Projects + Proposals

2022 Proposals

Anthropology

Professor April Beisaw

New York City’s water is supplied by 19 artificial reservoirs and controlled lakes located up to 125 miles from Manhattan’s center. The costs of creating and maintaining this water system includes dozens of demolished communities. Mapping that destruction will be the job of this URSI student. This is a 6-week position working alongside two Ford students and Dr. April M. Beisaw. Some fieldwork will be required to collect GPS data and collect oral histories about the demolished communities. Fieldwork may take place on weekends and may include some overnight trips. Applications must include a sample GIS map.

Project Length: 7-weeks May 23–July 12

Requirements:

Experience creating maps in GIS is required

Experience collecting original map data using a handheld GPS is desired

Knowledge of urban water systems is useful but not required

Knowledge of archaeological methods is also useful but not required

Application instructions:

All applicants must submit a sample map to demonstrate their GIS skills. Descriptions of experience with GIS, GPS, urban water systems, or archaeology are useful. The top 3 qualified students will be contacted for an interview.

Biology

Professor Colin Echeverría Aitken

Initiation is the most regulated step of translation and is mediated by a host of protein initiation factors. We focus on an initiation factor called eukaryotic translation initiation factor 3, or eIF3. eIF3 is the largest and most complex of the initiation factors and has recently emerged as an important player in the regulation of translation. And yet, its precise molecular roles are not well understood.

Our research is focused around three principal avenues of inquiry. First, we are leveraging next-generation sequencing technologies to explore the role that eIF3 plays in the translation of mRNA transcripts across the genome in living cells. Second, we are employing biochemical tools to interrogate the molecular workings of eIF3 and its interaction with the ribosome. Finally, because eIF3 is in fact not one protein but a larger complex of several proteins, we are designing tools to dissect the specific contribution of each of these constituent proteins to translation initiation. Students working in my lab gain experience with a variety of approaches, including molecular biology techniques, protein expression and purification, in vitro biochemical assays, next-generation sequencing approaches, and the computational analysis of large datasets.

Project Length: 10-weeks May 23–July 29

Requirements:

BIOL 107 & 108

Internal Motivation

Excellent attention to detail

Willingness to try, fail, and try again

Application instructions:

Students should directly address why they are interested in my research and how it is connected to their academic interests at Vassar and/or their plans after graduation. Students should also describe any research experience they have had and/or obstacles that have previously prevented them from acquiring research experience.

Students should not contact me directly. I will review all applications and reach out to potential candidates.

Professor Lynn Christenson

High densities of white-tailed deer have transformed local environments of the northeastern United States, affecting vegetation in both urban and rural areas. Herbivores exert strong control on vegetation community dynamics and this project will focus on the long-term effects of altered forest composition and resulting leaf litter decomposition rates. This project uses a long-term deer exclosure experiment established across the Hudson Valley (EMMA plots). The project will focus on decomposition of red oak and sugar maple leaf litter. As part of the project we are exploring how the soil invertebrate community may have changed with shifts in deer abundance and if changes in invertebrate community has any impact on leaf litter decomposition rates.

Project Length: 10-weeks May 23–July 29

Requirements:

Courses: Ecology

Field Skills: utilization of taxonomic keys, keen attention to detail. ability and willingness to work in tough field conditions, including high heat and humidity, mosquitos, and hiking over rough terrain.

Drivers license required.

Application instructions:

Apply through the standard URSI application.

Professor Candido Diaz and Professor John Long

The elliptical webs of orb-weaving spiders are evolved to catch prey. A spider spins a web by combining five silks, some in the form of threads and others as a sticky adhesive. The sticky adhesive silk — the set of microscopic glue droplets placed on capture threads to adhere to prey — is the focus of our research. The versatile properties of this glue make most spiders good predators of flying insects.  But most spiders can’t catch one type of insect:  moths.  While nocturnal moths hit webs, they don’t stick. Their defense is to shed the sacrificial scales that coat their wings and body.  But this defense has been outflanked by one taxon of spiders that produce a special glue with remarkable biomechanical and biochemical properties: low viscosity and high toughness.  To study the dynamic behavior of this glue as it interacts with the scales of moths, we use a variety of complementary techniques: in the field high-speed videography, RAMAN and SEM spectroscopy, and confocal microscopy. Critical to understanding the evolution of this glue is to compare it to the glue in species that fail to catch moths. We seek students with enthusiasm for this topic, interest in learning a variety of techniques, and who have an interest in long-term research training as a Spider Fellow.

