Graduate Student Research

At the University of Nevada, Reno, graduate students are producing exciting research which promises to help shape the course of the 21st century. Passionate exploration, innovation and dedication are fundamental to every program.

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The University has more than 60 research centers and facilities, and dozens of state-of-the-art laboratories. Our research enterprise includes the Nevada Terawatt Facility, which houses the most powerful laser on a college campus, the Nevada Seismological Lab, one of the most sophisticated large-scale structures laboratories in the country where pioneering earthquake engineering is accomplished, and the Academy for the Environment, which focuses on issues of sustainability in the Great Basin and Lake Tahoe areas.


Understanding the immune systems of hybernating bats

Gabriela Rios-Sotelo - Ph.D. student in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology

Graduate student Gabriela Rios-Sotelo holds a batFor a mammal, hibernation is a dramatic physical and behavioral change. Bats comprise almost one quarter of all species of mammals and are well-known hibernators, but very little is known about their immune function during hibernation. Recently, however, hibernating bats are becoming infected and killed by a deadly new disease: White Nose Syndrome (WNS). Since 2006, WNS has caused unprecedented declines in populations of multiple species in North America with over six million deaths. It is thought that the pathogen causing WNS, Pseudogymnoascus destructans or (Pd), is opportunistically infecting bats because their immune system is suppressed in hibernation. Unfortunately, very little is known about bats or Pd, and much less is known about the mechanisms of bat's immune system during hibernation. Some researchers have observed that not all species of bats are similarly affected by Pd. It may be the case that some species can shift or control different aspects of their immune response during hibernation or change behavior to protect themselves from this disease.

We are interested in learning what shifts occur in immunity and behavior during bat hibernation in order to learn not only about the immune system of bats, but also to discover how we can conserve bat species in North America before it is too late. As key pest controllers and pollinators across North America, the presence of bats would be greatly missed.

Funding

  • 2018 Charlotte Mangum Student Support Program, Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology Conference, San Francisco, CA ($200)
  • 2017 UNR Fall Research Grant ($2,500)
  • 2017 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with Nevada Department of Wildlife "Predicting Susceptibility to White Nose Syndrome in the West: The Innate Immune Defenses of Bats" ($70,000)
  • 2017 Graduate Student Association Travel Award ($500)
  • 2017 Graduate Dean's Merit Scholar ($5,000)
  • 2017 Graduate Student Access Grant ($3,000)
  • 2016 Graduate Student Association Travel Award ($500)
  • 2016 National Park Service, Carlsbad Caverns National Park with Dr. Diana Northup, University of New Mexico "Do Western Bat Species Possess Natural Defenses to White-Nose Syndrome?" ($4,000)

Impact of Elaborate Feedback on Learning

Rita Olla - Ph.D. student in Behavior Analysis

The purpose of my study is to determine, in a laboratory setting, the EFFECTIVENESS OF DIFFERENT TYPES OF WRITTEN FEEDBACK provided to the students when they take their quizzes on line.

The participants, University undergraduate students, are invited to read a 12-page document on a topic on which they are not familiar and will be quizzed twice at the end of the reading.

After the submission of the first set of answers, the participants will be able to check their performance. Specifically, the participants will see one of the following three types of feedback, based on the condition they were assigned:Screen shot with green and red blurs covering text of user's gaze

  1. Basic feedback: Canvas platform will just inform the participant whether the answer is correct; and if incorrect, the system will show the correct answer.
  2. Elaborate feedback: Following the first quiz submission, the participant will receive the basic feedback, AND, if the answer is incorrect, the participants will see on the screen the specific feedback, which provides information as to why the answer selected is wrong, and a general feedback, which provides general information about the question; the general feedback is also showed when the participant gives the correct answer [figure 1: example of elaborate feedback for a wrong answer].
  3. Spaced feedback: Following the first quiz submission, the feedback provided is the same as the elaborate feedback except that the text will be presented in a different layout, specifically, characters in bold, and sentences separated by empty lines. Also, in this case, a correct answer will be accompanied by the general feedback [figure 2: example of spaced feedback for a wrong answer].

The first quiz submission will be followed by a mandatory break of 15 minutes. After that, the participants will receive, always through Canvas, a second set of different questions.

