OURS Symposium

A virtual symposium for ASU Online student research. 

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in partnership with ASU Online-EdPlus is proud to host the inaugural Online Undergraduate Research Scholars (OURS) Poster Symposium on Friday, April 14, 2023.

All ASU Online undergraduates conducting research are invited to attend and present their work through this event, which will be held online via Gathertown. Students, faculty, friends and families are encouraged to register to attend. 

Date and time: April 14, 2023 | 1-4:45 p.m. Arizona time

Location: Online via Gathertown platform

Schedule of events:

  • Poster session | 1-2:15 p.m. Arizona time
  • Creating accessible learning panel discussion | 2:30-3:15 p.m. Arizona time
  • Poster session | 3:30-4:45 p.m. Arizona time

Register to attend.


Event details

Creating accessible learning panel discussion

Faculty panelists will discuss Arizona State University’s mission for educational access and how The College supports online degree programs.

Zoom link.

Panelist info

Ian Gould.
Ian Gould

President’s Professor, School of Molecular Sciences

Associate Dean of Online and Digital Initiatives, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Catherine O'Donnell.
Catherine O’Donnell

Professor, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies

Associate Director, Institute of Humanities Research

Ronald Dorn.
Ronald Dorn

Professor, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning

Student poster projects

All projects will be presented during both poster sessions. 

Gathertown link.

1 | The Role of Women During Times of Disparity: Analyzing Women in "The Grapes of Wrath" and "A Russian Journal"

Presenter: Marissa Martinez

John Steinbeck’s depiction of women in his works have enabled readers to understand the hardships women must endure in order to fully support their communities. The Grapes of Wrath and A Russian Journal give insight as to how a woman can be a supportive pillar to her family and place of residence. The characters of Ma Joad and Rosasharn are two such examples of the lengths the women of the Dust Bowl would go to so that they may maintain the idea of hope. These two characters put others before themselves and continuously act as supports to those around them. In the intercalary chapters, the women of the novel do the same. They reflect upon what must be done to assist their husbands and families in this time of need. These women are not the main characters of The Grapes of Wrath but instead serve as foundational ideologies of women that show what is expected to continue on as a family or community.

In A Russian Journal the women are used as an indicator for how the cities and towns he visited are rebuilding after World War II. Their appearances are reflective of what state their communities are in. If the women appeared to emphasize their beauty and hospitality, the locations they live in also seemed to be on the path of revival. If the women were not as concerned with their appearances or residences, then the town looked as if it had great lengths to go in order to be restored. These two pieces of literature, enforce the idea that women are pivotal in the perseverance of their communities and how it is within their duties to become or maintain a domestic air as their appearances embody their surroundings. Steinbeck enables readers to understand the situations in which he and his characters are in by having the women of the works, show what is happening around them.

2 | Two Sides of the Same Coin? Political Polarization and Inaction in Arizona

Presenter: Tyson Jones

Political division and extremism are two of the largest threats to the unity and political structure and United States on the horizon. Finding ways to unite and solve the problems we face is of great importance. Many Americans have grown disillusioned with the current political system, and those who remain are more polarized than ever before.

As part of the Arizona Youth Identity Project, an online survey was distributed to adult residents ages 18-30 of Arizona (N = 1,522) in the months leading up the 2020 presidential election. One module included in the survey asked young adults whether certain traits or characteristics (e.g., works hard, is trustworthy, is patriotic, has integrity, keeps their promises) applies to the Democratic ticket of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and the Republican ticket of Donald Trump and Mike Pence. Based on these responses, each respondent was given a score based on which candidates they associated with more positive traits. For each trait selected for a Republican candidate, a score of +1 was given, and for each Democratic candidate a score of -1 was given. Their scores were summated across all questions to form a severity index.

The responses showed a significant association between level of political interest and severity in views towards the opposing party’s candidates. This trend carried across respondents of both the Democratic and Republican parties. Among independents, polarization similarly increased with level of political interest. Respondent’s age, gender, and race were not associated with the severity of views.

In a time where political inactivity and polarization are both increasing, it is important understand how they are connected. The data shows that those with the most extreme views are the most politically active, while moderates are much less interested in politics. Further research and progress need to be made in understanding how to increase the moderate voting base and in which direction the political interest and extremism causality flows.

