Week 8: Strack Lab, Carver College of Medicine, the University of Iowa

July 15th, 2014

Jihang Wang ’15, Dimensions Fellow in Research

We were doing similar experiments this week as the past several weeks to get more of the data and also to increase the reliability. Thus, most of the work this week followed similar procedures as I described before. In the first two days, I continued the nucleus morphology assay and finished counting six more wells. Next week I will be unblinded and finally know if my results actually meet our expectations. I did some poly-L-lycine coating and washing this week, but this time I also washed some 4-well chambers which would be used later for nucleus morphology assays. The washing of 4-well chambers required twice with sterile water with 1 mL in each well, the same amount as each well of the 24-well plate.

I did more luciferase assays this week. I first assayed the Gaussia luciferase (Gluc) for plates 3 and 4, which contained only the secreted Gluc with the media but no cells. I added 25 µL of 2X lysis buffer to each well to maximize the activity of Gluc which would be soon tested. After shaking for one minute, I added 1.5 µL of Gluc to each tube that contained 20 µL of Gluc substrate and measured the luminescence using the luminometer right away since it was a flash-type reaction. We always used a large excess of substrate so that the activity of the enzyme would not be limited.

Plates 5 and 6 still contained the cells which were transfected so that they secreted both Gaussia and Nano luciferases (Nluc), so I did Gluc and Nluc dual luciferase assays on these plates. After washing the plates with DPBS, I added 60 µL of 1X lysis buffer to each well and shook the plates for five minutes. Then I added 1.5 µL of Gluc, which was released from the cells by the lysis buffer, to 20 µL of Gluc substrate in tubes and measured. After measuring the Gluc, I assayed the Nluc by adding 25 µL of Nluc into 25 µL of Nluc substrate in an empty 96-well plate. Then I transferred all solutions to tubes and measured the luminescence.

I also helped out Ron this week with the transfection of neurons in the laminar flow cabinet. I added D, 9A, 9ED, Mas70, A, and VPE transfections to the neurons in the three 24-well plates and two 48-well plates as they were marked. Every well in the 48-well plates needed 25 µL and that of 24-well plates needed 50 µL.

Doing the transfection in the laminar flow cabinet.

Doing the transfection in the laminar flow cabinet.


Week 9: Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest

July 15th, 2014

Nolan Schillerstrom ’15, Rogers Fellow in Environmental Studies

Matt goes on vacation next week so I had to say my goodbyes on Friday.  I couldn't have asked for a better mentor and friend.

Matt goes on vacation next week so I had to say my goodbyes on Friday. I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor and friend.

Everything is slowing down here at Audubon.  It seems like this is the time of year when a lot of people like to take their vacation days.  Good work is still being done, it is just done in a nature center that is a bit quieter than normal.  That said, some exciting things still managed to happen this week.  But first I need to mention a food item that you will only find in the south.

I’m going to introduce a new and bizarre food item that I do not believe most Northerners (Yankees) have heard of.  I am a “Yankee,” I grew up near Chicago and I’d never heard of this until now.  Erin told me about boiled peanuts last week and I got to try them today.  Yes, that’s right, I said boiled peanuts.  You may be wondering: what is that!?, as I did.  They are exactly what they sound like.  Peanuts still in their shells are boiled for 12+ hours in water with an ungodly amount of salt.  The result is a soft, messy peanut that is very salty and has a unique taste to it.  Mackenzie got some for me from a gas station this week and I was actually pleasantly surprised.  I don’t think they are anything to rave about but I enjoyed this bizarre little southern treat.

But, back to business.  I went out to find A914 on Monday and the whole swamp was silent.  There were some frogs and cicadas still croaking and buzzing away, but bird-wise it was like a race-track seconds before the starting gun goes off: silence.  The only thing I saw was one unbanded male Prothonotary, probably a fledgling, on Tuesday.  Matt and I were getting a little worried that we weren’t able to find our long-shot A914, so Matt took his PROW song recording and played it over where we had seen him last and he flew right over.  PHEW!  We were all a bit more chipper after finding him.

The other update on the Prothonotary front is about the nest boxes I have been constructing.  I am almost done building my goal of 20 nest boxes and I have only just started installing them.  On Monday, Matt and I went out to experiment with installation.  What is the easiest way to drive the metal post in to the ground?  How will we stabilize the nest box once it is in the ground?  How far away should they be from each other?  How many can we realistically install in one trip if our canoe can only hold so many?  After an afternoon of playing around in the boat and getting our legs and feet wet, we installed three boxes and made it back right when everyone was leaving for the day.  Based on past Prothonotary Warbler nest box studies, we decided to space them 50-100m apart so if consecutive boxes are used, they won’t be uncomfortably close for the territorial yellow-feathered friends.  I won’t bore with the other minute details but if you are interested you can email me at Nschillerstrom15@cornellcollege.edu.  We installed 3 nest boxes that were still standing at the end of the week when Mike showed me the rest of the canoe trail off-shoot where I will be installing them.

