3A12 Abstracts 2013

Below is a list of abstracts by third-year students in the Integrated Science Program:

Jonathan Hughes – Investigating dimorphism in snails with regards to shell chirality

In the vast majority of snail populations, all individuals exhibit the same direction of shell coiling: either dextral, coiling right, or sinistral, coiling left. The genotype for shell chirality is determined at a single gene locus. Snails of opposing shell chirality suffer obstructions to successful mating, as the shells stop the snails getting close enough for their genitalia to interact easily. Thus, if a mutation occurs in a dextral population to produce a small number of sinistral snails, then the sinistral allele should be selected against and disappear from the population. Indeed, this is what we see in almost all snail species. Interestingly however, in a select few species we observe that populations appear to live in a successful dimorphism, with both sinistral and dextral shelled snails coexisting. One such species is Amphidromus, which is the primary subject of this study. There are a number of suggested selection pressures that might lead to this dimorphism, and these will be researched in a literature review, but they are currently poorly understood. Furthermore, using a prebuilt computer program to simulate a population of Amphidromus snails, a select number of parameters that may lead to this dimorphism will be investigated. There will also be an assessment of whether dimorphism can be achieved without any selection pressures. Both of these will mostly involve ‘data mining’ to assist Dr. Stone in his own research to expand upon the current body of knowledge.

Clark Eom – Prenatal exposure of rat dams to Fluoxetine may affect fertility of their female offsprings

Antidepressant usage in pregnancy has steadily increased four-fold from 1992 to 2006. Most commonly used type of antidepressant is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). SSRIs are routinely prescribed to pregnant mothers to treat depression. The safety of SSRI usage during pregnancy is a current topic of debate. The early life environment is known to be significant to the developmental path and determination of the phenotype of the individual. Moreover, the ovarian serotonin receptors are reported to be involved in the regulation of preovulatory luteinizing hormone surge, prolactin release, ovulation, and steroidogenesis. This brings into question the effect of overstimulation of ovarian serotonin receptors during pregnancy on the fetal ovarian development and on the resulting reproductive functioning as adults. The study looks at the change in abundance of ovarian follicles in the offspring born to mothers given Fluoxetine during pregnancy. Ovaries from the F1 generation were collected from control group of rats and Fluoxetine treatment group, where the parental generation were given Fluoxetine during pregnancy. The ovaries were sectioned into 8 µm thick slices, stained using hematoxylin and eosin, and studied under an optical microscope. The number of follicles was then counted for each ovary. We expect to find less number of ovarian follicles in the treatment group than the control which would indicate a reduced reproductive functioning and a metabolic change in the offspring.

Daniel Heggie – The development of atmospheres and their influence on habitability

At current studying the atmospheres of exoplanets is extremely difficult, so difficult in fact that only a few large exoplanets have had their atmospheres analysed. Therefore, for smaller exoplanets we cannot take direct measurements and must instead rely on models. These models usually use atmospheric data from Earth, Mars and Venus as their primary data. The reason for this is because despite the fact that they are all small rocky planets, they have great variance in atmosphere. This great variance in atmosphere is caused by the planets’ atmospheres undergoing different atmospheric development.

Therefore, in this paper the process of atmospheric development will be discussed, and how variations in certain factors leads to differences in atmospheric composition and thickness, which both have a strong impact on surface temperature and thus habitability. Examples of some these factors include; the size of the planet, the intensity of the magnetic field and the incoming stellar radiation. Once this has been completed, the relationship between these factors and how they affect the atmosphere will be discussed and if possible the different relationships will be combined mathematically to form equations. The resulting equations will then be used to approximate the atmospheric composition, thickness and thus habitability of an exoplanet. The results will then be compared and contrasted with those provided by other studies. If it is shown that the method used for approximation is in disagreement with the other studies, then reasons for this difference in results will be suggested.

John Rawlins – The iSci Alumni Survey and Literature Review

The Integrated Science program at McMaster University is a unique undergraduate science program, which emphasizes the use of large group projects as a more effective way of teaching the undergraduate science material. However, as both a brand new program and one of only two Integrated Science programs in the world, the true effectiveness of the iSci program has yet to be determined. For this purpose, and to gauge the effectiveness of year specific classes, the iCore leadership team launched the iSci Longitudinal Study in 2012. As it currently exists, the study asks students to rate the effectiveness of the program at preparing them in several skill sets, like public speaking and scientific research, and readying them for various experiences, like undergraduate research opportunities, after they complete each year. However, to truly gauge how effective the program is at preparing students for what they encounter post-graduation, the study must be adapted so that information can be obtained from the students after they have graduated and begun the next chapter of their academic career. This project will include the initial draft of the iSci Alumni Survey, the tool through which the information from the alumni will be obtained, and a literature review of both the alumni surveys being used at alternative institutions and the scientific literature surrounding what makes effective surveys. Reviewing the literature should allow for the construction of an effective, quantifiable iSci Alumni survey, which should in turn allow the iCore team to properly judge the effectiveness of the program.

