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Master’s & Doctoral Defenses

upcoming defensesThe Public presentation portion of a defense is open to everyone and is an especially valuable opportunity for graduate students to experience the process firsthand.

Note: All information is provided by the academic units.

Izaak Williamson

Title: Computational Modeling of Electrical and Phonon Properties of Skutterudites and Two-Dimensional Transition Metal Dichalcogenides
Program: Doctor of Philosophy in Materials Science and Engineering
Advisor: Dr. Lan Li, Materials Science and Engineering
Committee: Dr. Rick Ubic, Materials Science and Engineering, Dr. Winnie Wong-Ng, Materials Science and Engineering, Dr. Eric Jankowski, Materials Science and Engineering and Dr. David Estrada, Materials Science and Engineering
Date: March 24, 2017
Time: 1:00 p.m.
Location: City Center Plaza – Room 259

Read Izaak Williamson's Abstract Here

To accelerate materials development, this project aims to derive basic materials design principles through high-throughput computational screening methods. By generating large and rich data sets and analyzing the data to capture changes in trends and relationships of structure, properties, and performance, materials properties and performance can be improved by tailoring their structures. This project involves the investigation of three main structural changes: (1) materials dimensionality, (2) doping, and (3) the formation of a heterojunction, on geometric, electrical, phonon, and thermal properties of skutterudites and two-dimensional transition metal dichalcogenides (2D-TMDs). Due to intrinsically good electrical conductivity and tunable thermal conductivity, skutterudites are promising candidates for thermoelectrics, converting waste heat into electric power. This work investigates the enhancement of skutterudite properties through filler and substitutional dopants. The computational approach is then used to investigate 2D-TMDs, having the chemical formula MX2 (M = transition metal, X = chalcogen, i.e., S, Se, or Te). Their reduced dimensionality offers enhanced properties for field-effect transistors (FETs), and their quantum confinement effects can be exploited for unique electrical properties. The exploration of composition, dopant, and heterostructure effects on these materials is crucial for expanding their versatility and furthering their development for energy and electronic applications. By understanding these design principles, skutterudite and 2D-TMD structures can be optimized to meet the market’s needs.


Skyler Meeks

Title: Naming What Bothers Us: Measuring Moral Rhetoric in the 2016 Presidential Debates
Program: Master of Arts in English, Rhetoric and Composition
Advisor: Dr. Kelly Myers, English
Committee: Dr. Bruce Ballenger, English and Clyde Moneyhun, English
Date: March 27, 2017
Time: 9:00 a.m.
Location: Liberal Arts Building, Room 208A

Read Skyler Meeks' Abstact Here

For centuries, Aristotle’s ethos has been a crucial component of persuasive rhetoric, with flagrant violations of character extinguishing the credibility of speakers and rendering their messages ineffective. However, the 2016 US presidential election challenged the rhetorical value of good character and left voters unable to articulate feelings about perceived moral transgressions. In some ways, this inability to express what bothered many is tied to the various constraints of the first-year writing classroom, where instructors often oversimplify definitions of ethos in a way that removes a facet known as aretê—a concept defined as moral virtue and one especially beneficial for navigating morally complex and controversial conversations.
This study argues for a revival of aretê in our classrooms as a way of helping students engage in and explore their own questions of morality, character, and ethos. Utilizing revised conceptions of ethos and aretê that incorporate modern notions of moral virtue, this study analyzed transcripts of the three presidential debates to quantify how and when Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump employed morally loaded language. The results of the lexical analysis surfaced a reduced moral vocabulary, which illustrates the need for a more nuanced understanding of ethos and a larger aretiac lexicon in our classroom. What this research advocates for is not that we anchor every iteration of ethos in moral virtue, but rather that alternative conceptions are invited into the classroom as a way of helping students enact new identities and participate in new spheres.

Hunter Covert

Title: Inflammatory Cytokines in The Breast Cancer Metastatic Cascade
Program: Doctor of Philosophy in Biomolecular Sciences
Advisor: Dr. Cheryl Jorcyk, Biological Sciences
Committee: Dr. Julia Thom Oxford, Biological Sciences, Dr. Kenneth A. Cornell, Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Dr. Daniel Fologea, Physics
Date: April 14, 2017
Time: 10:00 a.m.
Location: Multipurpose Building – Room 106

Read Hunter Covert's Abstract Here

Currently, in the United States, 1 in 8 women are at risk of acquiring breast cancer in their lifetime. Most primary breast cancer tumors are treatable if detected early enough, but the numbers are drastically reduced once the tumor becomes metastatic. Research is still needed to better understand the critical steps involved in the metastatic cascade of breast cancer via inflammatory proteins called cytokines. The purpose of this study was to elucidate the relationship between inflammatory cytokines and cell migration-promoting proteins in breast cancer metastasis. In order for tumor cells to metastasize they must undergo a phenotypic change known as an epithelial-mesenchymal transition, which is followed by tumor cell migration. These steps allow for the intravasation of the tumor cell into a nearby blood vessel or lymphatic channel. Once the primary tumor cells are within the network of vessels they undergo a homing process to specific organs within the body. For breast cancer, secondary metastatic locations include the liver, brain, and long bones. It is still not completely understood why this event is so specific. Our results verify that cytokine-induced migration activity is important for metastasis. In conclusion, these studies may point towards targeting inflammatory cytokines as a therapeutic option in the prevention of metastasis.

Jonathon Reeck

Title: The Role of Col11a1 in Chondrocyte Phenotype Regulation During Cartilage Development and Disease
Program: Doctor of Philosophy in Biomolecular Sciences
Advisor: Dr. Julia Thom Oxford, Biological Sciences
Committee: Dr. Allan Albig, Biological Sciences, Dr. Cheryl Jorcyk, Biological Sciences, and  Dr.Daniel Fologea, Physics
Date: April 27, 2017
Time: 12:00 p.m.
Location: Multipurpose Building – Room 106

Read Jonathon Reeck's abstract Here

Collagen is an essential extracellular matrix protein of connective tissues such as cartilage and bone. Mutations in genes that encode collagens can cause defects affecting the shape and structure of the developing tissue, causing life-long complications. Collagen type XI is a fibrillar collagen that is essential for skeletal development. Mutations in the gene, COL11A1, which encodes the α1 chain of collagen type XI, results in severe skeletal birth defects affecting the shape and structure of the cartilage and bone. The goal of this research is to investigate the cellular response to inhibition of COL11A1 expression during cartilage development and to identify molecular mechanisms that contribute to the associated cartilage disease. Based on previous research, we hypothesize that deficient COL11A1 expression alters the molecular mechanisms regulating the chondrocyte phenotype. We propose that inhibition of COL11A1 expression induces a cellular phenotype that promotes mineralization of the cartilage. To investigate this, COL11A1 expression was inhibited in developing zebrafish embryos and in a mouse cell culture model of chondrogenesis to investigate changes in cellular behavior during cartilage development and chondrocyte differentiation. Our results indicate that inhibition of COL11A1 induces aberrant cell signaling and gene expression that alters the chondrocyte behavior during cartilage development. COL11A1 is therefore essential for normal skeletal development, and skeletal abnormalities caused by COL11A1 deficiency can be attributed to aberrant signaling.