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Abstracts-2011

In Summer 2011, the Scieneering program welcomed its first cohort of interdisciplinary undergraduate researchers. Below we invite you to read about some of the exciting research in which the Scieneers were, and some still are, actively engaged.

 

    Scieneers 2011 Torgerson Bridge

Summer 2011 Scieneers from the inaugural cohort: (L-R) Madison Preib, Kyle Harring, Sunny Chang, David Marshall, Meghan Canter, Robert Jones, Winston Becker, Vamshi Kammari, Ashley Taylor.

 


 

Student: Hannah Barber (Biology)
Mentor: Bahareh Behkam (ME/BES)
Project Title: Biomechanics of Bacterial Infection

Abstract: Biofilms are communal structures of microorganisms encased in an exopolymeric matrix that form on both biotic and abiotic surfaces and have been associated with a variety of persistent infections that respond poorly to conventional antibiotic chemotherapy. Biofilm infections of medical implants by common pathogens are not only associated with increased morbidity and mortality but are also significant contributors to the emergence and dissemination of antibiotic resistance traits in the nosocomial setting. Current treatment paradigms for biofilm-associated infections typically involve a combination of surgical replacement of the implant and long-term antibiotic therapy, which incur high health care costs and remain controversial because compelling evidence of their effectiveness is lacking and their application is likely to further exacerbate the problem of nosocomial antibiotic resistance. We hypothesize that micro/nano-scale surface features may provide a more persistent form of interaction between bacteria and surfaces, thus, influencing bacterial attachment and arrangement on surfaces, which ultimately affects biofilm development. We propose a novel antifouling strategy based on engineering customizable micro/nano-scale topological features on surfaces to limit and prevent biofilm formation.  A greater understanding of microbial adhesion and biofilm formation achieved through this work will lead to more efficient antifouling strategies and will provide insights into the control of biological growth in applications ranging from medical devices to bioelectricity production. The developed platform can also contribute to the better understanding of host-pathogen relationships and further elucidation of basic biofilm biology.


 

    Winston Becker
Student: Winston Becker (ESM)
Mentor: Richard Gandour (Chemistry)
Project Title: Functional Nanoparticles for Targeted Drug Delivery

Abstract: Engineering versatile nanoparticles as drug delivery vehicles that enable simultaneous delivery of several agents is a key challenge in nanomedicine. The ability to simultaneously deliver therapeutic and neutriceutic agents to control infectious diseases, while reducing the emergence of resistant pathogens, with a simple formulation that ensures a uniform distribution of all agents is unattainable with current delivery systems. Liposomes, which encapsulate an aqueous solution inside a hydrophobic bilayer membrane, can deliver both hydrophobic and hydrophilic agents. While liposomes have been studied for drug delivery vehicles since the 1970s, their efficacy has been limited by stability issues.  Liposomes would gain significant stability and functional capacity by having a solid core, tethered to the bilayer by strong linkers. The ultimate goal of this project is to construct a nanoparticle that can solve a long-standing medical challenge.


 

Student: Alex Callo (Biology/ biochemistry)
Mentor: Yong Lee (Biomedical Enginering)
Project Title: Analyzing the Effectiveness of Cellulose Nanofibers as Targeted Therapeutic Drug Carriers Against Numerous Types of Cancer

Abstract: Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the United States. Although there have been great improvements in early detection and treatment, cancer remains a significant public health problem due to the limitations of currently available, but dated, therapy. Acid hydrolysis of native cellulose fibers produces highly stable aqueous suspensions of cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs), rod-like polysaccharide-based nanoparticles. Owing to their favorable chemical, physicochemical and mechanical properties, CNCs have been evaluated for a wide range of potential applications. The non-toxic nature and high biocompatibility of cellulose render CNCs particularly suitable for applications in the pharmaceutical and medical field. The biomedical potential of CNCs in imaging agent/therapeutic drug carriers, however, has not yet been explored. Therefore, we hypothesize that CNCs are a novel nanocarrier for cancer imaging and treatment applications. The specific aims to study our main hypothesis include (1) determination of the efficacy of CNC conjugates in cancer imaging in vitro and in vivo, and (2) determination of the efficacy of CNC conjugates in cancer treatment in vitro and in vivo. The proposed study (1) will provide a new biological role for CNCs, (2) will contribute to the development of a potential, novel strategy for diagnosis and treatment of cancer, (3) will represent the first instance of functionalization of CNCs for targeted delivery of various compounds including imaging/contrast agents and therapeutic drugs for cancer imaging and treatment applications, and will be the stepping-stone to other biofunctionalized CNC conjugates selectively targeted against a variety of human diseases, and (4) will foster the continued collaborations of an innovative, multi-disciplinary research program by integrating the cell biology/toxicology and biomedical imaging expertise, biomaterials and polymer chemistry strength, and toxicologic pathology/oncology skills.


