2021 Fall Interdisciplinary Research Symposium (FIReS)

Date: Friday, October 8, 2021
Location: Center For The Sciences
Time: 3:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Presentation Titles and Abstracts

Title Author(s) Department Project Code
Identifying Antimicrobial Phytocompounds to Combat International Space Station Superbugs Hannah Bhakta, Caleb VanArragon, Katelyn Shouse, Alexis Dres, Emily Gonzalez, Ashley Wasserman, Helene Bee, Suzanne Brown, Jeffrey Pruet PhD, Danielle Orozco-Nunnelly PhD Biology BIO-1
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The isolation, or creation, of novel antimicrobial agents is currently at the forefront of modern healthcare due to the stark decrease in antimicrobial drug development in recent years and due to the increasing rise of superbugs, or microorganisms that are resistant to more than one type of antimicrobial treatment, which are predicted by 2050 to cause 10 million deaths/year. In addition to being a terrestrial cause for concern, antimicrobial resistant microbes are also a threat to the health of the individuals on the International Space Station (ISS). According to recent studies, a diverse population of bacteria and fungi, including several opportunistic pathogens, have colonized the ISS, and many of these strains have been found to possess antimicrobial resistance genes. Therefore, our research is focused on testing bacterial and fungal pathogens that have been isolated from the ISS against methanolic extracts from different medicinal plants, such as Argemone mexicana. Additionally, from previous work in our lab (https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0249704), we have identified several antibacterial compounds in A. mexicana and are attempting to determine the distribution of these phytocompounds (berberine, chelerythrine, sanguinarine) in this plant using quantitative chemistry techniques. This work highlights the importance of plants as an invaluable pharmaceutical resource at a time when antimicrobial drug discovery has plateaued.

The Effects of Estrogen (E2) on the Filamentous Growth of Candida albicans on Assorted Solid Medias George C Gundelach, Paige Camp, Patrice Bouyer, Michael Watters Biology BIO-2
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Candida albicans is a commensal yeast that lives within the human body. When exposed to specific environmental stimuli (ex. pH, temperature) the fungi will undergo a morphological change from yeast to filamentous (hyphal). Currently, C. albicans is the most prevalent human fungal pathogen, causing both mucosal and systemic infections. This infection, called candidiasis, can endanger high-risk groups, such as immunocompromised patients. While studied extensively, the relationship between C. albicans hyphal growth and estrogen (E2) has yielded mixed results amongst researchers. In our research, we attempted to provide clarity to this relationship by using a variety of solid media and studying how each affects E2’s influence on hyphal development. We used three solid media; Minimum, Spider, and YEPD. In our experiments, we found that C. albicans undergoes three distinct morphologies and variable behavior between the three media types. In Minimum media, we found that E2 is blocking filamentous growth after day two compared to no E2. In Spider media, E2 is blocking filamentous growth up to day three compared to no E2. Finally, in YEPD, E2 inhibits filamentous growth only at day two compared to no E2. In our conditions, E2 has an inhibitory effect on filamentous growth. Furthermore, our observations suggest that the inhibition is media dependent. Currently we are testing fetal bovine serum (FBS), which is known to induce filamentation, as a positive control to compare to the effects of E2.

Molecular Mechanisms that establish the eye-specific visual projection Elaina Baker Biology BIO-3
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Correct functioning of the nervous system critically depends on the formation of the precise neuronal network. For example, axons of retinal ganglion cells from the right and left eyes project to different domains in the lateral geniculate nucleus of the thalamus. This eye-specific retinogeniculate projection provides the anatomical basis for binocular vision. Nell2 (neural epidermal growth factor (EGF)-like-like-2) is an extracellular glycoprotein that is predominantly expressed in the nervous system. Our lab has previously shown that Nell2 acts as an inhibitory axon guidance molecule in the establishment of the eye-specific retinogeniculate projection. The current work aims to identify the Nell2 receptor in the retinal axon guidance. By using immunohistochemistry, we found that the receptor tyrosine kinase Ros1, which binds to Nell2, is expressed in the developing chick retinal ganglion cells. Our results suggest that Ros1 may act as a receptor for Nell2 in the retinal ganglion cells and play a significant role in the establishment of the eye-specific retinogeniculate projection.

