Summer High School Internship Program -- 2017 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, Geology, Nursing, and Physics.

Astronomy (2 projects)

ASTR-1: Rocketry Experimentation and Investigations

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Lynn Cominsky, Department of Physics and Astronomy and SSU E/PO Group

Project Description:

Prof. Cominsky will be developing a rocketry-based curriculum for community college students, in which students will build model rockets and also scientific payloads with microcontrollers that take environmental data using on-board sensors. The selected SHIP intern will assist in testing elements of this curriculum, and may be able to attend a training and launch event, depending on the schedule.

ASTR-2: Doing Astronomical Observations with the GLAST Optical Robotic Telescope

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Lynn Cominsky, Department of Physics and Astronomy and 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.

Biology (1 project)

BIO-1: Cloning of a Novel Enzyme from the Alkaline-tolerant Bacterium, Cellulomonas sp. Strain FA1

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Joseph Lin, Department of Biology

Project Description:

Bacteria have a tendency to colonize surfaces, which they can then utilize for nutrients. One mechanism by which they accomplish this is through the secretion of enzymes that breakdown the surfaces to release sugars and other compounds. Cellulomonas sp. strain FA1 is a bacterium that was originally isolated from plant material in an ultra-basic (pH 11) spring in north Sonoma County. Due to the high pH environment in which it was isolated, we hypothesize that the enzymes that FA1 secrete should also be tolerant of high pH. The goal of this project is to clone a gene encoding the enzyme used by the bacterium to degrade plant cell wall components. Ultimately recombinant protein will be produced and its enzymatic activity tested for tolerance to basic pH.

Chemistry (3 projects)

CHEM-1: Synthesis of Monodisperse Silver Nanoparticles

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Bogdan Negru, Department of Chemistry

Project Description:

Our group’s research is in the field of nanoscience and spectroscopy. Nanoscience is the study of unbelievably small particles, while spectroscopy is the study of the interaction of light and matter. We use chemical synthesis to make very small gold and silver nanoparticles that we can use for spectroscopy. Because of their small size, these nanoparticles interact with light and can be used for the sensitive detection of contaminants, explosives, artist’s dyes, and many other chemical species of interest. A perfect project for a high school student would be to develop new kinds of silver nanoparticle syntheses for our group. The recipe we currently follow results in a wide size distribution, where some particles are large while some are small. We are very interested in trying alternative recipes for the synthesis of silver nanoparticles to hopefully succeed in making particles of similar size, which will produce better spectroscopic signals. If this is successful, the student can extend beyond this work and develop new coatings the nanoparticles, to make them even more useful for our group. The high school student will learn how to work in a research group, they will learn chemical synthesis, and several ways of characterizing the nanoparticle substrates they make.

CHEM-2: Characterizing the BAFF-R RNA Aptamer and its Targeted Cell Surface Protein Interactions to Elucidate the Potential of RNA Aptamers as Cell-Specific Delivery Vehicles

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Monica Lares, Department of Chemistry

Project Description:

Aptamers are molecules made from single stranded DNA or RNA and are capable of forming unique three-dimensional structures. Aptamers are selected to specifically bind a target with high affinity. This target can be a protein on the surface of a cell. The overall objective of this proposal is to elucidate the interaction of an RNA aptamer and its cell surface protein target. Aptamers are used in a type of targeted cancer therapy that more precisely identify and attack cancer cells, while leaving unaffected cells unharmed. In non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma there is increased expression of a protein, B-cell activating factor (BAFF), and its cell surface receptor, BAFF-R. Upon binding to its receptor, BAFF increases cancerous B-cell multiplication and survival, allowing cancer cells to proliferate faster than healthy B-cells. An RNA aptamer has been identified that binds BAFF-R with high specificity and affinity, blocking BAFF binding. The aptamer has also been shown to successfully deliver therapeutic reagents that are taken up by the cell and causes the cell to die. However the specific interactions between the RNA aptamer and the BAFF-R protein are unknown. In order to identify these essential interactions this project has the following specific goals: 1) Express and purify WT BAFF-R and mutants; 2) Using gel-shift assays, identify amino acids of BAFF-R that are key for binding; This contribution will be significant because it will provide the details of binding interactions between a RNA aptamer and its target that allow for scientists to evaluate the viability of RNA aptamers as delivery vehicles.

