Spring 2021 PEAK Experience Award Recipients Announced

We are very proud to share with you the names of our Spring 2021 PEAK Experiences Ascent and Summit Awardees (check back soon for an updated news story featuring our Base-Camp projects). These projects range from historical accounts of the representation of Black women in a various media to contemporary algorithmic interventions to drive consumer demand for and awareness of films produced by diverse artists to the creation of organs-on-chips to the development of gene therapy platforms. Everywhere you look at Northeastern, important, interesting and meaningful work is happening with our undergraduates taking a leading role in the creation of new knowledge and practice.

Congratulations, Huskies! PEAK Award deadlines for Summer 2021 will be coming up in  early April. Students interested in putting together a project for the Summer I or Summer II term are invited to join us for our PEAK Project Development Workshop Series taking place now. Enroll directly through Canvas.

PEAK Experience Ascent Awardees

Lujane Barakat, Bouvé’21, “Oral Health Behaviors and Self-Image”
Mentor: Professor Rachel Rodgers, Applied Psychology
The purpose of this research is to investigate the relationships between engagement in dental cosmetic procedures and practices, pressures from sociocultural agents, and dissatisfaction with the appearance of teeth. This research will expand our understanding of the various agents which pressure individuals to participate in potentially damaging oral health behaviors to improve the appearance of their teeth, allowing dental professional to address these issues. A web-based survey will be distributed to participants in order to collect this information. Results of this project will be presented at RISE and included in a paper to be submitted to a professional journal.

Veronica Bettio, CSSH’23, “Starving for Freedom: An Account of the Palestinian Hunger Strike”
Mentor: Professor Candice Delmas, Philosophy and Religion
This project seeks to give a philosophical and political account of the Palestinian hunger strike as a key facet of Palestinian resistance, especially in the context of occupation. Such an account does not exist to my knowledge. My literary review and synthesis will focus on post-colonial, philosophical, political and ethnographic studies of both Palestinian resistance and hunger strikes. The project will also incorporate first-person testimonies on the perception of the hunger strike within the resistance movement and outside of it. This project will contribute to philosophical work on liberation movements, and to the increasing body of research on Palestine generally.

Sarah Bluhm, COS‘23, “Cultivation of Peat Bog Bacteria Using Gulliver Device”
Mentor: Professor Slava Epstein, Biology
The Gulliver is a device under development that would allow for the isolation and growth of bacteria. The Gulliver would pave the way to the discovery of new species of bacteria and metabolites useful to medicine. This project involves the fabrication of the device using either lasers or 3D printers. The Gulliver will be placed in local peat bog and then cultures will be grown from its contents. Finally, bacteria will be identified via 16S rRNA sequence-based identification. The project’s target outcome is a refined Gulliver device suitable for use in a wide range of aqueous environments.

Ryan Brady, COE’22, “Coculturing of Intestinal Cells in an Organ-on-Chip Platform”
Mentor: Professor Ryan Koppes, Chemical Engineering
The goal of this project is to develop an improved Organ-on-Chip (OOC) model of the intestinal system. Animal models and static cell cultures currently used for intestinal modeling have shortcomings, most notably their differences from human functions. My project is to coculture four intestinal cell types on an OOC device to more accurately model intestinal function. This will involve the culturing of the cells on the OOC device as well as quantifying their growth with multiple staining methods. OOC models allow culturing of human cells in a more representative environment, potentially increasing modeling accuracy allowing more efficient drug development.

Caroline Burzynski, CAMD’23; Allison McCabe, CAMD’23; Gabriel Reid, CAMD’19; Zachary Flyer, CAMD’21, “Out and About”
Mentor: Professor Sarah Kanouse, Art and Design
Our project aims to assemble and contextualize LGBTQA narratives on campus by fulfilling three overlapping objectives. The first objective is to research LGBTQA history at Northeastern from the 1890s to 2010s, including recording original oral histories. This research will provide content for the second component of the project: “Out and About,” a mobile-friendly website that plays audio files based on this history which are triggered by a user’s location on campus. Our final objective is to ensure longevity by establishing an institutional partnership that will enable the project to continue beyond our involvement.

