Mohammad Saffari Doost

Sleep is essential for human health. In particular, insufficient or low-quality sleep causes higher risks for cardiovascular diseases. Mammals exhibit distinct rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep, and non-REM sleep is associated with lower heart rate and blood pressure. However, how neural circuits coordinate sleep and heart functions remains unclear. The nucleus ambiguus (Amb), located deep in the medulla, contains cardioinhibitory cholinergic neurons. Activating Amb neurons decreases the heart rate. Mohammad will identify the sleep neurons that activate Amb cholinergic neurons using virus-mediated retrograde tracing. He will also test whether optogenetically activating these sleep neurons can decrease the heart rate. This study will uncover the neural mechanism coordinating sleep and heart functions and potentially lead to therapeutics for sleep and cardiovascular disorders.

Nicholas Rapidis

While the Standard Model of Particle Physics has been a nearly perfect model for explaining particle interactions, it has two major flaws: its inability to fix the Strong CP Problem and its failure to explain the existence of Dark Matter. To address these issues simultaneously, a new particle, the axion, has been theorized. Experimental efforts to detect this particle have already begun but since the axions mass is unknown, experimentalists are forced to search for it over several orders of magnitude in mass. Nicholas will utilize new theoretical results to study whether axions could leave an imprint on the Cosmic Microwave Background. If such an imprint exists, the axions mass could be determined based on pre-existing observations thus limiting the time it would take experiments to confirm the existence of this particle.

Nicholas Carey

Kaposis Sarcoma Associated Herpesvirus (KSHV) establishes lifelong infections and can cause a variety of cancers and proliferative disorders in immunosuppressed individuals. Recent evidence indicates that oral contact is the primary route of transmission for KSHV. The goal of this project is to elucidate the mechanism of reactivation for transmission of KSHV in the hopes of developing novel treatments to reduce the incidence of infection in the community. Nicholas will infect human oral keratinocytes with several KSHV mutants, and qPCR will be used to analyze transcription patterns to determine the role of a virally encoded G-Protein Coupled Receptor in reactivation of latent infection. If gene knockout successfully limits viral progeny production, Nicholas will test potential drug therapies for their ability to recapitulate this phenotype.

Daniel Quintana

In mammals, detecting weak stimuli is crucial for animal survival. One way they could detect weak stimuli is spatial integration, pooling together weak signals over an area of visual space to strengthen the signal. In the cortex, vasointestinal peptide (VIP) cells are a group of interneurons that have a central role in pyramidal cell tuning and response modulation of other interneurons. However, the mechanisms behind how signals from different inhibitory interneurons affect the codification of sensory stimuli into percepts remains unclear. He will optogenetically activate and inhibit VIP interneurons in visual cortex in mice. The outcomes of this project might enhance our comprehension of neuronal circuits involved in sensory perception and provide new approaches to understand mental diseases that are associated with structural and functional changes in the cortex.

Xiaoyu Niu

Yoshitaka Maeda made the conjecture in 1997: Let m be an integer greater than 1 and let F be the characteristic polynomial of the Hecke operator T_m acting on the space S_k of cusp forms of weight k and level one, then the polynomial F is irreducible over the field of rational numbers; the Galois group of the splitting field of F is the full symmetric group _d, where d is the dimension of S_k. Most recent computations via Sage have verified the conjecture for k 14000. Xiaoyus project will focus on computing via Sage for k > 14000 and/or considering bigger n than whats currently available. She hopes to either provide more evidence or to find results that disprove the conjecture. She may make theoretical attempts at the conjecture.

Xinyi Zhang

Parkinsons disease is the second-most common neurodegenerative disorder, which currently has no effective treatment. The development of treatments can benefit from better understandings of how the neurodegeneration propagates in the brain. The most crucial contributor to the propagation is believed to be the transmission between neurons of the pathological protein, -synuclein. To study the unresolved transmission mechanism, Xinyi proposes an RNA-Seq study on neuronal models to measure the transient responses of cells exposed to -syn over time. RNA-Sequencing is a powerful tool for unbiased investigation of the highly coordinated responses across the whole genome. The massive RNA-Seq data, however, is often confounded by high noise level and experimental artifacts. Thus, Xinyi will develop a data analysis pipeline that improves the accuracy of signal detection and the resolution in time of RNA-Seq.

Jehan Yang

Utilizing 27 degrees of freedom, the human hand is a complex manipulator capable of tasks ranging from fingerstyle guitar to precise surgery. To replicate the human hand would produce a highly versatile tool in robotics and prostheses. Robots in the future might perform surgery while arm amputees could perform as well as anyone in sports and arts. Current hand replications have limitations of high expense and weight, with trade-offs in precision. For his project, Jehan aims to create an inexpensive and light manipulator, with improvements for precise control. He will achieve this by incorporating additive manufacturing and artificial muscles, along with experimentation of control algorithms and machine learning. Through engineering analyses and iteration, Jehan hopes to contribute an important tool for robotics research and custom prosthetic design.

Christopher McCarron

Soils derived from serpentine rock host a unique flora while being distributed throughout California in scattered outcrops. Their insularity makes them ideal for examining the evolution and divergence of species restricted to them, such as the leather oak (Quercus durata var. durata). Chris McCarron’s honors thesis will use reduced genome DNA sequencing for 310 samples from 31 separate populations throughout Q. duratas range. Results will determine the levels and depths of divergence among populations, spatial patterns of differentiation, their timing of isolation, and whether there was a single evolutionary event, or multiple. Findings will have implications for oak conservation and management of populations with unique genetic structure in the face of climate change. Additionally, results will inform our understanding of Q. duratas past and how previous changes have affected it.

Zoe Hsiao

Human Cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is one of eight pathogenic herpesviruses known to infect humans. HCMV can be asymptomatic in those with sufficient immune systems, but lead to serious or fatal disease in immunodeficient persons. Because current medications to treat HCMV have a poor safety profile and risk the potential to select for drug resistance, vaccine development remains a top priority. The goal of this project is to better understand how a component of the human immune system, complement Factor H (FH), responds to HCMV. Zoe will employ a yeast-two-hybrid screen using a HCMV gene library to identify protein-protein interactions with FH. Following identification, Zoe will characterize protein-protein interactions in the context of conferring immunity against HCMV. The outcomes of this research will hopefully identify potential avenues for drug or immunotherapeutics development.

Gabriel Perko-Engel

Largely unchanged for centuries, origami in the last hundred years has exploded with innovation! Beginning with the works of Akira Yoshizawa and his introduction of the first technical system for notating folds, paperfolding has transformed from a simple craft to a highly developed field of mathematics, engineering, and artistry. Yet, even as groundbreaking work has been done to determine what objects can be folded and how, fundamental questions remain about the dynamics of even the simplest moving models such as the traditional flapping bird. Building on the existing idealized work of rigid continuous transformations and the emergent phase transitions in slightly deformed folding patterns, Gabriel is applying the tools of computer simulations and statistical mechanics to probe the ways in which real materials fold and collapse.