Example Abstracts

2019 Winners

Poster: Accessing Health Information: College Students' Health Literacy and Resource Use

Andrew Gagnon

Health literacy is an individual’s ability to obtain and understand health care information, and to use this information when making health-related decisions (Berkman, Davis, and McCormack, 2010). The purpose of the present study was to gain a better understanding of college students’ overall health literacy as well as their perceptions regarding the use of technology to obtain health-related information. Eighty-six college students completed two standardized health literacy questionnaires, the Newest Vital Sign (NVS) and the eHEALS. Results from the NVS indicate that almost one-fourth of the students in this sample are at risk for low health literacy. On the eHEALS, the internet was reported as the most frequently used source for health-related information (followed by doctors and parents). However, despite the popularity of the internet as a source of information, 25% of students did not feel that they had the skills needed to evaluate web-based health resources. Rates of low health literacy in this study were lower than those found in broader samples of the United States population. However, the findings do suggest that college students should not be an overlooked population. Given the important consequences of health-related decisions, college students are an important population to target for health literacy interventions. Additionally, campus-based health promotion and prevention programs should be developed with the understanding that many students are not easily able to process health-related information.

Oral Presentation: Microplastics in the Nashua River Watershed

Samantha Richard

Microplastics are small pieces of plastic between the sizes of 0.3 mm and 5 mm. Microplastics come from a number of different sources and have been identified as health risks to humans and aquatic life. To smaller life, such as small fish, problems associated with microplastics are more prevalent than larger organisms. Decreased fertility and cancer have been linked to the contamination due to microplastics in smaller organism. Since plastic is becoming such a large-scale problem around the world, we decided to test water samples and, later, fish samples for plastic contamination in tributaries to the Nashua River. In every water sample we took, we found measurable amounts of microplastics, with Wekepeke Brook being the most contaminated. We then examined fish samples from Wekepeke and have found microplastics in these as well. Different species show different amounts of microplastics, however, which we attribute to their position in the water column. While most of the attention on microplastics to date has focused on larger water bodies and large, commercially important fish species, our results show that even small streams and their aquatic life may be just as impacted.

2018 Winners

Poster: Synthesis of Fluorine-Containing Compounds

Lixandra Numbem

A literature search on the list of top selling pharmaceutical drugs in the past two years reveals that over 20% contain at least one atom of fluorine. In addition, the number of fluorine-containing pharmaceutical drugs, agrochemicals and industrial products have sky-rocketed in the past few decades with many more expected to be FDA-approved in the next year. The unique nature of the fluorine atom imparts a variety of properties including drug metabolism and stability, as well as improved efficacy. Unfortunately, the incorporation of fluorine into organic compounds is often difficult and has been achieved by non-conventional methods. There is, thus, continuing interest in the design of cost-effective and efficient synthesis for fluorocarbons. We have prepared and characterized some fluorine-containing small molecules and have investigated their applications as building blocks for larger fluorocarbon compounds. Our synthetic routes would eventually be applied in the synthesis of lead compounds which have biological relevance. We have found the fluorine-containing compounds we synthesized to be stable at room temperature based on spectroscopic data.

Oral Presentation: Analysis of tRNA-Directed Riboswitches in Bacillus cereus and Bacillus anthracis

John Sanford

tRNA-directed riboswitches are a genetic regulatory mechanism found in gram-positive bacteria, including pathogenic genera such as Staphylococcus, Streptococcus and Clostridium. Expression of these genes depends on concentration of amino acids within a cell; elevated levels of an amino acid will lead to the cognate tRNA being predominantly charged and low levels of an amino acid leaving the tRNA predominantly uncharged. A charged tRNA interacting with the riboswitch will lead to premature termination of gene expression, while uncharged tRNA will stabilize an alternative riboswitch structure and allow expression of downstream genes typically responsible for translation, amino acid biosynthesis and uptake of amino acids. Because these riboswitches are highly conserved across gram-positive bacteria, and the genes regulated by this mechanism are often essential to the bacterium's survival, it is a promising target for developing new narrow-spectrum antibiotics. In this project, these genetic regulatory elements were analyzed using bioinformatics to predict amino acid specificity. To test how these genes are expressed under low amino acid conditions, Bacillus cereus cells were grown on a chemically-defined minimal media and starved for a specific amino acid. Through real-time PCR, the rate of gene expression can be quantified testing hypothesized amino acid specificity.

