April 22, 2019 | 63° F

Students and families gather for undergraduate poster session

Rising sophomores at the University have a program designed to introduce them to the world of research.

The Aresty Summer Science Program held a poster session last Friday with its summer research students. The eleven-week summer research program is designed for rising sophomores and directed by Executive Director of the Aresty Research Center Brian Ballentine.

“Our program is one of the few programs of its kind that focuses exclusively on rising sophomores. Most programs, like the NSF’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates, target primarily rising juniors or seniors,” Ballentine said. “We’re proud that Rutgers supports our model of early exposure to research.”

The poster session allows students, friends and family to see the variety of research happening on campus and facilitates discussions about research within the community, which Ballentine said helps boost collective knowledge.

The projects are designed by professors based on their area of research. Having students who are interested in these areas allows the student to build important relationships in their field, Ballentine said.

One such student is Dan Kats, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. He is majoring in biology and his research is focused on the genetics behind progressive hearing loss.

“There are certain genes that have been identified as being linked to progressive hearing loss, and one of those is DFNA5, which is one of the genes my lab is studying,” Kats said. “Hearing loss is the most common sensory disorder, and one in 500 people are born with it.”

By creating a mouse model with a mutant version of DFNA5 and crossing it with another mouse line that allows the gene to be expressed, the lab produced a mouse model with a human version of DFNA5. They then performed hearing tests on the mice, Kats said.

The results thus far have been inconclusive, but the lab will continue to focus on the research by addressing the potential issues, such as the gene not actually being in the mice or the gene not working properly, Kats said.

This research also has biomedical implications, as the gene causes apoptosis. Apoptosis, or cell death, helps keep the number of cells under control, preventing the growth of tumors, he said.

Another research project related to genetics was conducted by Sarah Lin, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, who focused on the neurobiological footprint of memory.

The lab focuses on the expression of a gene called Arc in the hippocampus of the brain and its relationship to episodic memory, Lin said.

“Episodic memory is our past personal experiences and the spaces, the time and emotions associated with those memories,” she said.

After placing rats in chambers and allowing them to explore different objects, the lab performed behavioral analyses to determine the amount of time spent at each object. Using this information combined with brain slices, they were able to find the density of Arc in a certain region, Lin said.

Not all of the projects were related to genetics, as exemplified by the project done by Lisa Chang, a Business School sophomore.

“We’re studying land use and the water quality, and the relationship between them. We wanted to find what sorts of land use had the strongest impact on water quality,” Chang said, who is majoring in supply chain management. 

The lab went to different sites around New Jersey and characterized the site as either "forested land," "developed land" or "agricultural land." The researchers then performed water quality tests on the sites to determine correlations between land use and water quality, she said.

Water quality was partially determined through a biological method. This would be performed by observing the organisms in the water. The presence of organisms sensitive to pollution would show that water quality is high, whereas their absence would show water quality is low, she said.

Another method was to determine the habitat types that are present and score the area on that. This data was then compared to data from the US Geological Survey to determine a relationship between water quality and land use, Chang said.

The lab found that there is a strong relationship between forest cover and water quality. But there was a less clear relationship between developed land and water quality as well as agricultural land and water quality. This information is a step in a different direction for ecologists, she said.

“The theory was that if you reached some percent of urbanized land in your watershed, that your water quality would be very poor. This is a new step: We’re saying that we found that the loss of forest is worse to water quality than the presence of urbanization,” she said.

Traveling across New Jersey and learning how to use various computer programs were some of the highlights of the program, Chang said.

For Lin, it was the research experience and learning what independent research looks like in an academic discipline with her peers. 

“We’re in a big group of people who are like us. We get to live together surrounded by the environment of research,” Kats said. “It’s not just hearing loss or biology. There’s people doing this on language and psychology. Honestly, it’s the best thing I could’ve done this summer.”

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story said hearing loss is found in one in five people born, as stated by Dan Kats, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore.

Harshel Patel

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