Brittany Clottey, CSSH’22, “Marginal Bodies: Women of Color, Representation, and the Struggle Over Citizenship and Belonging, 1920-2020”
Mentor: Professor Patricia Davis, Communication Studies
This project will create an exhibition on issues of African-American women’s representation in media, including film, television, print advertising, and black-centered newspapers/magazines. It will adopt an historical approach, with the goal of tracing, documenting and displaying the evolution of images that have contributed to the marginalization of African-Americans from dominant conceptions of citizenship and belonging in the U.S. These images have manifested in contemporary social inequities, including those associated with access to healthcare, education, and voting, and also the equal protection from state-sponsored physical and economic violence. It will cover and connect sociopolitical discourse from the 1920s to the contemporary.

Natalie Duerr, CAMD’21; Joshua Pensky, Khoury’21; Srilekha Nuli, Khoury’21, “Filmify”
Mentor: Professor Mark Sivak, Art and Design
Filmify is an online platform that promotes diverse representation behind the camera in an industry that disproportionately produces, recognizes, and promotes the work of white, cis men. Filmify will educate users about underrepresentation in Hollywood and motivate users to integrate diverse films into their watching habits by analyzing their history and offering recommendations; this will ultimately drive more streams and dollars to films created by diverse people. The team will accomplish this through user testing, completing industry research, and developing their algorithm. Filmify will share its research through online media, with industry professionals, and at conferences like RISE.

Jasper Duval, CSSH’23, “The Shame of the Slum: An Exploratory Study of Territorial Stigma and Mental Well-Being in a Non-Notified Settlement in Mumbai”
Mentor: Professor Liza Weinstein, Sociology and Anthropology
This project focuses on the effect of territorial stigma on mental wellbeing in Kaula Bunder, a non-notified, illegal settlement in Mumbai. This past semester, our time was spent on garnering feedback on our theoretical model and results, as well as calibrating our approach. We are still working on finalizing data selection for the manuscript and writing the first draft. Based on our current progress, our goal for the Spring 2021 semester will be to have a complete first draft of the manuscript.

Jessica Finkler, COS’22, “Identifying Determinants of AdvA Localization”
Mentor: Professor Edward Geisinger, Biology
Acinetobacter baumannii, a multi-drug resistant bacteria, is classified as an urgent threat by the CDC. A.baumannii is not as well studied as other bacterial strains; accordingly, not much is understood about essential cellular processes, including cell division. A novel protein, AdvA, has been identified as a potential essential divisome protein in A.baumannii. We are investigating the recruitment of AdvA to the site of division by targeting individual cell division proteins and studying how their knock-down affects AdvA recruitment. We anticipate a protein early-on in the assembly of the divisome is recruiting AdvA. The results will be shared at RISE.

Sammi Hersh, COS’22, “Identification of Plant Growth and Resilience-Promoting Bacteria Isolated from Atacama Desert”
Mentor: Professor Yunrong Chai, Biology
Biological fertilizers are non-toxic, safe alternatives to chemical fertilizers. Plant growth promoting bacteria (PGPB) are natural, unmodified organisms that enhance plant growth, produce antimicrobial compounds against pathogens, and induce systemic resistance. We isolated 39 potential PGPB strains and will grow cucumbers with them to identify their plant promotion ability. Bacteria on roots and within soil samples from the rhizosphere will be collected and the essential strains will be determined based on amounts. Our goal is to understand interaction between plants and beneficial bacteria and use this knowledge to develop probiotic fertilizers. Our work will be presented at Northeastern’s RISE.

Anna LeClair, COE’23, “Safely Reopening Buildings After the COVID-19 Shutdown: Investigating Lead Leaching and Corrosion Scales in Drinking Water”
Mentor: Professor Kelsey Pieper, Civil and Environmental Engineering
The COVID-19 pandemic forced commercial and academic buildings to abruptly close, causing drinking water systems to stagnate. Corrosion scales that form protective layers inside pipes become destabilized during stagnation, causing lead and other metal leaching and rendering drinking water unsafe. Our bench-scale experiment will investigate this poorly-understood phenomenon and determine safe reopening procedures after 1-4 weeks of stagnation to prevent harmful lead exposure. Results will be presented at RISE and other conferences and will be used to revise current EPA utility reopening guidelines.

