Summer 2008 Research Projects

During the summer of 2008, Dimensions supported twelve faculty/student research projects.

Don Bladt '10
C.J. Ronhovde '10
Valerie Collins '10

Supervisor: Dr. Charley Liberko

Synthesizing Organic Dyes for Solar Panels

Bladt: This summer I worked at Cornell College with Professor Charley Liberko synthesizing organic dyes for dye-sensitized solar cells.  I worked on perylene monoimide derivitaves, specifically N-(2,6-diisopropylphenyl)-1,7-bis(pyrrolidin-1-yl)-3,4:9,10-tetracarboxylic acid-3,4-anhydride-9,10-imide.  Perylenes are conjugated systems of five hexene rings, and they were chosen for this project because of their excellent stability.
Ronhovde: This summer, CJ Ronhovde, along with two other students, did research with Charley Liberko synthesizing organic dyes for solar panel cells. CJ worked specifically on the three step synthesis for a type of dye involving an isophorone intermediate. This intermediate was finally achieved with reasonable purity and yield at the end of the summer.

Margot Brobst '11

Supervisor: Dr. Craig Teague

Synthesis and Characterization of Bimetallic Core-Shell Nanostructures

We focused on nanoscience by attempting to synthesize core-shell metal nanoparticles and binding Keggin ions in the form of phosphotungstic acid, PTA, to the outside of the nanoparticles to be used as UV-activated reducing agents and aiding in the further synthesis of core-shell nanoparticles. The fact that Keggin ions undergo stepwise multielectron redox processes without changing their structure allows them to be reduced photochemically and when exposed to aqueous metal ions (such as Ag1+ or AuCl41-) stable metal nanoparticles are formed, capped by the Keggin ions. This capping process not only stabilizes the metal nanoparticles but because the surface-bound Keggin ions can be reduced with UV light again, they can act as reducing agents for the development of thin shells of another metal. We will discuss attempts at synthesis and characterization of these materials. We were successful in creating a technique which enabled us to get fully reduced polyoxometalate and most likely gold nanoparticles capped with the Keggin ions, but, based on our experimental data, the formation of the full core-shell nanostructure remained an elusive goal. Further work will be done with this system in order to proceed with the synthesis of these materials.

Erin Witek '10
Kirsten Gierach '10

Supervisor: Dr. Jeff Cardon

Identification of Swarming Genes of Psuedomonas aeruginosa

This summer, we did research on Pseudomonas aeruginosa (P.a.) an opportunistic pathogen often associated with mortality in people with compromised immune systems, especially those suffering from cystic fibrosis. The goal of this research was to identify genes associated with the bacteria's swarming capabilities which may be related to virulence. We spent the summer learning and carrying out the procedure that is used to get to the point of identifying the genes of interest.

Chris Davids '10
Supervisor: Dr. Melinda Green

Body Dissatisfaction as Mediated by Body Objectification

Chris Davids completed psychology research with professor Melinda Green at Cornell College.  Chris focused on topics of eating disorders and body dissatisfaction, with specific areas of interest including body dissatisfaction as mediated by body objectification.  Chris spent part of his time looking at body dissatisfaction and biological responses through the use of EEG and ECG.  In July, Chris had his first article published as a co-author with Dr. Green entitled Femininity and Eating Disorders, which was in Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention.  Chris currently is collecting data on an independent research initiative examining body dissatisfaction as mediated by sexual orientation.

Chris Handke '10
Supervisor: Dr. Craig Tepper

Isolation of Genes that Control Phenotypic Plasticity in the Gray Tree Frog

Tadpoles of the gray tree frog, Hyla versicolor, demonstrate phenotypic plasticity in the presence of feeding dragonfly larval predators by developing larger, more colorful, and higher performance tails. This change in tail morphology allows them to better survive predation (McCollum and Leimberger, 1997). My task was to develop a subtractive hybridization protocol in order isolate and clone the genes responsible for phenotypic plasticity in tadpoles exposed to feeding dragonfly larvae. Successful development of the subtractive hybridization protocol allows us to isolate and clone double stranded cDNAs that are present only in tadpoles exposed to the predator. My research is still in progress, but I have successfully isolated total RNA, synthesized and purified double stranded cDNA from poly A+ RNA, and attached the adapters necessary for subtractive hybridization.

Sean Lehman '10
Supervisor: Dr. Cynthia Strong

Protein Chemistry of Copper-Zinc Superoxide Dismutase: In Vitro Experiments and Explorations of Metal-Binding Properties

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a neurodegenerative disease that usually causes eventual respiratory failure due to motor neuron death. Approximately 90% of all ALS cases are classified as sporadic ALS, meaning that there is no known cause. The remaining 10% of cases are classified as familial ALS, and of these, 2% have been linked to the gene for SOD1. This gene encodes the copper-zinc superoxide dismutase protein, an antioxidant enzyme which catalyzes the reduction of the superoxide radical (O2-) to hydrogen peroxide, which can then be further broken down into water and diatomic oxygen via hydrogen peroxidases. In vivo, metals bound to the wild-type protein are the catalyst for the reduction of superoxide, but certain mutants exhibit different metal-binding properties. In our experiments, we explored these properties through a variety of applications. We produced the L38V, D101N and G85R mutants in E. coli expression bacteria, and then purified the proteins using hydrophobic interaction and ion exchange chromatography. A new method of isolating protein from E. coli has been adopted, the periplasmic isolation via osmotic shock. This method provides large amounts of highly pure protein without the extraneous impurities seen when isolating from the media. Metals were removed from SOD1 via IDA-Sepharose ion exchange chromatography resin, as well as by the standard EDTA dialysis method. As-isolated and apoproteins were selectively titrated with metals to observe metal-binding via UV-Visible spectrophotometry. Results from these experiments suggest that proper metallation is possible under the correct experimental conditions. Future experiments will explore the relationship between conditions and metal-binding, and hopefully will unlock this key aspect of SOD1.