Nest box number one installed and ready for service.

Nest box number one installed and ready for service.

I sat in on a meeting with Sharon, the lady who, among many other things, writes grant proposals for Audubon SC.  She was asking Matt questions about the costs and potential growth of Project PROTHO and I decided to chime in to say that a lot of professors like to add an extra $5,000 or so in to their research grant proposals in order to have an intern over the summer. I have learned that organizations like the National Science Foundation love when education is part of a professor’s research and are usually eager to supply that extra money.  Sharon and everybody else in the room loved the idea of including money for another intern next year so I volunteered to write a program for next year’s possible intern.  Who knows… maybe I will apply for it if it happens.  It would be pretty cool to say that I was the beginning of a project with so much potential like Project PROTHO.

On Wednesday I went with everyone from Audubon SC to a meeting hosted by Audubon.  They invited conservation leaders from all over South Carolina to learn about and discuss how rising sea levels will affect bird populations along South Carolina’s coast.  The meeting was held in a brand new meeting room at Dixie Plantation with a state of the art PA system.  About 50 conservation leaders attended the meeting and I was almost stunned by how many important and influential people were there.  I got to talk to a handful of them about their careers and learned a good deal about how the DNR, Fish & Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, and other companies all work together to protect land.  As sea levels rise, salt marsh habitats are being pushed farther and farther inland.  But with development and the urge to protect developing areas from high tides and rising sea levels, many dikes and sea walls are being built.  While these barriers will protect structures from the rising water, they also prevent salt marshes from shifting to higher ground, effectively killing off this essential habitat for many birds and other animals.  This meeting really made me want to play a bigger role in movements like this one.  I think I see the direction I want to take with my career.  But I don’t think I will ever be able to see very far ahead of me with any accuracy.

Setting up for the meeting at Dixie Plantation.

Setting up for the meeting at Dixie Plantation.

On Thursday I attended an interview-style webinar with the President and CEO of The National Audubon Society, David Yarnold.  It was very interesting to hear how he answered the host’s questions and it was cool to see how enthusiastic he was about answering the questions of interns like myself.  Apparently there were interns from all over the US listening in on this webinar.  I got two questions in before the hour was up and I would like to point out that twice David said he was impressed with the questions people were asking, both after reading the ones I had asked.  No big deal though…  The most interesting thing he talked about was a climate initiative that will be made public on September 9.  A scientist working for Audubon that is really good with territory maps looked at the habitat ranges of every bird species in North America and how rising water levels will affect them.  He concluded that 100 species of birds are in danger of going extinct or being seriously damaged due to rising water levels.  I am excited to see this study and to see what actions are taken to preserve these birds.  It is a perfect connection between my two majors: environmental studies and biology.  The other thing I pulled from this webinar was a quote from David: “The scientist who is a better blogger is more valuable that the scientist with a PhD who cannot communicate.”

My finished Prothonotary Warbler territory map.  Every color is a different bird.

My finished Prothonotary Warbler territory map. Every color is a different bird.

Week 8: Pufall Lab, University of Iowa

July 15th, 2014

John Christiansen ’15, Dimensions Fellow in Research

It has been another quiet week in lab as I wait for my transfected cells to multiply. That being said, the cells are coming along nicely and it will not be too long until I’m ready to move forward. I also designed PRC primers for the next step; running a segment of genomic DNA on a gel to determine if the expected deletion occurred.

In the meantime, I’ve redone the qPCR for the second primer set for BCL6. This time, the results were much more regular and the RPL19 primer worked as expected. I’ll still probably use the first set, but it is good to know this one works and the qPCR practice is always appreciated. I also helped train Patrick, a University of Iowa sophomore-to-be who started working here about two weeks after I did. On Monday I demonstrated proper cell culture maintenance procedure and went over the procedure for harvesting cells for the +/- glucocorticoid gene expression tests.

I have been rather thankful for the peace and quiet because I have been somewhat distracted these last few weeks. Firstly, I’ve been reading through literature on BCL2, BCL6 and glucocorticoid-induced gene expression modification, preparing not only for the paper I will be writing for credit for this experience but also a poster presentation that I will be giving at a summer research student symposium here at the University of Iowa. It’ll be the first time I’ve ever given a poster presentation and I am looking forward to it, though I have a lot of preparation yet to do. I’ve also been looking to housing this August to continue my research; a search that has proven surprisingly difficult.