 

Student: Meghan Canter (Biology)          
Mentor: Bahareh Behkam (ME/BES) and Birgit Scharf (Biology)
Project Title: Towards a Distributed Network of BacteriaBots for Biosensing

Abstract: This project aims to exploit the sophisticated and robust machinery of bacteria for actuation, sensing, communication, and control of a new class of micron scale (characteristic length: 10-100 µm) robotic systems called BacteriaBots. A BacteriaBot is a bio-hybrid swimming microrobot realized by interfacing an ensemble of live engineered bacteria with a microfabricated robot body. Mobile Networks of BacteriaBots (MNBB) can be utilized as intelligent, reconfigurable and adaptable networks to address challenges in sensing, manufacturing, and transport and delivery of cargo at reduced length scales. This effort will contribute to the critical understanding required to advance the science of bio-hybrid microrobotics and distributed control at reduced lengthscales and develop enabling means to achieve real-life objectives through distributed control of MNBBs. These next generation distributed robotic systems hold promise to have enormous socioeconomic benefits and significantly impact many fields-including biosensing, medicine, micro-manufacturing and assembly, microelectronics, and biomaterials.


 

Student: Chelsea Carey (Biology)
Mentor: Andrea Dietrich (CEE)
Project Title: Do Supertasters Have Different Drinking Water Preference Than Tasters and Nontasters?

Abstract: The increasing demands on the world’s water supplies have led to water reuse (wastewater to drinking water) and desalination as viable means of producing drinking water.  The resulting pure water is devoid of minerals and, although it is good for hydration, it has no nutritional value and does not taste good. Remineralization of desalinated water is typically done by passing it through limestone (calcium carbonate) which increases the calcium content. Magnesium, another key mineral found in natural water, which is essential for cardiovascular health, is not typically added during remineralization because of its more bitter taste. Through the use of supertasters, individuals genetically predisposed to have an unusually high amount of taste buds, we will determine drinking water preferences related to the magnesium content of water. We will determine if taster status corresponds to a liking for magnesium and if taster status correlates with a perception of bitterness for calcium and magnesium. 

Commercial taste strips will be used to determine taster status of volunteer human subjects and then the subject will taste drinking water samples with varying concentrations of calcium and magnesium. It is hypothesized that a supertaster will detect magnesium and rate the bitterness of water.


 

Student: Sunny Chang (MSE) and Vamshi Kammari (MSE)
Mentor: Felicia Etzkorn (Chemistry)
Project Title: Self-Assembling Collagen Peptides

Abstract: Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body and is important because it provides a matrix for cell support and is the main component of connective tissue. Collagen is found in our ears, nose, skin, and joints. It is very elastic, but also has great tensile strength. Despite its abundance in the body, science does not yet fully understand collagen; to mimic it would be a tremendous medical accomplishment. A number of medical problems arise from the breakdown or failure of collagen, called collagenases, including arthritis, wounds, burns, and joint damage. In collagenases peptide bonds are broken.           Currently, collagen replacement comes from animals, and as a result, there is a high incidence of viral and bacterial contamination. Synthetic collagen would eliminate these contaminations and improve the mechanical strength of the collagen matrix and reduce collagenases. 

This research will have two components: to better understand collagen through computer modeling and visualization and to create stable synthetic collagen. Synthetic collagen will be stabilized by synthesizing collagen-inspired polymers with trans-Pro isosteres through peptide synthesis. The trans-Pro isosteres are expected to stabilize the polymer to mimic the natural conformation of the collagen triple helix to give a biologically stable material. Once the peptides are synthesized, they will be purified and identified using HPLC, characterized using HPLC and mass spectrometry, and finally, the triple-helix unfolding with temperature will be monitored by circular dichroism.