Project Length: 10-weeks May 23–July 29

Requirements:

none

Application instructions:

Interested students should email Professor Diaz, cdiaz@vassar.edu, to set up an interview. Spider Fellows join the laboratory for two years, starting as apprentices and then becoming mentors to incoming apprentices.  Because of this two-year schedule, preference will be given to rising sophomores and juniors (Classes of ’24 and ’23) for the three apprentice positions; for the one mentor position, preference will be given to rising junior or seniors (Classes of ’23 and ’22) who are currently engaged in our research. This research is funded by the National Science Foundation.

Professor Meg Ronsheim and Keri Van Camp, Director of the Ecological Preserve

The Vassar Ecological Preserve has implemented a Conservation Action Plan to manage the threats its ecological communities are facing in a changing climate.  The characterization of the ecological communities on the preserve is important for understanding the status of habitats and to inform management and restoration efforts.  This collaborative URSI project will focus on resurveying permanent plots in our old fields, wetlands, and shrublands and assessing the accuracy of our ecological communities map.   Tracking changes in permanent plots over time allows us to assess the health of ecological communities on the Preserve.  We will link our findings to management interventions that will improve the resiliency of communities on the ecological preserve.  Students will also assist with studies on vine management and designing vine resilient edges.  Ecological restoration of priority areas on the Preserve and natural areas on campus such as the Edith Roberts Ecological Laboratory will also be conducted, including on-site propagation of native species for these restoration efforts.

Students will have the opportunity to learn a wide range of field techniques and restoration strategies. This position will provide an excellent opportunity for any student interested in pursuing conservation biology, restoration ecology, natural resource management and/or ecology as a career.

Project Length: 10-weeks May 23–July 29

Requirements:

An interest in land management, restoration, ecological monitoring, plant identification,  and mapping is essential.  Classes such as GIS: Spatial analysis, Cartography, Ecology, Plant Diversity, Introductory Biology, and Conservation Biology would be helpful.  Applicants should have plant identification skills and be able to use a dichotomous key.   The successful candidate must enjoy working outdoors, have good organizational skills, and be capable of working in adverse conditions.  Experience working with GIS/GPS and conducting research are preferred.

The project will be based out of the Collin’s Field Station at the Vassar Ecological Preserve.

Application instructions:

This is a collaborative project between Keri Van Camp (Director of the Ecological Preserve) and Meg Ronsheim (Biology) and we will work together to build a team for this summer’s project.  Once we have received all the URSI applications we will contact you to set up a time to meet.  We are also happy to answer any questions you might have during the application process.  This project is in-person only

Chemistry

Professor Leah Bendavid

Two-dimensional (2D) transition metal dichalcogenides (TMDs) are attractive semiconductors for use in electronic, optoelectronic, and spintronic devices. The optoelectronic properties of 2D TMDs can be tuned for specific applications via doping, alloying, or applying strain. Previous experimental and theoretical studies have investigated the individual effects of each of these modification strategies. In this project, we use density functional theory calculations to examine the combined effects of alloying and applying strain in TMDs, focusing on the group-VIB TMDs.

Project Length: 10-weeks May 23–July 29

Requirements:

Chem 292: Computational Techniques in Chemistry

Application instructions:

Students will be contacted after applications have been submitted.

Professor Zachary Donhauser

The microtubule associated protein tau has a variety of important cellular functions, most notably stabilizing and organizing microtubules in axons. Aberrant tau behavior is also prevalent in several neurodegenerative disorders such as Pick’s disease, frontotemporal dementia, parkinsonism linked to chromosome 17 and Alzheimer’s disease, which are all characterized by abnormal aggregation of the protein. Tau is an intrinsically disordered protein and its interactions with microtubules are dynamic, so it has been especially difficult to study the structure of tau-bound to microtubules. Thus, the overall goal of this project is to build a better understanding of tau’s behavior when it is bound to microtubules, including changes in structure and function that precede pathological aggregation. To achieve this end, this project will investigate the properties of tau when it is bound to solid supports in physiologically-relevant conformations, applying an atomic force microscopy (AFM) based assay that interrogates the protein at the nanoscale. Both AFM force spectroscopy and imaging will be used in order to conduct physical-mechanical characterization of normal tau and pro-aggregant mutants, and to examine heterogeneity in assemblies of the protein.  The behavior of surface-bound tau will be compared to its behavior in solution, with an eye towards a better understanding of its varied physical behaviors.

