Learn more about some of the fascinating research projects students are conducting in collaboration with their faculty mentors as part of the University’s innovative Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program.
July 12, 2021
This summer, 12 students are taking part in the University of New Haven’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program. Working with a faculty mentor, students develop a research proposal, conduct an intensive research project, then present their results to the University community.
One of several faculty-mentored research opportunities offered at the University, SURF enables students across all majors to develop their research skills, gaining a competitive advantage when applying for graduate programs and jobs after graduation. Here is a preview of several of the research projects that students and their faculty mentors will be conducting this summer.
“This year’s SURF program connects students working on exciting research projects across nine different disciplines, including physics, psychology, English, and forensic science,” said Kevin Barnes-Ceeney, Ph.D., and Christy Smith, Ph.D., speaking at a recent program for SURF participants. “There is tremendous potential for interdisciplinary collaboration, which can provide us with fresh insights and new possibilities.”
SURF Project: Development of Protocol for Measuring Ammonia Evolution from Meat during Spoilage
By Ingrid Abanto Chaffo ’22
The objective of this project is to gain a deep understanding of the factors contributing to beef spoilage. Some factors that will be monitored closely are storage temperature, freshness, weight, and levels of ammonia gas. Ammonia gas is a key detection agent in the spoilage process as it is usually present only as a byproduct of decomposition.
The information gathered from these tests will be obtained over the course of several weeks. The knowledge acquired from this preliminary experimentation will assist in the development of a protocol for ammonia detection and beef spoilage. Additionally, the data gathered will assist in the development of a new nanofiber material created to detect the levels of ammonia gas in beef packages. This device would be used in these packages to show when an item of beef is no longer in the proper condition to buy.
I am looking forward to gaining experience in research through trial and error with the guidance of my mentor, Dr. Nancy Savage. This opportunity has helped me gain a better understanding of the intricacies of experimentation and research.
I am hoping to learn more about the spoilage process of beef and to use this information for the development of a detection device. I hope to gain knowledge on the most appropriate strategy for detecting this process.
My project is focused on the spoilage of beef because I hope the research I do now will help the food product industry ensure that the meat products sold are developed in the best condition possible, lessening risks of food poisoning.
My project is heavily focused on the chemistry and the biological evolution of beef spoiling in different conditions. While Dr. Savage has never directly worked with the spoilage process, she has had previous research with molybdenum oxide as a gas detection sensor, which is similar to my overall objective. Her experience and knowledge about creating gas detecting devices will be key to the development of a device for the spoilage of meats.
Ingrid Abanto Chaffo ’22, a forensic science major, is working under the mentorship of Nancy Savage, Ph.D.
SURF Project: Forensic Engineering 3D Printed Parts – Tracking Printer Brand/Type to 3D Printed Parts
By Jared Gabriele ’24
This project’s main goal is to investigate any possible correlations between the software or printer used to generate an object by means of 3D printing with the resulting component. This is a follow-up to past SURF research projects that followed similar intents. For this project, the parts will be analyzed for any physical traits in the models that could lead to the origin of the component.
To allow for more accurate and diverse data, the printing of the components themselves will be outsourced to other maker spaces nearby to provide more variety in sources of software and printers as well as the configurations used by these processes that could potentially lead to the source of the print.
Should findings show there is a correlation between the component and the origin, this information could be applied to forensic and law investigations in the tracing of illicit use of 3D printers since there is currently no set method for tracing an object generated by a 3D printer to its origin.
Jared Gabriele ’24, a mechanical engineering major, is working under the mentorship of Maria-Isabel Carnasciali, Ph.D.
SURF Project: The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on College Student Mental Health Across Class Status
By Eve Hein ’22
The purpose of this study is to examine college student mental health as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic across first-year, sophomore, junior, and senior students. As COVID-19 has spread rapidly throughout the world and continues to unfold, the use of physical distancing and lessened social interaction has been enforced nationwide with negative repercussions related to mental health, especially among college students.
In relation to college students, the mental health crisis may vary due to the unique nature of the environment. Because of increased safety measures safety measures, social interaction, programming, and overall support have lessened on college campuses.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a widespread sense of disarray, with college students being one of the most heavily affected populations in terms of negative mental health symptoms due to this relatively long and stressful period of life. The goal of this study is to determine the effects of the pandemic on college student mental health and if first-year and senior students are more widely affected than sophomore and junior students.
