uptake. This leaves neurons vulnerable to further Aβ accumulation. SWA promotes synaptic downscaling and may thereby minimize excitotoxic hyperactivation. Downscaling of hippocampal-prefrontal connections through SWA may help to preserve these connections that support memory and may help to mitigate further Aβ deposition.

This study will address the question of whether habitually enhanced SWA through TIB restrictions can improve functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) indications of hippocampal hyperactivation and connections impacted by excitotoxicity, Alzheimer’s disease pathophysiology, and memory and cognition.

Olivia Carson - Poster Board 42

Increases in Genetic, Species, and Trophic Biodiversity Affect Invasibility of Duckweed Communities

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Martin Turcotte

The biotic resistance hypothesis proposes that greater biodiversity within an ecosystem’s native communities leads to lower invasibility, or greater resistance against biological invasions. However, biodiversity encompasses many aspects, such as genetic, ecological, and trophic diversity. These different aspects are often studied independently, but may interact within a community to determine its invasibility. Studying the effects of multiple aspects of biodiversity and their interactions on invasibility could provide insight into the factors that shape community responses to invasions. Using a factorial design, we created model communities of aquatic duckweed plants and aphids (insect herbivores), varying levels of genetic, species, and trophic diversity between communities. We invaded the communities with Salvinia sp., an invasive aquatic fern, and measured the change in Salvinia growth over the course of two weeks to determine which community composition posed the most resistance to the invader. Preliminary results show that increasing genetic and species diversity among the duckweed communities resulted in a decrease in invader growth, while increasing trophic diversity with the addition of aphids resulted in an increase in invader growth. These results indicate that multiple aspects of biodiversity are responsible for shaping a community’s response to invasions, and that understanding the interactions between different aspects of biodiversity is critical to identifying the characteristics that promote effective community resistance to invasive species.

Dominique DiDomenico - Poster Board 43

Body Exposure and Disordered Eating: Are Young Adult Women with More Frequent Body Exposure Avoidance During Sexual Activity More Likely to Engage in Purging Behaviors?

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Sophia Choukas-Bradley

The current research proposal investigates the association between body consciousness during sexual activity and purging behaviors in young adult women. Building on existing literature linking disordered eating to psychological distress, this paper addresses a gap by specifically examining the role of body exposure avoidance during sex in the engagement of purging behaviors among young adult women. Grounded in objectification theory, anxiety surrounding the appearance of one’s body during sexual activity is explored through self objectification, which may precede the onset of purging behaviors. Utilizing data from Project DAISY, this study employs the Body Exposure During Sexual Activity Questionnaire (BESAQ) and the Eating Pathology Symptoms Inventory (EPSI). An initial linear regression analysis explores the connection between body consciousness during sexual activity and purging behaviors, with additional analyses considering variables such as depression, hopelessness, and sexual assault. The proposal aims to contribute insights into this nuanced relationship.

Danny Bui - Poster Board 44

TCER-1 Coordinates Immunity and Reproduction through Modulation of Lipid Metabolism

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Arjumand Ghazi

The mutually detrimental impacts of fertility and immune function are long-observed patterns in diverse organisms. Yet, the mechanisms linking these two conserved and energy-intensive processes are poorly understood and difficult to unravel in complex, slow-reproducing animals. Previously, our lab discovered that TCER-1, homologue to human Transcription Elongation & Splicing Factor 1 (TCERG1), links reproductive fitness to innate immunity in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. tcer-1 mutants exhibit impaired fertility but enhanced innate immunity against the human opportunistic pathogen, Pseudomonas aeruginosa strain PA14 (PA14). In this study, we have focused on the mechanisms by which TCER-1/TCERG1 performs these diverse roles. Our lab’s preliminary studies indicate that for both repressing immunity and enhancing reproductive health, TCER-1/TCERG1 modulates aspects of lipid metabolism. Using a multi-omic approach of RNAseq and lipidomics, we identified lipid-metabolic genes and lipid species whose levels are altered specifically in the TCER-1/TCERG1 in the maternal and embryonic tissues. Based on these genome-scale analyses, we investigated the in vivo expression and function of two TCER-1/TCERG1-regulated, lipid-metabolic genes during PA14 infection, mxl-3 and lbp-1, which were predicted to be decreased and increased in expression, respectively.

mxl-3 encodes a conserved MAX-like transcriptional repressor of lipolytic gene expression, whereas, lbp-1 encodes an extracellular lipid chaperone. Interestingly, fluorescent imaging revealed that upon PA14 infection, mxl-3 expression decreases in the nuclei of intestinal cells, which are primary immune sites, while lbp-1 expression showed minimal change. Surprisingly, loss of function mutants of both genes exhibited increased survival during PA14 infection, indicating a complex, dynamic relationship.

