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RCN-UBE: Cell Biology Education Consortium: Ouachita Baptist University

Nathan Reyna

[email protected]

The need for changing how the natural sciences are taught and the expansion of undergraduate research experiences has been well-documented in the literature. One mechanism to accomplish these changes is the incorporation of course-based undergraduate research experiences. While isolated groups are introducing cell culture techniques into such experiences, there has been no coordinated effort to compile resources and provide training that makes creating customizable cell-culture-based research projects easier to implement at smaller, primarily undergraduate institutions and community colleges where faculty time and resources are limited. The Cell Biology Education Coalition (CBEC) will address these major shortfalls through the creation of a network of faculty, students, and resources that will provide an infrastructure to facilitate the development and implementation of unique student-driven research experiences. By creating projects that align with a curriculum's learning goals and desired student outcomes, these activities will help strengthen critical thinking skills in and beyond the classroom.<br/><br/>The primary activity of CBEC will be the development of "Cell Blocks," modules consisting of written and video protocols and classroom implementation strategies and assessments. Cell Blocks will be developed by faculty and their students at small institutions making it likely that they will be adaptable at similar schools. Because the Cell Blocks will have similar basic components, they will be able to be mixed and matched to answer novel questions. The implementation of multiple Cell Blocks will serve as the basis for semester-long research projects that provide the foundation for independent student research projects. Network faculty will have opportunities for professional development through the creation of new Cell Blocks, access to all Cell Block modules and associated supplies, and networking opportunities. Students will be able to interact within a community of scientists to expand on their experiences and create their own independent research projects, establish a funding record through a voucher system, and participate in professional development experiences. Such activities have the potential to increase the number of students entering STEM research fields at the graduate level and in the workforce. Additionally, because efforts will be made to recruit faculty from minority-serving institutions, the proposed network will have a pronounced effect on undergraduates underrepresented in STEM.<br/><br/> This project is being jointly funded by the Directorate for Biological Sciences, Division of Biological Infrastructure, and the Directorate for Education and Human Resources, Division of Undergraduate Education as part of their efforts to address the challenges posed in Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education: A Call to Action (http://visionandchange/finalreport/). Co-funding was provided by the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).<br/><br/>This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

AwardsSchool AdministratorsThe Superintendents Journal

CHS: Small: High-Dimensional Euclidean Embedding for 4D Volumetric Shape with Multi-Tensor Fields: Wayne State University

Zichun Zhong

[email protected]

The overall objective of this research is to develop a rigorous computing system to make the internal workings of the human body easier to understand and analyze. Many complex real-world 4D (space-time) dynamic objects have both heterogenous and anisotropic (unequal along different axes) properties, which can often be captured by multi-modality imaging devices (e.g., 4D-CT/MRI/Ultrasound/DTI), and there is a pressing need to model and analyze these objects. For example, in cardiology, high-fidelity modeling and processing of 4D deformable volumes of cardiac organs and tissues with complex properties, shape geometry, motion and deformation at different phases of the cardiac cycle in real-time becomes important for building an effective and unified tool which doctors can then use to accurately visualize, track, and diagnose. Similar applications also exist in lung cancer treatment, prostate cancer treatment, and so on. This project will also provide several educational activities for undergraduate and graduate students, as well as outreach to local middle school students. <br/><br/>This project centers around a high-d Euclidean geometric embedding framework that integrates Riemannian metric, tensor field, and Nash embedding theory, making it possible to effectively and efficiently represent and process the 4D Riemannian volumetric shapes from a new perspective. The computational realization of the high-d embedding will transform a 3D/4D shape with arbitrary metric tensor fields obtained from 3D/4D heterogenous data feature/property space into a novel high-d shape isometric space which preserves all intrinsic geometric characteristics as well as integrating other multi-modality properties. The generalized geometric embedding space through the unified Riemannian metric tensor fields allows formal and diverse study of geometry scalability and variability in shape optimization, processing and measurement involved in data informatics. In the high-d embedding space, complicated Riemannian metric computations in optimization, reconstruction, comparison and analysis will be replaced with simple and efficient Euclidean computations under the isotropic metric. Through the validation of the framework using 4D shape-tensor reconstruction and analysis, it will be possible to offer medical imaging and biomedicine communities an accurate, robust, and rigorous approach for geometric reasoning and quantitative assessment of multi-heterogenous features and properties across different objects.<br/><br/>This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

AwardsSchool AdministratorsThe Superintendents Journal

CAREER: Controlling Low Temperature Plasma Activation: Washington University

Elijah Thimsen

[email protected]

