April 7, 2017

Summer Team Impact Projects

Summer Team Impact Projects are intensive research projects based around a central theme, question, or problem. Students will have the opportunity to learn to work both independently and part of a team on an authentic project while earning pay. Students, with faculty mentorship, work on projects from May 28, 2019 through August 4, 2019 and present their results at the Summer Celebration of Student Scholarship and Impact on August 9, 2019.

We encourage students of all academic backgrounds, university class status, and levels of experience to apply to a project that interests them. Students accepted to these projects receive a $4,000 stipend paid in installments throughout the summer.

View past funded Summer Team Impact Projects here.

Summer 2019 Summer Team Impact Projects

Aquatic communities as bioindicators of disturbance in the Potomac River: Covering the range from bacteria to fish using molecular techniques and field observations

Faculty: Amy Fowler (primary); Benoit van Aken; Jennifer Salerno; Kim de Mutsert; Dann Sklarew; Gregory Foster

Handshake Position#: 2438902

This 2019 OSCAR Summer Team Impact Project will focus on evaluating use of the structures of aquatic communities as bioindicators of aquatic habitat quality. The communities the six undergraduates will investigate range from bacteria, phytoplankton, zooplankton, and fish in the Potomac River’s Gunston Cove and Hunting Creek. Students will gain experience in the fields of molecular biology and field aquatic ecology. Six undergraduates will work in three teams. The aquatic ecology team (two students) will examine community structure of fish and zooplankton and relate that to water quality and habitat suitability parameters. The molecular biology team (two students) will extract environmental DNA (eDNA), and amplify (PCR) and sequence (Illumina) phytoplankton- and bacterial-specific markers from water collected from the embayments. Students will analyze sequencing data using microbial ecology software and resources from public databases to determine the relative abundance of phytoplankton species and bacterial phylotypes and will derive biotic indexes of water quality. The microplastics team (two students) will determine the presence and prevalence of microplastics in the environment (i.e., water column, sediment, submerged aquatic vegetation) and evaluate uptake of microplastics by organisms (i.e., zooplankton, fish). All students will be involved in field and laboratory work and create independent testable hypotheses within the project goals.


Automatic Multimodal Sign Language Recognition

Faculty: Parth Pathak (primary); Huzefa Rangwala; Jana Kosecka; Linda Mason

Handshake Position#: 2439062

Around 1 million people in the United States are functionally deaf and hard of hearing (DHH), and over half a million people use American Sign Language (ASL) as their primary means of communications. Automatic computer-based sign language recognition can allow the DHH people to interact with others who are unfamiliar with ASL and personal digital assistant devices (Such as Apple Siri and Amazon Alexa) which are commonly voice operated. The objective of this project is to design, implement and evaluate a sign language recognition system that uses multiple sensor modalities (camera, wearable motion sensors and wireless signals). The project will recruit 9 undergraduate students and form 3 teams, each of which will develop a sign language recognizer using one type of sensor. Each team will be multi-disciplinary and will consist of three students working on different tasks (sensor-specific - vision, IMU, or WiFi - tasks, data mining/machine learning tasks and assistive technology design tasks). The proposed project will provide a rewarding research experience to undergraduates including working in collaborative, multidisciplinary teams, hands-on experimentation on sensing systems, and large-scale data mining and machine learning.


Digital Image Analysis of Bruise Photographs: From Infrastructure to Machine Learning

Faculty: Katherine Scafide (primary); David Lattanzi; Janusz Wojtusiak

Handshake Position#: 2439071

Bruises are the most common injury suffered by victims of violence across the lifespan. However, they often go unidentified or undocumented due to skin color or age of injury. Alternate light technology has been suggested as an important tool to improve the visibility of subtle injuries, but scales used to measure enhanced perception are subjective. Digital images may hold the solution due to the wealth of data contained in the contrast and color of pixels. Analysis of a large number of photographs through machine learning could predict whether visibility is improved under alternate light. The purpose of this Summer Impact Grant is to create a unique multidisciplinary team of undergraduate students from three disciplines - nursing, informatics, and engineering - to collaborate on the development of a process to systematically search, analyze, and interpret a large number of available digital bruise images. Under the guidance of faculty mentors, the students will work individually (or in pairs) on projects that collectively address the central problem. Students will gain valuable learning experiences through discipline-specific training, group enrichment activities, and inter-disciplinary team work. Final projects will be presented to the university community at the Summer Celebration of Student Scholarship.


