SRI Blogs

teen working in research lab

If anyone asks me what’s my biggest achievement this summer my answer will be how I tried almost every restaurant near the University of Cincinnati for lunch. And then the second answer will be the color detector research I did at UC’s chemistry department with Dr. Peng Zhang. 

When one visualizes data collection and analysis, it will often be researchers working under microscopes, with spectrophotometers or other large, complex lab equipment. However, is there anyway the process can be more practical for field use? Is there a way to make data collection portable, simple and rapid to increase efficiency? The Covid rapid test gives a perfect example to illustrate an inexpensive, convenient and efficient colorimetric testing method that can be widely distributed for non-laboratory use. My research project is based on a very similar logic to determine the amount of an unique, proprietary nanoparticle in a solution. The main idea is to use readily available smartphones with a color detector app that uses the smartphone camera to replace the expensive, large and limitedly available spectrophotometer. 

Our test reaction of the nanoparticle binding to its substrate underwent a color change from blue to pink. Quantifying color change with the eye is subjective and it is challenging for the eye to detect small changes in color. We wanted to develop a readily available method to quantitate the color change. Color detector apps read the three primary colors – red, blue, and green – and calculate RGB values. Using the red value to blue value ratio of our reaction as it progresses, we can create a standard curve of known nanoparticle concentration. Using this standard curve, we were successful at calculating the original nanoparticle concentration in a variety of test samples using free color detector apps on two different smartphones. Additionally, we verified the RGB values corresponded to nanoparticle concentration using a UV-Visible spectrophotometer and Beer’s Law.

Through my research experience, I performed the tests under a variety of conditions to verify its ability to work correctly in various scenarios. We tested two types of nanoparticles that act as a catalyst for our reaction of interest. Early experiments were not ideal as we discovered that the external background light has a significant effect on the color detection, and we had to find a way to minimize the impact of different light conditions and shadows. In the end, I did 18 sets of experiments with a complex computer program to show the smartphone method yields results very close to the professional lab equipment.

This research of color detection with the smartphone makes the science process more cost-effective, simple and readily available, allowing scientists and non-scientists to determine results faster and with greater convenience that is not limited by the environment.

The Schiff Family Science Research Institute research experience helped me become more skilled with different lab equipment, such as the pipetmen, and gain more knowledge of instrumentation as well as the biochemist  and nanotechnology field. I saw the challenges and difficulties of lab life but also the dedication and passion everyone puts into their science. I highly respect and admire all the researchers for their hard work and hope to join them in future studies. The attraction of science to me is the uncertainty, and that one percent chance of progress and creating new knowledge. I am grateful for this opportunity, even if I didn’t eat lunch on certain days because I was so excited and fully engaged in my research that I needed to see the result before I took a break.

Shuying "Selena" Xie is a senior in The Summit Country Day School's Schiff Family Science Research Institute.

teen wearing orange vest and safety helmet stands outside water treatment plant

What do your clothes, school uniforms, children’s toys, cleaning equipment, firefighting foams and the drills used by the oil industry have in common? While the knee-jerk response would defiantly be "nothing at all," all of these use a group of chemicals known as Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS for short. After dedicating a summer to the study of these chemicals, I feel it’s important to share what I’ve learned. 

PFAS is found in all these products due to their key physical property of being water and oil resistant while being a durable substance that stems from their unique molecular structure. Unfortunately, the unique molecular structure also leads to persistence in the environment for years. PFAS has been building up in the environment since it was introduced in the 1930s. However, it wasn't until the late 2000s that there was any concern over this substance and its use.  

PFAS released from manufacturing sites and civilian use makes its way into the environment and water cycle in what has come to be known as the PFAS cycle. Rising concentration of PFAS (especially more dangerous long-chain varieties) has been linked to serious health concerns such as cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility, and increased risk of asthma and thyroid disease. These problems are further compounded by a lack of viable solutions to remove PFAS from the environment in addition to a lack of information and sampling methods.  

Identifying some of these sampling methods for wastewater treatment facilities was the focus of my research project. In partnership with Mr. Geoffrey Grant, an executive at Brown and Caldwell, an environmental engineering firm, I explored the water treatment process in depth as it represents the only point in the PFAS cycle where PFAS could be conceivably removed. While there are some processes already employed that can remove PFAS, such as granular activated carbon, no economical method exists to address this issue at massive scale of the water treatment processes (34 billion gallons annually in the US alone). Due to the massive volume of water moving through water treatment plants all over the country, sampling different water sources is critical. This would allow scientists to prioritize the areas most affected by PFAS, as well as help to determine which processes help reduce the PFAS in the biosolids land-applied to sour soil.  

At the end of the day, however, it all depends on how much communities are willing to do to solve the problem. As demonstrated by the immense pushback the EPA received from corporations and local governments alike when it mandated lower PFAS requirements this summer, there is a huge lack of awareness as to the extent of this problem, and that needs to change before anything can be done. Personally, I feel blessed to have been a small part of this change and look forward to the developments that will come out of companies such as Brown and Caldwell over the next few years that could help alleviate this problem.