Low temperature plasmas (LTPs) have been used successfully to excite relatively inert materials into states that promote useful chemical reactions. Applications of LTPs are diverse and include bonding of advanced lightweight structural materials, semiconductor processing, carbon dioxide utilization, wastewater treatment, plasma-assisted wound healing, and agricultural technologies. The discovery and exploration of LTP activation processes has historically proceeded by trial and error, which is expensive and time-consuming. This proposal aims to develop a fundamental understanding of LTPs to accelerate the development of new applications based on them.<br/><br/>The research hypothesis of this project is that chemical reactions occurring in LTPs proceed towards a superlocal equilibrium state, which can be derived from first principles. Preliminary data supports the hypothesis, which will be further tested experimentally using gas-phase reactions that are of interest for energy and environmental applications. Under conditions of superlocal equilibrium, different species can have different temperatures at the same location in space. The superlocal equilibrium state in LTPs is expected to be a function of the background gas temperature, electron temperature, total pressure, electron concentration, and mole numbers of different species. Chemical systems containing carbon, hydrogen and oxygen will be studied that are of considerable interest for energy and environmental applications, with carbon dioxide and methane being two key molecules. To characterize the C-H-O system, which is multiphase, a robust and reliable method will be developed to measure plasma parameters over a wide pressure range in LTPs that produce solids. Integration of research and education will be focused on developing active learning modules on chemical equilibria for high school students, in collaboration with a Chemistry Teacher from a local High School, and for undergraduate students taking a Thermodynamics course at Washington University.<br/><br/>This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

AwardsSchool AdministratorsThe Superintendents Journal

An Integrated Approach to Early Elementary Earth and Space Science: Astronomical Society of the Pacific

Linda Shore

[email protected]

State science standards increasingly emphasize the importance of engaging K-12 students directly in natural phenomena and providing opportunities to construct explanations grounded in evidence. Moreover, these state science standards introduce earth and space science content in the early elementary grades. This creates a critical need for new pedagogies, materials, and resources for science teachers in all grades, but the need is particularly urgent in grades K-3 where teachers have had little preparation to teach science, let alone astronomy. There is also growing consensus that when learning opportunities in formal and informal settings are closely aligned, children's science literacy is developed in ways greater than either setting can achieve alone. The investigators will study if, how, and under what circumstances an integration of literacy strategies, hands-on inquiry-based investigations, and planetarium experiences supports the development of science practices (noticing, recognizing change, making predictions, and constructing explanations) in early elementary level students. This project will generate knowledge about how astronomy-focused storybooks, hands-on investigations, and planetarium experiences can be integrated to develop age-appropriate science practices in very young children (noticing, recognizing change, making predictions, and constructing explanations). This project is funded by the Discovery Research preK-12 program (DRK-12), which seeks to significantly enhance the learning and teaching of STEM by preK-12 students and teachers, through research and development of innovative resources, models and tools. Projects in the DRK-12 program build on fundamental research in STEM education and prior research and development efforts that provide theoretical and empirical justification for proposed projects.<br/><br/>Emergent research on the development of children's science thinking indicates that when young children are engaged with science-focused storybooks and activities that each highlight the same phenomenon, children notice and gather evidence, make predictions and claims based on evidence, and provide explanations grounded in the experiences provided to them. This project has two phases. In Phase 1, first and third grade teachers will be recruited. They will help identify specific learner needs as these relate to the earth and space science standards in their grade band, assist in the development and pilot testing of a prototype instructional sequence and supporting activities taking place within their classrooms and at a local planetarium. In Phase 2, the revised learning sequence and research protocol will be implemented with the same teachers and a new cohort of children. The mixed method research design includes video observations, teacher interviews, and teacher and student surveys. Data analysis will focus on science practices, connections across contexts (e.g., school and planetarium), and instructional adaptations. The project involves a research-practice collaboration between the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, Rockman & Associates, the Lawrence Hall of Science [University of California, Berkeley], and West Chester University.<br/><br/>This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

AwardsSchool AdministratorsThe Superintendents Journal

Collaborative Research: Adaptive Gaussian Markov Random Fields for Large-scale Discrete Optimization via Simulation: Pennsylvania State Univ University Park

Eunhye Song

[email protected]

