Prior Awardees

Abbas Hussain (Dr. Shawn Pfeil) - Exploration of Guanine-rich G-Quadruplex (GQ) Secondary Structures.

Guanine-rich G-Quadruplex (GQ) secondary structures are a unique form of nucleic acid sequences with many structural and physiological properties at the forefront of biomolecular research. They are shown to play a role in various biological processes like aging, cancer cell growth, and telomerase activity. It is theorized to behave like a physical switch for regulating genetic replication. This nucleic acid sequence has a unique basic structure: four tetrads that can form from hydrogen bonding between guanine base-pairs that are stabilized by cations.

 Abbas hopes to understand how the human telomere quadruplex forming sequence, Tel22, folds into various orientations under different buffer conditions and to characterize its various stable states. By ligating a linear piece of DNA into a loop containing a quadruplex forming region, he plans to systematically control mechanical tension to the quadruplex structure’s ends by promoting duplex formation on other parts of the loop.

Paulo Castro (Dr. Kevin Aptowicz) - Nanometer Precision In-situ Interferometric Measurement of Thin Films. 

By taking a glass slide and a coverslip and pressing them against one another, a thin film of any soft material can be created. Paulo is interested in measuring how thick these thin films are, which is on the order of a single to tens of micrometers. Paulo’s apparatus takes advantage of double beam light interference, which creates an interference pattern comprised of a series of concentric circles known as the directions image. Two methods were used to measure the film thickness, both of which allow more precision than any current method being used in the field. One method, called the etalon method, uses a CCD camera to take snapshots of the directions images at a single wavelength of light. The snapshots are then analyzed using MATLAB, producing a measurement for the film thickness. The other method, called the spectrometer method, utilizes a spectrometer that captures the spectrum of white light reflected by the sample. The number of peaks in this spectrum will depend upon the thickness of the thin film and are also analyzed using MATLAB. To provide greater insight into these techniques as well as make them easier to use, Paulo and his advisor Dr. Kevin Aptowicz created two applications that allow us to make measurements via a live feed using MATLAB App Designer. This allowed them to see how different adjustments to the apparatus affect measurements as they are being made.


Sydney found that the strong negative association between NO2 and the number of electric and hybrid vehicles in both Pennsylvania and Philadelphia shows that more alternative vehicles on the road lead to less NO2 measured in the air. The results cannot definitively say that the decrease in air pollutants between 2013-2018 was caused by the increase of hybrid and electric vehicles on the road, but moderate to strong negative correlations were found between the two variables. Due to the variety of social and economic factors that influence health, this project cannot definitively say that electrifying vehicles leads to improved respiratory health among the population. While this research did show strong correlations between vehicle fuel types and air pollution, it cannot claim causation because of all the different factors that contribute to air quality.

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