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Spring 2016 Volume 15(2)
Parth Detroja CALS The Future of Stealth Marketing By Ava Fan
Aditya Agashe ENG
Your Delivery Has Arrived: A Research Scholarâ€™s Stellar Startup By Emeka Ikpeazu
Vivian Kuperberg A&S
Opening Doors with Math: Optimal Dense Packings of Disks By Alisa Lee
Camille Edwards A&S
The Art of Policy
By Radhika Ghosalkar
Hanna Reichel AAP
Robert Lee ENG
From Food Hubs to Edible Urbanism By Radhika Ghosalkar
Scientific Management and the Antibody Revolution By Alexander Ni
Cari Cesarotti A&S
The Dark Side of the Photon By Stephanie Yan
Denzel Faulkner ENG
Electrospinning - A Way to Explore Biomaterials
By Jane Wei
Sofia Hu A&S
Understanding the Spinal Cord, the Backbone to Our Movements By June Xia
Soham Agarwal ENG
Developing Efficient Tools for Electrochemistry, Spectroscopy, and Catalysis Research By Jake Kolenda
Matt Engel HumEc
Fat Fad: Extraction of Dietary Lipids By Katherine Tang
Jose Fernandez Guerrero A&S
Connecting Language to People By Claire Moreland-Ochoa
17 A&S Feature
Felicia Sadikin ENG
Mice, Muscle, and Matrices: Oh My By Calvin Schuster
Wenrui Xu A&S
Explaining Phenomena in Worlds Other Than Our Own By Akila Venkataramany
Photographer Jonathan Gorman
Future of Stealth Marketing By Ava Fan ‘16
Parth Detroja ‘17 College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
atching your favorite TV show, your eyes are glued to the screen as the episode reaches its climax. You sit on the edge of your seat in anticipation, and your mind races at the thought of the different possibilities that the story can follow. Right before you can see what fate befalls your favorite character… the channel cuts to commercial. Instead of a resolution to the story, the face of a familiar celebrity appears and an enticing voice fills the room. Anyone who has watched TV has experienced this moment and the frustration that comes with it. Despite consumer ambivalence towards commercials, they have been a necessary part of watching TV. Companies continue to pay large sums of money for the chance to reach more consumers and to sell their products. However, the marketing landscape has changed recently as channels proliferate and consumers have greater choice in programming. Whereas popular TV programs could once be relied on to attract more than a majority of viewers in the past, even the most-watched shows today draw in less than ten percent of all viewers. Consequentially, companies have sought to develop new ways to influence consumers. Parth Detroja, a junior majoring in The Dyson School of Applied Economics in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, seeks to help companies do just that through a new technique called ‘stealth marketing’, in which consumers aren’t aware that they are being marketed to. Detroja got his first taste of marketing and social media when he was still in high school. For fun, he decided to create a Facebook page dedicated to the popular TV sitcom How I Met Your Mother. Surprisingly, the page quickly attracted around five thousand followers. Soon, a company contacted Detroja, wondering if he would be willing to make posts about their product on his page. Through this experience, Detroja’s interest in marketing grew, and he developed an idea. Traditionally, companies pay popular celebrities with big fan bases to endorse their products or to star in commercials. Companies hope that these large ad campaigns will lure in consumers; however, there are many downsides to this method of marketing. For one, it’s very costly to negotiate a contract with a well-known star. Secondly, consumers are aware that the star is being paid to use the product and therefore, the advertisement is less effective. Detroja’s marketing strategy involves small influencers, or people who haven’t yet hit it big and
The Research Paper, Vol. 15(2), Spring 2016
The researcher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
whom companies have generally ignored – namely those with social media accounts that have only 50 – 100K followers and have developed passionate fanbases through organic means. Their fans put in more effort to research and pay attention to these smaller influencers with whom they have a more personal relationship. The idea was to recruit these smaller influencers, who were substantially cheaper to negotiate with than traditional stars, and to create content that subtly featured a company’s products. An important point, Detroja says, is that fans of smaller influencers “are aspiring to be like them” and will therefore purchase products that their favorites use. Currently, Detroja has an experiment planned that features a video with an artist creating a timelapse drawing. During the video, there will be a few frames where the artist drinks a specific drink but says nothing about it. A group of participants will be exposed to this video, and a control group will be exposed to a video lacking the few frames of the drink. Later, participants will be provided with a different variety of refreshments, including the drink included in the video. Detroja hopes to investigate whether the stealth-marketing tactic will have a noticeable effect on participant choice and the degree to which it has an effect. Ultimately, Detroja sees stealth marketing as a potentially powerful and beneficial tool for companies and consumers alike. Rather than using celebrities with no interest in a product, Detroja hopes to target influencers who share values with a brand or product, allowing companies to reach consumers who are more likely to be interested in their items. In his free time, Detroja enjoys photography and standup comedy. After graduating from Cornell, he hopes to join a company where he can make use of his marketing strategies. Ava Fan ‘16 is in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at email@example.com.
