VPRI Undergraduate Fellowship Recipients

2016 VPRI Undergraduate Fellowship Recipients

Augustine Beard 

Major: History
Faculty Mentor: Mark Carey
Project Title: Colonial-Environmental Narrative of the Great Basin in the 19th Century

Abstract: Between 1810 and 1820, Early Euro-American explorers of the Great Basin dismissed the region as “Snake Country,”—a lifeless area that could serve only as an over-land passage to the Pacific Ocean. Numerous and diverse indigenous tribes lived and thrived in the Great Basin, such as the Paiute, Shoshone, and Bannock. However the Euro-Americans’ descriptions grouped all of these tribes into the single category of “Snake Indians,” calling the Northern Paiute and other peoples, “the most miserable of the human race.” By the mid 1850s, the perspective of the white settlers had shifted: the Great Basin was referred to as a “fertile valley” while the Northern Paiute and other peoples had become a “savage,” warrior tribe. Historians have noted both the shift in the environmental narrative and the colonial narrative of the Great Basin region. However, they have only discussed these separately disallowing a cohesive understanding of the development of colonial thought. My research differs by viewing these constructions as a singular, intersecting narrative, which I refer to as the “colonial-environmental narrative.” I argue that understanding colonial thought in this way is imperative because the conceptions of the environment and people were ideologically inseparable and the intersection of narratives was vital to justifying the colonial project. Further, I hypothesize that the shift in narrative was a major factor for the Snake War in the mid 19th century. My research will primarily focus on the Northern Great Basin region and Northern Paiute people, because of my access to resources on this topic. Using diaries, letters, and paintings of early explorers and settlers, I track the change from approximately 1810 to 1875, which covers the beginning of Euro-American exploration to the dissolution of the Malheur Reservation in Southeast Oregon.


Ayantu Megerssa

Major: International Studies
Faculty Mentor: Kevin Hatfield
Project Title: Genocide and the Northern Paiute: A History of Colonization, Dehumanization, and Extermination

Abstract: The Northern Paiutes, an American Indian tribe from Central and Eastern Oregon, experienced a significant reduction in their population at the hands of white settlers and the Oregon and federal governments over the course of the 19th century. Those who were left of the Northern Paiute population by the late 19th-20th century were subjected to cultural genocide in the form of severe assimilationist policies and economic subjugation through the reservation system. And yet, this is not a history that is widely studied, written about, or taught in schools in Oregon or around the country. My research will explore the Northern Paiutes in the context of settler colonialism in the 19th century in order to make the case that as occurrences of mass murder carried out by the state of Oregon and the federal government, the Northern Paiute were the victims of genocide. Current research into the subject has briefly referred to the Northern Paiutes as victims of genocide, but has yet to explore the relationship between settler colonialism and genocide in the region, as well as present a succinct argument to support the claim that genocide was committed. My research will show that frameworks for the analysis and identification of genocide drafted to address 20th and 21st century war crimes, such as the 8 Stages of Genocide, will prove that the Northern Paiutes were the victims of genocide at the hands of the Oregon and US governments.


Bryce Keicher

Major: International Studies and Spanish
Faculty Mentor: Dan Tichenor
Project Title: Mexican Drug War: Displacement and Human Rights Affects on Guatemalan Refugees

