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Projects

Measuring Cognition with Online Games

Josh de Leeuw, Cognitive Science

My lab is currently working on designing and building a set of games-as-experiments. These are simple online games that will be played on our website. The games are designed to mimic classic experiments in cognition, so that we can use people’s performance on the games as a way to test theories of cognitive function. Once we have created a critical mass of games, we will publicize the website and collect data from players all over the world to build a large open data set on human cognition. This data set will be available to anyone who wants to use it to test theories of cognition. The DIR fellow will select an experiment that is interesting to them, come up with a strategy to convert that experiment into a game, and develop the final game. We’ll then test the game on a set of participants that we recruit to validate the approach. This project will involve reading papers in cognitive science and game design, as well as computer programming. The DIR fellow does not need any previous experience in programming, but does need to be motivated to learn how to program.

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Ultrafast Lasers and Nanoscale Physics

Brian Daly, Physics and Astronomy

Ultrafast lasers produce pulses of light that are less than 1 picosecond (A millionth of a millionth of a second) in duration.  These remarkable light sources allow for investigations of extremely short lived phenomena in solid materials.  Of particular interest to my research group are the conduction of heat and the propagation of ultrasound in novel nanostructures. We have several goals this summer. First, we have an ongoing project to study surface acoustic waves at their highest possible frequencies-near 50 GHz.  Second, we are beginning a study of novel materials that are grown in single or few atom thick layers such as graphene and transition metal dichalcongenides.  Techniques will include laser experiments, the growth of thin metal films, and computational modeling of vibrational and electromagnetic waves.

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Explorations in Knot Theory

Adam Lowrance, Mathematics and Statistics

In knot theory, we study mathematical models of knotted ropes in space. The knotted rope forms a closed path (so it has no loose ends), it is infinitely thin, and it is infinitely stretchable. Two knots are considered equivalent if the first can be deformed into the second by stretching, bending, and moving our idealized rope through space. The rope cannot be cut and glued back together during the deformation and one strand is not allowed to pass through another.

Shining a flashlight at a knot leaves a shadow of the knot on the wall. If the flashlight is held at just the right position, then at most two strands cross at one time. When drawing the shadow of the knot on paper,  we indicate which of the two strands at a crossing is closer to the flashlight. Such a drawing of a knot is called a knot diagram. Every knot has infinitely many diagrams.

In this project, we will study certain collections of curves in the plane (called Kauffman states) associated to a knot diagram. If a knot diagram has a Kauffman state with a special pictorial property (called homogeneously adequate), then the knot is nontrivial. The ultimate goal of the project is to classify the homogeneously adequate states of a knot diagram.

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The Geometry of Line Arrangements: Exploiting Symmetry

Moshe Cohen, Mathematics and Statistics

In high school you used equations to determine the point of intersections of two lines. For this project, we generalize to more lines, and we study the various intersection points that arise. These collections of points inform us about the geometry of the lines; for example, three lines with a single triple point looks like pizza for six, while three lines with three double points gives an extra triangle. With enough lines, our intuition betrays us, and a single collection of intersection points can lead to different geometries: this behavior is what we will investigate.  The mathematical objects we'll be playing with are called "arrangements" (or collections) of lines.  This topic is an access point for many difficult questions in much deeper areas of mathematics, but we will play in the shallow end of the pool.

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Characterization of Enzymes from Gut Microbe Bacteroides ovatus

Krystle McLaughlin, Chemistry

We are using biochemical and biophysical techniques to characterize proteins from Bacteroides ovatus, a gut microbe that is overabundant of gut microbe in the autoimmune disorders such as systemic lupus erythematosus. Proteins studied are hypothesized to play a part in provoking a human autoimmune response or on strain survival. Of interest are specialized carbohydrate esterases and hydrolases, which can contribute to damaging the lining of the gut, evoking an immune response, and may be crucial to the survival of B. ovatus. This research will provide further understanding of B. ovatus at the molecular level, and provide the basis for further work on its role in autoimmune disease. Students will perform protein purification, in vitro enzyme assays, protein crystallization, and create mutant protein constructs for study.

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Mapping and Measuring Arc Expression in the Prefrontal Cortex and Amygdala Following Chronic Alcohol Exposure and Fear Memory Retrieval

Hadley Bergstrom, Psychological Science, Neuroscience and Behavior

In the Memory Neuroscience Lab at Vassar College, we have demonstrated that chronic exposure to alcohol impacts the extinction and generalization of an established conditioned fear memory. Fear memory extinction and generalization is mediated, in part, by the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and amygdala (AMG). How alcohol-induced neuroadaptations in the PFC-AMG are associated with changes in fear memory sensitization and generalization is poorly understood. The purpose of this DIR project is map and measure, using bright-field microscopy, the density of neurons in a PFC-AMG pathway that express a key molecular marker of synaptic plasticity in the brain (i.e., the activity-regulated cytoskeletal protein; Arc). The ultimate goal of this series of experiments is to inform our neurobiological understanding of co-morbid Post-traumatic stress and alcohol use disorders.

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Astrocytes in Cognition: Potential Targets for Neurodegenerative Diseases

Lori Newman, Psychological Science, Neuroscience and Behavior

Over the last century, the role of neurons in communicating information has been the focus of the majority of neuroscience research due to their unique electrical capabilities allowing for easy analysis of their activity. The other cells in the brain, known as glial cells were mostly thought of as support for the neurons, literally deriving their name from the Greek for glue, as they were merely thought to hold the brain together. Recently, a focus on the role of glial cells, particularly astrocytes, in brain function has begun to emerge as a potential new target for therapeutics after finding that subtle manipulations of astrocytic function can greatly affect learning and memory (Newman, Korol & Gold, 2011).

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