Neutron Beam and Lifetime

Hello all! My name is Jose Negron and I work with Professor Crawford in finding the precision of a neutron lifetime to the precision of 0.1% or better! One might say that this is a perfectionist’s goal, but in reality we need the uncertainty of the neutron life time to be this good if we want to fully explore the properties of a neutron and the important theories in particle physics involving it. This requires that we take tons of data and then analyze this data to make note of trends and comparisons between data taken in the past. There are three tools needed to achieve this task: GEANT4, ROOT, and C++. Geant and Root help me gather and analyze data and both require understanding the use of C++. Thankfully the codes that are used to make these runs of data have already been created and I simply must vary them whenever I want to change a run to see how it affects the data itself. Using certain commands, I can create simulations of the experiment and recreate the apparatus in a 3D space! I can create a neutron beam, which is one of the most important parts of the apparatus itself, and shoot neutrons and observe its decaying process and count the number of protons vs neutrons. My research is a little different from last year’s in that I am taking data using a different model of physics used in the codes made to create the runs itself. Essentially, I am gathering new data and analyzing them while comparing them to the data taken from last year. Sometimes there is questioning data that I receive after analyzing it and I ask myself, did I make a mistake? Was there a problem in the code? Is there something I am not seeing? Why is this data so different from what I expected? As scientists, we are prone to observe errors and receive data that we do not expect to see, but in my opinion, working on understanding these errors and correcting them is what makes our research interesting!


The (Gold)en Girls


with Dr. Lucas Thompson


Gold nanoparticles are exceptionally cool, one might even say they’re (Au)some. Gold is one of the most well-known classes of nano materials, and are easy to find in complex environments. They can be synthesized quite easily and have controllable properties. They are particularly interesting in terms of color, or their unique optical properties. When the same atom arrangement is investigated on a nanometer scale, and the size and shape of the solution is changed, and the solution becomes a different color. Because they’re colored when you change refractive index, the colors change and you can use them in sensors, drug delivery, catalysis, cancer therapeutics. 

Meet the girls! 

Shelby Nicolau

Shelby is a rising junior and Chemistry major who has been a part of the Nano Lab since the spring of her freshman year. This is her first summer spent with Dr. Thompson, where she works on stabilizing gold nanoparticle polymeric thin films. Outside of the lab, you can find her doing laboratory preps for the Chemistry department, exploring Gettysburg with her friends, and eating all the food that she can find!


“Is your film as good as gold?”

In the Nano Lab, I work on a project that designs gold nanoparticle polymeric thin films. Polymer thin films are important tools that can be used to increase the efficiency of solar cells and their ability to harness and convert light energy into electricity. Specifically, I am looking at whether gold nanoparticles will remain stable against aggregation when incorporated into a polymer that does not interact strongly with the surface of the nanoparticle. Previous data collected in the lab shows there may be an observable trend for determining stability levels across a variety of different polymer films. This trend correlates the ratio of polymer molecules per nanoparticle needed to obtain a polymer film with evenly dispersed gold nanoparticles based on the polymer’s glass transition temperature. The glass transition temperature, or Tg, is the temperature where the mechanical properties of the film change radically due to internal movement of the polymer chains that form the film. Data collected using classes of methacrylate and acetate polymers show that polymers with lower Tg require very high ratios of polymer molecules per gold nanoparticle, and vise versa for those with higher Tg. 


Figure #1. Gold nanoparticle polymeric thin films in acetone solution.

My current work is further exploring this trend with a wide range of polymers of varying Tg’s by manipulating the polymer to nanoparticle ratio and looking for aggregation and/or stabilizing ratios. The optical properties associated with the nanoparticles are key in my project. I can monitor the stable properties of the gold nanoparticle polymer film I’ve created simply by the color, and any deviation from the red suggests an unstable film. A more direct analysis that fine tunes the stabilizing ratios is done with the UV.vis spectroscopy. Spherical gold nanoparticles absorb blue-green light with a λmax of about 520 nm, while aggregation redshifts to about 650-700 nm. My time is the lab so far has shown me there are lot of factors that need to be considered when creating stable polymer films, like finding the right solvent for the polymers, controlling drying times for making the film, and minimizing the water content in the films themselves. But, even amid all the ugly black films and messy data (see Figure below for my feelings on trying to replicate good data), there is still a (red) light at the end of the tunnel!