This coming week shows some promise; Thursday and Friday I’ll be learning how to make a Lentivirus vector for gene modification, and I may be able to start work with my transfected cells. The other issue I’ll need to address is harvesting BCL6 cells and putting them through Dex treatment. I should have that done by next Monday.

Week 7: US Conference of Mayors

July 15th, 2014

Kelly Oeltjenbruns ’15, Ricker Fellow in Urban Policy Development


Annnnnnd we’re right back at it! Now that the holiday is over and we’re far enough from the annual meeting that people need to start doing stuff (it has been very laid back around here the past two weeks!), the office is buzzing again. This is the week where I’m going to be putting together a rough draft of my paper, as I only have a few weeks left and this will take some time. The structure is an introduction, a section on early childhood education, a section on the minimum wage, and then a conclusion. The paper will probably have to be heavily footnoted because the material is so stat-heavy.

What’s exciting about this paper is that it’s more than just writing a research paper. Dave and I are going to be deciding what message we want to craft, what we want our key findings to be, how we want to display those and what format will best suit our purposes. The audience is the mayors at the August 11 meeting in New York, and from there, we have autonomy to shape the message however we feel will best meet the needs of the meeting. I’ve had experience at Cornell putting together meetings and conferences where I am able to shape the message, but now I’m putting those skills – picking out what’s important and relevant – to use in a project that has policy implications. Dave and I aren’t sure where exactly my paper fits in to the meeting, or, quite frankly, if it will fit in at all, but it will be nice to produce a product that can be of real use.


Income inequality! I won’t get into the ins and outs of what I’m writing, but I will say that I’m looking at three pre-k programs, and all have had positive results in terms of children’s test scores – not terribly surprising! I’m also looking at a few policy studies for minimum wage, along with some academic papers. Dave has said that this paper should be more academic-based, which plays to my advantage, as my final class this year at Cornell was Methods of Public Policy Analysis, where we used data to answer questions and write academically. Dave has been working with me by conceptualizing and then guiding me as I fill the paper with the pertinent information.

Other than the paper, Dave, David and I keep up on Nationals Baseball, the World Cup, and all other headlines and news stories. Those conversations are some of my favorite, because they are informing, about the topics and the people speaking about them!

A new development that started rolling on Thursday was the involvement of some other players in our early education portion of the paper. Crystal Swan is our health staff person, who also is in charge of topics related to children under the age of 5. As pre-k is generally for 4-year-olds, this is an area that Crystal may be able to get involved in and help us out with information. She came down to Dave’s office, and I presented the ideas and structure of my paper to get some feedback. She is a great resource, and was able to give some directing advice and new places to look for information. Dave is also planning a meeting with Susan, voluntary pre-k school organizer for Jacksonville, who has given us data (that I can use in my paper!) and will be able to explain it to us. The education pieces are moving!

Outside of work, this was my first week going to Jazz in the Garden, and I quite enjoyed it. There are live musicians playing jazz at the Smithsonian sculpture garden, and you can go and grab some drinks and enjoy the smooth music and nice weather! I went with a few girls from the small group I joined, and it was delightful. Listening to jazz while sipping from a $6.50 cup of sangria does seem slightly elitist, but it was fun and the atmosphere wasn’t uppity at all.


Night view of the Lincoln Memorial


When at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! Parker and I were determined to hit a beach, so we road-tripped it over to Ocean City, Maryland, for the pristine 10-mile Ocean City beach. Tommy came along, and we set out on a 3-hour journey eastward to the coast. The drive was beautiful; a lot of the Maryland countryside was farmland, and Parker and I joked about being back in Iowa quite a bit. Once we hit the beach, we ate our packed lunches and hit the waves! They were small, but this was my first time in the ocean and in salt water, so I never would have known that those waves were especially small if Parker hadn’t told me. We did the thing where you jump into the wave and let it carry you into shore – it was exhilarating and all I want to do now is go to the Pacific Ocean to catch some real waves. It was a great day at the beach, complete with a southern barbecue dinner and plenty of Luke Bryan, thanks to Parker.


Tommy and I at the Atlantic Ocean



Week 1: Center for American Progress

July 15th, 2014

Katherine Banks ’15, Black Fellow in Political Communications

My first week in Washington, D.C. could not have been more of a whirlwind. I am working in the Generation Progress department of the Center For American Progress (CAP) – the organization’s youth outreach arm to empower the Millennial generation (18-35 year olds) to promote progressive solutions to key political and social challenges. The Center for American Progress is the leading progressive political think tank in Washington, D.C. The goal of the organization is to better the lives of Americans by promoting forward-thinking ideas in the 21st century. CAP deals with an expansive number of American facets, including education, student loan debt, national security, energy, economic growth, immigration, and health care – just to name a few. The tradition of excellence that CAP has already left on this country makes this organization one that I am honored and excited to spend the summer working for.