 

Student: Brian Deegan (General Engineering)
Mentor: James Ivory ((Communications)
Project Title: Psychological and Physiological Responses to Video Games, Virtual Environments, and Simulations

Abstract: For years, violent video games have created controversy as video game graphics have improved and players have demanded a more visceral and realistic experience. In this study, I will attempt to quantify user reactions to video games with violence by measuring physiological responses including, but not limited to, heart rate, mental activity, and user responses to a series of surveys, and I will compare these reactions to video games without violence. This research will take place in the Virginia Tech Gaming and Media Effects Research Laboratory (VT G.A.M.E.R. Lab), a small laboratory facility dedicated to investigating the social impact of video games, immersive virtual environments, simulations, and related media technologies. Participants will be recruited to use a computer or media application while one or more physiological responses are measure with electrodes, followed by collection of a series of questionnaire items. The results of this study would help the video game industry determine if games with more violence produce a greater reaction in players and could also help parents, who are undecided about letting children play violent video games.


 

Student: Emily Gibson (Fisheries Sc)
Mentor: Andrea Dietrich (CEE)
Project Title: The Effect of Varying Types of Trough Material on the Bioavailability of Iron Present in Dairy Cow Drinking Water

Abstract: This project will include research on the solubility and bioavailability of iron in groundwater supplied to dairy cows. This research combines an investigation of water quality and its influence on the chemical speciation of iron between the reduced ferrous form, which is bioavailable, and the oxidized ferric form, which is precipitated and much less available as a nutrient to cows and their milk. 

Dairy cows consume 20-30 gallons of water a day and their drinking water can be a major source of iron in their diet. Many farmers pump groundwater from wells for their livestock, which generally contains bio-available ferrous iron. However, when the water sits stagnant in water troughs, the iron can oxidize to ferric iron, which is less soluble and less bioavailable. My hypothesis for this experiment is that the longer the ferrous groundwater stands in the dairy cow’s drinking trough, the less nutrients the cow will consume as the ferric iron precipitates and thereby causes a nutrient depletion in the cow’s diet. In turn, the amount of bio-available soluble iron that results in the milk of the livestock can ultimately affect the nutritional needs of calves and people who consume the milk. 

With the use of water stagnation, local groundwater will stand in troughs made from various materials, for varying lengths of time. Iron content will be monitored using FAA spectrophotometry to characterize the metals in water. 


 

    Kyle Harring
Student: Kyle Harring (Biology)
Mentor: Ebru Bish (ISE)
Project Title: Reducing Surgical Site Infections in Ambulatory Surgical Centers

Abstract: This project focuses on re-engineering the health care delivery process in out-patient Ambulatory Surgical Centers (ASCs) so as to reduce healthcare associated infections, in particular, surgical site infections, during outpatient processes. 

As healthcare evolves in the U.S. there is a constant emphasis on cutting costs; one of the easiest ways to do this is to minimize hospital stays, especially after surgery. This has led to increased usage of ASCs. These centers face a huge problem as they continue to grow and take on more responsibility, namely the lack of standardized guidelines for best practices. Through this project, we hope to understand the effects of this lack of guidelines on surgeon's techniques and sterilization practices, through analysis of post-operative surgical site infections, and to compare these results with surgical site infections from hospitals. The objective of this research is to find the critical points throughout patient contact which are major contributors to surgical site infections. Methodologically, the project will involve reviewing the medical literature, obtaining risk estimates from the literature, and constructing decision trees for the current process, using process and work flow analysis and risk assessment/management. After compiling and analyzing the information, we will design interventions in order to mitigate the risks involved with surgical site infections.