By Emeka Ikpeazu ‘16 I
t is said that if you give a mouse a cookie, then it will ask for a glass of milk. But what happens if you give a Cornell undergraduate a $20,000-dollar research grant? Well, for Aditya (Adi) Agashe, the answer is that he’ll found a startup company and go on to research the online consumer culture of college students at his university. Adi is a junior computer science major in the College of Engineering pursuing the Dyson Business minor. As a freshman Adi was accepted to the Hunter R. Rawlings III Presidential Research Scholars Program. His initial research was on creating solid-state batteries with lithium oxide nanoparticles. His research did not exactly pan out as the battery, as they had envisioned it, did not work. As a result, Adi started a new research project in the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management last fall. Over his sophomore summer, he started Belle Delivery, a peer-to-peer food delivery service, with Michelle Jang, a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. During the initial formulation of the startup, he and his co-founder were unaware of the online shopping behaviors of consumers, particularly college students. To understand this better, Adi and Michelle conducted a survey of over 300 Cornell participants regarding prices one would be willing to pay and accept for a delivery, monthly usage of food delivery services, and their monthly need to go grocery shopping. They discovered that students who live in Collegetown make the most use of food delivery services. This contrasted with students living on North and West Campus, who used these services less often. Furthermore, their study found that Collegetown residents had the lowest visit:need ratio for grocery shopping. That is, they visited grocery stores a fewer number of times then when they felt a needed to. During the fall, Adi and Michelle started an independent research study with Professors Edward McLaughlin and Nancy Chau in the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. Adi was accepted to the Dyson Societal Solutions Scholars Program, and was able to use the funding they provided to start the research study. The goal of the study was to understand what factors contribute to a college student’s perception of online shopping. Their goal was to use the results to “structure the pricing model and create a strong marketing strategy for their business.” Adi and Michelle conducted two studies to gain an understanding of the shopping behaviors of college
To contact the researcher, email firstname.lastname@example.org. students. The first was a general behavioral study and the second was a conjoint experimental choice analysis of online grocery shopping behaviors. What they found was that there were four statistically significant variables that factored into grocery shopping decisions: delivery fee, travel time to the store, time available for shopping, and the purpose of the trip. Adi is still conducting the research and is collecting data for more comprehensive results. What he enjoys the most about his research is its applicability in the real world and the autonomy it gives him. Adi, like most undergraduate researchers, was used to working with a mentor to do his research, a setting wherein he was not always the leader. This summer, Adi will be working at Microsoft as a Product Management intern and Michelle will be working with the Procter & Gamble Amazon Team as a Customer Business Development intern. They both want to expand on their current skill set during their internships. Outside of his research, Adi runs a software consulting company called Belle Apps (www.belleapps. me). Belle Apps builds beautiful website and mobile applications for students and alumni who have business ideas that they want to pursue. They help turn people’s visions into actual products – this is especially useful for non-technical oriented founders. Adi is also a financial associate of the Cornell Alpha Fund, a student-led organization that introduces people to the world of finance and investment. In regards to career goals and ambitions, Adi wants to keep pursuing his ideas and maintain his entrepreneurial personality.
Aditya Agashe ‘17 College of Engineering
Your Delivery Has Arrived: A Research Scholar’s Stellar Startup
Emeka Ikpeazu ’16 is in the College of Engineering. He can be reached at email@example.com.
5 The Research Paper, Vol. 15(2), Spring 2016
Opening Doors with Math: Optimal Dense Packings of Disks By Alisa Lee ’17
Vivian Kuperberg ‘17 College of Arts and Sciences
Rawlings Cornell Presidential Research Scholar in the College of Arts and Sciences, Vivian Kuperberg ’17 explores the fascinating fields of discrete geometry and disk packing in the Department of Mathematics, a site of leading investigations in the mathematical field. As a highly motivated student, Kuperberg is working with her freshman faculty advisor, Dr. Robert Connelly, to find and mathematically prove the optimal dense packing of disks in a square torus. In geometry, a torus is a donut-shaped figure generated by gluing together opposite sides of a quadrilateral, in this case a square. Kuperberg’s research measured the efficiency of disk packing, which is an arrangement of non-overlapping disks, within the square torus. Packings that fell on a lattice were shown to be very efficient by showing that the fraction of disk radius (b) to x-axis vector (a) lands unusually close to certain specific irrational numbers. An irrational number is a number that cannot be expressed as a ratio, made up of an infinity of non-repeating decimals; for example, π (3.14159…) is an irrational number. This project led to the discovery of two families of very good packing which have vertical, horizontal, and diagonal symmetries. The findings from this project can be applied to various fields with lattice arrangements, such as molecules and sand packing. Additionally, this project has resulted in a manuscript on archive in preparation for publication, which is a great accomplishment as an undergraduate. During her research, Kuperberg spends most of her time finding relevant papers to formulate mathematical theories and prove results. She meets with her advisor a couple times a week to discuss the project and to brainstorm ways to prove mathematical phenomena. For example, Kuperberg once questioned why symmetry is present in certain geometric models. To solve her question, she methodically tackled the issue by forming connections between concepts that were previously thought to be unrelated, such as the fraction and the irrational number in dense disk packing. Currently, Kuperberg is investigating a new project that studies group theory under the supervision of Professor Tim Riley. Kuperberg not only appreciates discovering connections in mathematical research, but also enjoys explaining math concepts to fellow students as a math tutor in the department. She points out that “a lot of people are afraid of math because it can be abstract.”
The Research Paper, Vol. 15(2), Fall 2016
This research was conducted in the Department of Mathematics under the supervision of Dr. Robert Connelly. To contact the researcher, email vzk2@ cornell.edu. However, it is important to realize that beneath the intimidating theories and symbols, are doors you never knew existed as it can be and is used to explain all kinds of natural phenomena. When asked about her experience in research, Kuperberg said she has become proficient in reading papers and proving mathematical theories from scratch rather than from a textbook. When there is a problem, “It’s a question of figuring out the underlying structure.” She cherishes the journey of discovery starting from knowing little to a point where she understands how it works and how it can be used. Kuperberg would like to pursue a PhD in mathematics and apply the findings of her research to the real world. Aside from her research, Kuperberg is the rising president of the math club at Cornell University. In her free time, she enjoys juggling and learning a wide variety of dances ranging from Latin dance to swing dance.
Alisa Lee ‘17 is in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Radhika Ghosalkar ’18 T
he acclaimed French designer, Christian Louboutin has copyrighted the color red, or to be more specific, the red soles of his footwear line. If you find this ludicrous even for the ‘anything goes’, avant-garde fashion industry, you are in good company. Camille Edwards was similarly intrigued by the prospect of one man claiming ownership of an entire hue, at least in the context of Louboutin’s famed red-soled shoes. Edwards wondered just how those red soles had grown synonymous with Louboutin and how art in its many diverse forms is defined in both a creative and legal sense. For Edwards, who is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences, questions like these that reside at the intersection of art and policy have come to define her intellectual journey at Cornell.