Paras Patel and Gillian Criminisi – The prevalence and attitudes towards academic dishonesty in undergraduate McMaster University students

Academic dishonesty is a serious issue throughout the education system, and although efforts are made to discourage this practice, it still persists. This research identifies students’ perceptions and the prevalence of academic dishonesty at McMaster University. Undergraduate students (levels I to IV+, from any faculty) were asked to complete a brief questionnaire that asks them about different forms of cheating (eg. looking at past tests, copying another’s work, using unauthorized cribsheets/cheatsheets), and their attitudes towards others who commit academic dishonesty. We expect that the types of cheating that are perceived as more serious will be committed less often and will be seen as more morally unacceptable. We predict that students who admit to being academically dishonest will perceive cheating as more acceptable and less serious overall. Based on previous literature, we anticipate finding some differences in the prevalence and attitudes towards academic dishonesty based on gender, faculty and motivation behind cheating. We do expect that our reported incidence of cheating will be lower than the actual incidence of academic dishonesty at McMaster University given the nature of the topic and students’ reluctance to admit that they have cheated. With our results, we hope to identify and present correlations that are observable within the McMaster student-body, and demonstrate why we obtained these results. This research will offer the academic institution at McMaster University the opportunity to see exactly what forms of cheating are committed most often, and further their understanding of why academic dishonesty continues to be an issue despite strengthened efforts to prevent it at the university level.

James SeongJun Han – Characterization of Undergraduate Student Quality in Research, and Students’ Perspectives on Research Opportunity Availability

Research placements and/or thesis projects may play an integral role in completion of an undergraduate degree, and providing necessary experience for undergraduate students’ future endeavors. Amongst the Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Health Sciences programs at McMaster University, (Canada’s top research-intensive university) research opportunity is actively pursued and favoured by undergraduate students. According to educational literature, undergraduate research plays a key role in honing scientific understanding and problem-solving skills. Skills obtained from research opportunities can be applied elsewhere, and many studies support the positive outcomes associated with undergraduate research. Consequently, university education boards and funding agencies including NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council) acknowledge the benefits associated with undergraduate research, and therefore have attempted to expand research opportunity availability. However, the effectiveness of the pre-existing policies and programs has yet to be evaluated. This study aims to address and correlate student academic profile in research and characterize student’s perspective on undergraduate research availability. Surveys will be conducted to analyze responses from students in Engineering, Integrated Science, Health Science and Life Science programs, in order to address programs with different amounts of research exposure. We hypothesize that undergraduate research exposure positively correlates to students’ academic and extra-curricular performances. Additionally, we believe there will be a lack of exposure to research opportunities despite the students’ high level of interest and enthusiasm. The data obtained from the research will be used as a public advocacy tool to enhance undergraduate research opportunity availability.

Sheridan Baker – Designing a second year Integrated Science (ISCI 2A18) Neuroscience laboratory based on Drosophila melanogaster mutants which exhibit epileptic behaviour

The aim of this project is to design an undergraduate laboratory using Drosophila melanogaster (fruit flies) for implementation in the iSci 2A18 Neuroscience project. This hands-on experiment will augment the existing labs and help to reiterate the neurological connections between fruit flies, rodents, and humans. The project will include an extensive literature search and review which will be used in an introductory presentation, designing and writing the lab protocol, and acquiring the proper D. melanogaster mutant stocks required for the lab. A draft version of the lab protocol will be evaluated by current ISCI 2A18 students. From their feedback, the protocol will be refined in order to better conform to the educational expectations of the students. The lab will focus on a mutant strain of D. melanogaster which, when subjected to a sudden mechanical shock, exhibits seizures which are similar to those experienced by epileptic humans. The condition will be examined in heterozygous and homozygous mutants with wildtype flies serving as a control. Additionally, flies will be treated with two different antiepileptic drugs which mitigate seizures in the affected flies. At the conclusion of the lab, students will have gained basic knowledge of the symptoms and treatments of epilepsy, both in humans and D. melanogaster.

