Meet the Winners of the 2020 Bass Connections Student Research Awards

April 30, 2020

Student Research Award winners.
First row: Len Assakul, Jane Harwell, Anish Nigade, Kelly Yang, Autumn Barnes, Narissa Jimenez-Petchumurus; Second row: Kelsey Desir, Pratik Doshi, Reshma Nargund, Tye Landels-Gruenewald, Amelia Martin, Perry Sweitzer; Third row: Ruopu Jiao, Anya Lewis-Meeks, Geovanni Janer, Hiwot Zewdie, Harlan Downs-Tepper, Priya Parkash; Fourth row: Grace Llewellyn, Wendy Dong, Mateo Villamizar Chaparro, Sarah Kwartler; Not pictured: Isabel Bradley, Krystin Jones

Fourteen graduate students and ten undergraduates will pursue faculty-mentored research projects this summer and next year with grant funding from Bass Connections. These projects explore a diverse range of topics, including mercury exposure in small-scale gold mining communities, digital mapping to remember the Middle Passage, the relationship between urban greenspace and public health, biomedical device design and innovation, and the bioremediation of plastic waste using a plastic-degrading enzyme, among others.

Bass Connections Student Research Awards provide support for students to pursue self-directed research projects under the guidance of a faculty mentor. Student projects can be either individual or collaborative in nature, and many projects continue an aspect of research begun on a Bass Connections project team. Some students will be pursuing collaborative projects that tackle interdisciplinary challenges that are not directly related to a specific project team’s research.

Len Assakul, Pratik Doshi, Anish Nigade and Kelly Yang

MBA candidate Len Assakul ’21, medical student Pratik Doshi ’21, master’s student Anish Nigade ’21 (Engineering) and undergraduate Kelly Yang ’21 (Biology) are members of the Duke Design Health Fellows Program, which has spent the year identifying pressing needs in healthcare, designing and prototyping innovative medical devices and developing clinical, manufacturing and business plans to bring those devices to market. This group plans to continue their work on ArchGuard, a novel cerebral deflection device that helps prevent stroke in patients with aortic stenosis, a degeneration and calcification of the heart valves. Paul Fearis, Joe Knight and Eric Richardson will serve as their faculty mentors.

Our team has been conducting research over the past year to understand the Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR) procedure and improve patient outcomes. After a deep exploration with dozens of interviews with key stakeholders, our team decided to tackle the issues of cerebral ischemia. By bringing together a diverse set of skills and backgrounds, our team has been driven to create a functional cerebral protection device, ArchGuard, that can be implemented during TAVR procedures to improve patient outcomes. Through the continuation of this research, the team aims to continue functional and usability testing, as well as begin scaling up the prototype.

Autumn Barnes and Krystin Jones

Autumn Barnes ’21 (Public Policy Studies and Global Health) and master’s student Krystin Jones (Global Health) plan to examine patient, parent and healthcare provider perspectives on genomics research for sickle cell disease in Uganda. Their project builds on the work of the Integrative Global Health Research on Sickle Cell Disease team, which sought to understand the contributions of biological and nonbiological factors to phenotypic variability in sickle cell disease and improve outcomes for people living with the disease worldwide. Charmaine Royal and Kearsley Stewart will serve as their faculty mentors.

We need to study the perspectives of healthcare workers, policymakers and parents of children with sickle cell disease on the ethical conduct of research, as well as patient understandings of these new technologies…Our interview guide will focus on facilitators and barriers to advancing genomics research in these populations. Finally, our work will provide insight into how to educate and empower these communities to make informed decisions about their health.

Isabel Bradley, Kelsey Desir, Jane Harwell, Tye Landels-Gruenewald, Anya Lewis-Meeks and Perry Sweitzer

Doctoral students Isabel Bradley (Romance Studies), Kelsey Desir (English), Jane Harwell (English), Tye Landels-Gruenewald (English), Anya Lewis-Meeks (English) and Perry Sweitzer (Religion) are members of the Representing Migration through Digital Humanities: Remembering the Middle Passage team, which has been creating an interactive digital map to plot where the deaths of enslaved persons occurred in the Atlantic from approximately 1750-1850. This group will expand on the team’s research by further examining archival material to improve the digital map, opening their research to the community through a public conference, focus groups and activist workshops, and developing teaching materials for primary and secondary schools. Charlotte Sussman will serve as their faculty mentor.

