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Research and Discovery Toad

Research and Discovery

by Sean Patterson

Students pursue their intellectual passions through the Richter Scholars program

They are future scientists, doctors, psychologists, and artists — two dozen students who pour their time and brainpower into projects that extend far beyond themselves. Their quests are to better understand our world, and even to improve it.

Richter Scholars have researched everything from the social — alcoholism, racial stereotypes, reading disorders — to the scientific — natural protective mechanisms of the heart, the harvesting of anticancer agents, and cellular processes of plants when fighting viruses.

These select undergraduate and graduate students design and conduct their research projects independently, guided by faculty mentors. The scholars, who needed GPAs of 3.4 or higher to apply, received grants ranging from $300 to $4,000 to fund their projects.

Funds distributed this year totaled more than $84,000. The grants are awarded through the Paul K. Richter and Evalyn E. C. Richter Memorial Funds. This marks the fifth year George Fox received funding for the program.

Kristina Tucker

Kristina Tucker, senior, biology

Modulation of mitoKatp channel activity during acute temperature changes in amphibian cardiac mitochondria

Kristina Tucker’s research investigated the possibility of developing a preventative treatment for those at risk of heart failure.

Scientists have discovered a natural protective mechanism, ischemic preconditioning (IPC), that subjects the heart to brief periods of ischemia — a condition when tissues receive insufficient oxygen because of reduced, absent, or ineffective blood flow. Remarkably, these brief periods can actually protect the heart if it experiences a large attack — the reasons for which are still unclear.

For her project, Tucker turned to an unlikely source: toads. Her goal was to find out if toad heart mitochondria do have the IPC-related potassium channels, and if so, what can be learned about the IPC process by manipulating them. Her conclusion — that the channels exist in amphibians and can be chemically treated to open and close — encouraged Tucker.

“An understanding of how IPC operates in amphibians may yield insight into the mechanism of IPC in mammalian hearts, and the chemical agents I used may be useful in developing a preventative drug for people with cardiac ailments,” says Tucker.

Lia LaBrant

Lia LaBrant, senior, biology and history

Determination of Taxol: soil extractions and high-performance liquid chromatography

Lia LaBrant only had to visit her Vancouver, Wash., backyard to find the cancer-fighting chemical that inspired her Richter research project. Common in her region is the Pacific yew tree, an evergreen from which Taxol, an anticancer agent, is harvested. LaBrant wanted to determine if the soil surrounding its roots — and the plants and fungi that grew in it — are a viable source of the chemical.

If Taxol can be extracted from plants and fungi — and if the gene can be manipulated to produce more Taxol in known sources — the expensive compound could be made available to a greater number of cancer patients at a more affordable price.

LaBrant said further trials this spring should help her determine if the same genes acting in the plant are acting in the fungus — and if those genes can be introduced into non-Taxol-producing species to cause them to produce Taxol as well.

Travis Lund

Travis Lund, senior, chemistry

Molecular mission

Travis Lund, a senior chemistry major and former Richter scholar, was one of eight American students selected for the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates “ThaiREU” program, organized by the University of California-Santa Cruz.

The Americans spent 10 weeks at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, pairing off with eight Thai students to tackle specific scientific experiments.

Lund and his research partner were charged with the task of creating a new, or “novel,” molecule with very specific properties. To do so, they combined various liquid and solid compounds in a specific sequence to custom-build the molecule. Their project was titled “Synthesis of a Heteroditopic Receptor from Calix[4]arene.”

Among the practical applications of this successful project is the potential to create a compound whose binding capabilities could be used to extract toxins from the body or nuclear waste from the environment.

Kirk Grover

Kirk Grover, senior, cinema and media communication

“Legend” (film)

Communication arts professor Raymond Anderson calls it the most ambitious film project a George Fox student has ever undertaken. For Kirk Grover, the release of his movie, tentatively titled Legend, is the culmination of a yearlong process — and, he hopes, the springboard to a career in the filmmaking industry.

Grover, who graduated in December with a degree in cinema and communications, used Richter Scholarship funds to write, direct, and produce the film, an action-adventure picture about a family’s struggle to preserve the secret of an ancient, mysterious wooden box that may contain a deadly virus.

The project’s sheer scope — from the unprecedented hiring of professional actors to the myriad of shoot locations — sets it apart from previous George Fox student films, Anderson says.

Grover began filming in October. The Richter grant allowed him to cast professionals in the four lead roles and assemble a crew of 14. Shoots took place in and around Newberg, including the SP Newsprint paper mill, with its steam pipes and a bubbling lake serving as the ideal hideout for the film’s villain.

The movie is scheduled for presentation at the annual Fox Film Festival this spring. Grover, 23, hopes to show it at other student and independent festivals.

He began writing the script for Legend last spring. It tells the story of a Japanese father and son who inherit the box and move to the United States in an effort to prevent a villain and his henchmen from stealing it and unleashing its potentially deadly contents on the world.

“While there is action, the focus is really on the relationship between the father and son,” Grover says. “The father doesn’t believe the son is strong enough to handle the responsibility of being a guardian of the box, and the son sees a father whose love is attached to the box.”

Ultimately, Grover hopes to make films that integrate his faith in Christ.

“Hollywood is definitely a mission field,” says Grover, now a promotions assistant at The Fish radio station in Portland. “If God opened the door, I’d love to go down there and make movies with positive, inspirational messages.”

Jonathan Woodhouse

Jonathan Woodhouse, doctor of psychology student

CIAT: Measuring success in the management of chronic pain

Can people ease their pain by learning to control the body’s involuntary responses? Jonathan Woodhouse’s research addressed this question through a Richter Scholarship-funded trip to New York.

