UCD Science Study Abroad Students present their posters on UCD Research


Posted: 09 May 2016

During the Spring 2016, students from institutions across the United States, including the University of Notre Dame, Pennsylvania State University, Barnard College, and Tullane University, completed the "Introduction to Research" module (SCI-30010).

Study Abroad Students after their poster presentationsStudy Abroad Students after their poster presentations

This module resulted in 16 placements in the UCD Schools of Biomolecular and Biomedical ScienceBiology and Environmental ScienceComputer Science, and Physics. Placements are also available in the UCD Schools of Mathematics & Statistics, Chemistry and Earth Sciences

"The students really enjoyed the experience and the standard of research was very high," says Dr Tadhg Ó Cróinín, Associate Dean for Study Abroad. "This module offers an opportunity for study abroad students to gain valuable experience in carrying out a research project in their chosen field and working closely with graduate students and postdoctoral scientists."

Students were placed in research labs that reflected their personal areas of interest where they spent 6-8 hours a week working in the lab on their own specific research project. Students wrote an essay on the methods they used during the project and how these techniques could be used to address other scientific questions. At the end of the semester students then presented their work in poster format at a symposium attended by academic staff where they had the opportunity to explain and defend their work.

Projects undertaken by Study Abroad Students

Alexa Stefanko, Duke University, NC

Alexa Stefanko, Duke University, worked with Professor Brian MacNamee, UCD School of Computer Science, applying augmented and virtual reality to data visualization. Traditional visualisations have struggled to convey information in three dimensions but with the advent of AR and VR, this might be about to change. By allowing users to interact with data, and by removing limitations on size and space, VR and AR could transform data visualisations. This research project highlighted the evolving landscape of AR/VR applications and explores the relationship between AR/VR and data visualisations.


Brennan Dwyer, University of Massachusetts Amherst, MA

Brennan Dwyer, University of Massachusetts Amherst, worked with Prof. Frederic Dias, UCD School of Mathematics and Statistics. Brennan analysed the data collected by a Nortek AWAC ocean probe at Raz Blanchard off the northwest coast of France measuring current speed (Uc), current direction (θc), significant wave height (Hs), and mean wave direction (θm) detected. After the analysis was complete, Brennan was able to produce a series of plots to illustrate the behavior of the data. These results will prove invaluable for future studies of wave-current interaction at this location.


Caroline Skulski, University of Notre Dame, IN

Caroline Skulski, University of Notre Dame, worked in the laboratory of Dr. Tadhg O'Croinin, UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science, where she investigated the differences in strains of Campylobacter jejuni from different sources for motility and biofilm formation, two phenotypes associated with capacity to infect humans. C. jejuni is a major worldwide cause of gastroenteritis. Caroline's work suggested that C. jejuni from chicken juice samples is potentially more pathogenic.


Casey Ives, Norwich University, VT

Casey Ives, Norwich University, worked with Dr. Andrew Irving, UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science, using microscopy to measure the response of macrophages to Cannabidiol treatment. Cannabidiol (CBD) is the second largest active compound in cannabis. Cannabinoids are known to relieve convulsions, inflammation, anxiety, and nausea in animal studies. This study was conducted to measure the amount of cellular activity in cells induced in a proinflammatory state by using Fura-2-AM as indicator dye, calcium imaging assays were conducted by microscopy. In this study CBD clearly displayed a higher affinity for targeting activated macrophages than for the un-activated cells.


Christa Caggiano, Brandeis University, MA

Christa Caggiano, Brandeis University, worked in the laboratory of Dr. Oliver Blaque, UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science, using C. elegans as a model to learn about ciliary function. Random mutations were previously generated in C elegans, and those contributing to a phenotype relating to Joubert syndrome were selected. Behavioral assays were carried out to better understand the phenotypes of these mutants. Chemotaxis assays were performed, assessing the sensitivity of the mutants to chemical stimulants. Osmotic avoidance assays surveyed whether a mutant could avoid areas of high osmolarity. Christa measured differences between both the chemotaxis index between larval and adult mutants of the same strain, and the number of organisms who avoided areas of high osmolarity.


Courtney Bolivar, Bucknell University, PA

Courtney Bolivar, Bucknell University, worked with Dr. Ivana Dusparic, UCD School of Computer Science, on a path planning algorithm that models ant colony optimisation. This serves as a model for ware-house routing, where ants represent robots traveling to various nodes to reach a goal location. The goal was to find the shortest path in the best time. In warehouses with time constraints, Courtney's data suggested that by using more decision points you can have more control.


Courtney Driscoll, Trinity College, CT

Courtney Driscoll, Trinity Collegeworked with Dr. Peadar O’Gaora, UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science, creating phylogenetic trees from miRNA targets on orthologous genes in placental mammals. Data was taken from a file on TargetScan that contained a target prediction for each gene and miRNA family pair. From that a program was created where the seed region of an miRNA family was input and a text file containing the binary matrix was created. This matrix was run through the penny function of PHYLIP and the consensus function if multiple trees were produced. The final tree was drawn using the Drawgram GUI in the PHYLIP program.