 

    Robert Jones
Student: Robert Jones (MSE)   
Mentor: John Geikler (VTIP)
Project Title: Commercializing Biomedical Research

Abstract: VTIP commercializes technologies developed by VT researchers and has dozens of biomedical technologies in its portfolio. Undergraduate interns with strong technical backgrounds help VTIP assess new technologies invented by VT faculty, protect the related intellectual property, and license those technologies to companies to develop into products and services. With guidance from VTIP licensing associates, students would conduct research that enables the assessment of new inventions from both a technical and a commercial standpoint. Tasks the students would be involved in will include: –conducting background research to understand the technology behind a new invention –reviewing prior art, research by others and existing products in comparison to the invention –interviewing inventors to better understand the invention and ongoing research plans –assessing an invention’s technical and commercial strengths and weaknesses  –managing intellectual property (IP) protection including coordination with patent attorneys –discussing commercialization with industry experts –contacting companies with potential commercialization interests –negotiating and managing intellectual property licensing agreements VTIP’s HHMI interns will combine hands-on experience with leading edge biomedical research together with the legal issues related to IP protection and licensing that enables research commercialization that benefits mankind.


 

Student: David Marshall (Biology)
Mentor: Justin Barone (BSE)
Project Title: Multiscale peptide self-assembly

Abstract: The research project is focused on the self-assembly of short peptide aggregates know as prions. Prions are responsible for many neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Type II Diabetes. Although the affected proteins are different in each of these diseases, the event responsible for their malfunction appears to be the same- the proteins all form into aggregated clusters of prions which prevent them from carrying out their functions. How or why these proteins form into prions is unknown and so this research is very important in potentially developing a cure and prevention for the aforementioned and other diseases. 

The initiation of prion formation involves a hydrophobic template peptide that induces an α to β transition in another peptide, the “adder” peptide. When these peptides are isolated no aggregation occurs, but when they come together, they readily assemble into prions. Spectroscopic analytical techniques will be used to describe a prion catalytic event and the progression of aggregation over time; the instrument will show a change from the α to β transitions of the adder peptide and tell us if there is prion formation and the rate of the formation. Due to the variety of peptide sequences that can aggregate into pathogenic prions, it is hypothesized that more generic peptide features are of greater importance than the specific amino acid sequences of the peptides and so, while keeping the template constant, α-helix peptide features such as length, α-helix content, and hydrophobicity will be explored to note the effect on prion initiation and progression. The ultimate goal is to develop a thermodynamic framework for peptide aggregation at physiological conditions consistent with observed initiation and progression phenomena. 


 

Student: Karan Mathur (Biochemistry)
Mentor: Xiaozhou Zhang (BSE)
Project Title: Consolidated Bioprocessing of Cellulosic Biomass for the Production of Biofuels and Biochemicals at Low Cost by Using Novel Recombinant Cellulolytic Bacillus subtilis Strains

Abstract: Different from Gram-positive Clostridium spp., Gram-negative Escherichia coli, and yeast, Bacillus subtilis strains have lots of advantages for industrial applications, including: (1) being industrially safe (generally regarded as safe microorganism by the FDA), (2) having a very high protein-secreting capability, (3) growing very fast, (4) having very low nutrient requirements, (5) utilizing multiple pentose and hexose sugars, including glucose, mannose, cellobiose, and so on, (6) having native hemicellulases, (7) tolerating very high concentrations of salts and solvents, (8) available genomic DNA sequence and recombinant DNA techniques and (9) being an animal feed additive after fermentation.  In this project, we will combine the technologies including applied microbiology, molecular biology, synthetic biology, genetic engineering, enzyme engineering and metabolic engineering to develop novel recombinant cellulolytic Bacillus subtilis strains that can produce sufficient cellulase and hemicellulase, hydrolyze pretreated lignocellulosic biomass to pentose and hexose sugars, and ferment mixed sugars to high-yield liquid biofuels, biochemical or other value-added bioproducts in a single fermentation step with only one bioreactor without addition of any costly rich nutrients.  The proposed recombinant cellulolytic B. subtilis strains would be ultra-low-cost platforms for producing numerous biocommodities from non-food biomass, with obvious advantages over other developing consolidated bioprocessing (CBP) microorganisms. Also, this effort would serve as a model system to convert other industrially important microorganisms into cellulose utilizers and result in use of renewable and less expensive substrates for the production of valuable products.


