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Symposium Abstracts

14th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium

Scholar Abstracts

Students are listed alphabetically by last name. 
Click each student to learn more about them and read their abstracts.

 

Wesley Alejandro

Program: CAMP

Major: Human Biology

Contact: walejandro@ucmerced.edu

Faculty Mentor: Petra Kranzfelder, PhD

 
Perceived Supports and Barriers of Instructors During Emergency Remote Instruction
 
Wesley Alejandro,Cristine Donham, Erik Menke, PhD, Hillary Barron, Petra Kranzfelder, PhD; School of Natural Sciences, University of California, Merced
 
The sudden shift to emergency remote instruction (ERI) as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has had pedagogical effects in the classroom. Previous research suggests that online instruction requires a carefully maintained student-centered teaching strategy — something that is hard to maintain in an emergency transition. The present work aims to assess what barriers and supports instructors perceive as they transition to ERI. Instructors at a midsize research university (n = 30) Instructors were interviewed with 7 questions about their experiences with ERI, with 2 questions being about perceived supports and barriers​. Using about 10% of the data (4 interviews), perceived supports and barriers were given codes during a blind, open code process using grounded theory methods. To ensure validity, open coding was done independently by five coders in parallel, and coders came together to build consensus. Analytic memos were also written during the open coding process.​ Consistently appearing codes became entries in a codebook. Using qualitative codes, we were able to find codes of what instructors perceived as supports and barriers during the transition to ERI. By being able to qualitatively analyze perceived supports and barriers due to ERI, we will be better informed about future teaching and learning disruptions. Future research could also explore how ERI has affected students from groups that are disproportionately affected by social and health disparities.

Giovanni Alvarado

Program: SOAR

Major: Psychology

Contact: galvarado5@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Matthew J. Zawadzki, PhD

 
Effects of an App-Based Mindfulness Intervention on Sleep Duration and Sleep Latency: Income as a Moderator
 
Giovanni Alvarado, BA  Larisa Gavrilova, BA, Matthew J. Zawadzki, PhD; School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, Merced
 
Sufficient research links poor sleep quality with health issues, thus efforts have been made to improve sleep. Previous research has shown positive effects of in-person mindfulness interventions on sleep quality. However, not much research has looked at the effects of mindfulness intervention delivered through a smartphone app on sleep and its potential benefits. The purpose of this study was to examine whether an in-app mindfulness intervention – Headspace – has significant effect on objectively assessed sleep duration and sleep latency. The study also assessed whether income moderates this relationship. We collected data from 142 employees from the University of California, Merced. Participants completed baseline surveys to assess for demographics and were instructed to wear a Fitbit Charge 2 device to collect data on sleep duration and sleep latency. Sleep data was collected at baseline and then five weeks after participants were randomly assigned to either the Headspace intervention or control group. ANOVA analysis revealed that, as expected, the groups did not differ on sleep outcomes at week 0. The Headspace group did not significantly differ from the control group at week 5, suggesting no effect of the app on sleep. Also, income was not found to be a significant moderator. Overall, Headspace did not affect individual’s sleep and income played no role in this relationship.

Diana Alvarado Cuevas

Program: UROC-H

Major: Sociology

Contact: dalvarado-cuevas@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Tanya Golash-Boza, PhD

 
Incarceration and Gentrification
 
Diana Alvarado Cuevas, and Tanya Golash-Boza, PhD; School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, Merced
 
Washington D.C. has an ongoing pattern of displacement of its Black and low-income communities, due to gentrification. Gentrification refers to increases in rent, home values, and average incomes of a community. This project looks at one census tract in Washington, DC, where the Barry Farms housing project is located. Drawing from primary sources such The Washington Post, ABC News, and the news outlet “DCist” from the 1930s to the present, this project describes the history of Washington D.C.’s Barry Farms. This analysis reveals deliberate disinvestment from the government in Barry Farms and a continuous resilience from the Black community. Community organizing by the former Black residents, who were uprooted from the property for an initial demolishment for new development, recently pushed for project housing, Barry Farms, to be considered an official historical landmark in Washington D.C. The Black community from Barry Farms has a history of unity and resilience despite systemic neglect. The results of this study will become part of a Story Map, which will be a resource for communities affected by gentrification and displacement in Washington D.C.

Michael Aquino

Program: UROC-H

Major: Sociology

Contact: maquino7@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Tanya Golash-Boza, PhD

 
Welcome Home: How Does Gentrification Intensify Social Reentry Difficulties of Former Inmates
 
Michael Aquino Yajaira Ceciliano Navarro, MA, and Tanya Golash-Boza, PhD; School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, Merced
 
When studying the social reentry of former inmates, studies on incarceration have focused their attention on stigma and its effects on employment and housing opportunities. Whereas, research on gentrification has studied the influence gentrification has on specific urban neighborhoods towards the increasing rates of incarceration. Nevertheless, studies have not taken into consideration how gentrification intensifies the social reentry difficulties of former inmates. This study, based on 25 in-depth interviews with former inmates from Washington, DC, shows how gentrification increases former inmates’ difficulties in their social reentry process. Findings demonstrate inmates have experienced stigma when searching for employment, but not during their search for housing. Additionally, interviewees describe the difficulties of affording housing because of its increasing price due to gentrification. Finally, narratives also indicate the importance of studying how gentrification may intensify the social reentry difficulties of former inmates.

Samuel Arda

Program: SURF STEM

Major: Biological Sciences with an emphasis in Molecular and Cellular Biology

Contact: sarda@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Katrina K. Hoyer,PhD

 
Identifying the Manifestation of Lung Conditions & Trends in Valley Fever
 
Samuel Arda Anh L. Diep, and Katrina K. Hoyer, PhD; School of Natural Sciences, University of California, Merced
 
Within the San Joaquin Valley, common lung conditions such as; asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and bronchitis affect the local population. However, Valley fever, or coccidioidomycosis, is specifically endemic to the Central Valley, with the majority of reports coming from California and Arizona. This infection is caused by an intake of Coccidioides infectious subunits causing pneumatic symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, and chronic cough, often identical to other symptomatic lung conditions. Immune effector cells within both the innate and adaptive system are responsible for clearing the infection, but their detailed mechanisms are yet to be clearly defined. Although most cases of coccidioidomycosis infection are cleared without medical intervention, chronic disease development can occur, and the cause is still unknown. Valley fever is often misdiagnosed as other lung diseases, and the frequency of Valley fever occurring in patients with pre-existing conditions is poorly understood. Examining similarities between various lung condition profiles within Valley fever and other known diseases such as asthma, smoker’s lung, allergic lung reactions, and air pollution, would yield meaningful understanding of their profile overlap and distinctions. This could identify unique markers in symptoms, immune characteristics, diagnostic testing, and demographics to improve proper diagnosis, treatment, and patient outcomes.

Stefany Arevalo

Program: NSF Petra Career

Major: Applied Mathematics

Contact: sarevalo4@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Noemi Petra, PhD

 
Identifying the Manifestation of Lung Conditions & Trends in Valley Fever
 
Stefany Arevalo Radoslav Vuchkov & Noemi Petra, PhD; School of Natural Sciences, University of California, Merced
 
Partial Differential Equations (PDEs) are equations that contain unknown functions and their partial derivatives and are used to model a wide variety of phenomena such as sound, heat, diffusion, fluid dynamics, elasticity, etc. While some of these equations can be solved analytically, in most cases one needs to implement a numerical method such as the finite element method (FEM) to solve them numerically. Depending on the complexity of the problem (e.g., inputs, boundary conditions, geometry, dimension) implementing FEM may not be trivial. In addition, often the inputs to the PDEs are not known or are uncertain. These can be estimated from available observational data via solving a so-called inverse problem. Firedrake is an automated system for the solution of PDEs using FEM. It uses sophisticated code generation that makes the numerical solution of PDEs via FEM easily accessible to domain scientists. Firedrake provides an environment that expedites the solution of PDEs. In the first part of this project, we investigated how to install and run Firedrake. In particular we focused on solving the Poisson problem numerically with linear and quadratic finite element basis functions and report on convergence results. The results show that the sequence of solutions is converging as expected based on the theory. The second part of this project focused on formulating and solving an inverse problem governed by the Poisson PDE using Firedrake. In particular we estimated the coefficient field in the Poisson PDE from synthetic observation. Our preliminary results suggest that Firedrake is an appropriate computational environment for solving inverse problems governed by PDEs.

Mary Baltazar

Program: SURF STEM

Major: Mechanical Engineering

Contact: mbaltazar6@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: YangQuan Chen, PhD

 
Optimizing Closed Loop Wind Tunnel Design for Plume Odor Simulation Experimental Test Bed
 
Mary Baltazar Derek Hollenback, MD, and YangQuan Chen, PhD; School of Engineering, University of California, Merced
 
Gas sensing using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) in this project would ultimately be used to get a scope of a specific area and observe how gas behaves in it. UAV’s are usually used in industry to sense the leakage of gas and these can ultimately be one of the mechanisms that can prevent larger scale damage in factories or the field. In order to get a better understanding of the conditions of the area in question, we will use a Plume Odor Simulation Experimental Test Bed in a Wind Tunnel to simulate field conditions and test new methods that can be applied for better data collection. Our approach to optimize the conditions in the testbed is to test key factors in the wind tunnel design to minimize turbulence and maximize control inside the test bed. The components of the design must be altered to get a combination of moderate performance and reasonable size for lab use. The size of the inlet, screen pattern and alignment, are all key factors that change the air flow inside of the wind tunnel. Honeycomb, square and circular screen patters were tested to see what effect they would each have on the flow of air into the test bed. Size of the inlet was also examined to see which one would yield better results. Our results have shown that having a moderately sized inlet location with honeycomb screens provide more control in the test bed.