Project Length: 10-weeks May 23–July 29

Requirements:

Required courses: CHEM-125, and/or BIOL-107/108. 

Other related courses: BIOL/CHEM-272, CHEM-244/245, PHYS-113/114 or 107/108

Application instructions:

Please write a BRIEF one paragraph description that includes: why you’re interested in this project, how it fits into your overall academic track at Vassar, and how it fits into your long term (post-Vassar) plans.

Professor Rebecca Pollet

The human gut microbiota is required for degradation of otherwise undigestible dietary polysaccharides, often known as fiber. The Bacteroidetes are prominent contributors to polysaccharide degradation in the gut and the model organism for understanding this process is the bacteria Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron (B. theta). All polysaccharides enter B. theta through TonB-dependent transporters. This transport is energized via pairing to a protein complex made up of the proteins TonB, ExbB, and ExbD. This project focuses on characterizing the eleven TonB proteins found in B. theta. Using fundamental biochemical techniques, students will express and purify 1-2 TonB proteins and then use techniques such as x-ray protein crystallography and circular dichroism to characterize the structure of these proteins. This understanding of the structure of various TonB proteins will allow us to better understand the role of these different proteins and why some seem to be more important for polysaccharide degradation than others. This is an ideal project for a student interested in biochemistry and protein structure.

Project Length: 10-weeks May 23–July 29

Requirements:

Chem125 required, Bio108 or previous biology experience preferred

Application instructions:

Either in their initial application or in a separate email to me, students should indicate their specific interest in this project. What are your career goals and how does this work fit into those goals? An acceptable answer is that you do not have specific career goals at this time and would like to use this experience as a way to explore. If students have not completed Chem125 and Bio108 they should address this, either by describing their previous experience or explaining when they plan to complete these courses.

Students will be selected for an interview based on initial applications. I will contact you to set up an appointment and provide topics of discussion for the interview.

Professor Rebecca Pollet

The human gut microbiota is required for degradation of otherwise undigestible dietary polysaccharides, often known as fiber. The Bacteroidetes are prominent contributors to polysaccharide degradation in the gut and the model organism for understanding this process is the bacteria Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron (B. theta). All polysaccharides enter B. theta through TonB-dependent transporters. This transport is energized via pairing to a protein complex made up of the proteins TonB, ExbB, and ExbD. Five ExbB and eight ExbD homologs have been identified in the B. theta genome; however, it is currently unknown which are important for polysaccharide degradation. In this project we will pair bioinformatic analysis of these proteins with construction of genetic deletions and mutations in B. theta. Each student will be assigned 1-3 proteins to delete from the B. theta genome using molecular genetics and microbiology techniques. Each student will also compare these protein sequences to characterized ExbB/D proteins from other bacteria using protein sequence alignments and predicted protein structures. B. theta is a biosafety level 2 organism requiring additional safety protocols not required for E. coli. This project is ideal for a student interested in both biochemistry and microbiology/bacterial genetics.

Project Length: 10-week URSI: May 23–July 29

Requirements:

Chem125 and Bio108 or strong high school experience preferred

Application instructions:

Either in their initial application or in a separate email to me, students should indicate their specific interest in this project. What are your career goals and how does this work fit into those goals? An acceptable answer is that you do not have specific career goals at this time and would like to use this experience as a way to explore. If students have not completed Chem125 and Bio108 they should address this, either by describing their previous experience or explaining when they plan to complete these courses.

Students will be selected for an interview based on initial applications. I will contact you to set up an appointment and provide topics of discussion for the interview.

Professor Joseph Tanski

The goal of this project is to investigate new reagents that will advance the state-of-the-art in the field of chiral amine synthesis. Specifically, the research will focus on compounds of transition metals with chiral ligands that will be investigated as reagents for imine (C=N) reductive hydrogenation to produce chiral hydrocarbon substituent on amines, and perhaps other similar organic transformations. We will prepare and characterize new imine substrates and reductive hydrogenation reagents, and examine the conversion to product amine, the stereoselectivity, and the mechanism of the transformation.