Katherine Regis, COS’23, “Multispecies Response to Antibiofilm Peptides”
Mentor: Professor Andrew Jones, Chemical Engineering
Most bacterial infections take the form of multispecies biofilms where bacteria communicate via quorum-sensing molecules allowing resistance to proliferate in populations. This project will test if peptide IDR-1018 can lower stress responses promoting resistance and restore the efficacy of an antibiotic in single-species biofilms, against multispecies biofilms. If proven synergistic with antibiotics, this peptide could be used in wound dressings, biomedical device coatings, and disinfecting surfaces encountering medical tools or foods to prevent nosocomial and foodborne infections. This work will be submitted to ASM Microbe and if approved, presented at the ASM conference, as well as at Northeastern’s RISE Conference.

Shaila Saifee, COS’22, “The Dragon and Microbes: A Bacterial Analysis of Northeastern’s Oldest Book”
Mentor: Professor Erika Boeckeler, English
The Dragon Prayer Book is a medieval manuscript that has survived centuries of use and appreciation. This investigation stands to determine the relationship between the pages of the book and the bacteria which inhabit it using innovative, non-destructive scientific practices in order to understand the conditions of the environment that the manuscript produces and occupies. This research lies at the intersection of history, humanity, and science as we study the microbiology, palynology, and morphology of such an intriguing relic to understand the relationship between the biological and literary signatures on the book’s pages created by the human hand.

Kailey Williams, CAMD’23, “Graphic Design for the Green New Deal Cities Resource Hub”
Mentor: Professor Daniel Faber, Sociology and Anthropology
This project will focus on designing visual components for the creation of a virtual resource hub that city officials, local policy makers, and local activists can rely on and reference as they craft their own Green New Deals. Drawing on my previous design experience and skills I’ve acquired through coursework, extracurriculars, and previous employment, I will design art, posters, comics and graphics for the Green New Deal Cities Virtual Resource Hub website, documents, and social media communications. The goal of the resource hub is to highlight practical, justice-oriented solutions and present the information in a more user-friendly and engaging way.

Grace Yang, COS’23, “Next-Generation Liposomes for Treatment of Bacterial Infections of Chronic Wounds”
Mentor: Professor Edgar Goluch, Chemical Engineering
Liposomes have had limited success so far in chronic wound related applications partly due to their susceptibility to the plethora of immune cells present in wound beds. A phagocytosis-resistant lipid-based drug delivery system, such as the one proposed in this project, will allow to effectively deliver the required concentration of antibiotics inside bacterial biofilms found in non-healing and difficult-to-treat diabetic foot ulcers. The results generated will be presented at RISE 2021 and at a scientific conference for drug delivery.

PEAK Experience Summit Awardees

Shrreya Aagarwal, COS’21, “Anthropomorphism, Essentialism, and Artificial Intelligence”
Mentor: Professor John Coley, Psychology
This research aims at understanding how anthropomorphic thinking (attribution of human characteristics to non-human entities) and essentialist thinking (assuming a natural, underlying essence to entities) mediate users’ comfort with artificial intelligence in innovative technologies. We hypothesise that these biases will have opposing effects on comfort with technology: heightened anthropomorphic thought will improve comfort with technology, where increased essentialist thought will decrease comfort. This will have broad implications on the design and development of new technology, with the goal of increasing its positive adoption and effective utilization. I plan to share the learnings through research articles and presentations at various conferences.

Rosemary Ajegwu, COE’21, “when did our bodies stop belonging to us?”
Mentor: Professor Nicole Aljoe, African-American Studies and English
“when did our bodies stop belonging to us?” tethers the erasure of Uli drawing culture to colonialism, police brutality, and the policing of self-expression in Nigeria and within the Nigerian Diaspora. It exposes how colonization continues to govern our bodies, our personhoods, and our relationships to each other. Using archival research and documentation, “when did our bodies stop belonging to us?” invites Nigerians to preserve our Indigenous art forms, histories, and our right to self-expression.

