Saint Olaf College

Northfield, MN, United States

Saint Olaf College

Northfield, MN, United States
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Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: OFFICE OF MULTIDISCIPLINARY AC | Award Amount: 210.22K | Year: 2015

Topological data analysis (TDA) is a relatively new branch of statistics whose goal is to apply topology to develop tools for studying the coarse-scale, global, non-linear, geometric features of data. Persistent homology, the most widely studied tool for TDA, has been applied to many areas of science and engineering, including image processing, time series data in biological systems, and sensor networks. Persistent homology yields invariants of data, called barcodes, by associating to the data a sequence of nested topological spaces called a filtration, and then applying standard topological and algebraic constructions. However, for many data sets of interest, such as point cloud data with noise or non-uniformities in density, a single filtration is not rich enough to encode the structure of interest in the data. This motivates the consideration of multidimensional persistent homology, which associates to the data a topological space simultaneously equipped with two or more filtrations. Multi-D persistent homology yields algebraic invariants of data far more complex than in the 1-D setting. New methodology is thus required for working with these invariants in practice. The goal of this project is to introduce such methodology in the 2-D setting.

Specifically, this project is to develop algorithms and design practical software tools that extend the usual persistent homology methodology for exploratory data analysis to the 2-D setting. The proposed tools provide an interactive visualization of the barcodes of the restriction of a 2-D persistence module to affine 1-D lines. At the heart of the computational approach is a novel data structure, based on planar line arrangements, on which one can perform fast queries for these barcodes. The tools also provide a visualization of the multi-graded Betti numbers of a 2-D persistence module. It is proposed to apply the tools to the study of scientific data - especially data arising from biological systems - in much the same way that ordinary persistent homology has been applied to the study of data over the last ten to fifteen years. This project will intend to establish statistical foundations for the corresponding methodology.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: S-STEM:SCHLR SCI TECH ENG&MATH | Award Amount: 231.71K | Year: 2012

The shift to parallel computing, including multi-core processors, cloud computing, and heterogeneous systems, has induced a workforce development crisis for computer science (CS) education. This project addresses how crowded CS curricula, traditionally structured around sequential (non-parallel) computing, can be changed to effectively incorporate the rapidly-evolving body of parallelism knowledge.

Saint Olaf College, Calvin College and Macalester College are demonstrating how colleges and universities can insert short (one- to three-day) teaching modules on parallel computing into their courses through self-contained units that present conceptual principles and reinforce them by hands-on experience and follow-up exercises. New modules that incorporate emerging curricular recommendations, relevant applications to other fields, and parallel design patterns are under development. Parallelism is infused incrementally throughout the CS curriculum. Having developed this modular strategy in a predecessor CCLI Type I grant, this project demonstrates the scalability of this approach to other universities and colleges by targeting two geographical regions with workshops and follow-up adopter support.

Other project activities reward participants for creating new modules, promote the national dissemination of this modular approach through conference workshops and presentations, and expand existing synergistic partnerships between and related efforts in industry, academia, and professional organizations.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: ANALYSIS PROGRAM | Award Amount: 19.39K | Year: 2015

This award provides funding to help defray the expenses of participants in the Summer Symposium in Real Analysis 39 that will be held June 8-13, 2015, on the campus of St. Olaf College. This conference is the thirty-ninth in a series that has evolved into one of the major venues internationally for the presentation of research developments in real analysis and related areas.

The scientific program for the 2015 Symposium covers a broad array of topics, ranging from regularity issues for partial differential equations to Morse-Sard-type results, from questions in geometric measure theory to topics in combinatorial and set theoretic analysis. The featured speakers are Marianna Csornyei (University of Chicago), Alexander Olevskii (University of Tel Aviv), and Miklos Laczkovich (Eotovos Lorand University). The conference program provides ample opportunity for graduate students, postdocs, and other young scientists to present their work. Proceedings of the Symposium will be made available on-line.

Conference web site:

Agency: NSF | Branch: Continuing grant | Program: | Phase: WORKFORCE IN THE MATHEMAT SCI | Award Amount: 1.57M | Year: 2011

The expanded Center for Interdisciplinary Research (eCIR) will enable undergraduate students in statistics, applied mathematics, and computational mathematics - working in teams with faculty researchers across the disciplines - to experience the excitement of interdisciplinary research. This work extends the St. Olaf College Center for Interdisciplinary Research (CIR) supported under previous NSF grant. Students learn from the center how statistics serves as an interface with researchers in other disciplines, especially biology, psychology, and the social sciences. Applied and computational mathematics also provide a natural interface with other disciplines in the natural and social sciences. Two post-doctoral associates in applied or computational mathematics will be mentored under the auspices of eCIR. This project targets three transitions points: From early undergraduate student to undergraduate researcher; From undergraduate researcher to graduate student; From graduate school to teaching.