Larkin Woodward is a senior in The Summit Country Day School's Schiff Family Science Research Institute.

teen working in professional materials lab

From fighter jets to commercial airliners, almost all planes have carbon fiber pieces in the aircraft. This summer I worked at Renegade Materials, a company that manufactures materials for aerospace applications. Renegade makes Prepreg, a composite material constructed from a “pre impregnated” carbon fiber and a polymer matrix which is sold by the roll. This lightweight, high-temperature resistant material can be used on a variety of parts on airplanes such as afterburners, leading edges, and other specialized pieces inside the engine. These materials save cost and weight in the aerospace industry by replacing titanium and heavy insulations blankets. However, before prepregs can be sold, the materials must go through testing to make sure it meets aviation standards.  

One specialty of Renegade is their resins can withstand more heat which better suits some purposes. When a prepreg lot needs to be tested, flat panels are made in-house. These panels need to be cured in special ovens at specific temperatures and pressures, and after they have been cured, the run temperatures from inside the ovens are checked to verify requirements were met to finish curing the resin. At Renegade, I developed a calculus-based Excel program that verifies the cure cycles in ovens. Before I made this program, it took 45-60 minutes each time they made a panel to review the temperature data from the curing process. Using this program, it takes less than 2-3 minutes to confirm whether or not the temperatures met the requirements. This saves them 3-4 hours a week.  

From this experience I learned that to get to the best end result there will be failures. I did not develop the program on the first try, it took lots of attempts and failed ideas for it to get to at the final, functioning product. I also learned to multitask: I would be working on various tasks, like helping to cut specimens to size or helping to lay up new panels, while thinking about how to solve a problem I was having with Excel. Thank you to Mr. Trombley of Renegade Materials for this opportunity and Kurt, Kyle, Austin, and Thom for everything that I learned. Going into the summer not knowing calculus or how to efficiently use Excel, I learned a lot from various tutorial videos and all the guys I worked with to make the summer a memory I will remember forever. Plus, the next time I fly I will have a greater appreciation for the skill and time that goes into making each part of an airplane. 

Leo Schrantz is a senior in The Summit Country Day School's Science Research Institute.

teen boy stands in front of streetcar in downtown Cincinnati

Many of us experience traffic and delays on our way to school and think that the city should add a lane or make the light green for longer during a particular phase of the sequence. This summer I had the chance to learn about traffic engineering at a local firm, Illumine Transportation. My project allowed me to observe a traffic corridor on Madison Road: the Madison – Grandin intersection that many people in The Summit community drive through every day.  

I observed the intersection and looked at how pedestrians, private vehicles, trucks, and public transit interacted with each other. I noted down the safety concerns and what I thought could be improved. Throughout the summer, my mentor, Kevin Lee, taught me about many different aspects of transportation engineering that influence traffic corridor design. I learned about the different types of intersections, the role stakeholders play in a decision to change an intersection, traffic signal timing, and public transit. Meeting with many different professionals who are involved with city planning taught me about the many details that go into designing what would seem to be a simple intersection.  

Through this firm I was able to tour the metro and streetcar facilities, too, and see what the engineers at the Department of Transportation and Engineering consider when making proposals for expansions or changing simple things like where a fence is placed. Through these experiences, I was able to design a few intersections to compare the pros and cons of each, just like a professional would, and complete a rough cost benefit analysis to determine the best option to pursue.  

Another very important phenomenon I learned about was spreading peak congestion. Back to the Grandin-Madison Road intersection: it flows very smoothly during the summer months when Springer and Summit are not in session. In fact, the only time traffic piles up is when school dismisses and starts due to the large peak in the traffic volume. This intersection works great, and there are complaints about traffic only during these short, specific times. Therefore, it would not make sense to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars changing the intersection while still not solving the main issue: peak traffic volume during school dismissal and arrival. Despite my initial grandiose ideas on how we can improve the Grandin-Madison intersection, the traffic engineers had planned the most efficient exchange, and I have a newfound respect for the immense work that goes into planning transportation in an urban center. 

Evan Mescher is a senior in The Summit Country Day School's Schiff Family Science Research Institute.

teen sits at table using laptop

Did you know that an eight ounce can of Mountain Dew has 46 grams of sugar? Or that a can of Minute Maid lemonade has 40 grams of sugar? This is almost four tablespoons of sugar, or a quarter of a cup!  

For my summer research project, I worked alongside Dr. Sarah Couch from the Department of Rehabilitation, Exercise and Nutrition Sciences at the University of Cincinnati. Dr. Couch and her team originally conducted a research project to analyze the effects of the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet on lowering the blood pressure of adolescents with hypertension. The DASH diet consists of eating a diet heavy in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy. They compared teenager’s blood pressures before, after the six-month study, and 18 months from baseline, for those on the DASH diet and those doing the normal, routine, dietary intervention program. The results found that the DASH diet was, in fact, more effective. As part of this study, participants were asked to record everything they ate at two timepoints: before starting the study and at the 18-month checkpoint after starting the dietary intervention. Three days of food recollections were recorded into a food journal spreadsheet for each participant. These journals included serving size and all the nutritional content information: vitamins, fat, sugar, etc. My project was to analyze the participants’ intake of added sugar from the before and after dietary intervention.  

