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Science in Space (Chancellor West)

10:30am: Not Your Grandparents’ Star: Searching for Evidence of Diamagnetic Blob Accretion in Cataclysmic Variable Star, V2400 Oph

Andrew Langford (University of Notre Dame)

While many astronomical objects take human lifetimes or more to observe change, a class of binary stars systems called cataclysmic variables (cv) can be relied upon to provide visible fluctuations with only minutes of observations. The source behind this exciting phenomenon are two stars orbiting so closely that stellar matter flows from one star to another. The star that is responsible for such a strong gravitational pull is called a white dwarf; the dense burnt-out core of star similar to the sun. The secondary star, often a red dwarf, has a radius which extends past the point where the gravitational forces of each star are equal. Thus, the stellar material past this ‘Lagrangian point’ will flow towards and accrete onto the white dwarf. This presentation reports findings from K2 mission data on the cv, V2400 Oph. The K2 mission was a secondary mission of the Kepler Space Telescope that consisted of ~80-day observing campaigns in a single patch of sky. This allowed for uninterrupted data cadenced at either 1-min or 30-min intervals of ~10,000 targets per campaign. The opportunity for 80 days of continuous data opens opportunities for precise photometric analyzation not possible with ground-based observations. V2400 Oph is unusual in the world of cataclysmic variable stars. Its magnetic field strength lies in the regime between two classes of magnetic cvs: intermediate polar and polar. V2400 Oph and the unprecedented K2 light curve pose a multitude of scientific discoveries about accretion disks formation under the influence of magnetic fields.

10:50am: Galaxy and Mass Assembly: A Comparison between Galaxy-Galaxy Lens Searches in KiDS/GAMA

Shawn Knabel (University of Louisville)

Strong gravitational lenses are cases where a distant background galaxy is located directly behind a massive foreground galaxy, whose gravity causes the light from the background galaxy to bend around the foreground galaxy. In addition to being visually stunning, these rare events are useful laboratories for furthering our understanding of gravity and cosmology and to determine properties, such as the mass and dark matter content, of the lensing galaxies themselves. The trouble is finding enough of these strong gravitational lenses for further study. The immensity of the catalogs being collected by state-of-the-art telescopes requires equally innovative methods for interpreting that data. We have examined three such techniques for identifying strong lenses: mixed spectroscopy, machine-learning, and citizen-science. Spectroscopy involves studying the objects’ signatures across the electromagnetic spectrum and is a tried-and-true, reliable method. Machine-learning promises to find more and different cases of lensing through teaching the computer to recognize features of lensing through visual templates. Citizen-science is a broad term for the inclusion of science-enthusiasts in the process of analyzing images on a scale too large to be undertaken by a small team of experts. For the first time, all three detection techniques have been used in the same regions of the sky, where the Kilo Degree Survey (KiDS) overlaps regions of the Galaxy and Mass Assembly (GAMA) survey. With all three catalogs of strong lenses in hand, we analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of each method and looked for potential crossover between the catalogs. We uncovered inherent biases and advantages to each method in finding lensing systems with different properties, which will serve as a directory for selecting the best methods to be used in new research toward these phenomena. With astronomy moving into the era of large-scale imaging surveys, our project provides a basis for selecting the best techniques for detecting these rare astronomical events.

11:10am: Genetic Enhancement in Outer Space

Caleb Hylkema (Clemson University)

Genetic enhancement is a widely controversial topic, but there is one setting in which it is seldom explored: outer space colonization. My project focuses on this aspect, and how the ethical considerations shift when we consider genetic enhancement, within certain limits, as an important and necessary tool for colonizing outer space.