After a quick orientation and tour of the CAP office the morning of my first day, a group of us interns were given the incredible opportunity to spend our very first day of work at the White House. After going through immense White House Security, we entered the White House East Wing to hear President Barack Obama speak on student loan debt reform. He then concluded this event by signing an Executive Order for refinancing student loans. This was an experience that will always stay with me as the best first day of work – I don’t think I could have imagined one better! It has set the tone for the rest of my time working at CAP, and the numerous windows I am certain are to come.

With Cornell Alumnae Merci Wolff '12 inside the White House before watching President Obama sign an Executive Order on refinancing student loans.

With Cornell Alumna Merci Wolff ’12 inside the White House before watching President Obama sign an Executive Order on refinancing student loans.


Inside the White House East Wing.


So close!


Pictured above, I am so fortunate to be spending my summer with my friend, Kappa Theta sorority sister, and Cornell Alumna Merci Wolff – class of 2012. She has already been incredibly welcoming and supportive, and has begun to show me the ropes of D.C. Merci is a wonderful example of a Cornell success story – she is living her dream in D.C., and every day is helping me achieve mine.

Day two of my fellowship was just as impressive as day one. With the issue of student loan refinancing a hot topic in Washington, we were invited to attend a press conference on the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act at the U.S. Capitol. Being able to attend the press conference would have been incredible enough, but my fellow CAP interns and I served as the backdrop for the televised press conference. We were inches away from, shook hands with, and spoke afterwards to the Senators who wrote and sponsored this Act – Senator Warren (MA), Senator Gillibrand (NY), Senator Durbin (Ill), Senator Franken (MN), Senator Shumer (NY), and Senator Udall (CO). The Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act would enable people with student loans that have interest rates that often exceed 7% and are as high as 14%, to refinance to bipartisan supported 3.86% rate.

Senator Durbin (D-IL) speaking on the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act.

Senator Durbin (D-IL) speaking on the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act.

Senator Udall (D-CO) speaking on refi as well.

Senator Udall (D-CO) speaking on refi as well.

Unfortunately, the following day when the Act was brought to the Senate floor, it lost in a vote of 56-38. With the current student debt in America totaling $1.2 trillion, this is an issue that we specifically at Generation Progress are taking very seriously. This past week we have done a lot of work with our Higher Ed Not Debt campaign, and are confident that student debt reform is a battle that Congress will continue to fight. In the height of my college career, it was so powerful to take part in and make strides on an issue that is affecting millions of people my age, all across the country.

Back in the office, as the week continued, we have begun our planning and preparation for Generation Progress’s annual Make Progress National Summit. In previous years, the Summit has attracted renowned speakers and notable names such as President Obama, Senator Warren, and Ryan Gosling. As we began to finalize who would be speaking at this year’s Summit, I worked extensively on drafting the announcement emails and tweets for our first confirmed speaker – House Leader Nancy Pelosi! A native Californian myself, it was exciting to take part in the announcement of such a great representative from my home state.

I will be spending a large portion of my time working in Generation Progress Communications – the Voices team. This time will give me the opportunity to not only raise my own political voice, but share the stories of American youth and their experiences with today’s pressing political issues. This team is fun, easy-going, and supportive, and my supervisors are already providing me with excellent opportunities to better my future. This is the summer that will lead into my senior year, and I recognize the importance of familiarizing myself with opportunities that will make my job search for after college all the more clear.

Stay tuned!



Week 5: University of South Carolina

July 14th, 2014

Setsen Altan-Ochir ’15, Rogers Fellow in Environmental Studies

Let me start with the end of Week 4. On Saturday evening, I had an opportunity to meet with other students from India. My roommate organized a potluck at our house, and our culinary expert Tanya coordinated the cooking process. I had just taken my once-in-a-half-year long nap when the cooking started: At seven in the morning, I went running, which took an unplanned route as I decided to see the River Walk to the west of the Congaree River (the main part of the city is on the eastern side of the river), because the weather was breathtaking with recent rain. So, my thirty-minute run became a 10-mile adventure. That being the first time to cover this much distance by running, the aftereffects reverberated throughout my day, abridging it to running then dinner.