Project Length: 10-weeks May 23–July 29

Requirements:

Interested students must have completed Organic Chemistry 244/245 before the start of URSI, and experience with NMR would be helpful but is not required.

Application instructions:

Before submitting their application, I invite interested students to write me an email with a short description of why they would like to conduct a synthetic chemistry project and how it fits into their overall academic pursuits as an undergraduate and beyond.

Cognitive Science

Professor Janet Andrews

This URSI project continues our lab’s long-term effort to explore the phenomenon of learned categorical perception and the claim that learning new categories changes the way we perceive stimulus differences and similarities. The work will include evaluating current research, visualizing and analyzing data, developing further experiments, conducting experiments online, applying meta-analytic techniques to relevant research literature, and preparing material for conference presentation and/or publication.

Project Length: 10-weeks May 23–July 29

Requirements:

Interest in the project, knowledge of R, and a willingness to learn and program in JavaScript are required; intermediate level coursework in cognitive science, coding experience, knowledge of research methods and statistics, and familiarity with R for data analysis and graphing are very desirable.

Application instructions:

Students do not need to contact me with regard to their application. Applications should address what the student finds interesting about this particular project and what they hope to gain from the experience.

Professor Josh de Leeuw

Eye tracking is a popular method for studying human cognition. Until recently, eye tracking required expensive laboratory equipment, but recent advances in computer vision make it possible to use a webcam as an eye tracker. While there are open source projects available for performing eye tracking with a webcam (e.g., https://webgazer.cs.brown.edu/), these tools are not optimized for the kinds of experiments that cognitive scientists usually want to perform. This URSI project will  work to develop a new open source library for webcam eye tracking that is better suited for experiments. This will involve working with machine learning tools for facial landmark detection, modeling of the relationship between eye features and screen coordinates, and programming in JavaScript. If time permits, we will conduct experiments to validate the new tool and compare its performance to existing laboratory and webcam eye trackers.

Project Length: 10-weeks May 23–July 29

Requirements:

The project will require a substantial amount of programming in JavaScript. Prior experience with JavaScript is not necessary, but would be helpful. Some prior programming experience (in any language) is necessary. Students with a background in cognitive science, computer science, or math are all likely to be good fits for the project.

Application instructions:

I will contact students after the applications are submitted. If you would like to discuss the project prior to submitting an application you are welcome to reach out to me via email, but this is not necessary.

Professor Ken Livingston

This project will continue and complete the construction of a (life-size) humanoid robot torso and integrate that system with a wheeled chassis for mobility. Completion of construction will require extensive 3D printing, some manual fabrication, completion of computer hardware systems for control of the body, and programming basic behaviors. Once completed the robot will be pilot tested in a series of human-robot interaction tasks, so the students will be involved in experimental design, data collection, and data analysis as well as the construction and testing of the robot.

Project Length: 10-weeks May 23–July 29

Requirements:

COGS 211 - Perception & Action

Computer Science through at least CMPU 102

Highly desirable but not required: 3D printing skills, background in electronics, mechanics, experimental design and statistics (the more of these skills available the better)

Application instructions:

Apply through the standard URSI application.

Computer Science

Professor Luke Hunsberger

Temporal networks are data structures for representing and reasoning about time, usually temporal constraints on actions. Temporal networks have been used in automated planning and scheduling applications for over 30 years.  For this project, students will implement algorithms from the literature on temporal networks, and perform empirical evaluations and comparisons of competing algorithms.

Project Length: 8-weeks May 23–July 15

Requirements:

Students should have solid experience programming in Java or Python.

A solid mathematical background will definitely be helpful.

See the tutorial slides at https://www.cs.vassar.edu/~hunsberg/__papers__/tempNets2.pdf for an idea about what temporal networks are and the kinds of algorithms that have been developed.

Application instructions:

Interested students should contact me via email.  (I am on sabbatical this semester.)

Please include a couple of paragraphs indicating your programming experience, and the CMPU and Math courses you have taken.  What was your favorite course?