The Genetic Analysis of Cortical Bone Morphology in Mice Sydney Martens, Jane Kenney-Hunt Biology BIO-4
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Osteoporosis is a disease that affects bone mass and thickness, which ultimately leads to bone fracture. It is known that decreased cortical thickness and bone area are associated with the development of osteoporosis. We analyzed genetic effects on cortical bone thickness, cortical bone area and polar moment of inertia in the femora and radii of 17 recombinant inbred mouse lines. The quantitative trait locus (QTL) analysis of the recombinant mice indicates the regions of the genome that have effects on the specific trait. Identification of QTL in sex and diet isolated experiments can indicate gene by environment interactions. 423 mice from 17 LG/J and SM/J cross lines were provided with either a low-fat or high-fat diet for 20 weeks. After necropsy, bone area and thickness were collected from microCT images. Results from genetic analysis revealed three QTL affecting bone area, three QTL determining cortical thickness and four QTL that influence polar moment of inertia. These QTL demonstrate the genetic effects on bone structure interacting with the effects of dietary fat and sex.

Synthesis of Argemone mexicana Inspired Antimicrobial Agents Jessica Villegas, Bryce Ball, Jeffrey Pruet Chemistry CHEM-1
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Bacterial and fungal infections occur when microorganisms invade the tissue and, if left untreated, can affect the whole body. Pathogenic bacterial and fungal infections are some of the leading causes of death in the population at large. Due to the ever-growing prevalence of drug-resistant “superbugs” and the lack of new antimicrobial drugs, there is a need to explore new and alternative pathways for fighting these diseases. Through a collaborative project, we have explored separation of key components of the seed, stem, leaves, and root of the Argemone mexicana plant to isolate antimicrobial agents found within this plant. We have already identified three key molecules which give this plant anti-microbial properties against gram-positive bacteria. We are now focused on designing and synthesizing new variants of these bioactive molecules in the hopes of discovering new, more potent, drugs.

Investigations into the Reactivity of Microplastics in Water Joe Castleman, Scott Kaiser, Julie Peller Chemistry CHEM-2
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Microplastics, plastic pieces less than 5 mm in size, are a significant part of the plastic pollution in surface waters. Given the massive, global extent of this pollution, it is important to understand the chemical reactivity of microplastics in water. This study used radiation chemistry techniques to explore the transformations of plastics in water. Adsorption experiments were also conducted with microplastics and other model water contaminants. When water mixtures are exposed to gamma radiation, radicals that are prominent in nature, namely the hydroxyl radicals (?OH), are created. The reported irradiation experiments were done to simulate stagnant waters. Water mixtures containing either polyethylene (PE) or polyethylene terephthalate (PET) in closed containers were exposed to different irradiation dose rates and doses. Caffeine, dodecane, and benzophenone, commonly occurring pollutants, were used as model compounds in microplastics adsorption experiments. Infrared and Raman spectroscopies, along with GC-MS and LC-MS, were the main techniques used to assess the changes to the microplastics. A few compounds, such as dodecane and 2-dodecanone, were detected in the water/PE mixtures after exposure to the radicals. The surface chemistry of the microplastics was mostly unchanged, even after high doses of irradiation. Adsorption experiments showed that caffeine does not adsorb to PE or PET, dodecane strongly adsorbs to PE, and benzophenone partly adsorbs. The natural ?OH-mediated breakdown of caffeine was not affected by the presence of PE. Even though benzophenone adsorbs to PE, the degradation rate of benzophenone in solution did not change in the presence of PE microplastics.

New Ways of Synthesizing Potential Pterin Antifungal Drugs Kyle Kohlmeyer, Charlie Toman Chemistry CHEM-3
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Pterin based compounds have shown some promise as potential anti-fungal compounds; however, the low solubility of them in most organic solvents makes the synthesis of these compounds tedious and difficult. Work is underway to do some of the steps of the synthesis in a different order to avoid the solubility issues. The goal is to be able to synthesize the final furan intermediate before adding the very insoluble pterin group in the final step to bypass any solubility issues that were encountered in synthesizing this molecule. First, the chlorinated furan intermediate underwent a reaction with NaN3 to convert the chlorine group into an azide group. Currently, work is being done on the second step, a DBU amidation to covert an ester to an amide group with a BOC protected amine.

