Collegeville, PA, United States
Collegeville, PA, United States

Ursinus College is a private, independent, coeducational, liberal arts college located in Collegeville, Pennsylvania.Founded in 1869, Ursinus sits on a 170-acre wooded campus approximately 30 miles from Center City Philadelphia. Ursinus is one of the eleven Centennial Conference schools, a Phi Beta Kappa college, and is a member of the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship list, Project Pericles, Project DEEP, the Bonner Leader Program, and the Annapolis Group. The college is also home to the Philip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art, regarded as one of the nation's finest small-college art museums. Wikipedia.

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Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: S-STEM:SCHLR SCI TECH ENG&MATH | Award Amount: 32.47K | Year: 2015

Recognizing the national need for significant improvement in undergraduate STEM education, collaborators from six institutions (Rochester Institute of Technology, St. Marys University, Oral Roberts University, Hope College, Ursinus College, and California Polytechnic University) will explore a new approach to introduce students to authentic research in biochemistry laboratory courses. The project will test the hypotheses that engaging in authentic research will improve students abilities to master key aspects of experimentation (experimental design, data processing and interpretation, and communication of research outcomes) and visualization (use of representations to communicate various aspects of the research process). The project is likely to be transferrable to other institutions, and is an example of a cost-effective way to introduce course-based research into the undergraduate curriculum.

Biochemistry laboratory courses will be redesigned to include modules in which students will integrate computational and wet lab techniques as they characterize proteins whose three dimensional structures are known but to which functions have not been previously ascribed. Because the project is focused on discovery, it is reasonable to expect that some of the students will produce novel results that will contribute to the field of biochemistry. Formative and summative evaluation will address assessment of student learning gains in terms of improved conceptual understanding and visualization of experiments using a validated instrument composed of open-ended and closed-ended questions. Faculty members and teaching assistants will be surveyed and interviewed about their satisfaction with the project, its usability, and the extent to which they see the project as part of their own and their students development. The project team will create and disseminate modules ( that form the core of a new curriculum for undergraduate biochemistry laboratory courses. The results of the work will be presented at professional meetings, such as the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and submitted to scholarly journals.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: S-STEM:SCHLR SCI TECH ENG&MATH | Award Amount: 593.36K | Year: 2015

The Supporting Inclusive Excellence (SIE) project at Ursinus College will support 30 academically talented students demonstrating financial need. Scholarships and support programs will assist these students in completing their majors in biology, biochemistry, or neuroscience and in entering the STEM workforce or STEM graduate school following completion of a baccalaureate degree. This project will address a national need for trained individuals to enter a growing number of STEM career opportunities. Over the five-year grant period, 30 students will receive scholarships to help close the gap between existing aid and family contributions for tuition. Not only will academic support systems be provided to scholarship recipients to remain in the pipeline toward future STEM careers, other students on campus will also benefit from some of these supports.

The technical merit of the project lies in its coordinated approach to support recruitment and retention of STEM students through academic advising, curricular and co-curricular activities, mentoring and research opportunities. Activities for scholarship recipients include: 1) intensive co-curricular advising to support STEM coursework, 2) a bridge program to facilitate the transition between the first and second semesters of introductory biology, 3) inclusive pedagogy in introductory biology and chemistry courses, 4) a series of workshops offered by the Career and Professional Development office towards achieving STEM careers, and 5) research opportunities that will strengthen students connection to the STEM community. The SIE project will be assessed and findings will be shared so that other institutions can incorporate successful approaches for supporting high-achieving and low-income students. The results of the assessment will contribute to the larger knowledge-base regarding the circumstances under which scholarship projects of this type are successful.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Continuing grant | Program: | Phase: Macromolec/Supramolec/Nano | Award Amount: 191.47K | Year: 2013

Dr. Mark Ellison from Ursinus College and Dr. Michael Strano from MIT are supported by an award from the Macromolecular, Supramolecular and Nanochemistry Program of the Division of Chemistry to investigate the motion of ions and biologically relevant molecules through single-walled carbon nanotubes. Using nanotube nanopore devices fabricated at MIT, they are conducting experiments to study fundamental properties of these systems and to assess their usefulness for the nanoscale detection and control of the flow of ions and molecules. This research extends the knowledge of motion through nanopores to several important areas, including amino acids and small neutral molecules. The research also enhances our understanding of the role of nanopore properties, such as the effects of functional groups at the pore mouth and nanopore surface charge on the motion of ions and molecules through nanopores. The results of this research provide foundational knowledge of nanotube nanopores and take an important step toward utilizing them in practical devices.