Jeanette Batres

Program: CAMP

Major: Biological Sciences with an emphasis in Microbiology and Immnuology

Contact: jbatres3@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Jing Xu, PhD

 
Impact of Vertical Force Components on the Overall Travel Distances of Kinesin
 
Jeanette Batres John Wilson, and Jing Xu, PhD; School of Natural Sciences, University of California, Merced
 
Molecular motors, such as kinesin, actively transport cargo along microtubules in cells. Molecular motor-based transport maintains the proper function of eukaryotic cells and occurs in a variety of cell types, including neurons which can be up to 1 meter in length. Forces can shorten the distances that motors are able to carry their cargo. Some of the physiological forces impacting motor travel include cargo diffusion and viscous drag. Recently, simulations from the Xu lab have demonstrated that physiological forces on the cargo shortens the distance kinesin transports its cargo. These simulations were based on kinesin detachment kinetics only being impacted by horizontal force components. However, our understanding of detachment kinetics has changed within the last year. It is now becoming clear that vertical force components can also increase the rates at which kinesin detach from microtubules. Using Monte Carlo based simulations, I will examine the implications of vertical detachment kinetics in the context of physiological forces. Findings will determine the importance of vertical force components on the overall travel distance of kinesin based on detachment rates, contributing to our understanding of kinesin function under physiological forces in living cells.

Cynthia Bravo-Zamora

Program: UROC-H

Major: History

Contact: cbravo-zamora@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: David Torres-Rouff, PhD

 
Racial Barriers: How Two Chinese Men Managed to Be Accepted Despite Racial Discrimination Against Chinese in Merced County (1870)
 
Cynthia Bravo-Zamora David Torres-Rouff, PhD; School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, Merced
 
During the 1880’s the spread of nativist violence against Chinese immigrants surged in California through a political anti-Chinese agenda. Although California greatly benefitted from the influx of Chinese immigrants, its anti-Chinese agenda allowed Chinese residents to be harassed, assaulted and expelled from their towns, while some Chinese communities were burned to the ground. Merced, like many other towns built as railroad depots, had a vibrant Chinese community who suffered from anti-Chinese discrimination, on both interpersonal and structural levels. As California took a hostile stance against the Chinese with laws resisted Chinese assimilation, Chinese immigrants throughout the state were pursued by discrimination as they tried to live alongside an unwelcoming white society. However, despite the anti-Chinese agenda, two Chinese immigrants miraculously managed to be accepted into their white communities. The stories of Kam Ah See, a Chinese immigrant to Plainsburg/Le Grand and Ah You, a Chinese immigrant to Merced, have been lost throughout time. Using archives from the Merced County Courthouse Museum and newspapers published in Merced and Le Grand from 1870 to the mid-twentieth century, this project seeks to understand how Ah See and Ah You navigated anti-Chinese racism in Merced County and how they managed to created personal and economical relationships with their white communities, particularly in the wake of racial violence.

Monica Calderon

Program: SURF SSHA

Major: Psychology

Contact: mcalderon25@gmail.com 

Faculty Mentors:  Rose M. Scott, PhD

 
The Impact of Essentialist Beliefs on Individuals’ Reactions to the COVID-19 Pandemic
 
Monica Calderon Tonghui (Kailee) Zhu, Rose M. Scott, PhD; School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, Merced
 
Essentialism is the notion that members of certain groups are inherently similar in terms of behavior and appearance. These beliefs often cause prejudice in regard to social groups, such as race or gender. This study analyses whether essentialist beliefs related to outgroup bias or stigma during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We predicted that people who used more essentialized language were more likely to endorse the use of the term “Chinese virus.”. To test this, 343 social media posts from Twitter were coded for essentialist language or outgroup bias. We performed a content analysis of the tweets, counting the use of certain words or phrases. For example, we coded for mentions of China, character attributions, emotion words, and endorsement of the term “Chinse virus.” The results attained in this study can help us understand how essentialist beliefs can lead to outgroup bias or stigma, and how that can affect social groups.

Michele Campbell

Program: UC LEADS

Major: Materials Science and Engineering

Contact: mcampbell24@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Valerie Leppert, PhD

 
Photocatalytic Reaction Testing System for Dye Degradation
 
Michele A. Campbell Beatriz Morales Perez, and Valerie Leppert, PhD; School of Engineering, University of California, Merced
 
The unique layered structure of bismuth oxybromides makes them a promising candidate as a nanoscale photocatalyst that is environmentally benign. Their tunable band gap with a range of 2.3 – 2.9 eV, depending on stoichiometry, allows for photocatalytic activity under visible light, opening up the possibility of their use for solar photocatalysis. In order to assess the viability of lab-synthesized oxybromides for this application, performance assessment in a photocatalytic reaction testing system using dye degradation is required. The current project focuses on determining and designing the best testing system for photocatalytic performance of synthesized oxybromide nanosheets under visible light. The testing system requires multiple components such as a light source, reaction vessel, standard dye (i.e. RhB), and in situ or ex situ spectroscopic measurement of dye degradation. Based on a review of the literature and documentation of performance testing systems a comparison was made of various options based on factors such as cost, safety, accuracy, sensitivity, specificity, ease of use, simplicity, and feasibility of the system. Based on minimum requirements for these criteria, three candidate systems were selected and considered. For the highest scoring system, a design was drawn up and a step-by-step testing protocol detailed. Materials for construction of the testing system were identified, sourced, and priced. Future work will involve construction and validation of the testing system and its incorporation into ongoing lab research projects.

Victoria Campos Gatica

Program: SURF SSHA

Major: Public Health and Spanish

Contact: vcamposgatica@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Susana Ramirez, PhD

 
Media Framing of Front-of-Package Food Labeling Policy in Mexico
 
Victoria Campos Gatica Yolanda Merino Salmeron, Kesia Garibay, Denise Payán, PhD, MPP, and A. Susana Ramírez, PhD, MPH; School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, Merced
 
Over 50% of the deaths in Mexico are caused by non-communicable diseases including diabetes and obesity. Public health efforts to battle these health concerns have included policies such as a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, controversial at the outset but now internationally-acclaimed and imitated. In 2019, legislators introduced a new policy mandating strict front-of-package labeling of processed foods. The labels are meant to benefit consumers by providing nutritional information that is easy to understand, and the nutrition standards underpinning the labels are meant to encourage corporations to reformulate products. STUDY AIM: The purpose of this research is to identify the way news portrayed the new food labeling system and policy. METHODS: A quantitative content analysis of four Mexican newspapers, representing center-left (El Universal, La Jornada) and center-right (Reforma, El Economista) political opinions. We used Lexis Nexis to identify all the articles from January 1, 2019 – March 31, 2020 that discussed the proposed law (NOM-051) using the search term “etiquetado” [“label”]. We then coded for key features of the articles such as sources and types of evidence, frame, and bias. RESULTS: Preliminary results suggest the dominant frame of news coverage about the food labels is issue-centered. The evidence used was more inclined on supporting the policy and less focused on anti-policy arguments. CONCLUSION: This research acknowledged an unexpected high representation of the policy in relations to the health impact and had little appearance of the industry viewpoints. This finding is unexpected because usually media is dominated by the industry.

Alexander Del Toro

Program: UC LEADS

Major: Cognitive Science

Contact: adeltoro5a@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Kristin Scott, PhD

 
Identifying Downstream Targets to the Interceptive SEZ Neurons (ISN) Using The Female Adult Fly Brain Electron Microscopy Volume
 
Alexander Del Toro  Amanda Gonzalez-Segarra, Kristin Scott, PhD; School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, Merced
 
Animals survive based on their ability to seek out nutrients in their environment. Regulation of consumption is based on the external nutrients available and the internal metabolic needs of the organism. The specific neural circuits underlying the primitive homeostatic drives to eat and drink remains an open question. Similar to human beings, Drosophila Melanogaster regulates consumption of food and water depending on internal metabolic states. A site in the fly brain that functions as an internal nutrient and water sensor is known as the subesophageal zone (SEZ). The SEZ contains four neurons that have been shown to be sensitive to internal signals of nutrient deprivation and water abundance, which are known as the Interoceptive SEZ neurons (ISNs). ISNs have been shown to oppositely regulate sugar and water consumption, which suggests that their function is to restore internal homeostasis.  The goal of this project was to utilize the Female Adult Fly Brain (FAFB) Electron Microscopy (EM) volume within CATMAID to trace and identify neurons postsynaptic to the ISNs. We identified 3 downstream targets to the ISNs and labeled synaptic sites to gain insight into the flow of information that allows the coordinated behaviors to consume food and water.

Evelin Espino

Program: UROC-H

Major: Sociology

Contact: eespino28@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Paul Almeida, PhD

 
Community Mobilization Towards Climate and Environmental Justice, Northern California 2000-2009
 
Evelin Espino Paul Almeida, PhD; School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, Merced
 
Environmental justice movements have struggled collectively since the early 1980s, exposing the environmental racism that has contributed to an increase in disproportionate effects of industrial pollution on low-income, communities of color. Climate justice has emerged as a relatively new, yet important movement that focuses on the threatening impacts of climate change (Mendez 2015: 1). This study shows the links between environmental justice struggles and the progress that climate justice policy initiatives have established in Northern California. The investigation uses protest event analysis of newspaper articles related to environmental justice and climate justice events between the years 2000 and 2009 and policy changes at the county level to demonstrate trends of movement mobilization over time and across geographical space. A sample of over 50 environmental events in northern California were used in the final analysis. Additionally, this study assesses the conditions associated with implementing California choice aggregation programs. Such programs may aid climate and environmental issues for consumers in comparison to counties that have not implemented these programs aimed at sustainable energy production. Documenting these efforts to achieve environmental and climate justice may help us identify the next steps crucial to ending one of the biggest catastrophes of our time.

