Join us in Gather.Town on Tuesday, April 13th for an interactive poster presentation session.  Presenters will be attending their posters during the 1-2 p.m. hour, but the room is open for browsing at any time.

You may also browse the image gallery and the abstracts below for an overview of the various posters that will be presented.

Many courses at Whitman have enrollments that are too large to comply with COVID-19 social distancing policies in rooms designed as lecture halls. With the return to in-person instruction, rooms not designed as lecture halls are now in use. The acoustics in many of these rooms are very poor for understanding the spoken word. To help remedy this problem, I measured the acoustics inside various rooms on campus and modeled the rooms to learn how they could be modified to approximate the acoustics in lecture halls. I measured parameters such as speech clarity, reverberation time and sound-pressure-level distribution in the rooms. I then analyzed the measurements of rooms designed for lectures and compared them to the rooms that need acoustical improvement in order to provide information about how these rooms should be modified.
Faculty Sponsor: Kurt Hoffman
Research Funding Source: Faculty-Student Summer Research Award

Coxsackievirus B3 (CVB3) infects the heart, where it causes inflammation and permanent structural modifications. This can progress to heart failure and sudden death, especially when paired with exercise. Males are more susceptible to these conditions than females, and have thus been the focus of most CVB3 research. This scarcity of data for females makes it challenging to understand mechanisms of female cardioprotection against CVB3. Mitochondria, responsible for cellular energy production, operate in the heart to fuel contraction. Damaged mitochondria are removed through a process called mitophagy, which increases in response to energetic stress such as exercise and heart infection. Recent research suggests that CVB3 hijacks mitophagy mechanisms to promote viral proliferation, especially in males. My work characterizes sex differences in mitophagy-related gene expression in response to exercise and CVB3, providing further insight into the mechanisms that underlie female cardioprotection against CVB3 infection and exercise-induced heart failure.
Faculty Sponsor: Brit Moss
Research Funding Sources: Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, National Institutes of Health

Wolves were exterminated from Yellowstone National Park in the early 1900s, allowing elk to over-browse vegetation and outcompete beavers. Other researchers have proposed that the loss of vegetation and decrease in beaver populations have caused unprecedented stream incision and channel widening over the past ~70 years. To understand the long-term history of stream behavior, I used a morphostratigraphic approach to determine when and why streams have incised along Blacktail Deer Creek, prior to the 20th century. I quantified the morphology of both modern and paleochannels using a LiDAR-derived digital elevation model in ArcGIS. Paleochannels occur throughout the study area and I found that modern channel morphology is not significantly different than that of the paleochannels. These results indicate that recent incision is not unprecedented, and that natural variability has caused channel incision prior to the 20th century.
Faculty Sponsor: Lyman Persico
Research Funding Sources: Faculty-Student Summer Research Award, Keck Geology Consortium

Disgust, a basic emotion that evolved for pathogen avoidance, has the potential to interfere with everyday life when one experiences too much of the emotion. Disgust may play a role in sexual dysfunction in those identified as female at birth by disrupting sexual arousal and causing pain during penetration. In a large sample at the University of British Columbia, we used a mouse-based alternative to eye-tracking to measure arousal before and after a disgust induction. Exploratory analysis examined gender differences in the effects of disgust on arousal. We predicted that individuals view erotic images less after the disgust induction. Our findings support the connection between disgust and sexual arousal posited in recent theories regarding sexual dysfunction.
Faculty Sponsor: Tom Armstrong

Boron clusters are a unique family of chemical compounds of particular interest to chemists due to their electronic and thermodynamic stability. This leads them to have a wide range of potential applications including but not limited to service as new materials for optics, action as some of the world's strongest acids, roles in treating cancer, and operating as molecular rotors. However, current applications of boron clusters are limited, largely due to the difficulty in the synthesis of boron cluster derivatives. The aim of my work is to develop new methods for preparing useful boron cluster derivatives. I present my senior thesis research, which focuses on developing a method for one-step conversion of a cyano group on the B-terminus of the CB11 cluster into an ester, a structure that could serve as a potential linking site for attaching boron clusters to biologically active molecules in drugs.
Faculty Sponsor: Mark Juhasz
Research Funding Source: National Science Foundation

Sulfite oxidase (SO), an enzyme that catalyzes the oxidation of sulfites to sulfates, can be found in the mitochondria of all eukaryotic organisms, including humans. Sulfite oxidase deficiency, a rare but deadly genetic neurological disease, demonstrates the dangers of an excess of toxic sulfites in organisms that lack SO. As of now, there are no reliable computational models of the reaction center capturing all important interactions in SO necessary for the oxidation of sulfite. A robust model will allow us to study the mechanism and the mutational effects in SO. In building this model, our goal is to include all essential protein interactions around the reaction center. This research raises questions about the importance of the complex network of weak interactions, which is challenging to study with experimental methods. Here I will highlight our findings using computational models.
Faculty Sponsor: Dalia Biswas
Research Funding Sources: Faculty-Student Summer Research Award, National Science Foundation

