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8th Annual Graduate Student Research Symposium Winners

The Office of Graduate Studies is proud to announce the winners of the 8th Annual Graduate Student Research Symposium. Please join with us in congratulating these students!

Arts & Humanities

Title: Music Ensemble Participation: Personality Traits and Musical Experience
Author: Tracy Torrance, Jennifer Bugos
Major Professor: Jennifer Bugos
College: College of Arts and Sciences (CAS)
Program: Music Education

The purpose of this study is to explore the relationships between personality type, music ensemble choice, instrument choice, and musical experience in young adults. Our research focused on the following questions: 1) What is the relationship between personality type and ensemble choice? and 2) How do personalities differ across age and musical experience? Participants (n=137; 68 instrumentalists, 69 vocalists) completed a demographic survey and the Big Five Personality Inventory. Results of a MANCOVA shows significantly higher levels of Extroversion by vocalists compared to instrumentalists, F(135) = 5.71, p= .018. However, mean personality scores by section show high levels of Extroversion in percussionists, similar to vocalists, suggesting that extroverted individuals are more likely to choose percussion or voice as their primary instrument.

Behavioral Sciences

PictureTitle: Influence of Pharmacological Manipulations of NMDA and Cholinergic Receptors on Working versus Reference Memory in a Dual Component Odor Span Task
Author(s): Savannah Dalrymple, David MacQueen, David J. Drobes
Major Professor: David Diamond
College: College of The Arts (AS)
Program: Psychology

Developed as a tool to assess working memory capacity in rodents, the odor span task (OST) has significant potential to advance drug discovery in animal models of psychiatric disorders. Prior investigations indicate OST performance is impaired by systemic administration of NMDA-r antagonists and is sensitive to cholinergic manipulations. The present study sought to determine if an impairment in OST performance can be produced by systemic administration of the competitive NMDA-r antagonist CPP (3, 10, 17 mg/kg i.p.) in a unique dual-component variant of the OST, and whether this impairment is ameliorated by nicotine (0.75 mg/kg i.p.). Male Sprague Dawley rats were trained on a 24-trial 2-comparison incrementing non-matching to sample OST that contained a concurrent 2-comparison olfactory reference memory (RM) task, which also served as an assessment of the effects of drug administration on global behavioral measures, long-term memory and motivation. Several measures of working memory (span, longest run, and accuracy) were dose dependently impaired by CPP without adversely affecting RM. Although nicotine did not ameliorate CPP-induced impairments in span or accuracy, it did block the impairment in longest run produced by the 10mg/kg dose of CPP. Overall, our results indicate that performance in our 24 odor 2-comparison OST is capacity dependent and that CPP impaired OST working, but not reference, memory.

Picture Title: Evaluating Public Posting, Goal Setting, and Rewards to Increase Physical Activity during School Recess
Author(s): Bryon Miller, Diego A. Valbuena, Heather M. Zerger, Raymond G. Miltenberger
Major Professor: Raymond Miltenberger
College: College of Behavioral and Community Sciences (BCS)
Program: Applied Behavior Analysis

We evaluated a pedometer-based intervention consisting of public posting between two teams of students, with additional self-monitoring, goal setting, and reinforcement components, to increase physical activity during school recess. In the absence of self-monitoring, performance feedback alone did not increase physical activity levels above those observed during baseline. Additionally, higher levels of physical activity were observed when goal-setting was introduced, with the highest levels of activity observed when raffle tickets could be earned for exceeding a specified step-total goal.