Erika Estrada

Program: UROC-H

Major: Sociology

Contact: eestrada37@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Tanya Golash-Boza, PhD

 
Gentrification and Racial Chnage: Story Map, Census Tract 72, "Navy Yard"
 
Erika Y. Estrada Tanya Golash-Boza, PhD; School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, Merced
 
Gentrification is an inexorable tide that threatens to displace and erase the lives and histories of many long-time Washington D.C. residents. It has been proven that throughout the years there have been some major and minor changes in the way neighborhoods have to shift their appearances from uninvested to invested. Such actions have impacted the lives of many residents by having to move neighborhoods due to the increase in prices in their gentrified neighborhoods. In census tract 72 also known as Navy Yard in Washington D.C., major gentrification has happened leading to the neighborhood changing its demographics as a result of becoming more contemporary and luxurious. A story map in ArcGIS, which is a geographic information system will be used to input census data from census tract 72 with various information from historical sources and online articles to provide residents with more insightful information about the area they live in. This will be achieved by creating an interactive tool that will help residents to learn about the history behind this specific census tract since the 1930s until today. The results obtained will help people to identify and recognized when their neighborhoods are becoming gentrified and to see what a gentrified neighborhood could look like along with the various physical and demographic changes that gentrification can lead to in any neighborhood.

Stefan Faaland

Program: SURF STEM

Major: Physics

Contact: sfaaland@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Dustin Kleckner, Ph.D

 
Characterizing the Growth and Evolution of Knotted Vortices
 
Stefan Faaland  Dustin Kleckner, Ph.D; School of Natural Sciences, University of California, Merced
 
Vortex rings (e.g. smoke rings) are very stable. Experiments have shown that when you tie them into a knot, however, they are very unstable. Why is this? Full simulations of this problem are quite difficult, and so instead we are studying the properties of the flow field generated by a knotted vortex, frozen in time. In this case, the instability should appear as a stretching of virtual dye lines placed in the flow field. By investigating the flow field this way we hope to find a clear analogy to the exponential mixing found in 2-dimensional topological mixing. Using Python software Numba we have improved upon previous simulation runtimes by a factor of ~10 by massively parallelizing the workload, enabling longer simulation runtimes. To encompass varying forms of the vortex core we vary parameters such as the aspect ratio between the core radius and vortex radius, initial dye placement, and vortex and dye radii. This software is written with the intention of later investigating other non-trivial knots and integrating with experimental knot data to better understand the stability of complicated flows.

Mary Eloise Fernandez

Program: UC LEADS

Major: Biological Sciences with an emphasis in Immunology and Microbiology

Contact: mfernandez36@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Kirk Jensen, Ph.D

 
Diminished Antibody Responses in Toll-Like Receptor Knockout Mice Infected by Toxoplasma gondii
 
Mary Elosie Fernandez Julia Alvarez, Kirk Jensen, PhD; School of Natural Sciences, University of California, Merced
 
Toll-like Receptors (TLR) detect microbial infection and are participants in the induction of the host’s immune system against the intracellular parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which infects most warm-blooded animals. Knocking out TLRs can allow us to recognize how the immune response to T. gondii is regulated by TLRs and whether TLRs are necessary for host survival to infection. Our lab has discovered that unlike normal mice, vaccination in Tlr2-/- and Tlr4-/- mice (‘knockout mice’) succumb to T. gondii infection with a virulent strain. We hypothesize that TLR2 and TLR4 are required for mouse viability because they are necessary for the intensity and presence of parasite-specific antibodies. We begin by preparing 2-day HFF passages for the parasites. The parasites were fixed and plated onto titrated serum wells with 5 different dilutions. The serums are from Tlr2-/-, Tlr4-/- and wildtype mice either vaccinated or naturally infected with a low virulence strain, conditions that promote immunity in normal mice. After incubation, plates were stained with secondary antibodies specific for various mouse isotypes (IgM, IgG3, IgG1, IgG2b, and IgG2a). The samples are analyzed through flow cytometry to reveal how the antibody isotypes are affected by knocking out TLR2 and TLR4. Here we show that TLRs are necessary for the presence of parasite-specific IgG1 antibodies. These results will allow for future studies aimed at discovering the mechanism and pathway that relate TLRs and antibodies in immune responses to infections of Toxoplasma gondii, and hopefully how to create a vaccine for parasites.

Cathryn Flores

Program: UROC-H

Major: English

Contact: cflores73@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Katherine Steele Brokaw, Ph.D

 
The Universal Language: Film Scoring Bilingual Shakespeare
 
Cathryn Flores Katherine Steele Brokaw, Ph.D; School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, Merced
 
Electronic music emerged on the 1970’s popular music charts in the United States and remains a dominant force in today’s music industry across all genres. Similar to the techniques used in composing a live musical score, electronic music composition encompasses instrumentation, vocal production, and digitized musical notation. This presentation argues that electronic music provides an inclusive, technological approach to composing theatrical musical scores in the 21st century, allowing amateur artists the ability to participate in producing sophisticated scores through Digital Audio Workstations (DAW). Methods used for this study include Practice-as-Research (my collaboration with community-based theater practitioners), autoethnography (my personal experience using a DAW to film score and compose), and literature reviews of publications discussing the Digital Age within theatrical productions. A case study of my role as music director for Merced Shakespearefest’s bilingual web series "Ricardo II" prompts the discussion of how collaborative online platforms such as Zoom and Google Drive increase accessibility, allowing more people to participate in the music composition process. In the case of "Ricardo II", participants and audience members have and will be able to personally relate to a musical score that incorporates genres of popular music, jazz, hip-hop, and Latin pop. Exploration of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton provides a parallel to this bilingual Spanish-English Shakespearean web series, in which musical underscoring acts as a universal language no matter a spectator’s linguistic, ethnic, or socioeconomic background.

Chase Fredrick

Program: SURF SSHA

Major: Economics

Contact: cfrederick@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors:  Justin Cook, Ph.D

 
Behavioral Migration: Prospect Theory & Migration
 
Chase Fredrick Justin Cook, Ph.D; School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, Merced
 
The majority of economic research if an individual is given enough information about the market, sufficient agency within that market, has a well-defined preference, and consistently applies those preferences, they will always select the set of market options that best satisfy their unique needs. The issue at hand with these assumptions is that there are several instances where anomalies occurs that lead to individuals making decisions within the market that are not empirically optimal to for their unique situation (Kahneman, Knetsch, and Thaler 1991a, 193-206). One of these anomalies occurs during the migration decision-making process. In this paper, we will approach the endowment effect as an expansion of the Expected Utility theoretical model of migration to better explain the variance between what the standard neoclassical model assumes (and to a degree predicts), and what is observed in the field. Using primary data from surveys of residents of California’s central valley, and Ordinary Least Squares Regression, we hypothesize that the loss aversion produced by the Endowment Effect plays a statistically significant role in the migration decision-making process.

Orlando Gillam

Program: SURF SSHA

Major: Psychology

Contact: ogillam@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Kristina Backer, Ph.D

 
Bilingual Speech in Noise (BiSIN)
 
Kristina Backer, Ph.D; School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, Merced
 
Spoken communication in the presence of noise is difficult for all listeners, but this struggle intensifies for those listening in their non-native language. Even highly skilled bilingual speakers experience challenges when processing their second language in noisy environments. This study aimed to examine how the level of background noise influenced the accuracy of encoding the /v/ phoneme in English monolinguals and Spanish-English bilinguals. Within Spanish phonology, the phoneme /v/ maps onto /b/, unlike English which clearly discriminates between the two phonemes. For this reason, many native Spanish speakers will often mistake the /v/ for a /b/ when speaking in English. Participants were presented with auditory stimuli, which were manipulated recordings of /va/. By changing the amplitude (duration) of the fricative portion at the beginning of /va/, it slowly begins to sound more like /ba/. Thus creating a spectrum that allows us to observe the level at which perception becomes ambiguous. Another manipulation included embedding speech shaped noise on top of the auditory stimuli. Overall there were four conditions: quiet, and 3 other signal to noise ratios. The audio was made louder (+6 dB), quieter (-6 dB ) and kept at the same level (0 dB) as the noise. Participants underwent a total of 200 trials, where they were presented with the stimuli and asked to record their response by pressing either “b” for /ba/ or “v” for /va/. By analyzing the percent of /ba/ responses, we hope to discover the threshold at which English monolinguals and Spanish-English bilinguals begin to perceive /ba/ rather than /va/.

Claudia Hernandez-Chavez

Program: CAMP

Major: Biological Sciences with an emphasis in Molecular and Cellular Biology

Contact: chernandez229@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Juris Grasis, PhD

 
Evolutionary Blooming of RNAi
 
Claudia Hernandez-Chavez Juris Grasis, Ph.D; School of Natural Sciences, University of California, Merced
 
The innate immune system is a primary defense against pathogens. By utilizing comparative genomic techniques and analyzing the genomes of animals on the basis of evolution, we aim to identify the antiviral genes and evolutionary relationships in these animals. More specifically, to prove that innate antiviral genes like RNAi have existed since the precambrian era and have been present in basic organisms such as Choanoflagellates and Placozoas. RNAi is able to recognize RNA molecules and neutralize targeted viral RNA molecules, therefore inhibiting their expression. It is also responsible for the mediation of the RNA- induced silencing complex (RISC) a process that is essential to gene regulation and as our defense against viral infections. The components of RNAi that will be further examined via comparative genomics (Orthofinder and IQTree) include Dicer (responsible for the activation of RISC), Argonaute (controls binding of miRNA, siRNA, and piwi-RNA), and Aubergine (which is the scaffolding protein that holds the process together). Through the anticipated understanding of their phylogeny, we will provide a better understanding of how innate immune systems work and function in Basal metazoans. Ultimately, this information can be applied as a basis of understanding for the innate immune systems of larger vertebrate animals, such as Homo sapiens, upon further exploration.

