Summer Research Institute | 2017 Research

  Kurt Aikens, Assistant Professor of Physics, and Houghton College students Heather Phillips and Jonathan Durbin will be working to better understand the mixing performance of impellers that are operating in the transitional flow regime. This regime is in between smooth laminar flow and chaotic turbulent flow. To study the impeller mixing process, computer simulations will be performed using local computing resources, non-local supercomputing resources, and industry-leading software. Long-term, empirical correlations of mixing performance are sought for transitional flow operation. This has been elusive to date but would be beneficial for engineers tasked with designing efficient mixing processes. To build such empirical models, accurate simulations will be required for a variety of impeller geometries and operating conditions. Once reasonable results have been obtained for Newtonian fluids, non-Newtonian fluids will also be examined. The described work will be completed in collaboration with Prof. David Foster from the University of Rochester – an expert in this area of chemical engineering.

Houghton math majors, Brielle Kwarta and Benjamin Reber—both rising juniors—will be investigating optimal photosynthate allocation strategies for the northern pitcher plant. An allocation strategy specifies the relative proportions of photosynthate dedicated to vegetative and reproductive growth in plants. An optimal allocation strategy will maximize fitness. There are unique photosynthetic costs for plants in nutrient-poor ecosystems. The northern pitcher plant, Sarracenia purpurea, uses modified leaves for the absorption of nutrients, nitrogen being the most important. These “pitchers” are photosynthetically less efficient than the flattened leafstalks (phyllodia) also produced by the plant. It has been shown that the production of pitchers and phyllodia is phenotypically plastic. Since reproductive success is both carbon and nitrogen limited, optimal allocation strategies for the northern pitcher plant should vary with nitrogen availability. In this project, we will use optimal control theory to investigate optimal allocation strategies for the northern pitcher plant in the presence of varying levels of nitrogen availability. Project mentor: Jason Bintz, Assistant Professor of Applied Mathematics.”

Ransom Poythress, Assistant Professor of Biology at Houghton College will be working with Jung-Hyun Ahn and Samuel Pyo to assess the effects of electrical stimulation on wound recovery in smooth muscle. Despite its broad and varied use as a therapeutic modality in skeletal muscle recovery, the effects of electrical stimulation on other systems remain largely unknown. We will examine the efficacy of electrical stimulation in scratch wound healing assays in cultured rat aortic smooth muscle and examine changing protein expression of frozen samples by western blot. In addition, we will use Biopac force-transduction measurements in conjunction with live tissue organ baths to explore real-time effects of electrical stimulation on amphibian smooth muscle in response to injury.

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 and other transition metal catalysts to complete the oxidation of various alcohols to ketones or aldehydes under mild conditions.

Brandon Hoffman, associate professor of physics, and two Houghton College students will be collaborating with Joe Kellogg of Kellogg’s Research Labs on a study of nitinol microstructures. Nitinol has a very peculiar property called “shape memory.” This means that a given shape can be programmed into a nitinol wire. If the wire is later bent into a different shape, it will return to the programmed shape when heated. Research is being conducted to use nitinol wires to convert daily atmospheric temperature changes into electrical power. The present project aims to further development of these power generators by measuring stress and strain vs. temperature while imaging the wire with a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM).

The University of Rochester Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE) is one of the largest laboratories in the world for studying inertial confinement fusion (ICF).     At LLE, sixty extremely high-powered lasers deposit a large amount of energy into a small pellet of nuclear fuel, triggering a nuclear fusion explosion that releases energy and radiation. Houghton students Katelyn Cook and Micah Coates will be working with physics professor Mark Yuly and a collaboration of scientists from SUNY Geneseo and LLE to develop novel ways to use ICF to carry out nuclear physics measurements that are not feasible using previously available techniques.  In particular, an experiment to measure the cross section for the 3H(t,g)6He radiative capture reaction is being developed.  This reaction has never been measured at any energy, even though it is a light nucleus reaction occurring in all DT plasma thermonuclear fusion research and is important for an understanding of nucleosynthesis in big bang models of the early universe.

Aaron Sullivan, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Biology, will work with Emilia Gildemeister ‘18 and Erica Barney ‘18, in a study to assess avian and herpetofaunal biodiversity along an approximately 500-km section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in central California. The PCT is a 4,265-km trail that extends from Mexico to Canada and passes through a variety of ecosystems. The goal of this study is to contribute to an overall project to utilize the PCT as a transect that can serve as a ‘barometer of biodiversity’ and will facilitate a long-term assessment of animal distributions as well as possible altitudinal and latitudinal shifts in response to climate change. The collaborators will include the megatransect project originator and coordinator, Mike McGrann from William Jessup University, faculty from other institutions within the CCCU (e.g., Ben Brammell, Asbury University), and members of state entities (e.g., Brett Furnas, California Department of Fish and Wildlife).  The project aims to document, predict, and explain patterns in biological diversity as well as to inform conservation planning. Student participation will include hiking the trail as well as project planning and logistics, data collection and analysis, and writing for scientific publications.  The researchers will participate in the various aspects of the megatransect project during the 2016 field season (e.g., avian point surveys, habitat assessment, eDNA collection) and hope to expand on the pilot project for amphibian and reptile search and assessment from 2016 over the course of a six-week project.

Paul Martino, Professor of Biochemistry, and Houghton College students Gregory Ballard and Jennifer Pond will be working this summer on developing new methodologies for the structural study of biological molecules.  Techniques involving x-ray crystallography and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy have long played major roles in the study of biomolecular structures.  Recent advances in mass spectrometry using hydrogen-deuterium exchange rates in order to probe structure have shown great promise.  This team of investigators will be examining a novel method involving carbene gas labeling of biomolecules followed by mass spectrometry in order to measure structural features.  The technique is analogous to spray-painting folded paper then examining where the paint is and isn’t to infer how the paper was folded.  Most the work will be accomplished at Houghton College, although some work will be accomplished at the University of Rochester biological mass spectrometry facility.