CHEM-3: Reactivity of Persulfides with Biologically Relevant Transition Metals

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Carmen Works, Department of Chemistry

Project Description:

Persulfides (RSSH) are prevalent in mammalian cells and tissues, and H2S, a product of persulfide reactions, is a small molecule found in many species that may be important in biological signaling. H2S signaling ability is similar to other small molecules like NO, CO, and O2, and a major target for H2S and persulfide biology is thought to be transition metals.

This research project will use a model complex Cobalt Salen, and test the reactivity with persulfide donors. The hypothesis is that the persulfides will be oxidized, the metal will be reduced and lead to possible coordination. Co(III) should be reduced back to Co(II), and the change in oxidation should be visible by UV spectroscopy.

Computer Science (2 projects)

CS-1: Evaluating Pseudo-Random Number Generator Tests

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Mark Gondree, Department of Computer Science

Project Description:

Secure communication cannot happen without secret data in the form of keys, initialization vectors, and nonces. The ability to generate unguessable, "random-looking" data remains a challenge today. Patterns in this data have, historically, led to major compromises in secret communication. The tools solving this problem are secure pseudo-random number generators (PRNGs). PRNG weaknesses, however, continue to be a source of exploitable flaws in software and hardware. There are two essential frameworks for measuring the effectiveness of PRNGs: (i) a beautiful mathematical theory which, sadly, fails to characterize a majority of PRNGs used in practice; and (ii) a disorganized set of empirical tools drawing from statistical hypothesis testing which, sadly, have not been studied or characterized well.

This project will investigate this latter approach (ii), as embodied in a set of software tools like NIST's STS, U01, and Dieharder. Each is a PRNG Test Suite providing statistical tests that produce an indicator about whether data appears to lack patterns. We will characterize the efficacy of these tests by evaluating the conditions under which each detects biased (i.e., non-random) data. We will use Unix command-line tools, Python scripts, and data visualization libraries to generate data and interpret results. Our study's primary goal is to provide the community a reasonable methodology for evaluating and comparing PRNG Tests. We believe this effort is valuable since this (missing) analysis may be one of the primary factors stalling the adoption of these suites in applied security work.

CS-2: Using Deep Learning to Classify Animals in the Wild

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Gurman Gill, Department of Computer Science

Project Description:

Machine learning is a branch of computer science in which the computer (the machine) "learns" how to perform a certain task. Specifically, given some input data and the corresponding output, certain algorithms can be implemented to "train" the computer to learn the relationship between them. . In this project, the student intern will work with pictures of wild animals (the input) taken from cameras placed along trails in SSU wild life preserves and use machine learning techniques to automatically classify them as belonging to one of eight categories: bobcat, deer, human, nothing, possum, skunk, squirrel and turkey (the output).

In order to derive this relationship between input images and the output category, it is necessary to encode relevant information in the images through what is known as "image features." The student intern will employ recent deep learning algorithms that infer these features automatically from training data and use convolutional neural networks to determine the classification output.

Geology (1 project)

GEOL-1: The Geologic History of Mt. Tamalpais

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Owen Anfinson, Department of Geology

Project Description:

When the Pacific Ocean (Pacific Plate) and North America (NA Plate) collided near the beginning of the Age of Dinosaurs, rocks that were part of Pacific Ocean and North America were scrapped off in a deep-sea trench. Think of it like shoving a slice of supreme pizza underneath a door- the crust goes underneath the door and the cheese/ toppings are pealed away and stuck to the bottom of the door. We want to focus on the rock version of the cheese and toppings. These rocks are part of something called the Franciscan Complex and they are exposed in an excellent section from the base to the summit of Mt. Tamalpais. Our research group will travel to the mountain this summer and collect samples of these rocks (~2 day trips). We will then use labs at Sonoma State University to separate these rocks down to a few important minerals (e.g. detrital zircon) to determine the precise age of these rocks. Our research team is seeking two motivated students that enjoy the outdoors, like hands on research, and are willing to help us tackle an important geologic question.

