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USC Dornsife students nab top prizes in 14th annual symposium

Gene Bickers, left, presents USC Dornsife undergraduates Ellen Park and Kevin Le, an award for taking first prize in the life sciences category. (Photo/Heather Cartagena)

For USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences undergraduates Ellen Park and Kevin Le, the idea of engineering a synthetic version of the E. coli immune system to learn how to defeat antibiotic resistance sparked a passion for research and two years of rigorous work in a laboratory.

During the 14th annual USC Undergraduate Symposium for Scholarly and Creative Work on April 11, they placed first in the life sciences category for their project, “Bioengineering a Mechanism to Override Plasmid-Based Antibiotic Resistance.”

“We discovered many amazing things about the bacteria in the system and were able to compare it to the human system,” said Park, a junior biology major. “We also proved that we can possibly combat antibiotic resistance in our own bodies by looking at how E. coli does it and exploiting E. coli bacterial systems.”

E. coli is a strain of bacteria commonly found in humans and animals, and while some strands are harmless, others contaminate food, causing food poisoning in humans and other illnesses, such as pneumonia.

The team worked in the lab of Sean Curran, assistant professor of biological sciences at USC Dornsife and the USC Davis School of Gerontology, who specializes in aging and age-related diseases. With further research, Park and Le’s work may lead to the engineering of a serum that could be injected in a person and destroy his or her antibiotic resistance gene or cell, Park said.

Park and Le, a sophomore double major in physics and mathematics, were part of a team that recreated a synthetic antibiotic resistance E. coli system known as Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short-Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR), a sequence of genes responsible for detecting foreign DNA and destroying it.

The USC Dornsife scholars were among 172 undergraduates across the university who competed in the symposium, which included an Undergraduate Writers’ Conference and Webfest and was sponsored by the USC Office of the Provost and coordinated by the USC Office of Undergraduate Programs. Students displayed their work in the Ronald Tutor Campus Center, where they were judged by USC professors. In all, 143 submissions were received from students and 165 faculty sponsors.

This year attracted the highest number of entries, said Gene Bickers, vice provost for undergraduate programs and professor of physics and astronomy at USC Dornsife.

“We’re seeing a larger fraction of students doing research while earning their degrees,” Bickers said. “It may be in psychology, history, engineering, the sciences or the arts, which makes for a diverse representation.”

Winners of the USC Undergraduate Symposium for Scholarly and Creative Work:


First Prize

Stacy Kwok

“Truth in Making, Craft: An Architectural Inquiry”

Faculty Adviser: Lee Olvera, USC School of Architecture

Second Prize

Tam Banh

“Revitalizing Los Angeles River — Taylor Yard Farm”

Faculty Adviser: Lawrence Scarpa, USC School of Architecture

Honorable Mention

Marcello Dolce

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Faculty Adviser: Patrick Jackson and Ann Page, USC Roski School of Fine Arts

Interdisciplinary Award

Erin Cuevas, John Farrace

“Welcome to Beautiful Juarez”

Faculty Adviser: Mario Cipresso, USC School of Architecture


First Prize

Gregory Woodburn

“Necessary of Life: Henry David Thoreau’s Concepts of America’s Problematic Progress, 1837-1862”

Faculty Advisers: Karen Halttunen and Brett Sheehan, USC Dornsife

Second Prize

Anna Bishop

“Macro-Mapping the Maya: A Large-Scale GIS Analysis of Maya Settlement Patterns in Belize”

Faculty Adviser: Lynn Swartz Dodd, USC Dornsife

Interdisciplinary Award

Anu Ramachandran

“Faith: Friend or Foe? The Rise of Faith Healing in Tanzania and Its Impact on Community Understanding of HIV”

Faculty Adviser: Erin Moore, USC Dornsife

Honorable Mention

Marrissa Emond

“The Past and Present Menstrual Practices of the Dayak of West Kutai, Borneo: An Examination in Context for Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology”

Faculty Adviser: Robert Delgado, USC Dornsife

Life Sciences

First Prize

Kevin Le, Ellen Park

“Bioengineering a Mechanism to Override Plasmid-Based Antibiotic Resistance”

Faculty Adviser: Sean Curran, USC Dornsife, USC Davis

Second Prize

Linda Peng

“Genetic and Functional Analysis of CYCP2;1 in Arabidopsis”

