Our Spring 2019 UGRCE Award Winners

UGRCE gears logoFrom exploring the “micro-celebrity” phenomenon to examining Low Back Pain, Northeastern undergraduates will investigate consequential, complex topics this spring with support from the Undergraduate Research and Creative Endeavors (UGRCE) Awards. These awards will provide financial and academic support to 27 student-initiated projects under the supervision of Northeastern University faculty members; supported projects span a multitude of disciplines and professional fields across Northeastern University’s various colleges.

The UGRCE Awards offer Northeastern students the opportunity to propose original research and creative projects across a wide range of disciplines and conduct them over the course of an academic term. The Awards, overseen by the Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, provide support for both early and advanced projects and allow students to develop themselves both academically and professionally as young scholars contributing to the knowledge base of their field of study. Previous winners of an Early Research and Creative Endeavors Award may apply for an Advanced Research and Creative Endeavors Award related to the same project.

The goal of the awards is to allow students to gain discipline-specific knowledge through rigorous research and learn to disseminate their work to individuals from disciplines other than their own with the intention of fostering cross-disciplinary understanding.

All UGRCE awardees participate in a Peer Talk series where they both present their projects’ progress, challenges, and successes, and offer feedback to other UGRCE Award recipients. We invite everyone to be part of the Peer Talk series to serve both as audience and reviewers for these outstanding scholars. Click the button below to RSVP for the lunches:

RSVP to the UGRCE Lunches

Join us in congratulating all Northeastern students who are recipients of the UGRCE Awards for Spring 2019:


Harrison Garcia COS'22Long-Term Dairy Consumption and Colorectal Cancer Risk in Adulthood
STUDENT(S): Harrison Garcia COS’22
MENTOR: Professor Neil Maniar, Health Sciences
Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in the world with as many as 90% of cases attributed to diet. While much research has demonstrated how high dairy intake in adulthood is associated with decreased CRC incidence, little is known about the effects of how high, long-term dairy consumption influences the risk of CRC in adulthood, prompting the need for such a study. We will estimate Cox proportional-hazards models for adult CRC incidence between high vs no dairy consumption groups from the UK Biobank cohort and submit our results to a top-tier scientific journal.

Cameron Young COE'21Modeling Non-Enzymatic Glycation in Osteoarthritic Cartilage
Cameron Young COE’21
MENTOR: Professor Ambika Bajpayee, Bioengineering
Osteoarthritis is a debilitating, degenerative joint disease affecting millions of people worldwide. To treat symptoms and improve joint function, it is necessary to develop an in vitro model to test experimental therapies. Bovine cartilage explants are incubated in sugar solutions to induce the formation of crosslinks between collagen proteins. This process occurs in human tissue, causing the joint pain and stiffening characteristic of osteoarthritis. Several tissue properties are examined, as an accurate model must mimic the properties of human, osteoarthritic tissue in vitro. The procedure for developing an accurate model will be published so that others can investigate proposed therapies.


Timothy Briggs COS‘19Filling In the Gaps of the Microplastic Problem with Virtual Reality
STUDENT(S): Timothy Briggs COS‘19
MENTOR: Professor Mark Patterson, Marine and Environment Sciences
Like many problems facing the world today, microplastic pollution is simultaneously dire and abstract. Microplastics pose a threat to countless marine organisms as well as humans. It is challenging to effectively communicate this issue to the public traditionally, but virtual reality technology offers a new way to educate laypeople on the details of why microplastic pollution is a threat. I intend to explore the possibilities of virtual reality by creating an experience centered around microplastics, incorporating my photography, 3D models, and images of microplastics and plankton captured by the MantaRay sensor, which was created by Northeastern alumnus Ethan Edson.

Kiera Caparon Bouvé‘19, Nicholas D'Apice  Bouvé‘20Development of a Proton-Pump Inhibitor Stewardship Program at a Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE)
STUDENT(S): Kiera Caparon Bouvé‘19
Nicholas D’Apice  Bouvé‘20
MENTOR: Professor Macayla Landi, Pharmacy and Health Systems Sciences
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are used to treat gastric acid conditions, however, are often overprescribed or continued beyond their intended duration. Inappropriate PPI use may lead to negative patient outcomes and increased cost. The purpose of this study is to develop a pharmacist-driven PPI stewardship program at an outpatient Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE). To our knowledge, no other PPI stewardship program exists within a PACE program. This study will evaluate current PPI prescribing practices, provide PPI deprescribing recommendations to providers and evaluate the implementation of recommendations. Results from this study will be presented at RISE 2019.