As a member of the University’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program, I am most looking forward to expanding my knowledge on research techniques and practices while educating myself on my passion for advocating for mental health for college students.
As a student and a leader on campus, I have witnessed firsthand the mental health impact that the pandemic has had on others, and I look forward to conducting related research and applying what I learn to those who have been affected. The opportunity to work with my faculty mentor, Dr. Jeffrey Debies-Carl, has provided me with confidence and creativity to further develop my educational aspirations and the project itself.
Eve Hein ’22 is a psychology major with a concentration in forensic psychology. She is working under the mentorship of Jeffrey Debies-Carl, Ph.D.
SURF Project: Can the Shape of Our Universe Explain Dark Matter?
Hang Su ’23
The principal directions of this cosmological research are to unify the existence of dark matter and dark energy and to use higher-dimensional analysis to explain the deviations between the empirical data and theories. These deviations give rise to the proposal of dark matter and dark energy in the first place.
Dark matter refers to the unknown gravitationally interacting masses throughout the universe. Current theories on their identities argue that they can either be particles or modified gravity. One well-known example is the Modified Newtonian Gravity (MOND), an alteration in Newton’s second law.
On the other hand, dark energy is the force driving the universe’s accelerating expansion. It is hypothesized that dark matter and dark energy may be of the same nature because the numerical constants essentially describing them are almost equal in values. Additionally, the universe might be shaped flat, positively curved (closed), or negatively curved (open) from a higher dimension’s perspective.
In this research, it is also hypothesized that a positively curved universe as a four-dimensional surface on a five-dimensional hypersphere can explain 95 percent of the universe’s constitution. Following the rules of constructing a sphere in the three-dimensional world, the four- and five-dimensional hyperspheres can be modeled. The dark matter is then added to the equation using five-dimensional formalism.
The programming language Python will be utilized for solving equations that are difficult to solve analytically. This research may lead to a major shift in how the universe is perceived, and the results may contribute to the unifying theories of physics and the future survey of the universe.
I look forward to learning the most mysterious and beautiful sides of physics. Working with Dr. Poplawski and Dr. Green makes me realize the fun as well as the perseverance needed in the field of science. The SURF program offers me an invaluable opportunity to connect with my mentors and other students in a way that paves the path for my future academic career.
Hang Su ’23, a mathematics major, is working under the mentorship of Nikodem Poplawski, Ph.D., and Kevin Green, Ph.D.
SURF Project: Debunking Dog DNA: The Reliability of At-Home Dog DNA Test Kits
By Nicole Jewett ’22
The goal of this study is to investigate the legitimacy of at-home dog DNA testing kits and to find out what specific aspect of the collected DNA these Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) companies are measuring to come up with their advertised results. By testing these kits on dogs with varying breed compositions and comparing the results to what we already know about the ancestry of our subjects, we would be able to determine exactly how accurate they are.
In addition to this, we would like to interview representatives from these companies to get firsthand accounts of their scientific methods to find out which methods are based on real science and which are not, and to also compare the strategies and reference populations used by each company.
The main questions that will be answered by this research are: “How accurate are at-home dog DNA testing kits?”; “What is it within the dog’s DNA that is measured?”; and “What are the testing methods that the results are based on?” I expect to find that the breed determination results concluded by these companies are fairly accurate with purebred dogs, but as the genetic mixture becomes more complicated, I expect the results will be far less accurate.
It is also expected that many of these commercial dog DNA tests, despite their impressive claims and high ratings, are not conducting their tests or interpreting their results according to verified and regulated scientific procedures.
The goal of my project is to investigate the legitimacy of at-home dog DNA testing kits for breed identification, and to find out what these companies are measuring in the dog’s DNA to come up with their results. Aside from our actual research findings, I hope that I can finish the SURF program with more confidence in my skills as a researcher and that I will make valuable connections with other student researchers and faculty members that I can take with me throughout the rest of my education and future career.
“I was immediately impressed with Nicole’s enthusiasm for this research topic and her diligence in diving headfirst into investigating this important, yet somewhat unusual, topic,” said Claire Glynn, Ph.D., my faculty mentor. “Nicole and I are both avid dog lovers, and we both wondered what exactly these companies are analyzing in terms of the DNA. We are testing four dogs with three different company’s kits, and we are using mixed breed, designer hybrid, and purebred dogs within the study.