Adele Andrews, CSSH’23, “Green New Deal Cities Resource Hub”
Mentor: Professor Daniel Faber, Sociology and Anthropology
It’s becoming clear to people across the country that we need a New Deal style response to the intersectional crises of climate change, economic inequality, and COVID-19, but there is little networking and resource-sharing at the local level. The Green New Deal Cities Resource Hub is a virtual resource that local officials, policy practitioners and activists can use to craft their own Green New Deals. Research around these resources will be supplemented by outreach to over 200 policy practitioners and activists. The hub will be publicized through the Northeastern Environmental Justice Research Collaborative and the Global Center for Climate Justice.

Ralston Augspurg, COE’22, “Altering Mechanotransduction Pathways Associated with Hypercontractility in Asthmatics”
Mentor: Professor Harikrishnan Parameswaran, Bioengineering
1 in 13 people are affected with asthma globally, yet the only treatments available for this chronic disease only manage the symptoms and reportedly progress the disease further over the course of someone’s life. We are investigating a way to provide long-term relief for asthmatics through targeting pathological mechanotransduction pathways in the airway by disabling integrins in smooth muscle cells using monoclonal antibodies. We hope to identify a possible strategy to better manage symptoms of this progressive disease.

Andrew Chang, COS’22, “Aromatase Inhibitors Sensitize Prostatic Cells on 5-Alpha Reductase Inhibitor Treatment”
Mentor: Professor Missy McElligott, Biology
Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH) is the most prevalent proliferative abnormality of the prostate. A widely used drug to combat BPH is finasteride, a 5-alpha-reductase inhibitor (5ARI) that blocks the enzyme 5-alpha-reductase type 2 (SRD5A2). However, around 30% of BPH patients lack SRD5A2 and can show resistance to 5ARI therapy. This project seeks to define and understand an alternate, previously unstudied potential regulatory pathway for prostate cell growth involving the aromatase enzyme. If successful, this work can provide insight into novel therapeutic agents for patients with 5ARI resistance and results will be submitted to scientific journals for publication in the future.

Lucy Davis-Hup, CSSH’23, “The Biden Administration and the Polluter-Industrial Complex”
Mentor: Professor Daniel Faber, Public Policy and Urban Affairs
I will be conducting research to analyze the extent to which the fossil fuel industry can restrict climate action under the Biden administration through an environmental justice lens. Over the past four years, corporate polluters have infiltrated and controlled the federal government, effectively helping the Trump administration roll back climate policies and environmental regulation. I plan to investigate the manner in which the polluter-industrial complex maintains power under the new administration by analyzing the processes by which industry-aligned candidates are elected to office in 2020 and appointed by Biden, how lobbyists exert governmental influence, and whether scientific undermining persists.

Maren Flessen, CAMD’21, “Decolonizing Theatre: An Event Series for Boston Theatre Students”
Mentor: Professor Antonio Ocampo-Guzman, Theatre
This project is a series of events for Boston theatre students to explore anti-racism in the theatre industry. There will be three different events, each in a different month, and will consist mainly of facilitated discussions, creative reflections, and student presentations. This will provide students an opportunity to build community across campus contexts, and to critically reflect on anti-racism as a young artist. These events will be held virtually and will be designed by an intercollegiate team of undergraduate theatre students and recent graduates. All Boston theatre students will be invited, and they will be entirely free.

Ava Gallo, CSSH’21, “Centering Community Voice in the Massachusetts Build Back Better Conversation”
Mentor: Professor Becca Berkey, Human Services
In the face of two dueling crises, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, vulnerable communities are in dire need of support. Stimulus spending is imminent, and it is crucial that when it comes, Massachusetts state legislators are well equipped to know where to best spend it. This project seeks to center community priorities in the recovery conversation via one-on-one interviews with community organizations and unions across the state of Massachusetts. Who better to advise the allocation of recovery funds than the communities on the frontlines of the COVID-19 and climate change crises?