Fausto Capelluto COS'21

Simultaneous Silencing of iNOS and PD-L1 in Ovarian Cancer
STUDENT(S): Fausto Capelluto COS’21
MENTOR: Professor Dori Woods, Biology
Declining mitochondrial function has been theorized to be a likely cause of multiple degenerative processes in aging, including cellular senescence (the halt of cell propagation). Yet, no one has been able to fully prove that a causal relationship exists. This project aims to finally establish that relationship. Novel accepted methods will be utilized to transplant dysfunctional mitochondria into healthy cells, which have been depleted of their own mitochondria. Multiple tests will then be conducted to determine whether these “mito-transplanted” healthy cells express senescence markers and morphologies thus establishing defective mitochondria as a cause of senescence.

  Albert Chen COE'20Single-Cell Phosphoproteomics
STUDENT(S): Albert Chen COE’20
Professor Nikolai Slavov, Bioengineering
Recent studies show that inflammatory diseases such as atherosclerosis, a cause of heart disease, involve diverse populations of macrophage cells that do not fit the conventional dichotomy of M1 and M2 polarizations. One promising treatment of atherosclerosis is modulating macrophage polarization by targeting its regulation: signaling pathways mediated by phosphorylation. Current methods of studying phosphorylation in single cells, however, can only measure a few phosphorylated proteins. Here I propose a method, P-SCoPE, that aims to quantify hundreds of phosphoproteins in single cells. This method will allow the analysis of complex cellular signaling systems and will result in a preprinted academic paper.

Margaret Downs COS'19Investigating Intracellular RecA Concentration in the Opportunistic Pathogen Acinetobacter baumannii
STUDENT(S): Margaret Downs COS’19
MENTOR: Professor Veronica Godoy-Carter, Biology
This project seeks to determine the levels of the protein RecA in the opportunistic pathogen Acinetobacter baumannii. It is known that the DNA-damage response in A. baumannii is different from the known system of Escherichia coli, and A. baumannii’s DNA-damage response has been implicated in its ability to acquire antibiotic resistance. RecA is key in the DNA-damage response, and further understanding of its role may provide insight into the mechanism by which A. baumannii becomes antibiotic resistant. We intend to present this research at the RISE symposium in spring 2019.

Geneva Driscoll COS ‘20A Comparison of Macronutrient and Calorie Tracking in Relation to Disordered Eating Outcomes
STUDENT(S): Geneva Driscoll COS ‘20
MENTOR: Professor Rachel Rodgers, Applied Psychology
Despite being a relatively new phenomenon, research surrounding macronutrient tracking and eating disorders is critical due to the promotion of the method as a healthy alternative to calorie tracking. The purpose of this research is to explore how tracking macronutrients might be related to changes in body image and eating concerns over time. An eight-week longitudinal study will inform our understanding of this relationship by assessing young women’s use of the MyFitnessPal app and disordered eating traits/behaviors. The findings will be communicated via internal (e.g. RISE) and external conferences and research meetings as well as published in a scientific journal.

 Elizabeth Fink COE‘21Designing an Advanced and Functional HA Cryogel for Investigating the Role of CD44-HA Interactions in Breast Cancer Metastasis
STUDENT(S): Elizabeth Fink COE‘21
MENTOR: Professor Sidi Bencherif, Chemical Engineering
Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed type of cancer in women. The high mortality rate of breast cancer patients is due to the aggressive metastasis that is characteristic of this disease. The goal of the proposed project is to develop an in vitro model to study the role of tumor microenvironment in breast cancer metastasis. Development of a reliable 3D cancer model for the metastasis of breast cancer would not only expand our understanding of the growth mechanisms of this cancer but also in the development of more efficient and effective therapies.