Of the five guests, four were PhD students (Manoj has just graduated) in engineering, genetic consulting, computer science, and international economics; and Vijay was a postdoctoral fellow whose minor comment added an entirely different flavor to my considerations regarding post-Cornell plans. Like many other rising seniors, graduate school is undoubtedly among the top of my list. Having come to Cornell reinforced my love of learning, and I am aware that I have been going against the conventional wisdom that one should have fun in college, because serious work comes during grad school years. I can’t help; life is too short even for a life-long learner, although I tend to take it too far as to save the printed papers I read in/out of class to reread later and so carry with me wherever I move. With other priorities I have, the piles of “Global recycling,” “Dombra in Kazakh communities of western Mongolia,” “Navajo art,” “Northern Hemisphere forcing of climatic cycles in Antarctica over the past 360,000 years,” etc. are starting to daunt me these days the longer they lie on my shelf. I know I must finish going over them before I leave for Mongolia in August, as I need to reduce my luggage. At this moment, I feel such a novice, having got just a modicum of taste of academia. I am up and willing to take on another serious academic pursuit. What makes me irresolute is that many college students I met seem to go on to graduate studies because there is no other promising venue right after college. Recalling that I have been under the roof of some sort of an academic institution for 20 out of my 22 years of life, which I enjoy of course, having a real reality check of more than three to four months of summer can be invaluable. This rambling can go on and on. Vijay’s attitude of “Don’t take any of these seriously” can help me sometimes.

Donors. On Monday morning, Dan and I had coffee with John Mark Dean ’58, a Cornell alum, who had just come from his trip to the Colorado River. He supports the Rogers Fellowship, and I want to take this moment to express my gratitude on behalf of all Cornell Fellows to all our donors, with the help of whose largesse Cornellians are able to take on diverse experiential learning opportunities and figure out what they would like and not like to pursue further.

Sites. Our field trip was designated for Wednesday, and Warren was absent as he took a leave for the week of Independence Day. In turn, Stephanie joined Dan and me, and we headed on to sample from Waccamaw River watershed. All of it involved simply finding the bridge under which the canal ran, taking YSI measurements, and pulling water using our water sampler, which Warren flatters me as having “magic hands” with. It was pretty light compared to our previous field trips where we walked in heat for considerable amounts of time. For our third stop, we arrived at what looked like a wonderland of around 9500 acres: Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve welcomed us with innumerable longleaf pine trees shooting straight to the sky. This place is also known for its biggest black bear population in South Carolina.

Yellow pitcher plants in Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve

Yellow pitcher plants in Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve


For the first time, I saw yellow pitcher plants. After walking in awe for a while, we had to penetrate the thickets to reach our sampling location. Even if I was carrying heavier stuff than I usually do, I took pleasure in every step. As we finally arrived at our stream channel, my jaw dropped one-and-a-half centimeters, although I seemed to be the most excited among the three of us. We literally came to a black water. It was impossible to see what was in there. Someone had to get in and take the measurements, and I happily got in. The feeling was comparable to that of seeing several scenes from the Life of Pi. At least for me.

Black water in Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve

Black water in Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve

Black water stream in Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve

Black water stream in Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve

Stephanie and Dan walking in the longleaf pine woods

Stephanie and Dan walking in the longleaf pine woods

Deer track as pointed out by Stephanie

Deer track as pointed out by Stephanie

Dan diving in the channel to find the lost tube

Dan diving in the channel to find the lost tube

Since the site was within two miles of the coast, visiting the beach for 45 minutes was in our plan. We decided to finish sampling before going there.

Unfortunately, the elastic tube from the water sampler fell into the channel that smelled and looked like a sewer water. Because the flow was little, Dan got into the water to look for it, as he no doubt didn’t want to lose me in the yellow-green water. After several dives, it became clear it was not worth it. Soon afterwards, we were rewarded with the visit to the waters of the youngest ocean of our planet, where oceanic crust is generated and separates Eurasia from the Americas further and further. The ocean and the sky being of similar balmy faint gray-blue colors made the clouds look like they were sinking in water.

The day before July 4. Because it usually gets late by the time we arrive, we leave our samples in ice. Thursday was the day I had to filter my samples and start running the previously filtered samples, as the workings of Shimadzu UV-VIS spectrophotometer had been figured out. Basically, this machine shines ultraviolet or visible light into the sample, and graphs the amount of absorption of each wavelength. It all required a great amount of multitasking: Cleaning the individual particles used in filtering, drying them in the oven, preparing for the filtering process by assembling the filters, filtering, performing baseline with deionized water with Shimadzu, running a sample, then getting back to filtering, putting the filtered water into five different viles, naming them accordingly, adding acid, putting in the freezer, getting back to Shimadzu, running the same sample again to see if the machine is showing consistent results… then start the process again. I was telling myself that thoroughness should be my goal. My body got literally so heated that I couldn’t stand doing it more, as if I was having restless legs. Filtering was done much earlier during the day, as there were only 8 samples, thus two rounds, but somehow I got off work at 11 pm.

Lab again. Because Friday was the Independence Day, I decided to work on Sunday, so I ran Shimadzu most of the day.

Week 6: Children’s Hospital Colorado

July 13th, 2014

Sandra Cordero ’16, Ellerbroek Fellow in Children’s Research 

This week, Bridget and I shadowed neurosurgery and hardware removal. We were scheduled to only shadow Dr. Wilkinson in neurosurgery, however two surgeries were being done on the same patient, and hardware removal first, we decided to stay since both of us have never seen this procedure before.