Abstract: How does the current largest armed conflict of the Western Hemisphere, the Mexican Drug War, affect the displacement of Guatemalans and the treatment of their human rights? With a net-zero migration of Mexican nationals between the United States and Mexico since the end of the Great Recession in 2009 as well as the incorporation of Mexico into U.S. economics and politics through the North American Trade Agreement of 1994, Mexico has transformed from a state of origin to a “transit state” for Central American migrants. As a “transit state,” Mexico serves as a geographical bridge between the developed and the developing regions of the Americas, and so has replicated the restrictive immigration laws of the United States (as exemplified in the militarization of the southern border with Guatemala). While the violence of the drug wars spans across Mexico, Central and South America, it is complicity funded by the purchasing demand from United States. I expect results displaying the role of the United States indirectly facilitating violence against refugees as they are displaced by the Drug War and also restricted from asylum. My research will show original insight to the roles and responsibilities of both the Mexican and United States government to create suggested solutions for the regional conflict. From geopolitical and anthropological contexts, I plan to analyze the relationships between political, cultural and territorial conflicts regarding the Mexican Drug War as well as the cause of displacement and violations of human rights of migrants. My research will incorporate archival analysis, ethnographic observation, and interviews with political officials, journalists, lawyers, human rights and migrant advocacy organizations as well as migrants and refugees themselves. This research will be conducted in northern Guatemala, the southern border of Mexico, the capital in Mexico City, and locally in Portland and Eugene, where many Guatemalan refugees are currently seeking asylum.


Drew Jordan McLaughlin

Major: Linguistics
Faculty Mentor: Melissa Baese-Berk
Project Title: Individual Differences in Perception of Variation in Speech

Abstract: Speech perception is a complex process due to widespread variability among speakers, and under adverse conditions it becomes even more challenging. Previous research of speech perception in adverse conditions has assumed that degraded speech is processed similarly whether it is caused by the environment (i.e., noise) or caused by the speaker (i.e., accent or disorder). However, recent research has indicated that this may not be the case and suggests that the perception of speech presented in an environmentally-based degradation requires different or additional cognitive processes than talker-based degradation. The goal of this project is to determine whether a listener’s ability to perceive speech in adverse conditions is a general process or whether listeners use different cognitive processes to overcome talker-based degradation and environmentally-based degradation in speech perception.

To answer this question, we will examine the ability to perceive speech in each adverse condition and compare this to participants’ cognitive abilities (such as vocabulary, inhibition, and working memory). Talker-based degradations will be tested using Mandarin-accented speech and dysarthric-accented speech (which each deviate from standard speech in different manners), and environmental degradation will be tested using energetic masking and informational masking. Cognitive skills (i.e., inhibition and working memory) will be measured using a number of standard tests.

We ask whether an individual’s ability to perceive specific types of speech degradation is correlated with their ability to perceive other types of speech degradation, and how perception in each condition correlates with other cognitive skills. It is possible that environmentally-based degradations will correlate with different or additional cognitive-linguistic skills than talker-based degradations. Determining whether certain cognitive abilities are linked to different types of speech degradation will be an important step toward understanding speech perception in adverse conditions as a whole.


Eugenia Lollini

Major: Anthropology and Romance Languages
Faculty Mentor: Carol Silverman
Project Title: Before the Spectacle: Shaping Gender and Class Identity in Beirut’s Beauty Salons

Abstract: Scholars have coined Beirut, Lebanon the trendsetting beauty city of the Middle East. Striking evidence for this includes 2007 National Bank of Lebanon billboards advertising plastic surgery loans and longs line of women waiting outside beauty salons every weekend. While previous studies of the Middle Eastern beauty industry have focused on the westernization of aesthetic models, my proposed ethnography explores the formation and interpretation of local beauty ideals in Beiruti salons and how they affect gender and class identity. To complement my salon research, I will also explore how these ideals are performed in spaces such as clubs, bars and cafés.

Specifically, I investigate 1) How do women mediate, choose, judge or reject models from local and global media?  How do local models of beauty differ from global models? 2) What role do salon workers play in constructing local notions of beauty? 3) How do beauty ideals/treatments operate as mediums of social distinction among different classes of women? For example, which types of treatments access upward mobility and why? 4) How do these ideals function as instruments of women’s subordination, on the one hand, or resistance to inequality, on the other? How can beauty regimes be oppressive and/or empowering? 5) How do sites such as clubs, bars and cafés both influence and reflect ideals constructed in beauty salons?