Earth Science and Geography

Professor Mary Ann Cunningham and Jennifer Rubbo, Director of the Environmental Cooperative

Greenhouse gas inventories are increasingly important processes in connecting broader climate targets to local engagement and action. Approaches to assessments vary, however, in how data are accounted, multiplied, externalized, and other decision rules used in assessment models. Understanding how different model approaches vary, and how they inform outcomes differently, is important as these practices proliferate. How do different approaches bound the problem? How do they identify multipliers, and how do those influence outcomes?This project involves data management and exploration and mapping activities to learn and compare different approaches to quantifying and attributing GHG emissions. We focus on a local case study, with consideration for how it represents broader applications in the region. We will also consult with groups involved in this process around Hudson Valley, to calibrate our assessment with their experiences. This project is well suited to students interested in building quantitative skills in environmental, urban, or regional analysis.

Project Length: 8-weeks May 23–July 15

Requirements:

An ability to work with data in Excel, and a willingness to learn about working with GHG data; Ability to work in ArcGIS Pro is preferred, though not required. Ability to write is important.  An interest in sustainability, climate policy, and data management for GHG assessment is valued.

Students will be encouraged to consider continuing the project in a CEL context in the fall.

Application instructions:

Please contact me by email to arrange an in-person conversation. Please indicate your interest in sustainability, environmental science, geography, or related matters.

Professor John Zayac

How explosive volcanic systems evolve over time remains a fundamental question in the Earth Sciences as our current knowledge is biased towards the largest and/or the most recent eruptions. Each eruption deposits new material (tephra and ash) over older, effectively burying the past and obscuring the record of activity that occurred near the onset of a system’s eruptive period. Nicaragua provides an interesting opportunity to investigate these early system dynamics. Volcanic activity has occurred in Nicaragua for more than 100 million years, but the activity ceased ~ 7 million years ago, the beginning of a magmatic hiatus that lasted for ~ 6.5 million years. When the volcanic front reactivated it was in a new location > 100 km to the west. This project will investigate the early eruptions of this modern front using pumice clasts, volcanic glasses, and minerals collected from five explosive eruptions that occurred between 400 and 600 thousand years ago. The data collected will allow us to reconstruct aspects of the eruptions and to probe the magma system(s) that fed them. Specific tasks will include measuring the bulk properties of pumice, preparation of petrographic thin sections for microscopy, image processing and analysis, and geochemical analyses.

Project Length: 10-weeks May 23–July 29

Requirements:

Completion of an introductory Earth Science course.

Application instructions:

Please feel free to email me if you have any questions as you complete your application.

Mathematics and Statistics

Professor Adam Lowrance

Take a piece of string, tie it up, and fuse the ends together. The result is a mathematical knot. Two mathematical knots are equivalent if one can be stretched and deformed into the other. One way to tell two knots apart is through the use of invariants, quantities assigned to diagrams of knots so that diagrams of equivalent knots are assigned the quantity. In this project, we’ll study and attempt to prove theorems about knot invariants.

Project Length: 10-weeks May 23–July 29

Requirements:

Proof-writing experience.

Application instructions:

I will select students based off of the standard URSI application.

Physics and Astronomy

Professor Brian Daly

Ultrafast lasers produce pulses of light that are less than 1 picosecond (A millionth of a millionth of a second) in duration.  These remarkable light sources allow for investigations of extremely short-lived phenomena in solid materials.  Of particular interest to my research group are the conduction of heat and the propagation of ultrasound in novel nanostructures. We have several goals this summer. First, we have an ongoing project to study very thin (in some cases a few atomic layers!) transition metal dichalcogenides which are materials that have interesting optical and electronic properties.  Second, in specially designed nanostructures we can generate and detect surface acoustic waves at their highest possible frequencies-near 50 GHz.   Techniques will include laser experiments, the growth of thin metal films, and computational modeling of vibrational and electromagnetic waves.

Project Length: 10-weeks May 23–July 29

Requirements:

PHYS 114, 200, 202/203 and Math 220, 228 will help, but are not required.

Application instructions:

Other than this application, students do not need to contact me in order to apply.

