SRI Blogs

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This summer, I had the opportunity to intern in the Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition Division at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. I worked in the lab group of Dr. Lee Denson which investigates inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): specifically, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. When choosing a research project for the summer, at first, I had no clue what department I wanted to intern in. Finally, after struggling to find one that really piqued my interest, I chose the Gastroenterology (GI) department because my family members have experienced GI disorders. I wasn’t sure what to expect, however, once I started my job, I knew that I had made the right decision. 

IBD is an inflammatory disease in the intestinal tract. Up to 80,000 children and 3 million adults are reported to have IBD in the U.S. It is caused by an overactive immune system. When homo sapiens first evolved, their diet had a lot of dirt and bacteria in it.  Because of this, an overactive immune system in the gut was necessary to keep the human alive. However, nowadays our diets are much cleaner. Most food is processed and or/cooked, which eliminates a lot of bacteria from our diets; therefore, we don’t need an overactive immune system anymore. When this occurs, it is a problem. An overactive immune system causes recruitment of immune cells into the gut leading to normal tissue damage which is painful, can block digestion and lead to numerous health problems. The Denson lab works on understanding the genetic pathways that cause this overactive immune system and one day hope to develop gene therapies to treat this. 

My favorite part of working at Children’s was all the people I met. The members of the Denson lab group were very patient with me. They also answered my questions, even if the answers seemed obvious to them. My mentor, Erin, is a senior research assistant and was especially helpful in showing me the ropes and directing me around the lab. I loved eating lunch with my lab group and members of the lab groups on our floor and hearing them talk about their own research and their own lives. Honestly, I think that if my lab group had been a different group of people, I would have had a much different experience. This group truly made me enjoy my job. 

Overall, I learned so much from this experience. Although parts of my project did not end with a perfect result, I still gained a lot of knowledge and acquired new technical skills during my time at Children’s Hospital. Working in a lab gave me the experience of a research career, but I also learned a lot about myself during this time. I’ve always been worried that one day I would enter the workforce, wouldn’t find a job that I love. and I’ll be forced to take a boring job that I hate. However, this internship showed me that there are jobs out there that I really do love, such as research.   

Connie Nelson is a senior in The Summit Country Day School’s Science Research Institute. 

student at laboratory

Two summers ago, I took an Introductory Psychology course taught by a professor of neuroscience. The professor, because of his educational background, mainly taught the class based on the brain’s role in psychology, and this spin on psychology was fascinating. How neurotransmitters work and the different functions for various regions of the brain were part of a whole new educational world for me. I loved it so much that neuroscience was my topic of choice when selecting what kind of research I wanted to do this summer. Neuroscience research is of the utmost importance right now because the details on how the brain works is still mainly unknown. 

This summer, I worked in the University of Cincinnati (UC) Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience Department under the direction of an assistant professor and a graduate student. The study I assisted with dealt mainly with depressed patients at-risk for bipolar disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 5.7 million adults are affected by bipolar disorder. In addition, according to the same organization, about 17.3 million adults have depression. These mental illnesses affect many people, so research trying to decrease them is vital. 

The study’s research objective was to determine whether N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is effective in treating depression in adolescents and young adults who are at-risk for bipolar disorder. Children of a parent with bipolar disorder are at a much higher risk of contracting the disorder than the general population. Scientists do not yet know how NAC affects the brains of people at-risk for bipolar disorder, and this study may lead to findings on that topic. I helped to evaluate the levels of glutamate, a metabolite in the brain that can cause nerve cell death when levels are excessive. It is known that glutamate is significantly increased in the left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (LVLPFC) in the experimental group (youth at-risk for bipolar disorder) compared to the control group. The key finding from my analysis was that NAC significantly decreased glutamate levels in the LVLPFC within the experimental group. Additional studies will continue to evaluate the role of NAC in treating depression in adolescents and young adults at-risk for bipolar disorder. 

This experience opened my eyes to the process of research. It is not just performing experiments however way you want. There is a procedure for proposing an experiment, having it approved, and keeping it ethical. In addition, there are specific protocols that must be followed during research, especially if the research is clinical.  I learned that writing is a very important step in the research process because if a scientist does not communicate his or her findings through writing a grant proposal or paper, then no one knows what they did; therefore, science cannot advance without writing. This experience helped me grow tremendously in confidence because it was my first time in a truly professional setting. Knowing that I can go to a professional department, work there and have conversations with specialists will be an invaluable experience as I progress on through life. 

