2019 Rasmussen Summer Research Projects

For the summer of 2019, eight recipients (HMC students and faculty) were awarded support from the Rasmussen Summer Research Fund. You can view the project abstracts and proposals below. Final reports will be available in fall 2018.

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Fish and Chips – Matthew Spencer (engineering)

Abstract: Tracking fish using electronic tags enables biologists to measure migration patterns, mating behavior and native habitat. These studies help to understand the ecosystems in which the fish live and can guide the design of policies to manage those ecosystems. This project seeks to replace existing electronic tags, which are battery powered and require three listeners to triangulate their location, with batteryless tags that can be monitored over longer periods of time with only a single listener. This performance improvement will be achieved by powering the batteryless tag wirelessly and establishing a low bandwidth communication link with the tag. The remote power will be delivered by an ultrasound transmitter, so a low-power energy harvesting circuit must be designed for the tag and a phased array of transducers must be designed to focus transmit power at the tag. In summer of 2018, students demonstrated transmitting power over short range ultrasound link. This summer, research students will add modify the link to add the capability to send data and will work on using the transmitter as an imaging device.

View: Project Proposal

Species Diversity and Biogeography of Alcyoniid Corals in the northern South China Sea – Catherine McFadden (biology)

Abstract: Coral reefs are the world’s most species-rich marine ecosystem, and also one of the communities most imperiled by climate change. Rising sea temperatures are causing widespread stress-related mortality of corals as well as shifts in their geographic ranges as species migrate polewards into cooler waters. In order to understand, predict and potentially mitigate the changes that are taking place in coral reef communities, it is first necessary to know the baseline species composition of those communities: what species are currently present in what proportions and how do they interact with one another ecologically? Unfortunately, we lack that basic, foundational knowledge for many of the most conspicuous, ecologically dominant species found on coral reefs. With Taiwanese and Chinese collaborators, we have been conducting baseline biodiversity surveys of alcyoniid soft corals in the northern South China Sea, a geographic region predicted to serve as a refuge for thermally stressed species. Although soft corals are a diverse and species-rich group that may occupy more than half of the available space on many IndoPacific reefs, they are difficult to identify and to discriminate from one another in the field. Simple DNA “barcode” sequences can be used to separate species, however, and can serve as genetic proxies that allow species diversity and community composition to be quantified and compared among sites. This summer we propose to use DNA barcoding to identify soft corals collected during biodiversity surveys in Kenting NP, Taiwan. Barcode sequences will be used to compare the soft coral community found at this anthropogenically impacted site with several other, less disturbed sites we have studied and barcoded previously. The results will inform us about the relative uniqueness of the soft coral community at Kenting, especially as compared to other previously studied reefs in the northern South China Sea.

View: Project Proposal

Investigating the Mechanism of Bio-Inspired Catalysts that Degrade Perchloroethylene – Katherine Van Heuvelen (chemistry)

Abstract: Metalloenzymes found in nature can catalyze many important reactions with remarkable selectivity and efficiency under benign conditions. However, running these reactions in the lab often generates pollution while also requiring harsh conditions and rare materials. One example of this is the degradation of chlorinated alkanes. The chlorinated hydrocarbons perchloroethylene (PCE, C2Cl4) and trichloroethylene (TCE, C2HCl3) are widely used in industrial processes including dry cleaning and metal degreasing, but these complexes have recently been identified as
carcinogens. Industrial runoff containing PCE and TCE is known to pollute soil and groundwater across the United States. A small number of enzymes convert PCE and TCE to non-toxic ethylene under environmentally friendly conditions using earth-abundant materials, and this reaction is called dehalogenation. Chemists know the geometric structure of these enzymes; the reductive dehalogenases use the cobalt-containing cobalamin cofactor (also in Vitamin B12), and methylcoenzyme M (MCR) uses the nickel-containing cofactor F430 to conduct this chemistry. But chemists do not yet understand the fundamental chemistry that governs this reactivity, which prevents us from rationally designing biologically inspired, environmentally friendly catalysts to remediate PCE and TCE. Previous funding from the Rasmussen Fund has led to a publication as well as several presentations at national conferences by students and the PI. In the summer of 2019, I propose to build on our previous successes on this project and:

  1. Investigate possible reaction mechanisms using computational chemistry as implemented on the XSEDE supercomputer.
  2. Use experimental methods, including UV-visible spectroscopy and gas chromatographymass spectrometry, to understand the fundamental chemistry that allows our complexes to degrade PCE and TCE.
  3. Combine insights from aims 1 – 2 to elucidate the reaction mechanism, ultimately seeking to understand how molecular design elements facilitate PCE remediation.