 

Student: Alexander Mercadante (Biology)
Mentor: Wu-chun Feng (CS/ECE)
Project Title: Accelerating Biological Applications via Parallel Computing

Abstract: As the fields of science and engineering develop so too must the tools used increase in accuracy, precision, and functionality. The most efficient way to accomplish this is by adapting what has already been created, such as leveraging the resource available in preexisting graphics processing units (GPUs). Instead of using the GPU to display the pixels on a laptop or an external LCD monitor, this project seeks to "hijack" the use of the GPU to do high-performance computing, rather than displaying, in the life sciences arena. 

GPUs are found on dedicated graphics cards and are primarily used for graphic-heavy computing such as games and video design. However, using proprietary computing languages, a GPU can now be programmed to work with the central processing until (CPU) in order to better handle a given task regardless of whether or not that task is graphical in nature. The purpose of the intended research is to explore the possibilities of applying the sheer processing abilities of the GPU to various biology related applications, such as (1) processing algorithms such as the Smith-Waterman sequencing algorithm used in genomics; (2) modeling biological molecules like myoglobin and comparing the performance to an average CPU; (3) comparing the energy efficiency of a CPU to a GPU performing the same task; (4) exploring ways of combining CPU and GPU processing on a single task; and (5) determining the optimum combination of CPU and GPU resources given the same task.  


 

Student: Linley Mescher (Mining Engineering)
Mentor: John Chermak (Geosciences)
Project Title: Associated Environmental Impacts Stemming from a Variety of Uranium Mining Techniques

Abstract: In the 1970’s a uranium deposit, believed to be the largest deposit in the U.S., was discovered at Coles Hill in southern Virginia approximately 100 miles from the VT campus. Current estimates of the deposit’s value are approximately $10 billion, but overriding environmental concerns have resulted in a statewide moratorium on uranium mining. 

This project will consider uranium deposits in general, but will focus on the Coles Hill deposit in southern Virginia. It will specifically focus on the environmental impacts and possible mitigation alternatives if mining does begin, but will also consider economics, safety, etc. There are many environmental impacts associated with mining and different mining techniques cause different environmental impacts and challenges and create different mitigation scenarios that need to be considered. We will study the planning, construction, operation and closure of a future mine in this location. 

This study will consider the advantages and disadvantages of underground mining, surface mining, and in situ leaching, in terms of environmental degradation, including air, water, biota, and land. Because this study will specifically consider the local climate and setting, this study will help to identify some of the environmental challenges that the mine will face and may help to inform the decisions that are being considered by the mining company, stake holders, conservation groups, and the General Assembly. In addition to multiple field visits, this project will involve lab-based investigations such as leaching experiments will be used to understand rock weathering and possible constituents of concern will be conducted.


 

Student: Logan Miller (ESM)
Mentor: Robert Grange (HNFE) & Alexander Leonessa (ME)
Project Title: Control of Skeletal Muscle By Electrical Stimulation

Abstract: Functional electrical stimulation (FES) is a neuroprosthesis technique used to restore the motor function of individuals with spinal cord injuries. The principle of FES is to use surface or implantable electrodes to generate pulses of current in intact motor neurons. This is done to induce contraction of these muscles and corresponding joint movement. In this project I will design and realize an experimental setup to test, understand, and compare muscle dynamics when electrical stimulation is applied. Such an experiment will provide the opportunity to advance understanding of the dynamic behavior of muscles and to investigate the possibility of controlling this behavior using feedback control techniques.  


 

Student: Cassidy Owen (BSE)
Mentor: Richard Gandour (Chemistry)
Project Title: Functional Nanoparticles for Targeted Drug Delivery

Abstract: Engineering versatile nanoparticles as drug delivery vehicles that enable simultaneous delivery of several agents is a key challenge in nanomedicine. The ability to simultaneously deliver therapeutic and neutriceutic agents to control infectious diseases, while reducing the emergence of resistant pathogens, with a simple formulation that ensures a uniform distribution of all agents is unattainable with current delivery systems. Liposomes, which encapsulate an aqueous solution inside a hydrophobic bilayer membrane, can deliver both hydrophobic and hydrophilic agents. While liposomes have been studied for drug delivery vehicles since the 1970s, their efficacy has been limited by stability issues.  Liposomes would gain significant stability and functional capacity by having a solid core, tethered to the bilayer by strong linkers. The ultimate goal of this project is to construct a nanoparticle that can solve a long-standing medical challenge.