Major federal agencies, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Federal Aviation Administration, Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Department of Health and Human Services, and others, seek government and non-government assistance with the application of scientific, data-driven methods to help them execute effectively on their critical missions. Because their mandate is typically large-scale, complex, and involves inherent uncertainty, computer simulation is often the only tool for representing their problems in a comprehensive way. Similar problems occur in the private sector, especially in health care delivery, computer networks, warehousing and distribution, and transportation systems. Unfortunately, "large-scale, complex, and involving inherent uncertainty" are the features that make "optimizing" a simulated system hard, particularly when the decisions are how to allocate discrete units of resources such as personnel, vehicles and facilities. The proposed research marries high-performance computing, smart numerical methods, and state-of-the-art statistical methodology to significantly increase the size and complexity of simulated systems that can be optimized. As a result, agencies such as those listed above will be able to more fully solve their "system of systems" resource-allocation problems using computer simulation.<br/><br/>The proposed research tackles statistical and computational challenges that arise in solving large-scale stochastic optimization problems when the objective function may only be evaluated by executing a stochastic simulation. Such optimization problems are often with respect to a high-dimensional, discrete-valued decision variable in a large solution space. The modeling flexibility of simulation comes at a cost: arbitrarily complex stochastic simulations may not be optimized using tools from mathematical programming. As a result, the scale of problems that can currently be solved by simulation with an optimality gap guarantee is limited. The investigators propose to create theory, algorithms and software for large-scale discrete-decision-variable simulation optimization that converge to the global optimum asymptotically, and provide optimality-gap inference when terminated. The proposed methods are based on inferential optimization, which models the unknown objective function by a Gaussian Markov Random Field (GMRF), a type of Gaussian Process defined by a graph on the discrete solution space; the investigators have shown that GMRFs provide better inference for a discrete problems than Gaussian processes defined on a continuous domain. The conditional distribution of a GMRF provides inference for selecting solutions to simulate and for search termination when the inferred optimality gap is small. However, the computational cost of numerical linear algebra increases faster than the number of feasible solutions. To facilitate the solution of large-scale problems, three core topics are proposed: exploiting high-performance computing; creating a restricted search scheme and tailored computational linear algebra that significantly reduces the computations in GMRF updates; and attacking limits on dimensionality via an adaptive multi-resolution GMRF and projections to lower dimensions. This award will provide support of graduate student training through research.<br/><br/>This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

AwardsSchool AdministratorsThe Superintendents Journal

Collaborative Research – The Bean Beetle Microbiome Project: A Research-Education Collaboration: Morehouse College

Lawrence Blumer

[email protected]

Recent national reports call for undergraduate laboratory courses to be transformed so that all students have research experiences. Course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs) have proven to be a successful educational innovation that have enabled more students to do research. The biological context for this education research project is a CURE that is based on the gut bacterial microbiome of the bean beetle, Callosobruchus maculatus. College and university faculty from a range of institutions and geographic locations will attend workshops as a part of this project to learn how to work with bean beetles, study their microbiome, evaluate microbial community data, and implement bean beetle microbiome CUREs in their courses. Working with bean beetles will allow student researchers to readily manipulate factors that might affect gut bacteria in ways that would not be possible with vertebrates or other insect model systems. Students will have the freedom to design their own experiments and to develop their own research questions, as practicing scientists do. The project is designed to examine the importance of student autonomy (i.e. choosing their own research questions) in the context of course-based research classes, and to guide science educators as they change the way in which science is learned and taught. This project has the potential to benefit students at a range of institutions including minority serving and two-year colleges by increasing the retention of students in science and fostering interest in pursuing STEM careers or graduate school. <br/><br/>The overall goal of this project is to determine the importance of student autonomy in a discovery CURE across diverse institutions. This goal will be achieved by disseminating, implementing, and assessing a data-intensive bean beetle microbiome CURE that will simultaneously advance our understanding of insect host-microbe interactions. The first objective is to examine the importance of student autonomy in a discovery CURE. Student outcomes will be assessed using a mixed methods approach with surveys, structured interviews, and focus groups. The second objective is to foster research on insect host-microbe interactions using experimental approaches with the bean beetle model system. The third and fourth goals are to develop faculty expertise with hands-on workshops in research protocols for examining microbial communities in bean beetles, and in data science for bioinformatics and microbial community analyses. The fifth objective is to foster the implementation of data-intensive course-based research at diverse institutions. Faculty from the hands-on workshops will implement a bean beetle microbiome CURE in two different semesters. The project is designed to increase the number of minority and two-year college students who participate in CUREs, stay engaged in science, and pursue graduate degrees in STEM disciplines.<br/><br/>This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

AwardsSchool AdministratorsThe Superintendents Journal

OPUS: MCS: The emergence of large-scale patterns of biodiversity from interactions between people, their yards, and urban wildlife: University of Illinois at Chicago