“Edwards not only hopes to investigate how modern art creates a space that allows individuals to express themselves, but also how powerful forces like colonialism affect the agency of some cultures through aesthetics...” Growing up the daughter of a fashion designer, Edwards was immersed in the fashion world early. As she watched her mother mix and match looks from far flung places, Edwards began to reflect on the paradoxical relationship between collaboration and originality that is inherent not only in fashion, but in all creative endeavors. As a result, Edwards entered Cornell as a Policy Analysis and Management (PAM) major with the intent of also studying fashion management and eventually heading to law school. After a year in the PAM major, she opted to pursue the College Scholar major in hopes of better addressing the theoretical principles by which institutions influence our understanding of ownership in relation to aesthetics. This unique program allows students to craft an independent major which fits their interests and culminates in an honors thesis. In pursing this path, she has found mentors in Judith Byfield, who studies the cultural implications of the African cloth industry, and her College Scholar advisor, Dean Birien. After much reflection Edwards has broken ground on her interdisciplinary research project, which will dis-
To contact the researcher, email email@example.com. cuss how policy is deeply intertwined with the realms of fashion, music, and pop culture at large. In particular, Edwards hopes that her research will be able to view the weighty, often difficult to grasp arguments of revered intellectuals through a contemporary lens. She is curious to explore how for example, policy has influenced our perception of topics like the hijab in the context of religious values, Beyoncé’s “Formation” as it relates to police brutality, and the extent to which yoga is a cultural appropriation. In this, Edwards not only hopes to investigate how modern art creates a space that allows individuals to express themselves, but also how powerful forces like colonialism affect the agency of some cultures through aesthetics as when the west popularizes eastern trends like Zen meditation. Throughout her work to date, she has most enjoyed the wide reading of works such as John Burke’s The Aesthetics of Politics and Plato’s The Republic, which have allowed her to gain a more comprehensive understanding of how art fits in larger modern international policy narratives. “I have really enjoyed reading this diverse set of authors and observing the shifts in discussion and popular opinion over time with respect to these issues”, reports Edwards. As she continues to delve into these topics, Edwards hopes to better understand the appeal of many pop culture trends and then translate these discoveries into a career in intellectual property law.
Camille Edwards ‘18 College of Arts and Sciences
The Art of Policy
Radhika Ghosalkar ’18 is in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
7 The Research Paper, Vol. 15(2), Spring 2016
From Food Hubs to Edible Urbanism By Heejin Cheon ‘16
Hanna Reichel ‘17 College of Art, Architecture, and Planning
ow many times a day do you think about food? From where it is produced, and processed to land on your table, to the kinds of carbon footprints that it left on its path to becoming the product that we all consume? Studying the complexity of food systems and the impact it has on the environment is a major passion for Hanna Reichel, a junior in Urban and Regional studies in the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning. Currently, there is a lack of discussion of incorporating sustainable food production and consumption in the increasingly urbanizing world. Shelter, air, and water are often talked about, but the topic of food is ironically often left out when it comes to designing cities. To address the problem, the goal of Reichel’s research is “to make food visible in urban space and to get more people to think about how food is incorporated into our daily lives.” Reichel’s research is at its initial planning stages, but she is currently setting up her field sites. She will be conducting field work over the summer in the Midwest and elsewhere in the United States to gain insight into designing an environment with a focus on “food urbanism.” Because she is mainly concerned with human experience with food, she plans on collecting data primarily by conducting interviews with the local residents and relevant practitioners. “Taking field notes is a huge part of my research. My own observations and the very contact I make with the landscape will be a crucial part of understanding and improving the overall food landscape.” Growing up by the farms in southern Vermont, Reichel was always intrigued by food and food systems but she did not expect to fuse this with her interest in urban design. Coming to Cornell changed this when she experienced the diverse relationships people have with their food. “I always knew the farmer next door who prepared my bacon or the baker who baked my bread. Why couldn’t it be like that for everyone else? Everyone deserves to have a healthier diet and an understanding of where their food comes from.” She receives guidance from Professor Neema Kudva, who directs the International Studies in Planning Program and serves as the faculty lead for the Nilgiris Field Learning Center. Professor Kudva encouraged her to participate in the Nilgiris program where Reichel spent a semester abroad in Tamil Nadu, India doing field work on the dietary diversity of local indigenous communities. This experience further directed her to formulate her honors thesis project on the topic of
The Research Paper, Vol. 15(2), Spring 2016
To contact the researcher, email email@example.com. food and urban space. The fundamental goal of Reichel’s work is to help rethink the American food system – and, ultimately, the global food system. She hopes to visualize a food-sovereign city, where people have ownership over choices that they can make over food. This furthers the notion of food security, where food is thought of in terms of caloric intake to sustain oneself. Additionally, Reichel believes food sovereignty implies that people can visualize where the food is coming from as a part of broader food landscape, or foodscape. This way, “cities are going to be sustainable, and people will feel more connected to the environment. Unlike popular assumption, cities do not have to detach themselves from agricultural systems.” Reichel hopes that the outcome of her research will “help the next generation of planners to think about food constructively and intervene with the current existing urban fabric in healthy ways to improve sustainability.” Reichel believes that sustainable landscapes can be achieved by engaging communities through changes in the built environment, policy interventions, and educational initiatives. “There is something fundamentally wrong when chicken sells for $0.99 a pound. This is not a true reflection of the labor that goes into it. Of course, with increase in cost for food we have to improve so many other things, such as the social system.” Apart from being involved in research, Reichel is also the AAP Representative of the Student Assembly, vendor co-coordinator for the Farmer’s Market at Cornell, President of the Organization of Urban and Regional Studies (OURS), and a Rawlings Presidential Research Scholar. She hopes to be involved in a career that combines issues surrounding food and urbanism in urban design practice and policy implementation. Reichel strongly believes that “we all have something to contribute to the community. Being an informed global citizen and making little changes can have a larger impact on our daily lives.” HeeJin Cheon’16 is in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Alexander Ni ‘17 In the pharmaceutical industry, drugs treat vari-