3 | Concealable Stigmatized Identities of College STEM Instructors: Anxiety and Depression

Presenter: Margaret Barstow

Anxiety and depression (A&D) are among the most common mental health concerns for undergraduates, and students perceive benefitting from knowing an instructor with A&D. However, college science instructors are unlikely to disclose their A&D to their undergraduates, likely because they are concealable stigmatized identities: identities that can be kept hidden and carry negative stereotypes. However, it is currently unknown how prevalent A&D are among instructors and whether or why they reveal A&D to undergraduates. Therefore, we explored the extent to which instructors report having A&D, conceal or reveal A&D to undergraduates, perceive student benefits by revealing A&D, and perceive A&D to be stigmatized as well as the primary factors influencing instructors to conceal their A&D. We surveyed instructors at R1 institutions about the extent to which they had and/or revealed A&D and their perceived stigma and benefits of revealing A&D. Of those surveyed (n=1951), 25% reported having depression and 34% having anxiety. Very few participants revealed their depression (5%) or anxiety (8%) to students. Instructors primarily conceal their A&D because they do not typically disclose to others, or it is not relevant to course content. Instructors anticipate students would benefit from disclosure by normalizing mental health, and being an example of success despite A&D. Understanding whether and why instructors choose to conceal A&D is a critical first step to bringing potentially powerful science role models to undergraduates also struggling with their mental health.

4 | Bridging the Gap: Cancer Education for Patients of All Literacy Levels

Presenters: Erica Williams, Alexandra Perazzo, Maia Zdrale, Keith Karuku

In studies involving cancer patients, a common theme is patients reporting feelings of anxiety, confusion, and fear following their initial diagnosis. They are often overwhelmed with their treatment options and wondering what they can expect throughout their battle with cancer. Educational materials, however, are often not written at a literacy level that is inclusive of most patients. Research shows that 54% of US adults read at or below a sixth grade reading level, multiple grade levels lower than the much of the available cancer literature. To address this issue, a team of undergraduate researchers with the Arizona Cancer Evolution Center at ASU have created The Patient Guidance Project to educate recently diagnosed cancer patients about their specific type of cancer, their treatment options, and the resources available to support them. The goal of this project is to deliver this information to patients in a way that is easy to understand, with the hope of helping them feel more informed and in control of what lies ahead. The predominant form of research currently being conducted for this project is a comprehensive literature review, which the research team uses to inform the development of patient guides for the following cancer types: metastatic melanoma, glioblastoma, prostate cancer, oral cancer, breast cancer, kidney cancer, colorectal cancer, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia, ovarian cancer, and thyroid cancer. The guides are published on a website (acepatientguidance.com) designed for this project and will be expanded to more types of cancer in the near future.

5 | Students will actually do Calculus over break!

Presenters and details not listed publicly. 

Academic breaks have pronounced effects on student learning, resulting in students losing some of their previously acquired knowledge and skills. The Keep in School Shape (KiSS) Program is designed to address this issue. It provides students going into Calculus 2 with daily Calculus 1 review activities over the academic break.

These daily activities, distributed via email and text messages, enable students to answer problems with varying levels of difficulty as well as provide students with optional hints and step-by-step solutions and encourage students with growth mindset oriented feedback. The KiSS program records the paths that students take as they complete the daily activities and documents the students' confidence ratings, answer accuracy, and use of hints and solutions.

Using data collected over the 2022 Winter Break, our group conducted basic exploratory data analysis with the aim of discovering insights into how students used the program, how the program can be improved in future versions, and how best to communicate our findings to an audience. Our group used descriptive statistics, data manipulation, and data visualization techniques in Excel, Tableau, and R to examine metrics such as participation rates, answer accuracy, hint and solution engagement, confidence rating accuracy, and student feedback.

Our findings include that students are fairly accurate judges of their ability to correctly answer a problem, use hints after getting a problem wrong, and push themselves to try more challenging problems. Our results are useful for improving future versions of the KiSS program. More broadly, our results can be used to shape the design of review programs to engage students in accessible, productive, and supportive activities outside of class and diffuse the event boundaries between formal instruction and academic breaks across many grade levels and subject areas so that students will no longer need to return to their studies unprepared and disadvantaged.