Noah Huerta

Program: SOAR

Major: Biological Sciences with an emphasis in Molecular and Cellular Biology

Contact: nhuerta6@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Katrina Hoyer, PhD

 
Evolutionary Blooming of RNAi
 
Noah Huerta  Christi Waer, Katrina Hoyer, Ph.D; School of Natural Sciences, University of California, Merced
 
Autoimmune diseases are the third most common disease in the United States and arise following the breakdown of the immune system’s tolerance control mechanisms. These mechanisms suppress autoreactive immune cells that recognize and may destroy host tissues as opposed to pathogens. These mechanisms include anergy, autoreactive cell dysfunction, senescence, cell ageing resulting in cell-cycle arrest, and exhaustion, upregulation of inhibitors of T cell activation. Our lab has shown that a population of CXCR5+CD8+ cells upregulate inhibitory receptors that are associated with tolerance during autoimmune disease, but the cause of this upregulation and how it contributes to autoimmune disease progression remains uncertain. To investigate this, the expression of tolerance control mechanisms was evaluated on the CXCR5+CD8+ T cell population during three stages of autoimmune development. I hypothesize that the immune system will use exhaustion to control autoimmune disease during later stages of autoimmunity as other mechanisms such as anergy and senescence fail . To test this, MRL/lpr cells were collected from lymph nodes and spleens at 2, 4 and 6 months which correspond with stages of autoimmune development. These cells were stained for markers of exhaustion, anergy and senescence and then analyzed using the LSR2 flow cytometer. The results of these experiments will show which tolerance mechanisms are being used and how they change as the autoimmune disease progresses.

Shairy Jimenez Delgado

Program: SURF STEM

Major: Cognitive Science with minors in Philosophy and Psychology

Contact: sjimenezdelgado@ucmerced.edu

Faculty Mentors: Colin Holbrook, PhD

 
Morality, Context Effects, and Causal Attribution in Seoul and Los Angeles
 
Shairy Jimenez Delgado Colin Holbrook, Ph.D; School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, Merced
 
Previous work on moral judgment suggests that harmful transgressions are condemned to a lesser degree when occurring far off in either space or time, or when local authorities countenance such acts, in a pattern termed moral parochialism. Here, we replicate moral parochialism in a previously untested society, South Korea, and extend previous work by assessing appraisals of the causes of immoral actions. Participants in Los Angeles and Seoul evaluated the wrongness of a series of transgressions, first at baseline and then under contexts of i) spatial distance, ii) temporal distance, or iii) authority consent. In addition to judgments of relative wrongness, participants also rated the extent to which the harmful transgressions were caused by malevolent individuals (i.e., the harmful agent) versus holistic factors (i.e., the overall situation). The results broadly replicated prior findings: transgressions committed far away, long ago, or with authority consent were deemed less wrong in both societies. There were also notably large, highly significant differences between societies with respect to causal attribution. Although participants in both societies evaluated the harmful acts as comparable in wrongness, Korean participants rated immoral transgressions to be attributable to external situational factors to a greater extent than did American participants. These cultural differences in the perceived causal roots of harmful transgressions may promote competing intuitions about societal remedies for immoral and/or criminal behavior.

Kenny Jung

Program: SURF STEM

Major: Computer Science and Engineering

Contact: kjung10@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Erica Rutter, PhD

 
Building a Deep Learning Model to Classify Abnormal Fingers
 
Kenny Jung Erica Rutter, PhD; School of Natural Sciences, University of California, Merced
 
Medical professionals and radiologists work strenuously to take medical images for fracture diagnoses. Due to technological advancements, we can build a convolutional neural network that takes in images of a patient’s finger and determine whether it is normal or abnormal (broken fingers or fingers with pins). We used Stanford’s musculoskeletal radiographs (MURA) dataset as it includes both abnormal fingers and healthy fingers, making it compatible for image classification. We will use several architectures such as AlexNet or ResNet and compare each of the results. We expect accuracy on par with diagnoses from medical professionals.

Kyndra Kiser

Program: SURF SSHA

Major: Cognitive Science

Contact: kkiser@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Adam Croom, PhD

 
Slang is Lit: An Examination of Words with Dictionary and Slang Definitions
 
Kyndra Kiser Adam Croom, PhD; School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, Merced
 
Slang is typically known as out-of-dictionary words that come up - and die out - much quicker than formal language. Previous research has compiled data connecting age with the frequency of slang usage. However, there has not been enough research done on how people of different ages define different words. Furthermore, no studies have been done in recent times to give an accurate reflection of definitions of words and their correlation to a person's age. As a result, this leaves a large gap on the question of how people of different ages define slang words. This research looks to find differences in definitions of words that are formally defined as well as informally defined (that is, have a slang definition). After searching traditional and slang dictionaries, as well as modern corpora such as movies, podcasts, and online articles, results seem to suggest that words can have multiple meanings, and factors such as age influence understanding of these words. This study provides details of how these words are used in various contexts as well as highlight the common meanings of words between age groups.

Esperanza Lemus

Program: UROC-H

Major: Sociology and Spanish Minor

Contact: elemus5@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Paul Almeida, PhD

 
Mobilizing for Climate Justice in the Central California Reegion
 
Esperanza Lemus Paul Almeida, PhD; School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, Merced
 
This study establishes the links between environmental justice struggles and climate justice in Central California as well as works to identify the greatest environmental and climate justice related accomplishment within the given time frame. As the Central California Region is significantly impacted by air pollution, fracking, and toxic power plants, the investigation suggests that the mobilization will be heavily concentrated in areas that are impacted by these issues- in the same manner, the greatest accomplishments will be found in the cities who have been the most impacted or mobilized by environmental movements. The Central California region is much less densely populated in comparison to the Northern and Southern urban areas of California which reflects the limited amount of literature that addresses the social movements that occur within it. The investigation uses the method of protest event analysis with a coding of newspapers between 2000 and 2014 for environmental justice and climate justice events to demonstrates trends in environmental movement mobilization over time and across geographic space. The study employed protest event analysis and policy outcomes methodology. Protest event analysis is a form of content analysis that codes newspaper reports for collective action events (Almeida 2019). A sample of environmental protest events was used in the final analysis. Additionally, the study examines climate policy outcomes at the local level by identifying links between environmental movements and community control of energy distribution and costs for consumers at the county level. Ultimately, the research defines trends that occur over the past 20 years that are directly affecting the Central California and how the mobilization of community members and organizers has cued legislative change at the local level. The data demonstrates not only a positive correlation between community mobilization and legislative policy implementation but also the importance of community advocacy in the process of acquiring movement generated policy success.

Samuel Leventini

Program: SURF STEM

Major: Mechanical Engineering

Contact: sleventini@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Ashlie Martini, PhD

 
Sensing the World Around You
 
Samuel Levintini Ashlie Martini, PhD; School of Engineering, University of California, Merced
 
Throughout testing where oxygen levels may be compromised such as in a confined lab room, it is imperative to develop a program that ensures the safety of those in the enclosed area. Rewriting and formulating this script allows us to add or remove functions that may be necessary in the future with operating the sensor the code is designed for. Our objective is to create a more user-friendly Python script to run the oxygen sensor by anyone in the testing room. In order to achieve this, the group removed unnecessary parts of the script (such as pressure readings which are not currently needed), which was from Liudr’s Blog, developed and copyrighted by Dr. John Liu, and made a more user-friendly code, as well as printing out recorded levels of oxygen and temperature in the form of a graph that can be copied at the end of the program. In conclusion, after rewriting, removing, and running the script, the Python code was successfully shaped to display the current oxygen level and a graph of the recorded measurements.

Kristal Lizarraga

Program: CAMP

Major: Bioengineering

Contact: klizarraga2@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: David Torres-Rouff, PhD

 
Historic Places Merced: Digital Preservation and the Significance of Architectural Styles in Merced History Using Exploratory Data
 
Kristal Lizarraga David Torres-Rouff, PhD; School of Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, Merced
 
Digital preservation of city history generates appreciation in how shifting demographics and architecture lead to its current state. In collaboration with the project, Historic Places Merced, there is an on-going analysis with data collected from the previous historic building survey. By using R, we can generate graphical data. I intend to study the evolution of architecture styles over the course of 100 years. By understanding Merced’s built environment, through exploratory data analysis, I can extract patterns of emerging styles. Thus, we can appreciate the development of the city and its significance in relation to identity of different buildings in the built environment. By observing the evolution of architectural styles of buildings in Merced, this provides an opportunity to study and understand when they were implemented over time and promote awareness for digital preservation of historical buildings.

Bianca Lopez Munoz

Program: UROC-H

Major: English

Contact: blopezmunoz@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Yehuda Sharim, PhD

 
"Letters2Maybe": a film archiving refugee and immigrant testimonies
 
Bianca Lopez Munoz Yehuda Sharim, PhD; School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, Merced
 
Letters2Maybe is a multi-media project that aims to bridge art and health to bring visibility to immigrant communities often pushed to the sidelines in mainstream media in the USA. Over the last two years, through an intimate collaboration with local activists across the Central Valley, shedding light on quotidian challenges. Our aim is to take these testimonies and put them together to make a film, Letters2Maybe, and show the level of instability, complex challenges, and resilience faced by immigrant communities. The outcome of this project will be a film and scholarly work, detailing the experiences of these underrepresented communities and how those experiences should make us rethink public policy, health, and vulnerable communities.

