Summer High School Internship Program -- 2014 Project List

The Summer High School Internship Program is a collaboration between the Sonoma County Office of Education and SSU School of Science and Technology. This year's projects are in the areas of Astronomy, Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Engineering Science, Kinesiology, and Physics.

Astronomy (2 projects)

ASTR-1: Monitoring Active Galaxies with the GLAST Optical Robotic Telescope

Faculty Mentors: Dr. Lynn Cominsky, Department of Physics and Astronomy and SSU E/PO Group; Dr. Kevin McLin, SSU E/PO Group

Project Description:

The Education and Public Outreach program at Sonoma State operates a small observatory located in the Pepperwood Preserve in northeast Sonoma County. The observatory houses the GLAST Optical Robotic Telescope (GORT), a Celestron 14-inch remote/robotic telescope. For nearly ten years, GORT has been used to make observations in support of NASA high energy astrophysics missions, including Swift, XMM-Newton and the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope (formerly GLAST). With the launch of NASA’s NuSTAR mission in June 2012, we expect the work to increase. The primary task of the observatory is to monitor active galaxies for changes in brightness. We use it to do both routine monitoring, for which we have a catalog of approximately 28 objects, and partake in coordinated observing campaigns with other observatories, both on the ground and in space. This summer we might also try to find time to observe some of the recently discovered exoplanets of the Kepler telescope.

The intern working with us would learn how to make these observations and how to use computer software to reduce and analyze the acquired data. Included in their tasks would be learning how to accurately measure stellar brightnesses and the effects of the atmosphere on such measurements. They would also become acquainted with the nature of the objects we study and the general motions of objects in the sky.

ASTR-2: Astronomical Adaptive Optics

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Scott Severson, Department of Physics and Astronomy

Project Description:

The Sonoma State University Department of Physics & Astronomy is home to an astronomical adaptive optics effort that uses advanced technology to remove the "twinkle" from astronomical images. In partnership with Pomona College in southern California, we have built KAPAO, an adaptive optics system for a 1-meter telescope at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Table Mountain Observatory (TMO). The system makes high-resolution images at both visible and near-infrared wavelengths. A major component of the system is an advanced MEMS (microelectromechanical) deformable mirror. The instrument is currently transitioning from its "first-light" phase to routine use for astronomical observations.

The intern will learn how to operate the system through a remote control interface and process the resulting images with a suite of astronomical software. Along the way, the student will learn the technical fundamentals of this exciting field. Examples of our planned science programs include: the studies of the environments around stars hosting extrasolar planets, the study of volcanoes on Jupiter's moon Io, and the study of stars in nearby dwarf galaxies..

Biology (1 project)

BIO-1: The Root-Drop Stress Response

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Michael Cohen, Department of Biology

Project Description:

Unlike animals, plants cannot run away from temperature and chemical stresses. They have, however, evolved ingenious means for dealing with stresses that involve both molecular and morphological changes to their tissues. In our laboratory’s study of plant responses to stress we use the tiny floating water fern Azolla filiculoides, a native to waterways around Sonoma County. A. filiculoides is particularly fascinating to biologists because it has the fastest root and branch detachment (i.e. abscission) stress response among the plant kingdom. During abscission, strategically placed cells at the root base undergo rapid osmotic expansion, causing the root to detach. Shedding of roots under stressful conditions sets the fronds free from root-entangled mats and facilitates their dispersion to a potentially better environment. The phenomenon is thus considered to be an important survival strategy for Azolla plants. This work also has potential implications for bioenergy production since the cell wall dissolution that occurs during the abscission process could provide clues to researchers seeking means to loosen cell wall polysaccharides and thereby improve energy extraction efficiency.