Fieldwork will take place in two salons and five public entertainment venues located in differing socioeconomic areas of Beirut. I expect to reveal that beauty ideals/treatments operate as vehicles of social distinction and trigger competition for upward mobility amongst middle and upper class women. Beauty treatments may also foster solidarity among women; on the other hand, women may scrutinize each other. Finally, I hypothesize that in the parameters of Beirut’s male dominated society, beautification may be a strategic path to women’s emancipation.


Hanna McIntosh

Major: Environmental Science and Biology
Faculty Mentor: Matt Streisfeld
Project Title: Genetic architecture of local adaptation and reproductive isolation in Mimulus aurantiacus

Abstract: How do new species form in the face of ongoing gene flow? This question, which was first asked by Darwin, is still a topic of considerable debate among biologists. Recently, theoretical and field studies have shown that genetic architecture— the underlying genetic basis of a phenotypic trait, including the number of genes effecting the trait, their effect size, linkage, pleiotropy, and epistasis—is key to preventing the breakup of locally adapted traits. Traits controlled by a single gene of large effect are highly visible to natural selection, so are more likely to become differentiated than traits controlled by many genes of small effect. Additionally, adaptation usually involves many traits. If these different traits are controlled by the same sets of genes, gene flow between divergent populations will not be able to break them apart, maximizing reproductive isolation. Thus, theory predicts that isolating barriers are most effective if they have a simple genetic basis and are controlled by loci in the same genomic regions.

To test this hypothesis, I will use Quantitative Trait Locus (QTL) mapping to determine the genetic architecture of floral and vegetative trait divergence between red- and yellow-flowered ecotypes of Mimulus aurantiacus. These ecotypes are differentiated by pollinator preference but maintain ongoing gene flow. I will address the following questions: Are the phenotypic differences between the ecotypes due to a few loci of large effect or many loci of small effect? Do QTLs for divergent floral and vegetative traits overlap in one or a few genomic regions, or are they spread throughout the genome? By revealing the genetic basis of adaptation in M. aurantiacus, the results of this research will provide insight into the early stages of speciation by natural selection, contributing to understanding the effect of genetic architecture in the formation of new species.


Johnathan Crandall

Major: Biology
Faculty Mentor: William Cresko
Project Title: The Genomic Architecture of Adaptive Divergence in G. aculeatus

Abstract: Adaptation generates biological diversity and has an important role in the origin of species. Understanding the genetics of this process is thus central to the field of evolutionary biology. Traditionally, adaptation has been thought to proceed through the accumulation of many mutations over time; however, recent studies of organisms which adapt extremely rapidly to new environments indicate the presence of other sources of adaptive variation. Populations of closely-related species often hybridize; if these species have adapted to different environments, hybridization can be detrimental because of its potential to erase the differentiation that suited each species to its environment. If, however, these species have adapted to similar environments, hybridization could bring new, favorable genes into a population, promoting further adaptation. My work in the Cresko Lab seeks to address where adaptive variation comes from, and how it is maintained, by investigating how hybridization affects the organization of the genome as the whole. Previously, I have studied hybridization between divergent populations of the threespine stickleback fish (Gasterosteus aculeatus) adapted to very different environments. I found that when divergent genomes are combined in a hybrid, mechanisms exist which resist the homogenization of genes and help maintain adaptive gene combinations. This summer, I will perform whole-genome sequencing of the ninespine stickleback (Pungitius pungitius), a relative of G. aculeatus. These species diverged some fifteen million years ago, but preliminary analysis of both genomes indicates that there may have been more recent genetic transfer between them, providing a source of adaptive variation to both species of stickleback. Using molecular biology, next-generation sequencing, and bioinformatic analyses, I expect to find regions of the threespine and ninespine genomes with evidence of recent genetic exchange, supporting the hypothesis that interbreeding between these species has facilitated adaptation.


