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Celebration of Learning 2021 poster presentations by major, I-Z

Here are poster presentations from the 2021 Celebration of Learning by major, I-Z. Also see the quick guide to posters, and posters by majors A-H.


Rachel McLeod, Joey Kreis and Camila Davila: Using an Allen Brain Map Data Set to Explore Relationships Between Neurological Changes in Alzheimer’s Disease and Traumatic Brain Injury

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Advisor: Dr. Shara Stough

Abstract: Using the Allen Institute for Brain Science’s Aging, Dementia, and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Study, we investigated the neuropathologic, molecular, and transcriptomic characterization of brains from both adult control and TBI-exposure cases. The Allen Brain Atlas provides qualitative data that may support the case diagnoses of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) or other dementias. TBI is also thought to increase one’s risk of developing AD. However, possible mechanisms linking TBI to AD are currently not well understood.

The dataset includes relevant donor information like diagnosis along with quantitative data for specific genes, proteins and pathologies. Apolipoprotein isoform E4 (ApoE4) has been characterized as the strongest genetic link to AD and is commonly associated with the increased presence of amyloid beta (Aꞵ) deposition following TBI. Neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs), or bundles of hyperphosphorylated tau (p-tau), have a greater presence in both TBI and AD patients. Finally, melatonin receptor levels are reduced in TBI and application of melatonin reduces Aꞵ fibrils in ApoE4 carriers.

We hypothesize that: 1) By combining a patient’s Braak stage (NFTs) and CERAD score (Aꞵ plaques), we can categorize the likelihood that they developed AD. 2) NFTs will aggregate more in the hippocampus in AD patients with ApoE4 present but no TBI compared to those with past TBI but no ApoE4. 3) TBI patients with the lowest levels of melatonin receptor expression, who also have ApoE4 present, will be at the greatest risk for developing AD.

Tabitha Hoey, Eva Harvin, Sara Prier and Branden Fleming: Masked social interactions and psychological distress: The effects of COVID-19 on college students

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Advisor: Dr. Shara Stough

Abstract: Our faces are powerful tools for nonverbal communication. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, mask wearing has become more common in order to mitigate transmission of disease. Previous research has found that partial occlusion of the face provides a unique obstacle to an individual’s ability to perceive emotions from social expressions.

The lower half of the face seems to be more involved in conveying positive emotions and the upper half of the face seems to be more involved in conveying negative emotions (Bombari et al. 2013). When the lower half of the face is covered, the emotions of that target are perceived as more negative, resulting in a more negative evaluation of the target (Fischer et al., 2012) and of the quality of the social interaction (Wong et al., 2013). Additionally, negative social interactions are known predictors of psychological distress (Lincoln, 2008).

Based on the previous research described above, we asked how masked social interactions during the current COVID-19 pandemic are impacting mental health. We hypothesized that wearing a mask during social interactions for a prolonged period of time will result in more psychological distress among participants.

In this experiment, participants took part in an online survey that measured negative social interactions, psychological distress, and social/emotional loneliness. Additionally, participants were asked to interpret the emotions displayed by masked and unmasked faces. Finally, participants were asked questions about the frequency of their masked interactions and perceptions of mask-wearing.

This study can provide useful information about how face mask usage may negatively impact social interactions, and in turn mental health, which could be an important topic for future research.

Lauren Licursi: BDNF and HDAC5 expression in the human hippocampus following TBI: Relevance to epigenetic regulation of neurogenesis

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Advisor: Dr. Shara Stough

Abstract: cAMP response element-binding (CREB) protein is a transcription factor that binds to certain DNA sequences (CREs) to regulate the transcription of genes. One of the genes regulated by CREB is brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF is an important molecule expressed in the hippocampus during learning and memory. It also plays a critical role in promoting neurogenesis, or the growth of new neurons.

Epigenetic modulation of gene expression involves changes in methylation or acetylation of DNA or associated histone proteins to increase or decrease accessibility of the DNA to important transcriptional proteins. Previous studies have shown a role for epigenetic regulation of BDNF. Deacetylation of histones decreased BDNF transcription. Furthermore, in rats, exercise increased the presence of BDNF mRNA in the hippocampus and this was associated with a decrease in histone deacetylase 5 (HDAC5) mRNA. HDAC5 is a pertinent regulator involved in epigenetics and brain plasticity.

Neurogenesis is known to be induced following both exercise and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Therefore we would like to explore whether the same relationship exists between BDNF and HDAC5 mRNA expression in human brains exposed to TBI as was observed in rat brains following exercise.

To explore this question, we will use the publicly-available Aging, Dementia, and TBI data set provided by the Allen Institute for Brain Science. Researchers collected data about whether human donors had ever experienced a TBI along with other demographic and clinical data. Gene expression in four brain areas was quantified using RNA sequencing. We will study BDNF and HDAC5 expression in the hippocampus of patients with and without TBI in hopes of replicating the correlation observed in mice following exercise.