Calista Lum

Program: SURF STEM

Major: Physics

Contact: clum1@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors:  Sayantani Ghosh, PhD

 
The data mining analysis of electrosprayed perovskite solar cell literature from 2010-2020
 
Calista Lum Sayantani Ghosh, PhD; School of Natural Sciences, University of California, Merced
 
Monitoring past and current parameters used for the creation of perovskite solar cells is imperative in the development of more efficient and effective solar cell creation and implementation. Over time the perovskite cell efficiency (PCE) of solar cells has increased to almost 27%, however by monitoring the changing parameters used we can isolate key correlations and parameters to increase overall device lifetime and PCE. By using online tools to pull data from various papers we are able to gather parameters on perovskites solar cells over the span of multiple years. Such data includes but is not limited to, PVSK material, temperature, humidity, etc. We were also able to extract data from SEM images and graphs with MATLAB. These graphs, the consequent conclusions, and correlations are included in this paper. Data mining will help us isolate key factors in reaching maximum efficiency perovskites solar cells thus helping us set more effective parameters for the creation of future solar cells.

Lyzzette Melgoza

Program: SURF SSHA

Major: Cognitive Science

Contact: lmelgoza@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Kristina C. Backer, PhD

 
Speech-to-Song Illusion in Spanish-English Bilinguals and English Monolinguals
 
Lyzzette Melgoza Dylan M. Richardson, Alejandra Santoyo, Zunaira Iqbal, Kristina C. Backer, PhD; School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, Merced
 
Music and Speech are used frequently in our everyday lives. Despite the impression that speech and music are distinct forms of auditory stimuli, Deutsch et al. (2011) found that an unedited, spoken phrase repeated in close succession will eventually be heard as sung and named this phenomenon the Speech-to-Song Illusion. In this study, we look to replicate and extend the research done by Margulis et al. (2015), in which they find that English monolinguals experience a stronger Speech-to-Song Illusion in languages that are more difficult to pronounce than English. Using the CLEARPOND database (Marian et al., 2012), we generated a high- and low- frequency list of words in English and Spanish. The participants used a 5-point Likert scale to rate the stimuli “sounds exactly like speech” and “sounds exactly like singing” after hearing the list once and again after 9 repetitions. We expect our findings to coincide with Margulis et al. (2015), and have the Spanish-English bilinguals experience a less robust Speech-to-Song Illusion because of their experience with both languages, than English monolinguals who will have a more robust illusion effect when listening to the Spanish stimuli.

Kimberly Meraz

Program: SURF STEM

Major: Chemistry

Contact: kmeraz2@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Jennifer Hahn-Holbrook, PhD

 
Infant Food Security During COVID-19
 
Kimberly Meraz Jessica A. Marino, BA, Jennifer Hahn-Holbrook, PhD; School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, Merced
 
In previous natural disasters we know that infants are a vulnerable group that often experience hunger. Young infants rely solely on breastmilk and formula for food, but we don’t know if there is a shortage of food for infants during COVID-19. Through this study we hope to determine whether families with infants under the age of 1 have experienced hunger or struggles getting basic necessities like formula milk and infant hygiene necessities. To do this, we conducted an online survey with 53 caregivers of infants under the age of 1 about how COVID-19 has affected the way they feed their baby. Our results showed that 30.3% of families and their infants have very low food security, of the people who get government aid 50% of them have very low food security and 43% of them are having trouble getting formula milk. These results suggest that there should be a limit on the number of items people can buy at the store to prevent hoarding, especially of government aid eligible items.

Yolanda Merino Salmerón

Program: SURF SSHA

Major: Public Health

Contact: ymerinosalmeron@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Denise Payán, PhD

 
Advocacy Approaches to Approve Mexico’s Junk Food Warning Labels Policy
 
Yolanda Merino Salmerón  Victoria Campos Gatica, Kesia Garibay, Susana Ramírez, PhD, Denise Payán, PhD; School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, Merced
 
Mexicans’ average annual consumption of 163 liters of soda per person is a major contributor to the country’s obesity and diabetes rates. In 2020, Mexico adopted front-of-package warning labels to facilitate the individual’s healthy foods choice and also encourage companies to reformulate products to avoid warning labels. Prior policy efforts to control the “diabesity” epidemic led by public health advocates were opposed by industry, which manufactured controversy. STUDY AIM: The purpose of this research is to identify key events and advocacy approaches used to advance food labeling policy. METHODS: Timeline construction of key events leading to the approval of the warning labels policy. Quantitative content analysis of news articles (N=379) retrieved from four high-circulation Mexican newspapers. RESULTS: In 2010, federal officials recognized the growing diabesity epidemic and created a national agreement. Policy-centered approaches to curve consumption of sugary beverages includes the sugary-sweetened beverage tax. Prior efforts at labeling were co-opted by industry but proven ineffective; this evidence provided opportunity for new, evidence-based labels. Coverage of the policy in Mexican newspapers was primarily news (94%), with some opinion (2%) by industry (25%) and advocates (16%). Industry opposition to the labels focused on negative economic impacts and the lack of scientific evidence for their use. DISCUSSION: Findings may help advocates identify turning points to introduce a similar policy and anticipate industry arguments.

Vernice Montes

Program: CAMP

Major: Cognitive Science

Contact: vmontes3@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Christopher T. Kello, PhD

 
Search Agents Affect How Humans Perform Social Foraging
 
Verenice I. Montes Daniel S. Schloesser, and Christopher T. Kello, PhD; School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, Merced
 
Social foraging can consist of a group of the same species trying to search collectively, with potential benefits for both the individuals and the group. The collective effort each individual provides benefits the whole group. Social foraging is a success for complex species because they are able to act dependently or independently by being loosely coupled. This study aims to build upon existing literature by observing a single human player’s behavior while interacting alongside nine other loosely coupled simulated agents. We aim to manipulate the visual range the other simulated agents can see across trials. By manipulating the visual range of the simulated agents, we hypothesize that the human player will interact with the simulated agents dependent upon their visual range. Our preliminary findings suggest that an individual interacts differently with the group, depending on how much information that group has. More data needs to be collected, however these initial findings suggest that depending on how much information a group has, an individual may interact differently with that group, and that this relation may be time dependent.

Jose Morales

Program: SOAR

Major: Mechanical Engineering

Contact: jmorales117@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Ashlie Martini, PhD

 
MATLAB Applications on Tribology Data Analysis
 
Jose Morales Azhar Vellore, MS, Ashlie Martini, PhD; School of Engineering, University of California, Merced
 
Tribology is the science that studies friction, wear, and lubrication between moving surfaces. A key instrument within tribology, the tribometer, is essential in finding many important system properties, such as wear rate and coefficient of friction. A tribometer can provide accurate and precise information about the different system properties for a given material, which is very useful for learning how to optimize energy efficiency, resistance, and durability. Tribometers need a specific software designed to collect data from a test. The process consists of selecting a material and running the test with the tribometer. Next, all the information (depth, load, and friction) is sent to the software so that a graph can be displayed. However, the data displayed tends to be very noisy. Fortunately, by using MATLAB (a programming platform used for numerical analysis, etc.), all the data provided by the tribometer’s software can be processed to obtain a cleaner visualization of results after performing a test. All the information is uploaded to MATLAB, where it is processed to reduce the noise and simplify the correlation between the components in the graph. After completing the process, the MATLAB graph will show the generated results so that they can be analyzed and reported, allowing engineers to better determine the system properties of the material tested.

Gabriel Nguyentran

Program: SOAR

Major: Cognitive Science

Contact: gnguyentran@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Rose M. Scott, PhD

 
The Relationship Between Socioeconomic Status and Parental Mental-State Language
 
Gabriel T. Nguyentran James Z. Sullivan, & Rose M. Scott, PhD; School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, Merced
 
False-belief understanding, the ability to recognize that others can be mistaken, plays an important role in everyday social interactions. Previous studies have shown a positive correlation between SES and children’s performance on traditional tests of false-belief understanding (Devine & Hughes, 2018). One possibility is that this relationship stems from differences in parental mental-state talk. Mental-state language – words that refer to thoughts, desires, and feelings – positively predicts children’s performance on several types of false-belief tasks (Roby & Scott, 2018). However, previous research has focused largely on parents of higher-SES, making it unclear whether similar language patterns emerge in lower-SES families. Our study hopes to clarify any socioeconomic differences in parental mental-state talk. For this study, a socioeconomically diverse sample of parents completed a picture-book task with their children (27 to 39 months). Parent-talk was coded for percentage of utterances that contained cognition, desire, or emotion terms. As children got older, parents began to use less emotion terms and more cognition terms, regardless of SES. However, parents of higher-SES used more cognition terms overall. These preliminary results suggest that parent-talk does differ across SES, which in turn, could explain why there are sociocognitive differences in false-belief understanding.

Jessica Olivas

Program: UROC-H

Major: Anthropology

Contact: jolivas5@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: David Torres-Rouff, PhD

 
Merced Chinatown: Gone and Forgotten
 
Jessica Olivas David Torres-Rouff, PhD; School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, Merced
 
As the Central Valley began to develop, immigrants from all over the world started to move into the region, this included Chinese immigrants searching for land and work. The Chinese immigrants were not welcomed though, instead the city shunned them and thus Chinatown was born. This study is being conducted as the Chinese who came to Merced were disregarded and the home they had made in Merced demolished. Through using maps of Merced that date between the late 1800s until now, this allowed for maps to be more accurately depicted and show the way that the city has transformed. This was an issue that originally existed as there was concern for the way that the the maps would be reflective on one another and how much would not correspond. In future explorations this will then be used as a building block to locating residencies of the community and highlighting where major businesses existed.