The patient had a history of triplegic cerebral palsy; extension osteotomy was done to both her bilateral distal femurs, and rotation osteotomies to her bilateral distal tibia. She had these implants in for about a year, it was the surgeon’s preference to remove it. Dr. Chang states that there was an article published by John Hopkins about hardware removal, and found that re-fracturing and infection was minimal after removal. There were more complications associated if implants were kept in. During my data collecting, there were less than 4 patients that did not remove hardware, reasons were family preference or excellent union of the fracture. But, removing hardware is very common.

The procedure for this surgery included marking the proper operative sites, then anesthesia and appropriate preparation and draping of the extremities in a sterile fashion. Incisions were made at the previous incision site. Blade plates were identified and cleared of overlying soft tissues. Six screws were removed from each distal femur, and four screws from each tibia using a screw driver, then the plate was removed. It was interesting because there was the surgeon and three fellows/ residents removing hardware all at the same time. Since there were four of them, they each picked the area they wanted to do.

We also watched Dr. Chang put a cast on a patient that sustained an injury to her fibula. It was interesting because he personally designs the cast depending on what the child wants. Today, he cut out stars in the cast, put some glitter, and even made one look like a shooting star. The cast was also glow in the dark. He showed us pictures of the other casts that he designed, some were Frozen, Nike, Angry Birds, and Hello Kitty inspired. He had a bag full of glitter and stickers, it was like Michaels in a bag, one of the nurse’s stated.

In addition, the neurosurgery that we shadowed was a baclofen pump replacement. Normally, muscles receive electrical signals via nerves to contract and relax. However, spasticity is caused by an imbalance in electrical signals coming from the spinal cord through the nerves to the muscle. Baclofen works by restoring the normal balance to reduce hyperactivity and involuntary spams. This drug can be taken orally, or a metal disc can be placed under the skin of the abdomen near the waistline, which delivers baclofen directly into the spine. The medication from the pump reservoir goes through the catheter.  This procedure was done because of battery depletion. Every six years, the battery needs to be replaced. This is really effective. Doctors can adjust the dose, rate, and timing of medication. This is helpful for the individuals who have a hard time taking pills, or who will forget to take their medication.

I was glad that Bridget was shadowing with me today, she has done this multiple times so she was able to help me. She showed me where the scrubs were, gave me some tips since this was my first surgery, and explained some of the regulations. Shadowing surgery was not what I expected. I guess I had that stereotypical hospital/ ER mindset from television, showing serious doctors and tense/ stressful environment. However, it was pretty laid back. Doctors/ nurses were so calm and casually talked about their life, telling stories while performing the surgeries. They even had music playing in the background. I guess that means they are good at what they do. If it was me though, I don’t think I would be able to concentrate.

But first, let me take a selfie in my scrubs.

But first, let me take a selfie in my scrubs.

Week 7: Pufall Lab, University of Iowa

July 9th, 2014

John Christiansen ’15, Dimensions Fellow in Research

The most intensive procedure I preformed this week was qPCR. I preformed qPCR with two different BCL6 primer sets to determine if BCL6 would be a good target and to determine if the primers where effective. I got promising results with the first primer set; the BCL6 down regulation was more robust than BCL2 and the variance in biological repeats was smaller. The second primer set had terrible efficiency, but this was likely do to my own error as my RPL19 control gene primer, which I have used many times with good results, had an equally horrendous efficiency. I might have just messed up the plate’s standard and I will be trying it again later this week.

Another important procedure of this week was the maintenance of the cells I transfected last week. Although they are not ready to move forward with yet, it appears that may have survived and have pasted the one cell stage. I preformed the first weekly feeding today, giving each well 100 uL fresh medium that also contained the antibiotics penicillin and streptomycin to help prevent bacterial contamination.

The other focus of the week was preparing for a presentation which I gave at this week’s lab meeting. In this presentation, I summarized the significance of my two explored target genes, BCL6 and BCL2, and explained that BCL6 was the better choice because it appears to have fewer GR binding cites and a more robust regulation. In fact, the BCL6 gene really only had one likely GR binding cite. BCL6 is also an interesting target because, unlike in many developing b-cell lines, in sup-B15 cells glucocorticoids up-regulate BCL6 expression. Sup-B15 cells also have an additional GR binding site in a BCL6 intron that other cell lines, in which glucocorticoids down-regulate BCL6 expression, do not have. It will be interesting to test if knocking out this site prevents the up-regulation.

