OPRF science students dominate for regional competition

March 8, 2018

Of the 10 students chosen as finalists for the prestigious Chicago-Illinois Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS), five are OPRF students, all from the Investigative Research Design and Innovation (IRDI) class. The students will give a 12-minute oral presentation on their unique scientific research to a panel of expert judges at the symposium on Saturday, March 10, 2018, at Loyola University of Chicago.

The first and second place oral-presentation finishers will receive scholarship money and an all-expenses-paid trip to compete for additional scholarship money at the National JSHS in Hunt Valley, Md., in May.

All IRDI students spend the school year designing and implementing a unique research project to address a particular gap in published scientific research. The students all worked collaboratively with expert mentors that they found based on their literature review. After conducting their research, they write and submit a formal 30-page research paper for review by professional scientists. The five students competing at the JSHS are:

  • Sophia Sordilla, "The Use of Brassica campestris and Soil Amendments for the Phytoremediation of Lead." Sophia began her research by discovering a gap in published research with respect to her topic. She has always been interested in environmental issues and as a result chose to study lead contamination in soil. Although there are current methods to remove lead from soil she set out to design a less expensive and less invasive method to remediate lead. She used plants that were grown in lead contaminated soil with several different groups that were each exposed to a different soil amendment. She collected samples of the plants grown and then analyzed them for lead uptake. Sophia worked closed with Professor Nagy from University of Illinois and Professor Meers from Ghent University in Belgium. Her findings are statistically significant.

  • Katherine Schumacher, "The Effects of Perspective Taking and Disease Salience on Emotional Reactions Towards Targets With Facial Disfigurements." Katherine conducted her research after discovering that about 10% of the U.S. population has a facial disfigurement that significantly impacts their lives. She researched a correlation between the human behavioral immune system dictating social and visceral interactions to facial disfigurements.  Katherine worked with multiple mentors including Dr. Park (University of Bristol) and Dr. Stone (University of East London). Her work addressed a particular gap that exists in the literature related to the effects of perspective taking on reflexive reactions toward facial disfigurements. She used a tool to measure individual reactions to images of facial disfigurement called the Interpersonal Reactivity Index which is a multidimensional measure of dispositional empathy as well as a tool called the Perceived Vulnerability to Disease scale. Her findings are statistically significant.

  • Katie Lingen, "An Investigation of a Prostate Cancer Racial Disparity Linked to Differing Inflammatory Responses in NF-KB and IL-1B." Katie began her research by locating information that documented a much higher incidence of prostate cancer in African Americans compared to Caucasian men. She set out to determine if there was a correlation between inflammation and the evident racial disparity by examining two key inflammatory genes NF-KB ( nuclear factor- kappa beta) and IL-1B ( interleukin- 1 beta). She obtained samples and performed immunohistochemistry tests. She found that for both genes the levels were higher in African American men compared to Caucasian men. Her findings are statistically significant. Her findings exhibit a basis for a novel pilot study that will further investigate the relationship. Katie performed her experiment at the University of Chicago in the lab of Professor Vander Griend. Her research addresses a specific gap in published literature. Her findings are statistically significant.

  • Olivia Crossman, "The Effect of Trauma on Elephant Reproduction Rate." Olivia worked with expert Dr. Gay Bradshaw as her mentor. Dr. Bradshaw is a psychologist, ecologist, executive founder of the Kerulos Center and an expert on the relationship between psychology and trauma in elephants. Dr. Bradshaw is a pioneer researcher who first documented PTSD in elephants. Olivia developed her project based on her lifelong interest and love of elephants. She researched and found a documented correlation between elephants that had been traumatized (from multiple causes including treatment as animals belonging to circuses) and subsequent generations of the traumatized elephants being impacted epigenetically.  She extends her findings to be able to be applied to humans who have also been traumatized. The main goals of her research were to determine if there was quantitative data to illustrate a correlation between trauma and reproduction rates as well as the impact on future elephant populations. Olivia’s research sheds light on an important and very undocumented issue in the world and will hopefully serve as an inspiration for more research to continue with respect to this topic. Her findings are statistically significant.

  • Leila Winn, "The Effects of Nitrogen Starvation on the Calorific Value, Lipid and Biomass Productivities of Chlorella minutissima." Leila’s interest for her topic stems from her passion for the environment and desire to find a new carbon neutral energy source. She designed her research to meet a specific gap in the published literature. She used an understudied marine algae that were exposed to various levels of nitrogen from both organic and inorganic sources. She determined that the algae exposed to inorganic source shows promise for use with respect to bioproduction of algae biofuel. Leila is a junior and  will be continuing her research next year during her second year of IRDI as she further looks to optimize the biofuel production. Leila had several mentors including Professor Solovchenko from Moscow State University, Dr. Bao from University of Toronto and Ms. VanScoyk from University of Illinois. The results of her research are statistically significant.