In 2018, a total of 259 million antibiotics prescriptions were filled in the US, and a large quantity of these were excreted and flushed into sewers. Common Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) removal methods such as Conventional Activated Sludge (CAS) do not efficiently remove antibiotics, resulting in their release into the environment. While the effects of long-term, low-dosage exposure on wildlife are not sufficiently understood, we do know that exposure to antibiotics leads to an increase in antibiotic resistant microbes. The World Health Organization has declared antibiotic resistant microbes to be “one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today,” so optimizing removal methods is extremely important. My research explores the reasons why CAS is not an efficient removal method for antibiotics and reviews alternative WWTP removal methods, such as powdered activated carbon, ozonation, and ultraviolet light.
Faculty Sponsor: Marion Götz

Proteins play a vital role in biology, catalyzing reactions as enzymes and performing other cellular operations. Crystallization is a common way of determining protein structure. Because of this, understanding the material science of nanoporous protein crystals could lead to a better understanding of proteins and other macromolecules. In this project, I build algorithms for modeling protein crystal elasticity using current theories of soil consolidation. My objective is to use these models to predict how nanoporous crystals react to changes in temperature.
Faculty Sponsor: Douglas Juers

Eelgrasses, aquatic grass-like plants that grow in shallow coastal marine ecosystems, are especially important in estuaries, where they provide habitat, cycle nutrients and stabilize sediments. Padilla Bay in Washington state hosts one of the largest eelgrass beds in the contiguous U.S., qualifying it for protection and research. My project aims to identify accurate, time-efficient methods for estimating eelgrass coverage across Padilla Bay. I measured eelgrass percent cover, canopy height and shoot density at three tidal elevations at two sites in the bay. I compared the speed and accuracy of using point-intercept versus visual estimate methods of determining percent cover, quantifying each method by examining correlations of percent cover with height and shoot density data. My findings reveal that the point-intercept method is faster and yields data with more significant correlations between height and shoot density measurements, suggesting that this method should be prioritized in future monitoring projects in Padilla Bay.
Faculty Sponsor: Heidi Dobson
Research Funding Source: Whitman Internship Grant

Between February 5-8, 2020, an atmospheric river delivered 3-6 inches of precipitation to the Blue Mountains of Washington and Oregon. The rainfall and snowmelt runoff triggered both flooding and landslides. In order to determine the environmental controls on such landslides, I mapped and analyzed the location of landslide scars in the Walla Walla and Tucannon River basins. I compared satellite imageries taken on July 23, 2019 and July 21, 2020 to identify landslide scars. I found evidence of 41 landslides in the Walla Walla River basin and 18 in the Tucannon River basin. I compared landslide locations to slope aspect, slope steepness, and elevation. I found that landslides were preferentially located on north-facing slopes above 800 meters. This is likely the result of already wetter north-facing slopes becoming saturated by rain water infiltration and snow melt, leading to slope failure.
Faculty Sponsor: Lyman Persico

Silver nanoparticles receive significant attention in the field of nanoscience due to their unique optical properties. Unlike the bulk material, nano-sized silver demonstrates localized surface plasmon resonance (LSPR), a phenomenon where the interaction between light and electrons is greatly enhanced, resulting in particularly strong absorbances across visible wavelengths. Silver nanoparticles have found important applications in biological imaging, catalysis, and as an anti-bacterial agent. While the synthesis of silver nanoparticles has been well studied thanks to their extensive utility, there are a number of open questions regarding the influence that supramolecular interactions among the precursors has on the shape and size of the nanoparticles. We have developed a high-throughput automated system for silver nanoparticle synthesis and used it to optimize a simplified reaction using ascorbic acid as the reducing agent and sodium citrate as the stabilizing agent; this will enable further studies into the effects of supramolecular interactions.
Faculty Sponsor: Mark Hendricks
Research Funding Sources: Faculty-Student Summer Research Award, M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust

Semiconductor PN junctions are a fundamental part of many electronic devices, including diodes, transistors, LEDs, and solar cells. Accurate modeling of PN junctions is important for understanding their behavior and proposing more advanced designs for semiconductor devices. However, the equations that describe the distribution of charge carriers and electric potential within the junction are highly nonlinear and difficult to solve. We explore two numerical methods for solving the equations: Newton’s Method and Multiple Shooting Method for two-point boundary value problems. We discuss the basic physics of a PN junction and compare possible advantages and disadvantages of the Newton’s Method and Shooting Method approaches. We also discuss applications to modern semiconductor devices such as thin-film and perovskite solar cells.
Faculty Sponsor: Barbara Sanborn

