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Office of Undergraduate Research

Sample Grant Proposals

American Studies - Academic Year URG Proposal
A Monumental Absence: Slavery and the National Memorial Landscape

The National Mall is the site of memorials to presidents and political leaders, veterans and fallen soldiers, and the victims of the Japanese internment and the Nazi Holocaust. In what historian Kirk Savage aptly describes as this "monumental core" of the nation, "the one place above all" where "people come to find the nation and to engage with it as citizens," there remains a conspicuous commemorative void: there is no national memorial to slavery.1 In my senior honors thesis (advised by History Professor Kate Masur), I will analyze the causes and significance of this absence. One of the central areas of my research is a movement from 2000-2008 that sought to commemorate the slave labor that contributed to the construction of the US Capitol. I am applying for a URG to fund a four-day research trip to the Capitol, where I will examine firsthand the commemorative space that resulted from this movement, study how Capitol tour guides present slavery, and interview the Capitol administrators who shape the history that the Capitol tells. This research will be a crucial aspect of my senior thesis, which will ultimately help us understand what slavery means to Americans today by investigating the ways that slavery is remembered--and forgotten--in the nation's capital.

“Juntos dejamos las calles (Together We Leave the Streets): Analyzing the Objectives, Priorities, and Perspectives of Organizations Supporting Street Youth in Cochabamba, Bolivia”

While studying abroad in Bolivia in 2008, I was privileged to work with a group of street kids through a nonprofit organization that supports street youth in Cochabamba.  Through conversations with these kids that revealed their conflicting attitudes towards organizations providing them with services, I began to question the extent to which such programs align their objectives and intervention strategies with the actual priorities and desires of the youth.  I was taken aback by a seemingly paradoxical situation in which various programs are attempting to support the needs of Cochabamba’s street youth, yet many street kids are reluctant to utilize services offered by these well-meaning organizations.

“Gweekanimad (The Wind Shifts): Renewable Energy & Cultural Revitalization on the White Earth Reservation”

For decades, Native American reservations have tried to reconcile becoming economically self-sufficient while still retaining their culture and values. Recently, reservations have begun to view renewable energy as a way of improving their economic situation and tribal sovereignty in a way that aligns with cultural traditions and preserves their values and institutions. My project will examine how renewable energy initiatives offer a holistic approach to development, retaining Native American traditions and also reasserting them. For eight weeks I will conduct an ethnographic case study of the Chippewa tribe on the White Earth Reservation, exploring if renewable energy projects are not only a way for the Chippewa tribe to engage with the market economy with cultural integrity, but are also part of a cultural revitalization movement that is impacting perceptions of tribal and Native American identity. My study will provide insight on two of the most pressing issues of our time: cultural survival and energy sustainability, researching whether renewable energy is more than simply an economic movement, but also a spiritual and social revival.

“Taking Back the City: Street Art, Site-Specificity, and the Battle for Urban Space”

In the summer of 2009, I traveled to the United Kingdom to conduct field research for my senior honors thesis on the commodification of stencil graffiti. Specifically, I studied indoor and outdoor works by Banksy, a famous stencil graffitist, to ascertain how his migration from the street to the gallery impacted the meanings of artworks that were fundamentally dependent on their streetbased contexts. My time in London and Bristol was highly productive, but my research uncovered even more fascinating and urgent questions about the broader relationship of street art to the city of London. During the second half of March, I will conduct the field research component of the project that has developed from these new inquiries and which has become the final iteration of my honors thesis. Over two weeks, I will visit several sites in London that I know to be rife with excellent examples of street art. At these locations, I will examine specific works of urban art and subject them to a critical analysis predicated on theories of urban space, public art, and site specificity.  This theoretical framework, which I have developed in the past eight months of my library and field research, will offer a new understanding of the compelling and significant relationship between street art, the physical sites it occupies, and the discursive spaces it critically confronts. Engaging a genre of art practices that have been systematically trivialized since their inception, my analysis will apply long overdue critical attention to street art. Moreover, it will fundamentally alter the ongoing and highly controversial discourse on site-specificity, challenging the widely held notion that public art can no longer enact meaningful, critical dialogues that engage social, political and economic systems at the very site of their contestations: the public space.

