A Christian College of the Liberal Arts & Sciences

Summer Research Institute | 2014 Research

Associate Professor of Chemistry, Karen Torraca, will work with two students this summer toward the development of a “green” synthetic method for the conversion of alcohols to ketones or aldehydes.  The current standard synthetic processes require large amounts of heavy metals and generate a lot of hazardous environmental waste.  Although there is a strong research emphasis across academia to develop better oxidation processes, very few new processes have actually been implemented in large-scale manufacturing due to the lack of robustness.  Our ultimate goal will be to develop not only a “green” process, but one that is amenable to large-scale use where it will have the greatest environmental impact.  Our research will focus on the use of palladium catalysts to complete the oxidation of various alcohols to ketones or aldehydes under mild conditions.

Aaron Sullivan, Associate Professor of Biology, along with Julia Dyer and Zachary Smith are continuing a line of research that investigates how antipredator responses to chemical cues from predators are fine-tuned by prey species. More specifically, this work will examine how prior experience with a predator as well as foraging success can influence Allegany Dusky Salamander defensive behavior. Salamanders of this species are excellent models for investigating how prey use chemical cues to evaluate predation risk as they are equipped with well-developed chemosensory organs and rely on chemical cue detection for functions such as foraging, territory maintenance, and mate recognition. Furthermore, some species respond to chemical stimuli from predators and even injured salamanders. We hope to address the following questions during SRI 2014: 1) Do salamanders with recent experience related to predation respond more strongly to chemical stimuli from predators, and 2) Are ‘hungry’ salamanders willing to forage even though predation risk is relatively high?

Mark Yuly, professor of physics, and two students, Laurel Vincett and Thomas Eckert, will be working with physicists from SUNY-Geneseo on research related to inertial confinement fusion (ICF). In ICF a large amount of energy is deposited, usually with high-powered lasers, into a small pellet of nuclear fuel to initiate a fusion reaction. In order to characterize the fusion reaction, a system has been developed using 12C activation.  Samples of purified graphite are placed at several locations around the ICF target chamber, where they are exposed to the flux of neutrons produced in the fusion reaction. By far, the biggest remaining obstacle to the implementation of this diagnostic technique is that it depends on accurate knowledge of the 12C(n,2n) cross section, which has not been well-measured.  The past two summers we did an experiment at Ohio University using the tandem Van de Graaff accelerator to measure this cross section; this summer we will analyze the data that were collected, and perform a necessary side-experiment to measure the efficiency of the detectors we used the past two summers.

Jun-Koo Park, assistant professor of mathematics, and two students (August Gula and RD Marek), and, will continue the study of the refined Gaussian Network Model (GNM) for predicting the dynamics of biological structures. Proteins are an important class of biomolecules, and the GNM has been proved to be accurate for predicting the fluctuations. Since the X-ray structures may not directly reveal the motions of structures, we plan to use NMR data in which multiple structures of the same protein can reveal the aspects of dynamics more directly. The goal of this study is to refine a GNM and apply it to the larger set of biological structures using NMR data. This is a continuation and extension of a project that we did at SRI 2013.

Networks can model complex interactions in the real world, in which vertices are entities and edges represent the interactions between the entities. Many networks, especially social networks, exhibit community structures where vertices form different groups or communities. To date, the research on networks primarily focuses on the static networks, where vertices and edges do not change over time. However, many real networks modeling the evolving relationships between entities tend to be dynamic, which implies that the network topology, vertices, or edges could change over time. Wei Hu, professor of math and computer science, and two students, Nathan Aston and Jacob Hertzler, will create adaptive algorithms to identify local community structures to improve community detection in dynamic networks.

Brandon Hoffman, assistant professor of physics, and three students (Kyle Flemington, Paul Lashomb, and Jonathon Yuly) will be collaborating with Shefford Baker at the Center for Materials Research (CCMR) at Cornell University to study thin silver films. Today’s technology requires the use of metal films with thicknesses of only a few hundred nanometers or less. Not much is known about the properties of materials this small and the present models do not accurately describe the films. Therefore, thin silver films will be produced in a high vacuum deposition chamber and studied with x-ray diffraction (XRD), electron backscatter diffraction (EBSD), and transmission electron microscopy (TEM) in order to characterize the microstructures and transformations of the films. The goal of these experiments will be to improve the general model that describes similar thin metal films.

Jamie Potter, Assistant Professor of Biology, will be working with 2 students, Mary Grace Hollenbeck and Russell Levack, in collaboration with Dr Keith Perry, Associate Professor at Cornell University Department of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology, on the detection of plant RNA viruses in grapevine. We will be focusing on Grapevine leaf roll-associated viruses, GLRaV, in Vitis vinifera and related Vitis species through collection and analysis of plant samples from western New York vineyards and adjacent wild cultivars using newly developed molecular macroarray diagnostic techniques. Our preliminary results show that grapevines in WNY host a variety of RNA viruses infections. In addition to continuing my research on macroarray detection of RNA virus infections in cultivated grapevines, we will also be developing virus-specific PCR protocols to confirm our results. This work is supported by the Houghton College Moreland Research Fund.