Woodhouse, a second-year clinical psychology graduate student, measured patients’ responses to relaxation techniques during a six-week research rotation at New York University Medical Center’s Pain Management Clinic. Using a computerized biofeedback system, he analyzed whether or not a patient can learn to influence functions of the autonomic nervous system — the division of the nervous system that is not consciously controlled.

The study analyzed the hospital experiences of two groups of women who underwent major surgery requiring incisions in the lower abdomen. After surgery, one group received standard pain management care while the other received the same care — and a biofeedback system at their bedside that relayed information about the patients’ bodily systems to them.

Woodhouse and his clinic colleagues discovered that those who used the biofeedback system rated their pain lower and considered their overall hospital experience as better than those who did not receive the device.

Woodhouse said the results support preliminary evidence that suggests that biofeedback may be a viable medical tool for managing postoperative pain without increasing side effects. The NYC clinic recently reported that 30 patients have completed the research project to date.

The project was presented at the annual conference of the American Academy of Pain Medicine in San Diego in February. The project also was accepted for presentation at the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback in Portland in April. An abstract also will appear in the AAPB’s professional journal.

Joshua Gerdes

Joshua Gerdes, junior, electrical engineering

Automatic guitar tuner

His passion for playing guitar gave engineering major Joshua Gerdes the ideal Richter project: construction of an automatic electromechanical guitar tuner. The final device would clip onto the headstock of a guitar and uses circuits, signals, statics, and signal processing to tune each of the instrument’s six strings with the touch of a button. His goal was to make a prototype of such a device.

Unlike conventional tuners, which rely on audio signals from each string and then the user to tune by hand accordingly, Gerdes’ prototype tunes any string via a control circuit and motor. The device uses a mathematical algorithm, the Fast Fourier Transform, to distinguish the different frequencies present in each signal. A circuit relays the information to a computer that controls the motor, which makes the appropriate adjustment for each string.

“The project was a success and the prototype worked exactly as I hoped,” says Gerdes, a resident of Silverton, Ore. The project has yet one issue to resolve: the need to reduce the power consumption of the tuner.

Victoria Black & Marylesa Wilde

Victoria Black, junior, chemistry

Adsorption of hemoglobin to silica

Marylesa Wilde, senior, mathematics

Orientation and mechanisms of the adsorption of hemoglobin to fused silica

What to do about plaque build-up on teeth — and what can be done to prevent protein from ruining contact lenses? Research by Marylesa Wilde (left) and Victoria Black may help answer such questions.

Wilde and Black used Richter funds to study the adsorption and desorption process of hemoglobin, the component of red blood cells that carries oxygen. Adsorption occurs when a substance accumulates on the surface of a solid, forming a molecular film.

Proteins do not desorb easily — plaque on teeth is a prime example — and Wilde and Black wanted to see if proteins could desorb completely. To find out, Wilde treated hemoglobin with chemicals and used a laser to monitor the rate of adsorption and desorption on a prism that the laser passed through. She discovered that the chemicals she mixed with hemoglobin had a great impact on how it adsorbed and desorbed, especially at different pH levels.

“Proteins are not well understood, and finding that an increase in pH allows us to desorb most of the hemoglobin may lead to some understanding of the mechanism in which the proteins are adsorbing and desorbing,” she says.

Black, meanwhile, used mirrors and lasers to measure hemoglobin’s absorption of light. Her experiment dealt with how hemoglobin, in solution, stuck to a silica surface and if that changed when the pH of the solution was changed.   GFJ

Richter roster

Other 2005-06 research projects

  • Jeff Anderson - Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) - “Perception of success and its impact on learned helplessness associated with reading disorder”
  • Sirgiy Barsukov -PsyD • “Validation of Interpreter Competency Exam — Mental Health”
  • Lindsey Blankenship -Psychology • “The development of racial stereotypes”
  • Joseph Bruce -Computer Science • “A fault-tolerant communication protocol for client-server implementation”
  • Brett Copeland -PsyD • “Outcome and process measure feedback as they affect therapy outcome”
  • Chris Fisher -PsyD • “D-Kefs: is it an ecologically valid measure of executive functioning in children?”
  • Katie Fruhauff -PsyD • “Exploring the impact of rural and urban settings on therapist self-disclosure”
  • Robert Hansen -PsyD • “The difference in experience of alcoholism among alcoholics”
  • Whittney Harris -Chemistry • “Exploration of phase-separated mixed binary systems”
  • Emily Hazel -Cognitive Science • “Location of brain activity in color-word vs. color-block Stroop tasks”
  • Rachel Kirschenmann -Psychology • “Impact of nutrition and health factors on memory and attention”
  • Georgia Lemen -Chemistry • “Development of an experiment to demonstrate the Robinson Annulation reaction”
  • Perla Rodriquez -Education • “Impact of extended day kindergarten on Latino families”
  • Christopher Roenicke -Psychology • “Religious beliefs in relation to locus control”
  • Jessica Royer -Biology • “Investigation of protein-protein interactions between arabidopsis thaliana and the 3a gene product of spring beauty latent virus”
  • Alexandra Salter -Chemistry • “The effect of amide orientation in self-assembled monolayers”
  • Kevin Schiedler -Mechanical Engineering • “Construction of schlieren photography system”

In good company

Institutions currently receiving Richter Memorial Fund grants

  • California Institute of Technology
  • Claremont Graduate University
  • Dartmouth College
  • George Fox University
  • Knox College
  • Northwestern University
  • Occidental College
  • Southern Methodist University
  • University of Chicago
  • Wake Forest University
  • Yale University

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