Our previous studies have also shown that the loss of TCER-1 reduces egg viability especially upon maternal PA14 infection. Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry revealed that absence of TCER-1, especially during maternal infection, leads to deficiency in the embryos of essential fatty acids crucial for the permeability barrier development of the eggshell. Using BODIPY dye exposure, we found that eggshell defects occur predominantly in TCER-1-deficient, PA14-infected mothers. In summary, our results indicate that TCER-1 alters aspects of lipolysis to modulate immune response and boosts reproduction by ensuring essential fatty acids are available for eggshell development, especially under stress. These findings suggest new research paths for understanding health balance in organisms across the lifespan.

Stephany Andrade - Poster Board 45

From Policy to Practice: Evaluating Educational Support for Immigrant Families in Pittsburgh

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Philandra Smith

The objective of this study is to observe the vagueness of legislative documents in education and their effects on immigrant families. This study aims to dissect complicated implications within specifically The Individuals with Disability Act (IDEA), 504 plans, and English Language Learners legislation (ELL) and rights to focus on the resources presented to immigrant parents to adequately support their children as students. The purpose of this study is to specifically analyze the dissection and implementation of legislation within school districts based on IDEA, 504 Plans, and ELL legislation specifically in the Pittsburgh region. Contrary to existing pieces of literature focused on similar questions and factors, this study attempts to take pre-existing studies and research from the macro level to the micro level by focusing on central regions in the city of Pittsburgh. Specifically, Pittsburgh serves as an exemplary region of study due to the city's history with redlining as a part of The Federal Housing Act of the 1930s in addition to its long-lasting effects on Pittsburgh communities. In particular, this study will focus on key areas such as Homewood, The Hill District, and The Strip District. Similar to the work of Henry Prada–who analyzes the experiences of Latin and Caribean parents in navigating special education in Ontario, Canada–this study will use the tenets of Disability Critical Race Theory (DisCrit) in addition to the framework of Critical Race Theory (CRT). In addition to the presented theoretical frameworks, this study will analyze results and proposed solutions through a lens of culturally responsive teaching as proposed by authors like Dr. Bettina L. Love and bell hooks. This mixed-method study will be structured on collecting qualitative data through GIS mapping to uncover the racial demographics of school districts and special education programs as well as qualitative data through interviews conducted with parents and teachers. In acquiring data for this study, statistically, this study will collect data based on the general population of observed schools compared to the racial demographic and the representation in special education. As an extension to existing pieces of literature, this study will apply the findings and theoretical frameworks to the parameters of the city of Pittsburgh and how existing findings reflect in a condensed metropolitan area through the observation of qualitative and quantitative data. The process of attaining qualitative data will include the recording and transcription of interviews as well as the data analysis of observed patterns while practicing effective anonymity and pseudonyms. It is hoped that the results of this study will highlight the potential flaws in the descriptions and wording of legislation in special education. Through the observations of collected data, it is anticipated that this study will prompt how to move forward with the understanding gained from the conduction of this research project.

Madison Hartman - Poster Board 46

Rasing Awareness of Empathy through the Discovery of a Holocaust Survivor

School of Education

Faculty Mentor: Dr. William Clark

The study looked at the impact of Digital Holocaust Learning using 21st century technologies that make Holocaust education a vital part of the overall instruction in schools. The researchers share how they addressed Holocaust education and engaged students from three points of interest. First, they conducted a literature review to learn what approaches to Holocaust education are currently being implemented and what success has been encountered. Second, they engaged students across the globe in a digital discussion of the book and the play. Third, they conducted a survey of participants who engaged in not only reading a book but also watching the play of a Holocaust survivor. Students felt more empathy towards the Holocaust and found that this method of delivery for education material enhanced their empathy by having discussion with fellow peers from around the globe. 