Professor Jenny Magnes

We describe the locomotion of Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) using non-linear dynamics. C. elegans is a commonly studied model organism based on ease of maintenance and simple neurological structure (“Wormbook,” https://www.wormbook.org). In contrast to traditional microscopic techniques, which require constraining motion to a 2D microscope slide, dynamic diffraction allows the observation of locomotion in 3D as a time series of the intensity at a single point in the diffraction pattern (Magnes et al. 2012). The electric field at any point in the far-field diffraction pattern is the result of a superposition of the electric fields bending around the worm. As a result, key features of the motion can be recovered by analyzing the intensity time series. One can now apply modern nonlinear techniques; e.g., Takens (1981) embedding and Recurrence Plots, providing valuable insight for visualizing and comparing data sets (Marwan et al. 2007). We found significant markers of low-dimensional chaos. Next, we implemented a minimal biomimetic simulation (Singhvi et al., arXiv: 2103.03430 [physics.bio-ph]) of the central pattern generator of C. elegans with FitzHugh-Nagumo neurons (FitzHugh 1955 and Nagumo et al. 1962), which exhibits undulatory oscillations similar to those of the real C. elegans. Finally, we briefly describe the construction of a biomimetic version of the Izquierdo and Beer (2015) robotic worm using Keener's (1983) implementation of the Nagumo et al. (1962) circuit.

Project Length: 10-weeks May 23–July 29

Requirements:

Phys 114 required

Phys 203 (Experimental Physics) preferred

Application instructions:

I will contact students if I have questions about their applications.

Professor Juan M. Merlo-Ramirez

Near-field scanning optical microscopy (NSOM) is one of the most important tools for the characterization of light-matter interactions in the close proximity of a sample. The main idea of  NSOM is to raster scanning a probe over the sample surface and measure the electromagnetic interactions at each point of the scanning. This generates a three-dimensional map of the interactions, i.e. x, y, and light intensity. This technique has evolved along the last four decades, however there are still phenomena to be explored, as the three-dimensional mapping of electromagnetic fields. On the other hand, according to the Maxwell’s equations, the electric and magnetic fields in an electromagnetic field depend on each other. This means that if we measure the magnetic (electric) field then we can determine the electric (magnetic) field without directly measuring it. In this project, we are going to measure the magnetic near-field generated by oscillating currents in coils of different shapes at the MHz frequencies. The student will implement a magnetic near-field microscope and the probes to determine the magnetic fields in three dimensions. It is expected that the selected student works fine in a research environment and under time limited projects. Note: Although this project will not be centered in the mathematical description of the electromagnetic fields, it will be necessary to have good understanding of the Maxwell’s equations.

Project Length: 10-weeks May 23–July 29

Requirements:

Any student at Vassar has the skills required for this project*. Though, it is an advantage to have the following knowledge:

-           Vector calculus

-           Maxwell’s equations

-           E&M in general

* Exceptional students without one of these requirements will be also considered.

Application instructions:

The interested students must send an email to the project supervisor expressing their interest. Students that have the desired requirements will be contacted by the project supervisor to schedule an interview. After the interview process, the project supervisor will contact only the selected student for the project.

Professor Cindy Schwarz

This project will be focused on studying topics in contemporary physics, learning about them, delving into some in more detail and explaining (in video form and/or words) these topics to a broad audience ( all ages, physics background or not). We will base the project initially off of the materials of the Contemporary Physics Education Project (https://www.cpepphysics.org/ ) There are 5 areas Fundamental Particles and Interactions, Fusion, History and Fate of the Universe, Nuclear Science and Gravitation. Students will learn a lot about contemporary topics and how to communicate physics ideas to the lay person.

Project Length: 10-weeks May 23–July 29

Requirements:

Prerequisites: physics or astronomy majors or potential majors and introductory physics.

Application instructions:

Apply through the standard URSI application.

Professor Colette Salyk

The chosen URSI student will work with 1-2 visiting Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium (KNAC) students to perform preparatory work for upcoming James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) observations.   JWST launched in December 2021, and Prof Salyk has observations scheduled to study the chemistry of planet formation (https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2021/nasa-s-webb-to-explore-forming-planetary-systems/).  However, JWST is still undergoing testing and commissioning. In the meantime, our team needs to prepare for the arrival of the new data by testing and developing data reduction pipelines, analyzing existing datasets, and getting to know everything we can about all of the objects in our sample.  URSI and KNAC students will help with this essential work.