The undergraduate researchers at Ursinus College involved in these projects attain a variety of scientific skills. First, they obtain significant experience conducting experiments in nanoscience. They also develop their abilities to formulate, test, and revise scientific hypotheses. Additionally, the Ursinus students significantly benefit from the collaboration with MIT, which includes visits to MIT to conduct experiments with the high-grade research instrumentation there. Students involved in this research will emerge as well-trained young scientists with the tools to approach a wide range of scientific questions.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: I-Corps | Award Amount: 50.00K | Year: 2014

Current parental control software does not provide parents and kids with the one tool they desperately want and need ? a method for halting cyber-aggression in progress, rather than reporting the event after it occurs. Although most cyberbullying and cyber-predation acts occur over an extended period of time, current programs can only detect acts based on keywords in text; they don?t offer tools to actually stop the abuse and they don?t capture context. Concern about cyberbullying and cyber-predation among parents and authorities has led to a booming parental control software market and to the passage of anti-cyberbullying laws in many states. The proposed innovation offers better recognition of cyber-abuse and as well as response capabilities; thereby providing a more dynamic, interactive, and empowering resource for youths and their parents.

The team has developed machine learning algorithms that are able to detect approximately 80% of cyberbullying communication, and 84% of predatory conversation. These algorithms were developed using data that was collected and labeled for research purposes. The algorithms need to be adapted for real-time communication, as well as continuously updated as additional data become available. The theoretical model for victim response is in development. The model identifies the type, context and severity of bullying or predation, along with categories of potential responses from which victims can choose. The team has completed the proof-of-concept and is ready to move forward with the development of a software prototype.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Continuing grant | Program: | Phase: NUCLEAR STRUCTURE & REACTIONS | Award Amount: 128.49K | Year: 2013

This project engages Ursinus College undergraduates in experimental nuclear structure research. The project is part of an ongoing collaboration with colleagues at the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory (NSCL) and Florida State University (FSU). The proposed work will contribute to the understanding of the evolution of shell structure and core polarization in neutron-rich calcium isotopes beyond 48Ca and the collapse of the N = 28 shell in 42Si via inverse-kinematics proton scattering measurements at the NSCL.

The broader impact of the project includes maintaining an active research program in nuclear structure on the Ursinus College campus. Ursinus College is a national liberal arts college of about 1700 students with a long history of strength in the sciences. This project will provide students opportunities to apply their knowledge of physics outside the classroom, gain practical skills in data acquisition and analysis, observe and participate in the operation of a nuclear accelerator facility, and present their work to colleagues. The project will span three years and support two students for 8-10 weeks per summer. Participants will travel to the NSCL to perform experiments and analyze the data at Ursinus. They will present their results to the Ursinus community as part of the Ursinus College Summer Fellows Program and to the nuclear physics community at American Physical Society/Division of Nuclear Physics meetings.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Continuing grant | Program: | Phase: AMO Experiment/Atomic, Molecul | Award Amount: 85.20K | Year: 2016

The goals of this collaborative project are twofold: first, to understand and control the movement of energy among strongly connected groups of atoms, and second, to improve an experimental technique for measuring the energy distribution among these atoms. These general goals are present in many areas of science (for example, in the study of the transport of energy in metals) but they are often difficult to realize for the simple reason that solids are densely packed with atoms and typically opaque. This work will be done in an ultracold gas of atoms that are cooled so that they move slowly like the atoms in a solid, but are at low density. Collections of these atoms are transparent and can be probed and controlled with lasers. If the outer electrons in these atoms are excited to high energy levels, then the atoms can exchange energy in ways that are similar to other quantum systems. Using a combination of simulation and experimental imaging techniques, the transport of energy will be measured. In this way, the project aims to create and study atomic systems that will yield insight into both fundamental quantum mechanics and the behavior of materials. The second goal of this project concerns a widely used experimental technique in which the energy level of an electron is measured by using a rapidly increasing electric field to rip off, or ionize, the outermost electron from the atom. The stripped electron is accelerated to a detector and the resulting signal is characteristic of the electrons original energy level. However, the ionization process is complex and nearby energy levels produce signals which are indistinguishable. This project will precisely shape the electric field pulse so that the signals from closely spaced energy levels can be distinguished, making new experiments possible in many areas of atomic physics.