Breanna Paredes

Program: CAMP

Major: Bioengineering

Contact: bparedes2@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Chih-Wen Ni, PhD

 
Incorporation of Nuclear Localization Signal with Integrase to Improve Gene Insertion Efficiency in Zebrafish
 
Breanna Paredes Chang-Ying Chiang, PhD, and Chih-Wen Ni, PhD; School of Engineering, University of California, Merced
 
Integrase (IN) is an enzyme that is known to integrate viral DNA into a host cell genome and can be used for gene therapy purposes. The most efficient gene therapy method is to use a viral vector with a transgene that will induce transgenesis, however there are safety concerns of using a viral vector which could possibly trigger an immune response of the host. Previous work has shown that delivering a specially designed transgene cassette with IN can successfully execute gene integration. This was done by creating a non-viral vector with two truncated long terminal response sequences and IN. One limitation is that it removes most of the viral components during the process that could mitigate the insertion efficiency compared to the native virus. To improve the integration efficiency, we hypothesize that adding a nuclear localization signal (NLS) to IN can facilitate nuclear localization of IN and further increase the gene insertion efficiency. We plan to construct several variants of plasmids that include different NLS sequences fused to IN at the N-terminus, C-terminus, or both ends, and will be injected into zebrafish embryos to test the efficiency of stable gene insertion. We expect adding extra NLS to IN can improve integration efficiency and produce a safe non-viral gene therapy method that can potentially treat genetic diseases.

Amy Pimentel

Program: SURF SSHA

Major: Public Health

Contact: apimentel@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors:  Andrea L. Joyce, PhD

 
Environmental and Sociological Risk Factors Associated with Dengue Fever in Guatemala
 
Amy Y. Pimentel Andrea L. Joyce, PhD; School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, Merced
 
Dengue Fever is a tropical disease that can be transmitted by the mosquito Aedes aegypti. There is no cure for dengue disease, and the current vaccine is not widely accessible. The identification of risk factors associated with dengue virus is crucial for researchers to direct prevention for those who do not have access to the vaccine. Few studies have been conducted on risk factors for dengue in Central America, a region where both mosquitos and dengue occur year-round. This study investigates environmental and socio-economic factors associated with dengue risk in Guatemala, Central America, at the department (state) level. Environmental factors include rainfall and temperature. Socioeconomic factors include population density, job employment, and literacy. Results will present the incidence of dengue, and the mean incidence of dengue per department per year. The QGIS system is used to create maps to demonstrate the covariance between mean cases and our chosen factors. Furthermore, results will include presenting the environmental factor(s) and the socioeconomic factor(s) that are the strongest predictors of dengue cases. Results are compared to those from surrounding countries and discussed. Considering the paucity of studies on dengue risk factors in Guatemala, this study highlights much needed focus, prevention, and control efforts to reduce this illness in Central America.

Julianna Porraz

Program: CAMP

Major: Enironmental Engineering

Contact: jporraz@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Colleen C. Naughton, PhD

 
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic Impacts on Air Pollution in Rural and Urban California
 
Julianna Porraz  Colleen C. Naughton, PhD; School of Engineering, University of California, Merced
 
Pollutants like Ground-level Ozone (O3) and Particulate Matter 2.5 (PM2.5) are associated with poor air quality and are linked to negative health effects particularly for low-income and minority populations. During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, shelter-in-place orders were enacted across California on March 19, 2020 to contain the spread of the virus, thus leading to substantially lower O3 and PM2.5 emissions in urban regions with less emissions from transportation. Most researchers have focused on air pollution in cities. There is a need to analyze COVID-19 shelter-in-place impacts on air pollution in rural areas compared to urban areas. Rural areas may not have as drastic of a reduction in air pollution from shelter-in-place orders given less traffic congestion and continued agricultural cultivation and associated emissions. However, urban area pollution still spreads to rural areas. Data was obtained from the Air Quality and Meteorological Information System (AQMIS2) through the California Air Resources Board (CARB). Statistical analysis, Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) and Kruskal-Wallis test were performed in RStudio to see if there was a statistically significant difference in O3 and PM2.5 levels compared to previous years within the San Joaquin Valley (SJV) and compared to urban areas. The results indicate there is a difference in the rural SJV in comparison to urban regions. Air quality data should be further monitored and analyzed to determine sustained impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on air quality in rural and urban areas in under resourced communities.

Tea Pusey

Program: SURF SSHA

Major: Sociology, Minor in Natural Sciences Education and Psychology

Contact: tpusey@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Petra Kranzfelder, PhD

 
Analyzing Teaching Practices Among STEM Instructors of a Hispanic-Serving Institution
 
Téa S. Pusey Jourjina Alkhouri, Petra Kranzfelder, PhD; School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, Merced
 
Educators have long debated what instructional practices are most engaging when teaching STEM courses. Previous research suggests that a “student-centered” pedagogy is the most effective approach, however, little research has been done at Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs). Research has also shown that people who have been excluded based on their ethnicity/race (PEERs) leave STEM at much higher rates than non-PEER students. This study aims to discover the pedagogical patterns at one mid-size, research-intensive HSI, and whether they take a student-centered approach to STEM instruction. We used the Classroom Observation Protocol for Undergraduate Studies (COPUS) data tool to examine the teaching and learning practices in STEM courses. We analyzed 36 instructors' pedagogical behaviors among 74 class sessions. To do this, we collapsed 23 COPUS codes into four codes: 1) Presenting, 2) Guiding, 3) Administering, and 4) Other. Next, we examined the code frequency among the two-minute intervals, as well as the code frequency among all the codes in the class session. We predict that instructors are mostly lecturing, which is not considered a “student-centered” approach. Based on our results, we demand a “call of action” for HSI instructors to adapt active learning in their classrooms. Additionally, the results of this research could be used to help create a training program for faculty on how to create a “student-centered” classroom.

Tanner Ragan

Program: UC LEADS

Major: Mechanical Engineering

Contact: tragan@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Ashlie Martini, PhD

 
Tribological Effects of Varied Operating Conditions on Pressure and Film Thickness
 
Tanner David Ragan Ashlie Martini, PhD; School of Engineering, University of California, Merced
 
Information of the tribological behavior of a mechanical system can be extracted by capturing its pressure and film thickness distribution. Effects such as friction and wear can be obtained for design considerations on components such as gears and bearings. However, pressure and film thickness are variables that primarily depend on operating conditions such as flow speed and load. A numerical simulation will be applied using the Python coding program for efficient calculations that will provide an overview of how independent factors will affect tribological properties. The numerical model generally simulates a lubricant flowing between a ball and a flat surface. Ultimately, maximum pressure and minimum film thickness are plotted against conditions including the modulus of elasticity, flow speed, and/or load. This simulation will provide more insight on the effects of the operating conditions in the tribological system which will then be used for future investigation.

Kyle Rekedeal

Program: SOAR

Major: Biological Sciences with an emphasis in Molecular and Cellular Biology

Contact: krekedal@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Chris T. Amemiya, PhD

 
Tribological Effects of Varied Operating Conditions on Pressure and Film Thickness
 
Kyle L. Rekedal  Khan MA Hassan, and Chris T. Amemiya, PhD; School of Natural Sciences, University of California, Merced
 
It has been previously reported that agnathans, for example, lampreys and hagfish, possess a unique adaptive immune system which produces single chain protein effector molecules consisting of leucine rich repeats, or LRRs. These molecules, termed Variable Lymphocyte Receptors (VLRs), are selected polyclonally in response to immunization of the lamprey with proteins, oligosaccharides, and whole cells. In Petromyzon marinus, the VLR has been demonstrated to serve as an antigen-specific alternative to Immunoglobulin (Ig) for use in various immunological applications. Due to those findings, we hypothesized that that due to the conservation of VLR across several families of Petromyzontiformes that a local species of lamprey, Lampetra hubbsi, would also possess the VLR and could serve as an advantageous alterative to P. marinus for VLR generation. Lampetra hubbsi from the Kings River, California, was previously characterized by sequencing the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene. Lampreys were obtained from the Kings River, and after sequencing cytochrome b gene, our collected specimens were found to be identical to that in L. hubbsi. Accordingly, VLR RNA transcripts were isolated from the species and expressed in E. coli. The molecules were unique and showed a high homology among themselves and with those in the non-redundant database. Furthermore, immunohistochemistry performed on microscopic sections of L. hubbsi ammocoetes showed presence of VLRB proteins in the kidneys of both adult and ammocoete specimens. Discovery of VLRB in the kidneys confirms that L. hubbsi produce some form of VLR protein. Due to the presence of VLR in microscopic sections, our next steps will be to immunize L. hubbsi against antigens of interest to confirm whether we can generate functional Ag-specific VLR from L. hubbsi.

Gisselle Reyes

Program: SURF SSHA

Major: Public Health

Contact: greyes34@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Andrea L. Joyce, PhD

 
Environmental and Socioeconomic Factors Associated with Dengue Fever Transmission By Aedes Aegypti In Honduras
 
Gisselle B. Reyes Eunis Hernandez, Ryan Torres, Andrea L. Joyce, PhD; School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, Merced
 
Dengue a virus transmitted by Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes has become widespread in humid tropical regions. Dengue remains a problem in many tropical countries as more than 100 countries and millions of people being infected and become ill yearly. There is a vaccine that has been developed, but it is not yet widely adopted. In order to help prevent future dengue cases, it is important to understand where most of these cases occur, as well as the factors associated with said cases. This study investigates dengue cases in the Central American, country of Honduras. We will examine the environmental and socioeconomic factors associated with dengue at the municipality level. Environmental factors include precipitation and temperature, while socioeconomic factors include population density, income, and education. The incidence of dengue per municipality will be determined and compared to the incidence in other countries within Central America. We will also determine which environmental and socioeconomic factors are the strongest predictors of dengue cases. We hope the findings of this study can be of help on how to better prevent cases of dengue in Honduras.