6 | Navigating the Cancer Timeline: The Role of Effective Communication

Presenters: Lindsay Gann, Nilo Kolbehdari, Bryan Yavari, Melanie Aldridge, Mercedes Portillo, Danielle Kollander

Previous literature has highlighted the need for improvements in cancer-related communication across the entire cancer experience, from pre-diagnosis through diagnosis/treatment and remission. More investigation is needed on how individuals respond to various forms of cancer communication and how this may vary across the cancer timeline. To address this gap, this cross-sectional, quantitative study will examine those 3 phases of cancer communication. Data will be collected via Prolific from a nationally representative sample of 450 participants (150 per condition) who will be prescreened to include participants from the general public, participants who have had cancer in the last five years, and participants who are in remission from cancer. Three unique surveys have been administered to each population with results currently being analyzed. The results of this study will improve cancer communication to the public, raising awareness of potential risks and early indicators. Moreover, this study will strengthen doctor-patient communication, encouraging treatment plans built on trust and understanding. This study can also give a voice to those in remission, and address their unique needs after their cancer experience. Fundamentally, this study can improve the patient experience through better understanding of risk, terminology, and support options. 

7 | Constraining the Orbital Parameters of HAT-P-54 b using EXOplanet Watch's EXOTIC Python 3 Code

Presenters: Elizabeth Catogni, Kinley Subers

Discovering, cataloging, and updating the orbital parameters of exoplanets (planets outside of our own Solar System, orbiting stars other than our Sun) is a major goal of astronomers. Currently, the majority of exoplanets are discovered using the method of transit photometry, through which fluctuations in the observed brightness of a star are indicative of a planet passing in front of it – from our vantage point on Earth. This method can lend to the understanding of numerous orbital properties of the exoplanet itself, such as transit mid-time and orbital period. Over time, though, the uncertainty of these properties leads the ephemerides to become “stale” – meaning the transit may begin to occur earlier or later than expected. 

In order to maintain the accuracy of these orbital properties for efficient follow-up observations by space-based telescopes such as JWST and the future ARIEL mission, which will receive numerous observation proposals each year, it is necessary to periodically observe the transit and update the ephemeris. For large exoplanets orbiting close to their stars, otherwise known as hot Jupiters, these observations can be done using small, ground-based robotic telescope. The subsequent production of light curves depicting the exoplanet’s transit can be reduced using EXOplanet Watch’s EXOTIC code, which performs a process called multi-object transit photometry. The resulting orbital parameters are evaluated for significance by dividing the transit depth by the uncertainty for a resulting sigma, and only those greater than 3 will be used for our ephemeris update.

Our class has acquired 47 image sets for the transit of exoplanet HAT-P-54 b from the MicroObservatory’s “Cecilia”, a 6-inch robotic telescope located in Mount Hopkins, Arizona. Additionally, we have reduced those image sets using EXOplanet Watch’s EXOTIC code, resulting in 47 unique light curves. By the end of April 2023, we will have together produced a draft containing updated orbital parameters of HAT-P-54 b’s transit for submission to the Journal of the American Association of Variable Star Observers (JAAVSO).

8 | Elliptical ephemeris update of HAT-P-11 b and the search for the existence of an exomoon

Presenters: Suber Corley, Federico R. Noguer


During the Spring 2023 semester, we are participating in a joint project with NASA/JPL’s ExoPlanet Watch team to develop improved ephemerides for astronomical objects that are likely to be of interest to professional astronomers. These ephemerides are especially important for those who have observation time on space-based observatories such as JWST.


After developing an inventory of stellar targets, we chose to focus on the reduction of the mid-transit and eclipse time uncertainties of HAT-P-11 b. HAT-P-11 b is a Hot Neptune with a high eccentricity. In the process of the ephemeris update, we are conducting a Transit Timing Variation (TTV) analysis of HAT-P-11 b in search of a periodic signal caused by a possible exomoon. HAT-P-11 b presents a unique opportunity to discover an exomoon due to the high inclination of HAT-P-11 c, a Jupiter-sized companion planet. Models show that if the inclination of the Jupiter mass planet is 25 degrees or higher, the asteroid belt becomes unstable and large amounts of material could be sent towards the host star giving HAT-P-11 b a chance to capture one of these objects as a moon.


In collaboration with the Exoplanet Watch team, we are modifying Python code called Pandora to model physically possible planet-moon systems for HAT-P-11b. Regardless of whether or not we detect an exomoon signal, we plan to build code such that an analogous process can be applied to other hot Jupiters that contain an outer companion with inclinations >25 degrees.