Faculty Adviser: Xuelin Wu, USC Dornsife

Second Prize

Sarah Waliany

“Role of Bone Morphogenetic Proteins in Promoting Metastasis of Breast Cancer Cells to the Brain”

Faculty Adviser: Rahul Jandial, USC Dornsife

Honorable Mention

Barsegh Barseghian, Mary Boyadjian

“Green Tea Polyphenols Preconditioning Against Ischemic Stroke”

Faculty Adviser: Rayudu Gopalakrishna, Keck School of Medicine of USC

Honorable Mention

Brooke Sanders

“Intra-Articular Glucocorticoid Injections as a Cause for Adrenal Insufficiency”

Faculty Adviser: John Carmichael, Pituitary Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles; and Albert Herrera, USC Dornsife

Most Innovative

First Prize

Avril Pitter, Kirsten Rice, Kristen Sharer

“Optimization of Biodiesel Production From Algae Through Ultrasonication Extraction Method”

Faculty Advisers: Stephanie Olague, Massoud Pirbazari and Varadarjan Ravindran, USC Viterbi School of Engineering

Second Prize

Stephanie Lam

“A Novel Method for Rib Periosteum Autografts in the Mouse for the Purpose of Assessing Bone Regeneration”

Faculty Adviser: Francesca Mariana, Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at USC

Honorable Mention

Lori Chen

“Architecture as a Vehicle for Social Change in Southeast Asia”

Faculty Advisers: Jinhee Choung, USC Dornsife, and James Steele,  School of Architecture

Physical Sciences and Engineering

First Prize

Hannah Gray, Aditi Yokota-Joshi

“Removal of Radioactive Uranium From Groundwater Using Nanoparticle Technology and Adsorption Mechanisms”

Faculty Advisers: Massoud Pirbazari and Varadarjan Ravindran, USC Viterbi

Second Prize

Sarah Hester, Steven Leverette, William Murray

“Thrust Augmentation of a Solid Rocket Motor by Means of Inert Gas Injection”

Faculty Advisers: Dan Erwin and Joseph Kunc, USC Viterbi

Second Prize

Jenny Zhang

“Hydrogen Generation From Formic Acid Using Ruthenium Carbonyls as Catalysts: Kinetic and Spectroscopic Study of the Reaction Mechanism”

Faculty Advisers: Miklos Czaun, Alain Goeppert, Surya Prakash, USC Dornsife

Honorable Mention

Aaron Henehan

“Deconstructing the Rebound With Optical Tracking Data”

Faculty Advisers: Yu-Han Chang, Sam Danesis, Rajiv Maheswaran, USC Viterbi

Honorable Mention

Avril Pitter, Kirsten Rice, Kristen Sharer

“Optimization of Biodiesel Production From Algae Through Ultrasonication Extraction Method”

Faculty Advisers: Stephanie Olague, Massoud Pirbazari and Varadarjan Ravindran, USC Viterbi

Social Sciences

First Prize

Lei (Lisa) Cui, Emily Gee

“Chinese and American Emotional Responses to Environmental Advertisements”

Faculty Adviser: Ann Crigler, USC Dornsife

First Prize

Adrienne Scotti

“The Effects of Database Type and Forensic Laboratory Error Rates on the Probative Value of DNA Evidence in a Cold Case”

Faculty Advisers: Richard John and Nicholas Scurich, USC Dornsife

Second Prize

Leandra Fraser

Es Mejor Saber: A Proactive Approach to Gestational Diabetes Follow-Up”

Faculty Adviser: Penina Segall-Guitierrez, Keck School

Second Prize

Tyler Vestal

“The Accuracy of Pseudo-Temporal Questions in Interviews of Children”

Faculty Adviser: Thomas Lyon, USC Gould School of Law

Honorable Mention

Mariah Gill

“Predicting the Success of Community-Based Resource Management Programs: Waihe’e, Maui, Hawai’i Case Study”

Faculty Adviser: James Fawcett, USC Dornsife

Honorable Mention

Jordan Weiss

“Antitrust: Policy, Prices and Behavior”

Faculty Adviser: Michael Sproul, USC Dornsife

Interdisciplinary Award

Linda Dahl

“The Golden Horde and the Emergence of Muscovy”

Faculty Adviser: Azade-Ayse Rorlich, USC Dornsife

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