An explicit goal of the eCIR project is to substantially increase the number of students from traditionally underrepresented groups who participate in interdisciplinary undergraduate research and who then go on to graduate school in the mathematical sciences. In the natural sciences, undergraduate research is well-established; in the mathematical sciences, it is growing but still limited by a variety of factors such as faculty expertise and the identification of research problems accessible to undergraduates. The key components of this project are transferable to other institutions and plans for the project include intentional dissemination. We expect that what we learn from careful assessment and evaluation can make important contributions to the national conversation on the efficacy of undergraduate research.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: Cellular Dynamics and Function | Award Amount: 412.53K | Year: 2015

Tetrahymena thermophile, a single-celled, freshwater protozoan endemic to the eastern USA, is a genius at performing universal cellular activities in exaggerated ways. During sexual reproduction, Tetrahymena manufacture thousands of miniature chromosomes that must be capped at each end to preserve their integrity. This made Tetrahymena the ideal model organism for uncovering the mechanism of telomere capping leading to the 2009 Nobel Prize. Paradoxically, while Tetrahymena perform almost universal acts of cell biology, they are poised equidistant from plant and animal kingdoms, and often display novel approaches to solving fundamental biological problems. This evolutionary distance allows researchers to gain broad perspective into how life solves many of its functional dilemmas. The investigators in this research project will take advantage of this organisms unique place in the tree of life and its hugely accessible biology, to explore cellular mechanisms that resemble events triggered in higher organisms when sperm meets egg: how do cells communicate with one another to trigger changes that permit cell-cell fusion; how do cells attach to one another during mating and; how do cells protect one set of nuclei while simultaneously destroying another set of nuclei within a common cytoplasm. The results from this work will inform the understanding of cell biology associated with these processes in higher organisms. The accessibility of Tetrahymena makes this a model system for training undergraduates in the art of molecular and cellular biology and the practice of good science. Students in the investigators laboratory will learn to culture live cells, isolate cellular organelles and their constituent proteins, identify these proteins by Mass Spectrometry, take the resultant data to clone genes of interest, and perform sophisticated microscopy and electron tomography experiments to examine localization of cellular components (proteins, cytoskeleton) during mating associated events. As students are trained, they will be encouraged to cross-train, picking up multiple types of research expertise in both classroom and laboratory settings, while experiencing a truly collaborative and interdisciplinary research environment.

The formal questions that constitute the Intellectual Merit of this research are: 1) Can cell-adhesion proteins that mediate pair-formation in Tetrahymena be identified and are they related to products of the Mating Type Locus? 2) Do Tetrahymena cells engaging in pre-mating encounters exhibit elevated levels of intracellular Ca++ reminiscent of those accompanying the fertilization reaction in metazoan gametes? 3) How could physical association of post-meiotic nuclei with membrane systems of the mating junction shield those nuclei from signals that trigger macro-autophagy, and 4) What membrane trafficking pathways lead to production and shedding of micro-vesicles into the extracellular space between mating cells, and do these shed micro-vesicles perform a signaling function? This study ultimately explores inter-cellular signaling via surface proteins and possibly shed micro-vesicles and the programmed cellular responses triggered by those signals. The work in this project will be performed by undergraduates engaged in formal scientific training.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: Cellular Dynamics and Function | Award Amount: 187.20K | Year: 2013

Intellectual Merit:
One of the more interesting questions in biology is how seemingly simple cells assemble and position complex structures for feeding, movement, and reproduction. The PI has identified genetic mutations that affect the patterning of cortical organelles, through targeting membrane-remodeling events. Further analyses reveal a novel process by which cells extrude membrane-bound micro-vesicles (small packets of protein and RNA molecules) into the outside world. Micro-vesicles have recently gained widespread attention in that they represent a new class of signaling mechanism to communicate developmental and physiological responses, and represent a potential means of regulating cell-surface, pattern-generating molecules. The work in this project will utilize high-resolution microscopic imaging of micro-vesicle formation in both normal and mutant Tetrahymena cells to develop mechanistic detail on how these structures form, function, and contribute to the patterning of cortical organelles. Micro-vesicles will further be purified for chemical analyses, to understand vesicle composition.