Leila Habib COS‘19Reclaiming the Narrative: Perspectives on Ethiopian Culture from the Diaspora
STUDENT(S): Leila Habib COS‘19
MENTOR: Professor Nicole Aljoe, English
Currently, there is an image of Africa in media as an underdeveloped “country” plagued with hunger, poverty, disease, and war. Although these exist, I am investigating the thoughts of one country’s people, Ethiopia, allowing the subjects to become an alternative, direct source of imagery through interviews and photographs. Over the summer, I interviewed participants about their connection to Ethiopia and Ethiopian culture in US cities with the highest population of Ethiopians. Now, I will interview and photograph members of the Ethiopian Diaspora in Boston to compare their experiences in a city with a lower Ethiopian population to my previous research.

Morgan Hines COS'19Examining Non-Nutritive Suck (NNS): A Comparative Study of Two Devices
STUDENT(S): Morgan Hines COS’19
MENTOR: Professor Emily Zimmerman, Communication Sciences and Disorders
Non-Nutritive Suck (NNS) signals are collected from infants to evaluate their feeding skill. The purpose of this study is to understand the differences in our lab’s and the nfant® NNS devices, and how NNS signals differ when measured using these devices. I will collect NNS from 8 full-term infants using both devices and analyze and compare the NNS signals produced using calculations for the duration, frequency, peaks per minute, smoothness, and active time. This will enable me to compare the systems and determine how close or if their evaluation of infant suck is related.

Morgan Hines COS'19Comparative Approach to Understanding Neural Control of Cell Cycle Kinetics During Regeneration in Salamander Limb and Mouse Earhole
Eun Kyung Jeon COS‘21
MENTOR: Professor James Monaghan, Biology
Mammals cannot regenerate most tissues; however, Murphy Roth Large (MRL) mice retain their ability to repair large ear punctures. Earhole regeneration is dependent on the presence of nerves as is limb regeneration of axolotl salamanders, but how exactly nerves regulate the process is not known. We are asking whether DNA synthesis dynamics are different in innervated and non-innervated tissues and whether this difference is conserved during mouse ear hole regeneration.

Scott Louis Bouvé‘19, Jane Pardo Bouvé‘20, Hannah Wilcutt Bouvé‘20 Assessing Fall Risk in People with Intellectual Disability: A Community-Based Pilot
STUDENT(S): Scott Louis Bouvé‘19
Jane Pardo Bouvé‘20
Hannah Wilcutt Bouvé‘20
MENTOR: Professor Diane Fitzpatrick, Physical Therapy/Movement/Rehab Sciences
We are continuing research on the reliability of test-retesting of four different balance/fall risk assessments with community-dwelling older adults with intellectual disabilities (ID) in a community partnership with the Belmont S.P.O.R.T. program. People with ID experience frequent falls for reasons such as impaired balance, decreased physical activity, and cognitive effects. The greatest limitation with balance testing for older adults with ID is comprehension of the directions given to complete the assessment. Our research seeks to confirm the reliability of four balance assessments so that further research can be done on the validity of these tests, and eventually can be translated into clinical use.

Shannon McCallan COS'20The Role of IDD Transcription Factors in the Regulation of Vindoline Biosynthesis
STUDENT(S): Shannon McCallan COS’20
MENTOR: Professor Carolyn W.T. Lee-Parsons, Chemical Engineering
This project aims to investigate the role of certain transcription factors (IDDs) in the regulation of downstream genes of the vindoline pathway, which is a precursor to anti-cancer compound vinblastine. These IDDs will be over-expressed in Catharanthus rosesus to observe their effect on each of the 7 downstream genes. If successful, this information can allow for the transfer of leaf-specific vindoline to a more experimentally efficient part of the plant, such as the roots, so vinblastine can be maximized. Our research is translatable to plant defense in general, and these results will be included in a scientific publication.

Charlotte Mokdessi CSSH'20Social Media and the Rise of the “Micro Celebrity”: The Implications of Social Media on Identity
STUDENT(S): Charlotte Mokdessi CSSH’20
MENTOR: Professor Steven Vallas, Sociology and Anthropology
I would like to explore the intersection of social media and labor and their gendered outcomes as they relate to the concept of ‘aspirational labor’ and its production of the ‘micro-celebrity’. Through both an intensive literature review and interviews with micro-celebrities who participate in this sort of labor, I intend to find outcomes related to social psychology and gender inequality. Do participants find that their authenticity is compromised by market forces? How does the gendered market affect men and women differently? How does social media related labor reproduce systems of class inequality?