See-yin So '10
Genetic Testing on SIDS and SUDS

This past summer I assisted in research at the Molecular Genetics Laboratory in New York City’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME). I performed genetic testing on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and Sudden Unexplained Death Syndrome (SUDS) cases. The relationship between genetic variance in the nitric oxide synthase 1 adaptor protein (NOS1AP) and sudden cardiac death was the focus of this branch of the OCME’s research. The technical design of the experiment included DNA extraction, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), sizing and sequencing. Moreover, I tested 100 race-matched healthy controls. At the end of my three months, we had found 4 cases that had one of two missense mutations.

Chuck Hay '10
Arno Reichel '09
Damien Garza '12

Supervisor: Dr. Craig Tepper

Speciation in the Millepore Complex: What Constitutes a Species?

Since 1948 (Boschma), the fire corals Millepora alcicornis and Millepora complanata have been classified as two different species. However, the Millepores are phenotypically diverse and classification based on external morphological characters has proven to be problematic. Our lab is attempting to determine the phylogenetic relationship of these two species using ecological, skeletal microstructure, morphometrics and DNA sequence analyses. We isolated DNA from samples of Millepora alcicornis and Millepora complanata collected from various reefs surrounding San Salvador, Bahamas. We obtained DNA sequence from the ITS-1 and ITS-2 regions of rDNA and constructed a Maximum Likelihood phylogenetic tree. These trees support the hypothesis that taxonomic classification based solely on morphology may be misleading. In fact, the Millepore complex may be composed of two cryptic species.

Megan Michalski '09
Supervisor: Dr. Laurie McCauley, University of Michigan

Anabolic Effects of Parathyroid Hormone (PTH) on Bone Growth

This summer I performed research at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry, in the Periodontics and Oral Medicine research laboratory, headed by Dr. Laurie McCauley. While there, I studied the anabolic effects of parathyroid hormone (PTH) on bone growth, as well as the metabolic pathways that induce increased bone density and mass. My research focused on two separate projects. The first was flow cytometric analysis of bone marrow cells from wild-type mice treated with PTH or vehicle. This was performed to determine how PTH increases hematopoietic cell number, whether by anti-apoptosis or increased cell proliferation. In a separate study, bone mass was analyzed by histomorphometry of vertebrae and tibia in hematopoietic deficient mice which lack stem cell factor. This was performed to determine if stem cell factor present on osteoblast cells regulates the anabolic effect of PTH through binding to hematopoietic stem cells.

Vicki Levasseur '11
Supervisor: Dr. Barbara Christie-Pope

In Vitro Models of Neurodegeneration/Neuroprotection

Two separate experiments were conducted in exploration of the neurotoxic and/or neuroprotective effects of certain substances in relation to Parkinson’s disease (PD). In one experiment we treated brain cells, obtained through dissection of pregnant rats, with MPP+, a chemical that mimics the effects of PD in nonhuman animals. Previous research indicates that PD is more common in males as opposed to females, and that higher concentrations of MPP+ have a more damaging affect on brain cells. We found damage in some, but not all of our male and female brain cell cultures. We also performed Tyrosine Hydroxylase staining to see whether or not MPP+ affected the presence dopamine producing cells in isolated regions of the fetal brain and found expected results after a second attempt. The use of nicotine is correlated with a reduced chance of getting PD, therefore, in our other experiment we used a strain of cells known as pheochromocytomas (PC12) to explore the effects of duration and concentration of nicotine on PC12 cells. We did not find any significant effect of nicotine on the viability of the cells after performing cell counts, but a more rigorous analysis of the data should be conducted in order to confirm these preliminary observations.

Pierce Sweeney '09
Supervisors: Dr. Bob Black and Dr. Andy McCollum

Reproductive Biology of Ornate Box Turtles

During June and July of 2008, I joined the research group co-directed by Bob Black and Andy McCollum on the reproductive biology of ornate box turtles in eastern Iowa. We used a variety of techniques to study to reproduction of these turtles including the monitoring of the activities of female ornate box turtles using radio telemetry, daily searches of our study site for evidence of nesting and nest depredation, and experimentation with artificial nests that examined the cues that predators use to locate turtle nests.

Jay Welvaert '10
Supervisor: Dr. Richard Kraig, University of Chicago

Immunohistochemistry on Brain Tissue

During the summer 08’ I worked at the University of Chicago under Dr. Richard Kraig. My main project was performing immunohistochemistry on the four main types of tissue in the brain; neurons, astrocytes, microglia, and oligodendrocytes. Our immunohistochemical techniques were based on the fact that each cell type has unique qualities and that these unique qualities can be used to distinguish between the various cell types. I worked to develop a new “short” staining protocol that would speed up the time from harvesting cells to the time we ran PCR. We believed that this could lead to increased and easier detection of various cytokines that we were examining.