“Our preliminary results are very surprising,” Dr. Glynn continued. “Nicole has already proven herself to be a very talented researcher, and I look forward to seeing her develop more knowledge and skills over the course of the SURF program, and further enhancing those which she already possesses.”
Nicole Jewett ’22, a forensic science major, is working under the mentorship of Claire Glynn, Ph.D.
SURF Project: ARE-BPs that Affect mRNA Stability in the Maternal to Zygote Transition?
By Jilian Ulibarri ’22
The goal of this project is to determine how certain proteins, AU-rich element binding proteins (ARE-BPs) that bind to the AU rich elements (sequences of UAUUUAU), affect the stability of mRNA. ARE-BPs have been found to either stabilize or destabilize mRNA during the maternal to zygote transition (MZT), but it isn’t well studied how each ARE-BP is related and whether each has stabilizing or destabilizing properties.
In this project, first an analysis will be done to determine the relatedness of these different ARE-BPs. From this analysis, a phylogenetic tree will be created, showing how all of them are related to each other according to the similarities and differences found between their sequences.
Once this is done, the expression levels during zebrafish embryogenesis of the different ARE-BPs will be analyzed. It is important to know if the ARE-BP is actually present during the MZT, because if it is not there, it couldn’t be what is affecting the mRNA.
The last step will be to design some Cas13 gRNA sequences that will be able to target multiple ARE-BPs at the same time. These gRNAs paired with Cas13 will have the ability to “knock down” the activity of whatever it is targeting. The goal is to use the expression and relatedness data from earlier in the project to design these Cas13 sequences so it can be determined which ARE-BPs are indeed regulating maternal mRNA stability.
Spending this summer with Dr. Carter Takacs as my mentor is important to me because whenever we talk about my project and next steps, he always has a million ideas about the field. You can see how much he enjoys the work, which motivates me and increases my interest in the field. I am looking forward to seeing how all of the work we have been doing will come together at the end of the summer.
Jilian Ulibarri ’22, a biology major, is working under the mentorship of Carter Takacs, Ph.D.
SURF Project: Internet Addiction Among College Students in the U.S.: The Impact of COVID-19
By Peri Alexander ’23
The SURF program has given me the opportunity to create my own research project that involves both qualitative and quantitative data analysis. This summer, I’m launching a survey to collect novel data on internet addiction during the COVID-19 pandemic. I am also learning to use a new program called MAXQDA to analyze YouTube video comments that will complement my survey research. This skill is new to me, and once I master it, I’ll be able to use it for future research and in my career.
Peri Alexander ’23, a health sciences major, is working under the mentorship of Alvin Tran, Sc.D., MPH.
2021 SURF Fellows
Ingrid Abanto Chaffo
Development of Protocol for Measuring Ammonia Evolution from Meat during Spoilage
Mentor: Nancy Savage, Ph.D.
Internet Addiction Among College Students in the U.S.: The Impact of COVID-19
Mentor: Alvin Tran, Sc.D., MPH
Genome Analysis of SARS-CoV-2 Virus Variance Identification and Assessment
Mentor: Ali Senejani, Ph.D.
Forensic Engineering 3D Printed Parts: Tracking Printer Brand/type to 3D Printed Parts
Mentor: Maria-Isabel Carnasciali, Ph.D.
Crayfish Aggression in Response to Anthropogenic Stressors
Mentor: R. Christiopher O’Brien, Ph.D.
Class Rank and the COVID-19 Pandemic’s Impact on Mental Health
Mentor: Jeffrey Debies-Carl, Ph.D.
Narrative Voice and Cultural Memory in Ernest Gaines’ A Gathering of Old Men
Mentor: Diane Russo, Ph.D.
Compositional Analysis of Human Skeletal Samples Using Raman Spectroscopy and Correlation to DNA Recovery
Mentors: Angela Ambers, Ph.D., Brooke Kammrath, Ph.D., D-ABC
Identification of Bacteriophages that Target Staphylococcus Aureus MRSA Strains
Mentor: Anna Kloc, Ph.D.
Can the Shape of Our Universe Explain the Dark Matter?
Mentor: Nikodem Poplawski, Ph.D., Kevin Green, Ph.D.
ARE-BPs that Affect Maternal mRNA in the Maternal to Zygote Transition
Mentor: Carter Takacs, Ph.D.
Debunking Dog DNA: The Reliability of At-Home Dog DNA Test Kits
Mentor: Claire Glynn, Ph.D.