Paul Martino, professor of biochemistry, and Houghton College students Ellirose Edwards and Sahara Javnerwill 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 studying a novel method involving rapid 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. Once developed, the technique will be utilized to examine structures that have eluded existing methods, such as early events in amyloid aggregation. The work will primarily be accomplished at Houghton College, although some work may be accomplished at the University of Rochester biological mass spectrometry facility.

Kurt Aikens, assistant professor of physics, and Houghton College students Josiah Kratz and Jared Malone 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. This research builds on work completed last summer, where reasonable results were obtained for a canonical mixing scenario. This summer, the work will focus more specifically on transitional flow cases that have proven difficult to computationally predict. Additional simulation strategies may be utilized in an attempt to improve results. For example, Aikens, Kratz, and Malone may test alternatives to the multiple reference frames model that is commonly used in industry. 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 – and engineers at SPX Flow in Rochester.

Kelsey Barrus and Jacquelyn Lewis, biology majors at Houghton, will be working with Jamie Potter, associate professor of biology, in collaboration with Keith Perry at Cornell University, on the detection of grapevine leafroll-associated viruses (GLRaV) in wild and cultivated grapevine (Vitis sp) in Allegany and Cattaraugus counties, and the assessment and optimization of viral RNA extraction and stabilization methods. Due to the nature of viral RNA in grapevine, rapid degradation of the nucleic acid is prominent and thus current methods must be optimized to allow for greater stabilization for subsequent testing and identification. Grapevine leafroll disease (GLRD) is a significant source of cultivar loss and quality degradation in vineyards and is transmitted to the plant by cross-contamination of equipment, grafting, or insect vectors. The treatment of virally infected cultivars requires removal of the entire plant, resulting in a five to seven-year year loss for cultivated vines to produce grapes at maximum capacity again. Because of its significant impact and continued rapid spread among vineyards, epidemiological studies of GLRaVs and optimization of available techniques are needed to further development of control and prevention techniques for GLRD caused by GLRaVs.

Aaron Sullivan, associate professor and chair of the Department of Biology, and Emilia Gildemeister ’18Lexie Reitler ’20, and Anna Trimble ’21 will spend the summer examining chemically mediated predator-prey interactions among amphibians and reptiles. More specifically, they will focus on the potential for salamander prey to identify new threats, as the capacity to recognize and assess predators via chemical stimuli may be especially beneficial for amphibians, whose populations are declining globally. The ability to learn to identify new predatory threats is especially advantageous, as introduced species can have a pronounced impact on local fauna. Through a series of experiments, an effort will be made to condition Allegheny Mountain Dusky Salamanders (Desmognathus ochrophaeus) to associate non-predatory Smooth Greensnakes (Opheodrys vernalis) with stimuli from predation events (e.g., damage-released cues, snake kairomones), and to quantify factors that contribute to the magnitude and duration of the learned response.

Ransom Poythress, assistant professor of biology at Houghton College, will be working with Kirsten Blakesleeand Keegan Frenya 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. Poythress, Blakeslee, and Frenya will examine the efficacy of electrical stimulation in scratch wound healing assays in cultured rat aortic smooth muscle, as well as assess changing protein expression by western blot and LCMS. They will also be examining changes to inflammatory response and cytokine release through ELISA analysis. Finally, the research team 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.

Houghton students Katelyn Cook, Emma Bruce, and Sarah Hull will be working with physics professor Mark Yuly and a collaboration of scientists from State University of New York at Geneseo (SUNY Geneseo) and the University of Rochester Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE) on a measurement of the cross section for the 3H(t,g)6He radiative capture reaction. LLE is one of the largest laboratories in the world for studying inertial confinement fusion (ICF). At the facility, 60 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. For this experiment, some of the expanding neutral gas after the laser shot will be captured with a turbo pump and a specially designed phoswich detector will count the number of 6He decays. 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.

Brandon Bate, assistant professor of mathematics, and Houghton College students Caleb Lyon and Nathaniel Parks will be working on classifying coadjoint orbits for the unipotent radical of minimal parabolic subgroups for the special linear group of n by n matrices. Preliminary research will focus on developing a computer program to perform this classification for given n. Data generated by this program will have applications to the theory of automorphic forms on higher rank groups leading to a detailed description of corresponding Fourier series expansions. Via the Kutznetsov trace formula, such expansions may prove helpful in better understanding the spectral theory of automorphic forms, an active area of research in number theory. Their research will also focus on determining, if possible, an explicit classification of such coadjoint orbits.

Brandon Hoffman, associate professor of physics, and Houghton students Sarah Olandt and Daniil Zhuravlev will collaborate with Shefford Baker at the Cornell 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. At this thickness, crystal defects play a huge role in determining the microstructures of the film. Existing models do not adequately explain the formation of these defects or effects they have on the films. Therefore, thin films of a range of metals will be produced in a high vacuum deposition chamber and studied by x-ray diffraction (XRD) and electron backscatter diffraction (EBSD) in order to characterize the formation of defects and their effect on the microstructures. The goal of these experiments will be to improve the general model that describes similar thin metal films.