In this project, the valence electron of ultracold rubidium atoms in a magneto-optical trap is excited to a weakly bound state of high principle quantum number, or Rydberg state. Both the spatial distribution of the atoms and the internal states to which they are excited are precisely controlled. The atoms in such a sample exchange energy through a dipole-dipole interaction. Building upon earlier work implementing state selective field ionization with two parallel cylinders of atoms excited to two different Rydberg states, other geometries and state distributions will be explored. As the electrons amplitude traverses the many avoided crossings on the way to ionization it splits due to Landau-Zener transitions and spreads throughout many Stark levels, complicating the identification of the original electronic energy level. Previous attempts at manipulating the electrons path to ionization have focused on coarsely determining the slope of the electric field ramp. Since there are hundreds of avoided crossings on the way to ionization, a genetic algorithm will be used to design the electric field ramp. In addition, recent simulations have revealed the possibility of observing the anisotropic nature of the dipole-dipole interaction as well as Anderson localization.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: Chemistry of Life Processes | Award Amount: 189.75K | Year: 2013

With this award, the Chemistry of Life Processes Program in the Chemistry Division and the Molecular Biophysics program in the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) support Dr. Codrina V. Popescu at Ursinus College for research in Mossbauer spectroscopy conducted with undergraduate students. Research ranges from studies of small-molecule iron (Fe) compounds to the exploration of novel Fe sites in proteins. The expected scientific outcomes of this research are: (1) elucidation of electronic structures for new iron-based hydrogen electrocatalysts and models for the hydrogenase enzymes, including low-spin Fe(I), for which spectroscopic benchmarks are scarce; (2) correlation of structural and spectroscopic changes in model complexes for the hydrogenases and other biomimetic compounds; (3) characterization of the active site of the dual function hemoglobin-peroxidase enzyme dehaloperoxidase from A. ornata and of models for catalytic intermediates in ring-cleaving dioxygenases.

Iron is the most abundant transition metal in biological systems. Iron proteins and enzymes are involved in life processes, such as oxidation, detoxification, hydrogen and nitrogen metabolism. Mossbauer spectroscopy can bring insight into the electronic structure of iron compounds, often allowing us to elucidate the nature of the active sites of enzymes directly, or by probing small-molecule models, which may be used as catalysts. Frontier problems in fundamental research have implications for environmental problems, such as the need for cleaner energy sources and dealing with pollution. From details of Mossbauer spectra we are attempting to learn how iron is used to perform vastly different feats of chemistry in environmentally benign ways. These interdisciplinary projects are of broad current interest for fundamental science and potential technological applications, from alternative fuels (hydrogenase model complexes) to catalysis (biomimetics), and environmental bioremediation (dehaloperoxidase). Through its interdisciplinary collaborative nature, this research has impact on the projects of collaborators from four other institutions and allows the undergraduates at Ursinus College to interact with students and faculty from these other research groups. The research promotes a close relationship between mentor and students, who are active in all the steps of scientific discovery, from generating hypotheses to interpreting the spectroscopic parameters needed to elucidate new electronic structures. This undergraduate research training and education program fosters the students growth and independence through advanced degrees, preparing them for STEM careers in teaching and research. It also provides interdisciplinary projects for a diverse pool of students, in which hands-on spectroscopy is applied to current scientific problems and results in external presentations and publications.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Continuing grant | Program: | Phase: NUCLEAR STRUCTURE & REACTIONS | Award Amount: 45.00K | Year: 2016

It is a well-known fact that nuclei are made up of protons and neutrons. One of the big questions in nuclear science, as identified by the Nuclear Science Advisory Committee, is how nuclei are organized (in terms of the forces between neutrons and protons) as the number of neutrons is increased. The goal of this proposal is to understand the evolution of the structure of neutron-rich nuclei, with a focus on isotopes with 28 neutrons, such as the nucleus Ca-48 (that also has 20 protons). Such nuclei are known to have unusual stability against radioactive decay, but become less stable for isotopes where the proton number is decreased. The experiments, which involve collisions of protons with selected nuclei, will be done at the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory (NSCL). Undergraduate students will participant in the experiments and will gain practical skills in data acquisition, analysis and simulation, and present their work at conferences.