9 | Viability of Ground-Based Data By Citizen Scientists

Presenters: Kimberly Merriam, Richard Cochran-White

Using the EXOplanet Transit Interpretation Code (EXOTIC), we reduced 52 sets of images of WASP-104 b, a Hot Jupiter-class exoplanet orbiting WASP-104, in order to obtain an updated mid-transit time (ephemeris) and orbital period for the planet. We performed this reduction on images taken with a 6- inch telescope of the Center for Astrophysics | Havard & Smithsonian MicroObservatory. Of the reduced light curves, 13 were of sufficient accuracy to update the ephemerides for WASP 104-b, meeting or exceeding the three-sigma standard for determining a significant detection. Our updated mid-transit time and orbital period (2457805.170208 ± 0.000036 BJD_TBD, 1.75540644 ± 0.00000016 days) rival those generated by data taken from TESS observations of the same target (2457805.170205±0.000037 BJD_TBD, 1.75540569±0.00000011 days). We can show that through the use of small ground-based platforms citizen scientists have the ability to update orbital parameters of high priority targets for future follow up observations with platforms like ARIEL and JWST, this allows for longer on target observations in consideration of platform observing time constraints. The work done in the paper was accomplished as part of the first fully online Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE) for astronomy majors in one of the only online Bachelor of Science programs in Astronomical and Planetary Sciences.

10 | Grains from the beginning of the solar system: Laboratory Astrophysics in application

Presenter: Thomas Skrmetti

In the 2022-2023 OURS experience on Laboratory Astrophysics we were tasked with learning how to find presolar grains in carbonaceous chondrites. Presolar grains are formed in stellar outflows and circumstellar envelope around low and high mass stars. By analyzing these presolar grains we can learn the makeup of the presolar environment. To analyze these presolar grains we first need to identify target meteorites and areas of interest. Regions of interest are those lacking in large particles and chondrules focusing instead on the matrix between particles. The meteorite cannot have undergone excessive heating and/or aqueous alteration, as both of these will destroy or alter the presolar grains making them indistinguishable from terrestrial grains. Once a suitable sample has been chosen they can be acquired from Johnson Space Center or Buseck Center for Meteorite Studies for analysis. The samples can be mounted either by thin sections glued on with small amounts of epoxy onto a glass slide or thick sections pressed into epoxy. This mount is then placed under an optical microscope to identify target regions of interest which are imaged using the electron microprobe to get elemental concentrations of regions of interest. Suitable matrix areas are measured with the NanoSIMS. The sputtering is done with either a cesium ion beam or a duoplasmatron which produces  oxygen ions. We used the cesium beam to measure C and O isotopes to identify C- and O- anomalous grains. The cesium ion beam sputters off sample atoms from the top layers of the  sample.The ion images are used to produce ratio images. Any isotopic anomaly is observed in the images as a hotspot or coldspot and have isotopic ratios orders of magnitude different from terrestrial or solar C and O isotope ratios. Future goals of this research are to identify more presolar grains.

11 | Using Machine-Learning Enhanced Voltammetry to Assess Dopaminergic Signaling During Working Memory Gating & Maintenance

Presenters: Emily Espanet, Davie Owle, Pranita Ramteke

Dopaminergic signaling is proposed to be critical for gating items into working memory and for maintaining representational content over delays in the presence of distracting information. However, the role of dopamine in working memory has yet to be fully understood due to measurement limitations in humans. The use of fast-scan cyclic voltammetry augmented with machine learning enables researchers to track neuromodulator release in awake humans with sub-second temporal resolution. Specifically, using this technique affords researchers the capability to record dopamine responses at 10hz thereby providing a more precise characterization of phasic and tonic dopamine release in cortical areas that have been associated with working memory gating and maintenance functions. In the present study, we recorded dopamine release in the lateral anterior cingulate cortex of medication-resistant epilepsy patients during the performance of a visual working memory task. Here we report the relation between phasic and tonic dopamine release in the anterior cingulate cortex during encoding and delay periods of the task as a function of set size (2 or 4 items) and conditionalized on correct and incorrect responses. The goal of this ongoing project is to collect and model direct dopamine recordings during delay periods of canonical working memory tasks to better characterize the role of phasic and tonic dopamine release in working memory.