Justine Vanloan Nguyen

Major: Human Physiology
Faculty Mentor: Kryn Stankunas
Project Title: VEGF Signaling Contributions to Heart Ventricle Development

Abstract: Cardiomyopathies are congenital heart diseases that affect the heart musculature. This leads to inefficiencies that cause the heart to become weaker and pump less blood efficiently. The purpose of my research is to study the developmental programs that underlie ventricular trabeculation and the role vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) plays in regulating this process. VEGF plays a distinct role in direct signaling of angiogenesis, the growth of blood vessels along with the cardiac muscle formation and trabeculation in the ventricles. If the pathway for the development of trabeculation in the heart is understood, then in a disease state, the knowledge of the gene pathways could lead to determining appropriate remedies.

During mouse embryogenesis, the cardiovascular system, one of the first major systems to develop, begins to form around embryonic 7.5 days (E7.5). It has to undergo drastic remodeling to meet increasing metabolic demands of the growing embryo and create a system that can efficiently transport blood throughout the organism. The muscular trabeculae, which are fingerlike projections, begin to develop at around E9.0.

In order to study trabecular development, pregnant mice are dissected when the embryos are between E9.0-E10.5 depending on the research question. Embryos are isolated and processed so that their hearts are examined through various cellular biology techniques. A highly specific small molecule inhibitor, Cabozantinib is used in order to inhibit VEGF signaling, thus disrupting the formation of the trabeculae. A VEGF inhibited sample can then be compared to an untreated wildtype sample to compare the differences in the trabeculation development.

Currently, there are two possible hypotheses that could explain VEGF signaling and its role in trabecular development. One hypothesis is that VEGF signaling is directly turning on a gene that directs VEGF signaling while the other hypothesis is that the two cell types (endocardial and myocardial cells) are directly interacting with each other due to VEGF signaling to turn on the development pathways for trabeculae.


Michael McIntosh

Major: Economics
Faculty Mentor: Anca Cristea
Project Title: Localized Economic Impacts of Immigration on the West Coast

Abstract: This project will use U.S. Census, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and Migration Policy Institute data to examine the impacts of immigration on urban labor markets on the West Coast. I will look at George Borjas’ negative selection theory, the idea that immigrants originating from developing countries migrate because they are unskilled, uneducated and unable to find economic success in their home countries, and contrast that with Daniel Chiquiar’s and Gordon H. Hanson’s 2002 findings that immigrants from developing countries actually tend to be middle or upper class immigrants with the skills and resources to navigate the immigration process. Breaking up labor markets into “skilled” labor and “unskilled” labor (based on factors like levels of education and training), I will investigate the correlations between the number of immigrants as a percentage of the local population and the local skilled and unskilled wages. I will also examine the correlation between immigrant population shares and other local economic outcomes such as local unemployment, product specialization and the regional composition of particular industries. In theory, an increase in the number of skilled workers in an area will lead to relatively lower wages for skilled workers  and higher levels of production of goods requiring skilled labor. Theory also predicts that an influx of unskilled labor leads to similar effects on the unskilled labor market. Using the methods outlined below, I will test these theories in urban markets along the West Coast in an attempt to establish a causal relationship between immigrants’ size and demographic characteristics and their local economic impact.


Michael Womack

Major: Physics and Mathematics
Faculty Mentor: Greg Bothun
Project Title: Wavelet Analysis of the PNI Climate Index

Abstract: The purpose of this project is twofold: to characterize the dominant climate cycles in the PNI and NEI climate indices, and to investigate the usefulness of various wavelets and transform algorithms for analyzing climate data. There are various packages available for wavelet transforms, but in order to determine the potential differences between wavelet bases and transform algorithms we will develop our own code.

One of the main issues with climate related data sets (and a large variety of other sampled data sets) is that they are extremely noisy. Typically, signal processing methods utilize Fourier analysis to determine periodic behavior. The low signal-to-noise ratio of climate data confounds standard Fourier methods, so alternate signal processing methods are required. Additionally, we are interested in the time coordinates of features of the original data, information which is lost in the Fourier transform. Wavelet transforms preserve the time domain features of the data, while also providing information related to the periodicity and amplitude of the data. Furthermore, wavelet transforms are well suited for detecting signals in noisy data.