Figure #2. A meme about how I (and Spiderman) feel, especially trying to replicate experiments. The vials are dried, aggregated gold nanoparticle polymer films not in solution.

Claire Benstead

Claire is a rising junior Chemistry and Anthropology double major. She started working in the nano lab last Fall and this is her first summer doing research. In the lab, Claire is working with coating gold nanorods in polymers and studying their interactions. Outside of the lab, she works in Admissions, is a PLA for General Chemistry, and spends a disproportionate amount of time at Waldo’s and Company.

My Project

Due to their small size, gold nanoparticles can have interesting surface interactions. My project this summer focuses on the structure of poly-l-lysine (PLL) coated gold nanorods and the conditions that will allow interactions between nanorods. Synthesizing rods of different lengths means I get to work with cool colors, ranging from pink to blue to brown.


Figure #3

The nanorods are first coated in a layer of CTAB, which is positively charged. In order to add the layer of positively charged PLL to the rods, a middle layer of negatively charged polymer is added. So far I have been working with two negative polymers: poly(styrene sulfonate) (PSS) and poly(acrylic acid) (PAA). By using a variety of instruments, I can analyze the size, surface potential, and wavelength of the rods. Because I am working with rods, the long and short—aka longitudinal and transverse—“sides” produce two different wavelengths on the UV/Vis spectroscopy. The addition of polymer layers affects the size of the particles, which can shift the longitudinal wavelength.

The PLL contains amine groups, which have a pKa of approximately 10.5. The pH of the solution is around 5, which keeps the amines protonated. By raising the pH of the solution to above the pKa, the amines can become deprotonated and the PLL loses its positive charge. When this is happening, the PLL undergoes a structural change from random coil to alpha helix. This can ideally allow the nanorods to assemble near each other. Methods for testing this include UV/Vis and Circular Dichroism Spectroscopy (CD). If the rods are assembling next to each other, there should be a blue shift in the longitudinal wavelength on the UV/Vis. I can also use the CD to detect the presence of random coil, alpha-helix, or beta-sheet PLL. My goal for the summer is to achieve a side-by-side assembly of the gold nanorods. I am currently working on altering the pH of the solutions to determine if there is any assembly happening. Other factors I am looking into include the middle layer polymer coat and the temperature of the solution.


Figure #4

Sarah Kotchey 

Sarah is a rising sophomore, Chemistry major with a minor in Educational Studies, and aspiring high school teacher. This is Sarah’s first Summer in the Nano lab with Dr. Thompson as well as her first research experience, in general. Outside the Nano lab, Sarah is a Chemistry laboratory assistant. In her free time, Sarah is a yoga fanatic that spends too much time prepping food and taking photos for her (hopefully) aesthetically pleasing food and life advice blog.

“In My Element”

In my research project, I modify the surfaces of citrate-capped gold nanoparticles, in specific. Citrate-capped nanoparticles are particularly interesting because the particles derive their stability by electrostatic repulsion facilitated by the negatively charged citrate ligands. Because of the negatively charged particles, I synthesize positively charged polymers, attach them to the particles, and explore their interactions with biological systems. The polymers that I synthesize are a mixed polymer, containing groups that bind to the surface of the nanoparticles as well as, in the future, groups that are Prozac. The Prozac groups will be further investigated because of the adverse effects they have on organisms in aquatic environments. It is possible that gold nanoparticles are toxicants as well as a large source of environmental pollution in aquatic environments, so this is something I will hopefully be exploring later on in my research.

While exploring the interactions between polymers and nanoparticles, the behavior of the particles can also be observed. For example, I investigate how the structure of the polymer layer affects the interactions of the particles in solution. Furthermore, the aggregation state of the nanoparticles are monitored to see if the nanoparticles stay stable. Some of the techniques I use to characterize my particles are UV-Vis spectroscopy, Dynamic Light Scattering, and Zeta potential measurements.

Screen Shot 2018-06-08 at 12.08.41 PM

Figure #5. The steps to making the perfect gold nanoparticles! Ideally, I look for a red wine color; if they become purple or black, they’ve been heated for too long.

My research, as well as most research, is generally finding what does not work, in order to figure out what actually works, or results in good data, in an experiment. Because of this, my days include a lot of redoing experiments from the day before, making (hopefully) red solutions, and of course some purple solutions here and there, with slight alterations in polymers, pHs, and characterization to solve the puzzle of where I get to explore next!


Worms are fun yay!