Broader impact:
St. Olaf College is an undergraduate institution, devoted to the teaching of science by sharing in the process of discovery. NSF funds will support the research activities of 4 undergraduates, particularly during the summer of 2014. In Biology, students will be trained in state-of-the-art fluorescence and confocal microscopy as well as gain experience with transmission electron microscopy. In Chemistry, students will be trained in organelle isolation, SDS-PAGE analysis, and will utilize the departments mass spectrometer for proteomic analyses. An emphasis is placed on first-hand undergraduate use of state-of-the-art instrumentation, to prepare students for productive scientific careers. Along this line, undergraduates will further be challenged to present their results at meetings and in publications. Together, the scientific and broader impacts of this project will develop a novel pathway that cells use to communicate and respond to environmental information, and foster the training of the next generation of scientists.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: | Award Amount: 59.51K | Year: 2014

Engaging more undergraduates in research experiences is a priority for improving science education and course-based research experiences are a promising approach to reaching larger numbers of students. The Ciliate Genomics Consortium (CGC) is a student-centered, nation-wide collaborative learning community that uses scalable functional genomics research for integration into courses in a variety of biology sub-disciplines. The CGC employs an integrative teaching and research model that combines both inquiry-driven class laboratory activities and collaborative consortium pedagogies to advance faculty research. Previously, the CGC developed modular course-based research curricula that, when adopted by the research community using the ciliate Tetrahymena, effectively engaged greater numbers of students in authentic research while advancing faculty research. This work expands the consortium by creating new or improving tested curricula to promote their broad adoption, creating more opportunities for teaching/research integration. If successful, this project provide evidence that students in classroom settings can contribute substantially to faculty and community research priorities with a variety of model organisms.

To achieve project goals, the CGC will: 1) develop curricula adaptable to faculty research interests, integrate consortium activities with research community resources, and assess student learning gains; and 2) disseminate the CGC model through training workshops and assess the impact on faculty teaching and student learning. Curricula are disseminated through annual workshops and test whether research communities can foster learning communities that promote faculty adoption of classroom-based research as a high impact teaching practice. In this model, members of a research community form a professional learning community to enhance and apply best STEM teaching practices. To learn more about the effectiveness of this approach for both students and educators, the project will assess the pedagogy and report any conceptual gains this research-based curriculum offers over other instructional models, and present limitations and challenges observed. Several validated instruments will be used to measure confidence and learning gains with newly developed assessments to evaluate predicted cognitive gains. Cohorts of students at each institution are identified, not engaged in the CGC curriculum, to control for instructor and institutional factors.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Continuing grant | Program: | Phase: DISCOVERY RESEARCH K-12 | Award Amount: 147.24K | Year: 2012

Boston University, Education Development Center, Inc., and St. Olaf College are collaborating on Assessing Secondary Teachers Algebraic Habits of Mind (ASTAHM) to develop instruments to assess secondary teachers Mathematical Habits of Mind (MHoM). These habits bring parsimony, focus, and coherence to teachers mathematical thinking and, in turn, to their work with students. MHoM is a critical component of mathematical knowledge for teaching at the secondary level. Recognizing the need for a scientific approach to investigate the ways in which MHoM is an indicator of teacher effectiveness, the partnership is researching the following questions:

1. How do teachers who engage MHoM when doing mathematics for themselves also bring MHoM to their teaching practice?
2. How are teachers engagement with MHoM and their use of these habits in teaching related to student understanding and achievement?

To investigate these questions, ASTAHM is developing two instruments: a paper and pencil (P&P) assessment and an observation protocol that measure teachers knowledge and classroom use, respectively, of MHoM.

The work is being conducted in two phases: (1) an instrument-refinement and learning phase, and (2) an instrument-testing and research phase. Objectives of Phase 1 are to gather data to refine the projects existing instruments and to learn about the bridge factors that impact the relationship between teachers knowledge and classroom use of MHoM. Specific research activities include: administering the pilot P&P assessment to 40 teachers, videotaping Algebra instructions of 8 teachers, performing initial testing and refinement of the instruments, and using the data to analyze the bridge factors. Phase 2 is a large-scale study involving field-testing the P&P assessment with 200 teachers, videotaping 20 teachers and studying them using the observation protocol, collecting achievement data from 3000 students, and checking P&P content validity with 200 mathematicians. With these validated instruments in hand, the project will then conduct an investigation into the above research questions. Lesley Universitys Program Evaluation and Research Group (PERG) is the external evaluator. PERG is assessing ASTAHMs overall success in developing valid and reliable instruments to investigate the extent to which a relationship exists between teachers MHoM and their classroom practice, as well as student achievement. Evaluators are also investigating whether users coding guides for both instruments enable field-testers to effectively use and adequately score them.