Danielle Bouchard - Poster Board 47

The British Colonial Perspective on Animal Consciousness in Contact with Australia

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Amy Murray Twyning

The Victorian period saw a shift in the thought about animal consciousness. As they grappled with Darwinian revelations, they simultaneously attempted to reinstitute old hierarchies in which humans were distinct from the natural world. My interest is how changing ideas about animal consciousness coincide with the establishment of the British colonial project of Australia, especially how constructions of animal consciousness relate to colonial discourse about Otherness. The Australian landscape confronts British settlers with a fauna that challenges their developing ideas of animals, especially animals they deem “exotic.” Additionally, the thousand years’ history of the existing Aboriginal perspective in Australia collides with the introduction of the British perspective. The impact of the new British colonial penal project in Australia marks an interesting context for the development of the ideas of animal consciousness. Indigenous Australian people’s ideas about animals confront the Victorian predilection to taxonomize and hierarchize. This is evident in British travel writing of the period.

Studying little-known travel writing of the period, this paper will examine how all different perspectives on animal consciousness collide and interact in 19th-century Australia. Australia’s position as a penal colony of the British Empire informs the perspectives that emerge from the region, along with the perspectives of the occupying British colonial power.

Jessica John - Poster Board 48

Identifying whether deletion of the TRPS1 gene in the osteoblast impacts osteoclasts in trabecular bone

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Dobrawa Napierala

There are people with Trichorhinophalangeal Syndrome (TRPS), which is caused by a mutation in the TRPS1 gene. People with TRPS have low bone mass and may have osteopenia (the loss of mineral density that weakens bones) and osteoporosis (severely decreased bone density and mass) early in life. There are two main types of therapies to treat osteoporosis: anabolic and antiresorptive therapies. The anabolic therapy promotes bone formation by stimulating osteoblast function, which are cells that lay down new bone during skeletal development and homeostasis. The antiresorptive therapy inhibits function of osteoclasts, cells that resorb bone. The research I participated in is part of a larger project that aims to determine the causes of bone disease in people with TRPS - whether it is the overactivation of the osteoclasts or not enough/impaired function of the osteoblasts. With this information, we may be able prescribe the right therapy for TRPS patients. To identify the mechanisms of the low bone mass in TRPS patients, we used genetically modified mice, in which we deleted the Trps1 gene is osteoblasts (Trps1 cKO mice). We used 6 male mice of which 3 were wildtype controls and 3 were Trps1 cKO. We also used 6 female mice in which 3 were wildtype and 3 Trps1 cKO. We analyzed the chondro-osseous junction and the trabecular region of the femur in these mice. My contribution to this project was to analyze if there are any differences in the number and activity of osteoclasts between wildtype and Trps1 cKO mice. For that, all femur histological sections were TRAP stained (a marker for osteoclasts) in order to see the bone and osteoclasts easily. Then, we used the Bioquant Osteo software to outline the bone and osteoclasts that surround the bone. This calculated the number of osteoclast per bone surface and the osteoclast surface per bone surface. The results were that there was no statistical difference of osteoclast surface and number per bone surface between the wildtype and Trps1 cKO mice. Because these are preliminary data, we will do more analyses of osteoclasts before we make conclusions about their involvement in TRPS bone disease. However, most of our focus will be on osteoblasts.