In a world filled with bacteria, we are constantly exposed to organisms with the potential to cause disease. However, thanks to our innate immune system, we are not constantly sick. The innate immune system is our first line of defense against infection, and in the Powell Lab, we are seeking to understand more about how the mechanisms behind innate immunity recognize and respond to infections.

We start with C. elegans, a hermaphroditic nematode, as our model organism, which is an ideal model for many reasons. Its small size allows it us to easily grow at least one hundred worms on a 3.5cm petri dish, and microscopy is easy because the worms are relatively transparent. Additionally, they are eat bacteria, so it is easy to swap out their normal food source (a strain of E. coli) with a pathogen for experiments.

In the Powell Lab, our gene of interest is FSHR-1, a G-protein coupled receptor that has been proven to play an important role in the innate immune response. Now, we are working to understand how FSHR-1 helps to enable C.elegans to differentiate between “good” bacteria and “bad” bacteria, and then initiate an appropriate response.

Jennifer Giannini ‘18

Many people have heard of the CRISPR/Cas9 system in scientific and popular media alike. It has ignited many claims and debates ranging from “criminals being able to edit their own genome” to it being “the next frontier in reproductive tourism”. Whether you believe these are not (by the way – you probably shouldn’t), there’s no denying this tool is very powerful and is incredibly useful in C. elegans! One of my project’s in Dr. Powell’s lab is using the CRISPR/Cas9 system to create new mutations that will be critical in helping us better understand the immune system. Using CRISPR/Cas9 in C. elegans involves a series of DNA manipulations in bacteria to get the CRISPR/Cas9 components to target our gene of interest. Then, I isolated and purified this bacteria’s DNA (containing the genetic information about CRISPR/Cas9). At that point, I am ready to introduce this DNA to the C. elegans. To accomplish this, the DNA must be injected into the worms… which is more difficult than it may sound. To put this in perspective, a fully grown C. elegans is 1 mm long (that is about the diameter of the head of a push pin). Now you can imagine, injecting something this small requires a very small needle; the needles we use are less than a micron in diameter (smaller than the diameter of your blood cells). Now imagine how you would feel if someone kidnapped you away from your friends, tied you up, and told you that you were about to get several flu shots from a terribly inexperienced nurse who also happens to be a giant.  Due to the unskilled nurse, you probably won’t survive these shots but if you do, you will start glowing green. That’s probably a bit what it’s like to be a worm, injected by me. Luckily, worms do not experience emotion or pain – so I can continue my research while maintaining relatively sound morals. But keep this in mind next time you watch the 1997 Scifi film – Gattaca. In other words, we are still a while a way to being able to genetically engineer our children.


San Luc ’20

My project focuses on the direct relationship between the production of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) and the innate immunity. Particularly, I am working on a gene called bli-3, which encodes for an NADPH oxidases of the dual oxidase in C. elegans. By knocking down the function of this gene by RNA interference, I aim to study how ROS plays a role in worms’ survival on Pseudomonas aeruginosa, as well as in worms’ behavior such as pathogen avoidance. However, as systemic knockdown of bli-3 results in lethality, I have to use RNA interference which targets specifically on intestinal cells.


Another approach that I focus on is to use antioxidant as a method to neutralize any existing ROS in the worms. After adding glutathione, the endogenous antioxidant of C.elegans, onto the plates that worms are grown on, I measure worm survivals and avoidance behavior when subjected to pathogens. I also observe the effect of glutathione on regulation of detoxification gene by using GFP reporters.


Emma McCartney ’21

I am currently working on determining how the location of FSHR-1 within the body affects its effectiveness. By using strains of C. elegans with FSHR-1 present only in certain parts of the body, and tissue-specific RNA interference, I am seeking to gain a better understanding of the primary location and function of FSHR-1.



Gettysburg Meets Gamboa: How Tortoise Beetles Are Excelling in the Chemical Arms Race

Gettysburg Meets Gamboa: How Tortoise Beetles Are Excelling in the Chemical Arms Race

In the mystical town of Gamboa, Panama, through the forest and over a rickety wooden bridge, lies a community full of bat people, frog people, bug people, and so much more. It is home to one of the globally leading research institutes, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), which hosts numerous scientists and offers major contributions to the field of tropical biology.  Surrounded by beautiful creatures of the rainforest and the incredible Panama Canal, the research opportunities here are truly remarkable. Alongside Dr. Trillo and her collaborators, we are studying the effects of endophytic fungus on the chemical ecology and anti-predator strategies of the tortoise beetle, Acromis sparsa.