This work fits into a larger research agenda with the ultimate goal of understanding the connections between secondary teachers mathematical knowledge for teaching and secondary students mathematical understanding and achievement. The MHoM construct is closely aligned with the Common Core State Standards-Mathematics (CCSS-M); especially its Standards for Mathematical Practice. For example, both place importance on seeking and using mathematical structure. Thus the instruments this project produces can act as pre- and post-measures of the effectiveness of professional development programs in preparing teachers to implement the CCSS-M. Mathematics teacher knowledge at the secondary level is an understudied field. Through analyses of the practices and habits of mind that teachers bring to their work, ASTAHM is developing instruments that can be used to shed light on effective secondary teaching.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Continuing grant | Program: | Phase: Chemical Catalysis | Award Amount: 229.80K | Year: 2016

In this CAREER project funded by the Chemical Catalysis Program of the Chemistry Division, Professor Kalyani of the Department of Chemistry at St. Olaf College is developing Ni-catalyzed methods to construct biaryl bonds. Biaryls are used for numerous commercial applications. New carbon-carbon bond forming reactions using readily available, inexpensive and/or renewable substrates and earth abundant Ni-catalysts are being developed. These studies may ultimately contribute to the design of more economical and greener processes for the production of compounds prevalent in pharmaceutical, agrochemical and material science industries. St. Olaf undergraduate researchers benefit from a state-of-the-art experience in organometallic catalysis, a possible prelude to careers at national labs, employment in the chemical or pharmaceutical industry, or faculty appointments. The research program strengthening the scientific work force. In addition, Professor Kalyani has designed a course to introduce non-science students to science by addressing global economic and sustainability challenges. Finally, in collaboration with the St. Olaf College Upward Bound Program for high school students, outreach activities introduce minority and disadvantaged students to the exciting world of organometallic chemistry in our everyday lives.

Transition metal catalyzed methods for the construction of biaryl compounds are well-established. However, the vast majority of these methods use expensive precious-metal catalysts such as palladium and rhodium. Furthermore, aryl halides are the most common coupling partners employed for these reactions, and their use leads to environmentally undesirable halide wastes. Professor Kalyanis research program addresses these limitations through the use of earth-abundant nickel (Ni)-catalysts and non-halide aryl sources. The insights gained from the mechanistic studies may be helpful in the design of versatile new Ni-catalyzed reactions capable of activating carbon (C)-hydrogen (H), C-oxygen (O) and C-C bonds. Both high school and college students participate in Professor Kalyanis research project, where they are introduced to chemistry and develop a sound foundation to conduct, interpret, and communicate scientific research.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: Campus Cyberinfrastrc (CC-NIE) | Award Amount: 327.64K | Year: 2014

This project expands access at St. Olaf College to massive, complex datasets and delivers the analytic power they require. The 2-year effort upgrades the current campus network so researchers in physics, biology, economics, computer science and mathematics can accelerate their projects and expand the range of datasets they investigate. In particular, greater network capacity advances the NSF-funded Center for Interdisciplinary Research and the CSinParallel initiative. The Network for Big Data also enhances formal instruction in data science across the STEM disciplines. Looking ahead, the Network for Big Data will enable St. Olaf researchers to access massive data sets generated via remote sensing methods, including Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR).

The Network for Big Data continues St. Olafs tradition of taking innovative, cost-effective approaches to advanced computing. All data transfer nodes and Big Data enclave devices reside in a single virtual local area network to serve St. Olafs science and mathematics data management zone. Once core and data center switches are consolidated in one enhanced switch, external connectivity, which includes Internet2, will increase to 10 Gbps. The fiber infrastructure connecting St. Olafs network border to its core and to key STEM buildings is upgraded to support 10Gbps connections, with IPv6 campus-wide deployment, and continuous performance monitoring performance and outcomes of these upgrades using a perfSONAR node.

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