Cellular Biology II (Chancellor East)

10:30am: Investigating the Mucin and Bacterial Binding Properties of Innate Lung Protein LPLUNC1

Sophie Troyer (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

Mucins are large macromolecules that give mucus its major biophysical properties that protect mucosal surfaces, including the lungs. Our lab previously described that dominant airway mucins MUC5B and MUC5AC interact with innate immune proteins including LPLUNC1. To better understand the role of LPLUNC1 in innate lung defense and its interaction with mucins, we overexpressed and collected extracellular LPLUNC1 to assess its interactions with MUC5B and MUC5AC as well as with bacterial components. This protein was purified using a series of columns: anti-Flag affinity, size exclusion, and anion exchange. After size exclusion, the chromatogram, SDS page gel electrophoresis, and mass spectrometry confirmed the correct molecular weight and sufficient purity of the protein for further experiments. SDS page gel electrophoresis suggested that this protein may be multimeric in nature; this could be a potentially novel observation that tells us how LPLUNC1 behaves. Preliminary experiments using Quartz Crystal Microbalance with Dissipation monitoring (QCM-D) suggest an LPLUNC1 interaction with MUC5AC but not MUC5B, and that the glycan decoration on MUC5AC may play a role in this interaction. Characterizing this interaction would be important to understanding the macromolecular properties of airway mucus and how it contributes to innate immunity. Other preliminary findings from QCM-D suggest that LPLUNC1 may interact with bacterial components such as LPS and Pseudomonas membrane proteins, which may indicate bactericidal function, possibly involving crosslinking with MUC5AC in a mechanism that could result in the clearing of bacteria with mucus. Future QCM-D studies will assess the potential for bacterial interaction and crosslinking.

10:50am: Ultrasensitive Protein Detection by CRISPR-Cas12a

Kevin Tao (Georgia Institute of Technology)

Liquid biomarkers including tumor-derived metabolites, proteins, and circulating immune cells carry important diagnostic information for detecting cancer, but their low abundance in blood makes detection difficult. Recently, CRISPR-Cas proteins have been repurposed from gene editing to detection of biomolecules such as nucleic acid and small molecules, however, it has not been used to detect proteins. Here we introduce the use of DNA-barcoded antibodies and CRISPR –Cas12a, a single crRNA-guided DNA endonuclease, to achieve ultrasensitive detection of soluble and cell surface proteins. We use DNA encoding combined with Cas12a recognition because DNA barcodes can be isothermally amplified and Cas12a enzymatically cleaves DNA reporters upon target detection, providing two rounds of amplification and enabling measurement of protein concentration by sample fluorescence. We initially show that Cas12a retains its cleavage ability when DNA- barcodes are conjugated to antibodies and prove that cleavage is maintained on cells when interrogated with the corresponding DNA-antibody and target crRNA. To demonstrate the utility of protein detection using Cas12a, we enumerated CD4 T cells from a mouse spleen with a limit of detection of 5 cells. We plan to expand this by detecting circulating tumor cells. We then show soluble protein detection of IL-2 comparable to gold standards such as ELISA. We will continue to validate this against other cytokines involved with cancer like IL-6 and TNF –alpha. Lastly, we have introduced a logic-gated component to recognize target cells expressing multiple proteins. Improving the limit of detection could help improve cancer detection, diagnosis, and prognosticate patient outcomes.

11:10am: Orally Administrable Therapeutic Synthetic Nanoparticle for Zika Virus

Anuj Shah (University of Miami)

Methods for targeted delivery of drugs have presented new opportunities for treating illnesses such as cancers and viral diseases. Infected Aedes mosquitoes transmit Zika virus (ZIKV), which leads to severe neurological complications. We have proposed that nanotherapeutic solutions will be more effective than traditional therapies in treating ZIKV. The drug ivermectin (IVM) was chosen to be encapsulated into biodegradable, polymeric nanoparticles to better treat ZIKV. We have developed Fc-IVM-NPs, nanoparticles (NPs) decorated with neonatal Fc receptor and loaded with ivermectin, to allow for the transport of ivermectin across the gut epithelial barrier and the controlled release of the drug in the ZIKV-infected blood, to ensure all virus-infected cells are killed. Our studies documented that when delivered with the synthetic nanoparticle, IVM can be accumulated in the blood at a higher concentration. Furthermore, preliminary studies highlighted that NP-delivered IVM has the ability to target and inhibit nonstructural protein 1, one of the main virulent proteins of ZIKV. To create an orally administrable, powdered, capsule formulation of the NPs, they were freeze-dried in the presence of cryoprotectants and tested to ensure maintenance of size, stability, and therapeutic effectiveness. Our preliminary in vitro studies documented that while ivermectin crosses the placental barrier, making it unsafe for the pregnant ZIKV population, the IVM-loaded nanoparticles did not show any significant placental barrier crossing, thus indicating its potential suitability for such populations. As a whole, this work fills a great unmet need by developing safer, more effective therapies for the treatment of viral infections, including ZIKV.