P8020758.JPGTiffany Lam ’19 standing in the lobby of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s Gamboa Lab

The Study System

Acromis sparsa (A. sparsa), a species of tortoise beetles, are dietary specialists. This means that, unlike some other species of beetles, the larvae feed only on one plant, Merremia umbellate (M. umbellate), a morning glory vine. A. sparsa have many anti-predator defense mechanisms: First, moms guard their progeny from eggs to adulthood. The mother even stays with her brood(s) until they reach adulthood – talk about an amazing mom!  Once hatched, the larvae ravenously consume the leaves on their vine. It is in this larval stage that the second type of defense, chemical compounds, kicks in. From a telescoping anus, these larvae create a fecal shield to protect themselves from predators. That’s right, a movable shield of poop! This shield contains nasty chemicals that the larvae acquire from consuming their host plant.  Finally, larvae form tight clusters with their fecal shield pointed outward and acquire increased defense from living in groups (Vencl, Trillo and Geeta, 2011, Vencl and Srygley 2013). Some of the known predators of A. sparsa are Azteca ants, wasps, and true bugs.

445A3138.jpgMother A. sparsa guarding her egg clutch.  Photo credits to Christian Ziegler.

IMG-20170630-WA0001.jpgTwo larvae with prominent fecal shields.

Endophytes are microfungi that live within the tissues of, and form a symbiotic relationship with, plants. They have been found in all species of plants, infecting above ground tissue. Endophytes use their hostplant as a source of carbon in return for plant protection, enhanced growth, and nutrient acquisition. Moreover, research conducted by Hammer and Van Bael (2015) showed that the A. sparsa larvae that fed on endophyte rich M. umbellate leaves had a greater risk of predation by Azteca ants than the larvae that fed on leaves low in endophytes. But what is the mechanism for this effect? Are endophytes modifying leaf chemicals and, in turn, affecting the chemical defenses of their specialist herbivores? Is this increase in larval predation only relevant to one predator or is this effect widespread? Why is this important, you ask? Because understanding how herbivores are affected by the fungal communities of their hostplants can give us important insights that can then be applicable to agriculture, biocontrol, and the management of ecological trophic interactions! So, our hope is to answer some of these exciting questions this summer.


Our Project

The research we are conducting is two-fold: First, we are testing the effects of an endophyte low versus and endophyte high plant diet on the chemical defense compounds of Acromis sparsa’s larvae. Then, assuming there is a difference in larval chemical defense compounds, we will conduct predator bioassays to test whether if these differences affect survival of larvae against a spectrum of predators.

How do we do all this?

Collecting and potting M. umbellate: We pulled local wild vines of M. umbellate out of the ground, transferred them into individual pots and assigned them to treatment groups of endophyte high (E+) or endophyte low (E-).  To keep our plants safely endophyte free during the day, we constructed a large plastic bubble within a greenhouse. This plastic keeps herbivory to a minimum and stops endophytic spores from flowing through the air onto our plants. Our E- plants are kept in this bubble for the entire experiment, but the E+ plants are removed every night and placed into the forest, where endophytic spores are abundant. For the E- plants, we constructed a field cage out of cut-open laundry bags, hot glue, and safety pins, all draped over a PVC frame. This cage’s holes are large enough to let endophytes through, but not big enough that large herbivores can pass through.  Every morning when these plants are returned to their bubble, they undergo an herbivore check to keep pesky insects like aphids and caterpillars off our plants. We verified our endophyte treatment by plating leaf fragments on agar and allowing the fungus within these fragments to grow over a period of four days and we just got back some relieving results that our E+ and E- treatments are significantly different! Our treatments are working!! Hooray!!!