Lauren Gerbereux, COE’21, “Development of a Gene Therapy Platform for Treatment of Normocytic Normochromic Anemia”
Mentor: Professor Sidi Bencherif, Chemical Engineering
This project seeks to develop a novel gene therapy platform to treat normocytic normochromic anemia, a common complication of chronic kidney disease with limited treatment options that require frequent injections. Gene delivery vehicles will be loaded into a biomaterial to overcome limitations of current gene therapies and induce expression of erythropoietin to treat this disease. This technology will be developed and tested in-vivo on mice. It is expected that a new gene therapy platform for anemia will be invented that is minimally invasive and more convenient for the patient. The results will be presented and published in an academic journal.

Connor Holmes, Bouvé’21, “Exploring Transgender, Non-binary, and Genderqueer Dating App Use”
Mentor: Professor Laura Senier, Health Sciences
This qualitative study explores the psychosocial needs of young transgender and gender non-conforming users of dating apps and the impact of COVID-19 on these needs and their fulfillment via such platforms. Dating apps are sites of socialization and community building for many queer people, but no prior research has explored how transgender and gender non-conforming individuals (those most vulnerable to mental illness in the community) make use of this potential resource for support. Interviews with 20 participants from the Northeast will be coded to draw out themes and conclusions. Findings will be presented at research conferences and submitted for publication.

Samantha Johnson, COE’21, “Project TATUM (Tactile ASL Translational User Mechanism)”
Mentor: Professor Chiara Bellini, Bioengineering
For deaf blind individuals to efficiently communicate, they require the use of interpreting services. To increase the autonomy of the deaf blind community, I am developing a 3D printed, open-source, low-cost, anthropomorphic robotic arm capable of signing American Sign Language (ASL) from text input. Design validation will include motion capture analysis of the ASL alphabet, material property testing, and feedback trials with deaf blind participants to ensure a high incidence of sign recognition. The TATUM Arm will promote a sense of independence and community among deaf blind individuals, especially during COVID-19 when social distancing has limited the availability of interpreters.

Kira MokSophie Kelly, COS’22; Kira Mok, CSSH’23, “A Gratitude-Based Approach: Developing Environmental Justice Research and Communication Tools”
Mentor: Professor Sara Wylie, Sociology and Anthropology
This project will develop Environmental Justice (EJ) communication tools with key stakeholders in Massachusetts and Colorado to evaluate the potential for these tools to change attitudes and motivate action. There is a need to shift from “harm-based” approach to a “gratitude-based” approach that illustrates how affluent areas benefit from and play a role in displacing health risks onto EJ communities. The tools developed will be shared with collaborating EJ organizations and policy makers, and will also lay the groundwork for a survey-based experimental study testing the impacts of these tools on participants’ attitudes and policy support.

Sydney Morris, COE’21, “LFP and NMC for High-Rate Discharge, High Specific Energy Applications”
Mentor: Professor Joshua Gallaway, Chemical Engineering
I will research the combination of two battery materials, lithium iron phosphate (LFP) and lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide (NMC), into a single coin cell cathode to increase the safety and performance of lithium-ion batteries while reducing the cost. Prior research has demonstrated that combining these two materials has beneficial impacts on battery performance and results in high specific energy and high-rate discharge capabilities. However, further optimization of material ratios and processing techniques is needed. I seek to address this gap in knowledge throughout the semester and will present my findings at the AIChE conference next year.

Casey PancoastCasey Pancoast, Khoury’21, “Grassmann-Valued Neural Networks and Fermionic Quantum Field Theory”
Mentor: Professor James Halverson, Physics
A correspondence can be drawn between neural networks and the fields of quantum field theory using advanced statistics and the following basic logic: a neural network takes in some vector and outputs some vector, and a quantum field takes in a vector (a point in spacetime) and outputs another vector (the field value). This correspondence has only been made for fields like photons and the Higgs and regular neural networks with real numbers. This project seeks to design, implement, and test a neural network with a different type of number (Grassmann) that corresponds to quantum fields like quarks and electrons.