Literary Analysis (Hill Ballroom Central)

10:30am: Historical Refashioning and Political Commentary in The Faerie Queene

Nimrita Singh (Boston College)

This project considers Edmund Spenser’s sections of history writings within The Faerie Queene, which have often been regarded as out of place among the fantastical and allegorical elements of the frame narrative, or else have been used as cursory evidence for Spenser’s lingering disappointments with the suspect historicity of ancient Britain. It seeks to present a reading of the inset chronicles that is contextualized by the public anxieties surrounding Queen Elizabeth’s unresolved succession, rather than by the historiographical context of the Renaissance’s antiquarian movement, which has generally been a more traditional approach. The project’s main inquiry will center around the two main genres of historical writings that are represented in this text, namely, chronicle in The Briton Moniments and political prophecy in Merlin’s Prophecy. Its purpose is to recognize the peculiarity of such marked shifts in subject matter and genre in order to discern the possible commentaries that Spenser’s chronicles make on this politically fraught moment, and to therefore come to a closer understanding of why they have been included within the larger epic. As part of this approach, this project intends to answer the following questions: what kinds of history does Spenser engage with; what difficulties do the use of the well-established genres of chronicle and political prophecy present; and how does Spenser ultimately seek to construct a national narrative of continuity for a people facing the possible absence of a suitable monarch?

10:50am: Mutually Assured Destruction: Charting the Ego/Nature Correlation

Brett Harris (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) 

Despite the emergence of modern technologies that can peer inside our brains, uncoil the helical holy grail of genetic information, or collect, order, and skew the infinite data points of a human experience, locating the boundaries of the self remains beyond human capabilities. Detailing the peculiar state of the ego in the twentieth century, Sigmund Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents (1930) presents several models of the self at different stages in the development of human civilization. In particular, the work explores the positive correlation between shifting attitudes toward nature and the wellbeing of the individual as represented by the qualities of the ego. Describing the phenomenon of the modern ego, Freud hypothesizes that “our present ego-feeling is, therefore, only a shrunken residue of a much more inclusive—indeed, an all-embracing—feeling.” Here, Freud’s words indicate a drastic change in the structure of the ego as the result of industrialization— a shift that holds vital implications for the individual and collective psychologies of an eco-anxious, post-industrial society. In considering Freud’s analyses through the lens of this self/nature dichotomy, this paper foregrounds an under-appreciated, eco-critical facet of Freud’s thought, and seeks to provide a deeper understanding of the nuanced interplay between self and non-human other as presented in Civilization and its Discontents. 

11:10am: Empathy Through a Narratival Lens: Developing Empathy Through Literature Using Pedagogical Tools

Samantha Watkins (University of Pittsburgh)

The human brain is hard-wired for empathy—a process which can be learned and actively practiced. When used, empathy can impact prosocial behavior and learning outcomes in a meaningful way. This research project is rooted in the premise that literature can act as a bridge to allow individuals to experience empathy towards one another—that barriers and biases can be overcome by the power of a good book—and studies literature’s capacity to be used to teach empathy in the classroom at both the secondary and undergraduate levels. Examined were techniques rooted in cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical-behavioral therapy, and bibliotherapy; three well-established tools for behavior modification and social emotional learning. To expand empathy, this research found ways to identify and uproot personal biases, to regulate emotions, and to practice perspective-taking all through the use of literature. At the end, pedagogical tools were distilled that provided both for content learning and these three skills, amounting to the development of empathy while still meeting school academic standards. It is relevant to all individuals with an interest in literature or education, those who may serve in a teaching or mentoring position, and those who would like to see positive change in the current political and social landscapes.