When Interests Collide
Tigers weave multiple disciplines together in summer research projects
Wednesday, September 9, 2020

As part of Trinity’s liberal arts and sciences education, students take classes in a wide variety of subject areas, creating an interdisciplinary academic experience. This summer, many Tigers combined various academic interests to complete undergraduate research projects spanning multiple disciplines.

Building a cell-signaling visualization program

Computer science and biolog

Gabriel Manners ’23

Gabriel Manners ’23 worked with computer science professor Matthew Hibbs to build a piece of software that helps biologists more accurately visualize and understand cell signaling pathways, or the ways in which cells communicate with one another and adjust to changes in their environments. Manners has always been interested in both computer science and biology, describing his research as “software engineering meets passion project.”

Manners was working on the first iteration of his program, and he plans to share it with biologists for feedback on its usability. By the end of the summer, Manners aimed to have a remotely-run application that handles signaling pathways in common model organisms such as mice and yeast.

Creating a theatre performance about human rights’ violations around the world

Communication, political science, human communication and theatre

PHR Project Logo

This summer, Kailey Lopez ’21, Katie Maloan ’22, Rachel Poovathoor ’22, and Bradley Sykes ’22 studied how COVID-19 has affected human rights around the world, a project that saw collaboration between Trinity’s communication, political science, and human communication and theatre departments. 

Alongside professors Rosa Aloisi, Robert Huesca, and Roberto Prestigiacomo, the group examined how various governments have used the pandemic to oppress marginalized populations around the world. Poovathor explains, “A lot of people, a lot of marginalized communities, are facing very similar challenges and forms of oppression around the world.” Sykes adds, “The end goal is really just to shine a light on some of these issues that are happening in the world and shine a light on and tell the story of the individual–these individuals being oppressed.” 

Developing an app to help clinical psychologists more effectively treat patients

Computer science and psychology

Grace Yun ’21

Grace Yun ’21 worked alongside psychology professor William Ellison to develop an app that tracks symptoms of patients that clinical psychologists can use to determine the best course of treatment. She was also building a scale that will assess individuals' momentary self-concept clarity. 

Before learning about this project a year ago, Yun had not realized how complementary computer science and psychology could be. Upon seeing an Instagram post about the project, Yun recalls, “I realized computer science and psychology go hand-in-hand, and it just sparked my interest." Yun proceeded to knock on Ellison’s door and take computer science classes to prepare herself to join the project, which she has been a part of since January 2020.

Modeling how neurons function

Engineering science and neuroscience

3D developed design and a cat

This summer Alyssa Jolliffe ’21 and Anna Gonzalez ’23 (right) conducted research alongside engineering science professor Dany Munoz-Pinto that combines neuroscience and engineering principles. They developed 3D models to study brain tissue degradation and its effects on the activation of microglial cells. They are currently finalizing the analysis of experimental data and preparing a new manuscript for publication.

Anna Gonzalez ’23

Jolliffe’s and Gonzalez’s research has important biomedical applications pertaining to neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Their project could be the foundation for the development of a therapeutic or cure someday in the future. "It seems small because it’s on the molecular level and about polymers and cells, but one day this could be the key to something big," Jolliffe explains.

Budgeting for Oregon’s Department of Education

Education and finance

Diana Long ’21

This summer, Diana Long ’21 conducted research with education professor Oscar Jimenez-Castellanos that combined finance with education. Long and Jimenez-Castellanos worked with the Oregon Department of Education to determine how to best allocate funds for students who are English language learners. These students often speak another language at home, and they tend to be a low-income, at-risk population of students. 

As a sociology major, Long has always been interested in inequalities, but her research project gave her the opportunity to apply that interest more practically. “[Research] made me think of how I can make a difference–how I can amplify not only my voice, but the voice of those who aren't heard,” she shares. “It can be hard to get [English language learners] the right education and the education they deserve. I’m excited to work on that and hopefully make a change.”

Studying the locomotion of bacteria

Physics, biology, mathematics

Mikayla Greiner ’22

This summer, Mikayla Greiner ’22 studied how bacteria swim and interact with solid surfaces, which has applications to how biofilms form and how bacteria move in nature. Alongside physics professor Orrin Shindell, Greiner used a microscope to analyze samples of swimming bacteria to see how they move and interact with the surface they are swimming above.

While Greiner’s research was housed in the physics department, it saw collaborations with the biology and math departments. Biology professor Frank Healy provided Greiner with the fluorescent bacteria that can be seen under the microscope, and the math department helped statistically analyze Greiner’s data. "It's really cool because it's all contained in Trinity,” Griener explains. “You have three different departments–math, physics, and biology–working on the project. And I love that aspect of it."

Madison Semro '21 helps tell Trinity's story as a writing intern with Strategic Communications and Marketing.

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