Sarah Spears and Margaret Lukas: Functional Connectivity Between the Right Amygdala and Temporoparietal Junction in Relation to Empathy

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Advisor: Dr. Shara Stough

Abstract: Empathy is defined as the capacity to feel and understand another’s experience from their perspective. Those who have psychopathic disorders struggle with recognizing pain in the other’s experience. Studies have found that inhibition of the temporoparietal junction (TPJ) and amygdala individually, decreases the empathetic response. The amygdala deals primarily with processing emotion, especially aggression and fear. The temporoparietal junction plays a distinct role in theory of mind, or, anticipating what another person is thinking. Both areas have also been linked to determining self v. other.

In this study, we began to investigate the relationship between the amygdala, TPJ, and empathy and explore the possibility that these areas are functionally linked during empathic tasks. We performed a term-based meta-analysis based on fMRI data available at to identify links between the two brain areas. Articles in the database are automatically tagged with terms that appear at a high rate in the text and coordinates of activated brain regions are extracted. The relationship between brain area activation and specific terms are then quantified across the database.

Both the TPJ and amygdala were consistently activated in studies of empathy and the TPJ was selectively activated in studies about empathy. Although, the data available did not allow us to measure specifically whether there was a direct relationship between the TPJ and amygdala in studies of empathy, 52% of studies showing activation of the TPJ also frequently discussed the amygdala, and 57% of studies showing activation of the amygdala frequently discussed the TPJ. Further research is required in order to perform a custom analyses about these relationships specifically in studies about empathy.


Oscar Peterson-Veatch: Improving our Understanding of Neutron Detection after Isotopic Decay

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Project advisor: Dr. Nathan Frank

Abstract: In my research I worked with data from the Modular Neutron Array (MoNA) Collaboration’s isotopic decay experiments. I analyzed this data by running Monte Carlo simulations set to different energy decay levels to emulate the experimental data. By comparing the simulated histograms and experimental histograms we can gain a greater understanding of neutron detection and draw conclusions about what types of decay certain isotopes undergo. 

My work was a part of the MoNA Collaboration. The MoNA Collaboration consists of Augustana College, Hope College, Davidson College, Wabash College, Michigan State University, Indiana University South Bend and Indiana Wesleyan University.

Liam Russell: Entangled Single-Photon Interference from SPDC Source: An Experimental Design

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Advisor: Dr. Cecilia Vogel and Dr. James van Howe

Abstract: The quantum behavior of light has been observed since the origin of classical Optics, but until recent years individual photon optics has not been easily accessible in an undergraduate laboratory setting. With the adaptation of blue-ray DVD technology, lasers at appropriate wavelengths for entangled photon generation via spontaneous parametric down conversion (SPDC) have become more widely available, making experimental setups requiring entangled pairs of photons possible where previously they had not been.

Our lab’s experimental setup can be divided into two parts; entangled pair production via SPDC and Bell-State probing through a single-photon interference interferometer setup. This project outlines an experimental design and setup of both of these parts and describes potential applications for the setup in future undergraduate coursework and/or research.


Madison Bonati, Emmy Sharaan, Emily Szabo, J.J. Thaw, and Emma Gannaway: Conversational synchrony and communicative success in masked and virtual interactions

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Advisor: Dr. Rupa Gordon

Abstract: During interpersonal communication, physiological responses like heart rate and skin conductance response (SCR) synchronize (Marci et al., 2007). Previous research has found that female-female dyads have better motor (Cheng et al., 2017) and gaze (Mulac, 1987) synchrony than male-male dyads. However, most studies have only evaluated gender differences using a binary scale and have not analyzed gender differences in physiological synchrony. Additionally, cooperation induces more synchrony than competition (Sinha et al., 2016). This may be due to multiple factors, some of which may intertwine with gender. Females are more likely to cooperate (Peshkovskaya et al., 2018), likely related to differences in social characteristics (Cheng et al., 2017).

This experiment explores how competition and cooperation may affect physiological synchrony in similar-gender and mixed-gender dyads. Participants were paired with a partner and randomly assigned to a condition. In the competitive task, participants had the same predetermined pattern to make on a Connect Four board. They took turns to try to make the pattern first while also blocking their partner. In the cooperative task, participants worked together, taking turns to make a predetermined pattern. In both conditions, participants’ SCR was recorded to assess physiological synchrony. We hypothesize that cooperation will show more physiological synchrony than competition, and dyads higher in femininity will show more synchrony than masculine or mixed masculinity/femininity pairs. There will be an interaction between task and gender such that dyads higher in femininity will have a greater increase in synchrony during cooperation compared to the other groups.