Hannah Dies – Integrated Communications Technology as an Instructional Tool in the Physics Laboratory

Undergraduate laboratory experiments are intended to engage students in a process that not only provides experience with the scientific method, but ultimately teaches essential concepts while encouraging reflective analysis. However, this process is often hindered in undergraduate physics labs due to the large learning curve associated with the technology applied to complete the experiment and associated data analysis. The aim of this project is to develop an interactive tutorial using the DataStudio software in order to overcome this barrier. To ensure the efficacy of the tutorials, the project will include a thorough review of the literature on the purpose and pedagogy of undergraduate laboratory experiments. It will also review the importance of Integrated Communications Technology (ICT) as an instructional tool, and present the most effective methods for its implementation. Finally, an analysis of how and why physics presents such a challenge to students, along with possible methods for remediating this through laboratory experiments, will be completed. The ultimate goal of this project is to not only develop an effective tutorial to aid first year students in the iSci program, but to develop a framework for implementing similar tutorials across various disciplines and programs in science.

Sonya Elango – Changes in genetic relatedness in Smooth-billed ani breeding groups

Changes in local weather due to climate change can have an impact on the spatial distribution of local species. The Smooth-billed ani (Crotophaga ani) is one species that may have been affected in this manner. This species is made up of breeding units with a large percentage of young smooth-billed anis typically leaving their natal territory. As a result of this high natal dispersal rate, the genetic relatedness between adults in each breeding group has been shown in the past to be very low. A change in pairwise relatedness within a group can therefore be indicative of a change in group distribution. To determine if such a change has occurred, the relatedness between individuals within a group will be compared to relatedness values for the same groups in previous years. In order to do this, DNA will be extracted from samples gathered from Puerto Rican individuals. This DNA will then be subject to sexing and microsatellite multiplexing using previously established primers. The software Kinship will then be used to determine genetic relatedness information from these results. If a change in relatedness has been shown to occur, local weather data will be analyzed to determine whether climate change is a contributing factor. Because of observational data, it is expected that genetic relatedness will have significantly increased with this change being partially attributable to changes in local weather patterns. This research will help better understand the species under study and can also help develop potential strategies for conservation.

Eric Hempel – Stability of polymer fluids: from saliva to molten polymer

There is a simple, yet complex, fluid dynamics experiment that you can perform with minimal time and effort. Take a drop of spit, pinch it between your thumb and index finger, and then stretch your fingers slowly apart. With a bit of patience, you will see the thread of saliva separate into numerous spheres connected by a very thin thread. Surface tension drives this breakup, causing liquid cylinders to minimize surface area, leading to the formation of spherical drops. For a simple fluid, this causes a thin jet to separate. Think of a thin stream of water flowing from a tap; by the time it reaches the basin the jet has separated into droplets. In saliva however, polymers (long chain molecules) cause the formation of a narrow thread connecting the beads. These threads have a higher viscosity, which is why the spit between your fingers stays suspended rather than breaking apart. In our experiments, we study the breakup of a system that is more controlled than saliva: molten polymer. In particular, we are interested in a special class of material called a diblock copolymer. Diblock copolymers are two chains of chemically different polymers covalently bonded together. Due to chemical differences between the two chains, diblock copolymers may form layers called lamella where the distinct subunits align together. These lamellae are the polymer analogue of the more familiar lipid bilayer. Our initial experiments show that diblock strands are stable longer than traditional polymer strands by two orders of magnitude. In this presentation, I will explain the physics of polymer strand breakup, describe our experiment, and present some preliminary results.

Piotr Roztocki – The Ising Model: Phase transition phenomena in condensed matter physics and networks

In statistical physics, emergent behaviours called criticalities occur when macroscopic phenomena, known as phase transitions, take place despite not being an explicit part of the physics governing the interactions of its microscopic constituents. Developed in 1920 by physicist William Lenz as a problem for his student Ernst Ising, the Ising model is a simplified description of paramagnetic-ferromagnetic phase transitions. Originally created to explain the spontaneous emergence of magnetization in metals cooled beyond a critical temperature, the model has since then been applied to problems in biology, neuroscience, economics, and sociology. As part of this study, existing proofs for the one and two-dimensional Ising models will be explored and summarized in accessible language to an undergraduate audience. Model characteristics will be explored in the context of condensed matter physics applications. Each year hundreds of research papers in a variety of fields are published about models inspired by the Ising model. It warrants study on historical and pedagogical grounds as a powerful application of statistical mechanics, and as a source of new insights into a multitude of phase-like problems.