Our experimental strategy is two-fold: (1) investigating the range of chemical and physical stresses that induce the abscission process, and (2) examining the chemical changes that accompany the abscission process inside the A. filiculoides tissues. The prospective SHIP intern would conduct experiments that monitor the timing and extent of abscission that occur in response to chemical stresses, particularly those that could directly influence cell wall dissolution. Detached roots will be examined for localized changes to their chemical composition at the US Department of Energy Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Advanced Light Source using Synchrotron Radiation-based Fourier Transform Infrared Microscopy facility ( Additionally, the SHIP intern would work with Sonoma State student researchers in the laboratory to extract and characterize compounds that are produced in the plants during the stress response.

Chemistry (2 projects)

CHEM-1: Characterization of the Key Molecular Features Involved in the Anti-microbial Activity of Bacteriocins

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Jennifer Whiles Lillig, Department of Chemistry

Project Description:

The re-emergence of bacterial pathogens as a significant threat to public health has lead to an increased awareness of food safety. One of the most common food-borne pathogens is Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium found to contaminate a variety of raw and processed foods including vegetables, meats, and dairy products. Listeria infection can result in a variety of illnesses ranging in severity from fever and nausea to meningitis and fetal miscarriage. In the past decade it has been found that lactic acid bacteria, common food borne bacteria that are non-pathogenic, produce small proteins that kill Listeria. The intern in our research lab will help to perform biochemical experiments for use in understanding the key features of these molecules and their target membranes that allow them to target and kill other competing bacteria. This work can aid in the development of these molecules as both potent and safe drugs and food preservatives for fighting and preventing human diseases. Students that work on this project will have the opportunity to present their results to other scientists.

CHEM-2: Quantification of Blood using a Custom Chemiluminescence Detector

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Mark Perri, Department of Chemistry

Project Description:

The student will construct a chemiluminescence apparatus to measure light produced from the reaction between (fake) blood and luminol. The student will interface a photodiode with an operational amplifier and record the data using the computer program LabVIEW. Ultimately the student will be able to correlate chemiluminescence intensity with the concentration of (fake) blood analyzed.

Computer Science (2 projects)

CS-1: EEG Signal Analysis to Detect Cognitive Stimuli

Faculty Mentor: Dr. B. Ravikumar, Departments of Computer Science and Engineering Science

Project Description:

The goal of this project is to extend the work done by the last year's SHIP interns on the generation and analysis of EEG data. There are many consumer grade EEG units that are targeted for the gaming market. The goal is to generate controls for a video game through "thought" signals or other signals such as through movements of facial or eye muscles. Last summer, we used Emotiv's EPOC to create a text editor through which a user can enter text by generating successive letters through "brain waves." The goal of the current project is to study the EEG signals and extract features from them so that a classifier can be built. The goal of the classification is to detect signatures for specific auditory and visual stimuli.

CS-2: Optimizing the Power Consumption of Supercomputing Applications

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Suzanne Rivoire, Department of Computer Science

Project Description:

The Titan supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, which is the fastest computer in the world, consumes 9 megawatts of power -- as much as 9,000 typical homes -- in a space the size of a basketball court. One of the biggest challenges in supercomputing is finding ways to improve the performance of supercomputers without corresponding increases in power consumption. The goal of this project is to measure and analyze the power consumption of typical supercomputing applications with the hope of finding predictable patterns and applying this knowledge to use a supercomputer's fixed power budget more efficiently.

Engineering Science (3 projects)

ES-1: Hack Your Old Toys and Turn Them into High-Tech Games!

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Farid Farahmand, Department of Engineering Science

Project Description:

In this project, you will learn how to hack and convert your old battery-operated toy (e.g., car, dog, train) to high-tech game that you can control with your Android smartphone! You will learn about basic electronic circuits, motors, drivers, microcontrollers, and Bluetooth transmitters. Through this project you will also learn how to program Android phones and develop cool apps that can interface with physical devices! Experience with basic computer programming and electronics concepts is preferred.

ES-2: Effects of Electromagnetic Radiation from Wearable Electronics on Users' Health

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Haider Khaleel, Department of Engineering Science

Project Description:

Wearable wireless electronics are highly demanded by today's information-oriented society. They are extremely useful in a wide spectrum of fields, such as personal communication, medicine, entertainment, the military, and firefighting. However, these devices expose the user to electromagnetic waves radiated by their transceivers (antennas) which are used to enable wireless transmission and reception of communication signals.