ous conditions by targeting specific proteins or other antigens through the binding of antibodies. The challenge lies in the process of synthesizing and recovering viable antibodies. Effective antibodies hinge on the successful execution of glycosylation in which the addition of a carbohydrate stabilizes the structure and increases target specificity. Additionally, antibody processing involves several arduous steps for harvest and purification. Robert Lee, a junior in chemical and biomolecular engineering, seeks to address both obstacles by producing antibodies in E. coli. Lee, a Rawlings Presidential Research Scholar and Goldwater Scholar, conducts research in the DeLisa Lab in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering which focuses on antibodies among other topics. His goal is to increase antibody yield through hypersecretion of synthetic antibodies in E. coli. Producing them with E. coli is beneficial because of the organism’s short growth time and recognized genetic background. However, he faces two complications in choosing E. coli as his model organism: firstly, E. coli has no natural mechanism for glycosylation, so artificially produced antibodies lack the carbohydrate modification necessary to actually be effective; secondly, E. coli lacks a secretion pathway for the synthetic antibodies. In dealing with the lack of glycosylation in E. coli, Lee first tackled the secretion problem. E. coli is already used to produce many biological and industrial products; however, extracting and purifying the desired compound involves lysing and breaking open the cell, and invariably consists of tedious, expensive, low-yield purification. Secreting products from E. coli can reduce the cost of all recombinant products, including antibodies. To this end, Lee has looked at compounds which E. coli naturally secretes to develop a sense of how he can cause the cell to secrete desired products. Along with his graduate mentor, he focused on YebF, a small protein that is one of the few naturally secreted proteins by E. coli. Using methods developed by the DeLisa Lab, he has isolated E. coli mutants that secrete YebF at increased rates. Utilizing microbiology and molecular biology techniques such as cloning, transformation, polymerase chain reaction, gel electrophoresis, sodium dodecyl sulfate polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis, and Western blots, he has conjugated test proteins to YebF and shown that the same mutants can secrete both proteins together in greater concentrations. What this means for his re-
This research is being conducted in the DeLisa Laboratory. To contact the researcher, email email@example.com. search is that such hypersecretion would enable large amounts of glycosylated product to exit the cell and into the environment, where scientists would be able to extract and purify it in a relatively easy fashion. In its current state, the amount of product obtained by this process is less than what is normally obtained through standard production, though Lee is confident that his technique will be able to produce glycosylated antibodies at a greater, more cost-efficient manner. Lee’s current project addresses the lack of natural glycosylation mechanisms in E. coli. He is incorporating O-glycosylation-inducing enzymes into E. coli cells to enable the cell to perform the antibody modification. Since the enzymes come from various foreign species, he expects to face a few challenges, since simply inserting the enzymes does not guarantee their successful incorporation into a new host. In the end, he hopes to link both projects together by producing glycosylating antibodies in E. coli and secreting them for easy purification. When Lee came to Cornell, he knew that he wanted to get into research and perhaps work towards a Ph.D. afterwards. He focused on the chemical engineering department while keeping an eye out for research being performed in biological fields. Joining the DeLisa Lab his sophomore year, he has since come to love what he is doing. He attributes the support from everyone in the lab as the reason he considers his research as a phenomenal learning experience with new friends and mentors. His advice for freshmen is to try as many different things as possible, just to see if it is something for which they can develop a passion. Outside of research, Lee is a part of the Cornell Engineering World Health project team. Recent projects include partnering with a nonprofit organization in India to create a water monitoring system that reports water characteristics in rural wells. On campus, Lee co-leads the Academic Excellence Workshop program in Cornell Engineering, teaching multivariable calculus. During the upcoming summer, Lee will be interning with Genentech working on antibody purification. Previously he has worked at NASA Ames Research Center and DuPont. He plans on obtaining a Ph.D. and is considering working in industry at some point, preferably in biotechnology. Alexander Ni ’17 is in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Robert Lee ‘17 College of Engineering
Scientific Management and the Antibody Revolution
The Research Paper, Vol. 15(2), Spring 2016
The Dark Side of the Photon
Cari Cesarotti ‘17 College of Arts and Sciences
By Stephanie Yan ‘18
Cari Cesarotti is searching for a particle that can’t be detected. More specifically, she’s searching for a fundamental particle of dark matter, a substance that makes up 85 percent of the matter in the universe but close to zero percent of our knowledge. The problem with dark matter is that it barely interacts with the protons, electrons, and neutrons we can see and understand—scientists only discovered it because it has mass and, therefore, exerts gravitational force. Since we can’t measure it directly, we know very little about what it is and its role in the universe. According to Cesarotti, the best way to fix this problem is by figuring out the physical laws that dark matter obeys. Working with Professor Jim Alexander of the Department of Physics, Cesarotti is focusing on a hypothetical particle called the dark photon, which would carry dark matter’s version of the electromagnetic force. She hopes that if she can model the dark photon’s interactions on electromagnetism—the simplest force that interacts with regular matter—scientists will be able to extend our current laws of physics to ones that apply to dark matter. “What would be this great and beautiful and simple theory is if we just take a carbon copy of how we understand physics in what we call the normal sector, and we try to put it in the dark sector,” she says. Using software made by CERN, the world’s largest particle physics research institute, Cesarotti has computationally modeled a missing mass experiment with Cornell’s CLASSE accelerator that would allow her to characterize the dark photon. Because dark matter interacts weakly with regular matter, although not often, Cesarotti says she “can’t even begin to emphasize how infrequently this happens.” She plans to monitor thousands of particle collisions in the accelerator, one of which may create a dark photon. All particles made during the collision, except this photon, will be detected by instruments, and conservation of energy and momentum will allow her to calculate the dark photon’s properties. Cesarotti, who is currently a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, joined Alexander’s lab after taking his introductory physics class as a freshman. At that time, Alexander was just beginning the dark photon project, and Cesarotti has been working on it since its inception. “It’s kind of
The Research Paper, Vol. 15(2), Spring 2016
This research is being conducted with Dr. Jim Alexander. To contact the researcher, email email@example.com scary to have been working on something for this long without having real data to look at, without being able to publish something, but that’s what you get when you start on something that’s really in its beginning stages,” she says. Another consequence of studying such a new field is that she frequently works directly with professors; instead of checking her work with a graduate student, like undergraduates do in most labs, she brings data from her simulations to Alexander and other theoretical physicists, who confirm if it’s correct. This summer, Cesarotti will be temporarily leaving her lab to work at CERN on chaon decay, another phenomenon that might produce dark particles. As she makes her way through the different areas of research that focus on dark matter, she said she plans to continue studying this field of physics in the future. “It’d be great to go to school somewhere and keep doing particle physics, because I think dark matter is really fascinating,” she says. “It’s a glaring issue that we haven’t been able to solve. People talk about it like that’s okay, but it’s a huge problem and we need to figure it out.”