Robert Newman COE'20Peripheral Nerve Repair via 3D Printed PLLA-Pluronic-PLLA Triblock Copolymers to Direct Nerve Growth
STUDENT(S): Robert Newman COE’20
MENTOR: Professor Adam Ekenseair, Chemical Engineering
To determine a more effective way to induce successful regeneration of damaged peripheral nerves through using a biodegradable copolymer 3D-printed in the form of tubular nerve guidance channels to direct axon repair. Peripheral nerve system injuries impact millions of Americans and treatment costs billions, with only 40% of those treated regaining normal function through standard treatment. PLLA-Pluronic F127-PLLA copolymers will be synthesized, with their properties then being evaluated. The anticipated outcome will be to provide a biocompatible, biodegradable, and nontoxic copolymer for peripheral nerve repair, with the results of this project being shared at upcoming 2019 research conferences.

Nicole Pochinki COS'19The Effects of Neuroscience Study on Psychological Essentialism
STUDENT(S): Nicole Pochinki COS’19
MENTOR: Professor John Coley, Psychology
To test the hypothesis that neuroscience study enhances essentialist views, we compare measurements of essentialism on freshmen and seniors studying neuroscience. Essentialism is the belief that membership in a particular social group is determined by an underlying essence shared by its members. Neuroscientists learn about brain differences that correspond to existing social categories. This exposure could reinforce the idea of an essence that justifies the placement of members into a social group. This research will benefit neuroscience education as it may allow us to mitigate the propagation of unwarranted essentialist thought patterns which have been linked to stereotyping and prejudice.

Deana Prochnau COE‘21Developing Efficient Intent Querying Mechanisms for AAC Systems with Gaze Input
STUDENT(S): Deana Prochnau COE‘21
MENTOR: Professor Deniz Erdogmus, Electrical and Computer Engineering
The goal of this project is to create a highly effective Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ACC) system that combines multiple existing AAC methods, such as an eye tracker, a brain-computer interface, and language models. This will create a final product of a language-model-assisted multimodal electroencephalography (EEG) & gaze input-driven AAC interface for spelling. If carried out and found to be effective, this combination of multiple methods would create an AAC system that could change the lives of millions affected by neurodegenerative diseases, or anyone lacking the ability to speak or communicate.

Ethan Rawl Bouvé'20Development of Non-Opioid, Non-Addictive Pain Medications
STUDENT(S): Ethan Rawl Bouvé’20
MENTOR: Professor Ganesh Thakur, Pharmaceutical Science
This project will involve designing and synthesizing molecules that target the cannabinoid 1 receptor (CB1R) for developing non-addictive analgesics. Our lab has shown that GAT211, a CB1R positive allosteric modulator (PAM), can effectively reduce pain while not exerting any undesirable psychotropic behavior. The molecules synthesized in this project will be derived from GAT211; these GAT211 analogs will be designed to exhibit enhanced potency, efficacy, and physiochemical properties. The newly made compounds will be tested in vitro to determine which compounds are hits; the top compounds will undergo further evaluation for demonstrating effective analgesia with no abuse liabilities.

Filler Image for Parker Robbins COS'19The Effect of Prescriptive Rules and Instructions on the Grammaticality Judgment Task
Parker Robbins COS’19
MENTOR: Professor Heather Littlefield, Linguistics
The grammaticality judgment task, an essential method in language research, has never been fully empirically validated. In particular, very little recent work has been done on how instructions can impact its reliability. I propose two grammaticality judgment task studies to examine how instructions and prescriptive grammar rules affect participants’ judgments. Validating this task will contribute to the discussion of how research methods in experimental syntax and linguistics overall can be improved. To encourage further research in this area, my thesis, data, and code will be published online, and I will submit my work to various conferences and showcases.