When comparing the amount of added sugar to total carbohydrates, added sugar should make up less than 10 percent of a person’s diet. However, this is not the case for many people. A high intake of added sugar contributes to elevated blood pressure, which could lead to developing cardiovascular diseases later in life. Even though Dr. Couch and her team already analyzed the effect of the DASH diet on blood pressure, further research could be performed to analyze the added sugar consumed using the before and after dietary intervention food journals. 

For my project, I solely focused on the added sugar in these two sets of data. I inspected the before and after dietary intervention spreadsheets and reviewed the added sugar content of every food item they ate in the three-day journaling period. Then, for each participant, I recorded the top three foods with the most added sugar, the amount of added sugar in the food, and the serving size. This allowed me to compare with the other participants and determine if there are trends among the high added sugar foods or beverages they consumed. Foods and drinks such as soda, juice, chocolate milk, ice cream, pop tarts, syrup, and even jelly, were commonly eaten and contain a high amount of added sugar.  

This research is important because analyzing how much added sugar adolescents ate before and after going on the DASH diet will help nutritionists understand how much teenagers and their caregivers know about nutrition, and how much education is necessary. The hope is, that when participants started the DASH diet and increased the number of fruits, vegetables, and low-fat diary, they consumed foods with less added sugar. The final analysis will help us determine if this occurred. If teenagers on the DASH diet are still consuming more added sugar than recommended, the nutrition literacy provided these families can be modified.  

Going through this data has enlightened me on how many foods contain added sugars and made me more aware of my diet. Even though this study was geared towards teens with hypertension, this study can help everyone by making all more aware of added sugars in their diet. Nutrition literacy is an important topic that needs to be taught more to teens as they mature and are making their own food choices. I know my own lens of drinking a can of soda has changed knowing how much added sugar it contains!  

Anna Reineck is a senior in The Summit Country Day School's Schiff Family Science Research Institute.

girl smiling at computer

On my side I am everything, but cut me in half and I am nothing. What am I?  

Welcome to the fifth floor of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, where a new riddle greeted me each morning. I always placed my bag across from the riddle board and puzzled over the riddle while I dove headfirst into my health literacy study. Lucky for me, I had wonderful riddle solvers and scientists to guide me in the Division of Endocrinology, namely Dr. LeAnne Sancrainte and Dr. Magella Bliss. Our objective was to discover how different demographic factors affected levels of health literacy and numeracy in Type 1 diabetes patients and guardians of patients. This information could then be used to improve education materials for new patients with Type 1 diabetes and help demographics with statistically lower literacy rates.  

In the world of the endocrinology clinic, most patients are those with Type 1 diabetes. Type 1 is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks its own insulin-producing cells. This results in an excess of glucose in the bloodstream because there is no insulin to regulate the entry of the glucose into cells. The combination of high glucose in the bloodstream and the cells starved for glucose leads to organ deterioration, and eventual death. It is imperative patients control their blood glucose levels through various forms of insulin therapy to avoid the extreme complications of the disease.  

As you can imagine, diabetes education for patients and parents is crucial for at-home care. We wanted to test the health literacy levels using a survey to find out how high or low health literacy and numeracy levels are within the population coming to the clinic. If high literacy and numeracy rates were found, then we would know the diabetes education material and training is sufficient; if not, Children’s would work to readjust the curriculum.  

Dr. Sancrainte and I worked in the clinic administering a ten-minute survey based upon a nutrition label of an ice cream carton. We also included a demographic questionnaire to determine if only certain demographics exhibit low literacy rates. Patients are asked questions like “how many servings of ice cream can you eat if given this amount of carbohydrates?” The patients are then scored into three categories – high likelihood of limited literacy, possibility of limited literacy, and adequate literacy. The scores, along with the demographic questionnaire, were analyzed further using Excel.  

In the population we have surveyed thus far, we found high literacy rates in both patients and guardians. This indicates the ability to understand and administer care for Type 1 patients, even if the care is not always carried out to the best of the patient’s ability.  

This summer has taught me so much about health literacy, Type 1 diabetes care, clinic and research group culture, and how to walk around a huge campus without getting lost. I am so grateful to my mentors for their help and support.  

And for all my readers waiting patiently for the answer to the riddle, I’ll give you a hint. 

Just remember there’s an infinite number of ways to do science.  

Ana Leyendecker is a senior in The Summit Country Day School's Schiff Family Science Research Institute.

girl in university lab with plant specimens

This summer I had the wonderful opportunity to work with Dr. Kathryn Morris in her botany lab at Xavier University in the Biology Department. Dr. Morris looks at how plants communicate with other plants and organisms through fungi networks underground, which is a novel area of research to the world of ecology. Our objective was to understand how microorganisms move in the presence of noxious and helpful plant chemicals.  