Stephanie Yan ’18 is in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Jane Wei ‘18 Imagine being able to encapsulate cells, packag-
ing them in minute synthetic shells to study tissues and deliver drugs; imagine building tiny scaffolds on which cells can grow, modeling the physiological properties of tissues. In the past, modeling work on such a micro-scale would have been impossible, but with the exploding field of biomaterials, these former fantasies are turning into realities. Denzel Faulkner works in the Ma Lab under the mentorship of Professor Minglin Ma, who is also his faculty advisor, to develop the skills to use these biomaterials. Originally from Sierra Leone, Denzel Faulkner is a senior studying Biological Engineering in the College of Engineering. After first working in another bioengineering lab studying biosensors, Faulkner started his research in Dr. Ma’s lab the summer after his sophomore year. The Ma lab uses bioengineering techniques to create novel biomaterials that can package cells. As Faulkner explains, “we examine the mechanical properties of hydrogels [absorbent, hydrophilic polymer gels] and use them to either encapsulate and culture cells or to manipulate them.” In order to carry out his research, Faulkner has perfected a number of techniques over the years. One is electrospinning, which involves using charge separation to cause a liquid polymer to flow, forming thin polymer fibers that can be used as scaffolds. There is also electrospraying, which involves the same concept but involves “messing around with 10-18 kV of electricity in my hands,” says Faulkner. Other techniques Faulkner has learned during his time in lab include using an oxygen plasma gun to clean samples of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), a silicon-based organic polymer, and 3-D printing. With these techniques, Faulkner has been able to create interesting structures that mimic the actions of tissues in vivo. For example, he was able to create a precursor to a bio actuator, an artificial muscle. To do this, he electrospun two polymers, polyethylene oxide (PEO) and polycaprolactome (PCL) so that they formed fibers that stuck to each other. After submerging this scaffold in media, he added cultured rat myocytes, or heart cells, that adhered to the PCL fibers. The beating of the heart cells caused the fibers to sway through the media, mimicking the action of heart tissue. In order to carry out the project successfully, he had to optimize the voltage parameters used in electrospinning, which involved considerable persistence and experience. Faulkner’s research experiences have been diverse; currently, he is using
This research is being conducted in the Ma Lab. To contact the researcher, email email@example.com. microfluidics to make fibrous DNA gels. Although these projects have relevance to biological processes and may one day lead to practical applications, Faulkner emphasizes the importance of research “for the sake of science,” since exploratory research is the beginning to everything else. The research environment, however, is much more than learning new techniques and carrying out experiments. Faulkner reads scientific papers passed on to him by a master’s student while he’s waiting for his experiments to run, which provides him with “surprising innovation for new ideas”. By reading other people’s work, Faulkner has learned to be more flexible in his research, and has definitely learned to “flex [his] mind.” Speaking with the other lab members, many of whom are international, has also helped Faulkner expand his worldview and learn about different cultures. When he is not in the lab, Faulkner spends his time playing soccer and basketball. He is also a brother of Zeta Psi and a member of the National Society of Black Engineers. He encourages younger Cornellians to take full advantage of Cornell’s science literature resources and to find the hidden gems on Cornell’s campus like the botanical gardens. Faulkner would like to thank his research mentor and faculty advisor Dr. Ma for his support throughout his undergraduate career. Whether it was making the rough transition from high school to college, or applying to graduate school, Dr. Ma never failed to provide Faulkner with great advice. With all that he has learned, Faulkner will be pursuing a PhD in biomedical imaging, a computationally-heavy subject he fell in love with after taking a signals class in BME and a signals analysis class in ECE.
Jane Wei ’18 is in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Denzel Faulkner ‘16 College of Engineering
Electrospinning - A Way to Explore Biomaterials
The Research Paper, Vol. 15(2), Spring 2016
Understanding the Spinal Cord, the Backbone to Our Movements
Sofia Hu ‘17 College of Arts and Sciences
By June Xia ‘18
Walking is second nature to us — one of the most natural things we know how to do. And yet it’s often the most seemingly simple things that have the most complicated underlying mechanisms. When it comes to rhythmic behaviors such as walking, running, and jumping, the spinal cord plays an important role. Specifically, the spinal cord is known to contain circuits of neurons that produce these behaviors. However, beyond this relatively basic knowledge, scientists are at a loss. How exactly do these circuits interact and work together to produce locomotion? This is a question that Sofia Hu, a junior College Scholar in the College of Arts and Sciences, hopes to unravel through her research with Professors Chris Schaffer and Nozomi Nishimura in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. In order to discover the mechanisms behind movement, the Schaffer and Nishimura lab must first find a suitable way to study the spinal cord. Unlike most prepared tissue specimens, which may be thinly sliced and easily viewed under a confocal microscope, nervous activity in the spinal cord is best studied in vivo and therefore cannot be sliced. Furthermore, the spinal cord’s neurons are wrapped in myelin, which scatters light very well. This makes it difficult to view deep into the tissue of the spinal cord and obtain clear images through traditional microscopy techniques. The tissue either absorbs light or scatters it, preventing scientists from measuring patterns of activity across a large collection of neurons. Thus, Hu and her colleagues use an imaging technique that was pioneered right here at Cornell several decades ago: two-photon microscopy. This method, which allows for much sharper focus and prevents overheating of the specimen by sending two closely coordinated pulses of light at the specimen, is crucial to Hu’s research. In fact, due to the constraints of the specimens being studied, Hu and her colleagues are working on creating three-photon microscopy for even sharper imaging, which Hu may one day use in her own studies. So far, Hu has focused on learning how to perform surgeries on mice, the organism the Schaffer and Nishimura lab uses to conduct their studies. In particular, Hu has practiced performing laminectomies, which is the process of exposing the spinal cord through the removal of a section of the vertebrae. This allows for the implantation of
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This research is being conducted in the Schaffer and Nishimura Labs. To contact the researcher, email shh83@ cornell.edu. a permanent chamber to give researchers access to the spinal cord for imaging. In addition, Hu has measured the rate of blood flow in the spinal cords of mice, as well as collected other physiological data, as a test for imaging quality and as a source of comparison for future studies. Due to the nascent nature of the techniques used in her studies, Hu’s research is still in its early stages. By building upon two-photon microscopy to create three-photon microscopy, Hu’s lab aims to use this new technology to monitor the activity of large collections of spinal cord neurons in behaviorally active and awake mice. In the near future, Hu and her mentors hope to image spinal cord neurons of mice as they walk or run on a treadmill located right below the microscope. These images would reveal when and which neurons are firing and Hu can then take these patterns and analyze them to see how motion is being produced from the interactions of neurons. This research has great implications: understanding how the connections between neurons generate movement contributes not only to a basic understanding of these circuits, but also to a better understanding of how these circuits fail following injury or disease. This knowledge can also be applied to the development of better treatment, such as regenerating severed neurons. Hu has been working in her current lab for two years, but her research experience extends further back, from working in a neurobiology lab in her freshman year of college, to engineering and purifying proteins in a microbiology lab during high school. Hu, currently in the process of applying to M.D./Ph.D. programs, hopes to become a clinical researcher one day. Outside of schoolwork, Hu volunteers at the Ithaca Free Clinic, is an active member of the Telluride House, and serves as the Editor-in-Chief of The Cornell Daily Sun. June Xia ‘18 is in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at email@example.com.