IMG_0561.JPGIndoor Bubble

P8020760.JPGOutdoor Cage

Brian and Tiffany with plates.jpgBrian Ruether ’19 and Tiffany showing off newly assayed endophytic growth

Collecting and raising A. sparsa larvae: We walked and drove all over Soberanía National Park and Gamboa, looking for clutches of A. sparsa eggs. Once collected, we waited until they hatched and then divided each brood such that one half fed on E+ leaves and the other on E- leaves. We’re currently monitoring the larvae in each treatment/family each day and feeding them new leaves from their respective treatments as needed. Around day five after hatching (when the larvae reach 3rd instar), the larvae are frozen. Samples of the larvae themselves, as well as fecal shields, will be sent to a collaborator to assess the chemistry of the larvae.

download.jpg                                                     Surrounded by predators and larvae

Predator Bioassays: Within the next two weeks, we will conduct predator bioassays by using frozen larvae reared to day five on four different predators. We will use frozen larvae because we want to separate the chemical defenses from the behavioral defenses (larvae run away from their predators, of course!). We will present thawed larvae from E+ and E- treatments to each predator and we will measure the predator’s latency to attack, handling time, and rejection frequency of the prey. Collecting and utilizing these predators is Brian’s favorite part of the project because he gets to explore the wide array of different insects and arachnids found in Panama!  We will use Azteca ants and wasps, and we are doing trials for two more predators to use: right now our bets are on wolf spiders , reduiviids (assassin bugs), and mantids, like this dead leaf mantid.

20624627_1840904726223064_1600894663_n.jpg              Wandering spider with meal worm in mandibles

20614553_1840904729556397_695070123_n.jpg                      Wheel bug, a type of assassin bug trying to give us her version of a high 5

P8020750.JPGFemale Dead-Leaf Mantid

The Full Experience: Panama is a hot, humid country, forming the bridge between South and Central America.  With the humidity at or near 100% everyday, torrential downpours are frequent.  Panama City, a huge beachside metropolis, is the first jungle you lay eyes on.  However, after careening through unpredictable traffic for hours on end, you can see a different kind of jungle: the Panamanian rainforest.  It’s a beautiful place, housing astounding biodiversity. Parrots and parakeets chirp away every morning, with the buzz of cicadas filling the air as the sun heats up the day. In the afternoon, agoutis (large squirrel-like rodents) sprint through the grasses with mango pits in their mouths, and insectivorous bats swoop through the night air, catching their katydid dinners. Insects are everywhere it seems: in the trees, in the air, and unfortunately between our floorboards. Plus, we have frequent (and awesome!) sightings of sloths and monkeys.

IMG-20170701-WA0009.jpg2017 Panamanian Reboot of The Creation of Adam

In our downtime we are able to take trips to Taboga Island, a small Pacific island a little ways off the coast, and the Río Mendoza, a long hike up a river with the promising reward of a waterfall and swimming hole. Dr. Trillo and fellow Gettysburg professor/husband Dr. Caldwell truly incorporated us into their family this summer, and we both feel as if we’ve gained a tropical mom and dad.

IMG-20170707-WA0016.jpgTaboga Island beach and dock

GPTempDownload (1).jpgEl Río Mendoza

Aside from everything we have learned from researching our project itself, we have the unique experience of immersing ourselves in a culture of true field biology. We have the opportunity to converse with fellow undergraduate students, graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and well-established scientists every day. Not only are we learning about the beetles we work with but we are exposed to the endless research by scientists here including studies on frogs, bats, birds, and plants. Especially in times where the importance of science has been continuously doubted, it is amazing to be surrounded by passionate scientists who have an undeniable respect for earth and all its stunning creatures.


Sources Used:


Hammer, T. J., & Van Bael, S. A. (2015). An endophyte‐rich diet increases ant predation on a specialist herbivorous insect. Ecological Entomology, 40(3), 316-321.


Vencl, F. V., Trillo, P. A., & Geeta, R. (2011). Functional interactions among tortoise beetle larval defenses reveal trait suites and escalation. Behavioral ecology and sociobiology, 65(2), 227-239.


Vencl, F. V., & Srygley, R. B. (2013). Enemy targeting, trade-offs, and the evolutionary assembly of a tortoise beetle defense arsenal. Evolutionary ecology, 27(2), 237-252.



Dividing Your Neighbors: not to conquer, just to count

Hello!  I’m Joshua Wagner ’19, a chemistry and mathematics major at Gettysburg College.  Like any good mathematics major, I like to count things, and that’s good because I just spent the summer counting arithmetical structures on graphs with my research advisor, Dr. Glass.

Before we dive into my research topic, I would like to answer an interesting research question: “where is math research done?”  Well, all a researcher needs is a reliable laptop, a few pens (various colors help), a ream of paper (to scribble on before throwing away), some patience, chalk, and a blackboard.  So you can see that on days where the blackboard and chalk aren’t necessary, math research can be done anywhere.

