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May 2024 - May 2025


#LosingLanguages: A Documentation of the Digital Landscape of Language Preservation
Laura Standel

Laura StandelIt is projected by UNESCO’s World Atlas of Languages that by 2100, 50% of all the spoken languages in the world will be extinct or seriously endangered. Of the 8,324 languages known to UNESCO 6,700 of them are Indigenous languages. It is because of this that UNESCO, along with many other language focus agencies, are coming up with new ways and events to educate communities around the world about the dangerous lack of language preservation efforts (UNESCO World Atlas of Languages). Meanwhile platforms such as Instagram and TikTok are fueling globalization and enforcing the language status quo by encouraging participants away from their unique languages and towards more marketable ‘safe’ 65 languages. With the popularity of social media, language preservation cannot solely be done in the physical world but also in the digital. In their research, Dr. Marcos Romero and Laura Standel hope to answer the question: what about the other 8,000+ languages? How does the internet harm or hinder the preservation of these languages and how can it be made to benefit or flourish these languages instead?

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Marcos Romero, World Languages
Funded by: Aquinas College Summer Scholars Program


Analysis of cell death and inflammatory pathway connections induced by distinct clinical isolates of Group B Streptococcus
Emilie Poirier

Emilie Poirier, Dr. Rebecca Flaherty, Daniel Austin Group B Streptococcus (GBS) is an opportunistic pathogen normally found in the bacterial flora of our gastrointestinal and reproductive tracts. It is known to cause serious complications in pregnancy and illness in neonates. Identifying biological targets that can effectively minimize the effects of GBS infection is the first step in developing drugs that can treat GBS disease. Based on prior findings identified by Dr. Flaherty, other student researchers at Aquinas, and other research groups, the goal of this research is to identify connections between GBS-induced responses in macrophages. We hope to determine whether previously identified pathways are part of a single connected response or if they represent distinct responses to infection. The pathways we intend to explore include the PI3K-Akt pathway, which regulates cell survival and death, phagocytosis regulation, the NF kappa B and stress-responsive MAPK pathways which regulate cellular responses pertaining to cell death and inflammatory signaling, and the JAK-STAT pathway which regulates gene expression pertaining to inflammatory cell activation. We hope to find any possible connections between these pathways, as well as identifying the proteins involved in these connections. We anticipate that this work will provide useful information for drug development.

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Rebecca Flaherty, Biology & Health Science
Funded by: Mohler-Thompson Summer Research Grant


Comparison of JAK-STAT pathway activation induced by distinct clinical isolates of Group B Streptococcus. 
Daniel Austin

Emilie Poirier, Dr. Rebecca Flaherty, Daniel Austin Group B Streptococcus (GBS) is a bacterial pathogen that can cause complications for mothers and their children, both during pregnancy and after birth, such as preterm birth, pneumonia, and meningitis. The objective of this project is to clarify information about the GBS-induced activation of the JAK-STAT pathway, which is an important immune system regulatory pathway. We will investigate differential activation of the JAK-STAT pathway in response to different strains of GBS that vary in virulence. We will continue research initiated by former BMB student, Victoria Faber, by identifying and quantifying active forms of JAK-STAT pathway members in GBS-infected macrophages. In addition, we hope to identify connections between the JAK-STAT pathway and varying protein kinases involved in inflammation and cell death. To complete these tasks we will utilize microbiology and molecular biology methods such as Western Blotting, immunofluorescence microscopy, and ELISA. We anticipate that this project will provide useful information regarding the physiological influence of GBS infection on JAK-STAT signaling.

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Rebecca Flaherty, Biology & Health Science 
Funded by: Mohler-Thompson Summer Research Grant


A Phenomenological Study of How Families Talk About Death
Anna Hultink

Anna Hutlink and Dr. Jennifer MeadorPast research has explored the surprisingly high number of children’s stories, movies, and lullabies that portray themes of death. Although death is a natural part of life and embedded into what young children see and hear, researchers have noted a growing attitude from parents to shelter children from it. Accordingly, our study seeks to understand how, when, and why families discuss death with their children, along with how exposure to life events and environments might affect these discussions. Utilizing a phenomenological approach, we will conduct interviews with parent-child pairs. From parents, we aim to understand the family’s background (e.g., religion, culture), along with their comfortability about death, ways they talk about death with their children, and if their child has experienced loss. With the child, we plan to read a fairy-tale (e.g., Lion King) that includes themes of death. We will not directly introduce the idea of death; instead, we will ask about the child’s interpretation of the story, including their conceptualization of both death and life (e.g., time, age, and biology). Ultimately, this study aims to increase understanding into families’ experiences, decisions, and perspectives, as it relates to exploring issues of death with children.