Ryan Burns is a senior in The Summit Country Day School’s Science Research Institute.

student at laboratory

This summer, I have been working in a clinical research group with an orthopedic doctor, a first-year medical student and an undergraduate student interested in attending medical school. The group is part of the University of Cincinnati Department of Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine. The project I am working on will be either a meta-analysis or a systematic review of the effects of vision training on sports-related concussions and mild traumatic brain injuries. In the U.S., approximately 1.6 to 3.8 million sports-related and recreation-related concussions occur each year. 


Vision training can be used as a tool to treat concussions, especially when symptoms are not going away. My main goal was to complete a thorough literature search for pieces of scientific literature that can be used in the study. I performed the literature search using Google Scholar and the set of search terms selected by the group. Once we had preliminary results from the search, we excluded articles if they included children, traumatic brain injuries, or other treatments combined with vision training. Currently, the articles are being evaluated for the data each contains prior to the meta-analysis. 

As I continue the internship, I’ll be doing more shadowing and finding data for the end of the research project. Meta-analyses have an important role in evidence-based medicine, therefore, it has been great to be part of the team evaluating the results of multiple studies with the goal of creating the best clinical practice to treat concussions. Overall, my experience has been very positive, and I’ve learned a lot about clinical research including what a career in orthopaedics and sports medicine could be like. 

Rebecca Smith is a senior in The Summit Country Day School’s Science Research Institute. 

student at laboratory

Did you know that more than 11 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease? Have you ever heard that more than a thousand lakes in Canada are damaged by acid rain each year? You may never consider that these issues are on hand. But now, when the annual budget of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) increases to $5.6 billion dollars to solve air pollution issues, every citizen has a responsibility to improve air quality.  

When I was on my family vacation at a rural village last summer, I could never forget the blue sky and the fresh air. When I walked through the city at NanChang, China, however, the sky is grey and the air always full of the smells of industry. I could not help the situation and only wondered if cities like NanChang could prohibit air pollution. Through reading an article about the industrial revolution in Great Britain, I saw the condition of the river Thames change from dirty to clean through the efforts of the British people. Therefore, I believed that air pollution can be solved using scientific methods.  

Air pollutants can affect human health and welfare via physical, chemical and biological processes. According to National Ambient Air Quality Standards established by the EPA, six pollutants, including ground-level ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides and lead, are on the list for air monitoring. It is necessary to monitor the concentration of these air pollutants in order to know how people can be affected when they are exposed.  

This summer, I worked under the guidance of Mrs. Anna Kelley from the Southwest Ohio Air Quality Agency as well as Dr. Mingming Lu from the University of Cincinnati Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, and Dr. Ming Zhang, a visiting scholar from China. We monitored the six pollutants at two different sites, Near Road site and Taft site, and analyzed the variance. The Near Road site is next to the highway while Taft site is in a valley. The different locations and geography of each site helps people to evaluate the factors which cause the air pollution.  

The Southwest Ohio Air Quality Agency collected data of pollutants at Near Road site and Taft site, hourly. I specifically looked at data between Jan. 1, 2018 and Dec. 31, 2018. In this study, our goal is to analyze the data difference in order to find the factors affecting each pollutant at the different locations. The data provides the monthly and yearly averages of each pollutant. These values possibly indicate contributing factors to their accumulation such as fossil fuel consumption, temperature, wind speed and humidity. My analysis indicated Black Carbon and NO2 have a positive relationship with fossil fuel burning, temperature, and humidity. NOx, NO, CO have a positive relationship with fossil fuel burning but negative relationship with temperature and humidity. PM 2.5 has positive relationship with temperature and humidity, but no relationship with fossil fuel burning.  

From this research experience, I believe that we are entered in the most tech-saturated age and development of technology continues to emerge. When I received the data from Mrs. Kelley, the member of Southwest Ohio Air Quality Agency in charge of this project I could not come up any efficient way to process data. I spent more than ten days writing down the data in my notebook for analysis. Things changed when I received advice from Dr. Lu and Dr. Zhang to use Microsoft Excel to analyze my data. My work become much easier as I learned how to use the pivot table in Excel. It only took me two days to process my data. The experience of processing data let me become aware of the importance of technology in real life. Also, after learning about the air modeling structure with Mrs. Kelley and her colleagues, I was amazed by how many factors researchers had to consider in their analysis; did I think to consider the factors such as terrain effects, wind speed, temperature, humidity at the beginning of my research? I did not. Not only did I learn about the relationship between these factors and pollutants, but also, I experienced how precision and repetition are used in science.  