Meiko Peng and Lori vandenEnden – Perceptions of the Effect of Participation in Integrated, Inquiry-based Laboratories on the Development of Research Skills for Students in the Honours Integrated Science, Chemistry and Chemical Biology

Although integrated, inquiry-based laboratories have been studied previously in the literature, their impacts on the development of student research skills are uncertain. The integrated, inquiry-based laboratory courses in the Honours Chemistry and Chemical Biology programs at McMaster University incorporate a series of experiments as part of a coherent whole to mimic research experiences. Similarly, students in Honours Integrated Science carry out various research-based Project Labs involving inquiry components. The combination of integrated and inquiry-based laboratories, such as those offered at McMaster University, could, in principle, enhance student research skill development.

This study explored whether the students who have completed these integrated, inquiry-based laboratory courses have gained the characteristics of a good researcher, as defined by the literature. Data was collected through online student surveys for all four levels of the three programs and in-person interviews with one instructor from each program. Quantitative and qualitative data were obtained and analyzed for trends or coded for thematic analysis, respectively. Based on the literature, the central hypothesis was that students perceived their research skills were enhanced from participation in integrated, inquiry-based laboratories.

The presentation will outline the results obtained from the surveys and interviews. The results will reflect that the instructors noticed student improvements over time, as they were exposed to more integrated, inquiry-based learning. These data will help to illustrate that participation in integrated, inquiry-based laboratories prepare undergraduates for future research experiences. The findings will also illustrate if the experiences of students and instructors at McMaster University are aligned with literature results.

Lee Bardon – Transpermia: the feasibility of an impact-driven, interplanetary transfer of microorganisms

Building primarily on the comprehensive reviews conducted by Davies (1988), Clark (2001), Horneck et al. (2002) and Burchell (2004), I explore the possibility of a viable interplanetary transfer of microorganisms following a hypervelocity impact: a process known as transpermia (or ‘lithopanspermia’). Here, the process is analysed under three structural headings. In Impact and Transfer Mechanics, data from up-to-date physical models concerning the flux and transfer probability of ejecta between planets is reviewed, paying attention to variables that may be detrimental to life such as extreme temperatures, pressures, accelerations, radiation and transfer periods. Organism Survivability addresses the viability of organisms following exposure to environmental extremes during the transfer. This section of the review is noteworthy due to the great deal of recently completed applicatory research, both during space missions and environmental analogue studies. Conditions on the Host Planet addresses an aspect of the process that has not been considered at depth in previous reviews: specifically, that which pertains to the conditions that might greet space-faring organisms on a new world, primarily focussing on organism survivability and proliferation in simulated Martian conditions. The known limits of life on Earth are explored.

These data are compiled and used to analyse transpermia, from a modern perspective. Much of the data supports the feasibility of the process. Organisms such as Deinococcus radiodurans, Bacillus subtilis, Xanthoria elegans and members of the phylum Tardigradum, stand out as most likely to survive the transfer and proliferate on a potentially inhospitable host planet.

Madison Reid – Tree Species Population Dynamics in the McMaster Conservation Corridor and Research Facility – A Case Study of Buckthorn and Hawthorn Interspecies Relationships

Invasive species are a serious global threat to biodiversity and frequently threaten native species. This project examines the spatial relationship between various buckthorn species (genus Rhamnus) and common hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) in the McMaster Conservation Corridor (MCC). The main objective was to determine environmental criteria that may be advantageous to the native hawthorn species in the context of buckthorn invasion, as buckthorn is the dominant competitor in many of the habitats it has invaded. The data acquired from this research will be helpful in maximizing the efficiency of remediation efforts, scheduled to rehabilitate this facility.

Data was collected by transects across specific eco-habitats within the MCC, and was used to identify relative frequency of hawthorn in each habitat. To assess the interaction demographics, all buckthorn within a 5m radius of each identified hawthorn were counted. In general, buckthorn species were more frequent than hawthorn in more open habitats, while hawthorn remained successful in more forested environments. It appears the habitats with greatest competition potential between native hawthorn and invasive buckthorn are the boundaries between different habitat types. This data was analyzed in conjunction with secondary environmental parameters (e.g. slope, proximity to roadways, habitat type) using geographic information systems technology. The results of the study will serve as a baseline for quantifying the mechanism underlying this dynamic. While the data from this study will be site specific, buckthorn is considered invasive across much of North America, so insights gained from analysis could be applicable to a much greater area.