“Comparison of Synapses on Basal and Apical Dentrites in Hippocampal Neurons”

The hippocampus is a brain structure implicated in learning and memory consolidation.  Damage to this region has been shown to impair the ability to form new memories.  In patients with Alzheimer’s disease, an age-related neurodegenerative disease, symptoms of amnesia have been related to the deterioration of neural circuitry have within the hippocampus.  However, the neuronal connections that underlie this circuitry have not been elucidated, making it difficult for researchers to understand the mechanisms underlying hippocampus-related amnesia.  As a result, I propose to use a novel imagining technique to study and characterize neuronal connections in the hippocampus at the level of the synapse, which is a sub-micron scale connection between neurons.  This project will provide a comprehensive overview of how hippocampal neurons consolidate neuronal input.  The results of my work will provide the foundation for a new line of investigation into a popular problem at a deeper level than ever before.

“Examining The Role Of Transmembrane Protein Cd74 In The Epileptic Brain”

Epilepsy is a chronic neurological disorder affecting approximately 50 million people around the world and resulting in 42,000 deaths in the US annually. The disorder is characterized by unprovoked sudden seizures and abnormal electrical discharges in the brain, which can cause cell death, anxiety disorders, depression, and memory and cognitive deficits. Despite the high prevalence and extensive research, mechanisms of the cause and progression of epilepsy still remain unknown.  The kainic acid (KA)-induced rodent seizure model is commonly used to study basic mechanism of epilepsy. KA is an analog of the neurotransmitter glutamate, which produces neuronal excitation and induces seizures. It has been found that rats at different ages (postnatal days 15 and 30– called P15 and P30) display different physiologic response and differential gene expressions upon KA induction, indicating distinct cellular responses. Recent findings using the KA model suggest strong relationships between the MAPK signaling pathways, the inflammation response and epileptogenesis (future occurrence of spontaneous seizures following an initial traumatic trigger).  Through the course of my research, I plan to examine CD74, the transmembrane protein that plays an important role in regulating the inflammatory and MPAK signaling cascade and has been shown to be uniquely up regulated in P30 rat hippocampus after KA-induced seizure. My aims for the project are:

  • Localize and identify CD74 expressing cells by double label immunohistochemistry for microglia and neurons in P15 and P30 rat brain after KA-induced seizures.
  • Correlate CD 74 positivity and cell injury by double labeling CD74 and in situ end labeling of DNA fragmentation (ISEL) in P30 rat brain.
  • Determine whether CD 74 is activated in human epileptogenic tissue resected from patients with medically intractable epilepsy, identify CD74 positive cells in human cortices and correlate with cell injury. 

I will test the hypothesis that CD 74 is expressed in the activated microglia and contribute to neuronal excitability and cell death in epilepsy. I intend to undertake this project during the winter quarter in the lab of Dr. Sookyong Koh. Dr. Koh is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University.

Chemical and Biological Engineering - Summer URG Proposal
"Development of a Primary Mouse Ovarian Follicle In Vitro Culture System"

When diagnosed, female cancer patients often face a terrible dilemma, one where life-saving chemotherapy destroys the ability to have children later in life. This choice is especially painful for prepubescent girls whose ovaries are unable to produce mature eggs for traditional in vitro fertilization. Follicle culture may offer a solution, one where these women can have children by maturing their follicles in vitro. I will study follicle maturation using defined media and follicle co-cultures, which will help us to understand the mechanisms of follicle maturation. These results can then be applied in the development of fertility preservation technologies.

“The Enantioselective Total Synthesis of Streptorubin B”

In the late 1940s, malaria was largely eradicated in the United States, due to a rigorous campaign by the CDC to dose American homes and reserves with the potent, and now notorious, biocide, DDT. However, attempts to use such tactics worldwide over the next two decades accumulated as both an expensive failure and an ecological disaster. International environmentalist movements have vigorously targeted the blanket use of insecticides as a method of disease control, while simultaneously, current anti-malarial drugs, such as quinine, atovaquone, and artemisinin, have become significantly less effective over the last few decades due to evolutionary pressure for multi-drug resistance.  The World Health Organization estimated 247 million cases of malaria worldwide in 2006, causing nearly one million deaths, primarily of children.  Fortunately, recent developments in the maintenance of malaria cultures have ushered in a resurgence of fundamental research concerning the molecular biology of the parasite, facilitating targeted pharmaceutical research and modern, orthogonal drug development.