At the end, I really want to give my appreciation to many people on this project. I want to thank Dr. Jessica Replogle, head of the Science Research Institute, for introducing this opportunity of research and her guidance in my research. I want to thank Mrs. Kelley, for providing the data and instruction of air monitoring. I want to thank both Dr. Lu and Dr. Zhang at the University of Cincinnati for providing the valuable direction and advice to my project.  

Mark Zhou is a senior in The Summit Country Day School’s Science Research Institute. 

student at laboratory

This summer I worked with the Infectious Disease department at The Christ Hospital. I had the honor to work alongside an outstanding group. My mentor throughout the summer was Dr. Thomas Lamarre, an infectious disease physician. 

Clostridioides difficile infection (CDI) is a bacterium that affects the colon. It is the leading cause of hospital-acquired infectious diarrhea. CDI rates are high and only continue to rise, with more than 500,000 people infected annually. CDI typically presents with diarrhea and abdominal pain, but severe cases can lead to intense pain or even mortality. For this reason, it is a major contributor to infectious disease deaths.  The patients experiencing symptoms only make up a portion of those affected by CDI. Asymptomatic carriers are infected with the bacteria but may never realize it.  

CDI typically occurs when someone consumes antibiotics that disrupt the normal bacteria populations in the colon, or they contract it from their environment. It is highly transmittable, only further increasing the number of those infected. Transmission is most commonly associated with healthcare facilities. Patients that enter the hospital for some form of treatment or their visiting family members are vulnerable to contracting CDI; both patients showing symptoms and asymptomatic carriers can unknowingly transmit the disease. 

CDI is very difficult to handle and treat. It usually involves a long hospital stay, expensive treatment, and precautions to prevent transmission. Even with all these measures taken, recurrence rates are high, as about 20 percent of those affected will experience the infection again. CDI acts as an economic burden on the United States, especially for healthcare facilities. There is still a great deal of work that needs to be done to establish a standard system of diagnosis and treatment in hospitals.  

I worked with a research group that aims to gain more knowledge about CDI prevention. We specifically look at preventative measures to reduce CDI rates such as identifying and properly treating the disease upon admission. Our study is still ongoing. We plan to place those who test positive but do not present with active symptoms (asymptomatic patients) on an organized treatment system that includes prophylactic antibiotics. We hope to find that on this organized system, CDI transmission in the hospital decreases. If these preventative measures prove useful, we can implement this process as the standard form of care in The Christ Hospital. 

This opportunity has taught me things that I could have never learned by sitting in a classroom: I was able to observe the Institutional Review Board (IRB) proposal drafting, train for the research, perform a literature review, and be a part of the research itself as the project continues. I fully appreciate the value of going out and experiencing things. I am beyond grateful for the members of my research group. They have treated me as an equal even though I am only a high school student; they respect and trust me, which is something that made this experience special. 

I am so thankful to Dr. Lamarre for his steadfast patience with me and dedication to making this a great learning opportunity. He always made sure I felt included and that I could have an impact on the project. I was nervous to be working on such an important project at first, but his and the group’s affability quickly created a comfortable learning environment. I have grown up with parents as doctors, so I had some sense of the scientific community from a young age. But now, I am so glad to say that I have been able to experience it first-hand.  

Directly seeing this work that can have an impact on people’s health has been so rewarding. Finally, I am very grateful to Dr. Jessica Replogle, head of The Science Research Institute, for her guidance in helping me find that perfect fit and continuing to be a support system for me as I tackled this new experience. I have always been fascinated with science; the Science Research Institute has increased my desire to pursue a career related to science.  

Emily Warden is a senior in The Summit Country Day School’s Science Research Institute. 

student at laboratory

This summer I participated in a research study at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in the cardiology department. over the course of the summer. I was mentored by cardiologists Dr. Hahn, Dr. Cnota, and Dr. Divanovic and assisted on a study that investigated the relationship between congenital heart disease (CHD) and the kidneys of neonates.

CHD are problems with the structure and, therefore, the function of the heart and are present at birth. According to the Center for Disease Control, CHD is the most common birth defect, and about 1 in 4 babies born with a heart defect has a critical CHD. It has already been proven that fetuses with CHD have abnormal growth. There have been investigations proving the connection between CHD and neurologic abnormalities. However, the connection of renal growth to CHD is an area of limited investigation.
I assisted with a retrospective study designed to investigate if neonates with congenital heart disease show delayed growth and maturation of their kidneys. Additionally, the project is evaluating variances in kidney size based on the different classes of CHD, and also how the size of the kidney can affect its health and function. To do this, we collected data on neonates with congenital heart disease by reviewing their charts and renal ultrasounds from the past eight years. We collected different variables that could affect kidney size. The goal of this study is to help patients in the future and expand research to involve additional patients at multiple centers. The better we understand the CHD and its effect on other organs, the better treatments patients can receive so these babies live healthier, longer lives.