Again, I was given one week notice for this presentation, but I think it went pretty well. There wasn’t too much feedback or very many questions from the audience, so I must be on a good track and have gotten my points across clearly. The few comments were also very helpful to me. I may have been speaking a little fast, but everyone seemed to be following me anyway.

My current project is on hold until the transfected cells reach a sustainable population, expected in about a week or two. I have some notebook work to catch up with and a lot of BCL6 research to do, so I’m thankful for a little spare time. I also may be preforming qPCR on other genes not directly related to my project for Miles; I can always use the extra practice and I guess Miles must be pleased with my technique.

Week 5: Children’s Hospital Colorado

July 9th, 2014

Sandra Cordero ’16, Ellerbroek Fellow in Children’s Research

This week I went to the Gait Analysis Data Review. Since I shadowed Amy (physical therapist), during her evaluation of patient who was “toe” walking, she invited me to see how this whole process came together. There were multiple physical therapists, orthopedic surgeons, and engineers who attended. It felt like a big discussion amongst these specialist as we watched each patient’s walking abilities (video recordings), and evaluated their EMG’s. Each specialist shouted their own recommendations. However, the engineer was the most helpful I thought since he explained the EMG’s. He went in depth about the patients’ knee/ ankle strength based on the EMG curves and progression, and told us which muscles were stimulated during the patient’s gait.

One patient they evaluated was a 42-year-old male, who sustained an injury while working. He complained about tightness/ pain in his ankles. Based on the lateral view of his legs, you could see that his right leg was weaker. His calf muscles were more developed and prominent compared to his right (affected limb). In addition, one of the possible diagnoses was nerve damage; however, he was able to walk on his toes, so the doctors claim that he must have some control over his leg and sensation. His ankles were also inverted slightly, and there was no record of him tripping. Based on his EMG, he had knee stiffness, in order to compensate his weak ankles. Overall, the doctors recommended more ankle stability, it doesn’t matter in what form, and also for the patient to lose some weight. This patient was slightly overweight, and the possible pain in his ankles could be from his weight bearing as well.

In addition, attending this meeting, made me wonder, how doctors deal with patients with illnesses that cannot be resolved or improved? It must be difficult telling the patient and his/ her family. One patient that they evaluated was a young girl who has an unknown diagnosis, however has had multiple rotational issues in her knees. Her left knee was inward. She recently had a surgery before this evaluation, to fix what a “minor” inwardness of the knee was. However, her parents felt that she never recovered from surgery in the first place and that it never worked. There were no changes post-operatively though, and the physical therapist claim that, that is how she normally walked, it just got progressively worse. The patient would do other rotational surgery, but the problem may arise again and she simply cannot have a rotational surgery all the time/ when she needs it. Her size may have been a factor that contributed to this problem, but there are other factors to consider, like walking less, since she is in a wheel chair most of the time, her legs became weaker. Overall, the doctors/ specialist claim that they are not optimistic. They plan to have a family conference to explain her condition.

Moreover, this week I shadowed the Rehab Clinic. The doctor that I shadowed did not tell me the background/ condition of the patients before we evaluated them, which was quite unusual. I guess he thought I knew more than I did, because he asked me a couple of times if I knew the condition of the patient just by the looks of them. Maybe if I was more experienced and observant, I would have realized that the left side of the patient does not function properly. However, he did give a good recommendation about Cornell College, and said it was a wonderful school.

One patient I saw had a dislocated hip. His ball-shape head of the femur bone was not implanted into his pelvis cup. Due to the spasticity: his low muscle tone it kind of basically “slip” out of the cup as the doctor explained to the patient’s mother. He recommended fixing this ASAP since the cartilage on the femur bone dissolves and the pelvis does not form a cup anymore, making it much harder to treat later. This included manually shaping the cup. However, with this upcoming surgery in September, surgeons will be able to put the head back in the cup, and hopefully the cup will remodel. This was due to the patient’s inactivity.

No work during Fourth of July, hope everyone had a wonderful Independence Day!

Week 8: Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest

July 8th, 2014

Nolan Schillerstrom ’15, Rogers Fellow in Environmental Studies

I was able to knock out a lot of important tasks this week and on Monday I had the chance to help out with the Shorebird Warden project that Audubon and the South Carolina DNR cooperate on. Every morning after Monday was spent monitoring the boardwalk trying to find Prothonotary Warblers that would be good candidates for a geolocator. There were a handful of highlights this week so here they come!

To start, the Shorebird Warden project was exciting! It was nice to walk around a different habitat. Ricky and I left for the coast at 6:30am on Monday, picked up Erin, and then met Janet at the boat launch. Janet is a wildlife biologist for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and Erin is Audubon’s seasonal Shorebird Warden along with Ricky. All three are also very fun and interesting people. We had some eye opening conversations about graduate school, seasonal jobs in wildlife biology, and careers in ornithology. It was about a 15 minute motor-boat ride from the boat landing to an island that is mostly untouched by humans. To explain what we were doing there I am going to quote the International Shorebird Survey Page from the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences web page.