Amrita SureshHannah Phillips, COS’21; Amrita Suresh, Khoury’22, “Automated Motion Detecting Feeding Screener”
Mentor: Professor Emily Zimmerman, Communication Sciences and Disorders
As many as 27% of children under the age of three experience oral feeding difficulties. Many of them go undiagnosed because few objective measures exist to assess them. Our project aims to develop an automated program that will address this gap by applying motion detection to bottle feeding videos. The program will streamline the process of assessing key events and behaviors in feeding videos, and will ultimately help to identify infants with feeding difficulties. We will determine associations between these behaviors and oral feeding metrics, and present our findings at RISE and at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Convention in 2021.

Johanna Rajotte, COS’21, “Voltage-Gated Sodium Ion Channels in Lymphatic Vessel Contraction”
Mentor: Professor Leigh Plant, Pharmaceutical Science
The lymphatic system is crucial for managing fluid homeostasis and immunoregulation. Collecting lymphatic vessels pump to move lymph upstream to rejoin the circulation. The specialized muscle cell layer around the lymphatic vessels, which mediates pumping, is poorly understood. Better understanding of molecular properties of these cells are required to develop drug targets aimed at improving lymphatic pumping. In my proposed study, I will investigate voltage-gated sodium channels in the generation of lymphatic contraction in vitro through whole-cell patch clamp electrophysiology of lymphatic muscle cells.

Elizabeth Schwartz, COS’21, “Identifying genetic interactions required for cell division in Acinetobacter baumannii
Mentor: Professor Edward Geisinger, Biology
The purpose of my research is to investigate the genetic network of Acinetorbacter baumannii in order to identify genes involved in cell division. By identifying genes that contribute to the antibiotic resistance seen in A. baumannii, strategies to develop future treatments will be revealed. This semester, I will analyze a library of A. baumannii colonies that have been mutated and identify which mutations affect bacterial survival in the presence of antibiotics. Those mutations will indicate genes that play a role in antiobiotic resistance and may be targeted by future treatments.

Andrea Smith, COE’22, “Impact of Cardiac Interoception Cues on Manual Interactions in Virtual Reality”
Mentor: Professor Eugene Tunik, Physical Therapy, Movement and Rehabilitation Sciences
This project seeks to understand the effects of augmented cardiac interoceptive feedback on reach-to-grasp task performance in virtual reality. Auditory and visual sensory substitution of heart rate (interoceptive feedback) will be used during a precision demanding reach-to-grasp task performed in virtual reality. The task will be performed before and after a brief bout of high intensity exercise; the bout of exercise is used to perturb the autonomic state in a controlled manner. We will be testing the relationship between cardiovascular state and motor performance, as influenced by task difficulty.

Keira Veillette, COS’21, “Development of an Efficient Viral Vector System for Transient Expression in Hairy Roots”
Mentor: Professor Carolyn Lee-Parsons, Chemical Engineering
A viral system will be manipulated to express proteins in roots. This method is an effective tool to study gene function and is highly efficient compared to the more time-consuming method of developing a transgenic root culture. The gene of interest will be cloned into the appropriate viral backbone which can then infect the roots. From there, the virus can naturally replicate and move from cell-to-cell, promoting expression of the protein throughout the roots. In order to first optimize this viral vector system, various reporter genes, whose expression can be easily measured, have been encoded into the viral vector. Preliminary experiments with these vectors are currently in progress.

Philip Wasson, COS’21, “Regulation of Bacillus subtilis Matrix Production by the Acetylation of the Biofilm Master Repressor”
Mentor: Professor Yunrong Chai, Biology
Historically, bacteria have been studied in the context of the individual cell. However, bacterial biofilms, the multicellular communities of bacteria that are attached to the surfaces around us, represent the most abundant state of bacterial growth on Earth. Yet little is known about how these communities form and why they increase virulence and antibiotic resistance among pathogenic bacteria in the clinic. In this project, I use Bacillus subtilis to study how a post-translational modification to a transcription factor initiates the transition from motile cell growth to biofilm assembly. Results will be presented at RISE and in an upcoming publication.