Research can take place on a beautiful patio,

at a National Military Park,

or in Glatfelter Hall surrounded by professors and other students.  Where is the best place to conduct math research?  Gettysburg College, hands down.

Pivoting back to my summer research, to understand what it means to count arithmetical structures on graphs, we need understand two basic definitions.

First, what is a graph?  A graph is a group of nodes that are connected by edges. See the picture below:

Second, what is an arithmetical structure?  We can assign positive integers to each node on a graph, and if each node divides the sum of its neighbors and the greatest common divisor is one, we will call that assignment of integers an arithmetical structure. See the picture below:

There are much more complicated and rigorous ways to define an arithmetical structure using matrices, vectors, and complicated mathematical jargon, but this definition will suffice.

We already knew from a mathematician (Lorenzini) that any graph must have a finite number of valid arithmetical structures.  We also already have an algorithm for finding any arithmetical structures on a line of nodes, which we call a path, or a circle of nodes, which we call a cycle.

Now that you know what an arithmetical structure is, let’s say a few things about arithmetical structures on simple paths and cycles.  As we know, the first node on the end of a path must divide its neighbor.  We know that this second node must divide the third plus the first.  We can then see that the first node divides the third, and we can deduce that the first node must divide every other node evenly too.  (Try this with some scratch paper if you need convincing.)

Why does this matter?  Well, if the greatest common denominator of the values is 1, then the value of the first node must be 1 because it divides all the other nodes.  Similarly, we can see that if two nodes next to each other are equal, then those two nodes must evenly divide all the other nodes, so again we can see that if two neighboring nodes are equal, then they must be 1’s.

So, now we know that any path or cycle either has a local maximum, or is labeled with all ones.  In addition, we know that any local maximum must be the sum of its neighbors and that maximum can be removed to form another valid arithmetical structure.  In this example, 2 is a local maximum, so we can “smooth” the structure by removing it:

We can also do the inverse operation and add in a local maximum to create a more complex arithmetical structure:

From these facts we can make the lemma that any arithmetical structure on a path or cycle can be smoothed down to form a path or a cycle of all ones.  We can then also say that any arithmetical structure can be formed by adding in local maxima (like how we added the node with a 4 in the example above).

My research has been focused on counting how many arithmetical structures can be assigned to a given graph with more complex features.  Like, what would happen if two nodes were connected twice?

This complicates matters, as you can get a graph with a local maximum that is not the sum of its neighbors:

The number of “smooth structures,” or number of structures without a local maximum that is the sum of its neighbors is nontrivial to count.  It’s actually rather difficult to do and even harder to generalize.

How is math research performed?  I spent the first several weeks of the summer writing programs to find all of the arithmetical structures for smaller individual graphs.  From this data, we were able to distinguish patterns emerging.

Continuing through the summer, I spent less time programming, and more time writing proofs of why those patterns existed.  For instance, we noticed that one vertex next to a doubled edge seemed to always divide the sum of its neighbors twice (like 11 divides 2(9)+4 twice in the labeled graph above), so we proved that must happen.

We kept proving small things called lemmas until we were able to count all structures on more general graphs and form theorems.  For instance:

We were hoping that these theorems would piece together nicely and we could generalize our results to any path or cycle with a doubled edge.  We are still looking for a way to do this.

I presented our current findings in a 15 minute talk to professors and students from around the country on July 27th at MathFest, the Mathematical Association of America’s yearly meeting.  While in Chicago, we plan to learn some interesting math from leading mathematicians (and also have some deep dish pizza)!

Researching Magnetic Activity Cycles in Spotted Stars

By: Craig Cissel, Michael Preston, Ross Silver, Dr. Milingo

Our work this summer with Dr. Milingo has been filled with many exciting and educational experiences. I will break down our summer into three parts: data analysis, the observing run in Arizona, and community outreach.

Data analysis:

Our research goal was to find rotation periods and long-term activity cycle periods of selected stars in the cluster NGC 6811. We can determine this by using the image analysis program MIRA to perform photometry on our stars. We were looking for variations in brightness caused by spots on the star. The spots are an indication of magnetic activity in the star. We can use many years of data to see how the spots change and determine what the star’s activity cycle is.

NGC 6811

Figure 1: Our star cluster, NGC 6811.