 

    Stefanie Pagano
Student: Stefanie Pagano (BSE)
Mentor:  Deborah Good (HNFE) and George Davis (Ag and Applied Econ)
Project Title: Econoepigenetics-Do economics and genetics work together to influence body weight?

Abstract: Obesity is a complex phenotype influenced by genetics and the environment.  Humans live, eat, and become overweight in complex surroundings where there are many available choices and where each individual has unique constraints (e.g., financial, time) and desires for commodities.  Each individual also has a unique genetic makeup that research suggests can influence food choice. The prevailing view is that diet choice is controlled by our genes and genetics.  Our novel paradigm-shifting hypothesis is that economic conditions can change our genes, specifically intergenerational gene expression through modification of the DNA (epigenetic changes). We will test the hypothesis that economic conditions experienced by mothers can affect the behavior, physiology and gene expression of their offspring through epigenetics.  Animals have a “budget” with two food types (high fat versus low fat), each with a different price. The “price” for each pellet of food is the number of lever presses in an operant behavior chamber and the budget is the total number of lever presses available to the animal in a 16-hour period (5 PM-9 AM).  The animals must choose how to allocate their total available lever presses or “budget” across the two foods.   “Rich” or “poor” females will remain in the economic condition through birth and weaning of offspring.  Phenotypes of offspring, as related to body weight measurements will be assessed.  The study design will specifically test how maternal nutrition, as shaped by economic conditions (i.e., income and prices) affects postnatal body weight.


 

Student: Madison Preib (HNFE)
Mentor: Al Wicks (ME)     
Project Title: Pediatric Medical Devices

Abstract: The Broselow Tape is a color-coded chart used in emergency medicine situations. When an unresponsive child comes into the ER, they are measured by the chart, which directs doctors on the correct size of medical instruments to use and the correct medication dosage amounts to administer. According to the child's weight and height, the various color-coded regions on the chart contain all of the necessary trauma information for a child of that size. The purpose of this project is to convert the information found on the paper version of the emergency medical Broselow Tape into an interactive electronic format that can be projected onto a large screen for the doctor’s use in the emergency room. 

The program will be designed using LabVIEW software. After perfecting the visual presentation of data, including color scheme and font size, to ensure maximum usability (readability) in the ER setting, program modules will be tested at the Roanoke Carilion Clinic Children’s Hospital and Wake Forest Medical School. Through these test runs, the program will be modified to make it as practical and user friendly for the ER as possible. 

The eBroselow program will allow ER doctors to help the patient more quickly because the treatment information will be readily displayed, instead of requiring them to use the Broselow Tape to look up the information. The program will also allow the medical personnel to track the treatments and medications administered, and the exact time they were given.


 

Student: Clarissa Stiles (Psychology)
Mentor: Stacy Branham (CS)
Project Title: Technology for Couples

Abstract: This research is in Human-Computer Interaction, related to couples. Computers are becoming ubiquitous. Historically, computers have been key tools for getting work done in industrialized countries. However, computers are now seeping into every facet of our daily lives. The result is that engineers of new technologies need to be masters not only of technical know-how, but also of the diverse cultural settings in which their technologies will be used. Engineers need to understand the “human” and “social” sides of the devices they engineer in order to build successful products and tap into new markets. 

One such unexplored, untapped market is that of couple on committed relationships- couples who are dating, living together, engaged to be married, or married. This describes roughly 90% of the world population, yet there are very few technologies designed to target this user group and even fewer scientific efforts to explore what unique technology needs this user group may have. This research proceeds along two parallel lines of inquiry: 1) what does it mean to be a couple? And 2) what technical implications follow for couple-centered devices. 

To approach these questions, we believe that it is not only necessary to study real-world couples, but that it is also important to iteratively engineer and deploy technology prototypes to these couples. Using previously developed software specifications, this research will focus on developing an i-Pad application and then fine tuning the software as technical limitations arise. Further modifications will be made following interviews and observations of actual couples using the software.   