Nursing (3 projects)

NURS-1: Survey on Social Determinants of Health

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Deborah Roberts, Department of Nursing

Project Description:

Students will help launch a pilot survey at the Jewish Community Free Clinic. The survey is part of a county wide effort to assess the social determinants of health, which can have a serious effect on the overall health of an individual. Patterns in this assessment can determine the need for individual and community intervention. Social determinants of health is one of the federal Healthy People 2020 objectives. We know that taking care of ourselves by eating well and staying active, not smoking, getting the recommended immunizations and screening tests, and seeing a doctor when we are ill all influence our health. Health is also determined in part by access to social and economic opportunities; the resources and supports available in our homes, neighborhoods, and communities; the quality of our schooling; the safety of our workplaces; the cleanliness of our water, food, and air; and the nature of our social interactions and relationships. The conditions in which we live explain in part why some Americans are healthier than others and why Americans more generally are not as healthy as they could be. Students will develop systems for data collection, sampling, analysis, and dissemination. Data will become part of the county wide data base in an effort to increase access to health care for all and provide interventions to the underserved population in our region.

NURS-2: Longitudinal Contraceptive Clinical Practice Guideline for Postpartum Teen Follow-up

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Tammy Brunk, Department of Nursing

Project Description:

The doctoral project "Contraceptive Clinical Practice Guideline for Postpartum Teens" was designed and implemented to address the gap in providing immediate postpartum contraceptive education and initiation of a contraceptive method to inpatient postpartum teens prior to their hospital discharge. The results of the project proved successful in that 75% of the time, teens received contraceptive education and had the opportunity to begin a contraceptive method before the teen mother was discharged from the hospital.

The purpose of the follow-up project is to evaluate if providers have continued to educate teen mothers on their immediate postpartum contraceptive options, as well the opportunity to initiate a method prior to discharge.

The student assistant's role in this project will be to assist in gathering data and participate in the statistical analysis of that data. As well, the student will learn to perform a literature search to evaluate if there is any new evidence that has been contributed to the body of knowledge surrounding inpatient postpartum Long Acting Reproductive Contraceptive Programs (LARC Programs), clinical practice guidelines, and teen uptake of education with respect to contraception.

Physics (2 projects)

PHYS-1: Innovation Design

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

Project Description:

Through support of the National Science Foundation, SSU is in the process of developing a centralized makerspace. The program is in its infancy and is still developing its capability to serve as an innovation lab and to launch new ideas. During the summer, Dr. Qualls is looking for an inventive student to work with him to test the limits of the new makerspace by working on inventive solutions to real world problems. Innovative solutions like Stanford’s Paperfuge reveal that through ingenuity, low cost design can have high impacts in the real world. Prior research lead by Dr. Qualls in this area has included developing magnetic seat-belts for physically impaired drivers, air to water harvesters, CO2 sequestering algae tanks, and biological mapping device for vernal pools. No prior experience needed, however making and tinkering skills will be very useful. Students will have access to 3D printers. laser cutters, micro-controllers, and a wide assortment of equipment.​

PHYS-2: Fabrication and Characterization of ZnO Nanorods Using Hydrothermal Method

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

Project Description:

Zinc oxide (ZnO) is a wide bandgap semiconductor that has been widely studied in the past decade due to its outstanding physical properties for possible optoelectronic applications, such as light-emitting diodes and laser diodes. In this project, we will use a hydrothermal method to fabricate ZnO nanorods on transparent ITO (indium tin oxide) substrates. Before the growth of such nanorods, we will use ZnO nanoparticles and nanodiamonds as the seeds to investigate how the surface morphology of ZnO nanorods will depend on these two types of seeds. We will then measure these samples on campus using the facilities in the Keck Microanalysis laboratory, such as X-ray diffractometer and scanning electron microscope. The optical properties will be measured in the laser lab at a temperature as low as 15 K. Our goal is to optimize such a thin film synthesis process./p>