By Jake Kolenda ’18 Research is a discipline which requires strong motivation and deep understanding of the topic being investigated to develop theoretically sound projects. Equally as important as the theory behind research projects are the instruments and methods used to collect data. It is essential, therefore, that researchers continually strive to improve the procedures and devices employed in these projects. This is the focus of Soham Agarwal’s research, which aims to create more efficient tools to be used in laboratories using electrochemistry, spectroscopy and catalysis. Agarwal is a junior from Cincinnati majoring in Material Science and Engineering in the College of Engineering. Before coming to Cornell, he had been involved in organic chemistry research at the University of Cincinnati and biomedical research at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. His mentor at the University of Cincinnati, James Mack, introduced Agarwal to the vast amount of topics in science which have yet to be fully explored and taught him about the people and institutions associated with academic research. As a result of these experiences, Agarwal became extremely interested in pursuing research, and he is very grateful for the guidance which James Mack has provided him in his life. When Agarwal came to Cornell he initially worked with the Wiesner group in a biology-related project but eventually joined the Suntivich group, where his research became focused on electrochemistry, spectroscopy, and catalysis. Agarwal’s research involves devising an instrument which would serve as a platform for carrying out multiple experiments at once, studying the energy structure of semiconductors, and determining whether or not a given semiconductor would be compatible for carrying out certain reactions on its surface. In addition to this, Agarwal uses spectroscopy to determine if certain semiconductors could serve as a waveguide, a device that can guide waves with minimal loss of energy. When light is shined on the semiconductor where a reaction is occurring, the interaction between the light and molecules produces changes in the characteristics of the light. By analyzing the changes in wave phases, one can better understand how molecules are interacting in a given reaction. Currently, Agarwal’s work is focused on determining the mathematical relationship between semiconductors and solutions of various substances, specifically what changes in energy structure occur due to the interaction of the solutions and the semiconductors. Future projects would involve creating a physical wave guide from a
To contact the researcher, email firstname.lastname@example.org. semiconductor once he has determined if the given material can indeed function as one. He expects that his project will find usage primarily in laboratory settings, where the device can be used as a platform to carry out multiple tests at once, making laboratory work more efficient. Agarwal has thoroughly enjoyed his involvement in academic research, especially the challenge which it presents. He believes that one of greatest aspects of research is the freedom and uncertainty which characterize the field. Agarwal believes that, “with research, the regulations (of the classroom) go out the window, and you don’t know what’s going to happen.” From his time in research, he has realized the importance of applying what you have learned in the classroom. However, he has also come to understand that the material presented in the classroom serves only as a simplified, cut-anddry version of the complexities of the topics found in his field of interest. As advice for others interested in research, he believes that in order to be an effective researcher one must have realistic expectations for the feasibility of a project and maintain constant communication with the members of one’s research group. Moving forward, Agarwal strives to strengthen his impressive skills as a researcher with the guidance of his current mentor, who has helped him become more organized and learn to present his work in a way which can easily be understood by others. Outside of classes, Agarwal serves as the president of Cornell’s Quiz Bowl team. Additionally, he has worked as a teaching assistant and a grader for a handful of classes. For relaxation, Agarwal enjoys participating in intramural basketball and soccer. After completing his undergraduate studies, Agarwal plans to continue his involvement in academic research hopes to forge a career out of his interest.