12 | Replication of the Multiprocess Theory of Prospective Memory

Presenter: Dallas Salas

We aimed to provide evidence that prospective memory retrieval is achieved by both consciously monitoring for relevant targets and through less cognitively demanding spontaneous retrieval. An important facet of daily memory function is prospective memory, which is one’s ability to complete preestablished intentions in the appropriate temporal and spatial context in the future. An individual's ability to complete these intentions in the appropriate context has implications on a range of behavioral outcomes such as personal well-being or one’s professional or academic success. In the present study, participants completed a computerized two-forced choice lexical decision task and were then given secondary instructions to respond to a specific set of low frequency letter strings (prospective memory target) with a special keypress. By experimentally manipulating prospective memory target focality (the amount of effort required to detect the prospective memory target) we are able to quantify and examine prospective memory accuracy, response time for prospective memory targets, and task interference in order to investigate the processes that contribute to successfully retrieving an intention at the appropriate moment. Accuracy was measured as the average number of prospective memory targets successfully retrieved and indicated, response time to prospective memory targets was measured by the average of time it took to respond to prospective memory targets, and task interference was the ongoing response time on the lexical decision task before given an intention minus the response time of the lexical decision after they are given an intention. We found statistically significant differences in focality for prospective memory accuracy and prospective memory target response time. A difference was also observed in task interference as a function of target focality but the effect was not statistically significant. Evidence from the study provides support for the Multi-Process View of prospective memory and provides a baseline for future studies looking at demographic groups that may show differences in prospective memory performance such as older versus younger adults or people that use cannabis versus those who do not.

13 | To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate: That is the Key Question

Presenters: Barbara Temple, Peter Culley, Josiah Kaiser, Robert Stansbury

The COVID-19 global pandemic has been ongoing for over two years. In late 2020, a vaccine plan was put into effect to help address this crisis. At this point, over 4 billion people worldwide have been vaccinated, more than 220 million of whom are in the United States. Vaccines have no doubt done a lot of good over the past year and half, but there are also downsides to it, specifically vaccine induced complications. With the more transmissible but less deadly Omicron variant becoming the predominant variant of COVID-19 in the United States, we compared the pros and cons of vaccination against the Omicron variant mainly by determining the net number of lives saved due to the vaccine, the net economic impact, and the net change in herd immunity levels. We used a model to compare vaccinated and unvaccinated systems for each of the fifty states and Washington, D.C. individually to aid in determining what sort of overall impact the vaccine has had and will have if we continue on our present course of action. We utilized MATLAB for data fitting all fifty states and D.C. as well as running calculations based off of those data fittings. Our study found that the vaccine has the greatest benefit when used early on in a new wave of the disease, as the benefit diminishes with time (and more widespread cases). Furthermore, we found that not one of the states has actually achieved herd immunity and that the percentage of a state’s population that is fully vaccinated did not have a significant impact on the size of its predicted COVID-19 outbreak. Therefore, this study is a powerful reminder that vaccination should be used in harmony with other control strategies rather than using it as our sole line of defense.

14 | Cancer Across Primates

Presenters: Walker Mellon, Leon Harrison, Brian Martins, Ritika Anand, Hannah Human, Jasa Moss, Matthew Marx

Studying cancer from an evolutionary perspective can lead to important theoretical and applied insights, however little is known about the prevalence of cancer among non-human primates. Primates are the closest living relatives to humans, however the Primate lineage is phenotypically diverse, with wide variations in evolutionary and life history characteristics. By leveraging comparative phenotypic data with incidence records of neoplastic disease, we have constructed a dataset of 2,095 individuals across 9 families, and explore cross-species cancer risk within Primates. We suggest a life history theory framework to help elucidate the variations in observed cancer prevalence across non-human primates, wherein long-lived, large-bodied animals invest more energy in somatic maintenance (i.e. cancer defenses) to maintain their cellular body. Additionally, functional studies performed in vitro using isolated and cultured primary fibroblast cell lines from representative species show that resistance to cellular death is correlated with certain life history characteristics. Combining large-scale cancer incidence records and functional assays can provide useful insights into the ecological and cellular dynamics of cancer in our closest living relatives and ourselves.