In her lab, we tracked the movement of rhizobacteria, nematodes, and tardigrades along gradients of plant root extracts to further understand the interactions between plants and their fellow organisms underground. Tomato and marigold roots in the form of agarose gel extracts were used to create the chemical gradients. Tomato is a plant the organisms would favor and marigolds a plant they would avoid. We placed small blocks of the root extracts, along with water agar as a control, on agar petri dishes for the nematodes and tardigrades to navigate. For the bacteria studies, we used a hemocytometer, a special microscope slide, with agar. After the gradient formed, we placed the organisms one centimeter away from the extract and into the hemocytometer and recorded their movements with a camera attached to the microscope. Once the videos were recorded, we uploaded them to ImageJ, an image processing software, and meticulously clicked frame by frame, tracking the path the microorganisms took. 

Although no significant data was collected that affirmed or denied our hypothesis, our greatest achievement was developing the methodology for the chemotaxis assays and identifying a software that would allow us to track an organism's path. For Dr. Morris’s future experiments, more chemotaxis data will be needed to track the movement of microorganisms through the rhizosphere with and without common mycorrhizal fungi networks present. Preparations for the next phase of experiments was started while I was finishing my time in Dr. Morris’ Lab. 

I learned many lab techniques, from pouring petri dishes and streaking them with bacteria to keeping a sterile environment and autoclaving. I even got to play with liquid nitrogen! There were also many trouble-shooting moments such as how to scoop up the tardigrades and slow the bacteria enough to see them move but not stop them. These precise techniques display the large amount of determination and courage it takes to work in the field of research. I enjoyed every moment I was in the lab with Dr. Morris and the other undergraduates and will be forever grateful for this experience.  

Chloe Lane is a senior in The Summit Country Day School's Schiff Family Science Research Institute.

teen boy showing computer model

Have you ever wondered why there are so many rumors and fake news stories in current society?

This could be gossip passed around at school or be fake information trending on social media. In fact, as a result of social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, rumors and fake news are spreading more quickly than ever before. The dissemination of false information can have a detrimental effect on society. Especially, over the past two years as we endured the Covid-19 outbreak, detecting and preventing Covid became more difficult as all kinds of fabricated information circulated among the general public. This public issue has caught my attention as I realized it is important to understand how rumors are spread and ways to prevent them.  

This summer, I had the opportunity to be mentored by Dr. Giabbanelli, an associate professor from the Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering at Miami University. Dr. Giabbanelli leads a research group that focuses on simulation models and machine learning and has done research on models and simulations throughout his academic career. My project under his guidance was to apply models and simulations on the topic of rumor and fake news spread.  

Before I could think of applying models or creating simulations on a research topic, I had to learn all the essential skills needed in this field. At the beginning of my project, I went through training to learn about coding in NetLogo, a commonly used coding software in the field of modeling and simulation. I watched online lectures and completed assignments and projects in order to understand the basics of NetLogo language and how models and simulations work.  

For the next step of my project, I searched for currently established models on the topic of rumor spread. Here, I focused on Agent-Based Models (ABMs), which are an innovative approach of modeling a system which consists of autonomous, interactive agents that are able to incorporate human and social behavior. ABMs would be ideal for the prevention of rumor spread in a society. I searched for ABMs on two online open-source platforms: GitHub and CoMSES. I searched with key words that are related to my topic and manually examined the models to determine if they would qualify for my study. This is a time-consuming process because there are large amounts of resources, and I had to look through hundreds of models to determine if they are relevant to the topic of rumor and fake news spread.  

In the next part of my research, I examined and annotated the code in order to classify different parts of code under unique categories. Or, in other words, I had to study how different developers code in order to accomplish a similar goal. Some quantitative aspects of the codes will also be measured: the numbers of functions and comments in the code can help us evaluate the models, as they generally reflect the model’s quality. Annotated codes can also help establish a code library on the topic of rumor and fake news spread, which helps future development of models on such topic as researchers can build on the current success.  

Through my research experience, I have summarized common practices in current rumor spread and gathered valuable data that will be crucial to the future development of models in this area. I have gained knowledge on the coding of models and program simulations and expanded my analysis skill. My ability to write scientifically and to look for validated and useful information online has improved. I hope my work helps the future development of simulation models and potentially stop the spread of fake news and rumors on online social media platforms. 

Zaiyi "Derek" Kuang is a senior in The Summit Country Day School's Schiff Family Science Research Institute.


teen girl in lab setting

With an estimated number of 1,918,030 cancer cases to be diagnosed in 2022, cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States. Clinical trials play a pivotal role in the development and advancement of therapies and medications to combat cancer diagnoses. A successful clinical trial requires the necessary patient participation to effectively collect and analyze the acquired data. However, patient participation is often influenced by various factors hindering patient enrollment, and thus, patient accrual. Examples of factors that hinder patient enrollment include financial burdens, logistical considerations, and ethical concerns due to prior historical research abuses. 

This summer, I had the opportunity to intern at The Christ Hospital Cancer Center. I worked with Dr. Alexander Starodub and Dr. Kaitlyn Spinella on their research project to evaluate patient perception of clinical trials and identify barriers to patient enrollment in a community hospital setting. 