View: Project Proposal

Net Zero Feasibility Study for Village South Specific Plan – Richard Haskell (emeritus, physics)

Abstract: In 2017, the residential and commercial sectors consumed 39% of all energy in the U.S., while only 12.7% of energy was produced from renewable sources. To address the fact that buildings use most of the energy in the residential and commercial sectors, some buildings are designed to achieve net-zero-energy (NZE). NZE projects use renewable energy to meet or exceed building energy demand. The City of Claremont is anxious to develop a 17-acre parcel of land called “Village South.” The specific plan for the development will be open to public review and comment, and it has been suggested that the development achieve NZE. The proposed summer research is to determine the feasibility of reaching NZE for the Village South development. The research would involve using publicly available data to determine possible levels of energy consumption and production for the development if photovoltaic (PV) panels are installed. It will also be useful to obtain information about completed NZE developments, which would include design tactics used to achieve NZE as well as energy use and consumption data. If time allows, construction and energy costs will be estimated to “make the business case” for NZE, and efficiency goals for the development will be listed. If the research is successful, it will be clear if NZE is possible for the Village South development.

View: Project Proposal

Just How Good are IdealPV Solar Panels? – Peter Saeta (physics)

Abstract: Photovoltaic panels are a crucial part of the world’s effort to provide renewable energy and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. Over 90% of deployed photovoltaics use silicon as the active material and employ a panel design that places a bypass diode in parallel with a group of roughly 20 cells in series to keep current levels manageable and to limit the maximum heating that can be experienced by a partially shaded cell. Besides having to tolerate significant localized heating—which occasionally leads to catastrophic failure and fires—this standard panel design lacks a means of disconnecting the high voltage generated by illuminated panels that is compatible with firefighting. Disconnecting the panels from the control electronics and the grid does not reduce the voltage hazard. Consequently, firefighters refuse to work on roofs with solar panels.

IdealPV has developed a novel panel-level approach to controlling solar cells that prevents cells from going into reverse bias and overheating. We have confirmed the effectiveness of the IdealPV electronics to prevent hotspot formation, are preparing a manuscript describing this work, and propose here to extend the research to compare the performance of panels operated with this electronic control to that of conventional panels and control electronics, under a range of illumination and ambient temperature conditions. A factory to produce these panels in Pomona is being designed in a follow-on clinic project. Our work will support the deployment of these panels by producing an open-source computer model to allow straightforward calculation of expected output of arrays of IdealPV panels on typical houses in Claremont and Pomona, and the extent to which roof space in areas subject to significant shading can be useful for electricity generation with IdealPV panels but not conventional systems.

View: Project Proposal

Elastic Materials Assessment for use as a Mechanical Battery – Mark Ilton (physics)

Abstract: Analogous to electrochemical batteries that store and release electric potential energy, mechanical batteries store and release elastic energy. Although springs and deformable materials have been well understood and utilized in engineering design, recent developments in material science have shown the potential to store a larger energy density and yield a higher power density output in mechanical batteries than their electromechanical counterparts. A critical parameter that characterizes the elastic energy recovery, the effective resilience, has not been broadly characterized across materials at the rates and degree of deformation relevant to mechanical battery design. In this project, we will combine a literature review with experimental measurements of materials properties and elastic energy recovery. The vast literature of mechanical properties measurements will guide candidate selection for experimentally characterizing the effective resilience for a range of materials. This will enable a fundamental assessment of trade-offs in material properties for mechanical battery performance and aid future design of energy efficient device.

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Spatial modeling of the climatic ecology and geographic range of a desert lizard – Steve Adolph (biology)

Abstract: Global climate change will almost certainly have dramatic ecological effects. While scientists have predicted general ecological consequences, the specific effects of climate change on individual species need to be examined by using detailed analyses tailored to each species’ unique ecology. This project will combine mathematical models of population dynamics of the desert lizard Xantusia vigilis with spatial and temporal datasets on precipitation and temperature. We will use GIS and other spatial statistical methods to define the climatic niche and geographical range of this lizard species. We will then couple this spatial model with local models of population dynamics to predict spatial variation in population dynamics. Ultimately, we would like to develop a predictive model for how this species will respond in space and time to predicted climate change in California. We expect to publish the results of our study in a peer-reviewed scientific journal such as Global Change Biology.

View: Project Proposal

Human-Centered Design Project to Decrease Bear Bile Demand in Vietnam – Alicia Ngo (HMC-’20)

Abstract: In China and Vietnam, more than 12,000 bears are held captive on bear bile farms where they undergo inhumane treatment for the purpose of producing traditional Asian medicine [1]. Bear bile contains high levels of ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA), which is known to be useful for treating liver and gallbladder conditions. In Vietnam, bear bile farming is currently illegal, but due to a lack of law enforcement and high consumer demand, the farms continue to exist. Our project will use human-centered design principles to shift consumer behavior towards herbal medicine and away from the unsustainable wildlife trade in Hanoi, Vietnam. If successful, Vietnamese participants will instead prefer to use herbal and synthetic medicine over bear bile for their health need.

View: Project Proposal