Vidya Surti - Poster Board 49

Repairing Societal Inflammation: The Mr. Roboto Project (A DIY Music Venue) as a Pain Clinic

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Tomas Matza

This ethnographic study explores the Mr. Roboto Project, a DIY music venue in Pittsburgh's Penn-Garfield community, as a nuanced site of repair for inflammation, capitalism, and community inclusivity. Grounded in auto-ethnographic analysis, participant observation, and spatial ethnographic methods, the research navigates the intricate dynamics of inclusion and exclusion within the venue's commitment to a "welcoming space for everyone." Encounters with individuals reveal the interplay of anti-capitalist and capitalist ideologies, challenging traditional notions of exclusion. Barriers at the entrance paradoxically contribute to an inclusive and immersive environment, facilitating conversation with spatial boundaries. Utilizing anthropological theories of embodiment, space, and place, the ethnography depicts the Mr. Roboto Project as a dynamic space of collective effervescence during musical performances, functioning as a therapeutic enclave against societal and individual ailments. However, this repair is not without contention. The study delves into community dynamics beyond concerts, uncovering instances of attempted exclusion and tensions between democratic ideals and observed disparities in practice. The negotiation between anti-capitalist DIY principles and pragmatic community governance is scrutinized.

In the face of societal and individual inflammation, the embodiment within Mr. Roboto Project emerges as a spatial and historical avenue of repair, providing solace and belonging. Collisions of motives, socioeconomic boundaries, and personal histories within the DIY venue offer insights into the intricate dance of inclusion and exclusion, combining embodied senses to elucidate its therapeutic abilities. Embracing disharmony, the venue stands as a testament to the possibilities of repair, where a polyphony of voices converges, clashes, and harmonizes, creating a vibrant and ever-evolving cultural landscape.

Jasmine Deleon - Poster Board 50

Male meiotic spindle poles are stabilized by TACC3 and cKAP5/chTOG differently from female meiotic or somatic mitotic spindles in mice.

College of General Studies

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Gerald Schatten

Transforming acidic acid coiled-coil protein 3 (TACC3) and cytoskeleton associated protein 5 (cKAP5; or colonic hepatic tumor overexpressed gene, chTOG) are vital for spindle assembly and stabilization initiated through TACC3 Aurora-A kinase interaction. Here, TACC3 and cKAP5/chTOG localization with monospecific antibodies is investigated in eGFP-centrin-2- expressing mouse meiotic spermatocytes. Both proteins bind spermatocyte spindle poles but neither kinetochore nor interpolar microtubules, unlike in mitotic mouse fibroblasts or female meiotic oocyte spindles. Spermatocytes do not display a liquid-like spindle domain (LISD), although fusing them into maturing oocytes generates LISD-like TACC3 condensates around sperm chromatin but sparse microtubule assembly. Microtubule inhibitors do not reduce TACC3 and cKAP5/chTOG spindle pole binding. MLN 8237 Aurora-A kinase inhibitor removes TACC3, not cKAP5/chTOG, disrupting spindle organization, chromosome alignment, and impacting spindle pole γ-tubulin intensity. The LISD disruptor 1,6-hexanediol abolished TACC3 in spermatocytes, impacting spindle bipolarity and chromosome organization. Cold microtubule disassembly and rescue experiments in the presence of 1,6-hexanediol reinforce the concept that spermatocyte TACC3 spindle pole presence is not required for spindle pole microtubule assembly. Collectively, meiotic spermatocytes without a LISD localize TACC3 and cKAP5/chTOG exclusively at spindle poles to support meiotic spindle pole stabilization during male meiosis, different from either female meiosis or mitosis.

Maya Jones - Poster Board 51

Research, design, and construction of an 18th century Versailles court gown

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Karen Gilmer

Versailles is synonymous with extravagance and excess, especially in the period Marie-Antoinette reigned. She is especially notorious for the huge sum she spent on her wardrobe, and I wanted to learn how deserved that notoriety was. For this project, I took a deep dive into the court fashions of Versailles in the 18th century, drawing from paintings, fashion plates, extent garments, and historical patterns to design and construct my own court-appropriate gown. In the process, I also researched how the end of the sumptuary laws, the birth of fashion magazines, and the competitive silk industry contributed to the creation of the fashion industry as we know it today, complete with fast-fashion trends and a thriving second-hand clothing industry. This research informed the decisions I made in creating the dress, deepening my understanding of the trends of the period in order to be able to create something that is both historically accurate and a totally new design. The gown is made from silk taffeta and supported by undergarments made of cotton, silk, linen, steel hooping wire, and synthetic whalebone. It is currently on display at Hillman Library.