Danielle Owens, St Mary’s College of Maryland, MD

Danielle Owens, St Mary’s College of Maryland, worked in the laboratory of Prof. Stephen Gordon, UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science, using qPCR to characterize miRNA biomarkers in fecal samples from cattle with clinical Johne’s Disease. Johne’s Disease (JD) is a bacterial infection caused by Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (MAP) that primarily targets the intestinal tract of ruminants, causing diarrhoea and wasting. Danielle determined whether or not key miRNAs associated with immune response to bacterial infection were detectable in bovine feces and used quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR) to investigate fecal miRNA expression differences between clinical JD cattle and healthy controls.


Emma Cooper, University of Notre Dame, IN

Emma Cooper, University of Notre Dame, worked in the laboratory of Dr. Jennifer Mitchell, UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science, interrogating the role that fatty acids have in biofilm development by Staphylococccus aureus. S. aureus is a gram-positive microorganism that is a comensal skin bacteria in humans but it can cause opportunistic infections. One of the virulence characteristics of the microorganism is its ability to form biofilms. Biofilm infections can be hard to treat due to decreased antibiotic penetration. In this study, S. aureus biofilm formation was tested under the presence or absence of various chemical and fatty acid conditions in order to determine which conditions promote or inhibit biofilm formation.


Hannah Taitz, St Mary’s College of Maryland, MD

Hannah Taitz, St Mary's College of Maryland, worked with Dr. John Crean, UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science, on the role of miR302 RNA in Diabetic kidney disease, which affects one third of people with diabetes. MDCK epithelial cells and THP-1 monocytes were transduced with a miR-302 virus and fluorescent microscopy was used to monitor the expression of miR302. Western blot analysis was then used to detect TGFβ receptor proteins in the cells. The results from PCR analysis indicate that cells transduced with the miR302 virus expressed miR302 RNA significantly more than cells transduced with a positive control virus. This research is a good starting point for other researchers to use miR302 transduction to investigate diabetic nephropathy. 


Jackson Kwok, Haverford College, PA

Jackson Kwok, Haverford College, worked with Dr. Eugene Dempsey, UCD School of Biology and Environmental Science, in Prof. Jeremy Simpsons lab evaluating plate-based methods to generate tumor spheroid microtissues suitable for high throughput analysis that more closely mimic the in vivo behavior of tumors. The resulting spheroid microtissues were used in a range of downstream applications including cell migration assays, nanoparticle uptake assays, and fluorescent imaging.



Jessica Crossland, Arizona State University, AZ

Jessica Crossland, Arizona State University, worked in the laboratory of Dr. Jennifer Mitchell, UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science, where she analysed the effect of fatty acids on biofilm formation of Streptococcus mitis. S. mitis is a commensal oral streptococcus that can cause infective endocarditis, a heart valve infection. Jessica’s work showed that a range of fatty acids can prevent biofilm formation and potentially act as a treatment for these infections.



Madeleine van Zuylen, University of Notre Dame, IN

Madeleine van Zuylen, University of Notre Dame, worked with Dr. David O’Connell, UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science, to optimize a single-step protein purification system using EF1 and EF2 domains derived from the protein calbindin D9K. EF1 and EF2 bind together in the presence of calcium and this mechanism can be used in affinity chromatography. Madeleine was able to successfully attach EF1 to resin and EF2-CA was purified using the novel affinity resin.



Rachel Yang, Cornell University, NY

Rachel Yang, Cornell University, worked in the laboratory of Dr. Gethin McBean, UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science, analysing sulfasalazine-induced inhibition of Glutamate/Cystine transport in activated macrophages. Sulfasalazine is an inhibitor of the Xc- exchanger and has been shown to reduce lymphoma growth in rats. This experiment tested whether sulfasalazine can be used to inhibit the Xc- exchanger and reduce the rate of glutamate/cysteine transport in bone marrow derived macrophages. Rachel showed that sulfasalazine had a greater inhibitory effect on glutamate transport in cells treated with LPS, indicating greater inhibitory potential for sulfasalazine in cells with elevated transport and GSH synthesis.


Russell Rusko, St Mary’s College of Maryland, MD

Russell Rusko, St Mary’s College of Maryland, worked with Dr. Patrick Caffrey, UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science, investigating biosynthesis of the antifungal compounds polyenes by Streptomyces. Russell carried out haemolysis assays with polyenes in order to determine the amount of lysing that will occur when the polyene interacts with the outer membrane of a red blood cell. A lower amount of lysing indicated a less harmful polyene. HPLC analysis helped to determine the changes that were made to the polyene after being engineered. This was done in order to analyse how the structure of these compounds can be altered to retain their antifungal capacity while reducing their toxicity against humans.



Ryan Bradley, Endicott College, MA

Ryan BradleyEndicott Collegeworked with Dr. Cormac Murphy, UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science, analyzing the abaility of Pseudomonas pseudoalcaligenes to biotransform Flurbiprofen, an anti-inflammatory drug used to treat fever, pain and body inflammation. Ryan showed that both Pseudomonas pseudoalcaligenes and  Burkholderia xenovorans bacteria were able to grow with only the Flurbiprofen as their sole carbon source. Ryan also identified that an Acinetobacter strain can grow on Flurbiprofen, which widens our knowledge on microorganisms degrading fluorinated drugs.