Public-facing research and community engagement are at the vanguard of humanities scholarship. Digital methods have proven to be an effective means through which connections can be made between the academy and diverse publics. Our Bass Connections project uses digital mapping technology to memorialize deaths of enslaved persons along the Middle Passage. We hope to further develop this project informed by the expertise of community activists in Durham and the wider North Carolina area. Our goal is to develop a digital tool that will be of use to local communities affected by the legacy of the Middle Passage.

Wendy Dong, Geovanni Janer and Ruopu Jiao

Wendy Dong ’21 (Biomedical Engineering), Geovanni Janer ’21 (Biomedical Engineering) and Ruopu Jiao ’21 (Biomedical Engineering and Computer Science) plan to develop a low-cost, portable medical device that can provide safer neonatal conditions for infants during transport between small clinics and large referral hospitals in Tanzania. The group will collaborate with doctors and administration at Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center to analyze on-site needs and resources and to evaluate their prototype. Elizabeth Collins, Dorothy Dow and Eric Richardson will serve as their mentors.

In many developing countries, infants born in rural areas in need of intensive care experience a high mortality rate during their transfer to their referred hospitals. We’ve had the privilege to work in Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center (KCMC), a large referral hospital in northern Tanzania, where we and others have witnessed this high infant mortality rate. To alleviate this global health issue, there is potential for a medical device that can provide safer neonatal conditions for infants during transport that can be locally sourced and produced…The final goal of this project is to create a cost-efficient, sustainable, portable medical device that can provide critically ill newborns adequate protection during their transport to KCMC. If successful, this device could potentially be utilized in many developing countries.

Mateo Villamizar Chaparro and Harlan Downs-Tepper

Doctoral students Mateo Villamizar Chaparro (Political Science) and Harlan Downs-Tepper (Public Policy) plan to examine the effects of eviction and displacement on the livelihoods of residents of Patna, the capital of Bihar, India’s poorest and second most populous state. This project continues the work of the Studying the Real ‘Slums’ in Bangalore, Patna and Jaipur team, which investigated urban poverty, social mobility and inequality in India. Anirudh Krishna will serve as their faculty mentor.

Drawing on a pre-eviction survey conducted as a follow-on to a Bass Connections project in 2016, we will conduct a follow-up household survey to develop a panel dataset. With this, we will investigate the heterogeneous effects of displacement, with attention toward how communities mitigate the effects of such a shock. Lessons from this study will inform housing policy in Patna, as well as in other cities in the Global South grappling with land pressures.

Narissa Jimenez-Petchumurus, Amelia Martin and Hiwot Zewdie

Master’s students Narissa Jimenez-Petchumurus (Public Policy) and Hiwot Zewdie (Global Health) and undergraduate Amelia Martin ’21 (Biology and Global Health) plan to examine the distribution of urban greenspaces and its relation to population health in Durham County. Their study will be used to inform city revitalization funding and policy to improve neighborhood quality and health for marginalized communities in Durham. The project was inspired by the group’s involvement in regional environmental justice advocacy groups as well as by the findings of the Documenting Durham’s Health History: Understanding the Roots of Health Disparities team. Sarah Armstrong and Emily D’Agostino will serve as the group’s faculty mentors.

It is our objective to start an evidence base assessing greenspace distribution and its association with health outcomes across communities in Durham County. We will utilize satellite imagery and spatial analysis techniques to discern where greenspaces are distributed and how this relates to the spatial distribution of health outcomes. We will then use an ethnographic qualitative approach to further explore quality and usage of recreational parks, a specific type of greenspace. In this process, we aim to bring together Duke faculty, students and community partners to create a coalition committed to increasing neighborhood quality for population health and well-being in Durham.

