From jellyfish and dairy cows to artificial intelligence and educational biographies, this final round-up of Mentored Undergraduate Summer Experience research projects showcases the variety and depth of academic inquiry TCNJ students and faculty immerse themselves in during their “time off” between semesters.
But these are just a sampling of the research taking place in all disciplines at TCNJ. Interested in learning more about MUSE? Visit the MUSE website or ask a professor how you can get involved with research.
PROJECT Brain-inspired circuits for decision, control, and computing
FACULTY Ambrose Adegbege, electrical and computer engineering
STUDENTS Matthew Bohr ’23, Francis Moran ’22, Nia Harish ’23
BRAINSTORMING The National Academy of Engineering says one of the grand engineering challenges of the 21st century is “can we impart human intelligence into machines so they operate autonomously without human intervention?” This team’s project takes on this issue of reverse-engineering of the brain.
GETTING OUR HEAD AROUND IT “We’re developing analog circuitry with the capability of solving complex problems similar to the way the human brain works,” says Adegbege. Specifically, their calculations will help them build a network circuit capable of stabilizing water levels in a quad tank testbed by powering a motor to a speed determined by an optimization problem programmed and tested by Francis Moran. With data from the tests, the team will work to publish their research in a journal this fall.
PROJECT Whiteness as negative space: Exploring teacher candidates’ narratives about race, racism, and schooling
FACULTY Michael Smith, special education, language, and literacy
STUDENT Jocelyn Gonzalez ’22
LET’S IDENTIFY Like so many socially constructed phenomena, whiteness is (re)produced—in (in)visible, (un)conscious, and implicit/explicit ways—in the everyday functioning of cultural and social institutions like schools. This team is exploring how whiteness is rendered visible and/or invisible in undergraduate education students’ narratives about education, race, and racism through qualitative analysis of teacher candidates’ “educational autobiography” term papers.
ONGOING COLLABORATION The project is an extension of work started in an interdisciplinary faculty-student seminar exploring historical, societal, and institutional constructions of whiteness. Smith and Gonzalez worked together to theorize about the functions of whiteness in teacher education spaces and conceptualize the notions of white (negative) space found at the heart of their research study. They plan to produce at least one peer-reviewed publication and one professional conference presentation.
PROJECT Quantifying the risk of cryptosporidiosis to dairy farmers in New Jersey
FACULTY Alexis Mraz, public health
STUDENT Seana Cleary ’22
SAFETY FIRST They’ve been assessing the risk of cryptosporidiosis, a gastrointestinal illness, to dairy farmers in New Jersey through quantitative microbial risk assessment, a mathematical modeling approach used to estimate the risk of illness to a population when exposed to a microorganism.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT Cryptosporidiosis can cause gastrointestinal illness in both humans and cattle, and while complications are minor in healthy adults, infections can be fatal in young children or the immunocompromised. This team is quantifying the concentration of cryptosporidium parvum in cow manure, using the data to assess the risk of cryptosporidiosis to dairy farmers, and also assessing how certain PPE like gloves and masks can mitigate risk.
SEANA SAYS “I fell in love with research after working in labs during the academic year, but this was the first time I was involved in each step of the process” Cleary says. “It really reinforced that I’m going in the right direction and helped me focus my post-grad plans. Plus, I got to play with calves all summer!”
PROJECT Classifying vortex wakes of various swimmers using neural networks
FACULTY Nicholas Battista, mathematics and statistics
STUDENTS Lana Abdelmohsen ’23 and Kendra Ebke ’23
JUST KEEP SWIMMING Imagine taking a photograph of water after a swimmer has passed through it: you’d see the complicated swirls (vortices) and maybe even some patterns after the swimmer has moved through. This team is working to predict a swimmer’s attributes (size, how fast they’re performing strokes, for example) by only the clues that appear in the snapshot of the water’s motion. Except for this project, the swimmers are jellyfish!
GETTING SMARTER With the modeling infrastructure now up and running, the team is now asking interesting flow physics and biomechanics questions. “There are many avenues left to explore for jellyfish, and many other invertebrates to investigate, each with interesting locomotion physics to uncover,” says Battista. “This project will be (ever) ongoing.”
PRO TIP “For any students that are hesitant about reaching out to a professor for summer research: It is 100 percent worth it,” Abdelmohsen says. “Don’t shy away from reaching out and take the initiative if you truly want to do it.”