In recent years, the scientific community and general public have become increasingly aware of our impact on the natural world, sparking a desire to develop industrial processes that are more environmentally friendly. Chemists have answered this call with the implementation of “green” alternatives to traditional synthetic methods. Biocatalysis, the use of enzymes to catalyze reactions, has garnered particular interest. Benzoate dioxygenase (BZDO), expressed in the mutant soil bacteria Ralstonia eutropha B9, catalyzes the regio- and stereoselective cis-dihydroxylation of benzoate to form an ipso,ortho-dihydrodiol, showcasing the utility of biocatalysis in performing traditionally challenging synthetic transformations. This metabolite has proven useful as a synthetic building block and further functionalized diols can be accessed through use of non-native substituted benzoate substrates. Our research explores this possibility using quantitative 1H-NMR spectroscopy to screen mono-substituted benzoates, allowing us to better understand the impact of substrate electronic and steric properties on enzymatic activity and selectivity.
Faculty Sponsor: Jon Collins
Research Funding Sources: Faculty-Student Summer Research Award, M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust

The Garry Oak ecosystem, extending from California to British Columbia, includes intermixed grasslands and woodlands and is of high conservation value given that human activity has greatly diminished its area. Little research has been conducted on the native insect fauna or their interactions with native flora. In 1996, Layla Dudley ‘98 conducted a flower-insect community study in the Garry Oak ecosystem in Washington's Klickitat County during peak bloom (May-June), collecting approximately 500 insects on 13 plant species. Insects were not identified beyond order and family levels. I aimed to identify all of Dudley’s specimens, excluding bees, and to summarize her findings in light of these new data. Overall, 416 specimens were identified to 90 different species in 43 families and five orders. The flower-insect association findings provide foundation for future replicate studies, allowing documentation of changes in insect fauna from vegetation and climate change, and provide guidance in conservation efforts.
Faculty Sponsor: Heidi Dobson
Research Funding Source: Faculty-Student Summer Research Award

Prehistorically, people of Alaska carved household tools from rocks -- mostly slate. Ulu is an Inuit word that translates as "woman’s tool." The Unangan civilization (Aleuts) in the late Aleutian phase (1000-200 BP) adopted the use of ulus. Paradoxically, there is no slate widely present on the Aleutian Islands; instead, fine-grained volcanic rocks are abundant. I studied ulus that had been excavated on the Tanaxtaxak Spit, Unalaska, where volcanic rocks are common; Kodiak, the proximal source of slate, is approximately 880 kilometers away. These samples were previously classified as slate based on visual analysis, but it is implied that this identification is inaccurate; aphyric volcanic rocks and silicified argillite both visually resemble slate. Using a scanning electron microscope, I investigated the microtextures and minerals of these ulus to determine whether they are slate, volcanic rock or argillite. Determining rock type will guide inferences related to prehistoric inter-island trade and migration.
Faculty Sponsor: Kirsten Nicolaysen
Research Funding Source: Abshire Student Research Scholar Award

This past summer I worked with Walla Walla Child Advocates, a volunteer-based organization that provides fact-based advocacy for children entering the foster system. Research indicates that children do best if placed with a relative, defined as someone related either by blood or through a close relationship to the child. However, barriers such as time limitations and money make it difficult for relatives to obtain licenses. There are many ways to address these obstacles. I will discuss several of them, from lifting certain requirements to increasing support for caregivers.
Faculty Sponsor: Melissa Clearfield
Research Funding Source: Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, everyday decisions have become tests of people’s risky decision-making abilities. Research indicates that both internal and situational factors interact to influence risky decisions. Our study examines stress as a situational factor and the personality traits of neuroticism and conscientiousness as internal factors. Participants completed the Big Five Inventory, after which half of the group was subjected to a stress manipulation. Finally, all participants completed a measure assessing their COVID-19-related decisions. We hypothesize that people under stress are more likely to make risky decisions; that high neuroticism individuals are more likely to make risky decisions; and that high conscientiousness individuals are less likely to make risky decisions. We also predict that these outcomes interact. Our study will provide a better understanding of what causes differences in people’s decision-making, providing insight into the lack of regard for COVID-19 precautions demonstrated by some people.
Faculty Sponsor: Stephen Michael

