Meet the Winners of the 2024 Bass Connections Student Research Awards

April 11, 2024

Team members gather around a computer in a hut in Madagascar.
Members of a Bass Connections team review data in the field in Madagascar (Photo: Courtesy of the Cookstoves and Air Pollution in Madagascar team)

Ten graduate students and 12 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 how climate change is impacting water quality and health outcomes in Madagascar; ways to address political polarization in North Carolina state leadership and policymaking; the development of new sensory tools for precision laser surgery; the role of Black women musicians in the spread of blues music throughout the Piedmont; 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.

Collaborative Research Projects

Climate-Related Impacts on Human Health in Southeastern Madagascar

  • Julia Kagiliery (Environmental Sciences ’25)
  • Abhishek Karna (Physics and Mathematics ’26)
  • Ryan Parks (Ph.D. student in Earth & Climate Sciences)

This team will examine how climate variability impacts water quality and availability in the Manombo Special Reserve in Southeastern Madagascar. Team members will sample 25 sites along the Karimbelo River to identify seasonal variability of elemental and bacteriological contamination and explore the related effects to human health. By tracking the water quality and temporal trends of this major water source, the team hopes to understand the relationship between climate variability, contamination and health outcomes, which can lead to more resilient infrastructure amidst climate change. Brian McAdoo will serve as their faculty mentor.

Electrophysiological Differences Between Multi- and Monolingual Individuals

  • Sasha Faison (Philosophy ’25)
  • Aline Malek (Neuroscience ’25)

This project will expand on the work of the Language, Music and Dementia team to explore how language processing impacts the human brain. Using dry EEG testing, Faison and Malek will analyze the electrophysiological differences between multi- and monolingual individuals to reveal differences in cognitive networks and functional connectivity in resting states. They hope their work will demonstrate the extent to which language impacts healthy human brain functioning and elucidate the linguistic component of neurodegenerative disease. Edna Andrews will serve as their faculty mentor.

Enhancing Patient Triage for Neurosurgical Care in Nigeria

  • Diya Patel (Biology ’26)
  • Julian Orrego (Neuroscience ’26)
  • Tobi Olajide (Medical student ’25, University of Ibadan, Nigeria)

This project will expand on the work of the Building Sustainable Neurosurgical Systems in Developing Countries team to explore the accident and emergency triage system in Nigeria. Nigeria faces a high neurosurgical burden and patients who experience critical neurosurgical trauma often face long wait times that contribute to worse patient outcomes and mortality. This team will conduct interviews and surveys with healthcare providers and neurosurgical patients to learn about their care experiences. The team’s research will deepen knowledge of the triage system in Nigeria and help identify areas for intervention and improvement. Alvan Ukachukwu will serve as the team’s faculty mentor.

Enhancing Precision Laser Surgery with Flexible Sensors

  • Zacharias Chen (Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science ’25)
  • Alexa Cristelle Cahilig (Biomedical Engineering and Electrical & Computer Engineering ’25)
  • Chenhang Li (Ph.D. student in Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science)
  • Ravi Prakash (Ph.D. student in Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science)
  • Kaiping Yin (Ph.D. student in Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science)

This team will examine how to improve the safety and utility of laser-based surgery by developing improved sensory tools for surgeons. While laser-based surgeries have been explored as a viable, minimally invasive method for soft tissue surgeries and tumor removal, surgeons have been reticent to adopt laser-based surgery, which does not provide the same tactile or visual feedback that surgeons have been trained to sense. To address this “sensory gap,” this team will create a skin-compatible, non-invasive sensor that will offer surgeons instantaneous feedback on tissue removal and proximity to vital structures. Their goal is to provide a real-time sensory solution for surgeons that improves the uptake and effectiveness of laser-based surgery. Patrick Codd will serve as their faculty mentor.

Repeated Measure Designs in Survey Experiments

  • Diana Jordan (Ph.D. student in Political Science)
  • Andrew Trexler (Ph.D. student in Public Policy)

This group will examine how survey design choices affect bias and precision. Social science research relies heavily on survey experiments; however, traditional experimental designs often yield results that are imprecise or difficult to replicate. Jordan and Trexler will test two different measurment designs to assess tradeoffs between bias and precision in experiments in which outcomes are measured more than once (repeated measure designs) versus measured only once (post-treatment designs). The pair hopes to fill gaps in knowledge about repeated measure survey design and provide researchers with practical guidance for improving survey experiments. Christopher Johnston will serve as the group’s faculty mentor.

Individual Research Projects

Cross-Partisan Collaboration in North Carolina

  • Katelyn Cai (Program II ’26)

This project will build on the work of the Strengthening Cross-Partisan Collaboration in North Carolina Policymaking team, which is examining ways to address political polarization in state leadership and policymaking. Cai will work with the Duke North Carolina Leadership Forum, an organization that brings together state leaders from across the political spectrum to discuss and debate important policy topics, to evaluate the organization’s model and programming. She will conduct interviews and surveys of program alumni, interview peer organizations, and draft reforms to strengthen the organization’s model and contribute to the strengthening of a healthy policymaking environment in the state. Debbie Goldstein will serve as her mentor.