The performance on the two sets of questions will be analyzed in order to verify whether the elaborate feedback is more effective than the basic feedback, and whether the spaced feedback is even more effective than the elaborate feedback (given the different visual presentation of the text). The assumption to be verified is that a more salient text representation can help the student to learn more easily and be better on subsequent tests.

The spaced feedback represents an extension of a previous study conducted by Chase and Houmanfar (2009), during which they assessed the statistical significance of the better performance produced by the students who received the elaborate feedback compared to those who received only the basic feedback.

Moreover, an eye tracker will be used when the participants are reading the feedback. The purpose is to determine whether the spaced feedback determines longer gaze duration on the text, and if the longer gaze duration is correlated to a better performance. [Figure 3: an example of representation of the eye gaze of a participant when reading the elaborate feedback. The color red indicates longer gaze duration].


University receives record-breaking number of National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) awards

Read how the University rivals premier research universities with nine NSF grants in our NevadaToday article.

Three Minute Thesis Competition

Join us for the final round of the University's Three Minute Thesis Competition on April 19th, 2018 at 6:30pm in the Wells Fargo Auditorium inside the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center.

Learn more about the competition.

Graduate Student Research

Our graduate and doctoral students continue to make amazing contributions to the research profile of the University of Nevada, Reno.

Graduate student Mahedi Anjuman sits at a table surrounded by various mirrors to use in her contemporary art."I'm researching contemporary conceptual art with experimenting performance, videography and sculpture. My art pieces come from personal experience and strive to express the way I think.

In my current work I am responding to the psychological impact of 'action and reaction' Sir Isaac Newton explained in his third law of motion that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In physics this means that in every interaction, there is a pair of forces acting on the two interacting objects. I like to think of this law beyond the literal mathematical implications and believe that we exist in a contestant state of action and reaction - every being is psychologically reacting to every action and through actions reaction we transfer our emotions to other. Things begin to loose meaning and importance through repetition. As meaning is lost, a void is created. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche explains this as passive nihilism -- that unwillingly human beings believe their existence is meaningless. My recent work is a response to that void. 

As a result of thinking this way about action and reaction, I started to believe that ‘I' am basically nothing more than the reflection of my surroundings, which includes other beings. Their actions and reactions build my unique self."

Two monitors sit side by side. One shows images of plastic spoons. The other has real plastic spoons mounted on the front.

"Perhaps for practical and logistical reasons, the majority of contemporary studies in psychology tend to present images of objects instead of the real objects themselves. However, emerging behavioral and imaging data suggest that pictorial-based stimuli may not elicit the same degree or type of response as would the actual objects themselves. Therefore, my work examines differences in how the human brain processes things depending on the format in which the stimuli are presented.

In addition to showing conventional two-dimensional and three-dimensional image-based representations, I also present real objects. Although it is challenging to present a series of real objects and to, in some cases, alter the positioning and/or orientations of these stimuli within a very brief time interval (> 2 seconds), I have developed methods to overcome this obstacle. For instance, it is not only imperative that stimulus placement occurs quickly, but also that the movement of the objects remain precise and consistent for the duration of the experiment. Therefore, for many of my studies I have built microcontroller-based servo motor arrays to ensure that spatial positioning is similar across the real object and image trials. It is my hope that this work will provide us with a better understanding of how the visual system operates in the real-world.

Graduate student Ericka Kay stands on a ladder hanging a hemp rope in a tree"I am interested in understanding how interactions among organisms are mediated by biological compounds. Plants have defended themselves against a diverse array of natural enemies for over 250 million years, partly with plant secondary metabolites (PSMs), which include phenolics, terpenoids, alkaloids, and many other broad classes of small molecular weight compounds. PSMs do not play a direct role in growth, development or reproduction, but can have important functions such as defense against herbivores and pathogens, mediating interactions with pollinators, attracting insect herbivore predators, protecting against abiotic stress and participating in plant-plant signaling.

My dissertation experiments will provide insight into phytochemically-mediated mechanisms which have contributed to plant success over evolutionary time with a focus on synergistic effects. Synergistic plant defenses are those that have greater effects in mixtures versus the projected additive values of each individual compound. To examine such synergistic effects in an anti-herbivory context, I am examining industrial hemp which meet the standards of the state of Nevada Department of Agriculture hemp program of no more than 0.3% delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol content. Cannabis is an ideal study plant because it has evolved a diverse mix of PSMs, with more than 480 compounds identified, including a number of classes of antiherbivore compounds. I am combining observational and experimental studies to characterize effects of chemical variation on naturally occurring insect communities associated with hemp, and to examine specific hypotheses about effects of plant chemistry on insect physiology.