I had a great experience working with Dr. Hahn, Dr. Cnota, and Dr. Divanovic. I was able to learn the steps to conducting a professional clinical research study while also getting educated on different medical technology such as echocardiograms. I discovered that research does not always have to be in a laboratory…it can occur anywhere. These physicians also presented me with unique opportunities around the hospital such as attending research presentations of fellows, going to see guest speakers, and shadowing them in clinic. I have learned so much during my time at the hospital, and I am so appreciative that they took the time to teach me and expose me to so many opportunities.

Madeline Riley is a senior in The Summit Country Day School’s Science Research Institute. 

student at laboratory

This summer, I worked with Dr. Brian Gebelein, Ph.D. in the Developmental Biology Department at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. The lab utilizes Drosophila melanogaster embryos, which are fruit fly embryos, to investigate the regulation of neuronal gene expression. Neurons require an intricate gene regulatory mechanism to control development and function of the nervous system. The Gebelein lab is investigating various transcription factors that correlate to developmental events within the nervous system.  

The main focus of my research project was to explore the two types of binding sites within the ind enhancer for the Ind family of transcriptional factors. One type of binding site, M sites, allows for only one Ind protein monomer to bind to its enhancer. When interaction occurs, expression of the Ind protein is repressed. The other type of binding site, D sites, allows two Ind proteins to cooperatively bind together while interacting with the ind enhancer. This cooperative binding results in the activation of Ind protein expression. 

Together with a fifth-year graduate student, we inserted a lac-Z reporter gene under control of the ind enhancer. The lac-Z gene encodes for beta-galactosidase, which is not normally expressed within fruit fly embryos. Therefore, we knew that any presence of beta-galactosidase would have come directly from this mutated ind enhancer. We also created fruit fly strains containing mutations of the DNA binding sites in the ind enhancer such that one strain contained only D sites and another strain contained only M sites. Staining the embryos with different antibodies allows us to measure how the transcription factor controls the different rates of protein expression. Through a series of antibody stains, we added a fluorescent tag to the expressed beta-galactosidase, which when excited with a specific wavelength of light lights up all places in the embryos where beta-galactosidase is expressed. Using an apotome microscope, I imaged the three types of embryos: the normal embryos with both the M and D sites, the embryos with only M sites, and the embryos with only D sites. Using computer software, I was able to measure the light intensity of the fluorescently tagged beta-galactosidase protein in each of the three types of embryos. 

After each cycle of collecting, staining, imaging, and quantifying embryos, I compared the fluorescent intensity of each type of embryo. The embryos with the mutated D sites showed significantly less light intensity than the normal embryos, which corresponded with my predicted results that an impaired D site would prevent ind expression. Although, the embryos with mutated M sites did not show significantly higher light intensity than the normal embryos, the results still showed slightly elevated light intensity when compared to the normal embryos.  

Working with Dr. Gebelein and all the other members of the lab was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life. The community of all the lab members was always fun and helpful. Even though each person was working on their own project, they were always willing to answer any of my questions and always made me feel comfortable within the lab. I am incredibly thankful for my time in the Gebelein lab because of the amazing community that I worked in and the knowledge and techniques that I learned. This opportunity in a research lab allowed me to grow my skill and interest in research and consider scientific research as a possible career path.    

Jack Schmerge is a senior in The Summit Country Day School’s Science Research Institute. 

student at laboratory

This summer, I worked in a cardiology research group at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. But my interest in cardiology didn’t start there. When I was in middle school, I loved learning about the organs in the body. I was so interested that I kept reading about them outside of class and even in the summer. The summer going into my sophomore year, I went to Camp Cardiac, a week-long medical camp focused on the heart. This program introduced me to the heart. We watched a coronary artery bypass graft surgery which was the coolest thing I had ever seen. Once camp ended, I continued to read articles about heart health. 

This all culminated this summer when I had the privilege of working under Dr. James Cnota, a fetal cardiologist. I worked on a piece of his project focusing on why babies with congenital heart defects (CHD) are born prematurely. Approximately three percent of pregnancies result in a baby with a congenital heart defect. Of those three percent, ten percent have a genetic cause and fifty percent have developmental disorders.  

