Meet the Winners of the 2022 Bass Connections Student Research Awards

April 7, 2022

Previous student research awardees in the lab and in the field.
Previous Bass Connections Student Research Award winners in the field and in the lab.

Ten graduate students and twenty-two undergraduates will pursue faculty-mentored research projects this summer and next year with grant funding from Bass Connections. Their projects explore a diverse range of topics, including community-based interventions for epilepsy and sickle cell disease in Uganda, the effects of artistic practice on mental health and well-being, biodiversity conservation in Madagascar, the use of creative media and storytelling to explore neuroscience, and more.

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 individual or collaborative in nature and may continue an aspect of research begun on a Bass Connections project team or tackle a new interdisciplinary challenge.

Community-Based Epilepsy Intervention in Uganda

Master’s student Paula Njeru (Global Health) and Pratamesh Ramasubramanian ’23 (Biology) plan to pilot and evaluate an epilepsy health literacy engagement intervention in Uganda. Their work aims to combat patient stigma, discrimination and a lack of biomedical understanding around barriers to proper care. This project will expand on the work of the 2021-2022 Community Engagement to Impact Epilepsy Health Literacy in Uganda project team, which has been collecting data and performing literature reviews to plan and refine contextually relevant community-based interventions around epilepsy which has risen from 14th to 10th in disability burden in Uganda since 2017. Deborah Koltai and Neil Prose will serve as their faculty mentors.

Community-Engaged Sickle Cell Disease Research in Kalangala, Uganda

Master’s students Vivien Wambugu (Global Health) and Maya Wilson (Global Health) as well as undergraduates Bailey Griffen ’23 (Global Health and History) Lihua Mo ’23 (Neuroscience), Caroline Palmer ’23 (Global Health and Public Policy) and Kashyap Sreeram ’24 (Program II) plan to address sickle cell disease burden at the healthcare and community levels in Kalangala, Uganda. In partnership with three Kalangala student team members, this group will conduct educational outreach, assess facilitators and barriers to rapid screening and diagnostic sickle cell testing, create and assess clinic and community screening events, and develop enrichment activities for children attending the sickle cell clinic, such as peer-to-peer education and a music/dance/drama troupe. Through their work, the team plans to establish a sustainable model for sickle cell disease diagnostics and prevention among community members in Kalangala. Kearsley Stewart and Joel Kibonwabake (Kalangala Health Center IV) will serve as their faculty mentors.

Effects of Mindfulness-Based Painting on Psychophysiological Well-Being

Doctoral students Lucas Bellaiche (Cognitive Neuroscience), Matthew Slayton (Psychology and Neuroscience) and Anna Smith (Psychology and Neuroscience) and undergraduate Chloe Williams ’24 (Psychology) plan to examine the mental health benefits of art production. To assess the hypothesized therapeutic effects of engaging with art, team members will collect well-being and stress measures (e.g., mood and anxiety, heart rate, cortisol assays) to compare subjects who engage in abstract painting against two control groups. In partnership with the Duke Wellness Center and neurologist Anjan Chatterjee (University of Pennsylvania), their work aims to synthesize perspectives from psychology, neuroscience, art, medicine and global health to bridge the arts and sciences and understand how artistic practice may affect mental state, creativity, and long-term personal well-being. Paul Seli will serve as their faculty mentor.

Engineering a Low-Cost Device to Monitor Irrigation in Rural Kenya

Master’s student Vanessa Clairmont (Global Health) and undergraduates Keena Gao ’24 (Mechanical Engineering), Bryan Gonzalez ’23 (Electrical and Computer Engineering), Emily Hallock ’24 (Civil and Environmental Engineering), Jack Lawter ’23 (Mechanical Engineering), Sunggun Lee ’24 (Biomedical Engineering), Sophia McManus ’23 (Civil and Environmental Engineering) and Darienne Rogers ’24 (Biomedical Engineering) plan to examine water use practices in rural northern Kenya, which has been experiencing unprecedented outbreaks of malaria over the past few years. Their project builds on the work of a 2021-2022 project team that has been developing an innovative, low-cost device to monitor standing water in canal systems. The group will collaborate with local community health workers to conduct focus groups, interviews and observations on water gathering, collection and storage practices to improve their device and develop irrigation guidelines to help reduce mosquito breeding sites in the community. Wendy Prudhomme-O’Meara will serve as their faculty mentor.