In our day to day work, we mostly did image reduction and analysis using 5 years of images of NGC 6811 taken from the National Undergraduate Research Observatory (NURO). We extracted the difference in instrumental magnitude between our target star and a check star, whose brightness does not vary, and constructed light curves to determine the rotational periods. Then we put the data into a period finding routine to find our long-term activity cycle periods.

Observing at NURO:

NURO is located in Flagstaff, AZ. The NURO consortium consists of ~12 institutions and provides hands-on research opportunities specifically for undergraduates. The NURO telescope is the 0.8m which is part of Lowell Observatory. Our observing run was probably the highlight of our summer. We left on June 21st and came back on the 29th. When we landed in Phoenix at 10 am MST, it was a chilly 105º F. We then took the scenic route up to Flagstaff through Sedona. A few days later we went back to Sedona for lunch. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.



Figure 2: Two pictures of the scenery in Sedona, AZ.

            But this trip was not just for sight-seeing, we had work to do. We had 5 nights at the 0.8m telescope. Our work nights consisted of us showing up to the observatory around 6:45 pm, about an hour before sunset. We would open up the dome and take special images called flats and biases that we would later use to calibrate our NGC 6811 images. At the end of twilight, we would finish our focus routine and start taking images. We needed to refocus the telescope every hour due to the changes in temperature. While observing there is plenty of down time; we had many ways to entertain ourselves, including: binging Netflix, reading, watching anime, playing cards against humanity, or going outside to sit on a lounge chair and admire the night sky. We could see the sky so clearly because Flagstaff is the world’s first international dark sky city, . We continued until about 4 am because that’s when astronomical twilight started. Then we finished up with our shut down procedures. We would get home and go to sleep around 5 am. Then we could sleep until about 1 or 2 in the afternoon and relax or go out into town and explore before it was time to go to work again.


Figure 3: The top pictures shows the dome that holds the 31” telescope. The bottom picture is our lab group standing to the right of the telescope.

Our trip was filled with a lot of delicious food. We went to In N’ Out and Smashburger for burgers and milkshakes, Salsa Brava for tacos, and our celebratory dinner was at Texas Roadhouse for steaks. We hiked in Oak Creek Canyon which provided us with even more beautiful scenery. On our last full day of the trip, we went to see the Grand Canyon. We took a lot of pictures, but they could never fully capture the essence of the place.



Figure 4: The top shows our hike in Oak Creek Canyon. The bottom shows our lab group standing at the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

Community Outreach:

We spent part of our summer at the Gettysburg College Observatory, located on the northwest corner of campus. The 16” telescope is designed for use as a research-grade instrument for faculty and student projects, but the observatory is also used for public education and outreach. We held two open houses this summer: one during alumni weekend and one for the XSIG students. To prepare for an open house, we would come up with a list of objects that would be visible that night to show our guests and we studied the night sky so we could point out constellations and objects of interest. Unfortunately, there was about 80% cloud cover for the XSIG open house, which taught us to get used to clouds as we have no control over the weather. On cloudy nights, we bring our guests into the observatory and give them a tour of the classroom, the warm room, and the dome. We spent time learning about the history of the observatory and how the telescope and computers work so that we can teach the people how everything functions. These nights are always fun no matter what weather we have and we hope that we can do this more frequently during the school year.

We also created an astrominute for the community. An astrominute is a one-minute summary of what will be visible in the night sky that month in a certain part of the world and is aired on the radio. We wrote the script, recorded it, and layered it in Garageband. Thank you to Mark Drew, the advisor of the college radio station WZBT, who aired it on the radio and thanks to Ian Clarke, the director of the Hatter Planetarium, for assisting us with the music.

We started another project in the observatory that we hope to conclude this semester. Our 16” telescope does not have an eyepiece; the light goes directly into a CCD camera because it is used for research projects. It is difficult to pack a lot of people into our tiny warm room to show them what the telescope is pointing at, so we installed a large terminal screen out in the classroom that is connected to our 3” telescope that was previously used as an autoguider. An autoguider is a device on the telescope that tracks a bright star in the direction of our image and makes small adjustments to keep the star centered in the frame. The telescope then mimics these movements to prevent the image from drifting during a prolonged exposure. But our new CCD comes with a built in autoguider, so we can use the small 3” telescope to make it much easier for people to see what our telescope is looking at while in operation.

Get li

Figure 5: Our group going to Wine and Spirits to get beverages to entertain our alumni.