Presence of the macroalga Sargassum has recently increased in the Caribbean, and this influx of algal biomass poses a threat to local seagrass communities. Seagrass beds are ecologically and economically important as essential habitats for key marine species. Sargassum masses have been shown to critically reduce light intensity over the beds, affecting seagrass growth. Over the course of two months, I evaluated effects of three Sargassum treatments: shading, debris and the combination of both factors. Through analysis of light intensity, growth indicators and epiphyte loads, I found that light intensity differed greatly across treatments; control beds received the most light while shading, debris, and shading/debris treatments saw 20.1%, 69.4%, and 80.3% reductions in light intensity, respectively. Shoot density decreased significantly under debris treatment and new leaf production was significantly slower in all Sargassum treatments. I conclude that Sargassum-induced shading and debris may have a negative impact on seagrass growth.
Faculty Sponsor: Susanne Altermann
Off-Campus Studies Program: The School for Field Studies: Turks and Caicos Marine Resource Studies

Plant-insect associations are severely understudied in the Walla Walla area. Insects visiting 20 species of fall-blooming flowers near Walla Walla Community College were collected by Whitman students between 1993-2008, but had been identified only to order and family. My goal was to identify these insect specimens (excluding bees) to the level of species, and to examine the data for patterns in species richness. Of the most common plants, I found that goldenrod (Euthamia occidentalis) received the most insect visitors with a total of 60 species, followed by wild sunflower (Helianthus annuus) with 47 species. The order Diptera (flies) was best represented, with 50 species, followed by Hemiptera (true bugs) with 37 species. Insects visited these flowers for different purposes; the list included pollinators, predators and parasites. My findings serve as a reference for future investigations into flower-insect associations and provide a valuable representation of the local flower-visiting insect fauna.
Faculty Sponsor: Heidi Dobson
Research Funding Source: Faculty-Student Summer Research Award

Whitman’s trees have long provided support for hammock straps, shade from the unforgiving summer sun, and magnificent seasonal colors, from Maxey’s flowering dogwoods in the spring to scattered maples in the fall. Unsurprisingly, their services go far beyond what meets the eye. As we pass long days in the library, our giant colleagues are working busily beside us to sequester carbon dioxide. Using volumetric equations that consider tree height, diameter at breast height (DBH), and age, I estimate total yearly carbon dioxide sequestered by Whitman’s trees. Every year, these workhorses absorb 22,249 pounds. This is enough to counteract emissions produced on the round-trip drive from Walla Walla to Seattle 52 times in a vehicle averaging 25 miles per gallon. Adjacent to these calculations, my poster includes campus tree maps and key data including mean height, age, and health.
Faculty Sponsor: Amy Molitor

Auxin is a growth hormone that plays an important role in plant developmental processes. In corn plants, ear development is highly dependent on auxin. Corn cells detect and respond to auxin with two important proteins: receptors and repressors. Manipulating sequences in both the repressors and receptors allows us to identify important regions that contribute to the fast degradation of repressors; these are called “rate motifs.” Using a synthetic auxin signaling system built in yeast cells, we have identified two important regions in corn auxin repressors that tune how fast repressors degrade. Ongoing work is focused on identifying rate motifs in other repressors, as well as in corn auxin receptors. Understanding the full capacity of the auxin signaling pathway in corn may assist plant scientists in enhancing the agricultural utility of this valuable crop species.
Faculty Sponsor: Brit Moss
Research Funding Source: National Science Foundation

Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to assess, express, regulate, and intentionally utilize one’s emotions. The ability to understand one’s emotions and process them in a healthy manner contributes greatly to one’s overall mental health. Previous research indicates that individuals experiencing depression, one of the most common psychological disorders, are significantly more likely to have low EI. While many studies confirm this connection, more research is needed to understand which components of EI have the largest impact on symptoms of depression, and vice versa. Our study examines relations between two EI components (emotional clarity and emotional regulation) and three primary depression symptoms (negative affect, anhedonia, and low self- esteem), as well as additional lifestyle choices. If we discover that components of EI and depression are in fact intertwined, these findings could inform use of EI training programs to lessen the likelihood of developing depression.
Faculty Sponsor: Tom Armstrong

The literature supporting theories of student engagement demonstrate that student engagement co-develops with individual development. Student engagement reflects and facilitates the successful navigation of developmental milestones. Conversely, disengaged students are at risk of failing to meet the challenges of early adulthood. School attendance and credit obtainment are quantifiable measures of student engagement. In partnership with Lincoln High School, we evaluated institutional policies designed to improve school attendance and students’ credit obtainment. The educational philosophy at Lincoln is unique in that the pedagogy focuses on social and emotional growth to “re-engage” disengaged students. We took advantage of historically collected non-identifiable attendance data to test the effectiveness of an intervention program that targeted disengaged students. This study allowed us to demonstrate how Lincoln High’s unique socioemotional-centric pedagogy, a model of education that is still controversial, can be translated into a relationship-focused intervention for at-risk youth.
Faculty Sponsor: Erin Pahlke