Exploring differences in flight muscle size

Natalie Wright, Biology

My lab is studying why, in some species of birds, males have larger flight muscles than females, but in other species, the pattern is reversed, and in still others, the sexes exhibit no difference in flight muscle size. To do this, we are compiling a dataset of skeletal measurements of a thousand species of birds (measurements of bones, particularly the sternal keel, are excellent proxies for the sizes of the muscles that attach to those bones). This summer, we will travel to museum research collections to take digital photographs of bird skeletons. Back in the lab, we will use the program ImageJ to measure bones from the digital photographs we took in the museums. We will also compile data on life history and ecological traits (e.g., diet, habitat, migratory status, social mating system, courtship display, sexual dichromatism), to test which of these traits predicts sexual dimorphism in flight muscle size.

Students will learn to identify all major bones in the bird skeleton, use ImageJ to take measurements from photographs, and use R for data analysis and visualization. Students will also learn about basic bird biology and ecology while reading the literature to compile our life history dataset. We will spend most of the 10 weeks in Gambier, but will make one or two one-week trips to natural history museums to collect data (TBD; e.g., the Field Museum in Chicago, UC Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology or the Burke Museum in Seattle). All travel expenses will be paid for by Professor Wright’s grant funds, including hotel and food while away from Gambier. No previous knowledge is necessary, but some prior experience using R and/or with statistics is preferred (e.g., having taken BIOL 109/110, STAT 106, STAT 206, or STAT 226).

Bespoke Polymer Degradation

Yutan Getzler, Chemistry

If you love working with both your hands and your mind, and will have completed two semesters of chemistry lab by this summer, this may be the project for you.
We seek to build polymeric materials whose functional lifetimes can be rationally tailored. Polymers, sometimes called plastics, are large molecules synthesized by the repeated linking together of many small molecules (monomers). The properties of a polymeric material stem from its size, shape, and repeat unit. Properties we value at one point in a compound’s life, such as durability, may become harmful. Controlling how material properties change over time may mitigate these harms.

Cascade Scholars who join the group this summer will help complete the synthesis of a small library of monomers for use in this project. Most of these monomers have not previously been reported in the scientific literature, so you may bring a new molecule into being. The monomer synthesis is three steps long, two of which have been completed by your predecessors. To honor the value of their work and these materials, you will start the summer learning to perform the relevant synthetic transformation on a closely related, commercially available, starting material. When you feel ready, you will tackle the new work.

You will master the standard techniques and tools of organic synthesis, including aqueous workups, thin layer chromatography, rotary evaporation, flash column chromatography, recrystallization and NMR spectroscopy.

Structure-function relationship of the enzyme in the valine degradation pathway

Kerry Rouhier, Chemistry

This project looks to determine the structure function relationship of various enzymes in the valine degradation pathway. Valine degradation is an important pathway used by organisms as an alternative to glycolysis. We are looking to better understand which amino acid residues are critical for function and maintaining structure by generating and analyzing different mutations of the wild-type protein. The Cascade Scholar will learn many common biochemistry lab and computational techniques in addition to learning how to analyze primary literature and improve written and oral scientific communication skills.

Explorations of Photothermal Spectroscopy — novel optical techniques for chemical analysis

Jamie Keller, Chemistry

Spectroscopic data is gathered in photothermal spectrometry by detecting the heat that is generated by nonradiative relaxation. Any absorption of light by a chromophore exhibits a “heat signature” in the absorbing solution. The universality of this photo thermal effect has been exploited in a variety of ways in chemistry, physics, biology and engineering.

When a sample is heated by a laser beam a thermal wave is created that moves away from the heated area. This wave is evidenced as a temperature oscillation that is dampened and exponentially decays with distance from the heated surface in a material. The analysis of a thermal wave can be carried out using several different spectroscopic methods. Some of the widely used techniques are summarized below.

  • Photoacousic spectroscopy: detection of pressure (acoustic) waves in a gas cell.
  • Photothermal deflection: a “mirage” effect initiated by a temperature gradient above the surface of an absorbing solid.
  • Photothermal interferometry: a measure of the index of refraction change in one of two (sample-containing) interferometer arms.

A Cascade researcher would first train on the use of lasers and optics with a mentoring student on a related project. One of the above techniques would serve as an independent research goal for this researcher.

The Role of the Internet in Identity Development Among Individuals Who Identify as Queer

Sarah Murnen, Psychology

There are currently two competing models describing the identity development of sexual and gender minority (SGM) individuals — a “struggle and success” narrative and one of emancipation. While there are many stressors associated with being an SGM person in a heterosexist patriarchal culture, increasingly there is more positive representations and destigmitization of SGM people in popular media that can help promote emancipation. Further, the advent of internet-communication technologies (ICTs) increased opportunities for SGM individuals to develop their identities in a potentially less stressful manner. Researchers are currently studying the influence of ICTs on identity development which is the purpose of a summer project being conducted by rising junior Benji Rothman along with me, Professor of Psychology Sarah Murnen. The main purpose of the online survey study is to investigate the developmental experiences of SGM young adults. We will examine the extent to which individuals identify with each of the two narratives, their use of ICTs, and their well-being, among other factors.

A Cascade student will help review past research on this topic, develop the questionnaire, use Qualtrics to create an online version of the questionnaire, develop and implement a sampling strategy, administer the questionnaire, and analyze and interpret the data. This project is for psychology majors (or intended majors) with interest in learning more about research methods, statistics and SGM identity development.

Coding Theory: Search for Good Classical and Quantum Codes

Noah Aydin, Mathematics

Error correcting codes are used everywhere data is transmitted from one place to another. Since their applications in early computers in the middle of the 20th century, deep space communication in 1960s and 70s, their use in compacts disks in 1980s, and more recently in wireless communication, they have been an increasingly important part of modern life in the information age. A very important  future application of error correcting codes is in quantum computation. One of the main problems of coding theory is to construct codes that are as efficient as possible. Although much progress has been made in this problem since the beginning of the subject in 1948, there are still many instances where codes with best possible parameters are yet to be discovered. The design and implementation of codes rely on mathematical principals and tools. It is also possible to obtain quantum codes from classical codes with certain properties.

Of the many different types of codes that have been designed, cyclic codes have a special place in coding theory. Providing a key link between coding theory and algebra, they are important for both theoretical and practical reasons. Cyclic codes and their various generalizations have been a good source of constructing best possible codes.  In this project, we will explore cyclic codes and some of their generalizations from mathematical and computational perspectives. Building on the works of former Kenyon students who have done research  in coding theory and contributed dozens of new codes to the database of best known codes (available at codetables.de), we will design  algorithms  to search for new linear codes with better parameters than the currently best known codes, as well as quantum codes with good parameters. A successful student for the project will have basic programming experience. Resources for necessary mathematical background for the research (relevant readings and guidance from the mentor) will be provided as needed.