This summer, my job was to help understand which test pregnant women more frequently choose: the non-invasive prenatal testing of cell-free DNA or more invasive procedures, such as amniocentesis, which carry various risks to the mother and unborn child.  

The information provided by these different tests varies and may affect diagnosis, treatment and counseling of patients. This is important because genetic testing helps doctors plan for the baby’s birth and post-natal care which can often be the difference between their life and death.  

During my time at Children’s Hospital, I worked in front of a computer collecting information from patient charts and entering select information into a database. Eventually, this data will be analyzed with the hope that it will provide evidence on which prenatal tests result in better CHD patient outcomes. Every day I was exposed to a variety of patients’ stories and developed an understanding of the depth of the pediatric cardiology field, CHD and the range of complications that accompany CHD. Not to mention, my desk was placed strategically in the middle of a pod of surgical nurses who never failed to come in passionately discussing their days full of saving lives. It was inspiring to be in an environment packed with so much driven enthusiasm and reminded me of why I want to become a doctor. 

Sophia Evans is a senior in The Summit Country Day School’s Science Research Institute.

student at laboratory

This summer, I worked in the Waltz Lab at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. The research group is part of the Cancer Biology Department, and primarily studies breast cancer at a molecular level. One goal is to study the function of a protein called Ron that is often overexpressed in breast (and prostate) cancer. Because breast cancer in an advanced stage often shows a compromised cellular immune response, the Waltz Lab is studying the mechanisms that lead to this compromised immune response. This line of study led past lab members to observe reduced function of a protein called IRAK4 when Ron is expressed in high amounts within tumor cells. The IRAK4 protein is involved in a signaling cascade that ends with the production of immune response signaling proteins such as interferon regulatory factor (IRF) proteins. 

My role in the lab was to assist in a study evaluating the interaction of Ron with specific proteins within the IRAK4 signaling cascade. Using western blot analysis, I was able to determine expression levels of various proteins in cells that both expressed wild type Ron and overexpressed Ron. The tests showed that the degradation of TRAF6 was inhibited when Ron was overexpressed. This interruption within the IRAK4 signaling pathway leads to a compromised immune response, as TRAF6 is unable to stimulate IRF transcription factors, and therefore, essential proteins that are used in the innate immune response are not produced. This inhibition of TRAF6 may play a role in the compromised immune response of cancerous cells. Eventually, a more complete understanding of the molecular mechanisms that drive development and progression in breast cancers may allow for the creation of new immune therapies that target these specific pathways. Currently, breast cancer tends to be resistant against immune therapy, as it often exhibits a compromised immune response. Hopefully, these results lead to a better understanding of Ron’s role in breast cancer as the lab continues to interrogate the IRAK4 signaling pathway and its specific proteins.  

Over the summer, I was fortunate to have a very dedicated postdoctoral fellow as my mentor. She taught me an incredible amount about cancer biology, and scientific techniques that I otherwise would not have been exposed to until at least my undergrad years. The experience I had was an excellent one. I felt very welcomed by the lab and learned about and contributed to everything from maintaining cell lines and genotyping mice to filling pipette tip boxes. I am incredibly grateful that I had this opportunity, and I hope that some of the results that I obtained will be useful in future studies. So, while I worked long hours all summer, and only took the Fourth of July and the next day off, I would not trade this experience: I learned more about cancer, scientific research, and life than I could have imagined.  

 Pierce Kreider is a senior in The Summit Country Day School’s Science Research Institute. 

student at laboratory

This summer, I was blessed to have the opportunity to work in the Engineering Research Center at the University of Cincinnati (UC).  I worked in Dr. Daria A. Narmoneva’s Vascular Tissue and Cellular Engineering Lab at UC’s Biomedical Engineering Department. This research group focuses on engineering vascularized tissue by manipulation formation of capillaries. There are numerous applications of this research including improving wound healing in diabetic patients. The project I assisted on had a research objective focused on understanding the effect of an electric field on the wound healing and vascularization in a diabetic pig model. Previous work in the lab using a mouse model demonstrated that an electric field is a crucial component of the wound healing response. This information led to the next step using the porcine model since research has shown that 78 percent of evaluated pig wound models were concordant with human studies.  