My research includes field collections, rearing experiments with caterpillar herbivores and parasitoids, cultivation of hemp under experimental water-stress treatments, development of an infrared spectral library to characterize phytochemical diversity, and extraction of compounds to conduct Lepidopteran feeding experiments.

My research promotes good stewardship for both industrial hemp by reducing inputs of water and pesticides and therefore protecting environmental resources. Industrial hemp is a drought-tolerant alternative crop for Nevada producers who will have to adapt their crop choices to a changing climate. Research would not only have applications for industrial hemp, but will be relevant to the production of other agricultural crops including crops that have diverse secondary chemistry and are grown for spices and therapeutic compounds. The potential for multiple PSMs to act synergistically on insect-herbivores could aid in future less-toxic farming practices and have implications reaching beyond ecology and agriculture into human medicine."

Graduate student in snowy woods feeding a bird

Carrie's research focuses on how environmental variation in montane ecosystems shapes the behavior of individuals inhabiting harsher, high elevations when compared to milder, low elevations. More specifically, she studies pre-mating mechanisms that contribute to the separation of mountain chickadees inhabiting high versus low elevations in the Sierra Nevada.

She's found that female birds from high elevations have a preference for high elevation males over their low elevation counterparts, and that male song, which is used for mate attraction, varies significantly between high- and low-elevation males, suggesting that females use male song to identify mates from their respective elevation. This ability to discriminant between males is particularly important for these birds because they store food items in the summer, when food is abundant, to use later in the winter when food is scarce, and they use spatial memory to find previously stored food items. High-elevation birds have significantly better spatial memory than low-elevation birds, therefore, it behooves high-elevation females to mate with other high-elevation males to ensure their offspring will have superb spatial memory for finding their food stores, thus increasing the likelihood that they will survive the harsh winters.

Carrie is a highly research-‐‐accomplished graduate student in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology (EECB) graduate program. Carrie has authored/co-‐‐authored 18 peer-‐‐reviewed papers, of which 15 have been published while at UNR. Carrie is the lead author (in one case she shares the first authorship with Dovid Kozlovsky) on 8 papers!

Carrie's H-index of citation is already at a 7 with 133 citations overall -- impressive for a graduate student. Carrie's Research Gate Score is 20.69, which is higher than that of some postdocs, and according to Research Gate, Carrie's score is higher that 72.5% of all Research Gate members. Carrie's paper on elevation related song differences in chickadees (in Royal Society Open Science) is in the top 10% of all research output scored by Altmetric ("Altmetric has tracked 5,223,626 research outputs across all sources so far. Compared to these this one has done particularly well and is in the 93rd percentile: it's in the top 10% of all research outputs ever tracked by Altmetric")(https://www.altmetric.com/details/3952657#score). The full text of that paper has been viewed 2,414 times in less than just two years since publication!

She is likely to be remembered as an EECB graduate with one of the most impressive publication records achieved during her tenure as a Ph.D. student.

Graduate Student Marcela Salazar

Marcela is a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the Atmospheric Sciences program and joined the Atmospheric Turbulence and Air Quality (ATAQ) research group for her Ph.D. after completing her MS degree at the University of Nevada, Reno. In the ATAQ group, she has been able to incorporate the experimental work in aerosol optical properties she did as a Master's student (advisor: W. Patrick Arnott, resulting in two journal publications) into a spatial investigation of wildfire smoke plume impacts in California and Nevada.

Her current work focuses on the ability to use satellite remote sensing to measure near-surface air pollution concentrations downwind of wildfires.

After starting this research in June 2014, she already has one accepted publication; one draft publication, expected submission March 2017; and has given five conference presentations. In addition to these, she plans to prepare two more first author journal articles before she graduates and will attend two national level conferences. One example of the impact of Marcela's research is her most recent article, it was published November 30, 2016 and had its first citation in a paper published in February 2017. Her results are timely and of great importance to the aerosol remote-sensing community.