A Perfect Summer

Here in the Personality Lab, we’ve had the pleasure of exploring a variety of topics this summer, getting the opportunity to work with students on campus and collect data from people across the country through use of an online server.  While we touched on a broad span of topics, we took a particular interest in one: perfectionism.

For a majority of the summer, we spent our afternoons behind two closed doors and drawn curtains, and seated in front of a computer monitor.  Thankfully, though, we were never alone: on the other side of the doors, talking to us via Google Chat, was a student.  We got the chance to spend an hour talking to students about their views on perfectionism, what it meant to be perfect, and pressures which many of us feel to come across in a certain way.  Students answered our questions and talked about their own experiences with these pressures, whether they felt the need to hide the amount of effort they put into something or the anxiety which they felt, and perfectionism overall.

Perfectionism is a large topic, and while we had interest in perfectionism overall, we narrowed our sights onto a particular type: effortless perfectionism.  What is effortless perfectionism?  Let’s look at this example: a student has a large presentation to complete by the end of the semester.  They spend a significant amount of time trying to make the presentation appear perfect: good length, well-informed, well-delivered, aesthetically pleasing…whatever they can do to make the presentation ‘perfect,’ they do it.  Their friends may ask them if they want to hang out, and the student turns down the invitation to work on the presentation, but offers a different reason.  They might stay up late several nights to complete the presentation so as others will not know that they are working on it.  When they give their presentation to the class, they have a smooth delivery, since they had practiced often and knew the material well.  However, when asked by a classmate how much time the presentation had taken them to prepare, the student says that they did not spend a lot of time working on it.  Maybe they say that they only started looking at it a day or so ago, or that they feel they did poorly because they were ill-prepared.  No matter what the student says, they deny the idea that they had put in a lot of effort, and may overtly lie about their effort.

Effortless perfectionism takes traditional perfectionism to a different level: not only does everything the individual does have to appear perfect, but it has to appear to have happened naturally and effortlessly.  This has been a growing interest in the field in general, as students at high-pressure schools continue to struggle with mental disorders and demand for mental health treatment on campuses continues to escalate.

Despite this attention, no measure currently exists that targets this concept, a problem which we hope to fix through this study.  At present, effortless perfectionism has best been measured through scales assessing Hiding Effort (Flett, Nepon, Hewitt, Molnar, & Zhao, 2016), but this fails to capture the entirety of the construct.  It’s believed that this ‘hiding effort’ is related to effortless perfection, since both contribute to this image of achieving perfect work with seemingly minimal effort.  We used the anonymous interview process to ask students about their experiences with hiding their effort and anxiety, watching their peers hide their effort and anxiety, and to discuss the pressures they feel which influence why they hide and the type of image they feel they need to project.  Effortless perfectionism concerns hiding effort, but it also leads people to hide their anxieties.  The same student from earlier might become very anxious when they know they will have to speak in front of the class, for example, but they deny their anxieties surrounding this because it suggests that they are not perfect.  In order to appear naturally perfect, they must also be confident in themselves, and therefore must conceal any anxiety which they may feel.

Perfectionism is linked to several psychological disorders, and has been found to have group differences across age, gender, and socioeconomic status.  For these reasons, it is important to examine the finer details of perfectionism, especially a subtype such as effortless perfectionism, which is linked with higher rates of mental and emotional anguish.  Recently, universities and colleges across the United States have begun to form initiatives to address the issues arising from perfectionism, such as the ‘Failing Well’ movement at Smith College, to teach students to accept their failures and shortcomings in a healthy manner.  The Penn Faces movement at the University of Pennsylvania addresses similar concerns: teaching students at a high-stress institution that failure is part of life, and that resilience is important.

As fall semester rolls around, we’ll be thinking about more than just effortless perfection.    Self-compassion has been another topic of interest for the lab, and for good reason: manipulating state self-compassion has been found to have effects on a variety of measures, including pain tolerance.  In previous research conducted in this lab, it was found that a manipulation that increases state self-compassion could increase pain sensitivity in individuals with a history of self-harm, meaning they were able to withstand less pain after undergoing the manipulation (Gregory, Glazer, & Berenson, 2017). The concept of effortless perfectionism seems to be in contradiction with the principles of self-compassion.  The lab plans to examine what this relationship is, and how it can be manipulated to help those high in effortless perfection become more self-compassionate. We’re also looking to see whether a similar manipulation could affect the way an individual perceives stigma surrounding mental disorders in their community and ultimately increase their willingness to seek treatment.