In addition, out of eight total students selected to present their work at JSHS in a poster session, six are from the IRDI class. The students are:

  • Annalise Paul, "Using NetLogo to Optimize in silico Olaparib Monotherapy in BRCA1-Deficient Breast Cancer as a Basis for Future Breast Cancer Treatment." She spent this past year identifying a gap in published literature and then developing a computational model of cancer behavior. Her findings may serve as a basis for the specification of dosage of the drugs that she studied with an emphasis on personalized medicine. Her results are statistically significant. She worked with mentors including Dr. Gatenby from the Moffitt Cancer Center as well as previous OPRF grad and IRDI student at Oberlin College Mr. Robert Klock.

  • Jordan Towe, "Investigation of Optimal Conditions of a Neuron Using the Computer Program Neuron." Jordan has an interest in the creation of an artificial neuron with the application of improvement of patients that have been paralyzed. He used a computer program created by Northwestern University called NEURON in order to manipulate the functions and properties of neurons under various proposed conditions. He was able to identify how neurons would respond to varying types of extracellular sodium concentrations. His work may serve as a basis for the improvement of work that is ongoing in the development of a functional artificial neuron. His mentors included Dr. Berger-Wolf from the University of Chicago and Dr. Llano from University of Illinois.

  • Peter Halloran, "Investigation of the Optimization of Culture Biomass of Chlorella vulgaris Grown in Various Types of Nitrogen Medium for use as a More Efficient Biofuel." Peter used the algae Chlorella vulgaris that was added to four different types of liquid media to increase culture biomass. The differences in the types of media were the source and molarity of the nitrogen. He discovered that the algae grew best in the lowest molarity of nitrogen. Peter worked with his mentors including Dr. Vintila from New Mexico University. He hopes that his findings could serve as information to assist the further development of algae biofuel. His findings are statistically significant.

  • Eva Cornman, "Effects of Clomipramine Hydrochloride in Zebrafish Larvae as a Potential Novel Animal Model of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder." Eva has an interest in the topic of psychology.  She used an animal model of zebrafish to address a gap in the literature related to a model of OCD using the drug clomipramine. Her findings serve as a possible basis for the development of new endophenotypes of OCD for zebrafish larvae and the ability to create a valid model of OCD. The use of her findings could be used to establish new models of OCD and ultimately serve as a basis for the development of a novel group of pharmaceutical agents for OCD.  Her mentors include Dr. Parker of the University of Portsmouth as well as Dr. Blaser form the University of San Diego and Dr. Terriente of ZeClinics. Her findings show statistical significance.

  • Bryce Sipiora, "Effect of Conversational Noise on Golden-Breasted Starlings." Bryce has an interest in the topic of ecology and designed this project to address a gap in published literature. It has been documented that humans continue to encroach on the habitats of songbirds, and it is important to understand how human vocalizations affect the way birds communicate. It is understood that when songbirds encounter traffic noise, they raise the amplitude and frequency of their calls to habituate. This habituation does not occur when humans enter habitats, making it necessary to determine if habituation can occur after being exposed to humans constantly, such as in a zoo environment. Vocalizations of golden-breasted starlings (Lamprotornis regius) were recorded at the Lincoln Park Zoo both before and after a recording of a crowded cafeteria was played ten feet away from them. The recordings were put through a spectrogram to measure the amplitude and frequency of each vocalization. Bryce had several mentors including Professor Emily Minor, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois, Nolan Bielinski, a Ph.D. student at the University of Illinois and Dr. Sue Anne Zollinger, Ph.D., of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology.

  • Grace Farnham, "The Effects of L. lactis and L. acidophilus on Tryptophan Levels in Manduca sexta Hemolymph as a Potential Novel Treatment for Depression." Grace has an interest in both psychology and biology and designed this experiment to address a particular gap in published literature. Manipulation of the human microbiota is a promising field of research in the medical community. The use of probiotics, or live bacteria administered for beneficial health purposes, is becoming more prominent for some psychiatric disorders, including depression, due to the interactions between the gut microbiota and the brain within the microbiota-gut-brain axis. In the current investigation, the effects of Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactococcus lactis, two probiotic bacterial species, on tryptophan levels in Manduca sexta hemolymph were tested by administering L. acidophilus or L. lactis independently, or a combination of both bacteria to the hornworm diet over the course of three weeks. Tryptophan levels were indirectly quantified using spectrophotometry after the hemolymph samples were treated with a chemical assay to produce a yellow colored product. In all experimental groups, the tryptophan levels decreased with a demonstrated significance (p = 3.2803 x 10-5) in comparison to the control group based on a single-factor ANOVA test. These results suggest promise for a novel treatment for depression. Additional research is needed to explore the possibility of the human application for such probiotic supplementation. Grace had several mentors including Dr. Linda Duffy, Ph.D., MPH, of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health as well as Professor Howard Berenbaum, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.