15 | Turkeys go live! OTTER program - "Online Turkey Team Education and Research"

Presenters: Priscilla Hanson, Britt Kitchens, Francisco Miranda

Research experience in ecology or animal behavior usually involves fieldwork and lab work, which thus limits the involvement of online students in data analyses or modeling. It is with this in mind that we develop the OTTER program, a program that offers an immersive research experience in behavioral ecology to online students. Through this program, online students joined our turkey team investigating the role of turkey head color change in turkey communication. As surprising as it seems, the main course of Thanksgiving, the wild turkey, can change his head color (i.e. bare skin and fleshy ornaments) between white, cyan blue, and red in less than a minute. And even more surprising and despite the economic value of turkeys, no studies on their head color change have been done since 1951 (Laruelle et al.)!!  The on-ground team and the OTTER team are working hand in hand. While the on-ground team is taking care of the turkeys, running the behavioral experiments, and collecting blood samples and smears with Dr. Dollion, the online team is actively participating in the project by performing behavioral analyses from the videos gathered on-ground and identifying and quantifying leukocytes from x100 magnification microscopic pictures from the blood smears. Recently, the online experience is going further thanks to live streaming cameras installed in the enclosure of the turkey that online students can use to monitor the turkey they are working with and also assess the hierarchy within the turkey flocks. Through this experience, online students gain knowledge about animal behavior, physiology (i.e. immune cells), and the research that will be presented here in this poster along with their contributions and achievements, and finally their testimonies about the experience.

16 | The Impact of Diet and Microbes on Cancer Progression

Presenters: Kristen Krip, Naomi Ortiz

Diet is a driving factor for changes in the composition of the gastrointestinal microbiome. In a healthy gut, approximately 90% of the population are Bacteriodetes and Firmicutes. These bacteria exist in symbiosis with their host and aid in various functions such as development, metabolism, and immune regulation. Certain bacteria can trigger inflammation, directly or indirectly, and promote cancer within the body. These microbes can be referred to as the “oncobiome”. We conducted a review to determine the  interactions between diet and microbes on cancer across different species. Cancer- protecting microbes actively prevent the proliferation of cancer by promoting cooperation  between cells. Many of these, like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, can be found in fermented foods such as yogurt or kombucha. Conversely, cancer-promoting bacteria, like Bacteroides fragilis and Fusobacterium nucleatum, are associated with a meat-eating diet. In the literature we see the microbe differences between herbivores and carnivores and found that some distinct features may predispose carnivores to cancer. Herbivores have a lower cancer rate, likely due to a higher fiber intake and greater microbial diversity. Developing a better understanding of the role diet has on the microbiome may lead to dietary interventions as an effective strategy for reducing cancer incidence. 

17 | Adaptive Therapy and Microbial Therapy on Colorectal Cancer

Presenter: Enyce Fairbanks

Colorectal cancer is the second deadliest cancer. By the time the cancer is detected it has already metastasized and progressed, reducing cancer treatment effectiveness. Our group is developing a mice-model experiment using adaptive therapy to provide a potential treatment source to improve patient treatment. Adaptive therapy is an innovative treatment harnessing the evolutionary dynamics of cancer cells to control and reduce tumor size. The goal is to limit the growth of the tumor and prevent the development of therapeutic resistance. Adaptive therapy offers an effective tool for managing tumor growth and metastasis, especially in advanced stages of cancer. In the present study, the probiotic, Lactobacillus Acidophilus, is being added to the adaptive therapy to aid in inhibiting tumor development. Experiments are being conducted using the cell line, CT26 mouse colon cancer cells in vitro and injecting them into the immunocompetent BALB/c mice. Folfox, a common colorectal cancer chemotherapy, will be dosed dependent on the tumor size as opposed to utilizing maximum dosage to prevent therapeutic resistance. The results of these experiments will yield the effectiveness of adaptive therapy on colorectal cancer as well as the effect of Lactobacillus Acidophilus on Folfox treatment and ability to manage tumor development.

18 | Preservation of a Honeybee Colony by Hygiene Activity, and the role Undertakers have in Sustaining their Society

Presenter: Mariana Bustamante

Stabilized productivity levels in social insect species are essential in maintaining a colony's preservation. In large social insect species such as the honeybees, Apis mellifera, temporal polytheism can be observed where different sets of tasks are conducted by specific age groups in the colony. This method of division of labor allows the colony to continue to sustain life within the hive for current and future generations of honeybees. One of the essential tasks is to maintain a healthy environment inside the hive. This includes one type of hygiene behavior whereby the dead and diseased bees are removed from the hive. Small groups of specialized bees known as Undertakers are genetically and epigenetically programmed to perform this task. These specialized labor groups contribute to the preservation of the colony, becoming necessary to maintain their productivity in the hive. Hygiene activity in the hive secures the colonies' health, preventing diseases from spreading. The performance level of undertakers is therefore a criterion for assessing the colony’s health status. To observe the work efficiency in undertakers, the duration of time it takes to remove a dead or diseased bee will be recorded. While comparing the temperature variation during seasonal changes to observe the effects these external conditions have on the task performance in Undertakers.