PictureTitle: Effective Literacy Interventions for At-Risk Readers: A Literature Review
Author: Lesley Noel
Major Professor: Jenifer Schneider
College: College of Education (ED)
Program: Literacy Studies

I review a body of research on Response to Intervention (RTI) for students at-risk for reading failure in kindergarten through third grade. The purpose is to determine how the factors of RTI are operationally defined within the context of the studies and synthesize the researchers' reported results. First, I describe RTI and the factors that lead to the inception of the intervention in urban and high need schools across the United States. Next, I describe my procedures for reviewing the literature regarding how the numerous components of RTI are conceptualized and operationalized during implementation and describe the methods and coding procedures. I conclude with a discussion of the ongoing issues in the field- in particular, (a) teacher student ratio, (b) amount of time provided within the school day for interventions (c) level of expertise of the interventionist, (d) the provision of training and professional development, (e) the type of intervention implemented, and (f) the measures used to determine success and/or failure within the tiers. An overarching theme amongst all reviewed articles is the level of fidelity in implementing the various models of RTI framework within schools. The characteristics affecting reading outcomes salient across the different models of RTI within the theme of fidelity included teacher to student ratio, amount of time (duration and frequency) provided within the school day for interventions, level of expertise of the interventionist, the provision of training and professional development, the type of intervention implemented, and the measures used to determine success and/or failure within tiers.

PictureTitle: Use of A Game-Based Educational App for Improving Fraction Skills of Students with MLD
Author: Orhan Simsek
Major Professor: David Allsopp
College: College of Education (ED)
Program: Special Education

Even though 7-8% of students in the United States identified as having mathematics learning disabilities (MLD), roughly 50 percent of students having difficulty to gain fraction skills (Fuchs, et al., 2013; Misquitta, 2011). This skill is pre-requisite for algebra, and many other skills (Misquitta, 2011; Siegler, et al., 2010). Students having this problem need differentiated instruction in classrooms, but teachers stated having lack of time, and resources to differentiate instruction in terms of the needs of the students (Brownell, 2010; Darling-Hammond, 2010; Rosenfield, & Berninger, 2009). Therefore, the researcher investigated the effectiveness of game-based apps, specifically Motion Math: Fraction, to learn fraction skills at an after school program in South East part of US. Visual Analysis, and Statistics Analysis showed that students benefited from the app and increased their fraction skills (p< .0001). The researcher also provides information about practical, and theoretical implication of the study.


PictureTitle: Mobile Manipulator Dual-trajectory Control
Author(s): Mustafa Mashali, Redwan Alqasemi, Rajiv Dubey.
Major Professor: Rajiv Dubey
College: College of Engineering (ENG)
Program: Mechanical Engineering

In this work, a new control scheme is introduced for mobile manipulator trajectory tracking. This control scheme is capable of tracking the end-effector trajectory and mobile platform track. The main contribution of this work is adjusting the mobile platform translations along its specified track to support the manipulator task. The goal is to keep the mobile platform constrained to a pre-determined track (typically to avoid static or dynamic obstacles) with no specified position on the track and, at the same time, move the end-effector along a desired trajectory. Using the proposed control technique, the mobile platform is given the ability to move forward and backward with different velocities along its track to allow the mobile manipulator to successfully execute its task. The results showed that this controller was able to successfully track the end-effector trajectory while constraining the mobile platform to a predefined track. Conventional case of trajectory tracking failed to follow a desired trajectory while trying to avoid obstacles. This algorithm was implemented on WMRA system to test the performance of the proposed algorithm with real hardware.

PictureTitle: Nutrient Removal and Energy Recovery from Digester Effluent Using a Microbial Fuel Cell
Author(s): Kevin Orner, Jeffrey Cunningham
Major Professor: Jeffrey Cunningham
College: College of Engineering (ENG)
Program: Environmental Engineering

Wastewater treatment plants remove a number of contaminants prior to discharging treated effluent. Removing nitrogen from wastewater prevents algae blooms but usually requires expensive chemical and energy input. The overall objective of this project is to build and assess the performance of a microbial fuel cell that both removes ammonium and provides energy. The rationale for this project is that microbial fuel cells that remove ammonium and recover energy would save wastewater treatment plants significant costs in chemicals and energy. The overall objective of this project will be accomplished through achieving the following specific goals:

  1. Build a microbial fuel cell that treats digester effluent, and quantify nitrogen removal and net energy output. The working hypothesis is that a microbial fuel cell can remove 90% of the nitrogen entering the microbial fuel cell and can simultaneously provide positive net energy output.
  2. Install the microbial fuel cell downstream of a struvite precipitation reactor and quantify the combined nitrogen and phosphorus removal/recovery and energy output. The working hypothesis is that by combining these two technologies in series, we will be able to achieve an overall recovery of at least 80% of the phosphorus and an overall removal of at least 90% of the nitrogen while providing a net production of energy.

PictureTitle: Towards the Complete Small RNome of Acinetobacter Baumannii
Author(s): Andy Weiss, William Broach
Major Professor: Lindsey Shaw
College: College of Arts and Sciences (CAS)
Program: Microbiology

In recent years, the Gram-negative bacterium Acinetobacter baumannii has garnered considerable attention for its unprecedented capacity to rapidly develop resistance to antibacterial therapeutics. This is coupled with the seemingly epidemic emergence of new and novel hyper-virulent strains. Although strain-specific differences for A. baumannii isolates have been well described, these studies have primarily focused on proteinaceous factors. At present, only limited publications have investigated the presence and role of small regulatory RNA transcripts. Herein, we perform such an analysis, describing the RNAseq-based identification of 78 A. baumannii sRNAs in the AB5075 background. Together with six previously identified elements, we include each of these in a new genome annotation file, creating a novel tool to investigate regulatory events in this organism. Our work reveals that the sRNAs display high expression, accounting for >50% of the 20 most strongly expressed genes. Through conservation analysis we identified six classes of similar sRNAs, with one found to be particular abundant, and homologous to regulatory, C4 antisense RNAs found in bacteriophages. These elements appear to be processed from larger transcripts in an analogous manner to the phage C4 molecule, and are putatively controlled by two further sRNAs that are strongly antisense to them. Collectively, this study offers a detailed view of the sRNA content of A. baumannii, exposing sequence and structural conservation amongst these elements, and provides novel insight into the potential evolution, and role, of these understudied regulatory molecules.

PictureTitle: Severe Maternal Morbidity in Florida
Author(s): Lindsay Womack, Humberto López Castillo, Yuri Sebastião, Linda Detman
Major Professor(s): Kathleen O'Rourke, William Sappenfield
College: College of Public Health (PH)
Program: Epidemiology

Severe maternal morbidity (SMM) focuses on the most severe pregnancy complications occurring during delivery admissions. Although rare, these conditions result in high medical costs, extended hospitalizations, and long-term disabilities.

This study's purpose was to describe the status of SMM in Florida, identify maternal and health services risk factors for SMM, and explain the variation of SMM among Florida hospitals.

A population-based retrospective cohort study was conducted using Florida's linked birth certificate and hospital discharge records from 2004-2014. Maternal ICD-9-CM diagnosis and procedure codes were used to indicate 25 life-threatening maternal conditions or complications. Maternal and infant factors for SMM and health services characteristics were examined using logistic mixed-effects regression.

Florida's SMM rate rose from 9.2 to 20.9 per 1,000 from 2004 to 2014. Significant maternal risk factors for SMM included: advanced maternal age (Adjusted Odds Ratio [AOR]: 1.34; 95% Confidence Interval [95% CI]: 1.24-1.45), Non-Hispanic black race and ethnicity (AOR: 1.48; 95% CI: 1.36-1.61), less than high school education (AOR: 1.29; 95% CI: 1.16-1.43), cesarean delivery (AOR: 4.08; 95% CI: 3.80-4.38). Maternal obesity was protective against SMM (AOR: 0.80; 95% CI: 0.73-0.86). Hospital variation of SMM rates ranged from 0 to 54.1 per 1,000 births, with about 22.2% of the hospital variation explained by identified risk factors.