 

    Ashley Taylor
Student: Ashley Taylor (ME)
Mentor: Andre Muelenaer (VTC School of Med) and Al Wicks (ME)
Project Title: Pediatric Medical Devices

Abstract: This research will focus on diagnosing Cerebral Palsy in infants, which if detected early enough, could prompt early intervention to assist in the child’s development. 

Small accelerometers will be attached to the ankles and wrists of infants, in order to accurately detect and carefully quantify movement. The data will be collected at certain, predetermined frequencies. This will give us the opportunity to develop ways to analyze the data and explore how to identify Cerebral Palsy in infants. 

By quantifying infant movement and developing ways to analyze that data, we hope to be able to identify Cerebral Palsy with greater accuracy and earlier in a child's development.


 

Student: Karishma Tolani (Chem E)
Mentor: Pablo Sobrado (Biochemistry)
Project Title: Drug Discovery for Human Fungal and Mycobacterial Infections

Abstract: Iron is an essential nutrient and is typically present concentrations too low to support active proliferation of microbial pathogens in mammalian hosts. The low concentration of iron is partly due to the fact that ferric iron form insoluble hydroxides and by the action mammalian iron-binding proteins such as ferritin and lactoferitin, which further reduce iron availability. This mechanism for innate immunity adds to the barrier for survival that pathogens encounter. In order to overcome this iron deficiency in mammalian host, many invasive intracellular pathogens, such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and Aspergillus fumigatus, obtain iron via siderophores which are low molecular weight metal chelators that are involved in the uptake of iron. Siderophores varied between species and are diverse in many respects, in particular in the presence of functional groups such as, catechols, carboxylates, or hadroxamates which make the iron-binding site.  For example, mycobactin, the siderophore synthesized by the Mycobacterium tuberculosis is a hydroxamate containing siderophore, which is essential for virulence. Biosynthesis of hydroxamate containing siderophores involves the actions of novel flavin containing N-hydroxylating monooxygenases (NMO). We are designing inhibitors against  NMO that will lead to the development of novel drugs.


 

Student: Nima Vahidi (Biochemistry)
Mentor: Ebru Bish (ISE)
Project Title: Reducing Surgical Site Infections in Ambulatory Surgical Centers

Abstract: This project focuses on re-engineering the health care delivery process in out-patient Ambulatory Surgical Centers (ASCs) so as to reduce healthcare associated infections, in particular, surgical site infections, during outpatient processes. 

As healthcare evolves in the U.S. there is a constant emphasis on cutting costs; one of the easiest ways to do this is to minimize hospital stays, especially after surgery. This has led to increased usage of ASCs. These centers face a huge problem as they continue to grow and take on more responsibility, namely the lack of standardized guidelines for best practices. Through this project, we hope to understand the effects of this lack of guidelines on surgeon's techniques and sterilization practices, through analysis of post-operative surgical site infections, and to compare these results with surgical site infections from hospitals. The objective of this research is to find the critical points throughout patient contact which are major contributors to surgical site infections. Methodologically, the project will involve reviewing the medical literature, obtaining risk estimates from the literature, and constructing decision trees for the current process, using process and work flow analysis and risk assessment/management. After compiling and analyzing the information, we will design interventions in order to mitigate the risks involved with surgical site infections.


 

Student: Aishwarya Venkat (BSE)
Mentor: Naraine Persaud (Crop & Soil Enviro Sc)
Project Title: Performance of a subterranean heated and cooled solar greenhouse

Abstract: After many years of planning and fund-raising, the VT YMCA and the Sustainable Blacksburg Organization (ordinary citizens working together with scientists and engineers from private and public entities) constructed a prototype subterranean heated and cooled solar greenhouse.   The overall research issue is that there has been no systematic applied engineering research on the insolation, solar heat storage/dissipation and other performance measures (production and cost efficiencies) of the prototype structure.  Such data are sine qua non to develop science-based, universally-applicable guidelines for design and operation of such solar greenhouses. 

In this project, I will set up equipment to monitor factors such as temperature, humidity, radiation, moisture, and rainfall in and around the greenhouse. I will compile and analyze this data and report the results for the solar greenhouse. The performance of the subterranean solar greenhouse will be gauged by measuring these factors over a period of several years.



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