The study consisted of administering a 24-question survey twice during the one-year duration of the study to eligible patients at The Christ Hospital infusion center. Over the course of my summer experience, I assisted in aggregating demographical information about each participant (anonymity was maintained through a patient identification number) in one spreadsheet and the survey responses in a separate spreadsheet. Afterwards, I investigated and analyzed the connections between a participant’s demographic profile and their responses to the survey questions. I conducted my analysis of the data by utilizing descriptive and comparative statistics. Examples of questions I approached with the collected data include: 

  • Do Asians, white and black participants respond differently to survey questions pertaining to attitude towards research studies? 

  • Are people who travel further for treatment more open to clinical trials and research? 

  • Do people with hematologic cancers versus solid tumor cancers feel differently about clinical trials? 

  • Does a patient’s insurance, education level and employment status influence the importance they hold for receiving payment for their time spent in a clinical trial? 

In addition to data compilation, I had the opportunity to survey patients in the infusion center. When approaching a potential participant, I introduced myself, the goals of the research study and the logistics of the research study. For patients who agreed to participate, I went over an Informed Consent Form, which discussed the objectives, risks, and benefits of the study, recorded demographical information in a De-Identified Patient Worksheet and provided a hard copy of the survey. This opportunity allowed me to converse with the patients face-to-face which showcased to me the importance of connection and relationship between the patient and a healthcare professional. 

I have always been fascinated by the intricacies of the medical field. My time at The Christ Hospital has allowed me to continue develop and fortify my interest in becoming a physician and serving my greater community. This opportunity has also provided me meaningful experiences and valuable knowledge about the importance of cancer-based clinical trials in developing novel therapies and the need for proportional patient participation to effectively serve the diverse population of cancer patients. 

I am beyond grateful for all the support and guidance I have received throughout my research project. At first, I was uncertain about how cancer-based clinical trials operate on a research level, but both Dr. Starodub and Dr. Spinella ensured that I felt comfortable and prepared in this new learning environment. 

Finally, I would like to extend my gratitude towards Dr. Jessica Replogle, head of the Science Research Institute, for her continual support and her guidance in helping me find an opportunity at The Christ Hospital to pursue my oncology-related interests. The Schiff Family Science Research Institute has challenged me to continue being inquisitive and analytical about the world around me and to pursue my future aspirations as a physician.

Rimel Kamran is a senior in The Summit Country Day School's Schiff Family Science Research Institute.

teen girl works in university sports medicine lab

Imagine a ball being thrown straight at you fast. The time it takes your brain to see the ball, register that it is coming towards you, put out your hands to catch it, and finally catch it is your brain’s reaction time. Reaction time is very important when it comes to sports performance for athletes. The reaction time shows the speed at which a person thinks and reacts but also tests symmetry within the brain and body. For example, in lacrosse, an athlete will find it easier to cradle in their dominant hand. However, to be a good lacrosse player, you need to be able to smoothly switch the arm used to cradle while running and not drop the ball. This requires symmetry between the left and right hemispheres of the brain and having control over not only the dominant side but also the non-dominant. The uncomfortable feeling when switching to the nondominant hand is the lack of symmetry. By observing athlete performance and analyzing this data, scientists may be able to find ways to improve reaction time symmetry and improve an athlete's performance.  

My summer research project has been observing reaction time in athletes and looking for ways to categorize the data and draw conclusions from it. We have measured reaction time data using a few different visual training methods. The first visual training method is a test called Dynavision. This is a big board with light-up buttons displayed in a spiral pattern. The buttons light up in unique patterns depending on the specific test being run. The objective of most of the tests is to hit the button that lights up as fast as you can. The machine analyzes the participant’s response and gives data of overall reaction times as well as reaction times for the left and right sides of each participant’s brain.  

I started the summer by collecting this Dynavision data from the computers in the University of Cincinnati athletic training room under the guidance of Dr. Joe Clark in UC’s Sports Medicine Department. Most of the athletes that we are using for our data collection had their tests done a few years ago, and the data was scattered on a few computers, so my task was to collect all of it into a single spreadsheet so that it could be analyzed. After collecting the data and organizing it from the fastest reaction times to slowest, we performed a comparative analysis.  

The other test we are evaluating to measure reaction times of athletes is called qEEG. A qEEG, or quantitative electroencephalogram is a diagnostic tool that measures electrical activity in the form of brain wave patterns, also known as brain mapping. The brain maps of these same athletes show their overall reaction times as well as the reaction times in specific areas of the brain. This can show the symmetry or lack thereof within the brain. We are still working on obtaining the qEEG scans for the athletes from Dr. Clark’s colleagues and then will be able to compare the different two reaction time tests for the athletes and determine if qEEG is a valid method to measure reaction time and distinguish symmetry of the brain.  

The athlete pool used for this research includes some who are injured athletes and others who are healthy. Along with just observing reaction times objectively, we are also observing the differences that might exist when a person has had an injury or is currently injured versus a healthy athlete. As you might expect, someone who is injured might have a slower reaction time than someone who is healthy because the brain has gone through some trauma during the injury and it is healing, too. As we continue to analyze and work through the data, that difference in health of the athlete will be considered and used as a point of analysis. This research is ongoing as we wait for data to be received from colleagues while also finding new ways to look at and make connections within the existing Dynavision data. The brain is a complex organ and learning about the ways one can evaluate its function in athletes has been very interesting.  