The goal of this project is to study the hazards associated with exposure to electromagnetic waves radiated from these devices on the tissues and organs of human body. This could be analyzed by evaluating the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) and radiated power. The selected intern will learn basic antenna concepts, radiation mechanisms, modeling, simulation, and SAR evaluation of antennas through a 3-D full wave electromagnetic solver in the department of Engineering Science.

ES-3: Build a System that Can Transfer Electrical Power without Wire

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Ali Kujoory, Department of Engineering Science

Project Description:

Wireless power transfer has become important in many areas, including medicine (to transfer power to body micro-implants that either have no batteries or small batteries that must be charged periodically); mobile devices such as smartphones; and electric cars (to charge the battery without using a cable). In these applications, the energy is transmitted from a source of energy to an electrical load at the receiver that consumes the energy without a cable. Whereas in wireless communication it is the audio, video, or data that is transferred from the source to the receiver, in wireless power transfer it is the electrical energy that is transferred from the source to the load, such as the implant or the car battery for consumption. In this project, the student will learn the mechanisms that can be used to transfer electrical energy without wires/cables and will build a system that transfers electrical power without wire. One simple mechanism that can be used here is the magnetic coupling that comprises a power transmitter and a receiver through a transformer coupled by radio wave. The student will get hands-on experience with major electronic devices such as signal generator, power supply, multimeter, oscilloscope, and protoboard, as well as electric and electronic components such as resistor, capacitor, coil, diode, transistor, and integrated circuit in the Electronics Lab at the Engineering Science Department. The student will also learn how to design and troubleshoot an system and the electronic circuits in it.

Kinesiology (1 project)

KIN-1: The Effects of Sodium Bicarbonate Ingestion on Endurance Rock Climbing Performance in Male and Female Climbers

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Bülent Sökmen, Department of Kinesiology

Project Description:

The purpose of this study is to evaluate metabolic and bioenergetic systems, and to measure the effectiveness of sodium bicarbonate on endurance climbing performance. This study will also investigate the production of lactic acid as a marker of anaerobic metabolism, rating of perceived exertion (RPE) as a subjective feeling, and heart rate as efficiency in aerobic performance.

Physics (2 projects)

PHYS-1: Passive Air Flow Designs

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Jeremy Qualls, Department of Physics and Astronomy

Project Description:

Atmospheric water generators have the ability to pull water from the air. Although this is more expensive and difficult than conventional means, in some circumstances this is the only way to gather the water. SSU has already begun development of an absorption (methanol/activated carbon)-based solar refrigeration system for water harvesting with a zero-electric footprint. The key aspect that needs to be developed and tested is a passive air flow design to pull air into the chilled condensing coils. A student will work on measuring various airflow designs and optimizing throughput under the constraints of being an entirely passive system. This project, if successful, has the ability to one day impact regions in the world that have no drinking water or disaster relief.

PHYS-2: Preparation and Characterization of Nanometer-scale Honeycomb Structure

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Hongtao Shi, Department of Physics and Astronomy

Project Description:

Materials reduced to the nanometer scale (1 nanometer is a billionth of a meter) can show very different properties compared to bulk counterparts on a large scale. Today's scientists and engineers are using top-down or bottom-up approaches to deliberately make materials at such a small scale in order to improve their mechanical, optical, electrical and magnetic properties. As techniques improve, the size of microelectronic devices continues to decrease.

In this project, we will use an electrochemical method to fabricate honeycomb-like nanometer scaled pores by anodizing aluminum in different acidic solutions. We will investigate how different parameters, such as growth temperature, electrical current and potential, concentrations of acidic solutions, would affect the formation of the nanopore arrays. All samples will be measured on campus, using the facilities in the Keck Microanalysis laboratory such as scanning electron microscope to probe the diameter of each pore and the distance between adjacent pores. Such nanopore arrays can find applications in magnetic data recording.