Ecology meets Forensic Entomology: How does carcass size influence carrion community dynamics?

Faculty: Joris van der Ham (primary); Elizabeth Rush; Kelly Knight

Handshake Position#:  2439161

Students who participate in this project study the ecological succession of carrion insect communities during post-mortem decomposition. These insect communities include numerous beetle, fly, and wasp species which continuously change in abundance as decomposition continues. Forensic entomologists typically use pig cadavers to study carrion insects and extrapolate their findings to the decomposition of human remains, without considering that their findings might be different for larger humans. For example, one can argue that succession will occur slower on a larger carcass size. Or, that different species are attracted to larger decomposing carcass while the overall successional pattern stays the same. Or, as a third possibility, both the community composition and the succession patterns may differ due to differences in carcass size. To study the relationship between carcass size and succession, students will compare the successional patterns of carrion communities on decomposing mouse, rat, and rabbit carcasses. These carcasses (sold as frozen pet food) differ an order in magnitude in mass. Students will design and conduct field experiments, produce and analyze data, and discuss findings and conclusions in posters. Posters will be presented at the Summer Celebration of Student Scholarship and potentially at a professional meeting.


Eye-tracking Research to Examine Alcohol Product Packaging’s Appeal to Youth

Faculty: Matthew Rossheim (primary); Matthew Peterson

Handshake Position#: 2439203

Increased exposure to alcohol marketing increases youth’s likelihood of drinking alcohol and binge drinking. Although it has not been studied extensively, alcohol product packaging may be an important form of alcohol marketing. Supersized alcopops are a new class of alcohol products that contain sugar-sweetened flavors as well as an extraordinarily high amount of alcohol within a single-serving can. Youth frequently consume supersized alcopops and appear to have a preference for them; however, thousands have been hospitalized after consuming them. Youths’ preference for supersized alcopops may be explained in part by their brightly colored packaging that resembles energy drinks. This study objectively examines (using validated, screen-based eye-tracking software and hardware) whether, compared to older adults, youth are disproportionately drawn to the packaging of specific alcohol products and, if so, what packaging characteristics draw their attention. This information could help guide governmental regulations of alcohol product packaging, so they do not specifically attract youth.


Public Safety Wellness and Resiliency: Developing a multidisciplinary model to improve the health of firefighters and police in the Northern Virginia Region

Faculty: Joel Martin (primary); Shane Caswell; Marcie Fyockl; Nelson Cortes

Handshake Position#: 2439228

The job is of a public safety officer requires both high levels of physical and mental capabilities. Due to the physical nature of these positions, high levels of stress and other costly health issues are often reported. The overall goal of the proposed project is to work with Prince William County (PWC) Public Safety to improve the overall health of current public safety officers. Based on preliminary data collection, musculoskeletal injuries are a leading concern and can impact career longevity and job performance of the public safety officers in PWC. Our data suggests these health concerns are a multi-faceted and appear to be influenced by previous musculoskeletal injuries, low fitness levels and poor nutrition. The first aim of the project will be to have undergraduate students assist with data collection evaluating injury rates and mechanism, fitness levels and nutritional behaviors of PWC Public Safety. The data will be used for publications, grant proposals and to inform administrators of the current health of officers in order to guide policy. A second goal is to provide corrective exercise and nutrition recommendations to individual officers. The third goal will be to develop educational resources to assist the established PWC Wellness and Resiliency program.


Translating Significant Biological Data through a Novel, Intuitive Graphical User Interface

Faculty: Tyrus Berry (primary); Geraldine Grant; Shansan Cui

Handshake Position#: 2439246

This Summer Team Impact Project aims to bring together students from science and non-science fields to address a simple problem, communicating important scientific discoveries in biology to the general public. Scientists today are working on highly complex problems brought about by the vast amounts of data that our technology is able to produce. In human biology this problem is particularly important as the findings will have impacts on medical and health decisions made by individuals every day. It is not simply a matter of finding something novel in biology, but it is equally important to develop a way in which those findings can make it out to the normal people that they impact the most. Students in this project will be working on two aspects of this problem. First, students with backgrounds in math, computer science, and biology will refine or develop algorithms to explore any large biological data sets for new information. Second, students with backgrounds in web development, graphic design, and art will design a web tool that incorporates these algorithms into a user friendly interface that produces graphical output that can clearly communicate the findings to a non-scientific audience.


For more information about Summer Team Impact Projects visit the Undergraduate Education website!