Maya Hajjar is a senior in The Summit Country Day School's Schiff Family Science Research Institute.

girl stands outside brick building in downtown Cincinnati

Did you know that The Eagle, the delicious chicken restaurant in Over the Rhine (OTR), was once a Post Office? Even the beauty of Taft’s Ale House can be attributed to its former purpose as St. Paul’s Evangelical Church. OTR is one of the largest, most intact urban historic districts in the United States and is filled with historical pieces of architecture. Platte Architecture + Design is located across from Findlay Market in OTR and contributes to the redevelopment and preservation of the area. 

Historical restoration is a method to protect the historical elements of a building and community. It emphasizes the building’s time period. During this process, it is necessary to maintain the building’s character and pay attention to historical restoration codes and regulations. Historical restoration brings life to an old building. 

I observed this process of historical restoration while at Platte Architecture + Design. Jeff Pearson welcomed me into the firm, which is comprised of architects, project designers, and interior designers. Through their projects, I observed key steps of historical restoration. The first step is research. It is important to recognize the history and significance of the town in which the building is located. Collecting pictures and speaking with citizens are ways to understand the history of the location, specifically the building. Next, you need to set goals that outline a vision for the building, use of property, and benefit to the community. This can be obtained by listening to the voices of the community through public surveys and speaking with organizations involved in the community. Funding is needed before the project can begin. Historical organizations, historic tax credits, grants, and foundations are possible options for funding. All these steps are important to outlining the project. 

The next part of the process is visiting the site. Measurements of the building are necessary for the physical assessment. It is imperative to take photos of the site to document the building. Once these measurements and pictures are collected, the architect can sketch plans. Based off these sketches, a plan can be drawn up in AutoCAD along with sections and elevations. These sketches illustrate side perspectives and the interior structure of the building. Once these plans are created, photo tags are added to match the photographs to the location on the plan. I was able to participate in this step by creating a plan in AutoCAD and working on photo plans. Also, I was able to observe project meetings, learn about products and develop my AutoCAD skills, which are important parts of the process. The final steps of historical restoration include determining the building codes and regulations that may impact the design and obtaining permits before construction can begin.  

This process of historical restoration can be summarized with three main steps. Observing historical buildings. Redevelopment. Impact on the community. Observing this process has helped me appreciate the technology, engineering and math that architecture entails. The result of Platte’s work is extensive, expanding beyond the Cincinnati area. You may not realize the restaurant you dined at last weekend, the service you attended at church or the shop you visited in OTR might all be locations that were designed by Platte. Architecture is involved in all our lives, so the next time you step into a building, think about the history you are entering. 

Lavina Grzymajlo is a senior in The Summit Country Day School's Schiff Family Science Research Institute.

girl at computer

What comes to mind when you think of the word pharmacokinetics? No, it is not how much kinetic energy a pill can build up while rolling down a hill, although that would be interesting.  

Pharmacokinetics describes the movement of drugs through our bodies, and this summer I had the pleasure of working with Dr. Min Dong in the Department of Clinical Pharmacology at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center to study the pharmacokinetics of hydroxyurea. Hydroxyurea is a drug used by people suffering from sickle cell anemia and cancer, but my research focused on the doses taken by pediatric sickle cell anemia patients. The doses given to these patients need to be calculated carefully, as a low dose will drastically decrease the magnitude of benefits reaped by the patient and too high a dose will expose the patient to unnecessary toxicity. The main objective of my research was to compare the pharmacokinetic-guided doses of hydroxyurea calculated by two different programs to determine if there were significant differences. I also analyzed changes in the predicted doses with fewer data points.  

My first days were spent familiarizing myself with the programs I would be using, and the data from the Therapeutic Response Evaluation and Adherence Trial. The programs I was using had me input data about the patient’s doses, drug concentrations over time and other physical characteristics to calculate a dose that would offer the patients the most benefits. I would record data on the recommended dose in milligrams, the predicted concentration of the drug and the pharmacokinetic parameters for each patient. These early days came with moments of confusion when the programs listed parameters and abbreviations that I could not understand. Thankfully, my mentor had provided me with links to various informational pharmacokinetic course websites, and I spent some time reading through the information to enrich my understanding of pharmacokinetics. I found the information fascinating and left the website behind with a mind overflowing with knowledge about a topic that I had never thought to explore. All that I had learned about pharmacokinetics helped me to have a better understanding of the information I was recording.  

After making my way through all data from the patients in the study and comparing the results from both programs, I summarized everything that I had analyzed from each stage of my research to record a clearer picture of my results. The comparison of the doses recommended and concentrations calculated from each of the programs revealed that there was no statistically significant difference between the averages of the two. This indicated that the second program, which used slightly different models for its calculations, could be used instead of the first program. The data that I had collected from the calculated doses made with fewer concentrations was compared to the doses calculated with all the concentration points and the results indicated that there was no significant difference if one point was removed. Knowing that the recommended dose does not change significantly if a data point is removed makes it possible for fewer samples to be taken, reducing costs and distress caused to the young patients.  