Sarah Kwartler

Sarah Kwartler ’21 (Biology) is a member of the Bioremediation of Plastic Pollution to Conserve Marine Biodiversity team, which is working to create a lab strain of bacteria capable of rapidly degrading plastic to restore environmental health and conserve marine biodiversity. She will expand on the team’s work by exploring how to optimize the biodegradation abilities of the enzyme, PETase, through directed mutagenesis. Jason Somarelli and Thomas Schultz will serve as her faculty mentors.

Although plastics were initially celebrated for their durability and recalcitrance, the environmental and health risks from their use and accumulating waste are a growing concern…This research will elaborate on current attempts at editing the PETase gene to increase the number of mutants and determine what mutations improve PETase’s ability to biodegrade plastic…Some of these mutants may create a more efficient version of PETase, allowing the enzyme to better degrade thick, crystalline PET. Considering the growing plastic epidemic, this novel methodology for improving biodegradation holds immense potential.

Grace Llewellyn

Grace Llewellyn ’22 (Computer Science) is a member of the Ocean Evidence Gap Map and Synthesis team, which has been working for two years to create gap maps to describe and help synthesize the distribution of literature that examines outcomes from conservation interventions in tropical mangrove, coral reef and seagrass habitats. In order to refine the team’s data entry and extraction processes, she plans to create an open-source, relational database that will facilitate the process of entering and synthesizing data and enable better quality control, speed and accuracy of information for users assessing conservation interventions and policy. David Gill will serve as her faculty mentor.

The main goal of this research is to create an interactive, customizable framework that would facilitate more efficient data-entry, reduce the likelihood of errors and help groups analyze outcomes from conservation interventions. This shared, open-source relational database with a user-friendly interface would facilitate more efficient data-entry because it would reduce the limitations that come with the use of Excel…This project would also have wide applications for other researchers conducting systematic maps and other types of evidence synthesis work as the factors being assessed need not only be interventions and outcomes.

Reshma Nargund

Doctoral student Reshma Nargund (Environment) is a member of the Health and Well-being Associated with Small-scale Gold Mining in Amansie West District, Ghana team, which has been assessing the health and well-being of small-scale gold miners in Ghana. The team’s study focuses specifically on exposure to mercury and arsenic, elements that make their way into the air and water during the mining process. Nargund’s project will explore the health effects of mercury exposure in another community in which unregulated, small-scale mining is prevalent: Madre de Dios, Peru. Using DNA methylation, she plans to examine how mercury exposure contributes to epigenetic changes and adverse health outcomes in miners and mining communities. William Pan will serve as her faculty mentor.

While alternatives have been found for most uses of mercury, artisanal and small-scale gold mining remains the one area where mercury use is unregulated, contributing to 37% of global mercury emissions. Documented adverse health effects of mercury exposure include mental retardation, congenital malformations, vision and hearing loss, delayed development and language disorders…Focusing on the community of Madre de Dios, Peru, we will utilize banked saliva samples from mother-child pairs and perform a DNA methylation array to characterize epigenetic changes in individuals with known exposure to mercury. If mercury-induced epigenetic changes are observed, data will be shared with Peruvian health officials to inform policy.

Priya Parkash

Priya Parkash ’22 (Economics and Statistical Science) plans to examine the motivations of international students who travel to the United States to pursue education and careers in STEM fields. Focusing, in particular, on students from Kenya, she plans to use descriptive statistics, qualitative and quantitative methods and structural equation modeling to identify factors that motivate the pursuit of STEM within four broad themes: financial correlations, cultural attitudes, United States foreign policy and STEM identity. Parkash is currently a member of the Open Design at Duke and Beyond and Building Duke teams. Tori Akin, Nahal Kaivan and Jenny Wood Crowley will serve as her mentors.

Much warranted attention over the past few decades has been devoted to the problem of retaining minorities, particularly women, in areas where they are poorly represented such as in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields…The purpose of this study is to advance knowledge on international students in their pursuit of careers in STEM. It aims to provide information about the impact of societal and cultural aspects as well as attitudinal, character and educational achievement in the career selection process and persistence in the STEM disciplines for international students.

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