2017 Winners

Poster: Narcan for Dummies

Lexie Stewart, Kasandra Gonet, Courtney Hertz, Lisa Kay

Since 2013, opioid overdoses have become more prominent in the news. There has been an increase of one-thousand deaths reported in Massachusetts alone (Massachusetts Department of Public Health, 2017). Because of this epidemic the discussion about Narcan (Naloxone), the opioid reversal medication that is administered after an overdose occurs is essential. The focus of our project is to educate our peers about what Narcan is, how to get it, and how many overdose related deaths occur every year compared to how many have been prevented by using Narcan. The costs of Narcan for anyone to purchase over the counter at a local pharmacy differs based on where you live. The aim of our project is to provide helpful information to inform our peers about the importance of Narcan, how to effectively administer Narcan and how this medication is saving lives. There is often a negative connotation that is associated with this medication and a negative stigma associated with this patient population that has become more noticeable in the community eye, yet this is a crucial medication that is saving lives. The goal of this presentation is to answer questions and provide beneficial information to help increase understanding of why this medication is essential and to hopeful ease the negative connotations associated with this patient population and the medication. Everyone has the right to live and get help even when help is not asked for; that’s why this medication is vital to our society whether or not you believe that.

Presentation: An Academic Study of Artificial Intelligence Use in the Classroom for Students with Disabilities

Eljah Tucker

This presentation investigates the uses of artificial intelligence within the classroom for students with disabilities. This presentation will first investigate the definitions needed to talk about the combinations of the two fields of artificial intelligence and disability awareness. It will then look more deeply into what artificial intelligence is and the possible issues with it. The final part of this presentation looks at the current uses of artificial intelligence for students with disabilities.

2016 Winners

Poster: How Fat Regulates Stress Response Signaling in the Model Organism C. elegans

Jacquelyn Durkan and Hannah Lombardo

The focus of our study was to determine if and how fat regulates stress resistance and aging in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. To determine this, we used the gst-4p::GFP reporter strain. GST-4 is a target of the oxidative stress defense transcription factor SKN-1. Our collaborators at Harvard found that the ingestion of coconut oil activates SKN-1 in C. elegans. We started by performing a targeted screen using gst-4::GFP fluorescence as a read out. We looked at consumer-available oils to determine which, if any, activated SKN-1. We found that olive oil, almond oil, and avocado oil greatly activate gst-4::GFP. Oils are composed of mostly triglycerides and phenols. Next, we determined whether the fatty acids or phenols in the oils activate SKN-1. To do this, we allowed works to smell, but not ingest, fatty acids extracted from the oil, phenols extracted from the oil, or a combination of both. Once we determine all the component(s) responsible for SKN-1 activation, we will perform RNA interference (RNAi) to determine which pathway in the worm is activating SKN-1 to make it more stress resistant. We will also test to see if the increase of fat-induced increase in SKN-1 activity can enhance stress resistance, lifespan, potentially reducing the effects of aging. 

Presentation: GIS Internship with the Ayer Department of Public Works

Robin Pike

In the fall 2015 and spring 2016 semesters, I worked as the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) intern for the the Department of Public Works (DPW) in the town of Ayer, Massachusetts. The goal of this internship was to learn beyond the classroom through community-based service learning using GIS practices. Since joining the DPW, I have had the opportunity to work closely with the department's superintendent and the town engineer on a variety of GIS projects. My responsibilities included: helping collect GIS information on the department's various assets, formatting data in more accessible ways, creating maps of the town's infrastructure, documenting and linking location-specific information to interactive maps, and conducting condition assessments of sidewalks and roadside guardrails. I have processed both digital and physical data and maps. This internship has provided me with invaluable experiences and insight into the realm of GIS professionals. 