Emily Minor

[email protected]

Residential yards and gardens provide many physical and mental benefits to urban residents. They may also be particularly important spaces for urban wildlife. Collectively, they can contain most of the vegetation in North American cities. Urban gardens serve as vital habitat for birds, bees, and other animals. Some yards are dominated by turf grass while others are more lush and diverse, with layers of vegetation, flowering plants, and features intended to attract wildlife. The choices that people make in their yards can vary widely, but it is known that people?s choices are influenced by their neighbors as well as by the wildlife they see in their neighborhoods. This research will use a modeling approach to examine the choices that people make in their yards. It will study the consequences of these choices for wildlife habitat, including the biodiversity of birds and bees. A model will be developed to investigate future changes in residential yards and gardens. The project will make recommendations about how yards can provide the most benefit for birds and bees. The model will also be used to educate school children, college students, and the public about the importance of their yards and gardens for biodiversity. <br/><br/>Together, humans, their yards, and urban wildlife form a complex, coupled human and natural system. Such systems are often nonlinear, contain feedbacks and thresholds, and shift from one state to another over time and across space. The ecological impacts of these dynamics may not be immediately observable or predictable because of time lags. This research will use empirical data gathered over the last ten years in the metro area of Chicago, Illinois to parameterize an agent-based model. The model will examine the spatio-temporal dynamics of an urban residential ecosystem under the influence of residents? landscaping choices. In particular, the model will examine feedbacks between people, their yards, and urban wildlife. It will test the idea that those feedbacks might switch from positive to negative depending on the abundance of wildlife in a neighborhood. The model will be used to explore patterns at larger spatial and temporal scales than can be examined empirically. It will examine the impacts of various scenarios that might affect bird and bee communities across the landscape. Thus, the model will identify emergent phenomena in urban biodiversity that result from local-scale interactions between individual agents.<br/><br/>This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

AwardsSchool AdministratorsThe Superintendents Journal

CAREER: Quantum Dynamics of Photochemical Reactions in Solar Energy Conversions: University of Rochester

Pengfei Huo

[email protected]

Pengfei Huo of the University of Rochester is supported by a CAREER award from the Chemical Theory, Models and Computational Methods program in the Division of Chemistry for theoretical research relevant to solar energy conversion. Huo and coworkers develop new quantum dynamics approaches for investigating photochemical reaction. These reactions are crucial for solar fuel production. In solar-to-fuel reactions, a molecule is excited by absorption of light, and this process allows the molecule to transfer of both electrons and protons to another molecule. A quantitative and predictive understanding of these reactions is hampered by the lack of efficient and accurate theoretical approaches. The Huo group develops new quantum dynamics methods that aim to address these theoretical challenges. They use computational tools to simulate coupled electron and proton transfer reactions in photocatalytic conversions. Such insights inspire new design principles and paradigms for next-generation photocatalytic energy production. Dr. Huo's research program is integrated with an educational component centered on theoretical chemistry, including the 'Journey to the Molecular World' summer school for high school students in the Rochester City School District. This project aims to inspires student curiosity and enthusiasm about molecular science and encourage high school students to pursue higher education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.<br/><br/>On-the-fly quantum dynamics simulation is one of the most desirable approaches to investigate non-equilibrium photochemical reactions. Accurately performing such simulations remains a significant challenge in theoretical chemistry, due to a lack of efficient quantum dynamics methods as well as the discrepancy between diabatic dynamics methods and adiabatic electronic structure calculations. To address these long-standing challenges, Dr. Huo and his team are developing new path-integral quantum dynamics approaches that can accurately simulate non-adiabatic electronic transitions and explicitly incorporate nuclear quantum effects through a classical-like description for all degrees of freedom. They are also developing new propagation schemes that enable a seamless interface between diabatic dynamics methods and adiabatic electronic structure calculations, explicitly avoiding additional efforts to reformulate diabatic dynamics methods to the adiabatic representations. Combining the above two types of techniques, the Huo group is performing on-the-fly simulations to investigate the fundamental mechanisms of photoinduced proton-coupled electron transfer (PI-PCET) reactions which are at the center of many solar energy conversion processes. His team is exploring experimentally-testable mechanistic hypotheses that take advantage of the non-equilibrium and quantum mechanical nature of PI-PCET to achieve new chemical reactivities. These investigations may yield a set of general and widely applicable theoretical tools that can significantly expand the scope of quantum dynamics simulations, as well as provide fundamental knowledge and new design principles to predict and control the reactivities of next-generation photocatalysts.<br/><br/>This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