 Jasmine Segarra COS'19Extraversion and First-Language (L1) Acquisition
Jasmine Segarra COS’19
MENTOR: Professor Heather Littlefield, Linguistics
Personality influences human interactions that could be critical in the acquisition of a first language. This research explores if the presence of one personality trait, extraversion, accelerates the rates with which children produce adult-like words and sentences in appropriate contexts. Language data from toddlers at play in their home environment will be compared to the results of their personality questionnaires, which were developed by the student researcher. The findings will provide descriptive accounts of the features mastered by extraverted and introverted children. The results aim to be presented in a final published paper and at the RISE:2019 poster session.

Nathaniel Shepard COS'20Investigating the Role of Estrogen Signaling on Memory and Learning in the Rat Prefrontal Cortex
Nathaniel Shepard COS’20
MENTOR: Professor Rebecca Shansky, Psychology
Female animals and women show reduced learning ability and memory retention when in low-estrogen states. We will investigate whether higher levels of estrogen in the brain increase the activity of dopamine-producing neurons that end in the prefrontal cortex–cells that are essential for learning and memory. We will then investigate whether blocking estrogen receptors on these neurons causes high-estrogen rats to exhibit the same reduced learning & memory as low-estrogen rats. We hope to illuminate the mechanism of estrogen’s effect on learning and memory and to share these results with the scientific community at RISE and other scientific conferences.

Erica Wagner COE'20Development of a Degenerated Nucleus Pulposus Tissue Model and Designing a Drug Carrier for Treating Low Back Pain
Erica Wagner COE’20
MENTOR: Professor Ambika Bajpayee, Bioengineering
Low back pain (LBP) is the leading source of disability worldwide and is caused by degenerative disc disease (DDD) in the intervertebral disc (IVD), particularly in the nucleus pulposus (NP), the gelatinous center region of the IVD. This research spans developing an enzymatically degenerated tissue model to examine its transport properties compared to healthy tissue and developing a large, cationic drug delivery system based on charge interactions between the positive carrier and negative NP tissue to treat LBP by providing sustained and localized drug delivery. This research will be disseminated at the Society for Biomaterials and Acta Biomaterialia.

Thaddeus Wilmerding COE'20The Anti-Inflammatory Effects of LLLT on Deep Brain Implants
Thaddeus Wilmerding COE’20
MENTOR: Professor Ryan Koppes, Chemical Engineering
The medical application of brain implants is a new and exciting field. Recently, implants for treating Parkinson’s have entered the market with phenomenal results and they are just the beginning. However, brain implants face significant challenges, not least of all rejection by the host they are treating. New studies have shown that low-level laser therapy can reduce inflammation and stimulate neuron growth. This project explores the results of light therapy delivered by a brain implant to reduce inflammation and increase the longevity of the implant to improve medical applications.

Hilary Wong COS'19Investigating Neural Dependency of Axolotl Limb Regeneration Using in Vivo Cell Cycle Reporter FUCCI
Hilary Wong COS’19
MENTOR: Professor James Monaghan, Biology
The Mexican axolotl salamander, Ambystoma mexicanum, is the classic vertebrate model for the study of regeneration, being able to regenerate complex organs even after entering adulthood. Upon injury, the axolotl limb forms a mass of proliferating, heterogeneous cells called the blastema, which depends on an intact nerve supply to form a new limb. Denervation appears to affect cell cycle progression, halting regeneration. In this study, we will perform CRISPR/Cas9 mediated gene knock-ins to create axolotls with ubiquitous Fluorescence Ubiquitin Cell Cycle Indicator (FUCCI) expression to examine the influence of peripheral nerves during cell cycle progression of regenerating limbs.

Tiffany Yu CAMD'19A New Theatre Festival for Emerging Theatre Makers in Boston
Tiffany Yu CAMD’19
MENTOR: Darren Evans, Theatre
This project organizes an event for emerging theatre makers in the Boston area to collaborate on a series of new short plays written by their peers. The event will be a new works festival that aims to create meaningful theatre by bringing together artists of diverse identities, showcasing plays that challenge the status quo, and focusing on underrepresented or unheard stories. Participants will gain the skills, confidence, and connections needed for them to pursue independent projects or start their own performing arts organizations in the future.