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Jennifer Meador, Psychology 
Funded by: Aquinas College Summer Scholars Program

From City to Cosmos: Tracing Literary Lineage – Exploring the Influence of Christine de Pizan's The Book of the City of Ladies on Margaret Cavendish's The Blazing World

Rachel Buehler

This study focuses on exploring the evolution of femininity and gender roles in medieval literature, including the complexities of female friendships. By comparing the works of two influential female authors—Christine de Pizan's The Book of the City of Ladies and Margaret Cavendish's The Blazing World—this project seeks to uncover the possible overlaps of influences and inspirations that may have shaped and contributed to Cavendish's writing.  This project will contribute to emphasizing the portrayal of female friendships presented by De Pizan and Cavendish; examining how these relationships serve as a source of empowerment and support against misogynistic tendencies and patriarchal power structures. This comparative study explores how each author encapsulates proto-feminist and feminist ideals and how these ideals manifest within their writings.

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Rebecca Coogan, English 
Funded by: Aquinas College Summer Scholars Program

The War on Ukraine: An Analysis of Refugee Treatment

Grace Wilson

Roger Durham and Grace WilsonThis study will examine the treatment of Ukrainian refugees. Since the illegal invasion of Ukraine by Russia in February of 2022, one in four Ukrainians have been forced to flee their homes and have become either refugees or IDPs (internally displaced persons). This research looks at the changing nature of support for Ukrainian refugees from the beginning of the war to present. Data will come from the cases of refugees in Poland, Germany, and elsewhere (depending on what the data illuminates). Crucial to this research is International Humanitarian Law, specifically the ‘refugee regime’. This entails a careful review of refugee laws and the enforcement thereof. At issue is the tension between state behavior and international laws and norms. Additionally, the dynamics between the refugees and their host populations will be examined. The expected product is a carefully documented thesis paper.

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Roger Durham, Political Science 
Funded by: Aquinas College Summer Scholars Program

Using VR to find conjectures in spherical geometry

Michael Vanderkolk

Dr. Michael McDaniel and Michael VanderkolkBy modeling geometric ideas in spherical geometry using Blender to make meshes, animate and render, we have already found new conjectures. Conjecture 1: the set of twelve projection points and Wallace-Simson lines published previously occurs for the most general case of one single projection point with a Wallace-Simson line. Conjecture 2: A subset of Wallace-Simson lines and lines of projections and feet of projections and points of projection form a natural 12-point, 12-line Projective Geometry. (This would be news because the 12 point Projective Geometry has been proved to exist but no actual example of one has been found.) Conjecture 3: A subset of projection points, feet of projections, etc forms a 7 point Projective Geometry isomorphic to the Fano Plane. Our Blender examples have already bloomed into very interesting spherical models. One modification uses collars, like Saturnian rings, which stick out from the sphere for spherical great circles. We can modify how far the collars stick out to emphasize importance. Since we intended to fit as much information into the mesh as we could, having a new way to see our ideas, a way completely impossible in 2-D, shows immediate promise. Next we will work on creating animations to illustrate the complicated ideas we are exploring.

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Michael McDaniel, Mathematics 
Funded by: Mohler-Thompson Summer Research Grant

Characterization of organic components in soil relevant to soil carbon sequestration

Chiara Bonfissuto

Ella Satterthaite, Chiara Bonfissuto, Dr. BoydThe focus of this research will be on the extraction, characterization and classification of the organic components found in soil samples from agricultural and post-agricultural lands. In order to extract the organic components of soil, a spectrophotometric approach was chosen with the utilization of a single-channel spectrophotometer implemented with a variety of target wavelengths; the results of this initial characterization will then help direct further analysis with electrochemical and chromatographic methods which will be followed by analysis through mathematical modeling. These organic components play an important role in the soil’s ability to sequester carbon from the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; therefore the characterization of said components is important for environmental modeling. This characterization would be accomplished via spectroscopic analyses which would allow for the compilation of data sets broad enough not only to perform targeted spectrophotometric and electrochemical procedures, but also to provide a baseline collection of analyzed samples from which new research projects may arise.

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Kevin Boyd, Chemistry 
Funded by: Mohler-Thompson Summer Research Grant

The River Narrative: Development of Low-cost, Networkable Remote Sensors for Environmental Monitoring and Outreach

Ella Satterthwaite

Ella Satterthaite, Chiara Bonfissuto, Dr. BoydThis project will primarily focus on the development of a network of low-cost, real-time aquatic sensors in the Coldbrook Creek watershed, of which Aquinas College is a part. These sensors will not only provide data on stream temperature, pH, depth, current, turbidity and ambient daylight, but will also electrochemically assess metal, pesticide and fertilizer content in local bodies of water. Electrochemical sensing will be accomplished through the synthesis and development of organic polymer electrode coatings, including molecularly imprinted polymers, for ion-sensitive field effect transistors. This process will be informed by recent literature and computational methods. Development of project instrumentation and data collection will also involve configuring a sub-GHz radio system, in addition to data compression and interpretation with Fourier and wavelet-based methods. Aiming to make water quality monitoring cheaper and less analytically intensive, the project will ultimately contribute to Dr. Boyd’s larger River Narrative Project. This project’s objectives include monitoring and modeling the conditions of the Coldbrook Creek watershed and providing a source of data through a web-based interface for community members curious about the state of local waterways.

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Kevin Boyd, Chemistry 
Funded by: Mohler-Thompson Summer Research Grant