Project Length: 10-weeks May 23–July 29

Requirements:

Course Prerequisites: At least one 200-level astronomy course. ASTR 230 preferred.

Preferred skills:  Experience with python programming.

Application instructions:

All students interested in this position should send me an email and set up an appointment to discuss the position and their relevant work/academic experience.

Psychological Science

Professor Hadley Bergstrom

Generalization represents the transfer of conditioned responding to stimuli that perceptually resemble the original conditioned stimulus. Despite the immense theoretical importance of generalization in the field of psychology, the nature and site of formation and storage of generalization in the brain is poorly defined. One way to study the physical representation of memory in the brain (i.e., the engram) is through genetic “tagging” technology. Genetic tagging allows for the identification and tracking of groups of neurons in the brain over time in a genetically modified mouse model. Recently, we began a transgenic breeding program to produce mice that express a Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) reporter that is restricted to functionally defined (Arc/arg3.1) populations of neurons in the brain (ArcCreERT2). These mice permit indelible genetic access to functionally defined neurons, for the lifetime of the organism. The goal of this URSI project is to conduct a series of experiments using the ArcCreERT2 x EYFP transgenic mice to visualize neurons activated in response to a conditioned stimulus, and under experimental conditions that promote generalization (the passage of time). In this way, we will have the opportunity to identify and directly compare the underlying neuronal ensemble structure of a cued and generalized aversive memory trace.

Project Length: 10-weeks May 23–July 29

Requirements:

The URSI project requires interest/experience in psychological science and/or neuroscience. Courses in Introduction to Neuroscience & Behavior (Neuro 105), Research Methods in Physiological Psychology (Psyc 249), and Principles of Physiological Psychology (Psyc 241) are desirable, but not required. Basic animal handling skills, chemistry lab skills, and data analytic skills are also highly desirable. The project will involve working with a team that will include fellow URSI students and faculty. See the Memory Neuroscience Lab website for more information about our research.

Application instructions:

I will reach out to prospective students for interviews.

Professor Sue Trumbetta

We have an opening for one new student to work with a student already trained for this work last summer.  Our project has two sub-projects and both students will work together to contribute to both projects. 

Subproject 1.  Health psychology focus.  In this 50th anniversary of Title IX, we’ll be following up an historic archival sample of adolescents to study women’s participation in high school sports and their  propensity for longevity.

Subproject 2.  Clinical psychology focus.  Using the same sample of women, we will consider the relationship between adolescent personality, behavioral problems, and longevity.

Project Length: 10-weeks May 23–July 29

Requirements:

Course prerequisites:  Statistics (Psyc200 or equivalent)

Work style:  Students who have enjoyed the work of our lab typically also enjoy  the complexities of multivariate data, demonstrate keen attention to detail, and immerse themselves happily in quiet, focused research for hours at a time.

Application instructions:

Students should use the URSI application essay to express their interests and to indicate their academic preparation in statistics and psychological science.  We may contact students for an interview based on the goodness-of-fit of their application essays to the work our lab.

Professor Debra Zeifman

Grade inflation is a common concern among educators and a topic of considerable debate and controversy. Some educators believe that inflated grades can impede learning and growth, whereas others argue that inflated grades are harmless or can even boost student confidence and motivation. This study will assess the impact of inflated versus accurate feedback on subsequent academic interest and performance of college students. Participants will be exposed to standard online course materials in various topic areas and will then be tested on their comprehension, retention, and application of the subject matter. Next, participants will receive either accurate of inflated feedback about their initial test scores relative to their peers. The subsequent performance and motivation in the topic area of those receiving accurate vs. inflated feedback will be compared in a follow-up test. Additionally, the effect of differential feedback (inflated versus accurate) and student performance (above or below average) on instructor ratings will be assessed. This research aims to shed light on the potential risks and benefits of common grading practices in higher education.

Project Length: 10-weeks May 23–July 29

Requirements:

Students applying for this project should have taken Statistics (PSYC 200) and any Research Methods course in Psychological Science. Knowledge of Qualtrics, SPSS, and computer programming is desirable.

Application instructions:

Please indicate interest by reaching out to me directly by email (dezeifman@vassar.edu) and/or submitting an application.