Mosaic / May 8, 2019

Science students discuss research projects


Senior studies monkey bite force

Senior Courtney Dramm points to an X-ray video that shows a monkey biting down onto a force transducer. Dramm utilizes both X-ray videos and a software program called XROM, which allows Dramm to create a digital 3D model of the monkey. (Katy Coseglia/TKS)

Senior Courtney Dramm is studying the relationship between mouth gape and bite force through studying macaque monkeys.

“So what we looked at is how mouth gapes, so how wide open your mouth is affects the bite force, so the amount that the muscle is able to produce,” Dramm said.

Surgical implantation of washers allowed researchers to increase the monkey’s gape in order to understand the amount of bite force at increasing levels of gape, all while the animals were under anaesthesia.

“From there we stimulate the masseter muscle and that causes them to bite down onto a force transducer. So we record that and have x-ray videos,” Dramm said.

Dramm then took the data and and imported it into a software program called XROM (X-ray Reconstruction and Moving Morphology), which allowed Dramm to create a digital 3D model of the monkey.

“We are able to create this whole animation of the animal’s movements while it was alive. We have all these locators on different points that we’re looking at. So we can get how wide open its mouth was and how much the force was at each distance,” Dramm said.

Dramm explained that because macaque monkeys are sexually dimorphic Ñ they have different physical characteristics – she was interested in how these differences affected bite force between males and females.

“Males are able to open their mouths wider than females. And males have wider operating ranges at these high bite forces more than the females,” Dramm said.

Explain to a Humanities Major: 

“Looking at the differences between males and females in the macaque monkeys’ bite force at different gapes, so how wide open their mouth is,” said Dramm.


Project follows green chemistry principles

Junior Allen Irvine is working with Associate Professor of Chemistry Helen Hoyt for his chemistry research into finding ways to make chemical reactions more environmentally friendly by using

Senior Allen Irvine is working alongside Associate Professor of Chemistry Helen Hoyt to find ways to make chemical reactions more environmentally friendly by using green chemistry principles. One aspect of this research is trying to reproduce platinum’s wasteful chemistry with iron. (Rafael Cho/TKS)

green chemistry principles.

“We are applying the American Chemical Society’s principles of green chemistry to create less hazardous waste products and to use elements and materials that are more naturally abundant than other rare metals,” Irvine said.

The research specializes in organometallic chemistry, the study of how organic molecules and metals interact. Irvine is helping to find iron-based catalysts which can be used instead of problematic platinum catalysts in chemical reactions.

“We are trying to do some of the catalysis chemistry that people have done with platinum, using iron,” Irvine said.

The difficulty in replacing platinum with iron is that the elements have a different chemistry and thus don’t react the same.

Irvine’s project primarily focuses on investigating specific iron-based compounds’ catalytic activity in reactions which are currently catalyzed with platinum based compounds. These iron compounds contain organic ligands, which are varied to change the compounds’ chemistry such that the catalytic activity is changed.

“There’s all sorts of different properties these ligands can have that could maybe be important for influencing the iron’s ability to do this catalysis. We are trying out different structures and combinations,” Irvine said.

Explain to a Humanities Major: 

Irvine’s work involves maximizing atom economy, which means he wants to lose less atoms, therefore not creating as much waste product. “If we can get to 100 percent atom economy, that means every atom we put in ends up in the product we want and we don’t get any waste,” said Irvine. He follows this by trying to reproduce platinum’s wasteful chemistry with iron.


Studying Alzheimer’s treatment

Senior Bryssa Montez explains her research in the difference between natural and synthetic Alzheimer’s treatments. (Katy Coseglia/TKS)

Senior Bryssa Montez is studying treatments for Alzheimer’s disease by studying C.Elegans.

“What I am doing is studying the effects of natural versus synthetic treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. I’m using C.Elegans, which is like a little tiny worm,” Montez said.

The C.Elegans she is studying are a special strain that go into paralysis when in room temperature, which helps her understand brain cell degeneration.

“Paralysis is kind of a model for Alzheimer’s disease because it’s like muscle cell degeneration kind of like how Alzheimer’s disease is brain cell degeneration,” Montez said.

Montez is then looking at how both synthetic and natural forms of treatment affects the C.Elegans’ cell degeneration.

“I’m looking at donepezil and tacrine which are two prescription drugs for Alzheimer’s and then I’m looking at ginkgo, it’s a memory support supplement and in Asian cultures they use this a lot as a preventative supplement or an anti-dementia type medication,” Montez said.

Explain to a Humanities Major: 

“I am looking at a natural supplement versus prescription medication at treating Alzheimer’s disease in humans, but using nematodes as my model,” said Montez.


          Biochemist researches plant oil

Senior Sierra Daniger holds up the plant oil that she will later use to transform into bisphosphonates. (Katy Coseglia/TKS)

Senior Sierra Daniger has been working on her biochemistry research in Professor of Chemistry Diana Cermak’s lab since the spring of her sophomore year.

“I’m taking the oil from a plant and basically taking part of that oil and transforming it into what we call bisphosphonates, which are used to bind calcium within water,” Daniger said.

Daniger explained that creating this bisphosphonate can help in the treatment of bone and tissue diseases.

“It can be biologically active in treatment of osteoporosis, Paget’s disease and bone tumor disease,” Daniger said.

She credits her organic chemistry background to allow her to produce compounds that can be operational to the body during her lab work.

“While I’m in lab I’m going through a series of reactions with this oil, with the final step being deprotecting the final bisphosphonat and I have four different products that I’m making,” Daniger said.

Explain to a Humanities Major: 

“Essentially I’m using organic chemistry in order to change a plant oil into a compound that could be biologically active,” said Daniger.


Focusing on genetic nicotine tolerance

Senior Samuel Hernandez works in the chemistry lab on researching the effects of genetic nicotine on the Hox gene, which affects motor function. (Rob Nguyen/TKS)

Senior Samuel Hernandez is researching if nicotine tolerance can be passed down generationally by studying C.Elegans.

“What we’re doing basically is treating the set of worms with nicotine at different concentrations and then looking at how the worms respond to the nicotine. Then having them reproduce through two generations and looking at the effects that nicotine has on their genetics,” Hernandez said.

The effects of nicotine on the Hox gene, which affects motor function, created a neuronal deficiency on the gene. Hernandez is looking to see if this can be given to younger generations of C.Elegans.

“We’re … looking at this gene that may be affected by nicotine and seeing if nicotine can have an effect on the genetics of various generations after the generation that was exposed to it initially,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez hopes that eventually they can target a gene to potentially slow down nicotine addiction, or maybe even treat it.

Explain to a Humanities Major: 

Hernandez’s work focuses on past studies that nicotine tolerance can be passed down.


Dmitri Chambers, Co-Mosaic Editor
Co-Mosaic Editor

Tags:  Alzheimer's treatment Genetic Addiction humanities Monkey mouth gape Nicotine Addiction research projects science Umbeck Science-Mathematics Center

Bookmark and Share

Previous Post
Public speaker talks life with schizophrenia
Next Post
Student performance mixes vocals with violin

You might also like

1 Comment

May 08, 2019

As a humanities major, I would like to ask that next time the question is posed differently, as I can understand the technical explanation just fine. Knox prides itself on being multidisciplinary – try “Explain it to a fifth grader,” as it would not only produce some much more fun results, but also makes no judgement of the ability of a humanities major to understand technical explanations common to the hard sciences.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.