I learned so much and gained so much experience from my time in the lab this summer. From weekly team and division meetings, I learned how to present even when I am unsure, and how to take criticism and use it to make my next presentation better. I got a sneak peek at what lies in my future when watching others write and present posters and even had the chance to help write some conference abstracts.

My research experience was amazing not just because of all that I learned but also because of the extraordinary people I spent my days with. I was fortunate enough to share my time at Children’s with a multitude of undergraduate students that were part of the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program as well as graduate students. The presence of other students helped me to feel more comfortable with being new to the field of pharmacokinetics. Specifically, one doctoral student in my lab group presented weekly about various pharmacokinetic topics and described them in a way that made much more sense than any online resource I used. The other students I shared the office with made my days brighter with their chatter and brought a sense of camaraderie with our collective confusion about where to go on meeting days. All the mentors and experienced researchers in the division were so welcoming and made each student feel valued, especially my mentor, Dr. Dong. She never left me stumbling in the dark not knowing what to do and was always willing to answer a question through email or set up a quick meeting to pick through a problem so I would have a deeper understanding of the field of pharmacokinetics 


girl smiling in front of dolphin tank

Have you ever watched a penguin swim around and wondered how on Earth people can keep track of them or even tell them apart? Most of them look the same, or at least remarkably similar, right? 

Well, what if I told you that there is a way that accurately allows zookeepers to see which penguin was swimming, where it was swimming, and exactly when it changed positions using wireless chips? That’s what my summer research experience focused on: keeping track of adorable, little penguins. 

Over the summer, I was able to design my own experiment on tracking penguin behavior. The primary aim of this project was to test the accuracy of the radio frequency identification (RFID) systems that are in place in the penguin enclosures at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. I was able to monitor both the Little Blue Penguins (the smallest species of penguin in the world) and the African Penguins, which was an exciting new opportunity for me, as I have never worked with exotic animals before.

When my project began in June, I worked alongside my mentor, Dr. Kalafut, at Tracks Technology, to design an experiment to test how accurately the RFID systems track the penguins. The hope was that the systems worked perfectly because verifying the system is crucial to conduct animal behavior research. The overall goal of the installed RFID systems is to ensure that the penguins are moving around as much as they would in the wild. We want to understand how similar penguin behavior is in a zoo compared to penguin behavior in the wild and if the behavior seen in the wild can be replicated in a zoo setting. While this is the overarching goal of Dr. Kalafut’s research, in just this short summer, I was able to participate in a small, but important, part of the journey.

To start off the project, we went to the zoo and decided how we wanted to record our data. After much discussion, we decided on visual observation, and came up with a plan to execute this using the specific-colored RFID tag on each penguin’s wing. We determined that making an online form to record what RFID tag the penguin was wearing, the action that was being carried out, the location of the penguin, and the time this observation was recorded were the most vital pieces of information. Here is where I learned that designing a scientific experiment is not only extremely time and energy consuming, but also tedious and can at times be quite frustrating. I spent hours upon hours testing how this data collection system could be accurate, efficient, and user-friendly. After a great deal of trial and error, I landed on a form that time-stamped each form submission that contained the penguin’s tag color, its action, and its location, as we were collecting data at 20-second intervals. A learning curve I had to face was how to keep track of a swimming penguin (as they are very fast movers!), keep track of the time intervals, avoid running into zoo visitors, and enter the data simultaneously. This took practice, but I did get better and better as time went on. 

Recording data was, believe it or not, the easier part of my project. On top of collecting data, I also had to analyze it using  R and R Studio, a software programming language and environment for statistical computing and graphics. This was a brand-new challenge I had never faced. If you have ever used R, you may know how frustrating it can be, as it is very specific and is not happy with typos or missing characters. Admittedly, coding is not something that came naturally to me, so learning how to make plots and analyzing data was very daunting. But, with the help of my mentor (and lots of googling), I can now say that I know the basics of coding. But besides coding, I also learned many other things. I learned about professional relationships, the process of conducting scientific research, how to ask for help when needed, and that what you think is the final product is only a rough draft and never what you will end up keeping. However, while data analysis is not easy, it is an extremely valuable tool that I am sure I will use again in the future.

The results of this research are important as they will be used to enhance penguin well-being. Using RFID technology to analyze penguin behavior is still new within the animal behavior field, making this experience even more exciting. While this research is still in progress, it has been extremely educational and impactful. I learned how to design and test a scientific experiment, analyze data using coding, create plots using R, and that failure is part of the process, especially in science. While it may seem crazy that such a small piece of technology can be so impactful on the knowledge of penguins, it may have a larger impact on animal welfare in the future. So, the next time you take a trip down to the zoo, try and spot the little colorful tags the penguins have on, as that is amazing science at work.

Alaina Fisher is a senior in The Summit Country Day School's Schiff Family Science Research Institute. 

teen works in biochemistry laboratory

How can one spend an entire summer working just to purify and express one single protein? 