Soham Agarwal ‘17 College of Engineering
Developing Efficient Tools for Electrochemistry, Spectroscopy, and Catalysis Research
Jake Kolenda ‘18 is in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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Fat Fad: Extraction of Dietary Lipids By Katherine Tang ‘18
Matt Engel ‘17 College of Human Ecology
utrition has always been a complicated and often confusing topic, with many people receiving conflicting dietary advice from various sources. These controversial perspectives often target fatty acids: saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and trans fat, and their perceived effects on human health. Of these four categories of fatty acids, saturated fats have been particularly controversial. Current research in the field seeks to determine what constitutes a healthy fatty acid composition, answering the question of whether saturated fats are truly healthy or not. Matt Engel, a nutritional sciences major from the College of Human Ecology, conducts research on this particular subject within the field of nutrition in the lab of Professor Thomas Brenna, which focuses primarily on lipid research and extraction. Seeking to commit the duration of his Cornell career to a particular lab, Engel, now a junior, joined the Brenna lab in the fall of his freshman year after looking into the studies of many researchers in the Cornell Division of Nutritional Sciences. “I ended up finding lipid research very fascinating because it had very broad applications in terms of nutrition recommendations for human beings.” “The field is developing as we speak and in the past decades we have effectively tilted the field 180 degrees and are redefining it,” Engel elaborated. Though this topic is what encompasses the majority of Engel’s work in the lab, nothing he does is in isolation and all of his results are contextualized with the work his colleagues are simultaneously performing. Currently, the main topic of research at the Brenna lab is omega-3 fatty acids, with specific regard to their mechanistic synthesis and the enzymes involved in the desaturation and elongation of the precursor essential fatty acids. Generally working with cancer cell models such as the breast cancer cell line MCF-7 and Hep G2, a liver cancer line, Engel and his lab colleagues would in collaboration grow and then expose these cell samples to different substrates and fatty acids. After an incubation period, they can then observe how they metabolize fatty acids, determine what genes are being expressed during the metabolism, and ultimately ascertain which substrates interact with which enzymes to form downstream metabolites. Engel’s main responsibilities and work in the lab are to identify particular lipids and the lipid composition of sample cells, which is done through lipid extraction and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS). To extract the lipids from a cell, Engel
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This research is being conducted in the Brenna Laboratory. To contact the researcher, email firstname.lastname@example.org. creates a two-phase layer, one of an aqueous medium and the other a lipid layer. The aqueous layer removes the aqueous components of the cell while the lipid layer would later to remove the fatty acid components due to its highly hydrophobic or “water-fearing” nature. GC-MS is then used to analyze the lipids after extraction. The gas chromatography component of the process separates the lipids into their constitutive layers, which then, based on the retention time in the column, allows a verification of which lipids are present in the cell sample. In conjunction with the gas chromatography data, mass spectrometry is then able to verify the identities of these lipids. From the information generated by both techniques, Engel and his lab colleagues are then able to figure out not only the composition but also the actual amount of fatty acid present in each cell sample. In parallel with his nutritional research, Engel is the vice president of Students of Diabetes Awareness (SODA), whose purpose is to communicate with students about diabetes and to raise awareness of it on campus. After Cornell, he plans on attending medical school and attaining a PhD, hoping to become involved in pharmacoepidemiology, the study of the uses and effects of drugs in well-defined populations. Enamored with pharmaceutical research, Engel expresses interest towards both drug development end and post-market surveillance in relation to pharmaceutical sciences. While he recognizes that his direction may change, Engel affirms that no matter what medical field or research he will enter, it will strongly integrate with nutritional science. Katherine Tang ‘18 is in the College of Engineering. She can be reached at email@example.com.
By Claire Moreland-Ochoa ‘16 T
he importance of language is essential to every aspect and interaction in our everyday lives. We use language to inform the people around us of what we feel, what we desire, and understand the world around us. We communicate effectively with our words, gestures, and tone of voice in a multitude of situations. Communication drives our lives. Jose Fernandez Guerrero, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences is studying the significance of language. As a triple major in linguistics, anthropology, and the College Scholars Program (CSP), Fernandez Guerrero is researching language policy and minority languages’ educational implementation, basically how different countries approach the protection of indigenous languages and how they use different methods to revitalize them, or how they don’t do that and why. He has taken many classes related to his research at Cornell; these classes as well as help from his mentors Wayne Harbert and John Whitman, both professors of linguistics, and his anthropology advisor, Vilma Santiago-Irrizary, have helped him shape the focus of his research. Fernandez Guerrero knew he wanted to study linguistics from the moment he came to Cornell. He likes both the theoretical aspect and the social component of linguistics. “People are just amazed by how much variety there is and how much we are exposed to unknowingly on an everyday basis in terms of language. There are 7000 languages in the world but most people can usually name only 20,” Fernandez Guerrero says. With his research Fernandez Guerrero wants to try to answer questions like how some people might be treated differently depending on the language they speak. Speakers of African American English, Navajo or Spanish, he says, are not treated as well in the American context even though these are essential languages in the American panorama. Fernandez Guerrero had no previous research experience before coming to Cornell. He says that he “landed on this project by curiosity,” by meeting people who guided him to the College Scholars Program. The CSP, he says, has given him flexibility in choosing his courses to tailor them to this project. Most of his research is independent, occurring in the library. Fernandez Guerrero spends his time reading ethnographies, critical theory books and many books on language revitalization in different countries. He is currently focusing on English versus African American English, Spanish and indigenous languages as a whole in the United States at the present, but in the future he would
To contact the researcher, email firstname.lastname@example.org. like to include Ireland, Australia, or New Zealand in his research project because these countries also have interesting language revitalization projects. Fernandez Guerrero’s goal with his research is to thoroughly compare the treatment of languages in the United States at the legal and educational levels. He would like describe political ideologies and cultural conflicts leading to unequal treatment of minority languages. Ultimately, he aims to inform people on how much language choice itself is reflected in matters in law and education. His CSP research has expanded his knowledge of how languages either die out or evolve over time and finds that his research shows how human influence is impacting language.
“His CSP research has expanded his knowledge of how languages either die out or evolve over time and finds that his research shows how human influence is impacting language.”
Jose Fernandez Guerrero ‘18 College of Arts and Sciences
Connecting Language to People
Outside of research, Fernandez Guerrero is the social chair of Von Cramm Cooperative House, treasurer of Language Pairing Program on campus, and participated in the Armenian Student Organization. His hobbies include learning foreign languages, swimming, hiking, and watching movies. Fernandez Guerrero has also shown an enthusiastic interest in pursuing research as a career. He is working on his College Scholar research now but in the future wants to work on a theoretical thesis in linguistics and go on to graduate school for linguistics. Claire Moreland-Ochoa ’16 is in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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Mice, Muscle, and Matrices: Oh My By Calvin Schuster ’19
Felicia Sadikin ‘17 College of Engineering
esearch is a potent weapon that scientists wield in order to further the knowledge of mankind; however, major gaps in that knowledge still exist today. These gaps can be particularly devastating in the medical field as countless life-altering diseases are still yet to be understood. Felicia Sadikin, a junior in the College of Engineering, works to remedy that lack of understanding by researching a group of deadly diseases called laminopathies. Sadikin works in the Lammerding Lab at the Weill Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology, where she studies the laminopathies. A laminopathy is a disease characterized by a mutation in the nuclear lamina, such as muscular dystrophy and cardiomyopathy. “In the general scheme of things,” Sadikin says, “we’re trying to understand how the disease works. Muscular dystrophy hasn’t been fully characterized yet, but once you understand how the disease works you can move on to developing drugs and treatments.”