19 | Sex as a Biological Variable in Comparative Oncology

Presenters: Sierra Jones, Gabrielle Feldman

There is tremendous variation in cancer vulnerabilities across species. In humans, sex is an important variable to consider when understanding differences in cancer risk. However, little is understood about the role sex differences play in driving variation in cancer risk within non-human species. From an evolutionary standpoint, there is evidence pointing towards the potential for the divergence of sexual size dimorphism (SSD) to explain important differences in sex-specific cancer risk. Further, biological differences between males and females could drive important differences in sex-specific factors within oncogenesis, especially in hormone-driven cancers. In this study, we investigate sex as a biological variable in cross-species cancer risk. We studied 150 species across 4 taxonomic classes – mammals, amphibians, birds, and reptiles – utilizing cancer prevalence data from a zoo veterinarian pathology database spanning more than two decades. We found statistically significant sex biases in both neoplasia and malignancy prevalence for the species analyzed. Future studies will assess sex specific cancer types across species.

20 | The Effect of Trigeminal Nerve Stimulation on Attention and Arousal

Presenters: Kiara Tirado, Kevin Sinwelski, Ashruth Suryanarayanan

In the present study, we tested whether stimulating the trigeminal nerve impacts behavioral, self-report, and psycho-physiological indices of locus coeruleus (LC) activity. In recent years, transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) has been popularized as a noninvasive method for enhancing attention performance. One mechanism by which tDCS has been proposed to improve attention is by transcutaneous stimulation of cranial nerves thereby activating the brainstem LC. Specifically, placement of the electrodes over the frontal bone and mastoid is thought to facilitate current flow across the face as a path of least resistance. The face is innervated by the trigeminal nerve, having disynaptic connections to the LC. Using a between subjects design, we assessed the impact of tDCS to the trigeminal nerve on mean response time, response time variability, self-reports of task-unrelated thoughts, mean pretrial pupil diameter, pretrial pupil variability, and task-evoked pupil responses during the completion of the psychomotor vigilance task (PVT). We also evaluated reports of attention, arousal, motivation, confidence, and perceived tDCS effects for each condition. We report that sensation of tDCS (indicating stimulation of the trigeminal nerve), self-perceived effects of tDCS on performance, attention, arousal, motivation, and confidence did not significantly influence performance, self-reported attention state, or pupil dynamics across the PVT. Further, tDCS did not have an enhancing effect on pupil dynamics (pretrial or task-evoked), self-reported attention state, nor task performance in active versus sham stimulation conditions. However, we replicated prior research showing deterioration in task performance, increases in the rate of task-unrelated thoughts, and reduced pupil responses due to time on task irrespective of tDCS condition. The findings reported here are consistent with theories about performance and arousal centered on a link between LC activity, task performance, self-reports of attention state, and pupil diameter but fail to support hypotheses suggesting that tDCS of the trigeminal nerve influences indices of LC function.

21 | Automated Analysis of Conformational Flexibility in Small Molecules Using SAMPL7 Physical Properties Challenge Datasets from Alchemical Free Energy Simulations with MDPOW

Presenter: Cade Duckworth

Analysis of conformational flexibility is essential in identifying differences in solute-solvent and electrostatic interactions of small molecules. Our python package, MDPOW, coordinates the simulations necessary for computing water-solvent partition coefficients for small, drug-like molecules from solvation free energies using GROMACS, MDAnalysis, and alchemlyb. However, subsequent analysis requires user selection of each atom group, which poses a problem when sampling the entire conformational space, so there exists a need to automate the process of obtaining relevant atom groups and their dihedral angles. Our extension of MDPOW automatically obtains dihedral atom groups from each molecule’s simulation ensemble and the kernel density estimation (KDE) of their dihedral angle frequencies, comparing across solvents and intermolecular interactions. Current research involves datasets from participation in the Statistical Assessment and Modeling of Proteins and Ligands (SAMPL7) blind physical properties challenge, including simulation data that returned log Pow estimates within a minimum precision level of 0.1 log units for AMBER/GAFF force fields, and we are utilizing the developments in the SAMPL9 challenge. These developments provide an automated workflow for analyzing sampling of conformational space of small molecules, including data collection, analysis, visual representation, and storing results in a tidy fashion. Ongoing adaptation for additional observables (bond length, hydrogen bonding, and solvation shell analysis) will streamline quality assessment of results, contribute to complete automation of physical properties analysis for small molecules, and enable the analysis of large data sets with hundreds of simulations. Future incorporation of machine learning into the automated analyses to classify features associated with insufficient sampling will facilitate generation of better force fields and simulation parameters for use with free energy molecular dynamics simulations. The core goal of these ongoing projects is to increase the accuracy of partition coefficient computations in MDPOW and identify ways to adapt and improve the theoretical underpinnings of molecular dynamics free energy simulations in a transposable manner.