With this research, 12 two-by-two centimeter wounds were made on the backs of two diabetic pigs. These wounds were monitored, and pictures were taken of them each day to track the progression of healing. Half of the wounds on each of the pigs had a high frequency electric field applied to them, while the other wounds remained unmanipulated as the control group. My specific job in analyzing this data involved using the graphic editing software of Adobe Photoshop. Through Photoshop, I was able to outline the perimeter of the wound and calculate its area in pixels. Then, the wound area could be converted to centimeters squared. This process was completed for each of the two pigs’ twelve wounds over several weeks. This data then allows the analysis of the closure of the wounds over the approximate four-week time period. The closure of the wounds is then statistically analyzed using a multifactor ANOVA test. 

The next part of my research used a lectin stain on the tissue samples from each of the wounds in order to analyze the blood vessel formation in the wounds of the pigs.  This lectin staining procedure was a three-day long process. After all the slides were stained, pictures of them were taken under a microscope. The blood vessel formation was analyzed using a computer program called MATLAB. 

I am so grateful for the experience I was able to have in Dr. Narmoneva’s lab this summer. Not only did I learn many new scientific skills and techniques, I also was able to experience the camaraderie of the lab group. I am so glad to have had the opportunity to truly understand what it is like to be a member of a lab. 

Adaliene Andsager is a senior in The Summit Country Day School’s Science Research Institute. 

student at laboratory

This summer, I had the amazing opportunity to work in Dr. Peng Zhang’s lab, which is part of the University of Cincinnati Chemistry Department. The lab group consisted of Dr. Zhang, about seven graduate students and me. Everyone welcomed me and encouraged me to let them know if I needed anything. There is a wide variety of research that occurs in the lab. All the projects are so different from each other, which made for extremely interesting lab meetings. It was truly exciting to see all the different topics for research enclosed under the broad term of chemistry. I worked directly with a graduate student named Xiaoyu Cui for my project on extracting rare earth ions from water using functionalized cellulose.  

Rare earth elements (REEs) are a group of seventeen metallic elements that include all 15 lanthanides, plus scandium and yttrium. Although these elements are abundant in the Earth’s crust, they are “rare” because of the staggering price associated with mining them. These elements are extremely important in today’s technological society as REEs are found in products ranging from cell phones to hybrid vehicles. Due to their importance in our ease of living, it is vital that a way to reuse and recycle these elements is found. My specific project aimed to figure out a way to extract gadolinium ions from water using functionalized cellulose.  

To functionalize the cellulose, we mixed cellulose in solution with liquid silane and allowed it to react overnight. Cellulose was chosen due to its low cost and organic nature. Silane is a silicon-based molecule that has two functional groups on either end of the molecule making it a very useful choice for our research. One functional group can react to form a covalent bond with cellulose whereas the other functional group gives a desired characteristic. For this study, the desired characteristic is binding gadolinium ions. We tested two different types of silane compounds during our experiments. One silane compound had a trifluoro- group on one end of the molecule, whereas the other silane compound had a phosphate group.  

Next, gadolinium (III) chloride in solution was mixed with the functionalized cellulose and allowed to stir overnight. To test the binding efficacy of the functionalized cellulose, we used ICP-MS (Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry) to measure the concentration of lone gadolinium ions in solution. The lower the concentration, the more effective the functionalized cellulose was at binding gadolinium ions. After running the test several times, we could not determine if the gadolinium was binding selectively to the functionalized cellulose, or if non-functionalized cellulose was physically absorbing the ions. In the near future, we will try to functionalize the cellulose with phosphoric acid to see if that is more effective.  

Although the results were not conclusive, I could not have had a better time conducting research. I would like to thank Dr. Zhang for allowing me to work in his lab this summer. I would also like to thank Xiaoyu, and all the other lab members who were so kind to me throughout the summer. 

Amir Johnson is a senior in The Summit Country Day School’s Science Research Institute. 

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I worked with Dr. Marco Fatuzzo, Ph.D. from the Department of Physics at Xavier University on an astrophysical research project this summer. Although your typical idea of “research” takes place in a lab, my research took place on my computer using a program called Mathematica. Dr. Fatuzzo and I met several days a week as he guided me through the project and Mathematica. 

The main purpose of my research project was to find the theoretical number of Earth-like planets within the Milky Way. The term “Earth-like” means they are rocky, not too hot or cold, and capable of supporting life. This number is dependent on many factors. First, for a planet to form, there must be a star. Without a star, there will not be a strong enough gravitational pull for metals to collect and form a ball, a planet. So the first problem we have to solve is: how many stars are there in the Milky Way? 