While wavelet transforms have been applied to many different climate data sets, they have not been applied to the climate indices. The climate index is formed from sets of weighted data to provide a measure of the climate of a region. Climate data analysis typically involves direct analysis of highly volatile temperature or rainfall data, so application of wavelet analysis to the climate index may provide additional insight to overall regional behavior. We expect to be able to determine the dominant climate cycles in both indices and observe how they shift over the last century. If we find new cycles, further research can be done to determine their driving mechanisms. Finally, we hope to determine differences between applications of different wavelets and transform algorithms.


Sally Elizabeth Claridge

Major: Biology
Faculty Mentor: Patrick Phillips
Project Title: Genomic Analysis of the Chronic Heat Stress Resistance Phenotype in Caenorhabditis remanei

Abstract: Organisms experience a wide range of stressful environments throughout their lifetime. These may originate from nutritional deficits or abiotic stressors such as acute heat, oxidative, or osmotic stress. Understanding the genetic architecture of stress response is important because it helps researchers evaluate how a phenotype of interest may respond to selection. Current research has found that stressful conditions of varying temporality and severity induce diverse physiologic changes in animals that promote cell protection and preservation, which reduces the metabolic cost to the organisms, decelerates aging, and extends lifespan. Obtaining a better understanding of how the genetics of a complex trait evolve under environmental stress could help elucidate how these gene regulation networks function as a whole and how their interactions over time affect phenotypic expression. Because stress response pathways have been linked to aging and homology exists between them and human disease pathways, determining these relationships could greatly benefit and advance research into human aging, neurodegeneration, and cancer. The goal of this research is to dissect the genetic basis of chronic heat stress, a model complex trait, in Caenorhabditis remanei. A population of C. remanei will be experimentally evolved in a chronic heat stress environment alongside a control population. Survival and fecundity data from both populations will be collected to serve as an estimate for the strength of selection in the heat stress population. Additionally, the survival and fecundity of evolved populations will be compared at higher temperatures to assess how the nematodes’ heat tolerance might have changed under selection pressure. Genomic changes in the descendant line that lead to adaptation are expected, and whole genome sequencing data from both the ancestral and descendant populations will be compared on a locus-by-locus basis, which will allow for the identification of regions under selection via allelic frequency statistics.


Taryn Kawashima

Major: Biochemistry
Faculty Mentor: Ramesh Jasti
Project Title: Carbon Nanohoops as New Bioimaging Probes

Abstract: Carbon nanohoops, are short slices of armchair carbon nanotubes that consists of benzene rings connected in a para-position to form a macrocycle. One of the many unique nanohoop properties being studied in depth in the Jasti laboratory is the ability to tune the fluorescence emission wavelength by changing nanohoop size. During my summer research I will attempt to study these unique properties in a cellular environment. This aim will be accomplished through the functionalization of the nanohoops to improve the solubility in aqueous solution and also to target them to specific areas of the cell.   Carbon nanotube toxicity is a highly debated topic so this study may provide some insight into that topic as well.

The target molecules will be prepared using nanohoop synthetic pathways developed in the Jasti laboratory, while incorporating a novel benzylic azide as a functional handle. From here, a “click” reaction will be utilized to attach different alkyne substituents onto the carbon nanohoop.  Initially, I will use β-D-lactose to functionalize the  nanohoop structure.  β-D-Lactose, a sugar derivative, is known to target specific areas in a cell, and thus we can track this localization using the nanohoop fluorescence.

In addition, the cytotoxicity and activity of these nanohoops and functionalized nanohoops will be studied. The fluorescence of the carbon nanohoops will allow us to visualize them in the cell and gain an understanding  of the cytotoxicity of small slices of carbon nanotubes , which has not been studied before. My work and results will also be summarized in meetings with the Jasti and Pluth laboratories, and hopefully in future publications and presentations in conferences.