Synthesis of an Unnatural Flourescent Amino Acid Esteban Kurth, Taylor Gaskill, Thomas Goyne Chemistry CHEM-4
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The long-term goal of this project is to chemically synthesize an unnatural fluorescent amino acid, 3-[7-nitro-2,1,3-benzoxadiazol-4-yl]-L-alanine, that can later allow researchers to visualize a single “glow-in-the-dark” protein in an otherwise transparent living cell. In addition to our attempted organic synthesis, here we report a biocatalytic synthesis. Specifically, we plan to use the enzyme glutathione S-transferase from the cyanobacterium T. elongatus to catalyze the key nucleophilic aromatic substitution reaction. As part of this effort, we are planning a new synthetic route to the non-natural amino acid, beta-amino alanine. In sum, we hope to synthesize these two unnatural amino acids in a more time- and cost-efficient manner.

Non-Toxic Renewable Energy Storage via Solar Thermal Decoupled Electrolysis of Iron Oxide Jackson King Chemistry CHEM-5
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Widespread adoption of renewable solar energy is currently limited by a lack of long term storage commodities. As a preferred option, fuels satisfy flexible requirements including transportability, high energy density, and in the case of hydrogen, clean combustion. Here we will outline a method of producing hydrogen using an iron oxide-based system, which was selected due to its non-toxicity and relative abundance. First, the iron oxide hematite would be decomposed in a solar furnace, producing oxygen and magnetite. Next, the magnetite is reacted through electrolysis to produce hydrogen gas and regenerate the hematite precursor. Two electrochemical methods of testing this reaction were performed with variable temperature and pH; one with magnetite deposited on steel surfaces, and another with magnetite dissolved in etidronic acid. Finally, the pH of the etidronic acid solution was raised to precipitate the phase pure hematite completing the cycle.

The Wifi Pineapple – The Forbidden Fruit of Networking Daniel Hautzinger Computer and Information Sciences CIS-1
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This project conducted a careful investigation into the capabilities of the Hak5 Wifi Pineapple Mark VII, which is a commercially available security and testing apparatus for wireless networks. This device has been used by cybersecurity engineers and companies to audit the networks of many different businesses. A key question of this investigation was whether the device is suitable for use in classroom environments. The risks, side effects, and propriety of the Pineapple were of particular focus. This project also investigated the ethical and legal implications that might arise from use or even casual reception of signal. The investigation concluded that the Wifi Pineapple Mark VII is only suitable for carefully supervised or monitored use. Regardless of the user’s intent, the impact and damage that this high-risk tool can cause to nearby devices makes it much too dangerous to use in a classroom environment.

Photometry and Python: Painting a Picture of Planetary Nebulae Central Stars Olivia Krugman Physics and Astronomy PHYS-1
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Planetary nebulae are some of nature’s most beautiful yet most mysterious objects. Many of these PNe have intricate shapes not expected to be produced by a spherical star. We want to further understand how their unique shapes are produced, especially those that do not fall within conventional classifications, and thus we must do further research into their physical characteristics. Our research aims to study the effects binary star systems have on PNe. We are able to get in-depth looks into these objects using data collected from the observatories affiliated with the SARA (Southeastern Association for Research in Astronomy) Consortium, of which Valpo is a member institution. We then use photometry, measuring the magnitude (brightness) of an object, to get better measurements of magnitude, temperature, and distance, among other values. While performing photometry is the main part of our research, we have another part of the project designed to make the process easier for users to compare the data. We are working on creating a new Python code that more efficiently takes the resulting large amount of information and parses it into a smaller amount of specific information that we can work with and analyze. The code takes the original images and measures the brightness of each star, allowing us to use these values to arrive at our final brightness measurements. We are improving existing code by adding more efficient Python packages that will further aid in the ease and speed of analyzing the data from these objects.

Collecting Data on Brightness Variations in the Central Stars of Planetary Nebulae Using Sky Surveys Emily Pavasars Physics and Astronomy PHYS-2
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Research on planetary nebulae is shifting from the source of their fascinating shapes to details on how those shapes are created. The overall goal of this project is to measure the fraction of planetary nebulae that have binary central stars. In order to do this, a large amount of data is required. So we took the list of planetary nebula targets identified in Gaia data and a list of nearby, known planetary nebulae and ran them through available online databases. These databases provide data on brightness of these stars over time. For over 2,000 objects from the Gaia list, the Catalina Sky Survey (CSS) had data on 35 of them. 16 objects exhibited possible variability. Using the Palomar Transient Facility (PTF) and the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) databases, only 4 of those appeared in the PTF and 6 in the ZTF. We narrowed the initial Gaia list to only objects with magnitudes from V = 14-16 and ran them through the All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae (ASAS-SN). Out of 123 objects, we found data for 96. We ran the entire list of nearby objects through ASAS-SN and found data for 113 objects out of 167. We ran period searches on the data found from ASAS-SN using Period04. 14 of the objects from Gaia and 28 of the objects from the nearby objects list looked potentially variable. We present here results on some of the detected variables, preliminary statistics and a discussion of the search process.