As the universe ages, it expands. After the Big Bang, it was teeming with gas (mostly hydrogen and some helium), which enables the birth of stars. As stars start forming, they begin to trap in gas. Not only that, but the expansion of the universe causes matter to spread out. With a reduction in concentration of free gas in space, fewer stars are able to form. This can be laid out as a functional equation known as the star formation rate: as the universe ages, fewer stars form. 

After finding the star formation rate for the Milky Way, we now face our second challenge: how many stars can support life? For a planet to be able to support life, it’s star needs to be about the size of the sun. This value was found by taking the area under the curve of the star formation rate between 0.6 and 1.4 solar masses (our sun is 1 solar mass).

Next, we had to find the planet formation rate in the Milky Way. As the star formation rate decreases, planet formation rate is increasing. This is because planets are metal-dependent, meaning they require elements heavier than helium to form. As the universe ages, stars form and die, and they can become supernovae -- massive star explosions -- which eject metals into space. As more stars die, the universe becomes more metal rich, and more planets are able to form. The planet formation rate can be laid out as a functional equation that increases over time. 

Lastly, we had to incorporate planets’ metallicity-dependence into their likelihood of forming. In the early stages of a stellar system, when planets are beginning to form, there is a minimum amount of metals required for the planet to support life. By finding the percentage of planets that surpass this threshold, we can then determine the theoretical amount of planets in the Milky Way that are capable of supporting life. My research is still in progress, and we have not found a value just yet. However, this number is expected to be in the billions. At the end of the summer, I had the opportunity to present our findings at the Xavier University College of Arts and Life Sciences Summer Undergraduate Research Symposium. 

Working with Dr. Fatuzzo has been a pleasure. Astrophysics can be complex at times, but he was always there to help me and teach me what I needed to know. He is extremely intelligent, and always made sure that I understood all aspects of my research. I am very thankful for all of the time, help, and instruction he has given me, and I am so glad that I had this opportunity. This research has made me realize that astrophysics is a strong passion of mine, and I hope to do more astrophysical research in the future. 

Caroline Kubicki is a senior in The Summit Country Day School’s Science Research Institute.  

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This summer I worked in the laboratory of the late William B. Connick, Ph.D., in the Chemistry Department of the University of Cincinnati.  My mentor for this summer was Nate Barker, a fourth year grad student finishing up a few of his projects to reach the point of publication. 

The lab group’s work is mainly focused on investigating the mechanism of vapochromic platinum compounds. The goal of the project that I assisted with was to identify the fundamental behavior of a specific vapochromic platinum compound and to isolate specific polymorphs through recrystallization. Vapochromic compounds react with specific volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and undergo a distinct change in color. These materials are potentially useful in sensing applications, however this lab is not focused on finding these applications. This lab’s focus was to determine the atomic changes that caused these materials to undergo this color changing reaction. To do this, the lab members use techniques ranging from X-ray crystallography, which determines the atomic structure of the complex, to fluorometry, which is used to measure the fluorescent emission after the reaction. We found that while some VOCs greatly changed the color of the compounds, some VOCs barely had an effect and some caused no change at all. 

My work in this lab began with learning about X-ray crystallography under the guidance of Dr. Jeannette Krause in the Richard C. Elder X-ray Crystallography Facility in the UC Department of Chemistry. I also learned how to perform recrystallizations of a vapochromic platinum compound in order to produce two polymorphs that Nate and I analyzed.  Another aspect of my work included using a fluorimeter in order to measure the change in fluorescence both before and after the vapochromic compound was exposed to certain VOC’s. 

The overall experience working in this lab have been great. From seeing expected results to even seeing a few strange data points, the work is always interesting. Through this experience, I have learned a variety of chemistry techniques from how to use a fluorometer to recrystallization of the vapochromic platinum compound. I have also learned about the entire process of vapochromism, all of which was new to me before starting the research. From this experience, I have learned a multitude of things including how to interpret specific pieces of data and to how to deal with a result that is completely unexpected from the original calculations. The experience this summer has given me an insight into the world of college level inorganic chemistry research. 

Nick Dahling is a senior in The Summit Country Day School’s Science Research Institute.

boy standing with stuffed animals

This past summer, I worked with Dr. Roger Cornwall, M.D., the Clinical Director of the Pediatric Orthopaedics Department at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Unlike many typical basic research laboratory experiences, I did not have a lab group and did not work within an actual lab. Much of my work was independent investigation under the supervision of Dr. Cornwall that included going to the department office in order to access to online resources provided by Children’s, contacting zoos or natural history museums, or using the internet or book sources to find information.