The increasing SMM rate and wide hospital variation suggests the need and opportunity for hospital quality improvement efforts. Further research is needed to better explain the reasons for hospital variation. Additionally, the relationship between SMM and maternal obesity needs to be investigated further.

Natural & Physical Sciences

PictureTitle: Lava Flow Hazard Assessment for the Idaho National Laboratory
Author(s): Elisabeth Gallant, Charles Connor, Paul Wetmore, Laura Connor, Jacob Richardson
Major Professor: Charles Connor
College: College of Arts and Sciences (CAS)
Program: Geosciences

We present the results of a lava flow hazard assessment for the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) using a lava flow simulation code created at USF. INL is a nuclear research and development facility located on the Eastern Snake River Plain (ESRP) of Idaho, amidst a distributed volcanic field. A distributed volcanic field is a cluster of relatively small, single-eruption volcanoes. Spatial density estimates, calculations of the number of vents and events per square kilometer on the ESRP for this work, were used to forecast the most likely locations of new eruptions. A vent is defined as a location where eruptive material is expelled from a volcano; an event represents an entire eruptive episode that may comprise several vents. Multiple eruption scenarios using these forecasted vent and event locations were simulated with the MOLASSES (MOdular LAva Simulation Software for Earth Science) code. Results suggest that lava flows present a moderate to high hazard for INL.

PictureTitle: Search for Drug Targets and Possible Treatments for Toxoplasmosis
Author(s): Jeanine Yacoub, Travis Bland, James Leahy, Michael White, James Leahy
Major Professor: James Leahy
College: College of Arts and Sciences (CAS)
Program: Chemistry

Toxoplasmosis is an opportunistic disease caused by the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii. Cats are the definitive host for the parasite, and it is transmitted to humans from ingestion of undercooked meat, or from mother to fetus. The parasite is usually staved off by a healthy immune system and remains dormant in the body. In immunocompromised patients, the parasite is dangerous because it can become active and spread throughout the body causing symptoms such as encephalitis, cognitive disorders, seizures, and sometimes death. Recent studies have also shown that toxoplasmosis can cause behavioral changes, and it also has a link to schizophrenia. Combination drug therapy is the usual treatment for toxoplasmosis; however, patients suffer from problems of intolerance, allergic reactions, and cytotoxicity. A spike in the price of the drug (Daraprim) in the past year has also made the drug less accessible for most patients. In an effort to identify new drug targets to treat this disease, we have been working on the synthesis of a series of compounds that can be used as tools to probe the unique pathways used by T. gondii to survive in the human host. One class of these compounds is pyridinyl imidazoles, which have been shown to be active against T. gondii MAP kinases. To set up a protein pull down assay, a biotinylated linker was synthesized. We have also synthesized a compound that’s being used to study the pathways involved in the most active and proliferative form of T. gondii.

Social Science

PictureTitle: Tough Guy, Sensitive Vas: Analyzing Male Contraceptives, Masculinity & the Sexual Division of Labor
Author: Kaeleen Kosmo
Major Professor: Diane Price-Herndl
College: College of Arts and Sciences (CAS)
Program: Women's and Gender Studies

A Marxist feminist standpoint positions patriarchy and capitalism as mutually beneficial, thus interestingly situating the new market of male contraceptives (MCs). This project takes an in-depth look at the opinions of 15 young men regarding the use of MCs by examining how Western, heterosexual masculinity informs their attitudes and discusses how a new economic market of MCs may affect current social ideologies about of the sexual division of labor. Because notions of masculinity are essential in perpetuating such ideologies, understanding masculinity as it relates to a new market for MCs is imperative. During a series of focus groups, men described this relationship in terms of responsibility, control, sexual pleasure, cost, gendered ideologies, and side effects. As a result of this research, I argue that the emerging market for MCs may simultaneously strengthen power dynamics and restructure labor practices within the sexual division of labor.

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