“Long-Term Retention of Novel Words in Young Children”

There is evidence demonstrating that young children have an outstanding capacity for learning new words. However, children do not learn every word that they come across equally easily. Booth (2009) theorized that children will learn words more easily when they know something meaningful about the objects being labeled. She tested this possibility by presenting 3-4 year old children with pictures of novel animals and artifacts with a novel label and noncausal or causal information. Causal information was related to the function of the artifact, and to the behavior or function of body parts of the animals. The subjects were then tested on comprehension and production of the items. After several days, subjects were again tested on comprehension and production. Although children performed at chance in all conditions during the first testing, children in the causal condition performed above chance at follow-up. Thus, children appear to be more capable of learning new words when given causal information as opposed to non-causal information. The results of these studies are consistent with other work showing young children’s sensitivity to causal information and its positive impact on learning. (e.g. Gallimore et al., 1977; Bauer, 1992; Booth and Waxman 2002).  The findings from Booth (2009) leave open important questions regarding the ways in which causal information facilitates learning. For example, does it increase the efficiency of information acquisition, and does it affect the length of time information is retained in memory?  Although Booth (2009) tested retention of novel words after a weeklong delay, it did not equate for initial level of learning across the causal and non-causal conditions. Therefore, it cannot clearly distinguish the effects of the information represented initially from the effects on retention after a given amount of time. Because children vary in their focus on the task, they are not necessarily obtaining the same amount of information. Further, children vary in the amount of time it takes to learn new material. In the proposed research, these problems will be addressed by training all subjects to a pre-established criterion before imposing the testing delay. By training them to the same level of performance in different conditions, the effects of attention during training and individual differences in learning will be controlled across conditions. In order to add even more control to the study, the stimuli will be presented digitally by an animated character and responses will be recorded using a touch screen. By doing so, the variability from the experimenter using different words, intonations, gestures, and exposure time will be eliminated. This will ensure that each participant in the study sees and hears exactly the same thing, which should further reduce variability in learning experiences across children. The touch screen technology will also help to make the task faster and more appealing for the participants. By increasing engagement, we should also increase the likelihood of children being successfully trained to the same learning criterion before imposition of the testing delay.

"Race and the 20th Century”

Race is a powerful force that has driven some of the most significant historical events of the twentieth century, and I want to study it as an internal force that can both limit and broaden one’s self-perception. The purpose of my project is to reveal the complexities and ambiguities of racial identification in relation to the individual’s pursuit of happiness and personhood. This project—for which I will receive 1 unit credit in English 399 for Fall Quarter, and 1 unit credit in English 398 in Winter Quarter—is my senior thesis for the English Major in Writing, and the completed work will be a manuscript of creative fiction that seeks to highlight race in the contexts of three periods of the twentieth century.  My manuscript is written in three parts: the first describes the 1938 fight between black heavyweight champion Joe Louis and German heavyweight champion Max Schmeling; the second takes place in 1964 and follows a middle-aged black character returning to his childhood home of Harlem; the last describes a young Asian-American man faced with an absurd case of mistaken identity in 1995. By studying race in three distinct decades, I hope to illustrate the role that race plays in each era to shape the experiences of the characters. In addition, I hope that the movement of time from 1938 to 1995 will help me paint a picture of a full century of racial struggle and its evolution up to the very end of the twentieth century. My underlying goal, however, is to dramatize the burden that race places on individuals, how it often precludes one’s self-identification, and how it influences internal and external perceptions of one’s achievements.

“Updating a Classic: A Modern Adaptation of Aristophanes’ Acharnians"

As a Classics major, I am interested not only in Greek history and literature, but also in methods of translation.  I believe that the purpose of a translation is to make a work accessible to, and understandable by, a new set of readers; for this reason, I wish to write translations that are not simply English renderings of the Greek originals.  Translations, as I see them, require either extensive explanations of historical and cultural references or modern adaptations of the references themselves.  This summer I will make Aristophanes’ Acharnians accessible to modern readers by writing a modern adaptation of the play, set in the contemporary United States.