Dylan Richardson

Program: SURF SSHA

Major: Psychology

Contact: drichardson4@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Kristina C. Backer, PhD

 
The Speech-to-Song Illusion Word Frequency Effect
 
Dylan M. Richardson Lyzzette A. Melgoza, Alejandra Santoyo, Zunaira Iqbal, Kristina C. Backer, PhD; School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, Merced
 
Repetition of normal speech induces a change in auditory perception. Previous research has discovered a “speech-to-song illusion” in which spoken phrases heard once are perceived as speech, while the same phrases repeated ten times are perceived as being sung (Deutsch et al., 2011). More recent research has found that the speech-to-song illusion is more robust when the perceived speech is spoken in a language that is difficult for native English speakers to pronounce (Margulis et al., 2015). In the current study, we delve into a gap in research and investigate the effect word frequency in the English language has on the speech-to-song illusion. Specifically, do frequently occurring words decrease the strength of the speech-to-song illusion? This study also examines word frequency in the Spanish language among Spanish-English bilinguals to investigate the potential generalization of the word frequency effect across languages. Using PsychoPy, a Python programming software, participants are presented with auditory stimuli that include English or Spanish words with high and low word frequency ratings. We expect high frequency words to diminish the speech-to-song illusion and low frequency words to enhance the illusion. These results will provide novel information about how word frequency interacts with the speech-to-song illusion and is valuable to understanding the narrow boundary between language and music in the human brain.

Maria Solorio Lopez

Program: SURF SSHA

Major: Public Health

Contact: msoloriolopez@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Karina Diaz Rios, PhD, RD

 
Scaling-up a Nutrition Education Intervention for Parents with Young Children: Phase 1 Asset Mapping
 
Maria G. Solorio Lopez Karina Diaz Rios, PhD, RD; School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, Merced
 
Malnutrition and food insecurity can limit the ability of low-income families and disadvantaged communities to secure quality food for a healthy diet. According to the California Food Policy Advocates, in Merced County, California 43% of children in low-income families have experienced food insecurity. Since children under the age of five are vulnerable to poor health outcomes and malnutrition and parents and caregivers are often responsible for providing the food environment to their children, it is crucial to have nutrition education interventions that target parents with young children to help mitigate these effects. Healthy Kids is a nutrition education program developed and formative-tested with parents eligible for food assistance in Northern California. We will explore the need for and feasibility of implementing Healthy Kids in the local community through two phases. In phase one, we are mapping community assets that provide services to families with young children, including public, private, and non- profit organizations. The results of phase one will help identify local entities that offer nutrition educational services. To date, information (e.g. name, location, funding type, clientele, services, director or contact) from a total of eight local organizations has been compiled via Microsoft Excel. In phase two, we will interview the stakeholders identified to assess their perceived need for a nutrition education program such as Healthy Kids in Merced County, and the feasibility of offering this program to their clientele. The results of phase two are to be determined.

Alexandra Stone-Macias

Program: SURF SSHA

Major: Interdisciplinary Humanities

Contact: astone-macias@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: David Torres-Rouff, PhD

 
Accessibility and Role of Churches Within Merced Neighborhoods
 
Alexandra Stone-Macias Anais Guillem, David Torres-Rouff, PhD; School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, Merced
 
While collecting data on the number of public service buildings in Merced, approximately 59 churches were identified in Merced via Google Maps search results. Comparatively, 24 schools and 18 community clinics were also counted using Google Maps, suggesting a predominance of churches within the city of Merced. This study seeks to investigate the role of churches in Merced neighborhoods through resident attitudes on the accessibility of churches and the memories attached to these churches. Neighborhood delineation within this study uses resident perceptions and mental mapping. Resident attitudes regarding neighborhood boundaries, the proximity of public service buildings in relation to neighborhoods, and the experiences and memories attached to churches in Merced are collected using interviews and examined using thematic coding analysis. By examining the role of churches in Merced’s community and the significance behind their predominance, it is possible to not only examine how these factors contribute to Merced’s social identity, but future steps can be taken to bridge the gap between the City of Merced and UC Merced through church-based programs or activities.

Edward Sukarto

Program: SURF STEM

Major: Biological Sciences with an emphasis in Molecular and Cellular Biology

Contact: esukarto@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors:  Clarissa J. Nobile, PhD

 
Analysis of RNA-Sequencing Data Methods to Understand Quorum Sensing in Candida albicans
 
Edward Sukarto Deepika Gunasekaran, and Clarissa J. Nobile, PhD; School of Natural Sciences, University of California, Merced
 
RNA-Sequencing (RNA-Seq) is a technique used to determine the transcriptional profile of cells under specific conditions. Different methods exist to analyze RNA-Seq data, especially in terms of determining differentially expressed genes in the conditions of interest. We have found that RNA-Seq data using different RNA-Seq analysis methods has generated very different results in terms of the differentially expressed genes identified. The goal of my project is to understand the limitations of these different methods in identifying differentially expressed genes. We are comparing two widely used methods, DESeq2 and Limma, to determine the extent of the differences observed between the differentially expressed genes identified using the two tools. We are looking at differences in Log2 fold change values, adjusted P values, and CPM values, to understand the sensitivity and precision of the different tools. Our results are revealing the utility of these tools and identifying the best-practices for analyzing RNA-Seq data in the field. These findings are being applied to existing RNA-Seq data for Candida albicans in the presence of the quorum sensing compound, farnesol. Analysis of this RNA-seq data will lead to the identification of the transcriptional profile of C. albicans during exposure to farnesol. This work will ultimately shed new light on how cells of this important human fungal pathogen communicate with one another.

Kevin Teas

Program: UROC-H

Major: History and minor in Sociology

Contact: kteasaldana@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Sabrina Smith, PhD

 
Challenging Patriarchy and Gender Dynamics in 18th Century Colonial Mexico
 
Kevin A. Teas Aldana Sabrina Smith, PhD, History & CRES; School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, Merced
 
A growing scholarship on women in Colonial Latin America suggests that women’s mobility was not fully defined by patriarchy and Iberian expectations of gender and race. In fact, women in colonial Mexico took on important roles in the economy and often had dynamic lives. Although colonial women were particularly subject to domestic and sexual violence from their partners, many women, especially mixed-race and lower class, were able to take dynamic roles within their society. Women of all social backgrounds had roles that ranged from wives, cooks, weavers, to property owners, etc. Despite this, indigenous and mixed-race women who pertained to the lower social classes faced greater marginalization in colonial society. Similarly, lower-class and mixed-race women often struggled to culturally reassert their authority in response to state and Church oppression. These women, known as mujeres del mal vivir, were often targeted by the institutions such as the Holy Inquisition. This study builds upon the rapidly growing literature on women in Colonial Latin America. Through the critical analysis of the Inquisition case of Juana Maria Manzo from colonial Oaxaca, I argue that, despite the enforcement of patriarchal and state authority, women managed to live dynamic lives by cleverly evading gender and race norms.

Win Teavir

Program: UC LEADS

Major: Biological Sciences

Contact: wteavir@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Jing Xu, PhD

 
Simulation of Myosin Motor Protein and velocity factors
 
Win Teavir John Wilson, and Jing Xu, PhD; School of Natural Sciences, University of California, Merced
 
Kinesin is a motor protein that carries cargo from one end of the microtubule to the other. Mutation in these motor proteins can cause diseases such as Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Paraplegia, and Griscelli Syndrome. Kinesins accumulate on one cargo and work as a team to carry that cargo. The experiment started with a fixed amount of Kinesin but due to the complexity of the cell environment, quite a few variables can change the amount. For instance, the fluidity of the cargo membrane moves multiple kinesin that are tagged to its body which increases the probability that one of those kinesin will attach to a microtubule. After one attaches, it increases the chance for others to attach to the microtubule. A Monte Carlos simulation was run to see the effects of kinesin accumulation on the distance the cargo was carried. By understanding the impact of kinesin accumulation, it can be extrapolated to understand the role of lipid membranes.

Mary Valbaneda

Program: UROC-H

Major: Sociology

Contact: mvalbaneda@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Tanya Golash-Boza, PhD

 
Census Tract 21.02 | Kennedy Street | Washington, D.C.
 
Mary Valbaneda Tanya Golash-Boza, PhD; School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, Merced
 
Understanding gentrification requires looking at a neighborhood at different points in time. This project uses Census data, Google, Street View, and newspaper sources to tell the story of one Census tract in Washington, DC between 1930 and the present to analyze the extent to which it has been gentrified. Newspapers stories allow us to understand what events were important for the community. We also can perceive the racial demographics based on the advertisements and who their target audience is. It also allows us to see how less resources were provided to the community after the 1980’s, including a decrease in community events and public transportation systems. We begin to see a change of business ownerships with less people from the community owning their own family businesses as they did during the 1990’s. We see the cost of living increasing and illegal infrastructure being built so people can afford to live in this neighborhood after the recession that hit in the early 90’s. We use ArcGIS to create story maps and show gentrification over the years and be able to give our audience a virtual look of what gentrification looks like. The story map will also show racial demographics and how it changes once it is gentrified.