22 | Effect of Trimming Parameters on the Identification of Sex Differentially Expressed Genes

Presenter: Joelle Delew, Cade Duckworth

RNA sequencing is commonly used to study gene expression. To increase the accuracy of mapping the sequencing reads to the reference genome, a process known as trimming is frequently used to remove low quality segments of the reads. Data preprocessing steps take computational resources and can influence which genes are identified as differentially expressed and thus impact the results of a study. Current literature on the necessity of trimming hosts conflicting views, so we tested the impact of trimming by varying two commonly reported trimming parameters, minimum quality score and minimum read length after trimming, on a previously published differential expression profile, sex differences in placental gene expression. We observed a consistent 2% reduction in read counts across the range of trimming parameters tested and no change in the amount of sex differentially expressed genes compared to the untrimmed case. This indicates that trimming did not affect the identification of differentially expressed genes, suggesting that this data preprocessing step might not be necessary. Current work involves expanding the set of parameters tested as well as the software packages used, in order to test the robustness of our results. It is encouraging for research simplicity, reliability, and reproducibility, that differential gene expression did not vary across the range of trimming parameters in this study.

23 | Palliative care and Cancer: Factors affecting outcomes

Presenters: Sergio Mendoza Sida, Luke Foster, Eden Kim, Dustin Nguyen

Broadly speaking, medical care can be divided into three general phases. The acute care phase where the focus of treatment is on curing a patient’s condition. At times, acute care can be aggressive. At the other end of the spectrum, there is hospice care. Patients under hospice care have terminal medical conditions with an expected 6-month life span. Here, the focus is solely on patient comfort. Treatment under hospice often involves the liberal use of pain medications and withdrawal of any treatments not directly related to comfort. In between these two extremes, we have palliative care. Here the intent is not to cure but to improve quality of life.  Recent research suggests that there are advantages of palliative care for terminally ill patients and specifically cancer patients 1 . However, barriers to the proliferation of palliative care include a lack of awareness, cultural biases, and misinformation regarding palliative care 2 .  In our study, we aim to quantitatively demonstrate an improved quality of life (QOL) for cancer patients under palliative care when compared with cancer patients undergoing acute or traditional care.   


Our dataset consists of the AllOfUs Database created by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Our focus is on survey data describing quality of life factors and the use of lab  markers as a proxy for health status (ex. nutritional status, levels of anemia, etc).  


Our results are still preliminary and pending further exploration of the allOfUs database   Conclusion: After completion of our primary research, the intended next steps for our project include distilling our findings into a numerical index or score that can be applied to prospective palliative care cancer patients to predict the relative effectiveness of palliative care when compared to traditional treatment. This would aid clinicians in better tailoring medical care to maximize the beneficial outcomes for patients.

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ASU Online undergraduate students who wish to present their research at the symposium must submit an application including a project abstract. 

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Submission does not guarantee acceptance. Students will be notified of the reviewing committee's decision via email.

Application deadline: March 26, 2023.

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Abstract guidelines

The purpose of an abstract is to provide a brief summary and key findings of your research, and it is typically 150-350 words in length.  

The abstract should include/address the following points:


  • Title of your work - Make it interesting but also concise!
  • List all of the research group members’ names with institutional affiliations.
  • List all of your research mentors’ names with titles and institutional affiliations.


  • Introduction:
    • Lead with the overall research question/goal. 
    • Provide a brief background that supports why your research question is a good one to ask/solve.
  • Methods:
    • Briefly describe your project. What did you do? What methods did you use to answer your question? What is the overall experimental design?
  • Results:
    • Provide a summary of your key findings/results and how you analyzed the data.
  • Conclusion:
    • State the key findings and the implications.
    • Future work and directions.