High Voltage Component Testing for the nEDM Experiment at SNS Lauren Kadlec Physics and Astronomy PHYS-3
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The neutron electric dipole moment (nEDM) is a measurement of charge separation within the neutron. Insight into the nEDM could give light to some of physics’ unanswered questions, like why there appears to be more matter than antimatter in the universe. The nEDM experiment at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Spallation Neutron Source (SNS) is designed to search for the nEDM at the level of 3 x 10-28 e-cm, nearly one hundred times lower than the present limit. The experiment calls for an electric field of 75 kV/cm in a large volume of liquid helium at 0.4K. To develop this capability, the Half Scale High Voltage system (HSHV) and the Small Scale High Voltage system (SSHV) are currently being tested at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The HSHV uses a custom high voltage (HV) chain to deliver up to 200kV to a 40 liter liquid helium central volume. To qualify the performance of HV chain, multiple tests were conducted in a Room Temperature High Voltage system (RTHV) under vacuum. After testing in the RTHV, the HV system was moved to the HSHV for cryogenic testing. Additionally, the SSHV is being prepared for liquid helium testing that will complement that of the HSHV. Details on the voltage chain assembly, recent work on the SSHV, and tests inside the RTHV and HSHV will be presented.

Searching for Periodicity in Protoplanetary Nebula William Bakke Physics and Astronomy PHYS-4
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Protoplanetary Nebula (PPNe) are a stage of stellar evolution that falls between the Asymptotic Giant Branch Stars and Planetary Nebula (PNe) stages. Many PPNe tend to display a cyclical variation in their brightness. In a 2010 paper by Dr. Bruce Hrivnak, he reported initial periods of twelve PPNe. My goal for the summer is to confirm or refine the periods for six of those PPNe, along with finding possibly new secondary periods within the light variation of these six PPNe. These objects have been reanalyzed due to the availability of new, publicly available All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernova (ASAS-SN) data and new data from the Valparaiso University Observatory. In order to go about this analysis, I have begun with photometric data gathered from the ASAS-SN online database. This data is reduced, then analyzed through a period search program known as Period04. Period04 fits a Fourier Series to the data, allowing us to find the most likely frequency of variation, and thus the period at which the PPNe is varying at. This will then be followed by a similar analysis of the new VUO data. In this poster, I will be presenting the periods and amplitudes found by this study, and comparing them to the previously found results.

Seeking the Magnitude of the Gluon Contribution to Proton Spin with STAR Endcap ??s Marcus Engstrom, Nicholas Gilles Physics and Astronomy PHYS-5
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The spin of the proton is known to be ½ ?. It arises from the spin and orbital angular momenta of the proton’s constituents: quarks and gluons. The relative contributions of various components remain uncertain, with the quark spin contribution significantly lower than once anticipated. We seek to quantify the gluon spin contribution, in particular. At the RHIC-STAR experiment at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), we observe collisions between spin-polarized beams of protons. In this measurement, our probe of initial-state gluons will be the neutral pion (??), abundantly produced in such collisions. The ??s rapidly decay into two photons, which we can detect with STAR’s Endcap Electromagnetic Calorimeter (EEMC). We calibrated and reconstructed the 2013 data to form both photon and ?? candidates and storing this information in data structures called trees. We track the reconstruction process and assure its quality. We will describe our efforts to identify bad data using quantities including ?? mass distributions and the signal to background ratio. We will present the status of the EEMC ?? measurements using the 2013 dataset and our quality assurance analysis.