Daniel Valenzuela

Program: SURF STEM

Major: Chemistry

Contact: dvalenzueacahua@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Liang Shi, PhD

 
Investigating Thermal Effects on Organic Photovoltaic Material Morphologies from Molecular Simulations
 
Daniel Valenzuela Yue Yu, PhD, and Liang Shi, PhD; School of Natural Sciences, University of California, Merced
 
Organic photovoltaics provide a solution to the ever-increasing demand for electricity. It is an alternative option to the common silicon solar cells to provide energy in a cheap and nonpolluting way. The molecular morphology of the photovoltaics’ donor-acceptor interface region in a bulk heterojunction organic solar cell is critical for its performance. However, the morphology of this interface region can be largely affected by certain conditions such as the temperature, polymerization, or the mass ratio of the electron donator material to the electron acceptor material. In this research, a series of molecular dynamics simulations were performed, using the coarse-grained and all-atom models of a P3HT:PCBM molecular blend within the GROMACS software, to investigate the thermal effects of four different temperatures: 200 K, 250 K. 300 K, and 350 K, on the bulk heterojunction. Images of the model after simulation, density profiles, and the radial distribution functions of the oxygen-oxygen pair at each temperature were computed to describe the changes in bulk heterojunction structures due to temperature changes. We expect to find this structure to become more organized at low temperatures, and then continue to search for forthcoming investigations of other factors that affect the efficiency and morphology of the bulk heterojunction.

Alberto Valle

Program: CAMP

Major: Computer Science and Engineering

Contact: avalle6@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Anaïs Guillem

 
Image Acquisition and Segmentation of Historic Buildings in the City of Merced Using Automation and Convolutional Neural Network
 
Alberto Valle Anaïs Guillem; School of Engineering, University of California, Merced
 
Convolutional Neural Networks along with automation and scraping tools can accelerate the analysis and acquisition of large image datasets. These tools fit the needs to solve the main challenge in understanding the preservation of an extensive list of historic buildings in Merced. Therefore, the Detectron2  pre-trained models and Selenium Webdriver and Jsoup libraries were used for the segmentation and acquisition of +2000 images from Google maps and real estate websites. This workflow resulted to provide great functionality in finding the changes in color, materials, and even the entire removal of a building. The final objective is to implement these findings in the Arches Heritage Platform for its curation and preservation for future research.

Michael Vang

Program: SOAR

Major: Public Health

Contact: mvang65@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Jennifer L. Howell, PhD

 
The Association Between Health Regulatory Focus and Responses to Physicians
 
Michael Vang Jacqueline Hua, MA, & Jennifer L. Howell, PhD; School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, Merced
 
Past research suggests that health regulatory focus may be related to how people perceive physicians. For example, people who are more promotion-focused visit their physician more often. In two studies, we examined whether health regulatory focus was related to positive affective responses to physicians. In Study 1, we recruited 524 undergraduates to complete an online survey in exchange for research credit. A bivariate correlation analysis revealed that being promotion-focused was positively related to positive affective responses to physicians, r(497)= .213, p < 0.01. Being prevention-focused was not related to affective responses to physicians, r(502)= .011, p= .812. In Study 2, we recruited 97 patients from a campus health center to complete an online survey in exchange for a gift card. As in Study 1, a bivariate correlation analysis revealed that being promotion-focused was positively related to positive affective responses to physicians, r(88)= .250, p = .019. However, being prevention-focused was not related to affective responses to physicians, r(88)= -.058, p= .592. Collectively, the results suggest that health regulatory focus may be an important factor in physician-patient relationships. Specifically, it may be worthwhile to encourage patients to be more promotion-focused as this might help them perceive their physician more positively.

Malia Vang

Program: UROC-H

Major: Sociology

Contact: mvang66@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors:  Tanya Golash-Boza, PhD

 
Formerly Incarcerated Individuals’ Narratives and Experiences on Reentry and the U.S. Criminal Justice System
 
Malia Vang Yajaira Ceciliano, MA, and Tanya Golash-Boza PhD,; School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, Merced
 
Ever since President Nixon’s declaration on the War on Drugs, the high incarceration rate of African Americans had been constantly increasing over the past five decades. This research project seeks to understand the effects incarceration and stigma have on formerly incarcerated individuals while also observing the U.S. criminal justice system’s exaggerated crime sentencing practices on marginalized communities, mainly African American communities. The study focused on interviews from 25 formerly incarcerated African American males in Washington, DC, and their experiences; ranging from employment, housing access, stigma, and other disparities. The complexity of incarceration and stigma tied together complicates these individuals’ situations as they reintegrate back into society. Their reentry narratives are significant to understanding how the criminal justice system’s sentencing practices are disparate and how stigma has significantly affected their reentry into society.

Nancy Ventura Martinez

Program: CAMP

Major: Human Biology

Contact: nventuramartinez@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Jing Xu, PhD

 
Understanding SARS-CoV-2 through Biophysical and Biochemical Perspectives
 
Nancy Ventura Martinez Jing Xu, PhD; School of Natural Sciences, University of California, Merced
 
In the wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, much information is still yet to be understood about SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19. In order to develop effective treatment against SARS-CoV-2, biophysical and biochemical aspects of the virus are essential to understand. Two of the non-structural proteins encoded by SARS-CoV-2, RNA dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp) and the viral helicase, have been shown to play a significant role in viral replication. By reviewing biophysical and biochemical literature on these proteins, as well as that of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the potential impact of inhibiting RdRp and the viral helicase has been inferred. Since these proteins play a significant role in viral genome replication and transcription, the consequence of targeting RdRp and viral helicase can impact the overall viral replication and thus be effective drug targets.

Gabriel Viramontes

Program: CAMP, SOAR

Major: Biological Sciences with an emphasis in Ecology and Evolution

Contact: gviramontes@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Clarissa J. Nobile, PhD

 
Identification of Transcription Factors regulating CaspoFungin induced Flocculation
 
Gabriel Viramontes Craig. L. Ennis, & Clarissa J. Nobile, PhD; School of Natural Sciences, University of California, Merced
 
Candida albicans is a commensal of the human and also the most common human fungal pathogen. Changes to the host immune system, pH, and microbiota can lead to C. albicans overgrowth, causing life-threatening, disseminated infections. One treatment for invasive Candida infections is the commonly prescribed drug Caspofungin. This drug treats the infection via the inhibition of b-(1,3)-D-glucan synthesis, causing fungal cell wall repair to halt, resulting in cell death. Interestingly, C. albicans yeast cells will flocculate, tightly adhering to one another, in response to Caspofungin treatment. We hypothesize that flocculation is a fungal stress response that increases C. albicans resistance and survival to Caspofungin, and that this phenomenon is regulated by several transcription factors. We took a forward genetic screening approach using a transcription factor (TF) deletion mutant library to identify TFs with altered abilities to flocculate. Thus far, we have identified that deletion of transcription factors EFG1, FLO8, CAS5, ACE2, AHR1,SUT1, and BCR1, all resulted in aberrant flocculation after exposure to Caspofungin. Based on these results, we are beginning to mechanistically understand the regulation of this drug response at the molecular level. In the future, this work has the potential to lead to the development of new therapeutic solutions against pathogenic fungi.

Tomas Virgen

Program: CAMP

Major: Physics with an emphasis in Mathematical Physics

Contact: tvirgen2@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Arnold Kim, PhD

 
Time-Dependent Scattering By A Sound-Hard Sphere
 
Tomas Virgen Arnold Kim, PhD; School of Natural Sciences, University of California, Merced
 
Time-dependent scattering in three dimensions is a difficult mathematical problem to solve analytically and numerically. Analytical solutions obtained using the method of separation of variables are complicated, and numerical methods to solve this problem have challenges for computing solutions at long distances and long times. We seek a simple, effective, and efficient method to solve this problem based on the method of fundamental solutions. The specific case of a sound-hard sphere is considered in the context of acoustics.

Ying Wei Zhang

Program: UROC-H

Major: English

Contact: yzhang261@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Katherine S. Brokaw, PhD

 
Shakespeare and Ecodramaturgy: Utilizing Theatre for Ecological Change
 
Ying Wei Zhang Katherine S. Brokaw, PhD; School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, Merced
 
In the 21st century, ecological and political crises plague human society. During these troubled times, can we turn towards the arts, specifically theatre and Shakespeare, as a longstanding yet overlooked method of communication? How can we implement the performative arts to better our world, starting with our local communities—and possibly to save us from disaster? I argue that theatre and Shakespeare may inspire collaboration and be used as a force for addressing the ecological and political problems we face today. I provide a look at theatre and the Bard’s place in today’s world, its ability to create change, and its limitations. What can theatre do and not do for ourselves, our community, and the world? What might the future bring and demand of theatre? Methods I use include examination of literature on theatre’s usage in today’s world and Shakespeare’s place within this century; observation of my own participation in the building of the #EarthShakes Alliance; and analysis of interviews with theatre creatives from the United States and the United Kingdom. By providing an examination of potential possibilities and limitations of theatre, I demonstrate theatre and Shakespeare as vehicles of progress, especially in the pursuit of community-oriented action.

Demitrius Zulevic

Program: SURF STEM

Major: Mechanical Engineering & Physics

Contact: dzulevic@ucmerced.edu 

Faculty Mentors: Sayantani Ghosh, PhD

 
Perovskite Solar Cells: Effective Fabrication Techniques and Materials
 
Demitrius B. Zulevic Samuel Erickson, William Delmas, and Sayantani Ghosh, PhD; School of Engineering, University of California, Merced
 
Solar cells are devices that can directly convert the energy of incoming photons into electricity. In the last decade, perovskite based solar cells have seen rapid improvement and continue to show great promise. There are many factors in solar cell fabrication that directly affect the solar cell’s overall efficiency. These factors include chemical composition of cell layers, perovskite grain characteristics, and fabrication conditions. Proper optimization of these attributes is essential in developing more effective solar cells. Over 200 papers relevant to solar cells were collected and their fabrication and performance data were extracted. Wherever there were figures that displayed important fabrication or performance data without explicit values, MATLAB algorithms were developed to extract the values. Furthermore, the data was analyzed through R with the intent to find correlations between solar cell properties and performances. We found that perovskite layer complexity is directly proportional to cell performance. Additionally, non-Spiro-OMeTAD hole transport layers seem to increase the stability of the cell. Through this correlation analysis, solar cells can now be further optimized to improve performances.