“To know where conservation is needed — and if initiatives have been effective — shorebird scientists require a broad understanding of species populations and trends. In 1974, Manomet organized the volunteer-based International Shorebird Survey (ISS) to gather information on shorebirds and the wetlands they depend on. Through the work of dedicated volunteers conducting field surveys during spring and fall migrations, this monitoring network provides hemispheric data on shorebirds. Volunteers have completed almost 80,000 census counts at 1200 locations in 47 U.S. states, with additional counts from Central and South America.”

We basically walked around the island carrying telescopes, or “scopes” for short, and stopped at pre-determined locations where nesting sites were visible. At each location we counted all of the birds we saw along with their respective species. I learned how difficult it is to ID shorebirds and seabirds! They all blend in so well with the sand and all look so similar. Many different species hang out together and don’t get very territorial, which adds to the difficulty. I was told that Brown Pelicans will stay about a wing’s length away from each other while they are nesting. That is much closer than the territories Prothonotary Warblers claim! I was glad I brought my Sibley field guide to help me ID the birds. The island we were on is only one of five in South Carolina that the birds still use to nest. The information gathered by Janet, Ricky, Erin, and their volunteers is extremely valuable to the conservation of these birds.

Getting the boat in the water.  From left to right - Janet, Ricky, and Erin.

Getting the boat in the water. From left to right – Janet, Ricky, and Erin.

As we roam the beach in search of shorebirds.

As we roam the beach in search of shorebirds.

They only conduct these surveys once a month because the slightest agitation can ruin a whole colony’s brood of eggs. This is also why they say you shouldn’t bring your dog to certain beaches or run after a group of birds on the beach just to see them fly away. The sand gets very hot during the day and if the parents aren’t shading the eggs, they will quite literally fry in a matter of minutes. Most shorebirds and seabirds exhibit elusive behavior when predators (dogs or humans) are nearby, and will fly away from their eggs with the hope of drawing away the predator. This leaves the eggs vulnerable to Laughing Gull predation and to the heat. The reason for why you shouldn’t chase after birds on a beach has to do with their migration. Along the coast, beaches are rest stops for many birds during migration and someone chasing them away is akin to if you were shot at every time you stepped out of your car to stretch during a long multi-day road trip.

So many Brown Pelicans!!

So many Brown Pelicans!!

Erin checking on the progress of some active nests.  Picture taken through a scope.

Erin checking on the progress of some active nests. Picture taken through a scope.

Back in the nature center the rest of the week I made significant progress on the nest boxes. About $300 total was donated to us in order to build nest boxes for Prothonotary Warblers. I sent off thank you letters to all of our kind donors and started building. I am also creating a how-to guide if they want to build and install more when I am gone. My how-to guide will be a lot more detailed than the one we have from the Virginia folks who are working on a similar project with Prothonotary Warblers. We will begin installing nest boxes on Tuesday of next week.

I lead my first guided tour of the boardwalk on Thursday! It was a little last minute because the group was late. Matt was going to lead the tour, but he had a meeting that he couldn’t be late for so he asked me if I wanted to do it. After waffling for a minute or two, I swallowed my doubts, threw on my Audubon vest, and lead a thrilling tour of our swamp and its wildlife. It seems like education is an important aspect of wildlife biology and I believe this tour was an important stepping stone that I will look back on fondly when I am a reputable ornithologist leading frequent birding walks. I surprised myself with how much I knew and could share about the boardwalk and this swamp habitat. I was pointing out snakes and interesting plants that I didn’t even realize I had learned.

Our geolocators were calibrated last weekend by being set out in a sunny area. They collect a data point every time the sun rises and sets. When data is being extracted from the devices next year, these initial points can be used to give all the other points a frame of reference because we will know what the light levels were like and their starting location when they were deployed.

I turned this...

I turned this…

...and this...

…and this…

...into this!

…into this!

I'm all ready for my first boardwalk tour!

I’m all ready for my first boardwalk tour!

On Saturday we deployed one geolocator on A914 and decided not to try to deploy anymore because they were not responding to our dummy song. Whatever hormone responses that make them want to sing and be territorial must no longer be as high. I was worried about this but I am glad we could catch at least one. It will be a long-shot but we are hopeful. It is my job next week to look for A914 and make sure he is flying OK with the geolocator on his back. Colleagues that use this same technique to harness geolocators on Prothonotary Warblers say they have never had a problem, but we all want to make sure our long-shot is A-OK.

Just to clarify, all of the banding we have done has been under a SCDNR permit and with the assistance of an SCDNR Biologist.

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