Analyzing Proton Spin Contribution with STAR Brook Burbridge Physics and Astronomy PHYS-6
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One goal of STAR (Solenoidal Tracker at RHIC) is exploring the contributions to the proton’s spin. A proton is made up of both quarks and gluons, which must contribute to its spin. The spin of a proton is known to be 1/2 h-bar, with the intrinsic spin of quarks contributing approximately 30% of the total spin, while the gluon intrinsic spin contribution and orbital momentum contributions are unknown. To make these measurements, we use data from the longitudinally polarized proton beams collided at RHIC (Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider) at Brookhaven National Lab. From there we measure the asymmetry (ALL) in particle production of neutral pions (Pi0) and eta particles from differently spin-aligned collisions. ALL is the primary target of this research because it is proportional to the gluon spin contribution. At STAR, we specifically use the EEMC (Endcap Electromagnetic Calorimeter) to identify photons from the particle decays and determine the number of particles as a function of spin state.

Updating Analyses of 6 Proto-Planetary Nebulae Peyton J Grimm, Bruce J Hrivnak Physics and Astronomy PHYS-7
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My research was conducted on proto-planetary nebulae and attempted to find one or multiple periods to their brightness. Proto-Planetary Nebulae (PPNe) are stars late in their evolution in transition between the asymptotic giant branch stage and the planetary nebulae stage. They are known to pulsate, and some have been found to have multiple periods to their pulsation. The goal of this research is to find these periods so that we may better understand the internal properties of PPNe. I conducted my research under the guidance of Professor Bruce Hrivnak. The six stars I researched have been previously studied by him and documented in his paper, Variability in Proto-Planetary Nebulae I. Light Curve Studies of 12 Carbon-Rich Objects (Hrivnak et al. 2010). I have updated the analyses of these stars using new data from the All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae in addition to the Valparaiso University Observatory. To analyze my PPNe candidates, I studied their light curves (brightness over time) using a period searching program called Period04. All of my stars display cyclical variability to their brightness. 5 stars have at least 1 period while 3 have 2 periods to their brightness. The periods for my stars range between 30 and 180 days. None of my stars have shown evidence for long-term (multi-year) periods thought not to be associated with pulsation. This research is supported by an NSF REU grant.

Searching for Periodicity in a Sample of Evolved Stars Sean Egan Physics and Astronomy PHYS-8
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Searching for Periodicity in a Sample of Evolved Stars

My research focuses on finding periodicity in the light variations of a sample of proto-planetary nebulae (PPNe). Proto-planetary nebulae are stars late in their evolution, when they are in transition between the red giant and the planetary nebulae phases. These come from stars like the sun. Analysis of data shows that these objects periodically pulsate, and some have been found to have multiple periods to their pulsation. The main goal is to find pulsation periods for these PPNe, in order to better understand their internal properties. This research was overseen by Dr. Bruce Hrivnak. I am studying two different groups of PPNe. The first group of four has shown evidence of long-term, multi-year variations in previous preliminary studies, and we want to do a complete analysis of their light curves to determine both the pulsation periods and the multi-year periods simultaneously. For example, one has a pulsation period of 103 days and a long-term period of ~3.5 years. The second group are new, previously unstudied PPNe. I am using light curve data from the publicly-available All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae, and also, in most cases, data obtained at the Valparaiso University Observatory. Analysis is conducted via Period04, a program which searches for periods in a dataset. For those with long-term periodic variations, the cause is likely due to external factors, such as dust or a binary companion. This research is supported by a grant from the Indiana Space Grant Consortium.

Measuring ? Longitudinal Double-Spin Asymmetry ALL with 2012 STAR Endcap Calorimeter Data Maggie Bliese Physics and Astronomy PHYS-9
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Using the Solenoidal Tracker at RHIC (STAR) we can measure the longitudinal double-spin asymmetry (ALL) in the production of ? particles from the collisions of longitudinally polarized protons at ?s = 510 GeV. The ? particles decay into two photons. These photons produce electromagnetic showers in the Endcap Electromagnetic Calorimeter (EEMC) from which the energies and positions of the incoming photons are determined. From these data, we can then calculate the invariant mass of photon pairs and produce a two-photon invariant mass spectrum. In this spectrum, some pairs of photons are from ?-decays and others are combinatorial background. The spectrum is then fitted using a Gaussian function to represent the ? particles plus a polynomial function to describe the background photon pairs. The total number of ? particles is then obtained from integrating the fitted Gaussian function. Finally, the ALL is calculated from the number of ? particles produced in collisions of protons with different spin alignments, from which we can infer information about the gluon contribution to the spin of the proton. The status of the analysis using the 2012 data set will be presented.