Student-faculty research moves ahead over summer

June 29, 2010

While many of their classmates are no doubt lounging poolside, 28 McDaniel students are immersed in 14 summer research projects in collaboration with professors from virtually every discipline.

Junior Allison Marriott and Sociology Professor Sara Raley are exploring the complications of navigating romantic relationships in the very public Facebook era. Tiffany Curry-Miller is preparing an exhibit featuring Muslims of Carroll County with Philosophy and Religious Studies Professor Greg Alles.

Marlene Vasquez is spending her summer in a lab with a bunch of rats and wouldn’t trade it, even for Ocean City’s wide, sand beaches. In collaboration with Psychology Professor Madeline Rhodes, Vasquez observes the black-and-white rats and looks for signs of depression and anxiety – possible effects of the anti-epileptic drugs their mothers were given during their 21-day gestation.

Depressed rats? Anxiety-ridden rodents? How do you tell which is which? Vasquez and Rhodes have ways to detect abnormal behavior.

Normally excellent swimmers, depressed rats just float instead of paddling around the makeshift pond in the lab. Rats with higher levels of anxiety cower in the corner of an open square, constantly on the lookout for danger.

A neuroscientist, Rhodes says that there are some clinical reports on the behavioral effects of prenatal exposure to anti-epileptic drugs, but there is more work to be done in order to determine all of the neuroendocrine and behavioral effects.

“I’m learning so much,” says Vasquez, a junior majoring in Psychology. “And I find it fascinating.”

Across campus, senior Ben Sapp and sophomores Brittany Nicholls and Andrew Yang are just wrapping up their computer science research projects with professors Sara Miner More and Pavel Naumov. The seven-week projects were timed to begin before spring semester ended to give the students a summer vacation as well as to allow Nicholls, from San Jose, Calif., an opportunity to participate before heading back to the West Coast.

There, on the chalkboard in Lewis 109, are some of the rules of information flow that the students and professors have identified so far. The series of letters and symbols could very well be in a foreign language – and perhaps they are if you count computer-ese. But, to these researchers they are important keys to unlocking the natural laws that govern knowledge transfer and shared resources among computers and people alike.

Ben Sapp with professors Pavel Naumov and Sara Miner More and Brittany Nicholls

“This is theoretical research,” says More, who is interested in cryptography and computer and network security protocols.  “It will further our understanding of information flow and its applications in the secure transmission of data over computer networks, and in other areas of computer science, such as artificial intelligence.”

All of the summer's projects receive significant funding from the College toward the expenses involved, from materials to stipends to student room and board, and some are supported by the newly established Student-Faculty Collaborative Summer Research Fund. Some of the students receive support from various named endowed funds, including the Mayetta Hawkins Boyer Student Research Fund, the Kopp Fund, the James E. Lightner Endowed Fund for Mathematics, the Jean and Donald Richards Student Research Fund, and the Richard Singer Student Research Fund.

Here’s a list of additional summer research projects and professors with whom students are collaborating:

1. Mary Bendel-Simso and LeRoy Panek, English: “The Westminster Detective Library”

2.  Peter Craig, Chemistry: “Zinc metal-ß-lactamase inhibitor: the bait and switch complex”

3.  Spencer Hamblen, Mathematics and Computer Science: “Finding Abundancy Bounds”

4.  Robert Kachur, English: “Ungovernable Passions and Uneasy Curiosity: Homosexual Panic in Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘William Wilson’” 

5.  Shabbir Mian, Physics: “Time-resolved Optically Stimulated Luminescence and Nonlinear Optical Studies of Transition-Metal Oxides used in Polymer-Light Emitting Diodes”  

6.  Ralene Mitschler, Biology: “How does an Insect’s Immune System Detect a Parasite?”

7.  Randy Morrison, Biology: “Lizard ecology and taxonomy on the island of San Salvador in the Bahamas”

8.  Melanie Nillson, Chemistry: “Optimization of Insulin Amyloid Fibril Synthesis for Nanotechnology Applications”

9.  Vasilis Pagonis, Physics: “Simulations of luminescence from quartz”

10.  Marilyn Kroeger Smith and Rick Smith, Chemistry: “McDaniel Roots”