Physics: Using X-Ray Diffraction to Study Imperfections in Thin Silver Films

Physics Professor Brandon Hoffman and four Houghton College students will be collaborating 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. The properties of these films are greatly affected by imperfections that form in the crystal structure when the film is produced. One common imperfection, called a stacking fault, has been shown to be a driving force for the growth of large crystal grains in the film. However, models describing how stacking faults form and precisely how they affect the growth of grains are incomplete. This summer, thin silver films will be produced in a high vacuum deposition chamber and characterized by X-Ray Diffraction (XRD) in order to study stacking fault formation and its effects on crystal grain growth.

Biochemistry: “Spray-Painting” Biological Molecules to Understand Their Structure

Biochemistry Professor Paul Martino and Houghton College students Ellirose Edwards ’20, Hyeok Kim ’21, and Gavin Luckey ’22 will be working 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.

Biology: Studying Bacteria Hosted by the Northern Pitcher Plant

Jamie Potter, Assistant Professor of Biology, will be working with two Houghton College students on identification and characterization of the Sarracenia purpurea microbial community. Preliminary research has characterized 75 bacterial species based on morphological and biochemical analysis. Continued research is needed to fully characterize the entire bacterial community and obtain species-level identification. Furthermore, questions remain on the ability to identify organisms that are not culturable by standard techniques or that exist in a purely symbiotic relationship with another organism where the individuals cannot be isolated into pure culture. The goal of this project is to develop molecular methods to provide genetic information on each microbe, based on 16S RNA sequencing of the unique signature of the 16S ribosome in prokaryotes.

Biology: Backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail to Assess Biodiversity

Aaron Sullivan, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Biology, will work with Ian Kratzer ’21 in a study to assess avian and herpetofaunal biodiversity along an approximately 500-km section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in the Sierra Nevada mountains of 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,’ facilitating 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; and members of state entities. The project aims to document, predict, and explain patterns in biological diversity as well as to inform conservation planning. Student participation will include backpacking along the trail in 160+ km segments, as well as project planning and logistics, data collection and analysis, and writing for scientific publication. The researchers will participate in the various aspects of the megatransect project during the 2019 field season including avian point count surveys, habitat assessment, and eDNA collection over the course of the six-week project.

Physics: Observing Nuclear Fusion Reactions Generated by High-Powered Lasers

Houghton students Tyler Kowalewski ’21, Sonny Ferri ’21, and Steven Raymond ’20 will be working with physics professor Mark Yuly and a collaboration of scientists from the State University of New York at Geneseo (SUNY Geneseo) and the University of Rochester Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE) on a project to develop techniques for using inertial confinement fusion (ICF) to study fundamental nuclear science.  In the ICF process at LLE, 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.  Our team is developing techniques to collect the expanding neutral gas after the laser shot and detect the radioactive decay of the trapped reaction products.  Many of the nuclear reactions that could be determined this way have never been measured before, yet are important for understanding models of nucleosynthesis and in thermonuclear fusion energy research.

Biology: Evaluating Alternatives to Animal Research

Rebecca Williams, Assistant Professor of Biology, will be collaborating with Houghton students Catie (Mary) Moore ’21 and Caitlyn Cybart ’21, on a project designed to explore the use of human stem cells as an alternative to animal research. They will be working with faculty and students at the University of Windsor this summer, and anticipate continuing the research from Houghton during the next school year. The team will be working with 3-D organoid models, which use human stem cells to re-create organs with physiological features similar to organ systems in complete bodies. Applications include cancer and epithelial research, drug screening, and disease modelling. While organoid research cannot necessarily answer all questions regarding whole body outcomes, organoids offer a more ethical alternative to animal research, whilst still providing valid results. The use of organoids for testing and research furthers supports the use of stem cells in medicine, and is a more sophisticated system than simple cell culture, which relies on a 2-D matrix and not a whole organ.