Jaden Philips - Poster Board 52

Analysis of the Inverse Faraday Effect in Gold Nanocylinders

Swanson School of Engineering

Faculty Mentor: Hrvoje Petek

We present an overview of the scientific and mathematical principles behind the creation of magnetic fields in microscopic discs using circularly polarized light, also called the Inverse Faraday Effect. The strength and temporal properties of this generated magnetic field will be analyzed using the Faraday Effect. We provide a scientific explanation of both effects and explain preliminary data based on current and previous research. Finally, we consider possible applications for this generated magnetic field in spin-based electronics and for investigating hypothetical particles beyond the Standard Model that may act as a component for dark matter.

Ashlynn Moretti - PowerPoint 1

Genetic and species richness interact to influence invasibility within experimental aquatic plant communities

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Martin Turcotte/ Taylor Zallek

Understanding the aspects of native communities that reduce their susceptibility to invasion (or invasibility) could help us create more resilient communities. Many researchers have focused on how ecological factors influence communities’ invasibility (such as resident species identity and diversity), while few have integrated genetic factors. Genetic factors, such as resident genotypic identity and genetic diversity, could be important for determining invasibility. Specific genotypes may deter invasions better than others or genotypes may interact in non-additive ways to competitively exclude invasions. In a series of replicated experimental invasions, we tested how ecological and genetic factors of native floating aquatic plant communities (Lemna minor and Spirodela polyrhiza) interact to impact their invasibility when experimentally invaded by a non-native aquatic fern, Salvinia sp. By varying the number of genotypes and species of invaded communities, we found that single-species residents decrease in invasibility with increasing genetic diversity while multi-species communities increase in invasibility with increasing genetic diversity. This implies that there could be antagonistic interactions between ecological and genetic factors that should not be overlooked when considering experimental tests of invasibility and conservation strategies.

Emaya Anand - PowerPoint 2

Cortical Evoked Responses are Modulated by Masker Intelligibility

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Barbara Shinn-Cunningham

Non-energetic competition between target and masking sounds in cocktail party environments profoundly affects speech understanding outcomes. We sought to investigate the impact of background sounds on selective attention when the competing sounds have the same spectrotemporal properties but different perceptual intelligibility. Fifteen normal hearing participants, seated in a sound-attenuating booth, participated in an auditory oddball detection task. Subjects listened to a background stream of masking words being interjected with a set of target words, being tasked to detect target color words amongst distracting object words in the interjecting set. The masking stream was either intelligible or spectrotemporally scrambled and was either spoken by the same talker as the target or a different talker. 32-channel EEG was measured during the task. We analyzed event-related potentials (ERPs) to target onsets in the four conditions. Subjects performed significantly better with a different talker and a spectrotemporally scrambled masker. We hypothesized that N1-P2 amplitudes would be larger in scrambled conditions, and P300 responses would have shorter latencies. We observed differences in N1-P2 amplitudes, but we noticed emerging differences in late latency response for scrambled masker conditions. These data trends suggest that non-energetic masking is related to later latency recognition responses, reflecting cognitive demand rather than acoustic responses.

Hannah Ribblett - PowerPoint 3

BRIDGE to Independence for Students in Special Education

School of Education

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Elaine Wilson

The session highlights the Building BRIDGE[s] Curriculum (BBC) peer mentorship program. The BBC emphasizes authentic learning by utilizing co-teaching and peer mentoring when developing and implementing lessons for transition-age students with disabilities (ages 18-21). Participants will learn how peer mentoring can be a valuable tool in pre-service teacher education.

Yali Beit-Arie - PowerPoint 4

Is College Worth It?: Perceptions of the Value of Higher Education Among Undergraduate University Students

Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Robert Slammon

The purpose of this study is to investigate undergraduate students’ perceptions about the value of a university education. In particular, it will seek to evaluate whether and to what extent perceptions vary by student debt and generation status of students. The study will be a qualitative analysis of data drawn from in-depth interviews with undergraduate students from the University of Pittsburgh. It will ask how students perceive the value and purpose of college, and whether the amount of debt and/or first-generation status correlates with differences in students’ views. The study will collect additional information to explore the role that other factors may play in students’ views on the value of a university education, including family socioeconomic status, area of study, career plans, year in school, and obstacles faced.


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