To understand the research objectives, I’ll give some background on the research project. In gymnastics, athletes often perform many movements that involve bearing all of an individual's weight on his or her hands where the hand forms a 90-degree angle to the wrist, such as a handstand. This hand position can often lead to great stress on the wrist and cause the growth plate in the radius to close so that the bones do not align properly. This can lead to many other problems when that individual grows up. The wrist is not built to support large amounts of weight like an ankle, so a sturdy wrist brace with metal plating or other forms of support should be used to prevent this injury in gymnastics. However, there is reluctance to prevent or confront the issue of wrist pain and injury in gymnastics because of an assumption that the wrist should be able to handle the forces put on it during weight bearing activities and that if other primates do it, we should be able to. However, we propose that the wrist is not actually well suited to support the body the way it is done in gymnastics based on the hypothesis that no other primate uses the wrist in this manner.

The goal of my research was to use primate evolutionary history and anatomy to justify the claim that the wrist has never been built to bear large amounts of weight at extreme angles. To justify this claim, I collected data to support the argument that we can’t ask the gymnasts’ wrists to evolve, and instead, we should evolve the sport with bracing. In order to prove this claim, I needed to determine that no primates walked with their hands flat to the ground and made a 90 degree angle with their hand and forearm. Using a variety of sources, I found information to categorize the movements of nearly all known living and extinct primates. The primates’ hand positions were narrowed down to one specific primate that used a flat hand as the forearm became perpendicular with the ground. However, this primate had a thick pad of skin that tilted the hand forward as well as exhibited a slight lifting of the back of the hand that allowed the wrist to never endure the same stress as the hand position of the gymnast. The claim held true and can hopefully be used to help reduce wrist injuries in gymnasts one day.

My work with Dr. Cornwall has been extremely interesting and has allowed me to to learn many concepts and skills such as reviewing all the literature that exists on a topic. I
have developed a great appreciation of what it takes to be a part of research project and all the benefits and takeaways that can come from it. The most important value I learned was the ability to connect seemingly different topics together. My research involved so many different areas of expertise such as orthopedics, zoology, evolution and sports medicine that I had to gradually piece the information together and really develop an understanding of what I was doing and why. The knowledge I have gained has been invaluable and I really appreciate the great opportunity I was given.

Luke Ritter is a senior in The Summit Country Day School’s Science Research Institute.

student at laboratory

This summer, I worked with Dr. Farrah Jacquez and Miguel Nunez at the University of Cincinnati’s Partnerships for Improvement and Treatment in Community Health (PITCH) Lab. Miguel is a third year student in the Clinical Psychology Ph.D. program at the University of Cincinnati. The research project that I worked on was one of the ACEs Studies, more specifically, the association of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and health-risk behaviors among Latino adolescents (ages 13-19). This research project required the participants of the study to complete a survey and provide saliva samples. The objective of this project is to determine risk factors (such as adverse childhood experiences) and protective factors that influence health behaviors among low-income Latino adolescents. The project addresses a significant knowledge gap in the Latino health disparities literature. Even though there is research on health behaviors among Latino youth, this is the first study to examine the link between ACEs, biological markers of cortisol, and health risk behaviors among low-income Latino youth. It is also important to understand protective factors that can build resilience in Latino adolescents in the community. 

My research question asked about the relationship between adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), alcohol use, and driving under the influence among Latino adolescents. After collecting the data and performing a Chi-Square analysis, we found that almost none of the participants had driven under the influence, so none of the data was significant in that area. However, we identified one pair of questions from the survey that showed significant differences after Chi-Square analysis: Latino adolescents with a family member who had a serious disagreement or fight were more likely to have consumed alcohol.

The PITCH lab was a great experience to be a part of because it is not a typical lab setting. Their research process is a community-based participatory research and involves community members and researchers collaboratively in all aspects of the process. I learned so much from going out and collecting data from participants all over the Greater Cincinnati area. Some mornings I woke up as early as 5:30 am to go collect saliva samples from participants and spoke in Spanish to people at Salsa on the Square downtown trying to recruit people for the study. I also spent time in the lab at UC, entering the data in the statistical program SPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences). I learned a lot about the survey process and different statistical analyses to analyze the data. I had such a great experience with this project and I am so grateful to my mentor Miguel, as well as Dr. Jessica Replogle for helping me throughout the process.

Julia Rosa Helm is a senior in The Summit Country Day School’s Science Research Institute.