Before I started working in the lab, I was wondering how my project could take two months, when it seemed like I could do it in a week. After my first few days, I realized how much trial and error goes into biochemistry laboratory experiments and learned the wonderful virtue of patience.  

This summer I had the wonderful opportunity to work with Dr. William Miller at the College of Medicine at the University of Cincinnati. The Miller Lab is interested in the spread of the human cytomegalovirus (HCMV), which most people already have immunity due to asymptomatic infection. However, if a pregnant person contracts the virus, it may cause pregnancy loss or serious health problems in the baby such as hearing loss. Little is known about the different protein receptors on the surface of the virus, however, these receptors can have vital roles in transmission between individuals, and further spread within the body. During my summer experience, I focused on producing a purified sample of one of the various protein receptors called UL33. 

The way I went about this was using well-known biochemistry methods such as PCR and agarose gel electrophoresis. We had a sample of DNA containing the gene of UL33, and using PCR, we were able to amplify this region of DNA. We spliced this UL33 DNA sequence into a plasmid, a circular strand of bacterial DNA. Then, we inserted this plasmid into a specific strain of E. coli bacteria which enabled us to purify a large amount of plasmid DNA. After we sent our plasmid for DNA sequencing to verify the nucleotide sequence was correct, we transformed another strain of protein expressing bacteria with plasmid. This step allowed us to induce the overexpression of the UL33 protein, purify it from other cellular proteins, and then concentrate our protein. 

As I reached this last step of protein purification and my summer in the lab ended. The Miller Lab will use this purified UL33 protein to screen for UL33 specific nanobodies. They will use a column with a yeast nanobody library to see if the UL33 protein will "stick" to any of the nanobodies. Once they find a match, this nanobody can be used to help better understand the nature of the virus. Not much is known about the role that UL33 has in the transmission of the virus, but with a nanobody attaches to the receptor, unique studies can be performed to understand transmission. Eventually, information could help to better protect unborn children against cytomegalovirus.  

Throughout this whole experience, I was amazed at the variety of techniques that were used to create this small part of the whole project. It was even more rewarding to be able to apply all of the concepts that I had learned in my science classes. Even though I faced some difficulties throughout the summer, such as growing up a plasmid on the wrong agar plate, I am grateful for the experiences that I received because I know that I can apply the content and lessons learned in any field of study. 

Lily Charville is a senior in The Summit Country Day School's Schiff Family Science Research Institute.

girl smiling next to computer

During the summers of eighth and ninth grade, I took an introductory psychology course and a course on abnormal psychology. Since then, I was hooked on neuroscience. I loved the behavioral side of psychology, but even more I found the science behind it to be fascinating. Neuroscience research has always been around, but it is growing in popularity among scientists and students due to the BRAIN initiative. In 2013, then-U.S. president Barak Obama initiated a $5 billion project to increase the understanding of the brain, because much is unknown about the causes of many brain disorders. 

This past summer, I had the opportunity to work in the University of Cincinnati (UC) Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience under the mentorship of Dr. Fabiano Nery, an associate professor at UC College of Medicine, and Max, a data statistics analyst in the lab. The study I conducted involved gathering data from healthy controls (people with no current or prior mental illnesses or disorders), at-risk patients (people with parents or direct relatives diagnosed with bipolar disorder), and patients (people with bipolar disorder). The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 4.4 percent of the US adult population will experience bipolar disorder at some time in their life. It is also stated that those who suffer from bipolar disorder have a 9.2-year reduction on their expected life span, and 20 percent of people with bipolar end their lives with suicide, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Researching bipolar disorder is important to better understand the underlying cause of the disorder and develop better treatment methods to help those with the diagnosis.  

My research project was to determine trends in the concentration of glutamate in the brains of healthy, at risk and diseased people. Glutamate is a neurotransmitter in the brain that affects cognitive functions such as memory and language skills – and it traditionally decreases in the brain as the brain ages. We chose to study glutamate because of its effect on many cognitive functions, and because studies have shown that glutamate levels in the brain are elevated in those with bipolar disorder. Understanding both the patterns and levels of glutamate in the brain would potentially lead to more information about how bipolar disorder affects the brain, and then lead to developing treatments.  

My main hypothesis was that glutamate concentration decreases as people age, in the brains of healthy controls. I investigated glutamate levels in three different areas of the brain, the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), the left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (LVLPFC), and the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (RVLPFC). My data confirmed that glutamate concentrations decreased with age in the ACC of healthy controls. While my analysis is largely focused on confirming past studies involving glutamate in healthy controls, the larger range of ages in the data collected for this study has the potential to be used in further studies involving comparisons between healthy controls and people with bipolar disorder. 

This opportunity allowed me to gain experience in a true research environment, and specifically, I was able to see what clinical research entailed. This experience allowed me to see the breadth of research studies and career possibilities in the fields of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience. I am extremely grateful to Dr. Nery for mentoring me and giving me the opportunity to participate in clinical research this summer.  

Ali Burns is a senior in The Summit Country Day School's Schiff Family Science Research Institute.