Increasing Health Literacy in Durham Marginalized Communities

Rohan Gupta ’24 (Economics), Ethan Ho ’23 (Biomedical Engineering), Mihir Patel ’23 (Biology) and Kevin Wang ’23 (Psychology) plan to examine health literacy needs among the Latinx and immigrant communities in Durham. Working alongside community leaders and community-based organizations, team members will assess current health literacy levels and create a multilingual community health handbook that that compiles resources on insurance, medication and health bill payment to promote access among those who are most in need in the Durham community. Their project continues the work of the 2021-2022 Bridging the Health Equity Gap for COVID-19 Vaccine Uptake in Durham project team, which has been identifying health equity gaps in the Latinx community to propose health interventions and policy strategies. Viviana Martinez-Bianchi and Andrea Thoumi and will serve as their faculty mentors.

Integrating Human and Ecosystem Health Research to Advance Community-Based Conservation 

Doctoral students Camille DeSisto (Ecology) and Tristan Franzetti (Biology) and master’s student Bethany Old (International Development Policy) plan to examine an array of community-based conservation efforts in and around the COMATSA protected area in northeastern Madagascar. Through linked projects on food insecurity and forest use, habitat disturbance and ecosystem health, the group hopes to unveil crucial information about the livelihoods of Malagasy communities, interactions between Malagasy people and forests, the links between ecosystem and human health, and the role lemurs and humans play in maintaining healthy ecosystems. This project will lay the groundwork for the upcoming Biocultural Sustainability in Madagascar (2022-2023) project team. Anne YoderCatherine Admay and John Poulsen will serve as their faculty mentors.

Network Efficiency and Ordering Fairness on Public Blockchains

William Zhao ’23 (Economics and Mathematics), Sujay Alluri ’24 (Economics) and Gio Vignone ’24 (Computer Science) plan to study protocol designs of existing public blockchains to improve network efficiency and ordering fairness across blockchain users. Continuing the work of a Summer 2021 CS+ project, the group will examine transaction fee mechanism design and its effect on allocating scarce blockchain resources as well as designs to ensure normal users’ transactions are protected from malicious frontrunning attacks. Their research will inform policy reforms on existing blockchain protocols and inspire novel protocol design that can be fairer and more efficient among a diverse body of blockchain users. Kartik Nayak and Fan Zhang will serve as their faculty mentors. 

Surveying Neurological Rehabilitation Resources in Ugandan Public Hospitals

Audra Whithaus ’23 (Psychology) plans to evaluate the capacity of Uganda’s public health sector to provide rehabilitative care for neurological patients during and after acute hospitalization. Using data collected from ongoing surveys of health institutions, Whithaus will partner with community members and students at Mbarara University of Science and Technology to evaluate care capacity including factors related to human resources, service delivery, infrastructure, assistive devises, information management and quality control. Her project builds on the work of the 2021-2022 Role of Physiotherapy in Ugandan Neurosurgical Transitional Care project team, which has been examining barriers to care for neurosurgical patients as well as evaluating current practices around patient discharge, ongoing care and safety, physiotherapy utilization and follow-up referrals. Kira Battle will serve as her faculty mentor.

The Fundamentals of Neuroscience: Experiments in Science and Writing

Monika Narain ’25 (Biophysics and Visual and Media Studies) plans to explore the practice and pedagogy of neuroscience through creative media. By engaging with basic science lab work, classroom observation, interviews, lab notebook archival research and mentorship, Narain will develop a television show concept that communicates diverse topics in neuroscience through storytelling. Her work is part of the upcoming Laboratory Art in Practice: Building a Model for the Art/Science Lab at Duke (2022-2023) project team and is designed to motivate greater discussion of the ways neuroscience shapes everyday life. Kristen Tapson will serve as her faculty mentor.

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