Describing the National Landscape of Outpatient Palliative Care in the Veterans Health Administration 

  • Dorian Ho (Health Policy ’25)

This project will expand on the work of the Developing a Roadmap for Goals of Care Conversations team to fill critical gaps in researchers’ knowledge of the outpatient palliative care landscape within the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the largest integrated health system in the United States. Through a national survey to VHA medical centers and outpatient sites, Ho aims to learn more about practice settings, services, capacity, healthcare team composition, community resources, reimbursement, quality and equity in the VHA – data that will provide insights on the outpatient palliative care ecosystem and its strengths and weaknesses. Findings will be collected in a peer-reviewed publication relevant for health services researchers, clinicians and policymakers interested in this growing field. Brystana Kaufman will serve as his faculty mentor.

Impact of Fishing and Sea Surface Temperature on Shallow Reef Fisheries

  • Dana Grieco (Ph.D. student in Marine Science & Conservation)

This project will build on the work of the Marine Conservation Evidence and Synthesis team to examine how reef fish and the communities that depend on them may be impacted by climate change. Using length-based integrated mixed effects (LIME) modeling, Grieco will examine stock conditions in Caribbean shallow reef fisheries and predict the impacts of increasing sea surface temperature on these systems. Her work will highlight important fish stocks to watch as impacts from fishing and climate change coincide, a process that will have downstream impacts on food and livelihood security for coastal communities. She hopes to share her modeling methods and results to provide a roadmap for practitioners and managers to better understand what lies ahead for shallow reef fisheries. David Gill will serve as her faculty mentor.

Identification and Feasibility of Data Elements for a Ugandan Traumatic Brain Injury Database

  • Amy Fulton (Neuroscience ’25)

This project will expand on the work of the Role of Physiotherapy in Ugandan Neurosurgical Transitional Care team, which has been exploring rehabilitation protocols and practices for patients with traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in Uganda. Fulton will identify rehabilitation data elements and assess the feasibility of adding them to an existing database related to TBI patients for use in Ugandan hospital systems. She will use information from an expert group workshop, literature scan, provider survey, medical record data quality assessment and focus group session to create recommendations for database extension. Her work will support future assessments of quality assurance, quality improvement and long-term rehabilitation outcomes for TBI patients in Ugandan hospital systems. Kira Bullock will serve as her faculty mentor.

Lemur-Mediated Rainforest Restoration

  • Camille DeSisto (Ph.D. student in Ecology)

This project will explore the role of lemurs as seed dispersers and rainforest regenerators in northeast Madagascar. Building on the work of the Biocultural Sustainability in Madagascar team, DeSisto will examine how lemurs shape the environments in which they live and facilitate plant regrowth in and around human communities. In collaboration with Malagasy students and partners, she will characterize the germination, growth and survival of seeds that have passed through a lemurs’ digestive system; assess plant functional outcomes in regenerating forest grown; and identify priority plant species for habitat restoration. Her work will advance knowledge on key seed dispersal interactions which has the potential to advance the well-being of both forest ecosystem functioning and human well-being. Charlie Nunn will serve as her faculty mentor.

Soundscapes of North Carolina: Durham, Piedmont Blues, and Blues Women

  • Trisha Santanam (English ’26)

Building on the work of the Rosetta Reitz’s Musical Archive of Care team, this project will explore the Piedmont blues, including how blues style and performance were impacted by place and the role Black women played in spreading the blues to public and private spaces in Durham and beyond. In particular, Santanam will examine the story of Algia Mae Hinton – a blues singer and dancer from Johnston County, North Carolina – to uncover how Black women navigated and popularized the Piedmont blues. Her work aims to excavate female blues singers’ roles as stewards of the songs, stories and communities in which they were embedded, countering popular narratives that relegate Black women to a secondary role in the blues’ musical legacy. She plans to share her findings with the public through a website, research blog and listening sessions of Hinton’s music. Lou Brown will be her mentor.

Tracking Climate Change with Satellites and Artificial Intelligence

  • Kushagra Ghosh (M.S. in Computer Science ’24)

This project will build on the work of the Tracking Climate Change with Satellites and Artificial Intelligence team, which is using big data and algorithmic modeling on remote sensing imagery to democratize access to data relevant to climate change mitigation and adaptation planning. Ghosh will develop a semantically and geographically robust model that can be used to monitor a broad range of climate change contributing factors and impacts and then use self-supervised machine learning approaches to analyze its effectiveness in climate-relevant remote sensing applications. The goal is to write a paper highlighting the possibilities of deep learning algorithms and their applicability for climate change policy solutions. Kyle Bradbury will be his faculty mentor.

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