AwardsSchool AdministratorsThe Superintendents Journal

Design and Synthesis of Robust Cationic Polymers for Stable and Efficient Anion-Exchange Membranes: Carnegie-Mellon University

Kevin Noonan

[email protected]

Professors Kevin Noonan and Tomasz Kowalewski of Carnegie-Mellon University are supported by the Macromolecular, Supramolecular, and Nanochemistry (MSN) Program of the Division of Chemistry to design and prepare new charged polymers that function as ion-exchange membranes. These membranes are sandwiched between the negative and positive compartments of fuel cells and are considered a key component of these energy conversion devices. A variety of consumer related products rely on fuel cells for clean energy generation. New cationic (positively charged) polymer membranes are synthesized using appropriate controlled polymerization techniques. Their chemical, electrochemical, and mechanical stability are assessed under fuel cell operating conditions. One of the main objectives of this work is to make durable membranes which can withstand the harsh chemical environments of a fuel cell device. If successful, fuel cells with these newly synthesized polymer membranes will not rely on precious metals for energy generation, which represents a significant economic advantage. Students from diverse backgrounds are trained and involved in this project. A "Fuel Cell Project" with educational material and demonstrations is being developed. The project is made available on the web and used to educate junior high school students about renewable energy life cycles. <br/><br/>In this project, the PIs are exploring the chemical and electrochemical stability of cationic polymers in the presence of hydroxide ions. The information obtained is used to build robust membranes for ion-transport in fuel cells. While transport of protons under acidic conditions is well established, hydroxide transport in solid polymer electrolytes under thermal and electrochemical stress is still a significant challenge. The development of next-generation robust, long-lasting and inert cationic materials for shuttling these caustic anions requires a combination of synthesis and characterization. Controlled polymerization techniques are critical for building the polymer materials. A battery of characterization techniques is used to evaluate their structure, stability and morphology. Specifically, X-ray scattering, atomic force microscopy, transport/device measurements and computational chemistry are used to probe the properties of these membranes. Transport and mechanical properties are tailored by synthesizing well-defined polymers and block copolymers. These materials are used to establish relationships between ion transport and morphology of novel ionomers. This work provides the basis for subsequent material design to optimize anion transport. If successful, the project will result in stable and efficient anion exchange membranes (AEMs) for alkaline fuel cells that do not need precious metals for proper function.<br/><br/>This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

AwardsSchool AdministratorsThe Superintendents Journal

Investigating How Museum Experiences Inform Youths' STEM Career Awareness and Interest: Museum of Science and Industry

Aaron Price

[email protected]

Museums in the US receive approximately 55 million visits each year from students in school groups. Field trip visits to an art museum have been found to positively impact critical thinking skills, empathy and tolerance – an increase that can be even more significant for youth from rural or high-poverty regions. While field trips are popular, especially at science museums, there have been no experimental studies about their impact on STEM career choices and interests, much less any which used a culturally sensitive and responsive approach. Given the resources put into field trips, this study investigates if causal links can be drawn between museum experiences and impact on youth. The Museum of Science & Industry uses a Learning Labs approach for engaging its visitors. These "Learning Labs" are facilitated experiences that run roughly an hour. Currently there are 12 lab topics. This study focuses on MedLab–one of the learning labs–as the setting for the research. MedLab is designed for on-site and online experience using ultra-sophisticated and highly versatile technology in challenges taken from research on the top healthcare issues that face adolescents in their communities.<br/><br/>This study is informed by research and theory on Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT) and Racial and Ethnic Identity. The former describes a process many follow when thinking about career options, broadly. The latter describes how people see themselves in the world through their membership with a racial and/or ethnic group. Both processes can collectively influence STEM career choices. This study follows an embedded mixed-method design. The quantitative portion includes an experimental, pre/post/delayed post-test design of both educators and their students using multiple measures taken mostly from previously published instruments. The qualitative portion includes observation rubrics of MedLab sessions along with interviews and focus groups with staff, educators, students and families that take place both within and outside of the museum. This is an experimental study of moderate size of both heterogeneous teacher and student populations in real world settings. It involves comparing youth and educators that participate in MedLab with those who do not. By conducting research that looks at each community through the lens of their unique experiences, the research will measure their impact more sensitively and authentically, addressing a gap in current literature on informal science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) career education with diverse students.<br/><br/>This study is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program and the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program. The AISL program seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. The ITEST program seeks to better understand and promote practices that increase student motivations and capacities to pursue careers STEM-related fields.<br/><br/>This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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