Muscular dystrophy has characteristic muscle weakening and wasting, which could be the result of an afflicted cell’s inability to respond to external stress and maintain its integrity. Thus, Sadikin focuses on the extracellular matrix of muscle cells, which surrounds and supports the cells, to see if the matrices have an influence on the imperfect responses. Sadikin specifically analyzes their protein composition to search for discrepancies between the compositions of extracellular matrices with the disease phenotype and those without the disease phenotype. Sadikin utilizes mouse models to attain both the healthy and mutant cell types for comparison. She focuses on their heart and leg muscles. “I got to dissect a few mice my first day,” Sadikin said with a laugh. In order to characterize the composition of the extracellular matrix, Sadikin must remove all of the muscles’ inner cells, leaving only the outsides of the cells, and then solubilize them to yield all the proteins in solution. For this reason, Sadikin spends most of her time in her lab with her partners devoting their
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This research is being conducted in the Lammerding Lab. To contact the researcher, email firstname.lastname@example.org. efforts to the overcoming of a challenging feat: designing and perfecting a process for decellularizing and solubilizing the resilient extracellular matrix, a rarely performed task. The team performed literary research and tested protocols from other labs to devise and optimize their own method and addressed challenges as they arose. “I think we have a pretty good process now, but it took a lot of repetition of experiments and seeing what did and didn’t work,” Sadikin said. She is now able to use the method to begin her own comparisons of the different disease phenotypes. Under the guidance and support of her mentor, a PhD student in the lab, Sadikin recently ran an experiment and came across an exciting discovery: the test showed that there was a difference between the composition of the mutant and the non-mutant extracellular matrices. “I have yet to identify the actual protein,” Sadikin said excitedly, “but it looks different, so it’s a promising result.” Looking toward the future, Sadikin plans on pursuing a thesis in her lab, with which her mentor has also immensely helped her. Sadikin is currently planning out what her thesis will entail by reviewing papers and further familiarizing herself with the background knowledge she will need. Her plan involves utilizing the mutant extracellular matrix as a scaffold and seeding it with healthy muscle cells to see if it will grow normally. Conversely, she will take healthy extracellular matrices and seed them with mutant muscle cells to see if the potential defects can correct themselves. Though she plans on moving away from academia after graduation, Sadikin hopes to continue pursuing research as a career by doing research and development in an industry, such as pharmaceuticals. Two of Sadikin’s most valued aspects most about her research are the perseverance and creativity that is required for its success: “I think research really gets me into the mindset of problem solving. When something goes wrong, you have to do something with it. You just have to get creative to figure out what to do next. If something you’ve been trying doesn’t work, you need to test something new.”
Calvin Schuster ’19 is in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at email@example.com.
By Akila Venkataramany ‘18 W
ith recent developments in space exploration, researchers have revealed colossal findings about the horizons beyond Earth. Laboratories across the world, in collaboration with organizations like NASA, now have the ability to study other planetary systems, and these novel discoveries add to the basic understanding of our solar system and the existence of life. Cornell University is working toward advancements in this field through students like junior Wenrui Xu, who currently studies exosolar planet dynamics in Dr. Dong Lai’s lab. Xu is double majoring in physics and math in the College of Arts and Sciences. He entered Cornell as a psychology major but found that he was drawn toward the world of physics, so Xu started to pursue coursework and research in that field. He has taken some graduate courses in astrophysics, which he feels has given him more insight on specific topics in comparison to undergraduate classes that are broader in nature. Xu’s passion for physics and cosmology prompted him to find research opportunities in physics, though he had no prior research experience. He met Dr. Lai through a research dinner and learned more about his work in astrophysics through his lab website. After joining Dr. Lai’s lab in 2015, Xu began his research in theoretical astrophysics, focusing on dynamical problems. Xu studies the evolution and stability of planetary orbits in exoplanet systems, where planets orbit a star other than the Sun. In these systems, the orbital period of two objects can sometimes be a simple integer ratio of each other, and this dynamical situation is called mean motion resonance. Previously researchers have predicted that an excessive number of planet pairs should be found near such resonances, which could affect the period ratio distribution. However, observed data is showing that the clustering of these planet pairs is not as strong as expected. Xu is attempting to explain these trends in the period distribution of planets in multi-planet systems by studying second order mean motion resonances, which are weaker and less common than the extensively studied first order mean motion resonances. Even though second order resonances used to be considered trivial by many scholars, recent observations and theoretical works, including Xu’s research, are challenging this preconception. Regarding the implication of his results, Xu said, “We hope to prove or disprove the claim that the current model of planet formation is enough to
This research is being conducted in the Lai Laboratory. To contact the researcher, email firstname.lastname@example.org. explain the observed behavior. In astrophysics we almost always use oversimplified models, and we want to know whether the error introduced by such oversimplification is tolerable and whether these models contain most of the important aspects of dynamics.” Xu values the opportunity to apply the knowledge he learns in class to discover new information in his research. He finds that the knowledge base for astrophysics is not as highly advanced as high energy physics and largely stems from an understanding of classical physics, such as Newtonian mechanics. He enjoys figuring out how to integrate these principles and find alternative ways to solve problems where complexity makes direct calculation infeasible Xu carries a heavy workload between his academics and research work. Though he does not have much free time, he tries to pursue photography. In the future, Xu hopes to go to graduate school to study astrophysics or high energy physics. When he one day leads a lab of his own, Xu would like to use his experience as a student researcher to help and guide students to solve the complex problems of this planetary system and the many others out there.
Wenrui Xu ‘17 College of Arts and Sciences
Explaining Phenomena in Worlds Other Than Our Own
Akila Venkataramany ’18 is in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be contacted as email@example.com.
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