“Os Roqueiros: A Socio-Cultural Study of the Emerging Rock and Roll Subculture in Northeastern Brazil”

Currently, in the rural Northeast of Brazil in a town called Açu, there is a cultural struggle taking place as a group of people are attempting to establish themselves outside the traditional norms of Northeastern society. They are a people identified by their music – Rock and Roll, and it is central to their struggle for legitimacy in a region that has long been united under the traditional musical style of Forró.  During my year-long stay in Açu before college, I became absorbed in this cultural separation, awkwardly attempting to participate in both the ‘Rocker’ lifestyle and the greater Forró culture from which it deviated. I now wish to document that struggle, on film, by capturing the stories, styles and opinions that are key in distinguishing this growing group of ‘Rockers’ from those in the greater culture that surrounds them. In doing this, I hope to illustrate how their unique understanding of their identity as Northeasterners brings them away from, rather than towards the traditions of prior Northeastern generations.

“Design and Implementation of an Innovative Hydraulic Ram Pump Pressure Release Mechanism for the Philippines”

According to the 2006 United Nations Human Development Report, more than one billion people in the world do not have access to clean water and over two billion people do not have adequate sanitation.  This is an ongoing problem in the rural Philippines where rough mountainous terrain makes fetching water an arduous task. The mission of the Northwestern University Ram Pump Team is to provide the rural villagers of Tress Hermanos access to clean running water and sanitation through the implementation of a RAM pump system. The team will be working in conjunction with NGOS Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation Inc-AIDFI and Green Empowerment. AIDFI is an NGO based in the Philippines with over 17 years of experience in ram pump technology and has been utilizing their own (see Figure 1) to improve the lives of many Filipinos. My role on the ram pump team is to 1)offer a solution to a flaw in the currently used model; 2) visit a village where installation is taking place in order to develop appropriate technology and best practices; 3) use data collected from the trip to finalize the model and recommend long-term solutions to the problem. During Spring Quarter, I will design the mechanism itself. This summer our team will travel to Tres Hermanos to assist with the installation of the pump and training local residents to use and repair the pump. My project this summer will be to assess the effectiveness of the unjamming mechanism in the field to develop strategies for improving the ease of use and repair. This research will contribute to the further improvement of the design and help promote Ram pump technology as a safe and cost-effective solution to clean water delivery in developing areas.

“Ice Prevention on High Voltage Power Lines”

Every year, winter brings freezing temperatures and powerful storms to central and northern portions of the U.S.  In particular, ice storms can potentially be very damaging to high-voltage electric power transmission and distribution lines.  Under severe conditions of freezing rain, high-voltage power lines within an entire geographical region can be crushed under the weight of accumulated ice.  Such damage can take weeks to repair, and it can cause significant social and economic disruptions for the people served by the downed power lines.  This investigation looks at methods of preventing destructive ice-buildup on power lines.  By experimenting with different combinations of chemical treatments and sound waves, I hope to find a method that at least significantly delays ice-buildup.  I also hope to be able to present a complete proof of concept at the end of the quarter.  The research I will be conducting is extremely important, as it approaches the issue from directions not yet tested.  In addition, even a minimally successful solution could save companies and people millions of dollars, while increasing people’s safety during the winter.

“The Redeemers Were Believers: Political Opposition to Reconstruction in the Journals of Southern Baptists”

There is a glaring gap in the narrative of American religious history regarding the role of religion during Reconstruction, the period following the Civil War (1865-1877) in which the South underwent drastic political, social, and economic change. Despite the extensive work that historians have done on religious life in the South, there has been surprisingly little research on the interplay between the Christian beliefs of white Southern Democrats and the virulent political and racial arguments that they made against “Yankee rule” in the South. I seek to bridge this historiographical gap by examining three Southern Baptist newspapers published during Reconstruction: the Christian Index, the Religious Herald, and the South Carolina Baptist. I will analyze the publications of each of these journals in search of commentary on, and specifically criticism of, Northern interference in Southern life. Through this research, I hope to make sense of how Southerners’ political discourse intersected with the Southern Protestant imagination. The findings of my work will trace the historical roots of the profound impact that religion has on contemporary American politics, particularly in the South.