The proposed inverse-kinematics proton scattering measurements probe the interplay between collective and single-particle behavior by disentangling the neutron and proton contributions to collective excitations in exotic nuclei. The mechanism(s) driving the erosion of the N = 28 shell approaching Z = 14 is a topic of great interest. It has been suggested that protons drive the onset of collectivity in this region. The experimental determination of the relative contributions of neutrons and protons to collective excitations will provide important insight. Measurements of isotopes S-44 and Si-42 will complete the empirical picture of the relative contributions of neutrons and protons to the first 2+ excitations in the N=28 isotones below Ca-48 down to Z=14, where the N=28 shell collapses. Measurements of isotopes P-41 and P-43 will clarify the degree of coupling of the odd proton to the collective first 2+ excitations of the Si-40 and Si-42 cores in these nuclei.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: ROBERT NOYCE SCHOLARSHIP PGM | Award Amount: 71.00K | Year: 2015

Mathematics faculty members and educational researchers are increasingly recognizing the value of the history of mathematics as a support to student learning. This collaborative project, involving seven diverse institutions, will help students learn and develop a deeper interest in, and appreciation and understanding of, fundamental mathematical concepts and ideas by utilizing primary sources - original historical writings by mathematicians on topics in mathematics. Educational materials for students will be developed at all levels of undergraduate mathematics courses, and will be designed to capture the spark of discovery and to motivate subsequent lines of inquiry. In particular, the student projects to be developed will be built around primary source material to guide students, including pre-service teachers, mathematics majors, and other STEM discipline majors, to explore the mathematics of the original discovery in order to develop their own understanding of that discovery. Mathematics faculty and graduate students from over forty (40) institutions will participate in the development and testing process, thereby ensuring a large national network of faculty with expertise on the use of these educational materials. The impacts of the materials and approaches to implementing them will be investigated in terms of teaching, student learning, and departmental and institutional change.

The TRIUMPHS project will employ an integrated training and development process to create and test approximately fifty (50) student projects, which will include (1) twenty (20) primary source projects (PSPs) designed to cover its topic in about the same number of course days as classes would otherwise and (2) thirty (30) one-day mini-PSPs. In addition to the well-researched benefits of engaging students in active learning, particular advantages of this historical approach will involve providing context and direction for the subject matter. Important goals of the TRIUMPHS project are to (a) hone students verbal and deductive skills through studying the work of some of the greatest minds in history and (b) invigorate undergraduate mathematics courses by identifying the problems and pioneering solutions that have since been subsumed into standard curricular topics. Through intensive, research-based professional development workshops, the TRIUMPHS project will also provide training in various aspects of developing and implementing PSPs to approximately seventy (70) faculty and doctoral students. By working collaboratively to develop PSPs while training faculty across the country in their use, the investigators will ensure that these educational materials are robustly adaptable and proactively disseminated to a wide variety of institutional settings, while simultaneously developing an ongoing professional community of mathematics faculty interested in teaching with primary sources. An evaluation-with-research study will provide formative and summative evaluation of the project, as well as contribute to the general knowledge base of (i) how student perceptions of the nature of mathematics evolve, (ii) how students ability to write mathematical arguments changes over time, and (iii) how to support faculty in developing and implementing this research-based, active learning approach.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: Secure &Trustworthy Cyberspace | Award Amount: 349.16K | Year: 2014

Youths of the digital age live parallel lives online and in the real world, frequently disclosing personal information to cyberfriends and strangers, regardless of race, class or gender. Race and gender do make a difference, however, when these online disclosures lead to acts of cyberaggression. The PIs previous work revealed that some youths are resistant to cyberaggression and that there are differences in perceptions of cyberbullying among youths from different cultural and racial backgrounds. This research aims to explore the relationship between youths self-disclosures, cultural backgrounds, and their perceptions of cyberaggression.

The PIs conduct a longitudinal, interdisciplinary study that builds upon their ongoing cyberaggression pattern recognition research by: 1) using surveys and focus groups to test and refine their theories about self-disclosure, perception, cultural difference, and cyberaggression communication patterns, 2) using machine learning to develop detection and response technologies for use in applications designed to protect youths, 3) using focus groups to evaluate the applications, and 4) making the data collected from this project available to the research community. This work is important to understand the role of self-disclosure in cybervictmization among youths, and provides the theoretical groundwork for the development of effective response strategies that can be employed by youths when they are attacked online. The data from this study will provide a rich source of material for other researchers in both computer science and in the social and behavior sciences.

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