Temperamental snails and crazy hours:

 

In the final few weeks of the semester snails began laying rapidly once exposed to the increased temperatures inside our lab which is kept at approximately 23 degrees Celsius. However, snail laying occurred so rapidly in the first couple of days that I was not able to test the effects of mudsnails on substrate laying in a controlled setting. Despite this, I was able to make some observations about the mud snail laying in our aquaria. Mud snails preferred the glass walls of the container (an unnatural substrate) over all natural shell substrate at the bottom  of the aquarium. Additionally, when eelgrass was added to this aquarium mud snails did not lay on the grass, but eelgrass was added several days after the laying pulse. This experience served as a lesson for the importance of timing and scheduling in science, especially when working with living systems. If I had better prepared the experiment directly after the snails were collected, I may have been able to successfully run the experiment. As of now, the data from my summer research supports that mud snail laying preference for eelgrass is robust to changes in temperature and may not be greatly affected by climate change.

Final Thoughts

Summary:

This semester, I initially wanted to explore the incidence of cloning in brittle star larvae, specifically in the daisy brittlestar, Ophiopholis aculeata. Larval cloning is a phenomenon found in many echinoderm species, but is least studied in brittle stars. My goal was to learn more about what induces cloning in brittle stars, to help better understand why they clone. Due to complications with spawning the adult brittle stars, I ended up changing projects to focus on the effects of different fluorescent stains on brood star larvae from the species Leptasterias tenera. 

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Research in the 11th hour: Snail Collecting and Egg Laying

 

With my student research grant I set out to test the inhibitory effects of mud snails on eelgrass in the context of climate change. Specifically, I wanted to see if mud snails change their oviposition preferences with increasing temperature. Two weeks ago my advisor and I went to Cape Charles on the eastern shore of VA to collect mud snails. While there, I noticed something interesting. Mud snails laid all over an oak leaf that fell into the intertidal. Mud snails typically show a strong preference for eelgrass which is an angiosperm. Because oak trees are also angiosperms it would be interesting to test if mud snails can distinguish between the two. After we returned from Cape Charles, we brought the snails into the lab and heated them up to warmer temperatures to cue their laying. Now I’ve set up a system to give mud snails the choice of a substrates and measure their laying preferences. I’m excited to measure to continue forward with this project during my last couple weeks at W&M.

“Progress, in Memory”: The Choreographic Process

As the president of Orchesis Modern Dance Company, I choreographed the finale of the company’s spring performance, An Evening of Dance. The finale, “Progress, in Memory,” comprised all 26 company members and totaled about 11 and a half minutes in length. The variety of modern dance classes I’ve taken at the college, and the Orchesis performances in which I’ve both danced and choreographed, formed the foundations of my choreographic experience. Last year, I jointly choreographed a piece with another member of Orchesis. This year, choreographing alone allowed me the chance to develop my individual movement aesthetic further.
“Progress, in Memory” explores the evolution of industrial and technological innovation in society by examining the dichotomy between industrial and technological advancement and human connection with nature. The soft movement and classical music in the first half of the piece emulate simplicity, harmony, and a slower-paced life while the synthetic music in the second half reflects a fast-paced society in which technology is central. When I first started conceptualizing themes and motifs, I hoped to bring to the forefront the sacrifices we’ve made for industrial progress and recall a time and a feeling in which harmony with nature was a priority. For example, in December, about a third of the way into the choreographic process, I wanted the audience to leave the performance nostalgic for a pristine earth, and wary of the grip of technological change. In February I changed my mind. I wanted An Evening of Dance to end on a more optimistic note. In the end “Progress, in Memory” became a forward-looking representation of the impact of increasing technological advancement on humanity. By comparing and contrasting periods of idyllic stability with those of rapid modernization, I attempted to emphasize that innovation need not diminish beauty, goodness, or the natural world.
Matching thematic concepts to movement and formations constituted the bulk of the choreographic process. I found that fluid and graceful arm movement best articulated the harmony, beauty, and purity that is associated with unspoiled land. As a result, a common element throughout the first half of the piece is intricate arm movement that creates rounded and wave-like shapes. I also played with action and reaction–one part of the body initiates a movement, which causes a reaction from another body part. This kind of organic “call and response” movement communicated messages of peace, balance, and accord. Oppositely, when calling to mind industrialization, assembly lines, technological advancement, I employed sharp, staccato movement and unison group work. In this way, the second half of the piece is mechanical, robotic.
C0stumes accounted for the final component of “Progress, In Memory.” Thanks to the generosity of the Charles Center I executed my idea of incorporating a costume change into the piece. The costumes in the first half of the piece consisted of loose “flowy” earth-toned tunics over a black leotard and black shorts. After the second piece of music, the dancers took off their tunics, and finished the rest of the performance in the sleek black leotard and tights. The costume-change manifested the dichotomy between technological advancement and purity of nature, completing my vision.
In choreographing the finale for An Evening of Dance, I found my creative voice. A three-pronged approach colored my experience. In one way, I drew from traditional movements learned in modern class–contractions, under-curves, Horton technique–and then distorted it to fit my aesthetic. In another way, I watched videos of my dance inspirations, choreographers such as Emma Portner, companies like Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and tried to emulate their movement quality. Finally, I took an improvisational approach where I improvised to the finale music and then extracted movements I liked. Finding my voice filled the experience with personal value, and rendered the piece wholly unique.

The Research Rollercoaster

My research project has seen many twists and turns this semester, but things are finally starting to look up.

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Paper Archives in a Digital World: Researching at the American Association for the Advancement of Science Headquarters

Photo taken by author.

Photo taken by author.

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VIMS Research Project: Part 2

Project Results… Sort Of

So the rollercoaster that has been my research experiment continues. A few months ago, I ran my experiment (see the previous post for details) and got some unusual results. For some reason, when we did the plaque assay and stained the cells, we didn’t see clear, countable plaques. Instead, for most of the wells, there was a strange, “flushed-out” looking morphology. It appeared that there were areas that might be plaques, but they weren’t circular and distinct enough to count. Even the positive control exhibited this strange result. So, unfortunately, this meant that we weren’t able to get the data we needed to support or discount the hypothesis. But we didn’t stop there!

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A Rush of Participants at the Semester’s End

In this last week of classes, my calendar is adorned with different colors. Each one signifies a specific subject that needs attention—work, classes, fundraisers, etc. Sprinkled throughout is a theme of turquoise, a color that reminds me that the Healthy Beginnings Project will be seeing many family participants in the days ahead! Our flyer distribution in the Williamsburg area proved successful; our email inbox, Tribe Responses interest form, and our phone voicemail were met with many mothers who wanted to learn more about the study and sign up with their children. Thanks to funds from the Vice Provost Grant, I was able to ensure that we would have enough gift cards to compensate all of the upcoming participants.

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The Search for Participants

Since May of 2018 I have been involved in the Healthy Beginnings Project, a group of professionals and students whose work focuses on improving child outcomes, especially of children whose mothers are incarcerated. With this focus in mind and practice, Healthy Beginnings team members have established and been involved in various projects. I have been particularly focused on our current study on the William & Mary campus. In the study, mothers and their children ages four to six answer questions about their family and home environment, and participate in a discussion task while observed by research assistants. As a research assistant, I am prepared to run participants through the study. However, preparedness is not enough; one needs participants to run a study!

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La memoria histórica right outside of Madrid

After a quick four days in Torremocha de Jarama, I still cannot believe I was there, let alone that I am now back at William and Mary. It was a whirlwind of a trip, and I am glad to be writing this because everything happened so fast that I have yet to get a chance to reflect on my experience.

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