Additional Examples

A Strategy to Examine the Function of Deoxyribonuclease IIβ in Chicken Fibroblast Cells

In most species, there are two genes encoding isoforms of deoxyribonuclease II (DNaseII), alpha and beta. In mammals, DNaseIIα is ubiquitously expressed and responsible for the degradation of apoptotic cell DNA by phagocytic cells. The loss of the DNaseIIα gene is lethal in mice. DNaseIIβ shows a limited expression pattern and degrades DNA in the lenses of mice during lens maturation and loss of this gene function is not lethal, but results in nuclear cataracts. Interestingly, DNaseIIα and β share the same intron and exon structure, and during evolution of vertebrates, the DNaseIIα gene was lost in birds and lizards. We hypothesize that DNaseIIβ is compensating for the loss of DNaseIIα in chickens, and should therefore be ubiquitously expressed in all chicken cells. Also, inhibition of DNaseIIβ expression in chicken cells should prevent the degradation of engulfed apoptotic cell DNA. Hirota et al. (2005) have found that mouse fibroblasts can engulf and degrade apoptotic cells and their DNA. To begin addressing our questions, the current project aims to establish assays to examine the activity of DNaseIIβ in DF-1 chicken fibroblast cells and find a way to induce and detect apoptosis in these cells.

Gender Construction in the Television Comedy Family

My project was originally a historical perspective analysis and media study on families portrayed in comedies. Though it has grown more into a study portraying the ideas of gender constructed in a family setting. This presentation evaluates the idea of gender in popular television series today focusing on shows that are centered around families. This study aims to analyze whether the television shows now are more diverse and show more positive ideas of gender identity than past comedies. Historically speaking we have seen the television sitcoms evolve and take on new forms. From the more and more diverse families being portrayed including ethnic families, extended families, and non-traditional families. From a first glance it looks like diversity and inclusion are expanding in the television world. But if one looks a little deeper we will see that there are still reinforced stereotypes within these inclusive shows. Are television shows still illustrating negative ideas about gender and gender roles in family settings. Are comedies helping our society or hurting our society? I plan on presenting an engaging presentation with opening questions to get the audience thinking. Then I will demonstrate the trends that I have noticed through my media study including examples from the various shows that I examined. This presentation will focus mainly on the following television series Modern Family, Parenthood, My Wife and Kids, Blackish Goodluck Charlie, Baby Daddy, George Lopez, and Gilmore Girls. These shows were selected based on the diversity of families and their central plot line occurring in the home. Throughout these examples from today I will include comparison and contrast moments from historical media that I have researched to illustrate how gender ideas have changed over time. I will focus on some archetypes which I have noticed through my research. These archetypes will demonstrate these gender ideas and where we are are with how gender is portrayed in the media today.

Power Sums and the Bernoulli Numbers

Faulhaber’s formula is a way to more compactly write the first n nonnegative integers raised to the pth power then summed. The result is a polynomial whose coefficient include the Bernoulli numbers. We investigate the properties of Bernoulli numbers and the the Faulhaber formula, including the fact that the sum of the coefficients is 1 and other fascinating properties. The formula also gives rise to the sum of the triangular numbers often seen in precalculus and calculus classes. Some additional properties that will be considered are if these polynomials are orthogonal, if they are still true for more than a non-negative integer domain, and each polynomials average value.

The Market Skatepark: A Lesson in Social Networking

Crowdfunding is a unique and innovative way for individuals and organizations to reach out to a community and engage an audience in order to raise money for a project. But what makes them so successful? The answer is simple: networking. Social media has allowed online networking to become quite effective and efficient, but a majorly successful crowdfunding campaign also involves networking both on and off the screen. An excellent example of this is the newly founded Market Skatepark in Beverly, Massachusetts. A tight-knit group of Massachusetts skateboarders banded together and collaborated with local arts organizations and community members to successfully fund a $5,000 project in a little over 48 hours. In this presentation, I explore the synergistic relationship between digital networking and real-life networking, as well as analyze the specific social media tactics that made this crowdfunding campaign so successful. In addition, I discuss what we can learn from this, as well as ways that these various social networking tactics and approaches can be utilized by others to successfully crowdfund other projects.