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Master’s & Doctoral Defenses

Image of a woman giving a public mpresentation.

The 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.

Alisha Graefe

Title: American Hatred: Wild West Myths, Color-Coded Rhetoric, and the Shaping of the Aryan Nations
Program: Master of Arts in History
Advisor: Dr. Jill K. Gill, History
Committee: Dr. David M. Walker, History and Dr. Raymond J. Krohn, History
Date: October 19, 2018
Time: 9:00 a.m.
Location: Albertson’s Library, Room L194

Read Alisha Graefe's Abstract Here

This thesis explores the way the Aryan Nations from Northern Idaho used the Wild West mythology of independent cowboys and color coded rhetoric popularized by Conservative politicians to form a unique white separatist group that has influenced current racist groups.

Kelsey Skluzacek

Title: Structure-Based Drug Design of Novel Therapeutics Targeting Oncostatin M
Program: Master of Science in Chemistry
Advisor: Dr. Don Warner, Chemistry
Committee: Dr. Cheryl Jorcyk, Biological Sciences, Dr. Matthew D. King, Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Dr. Lisa Warner, Chemistry
Date: October 19, 2018
Time: 1:30 p.m.
Location: Education Building, Room 112

Read Kelsey Skluzacek's Abstract Here

At 30% of all new diagnoses, the most prevalent malignancy for women is breast cancer, which in the United States will result in an estimated 266,000 new cases this year alone. Of the patients diagnosed with breast cancer, approximately 10-15% will develop distant metastases within three years of the initial detection of a primary tumor. For comparison, the five-year survival rate for localized breast cancer is 99%, whereas, the survival rate for metastatic breast cancer drops drastically to only 27%. The significant difference in survival rates is indicative of a need for a novel treatment strategy for metastatic breast cancer.
Oncostatin M (OSM), a member of the interleukin-6 family of cytokines, has been shown in the context of breast cancer to promote epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT), promote tumor cell detachment and invasiveness, increase circulating tumor cell (CTC) numbers, induce the expression of proangiogenic factors, and promote lung and bone metastases. For these reasons, the work presented describes the structure-based drug design, synthesis, and preliminary testing of small molecule inhibitors (SMIs) of OSM to be used as a therapeutic treatment method for metastatic breast carcinomas. Based on synthetic accessibility and computational screening, SMIs were synthesized and subsequently evaluated for inhibition of OSM-induced signaling using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). The SMIs were further assessed for binding affinity toward OSM using isothermal titration calorimetry (ITC). The results suggested that SMIs capable of inhibiting OSM-induced signaling also exhibited binding to OSM. Furthermore, SMIs not able to bind to OSM correlated with poor inhibition of OSM-induced signaling. Therefore, the preliminary results suggest: specific SMI-OSM binding occurs, SMIs are capable of inhibiting OSM-induced signaling, and that additionally optimized SMIs have the potential to be used as novel therapeutic treatment options for metastatic breast cancer.

Andrew Hedrick

Title: Investigating The Annual Water Balance of a High-Altitude Watershed Using Near-Real Time Lidar Data Integration into A Physically Based Snowmelt Model
Program:  Doctor of Philosophy in Geophysics
Advisor: Dr. Hans-Peter Marshall, Geosciences
Committee: Dr. Danny Marks, Geosciences, Dr. James P. McNamara, Geosciences, Dr. Nancy Glenn, Geosciences, and Dr. Alejandro N. Flores, Geosciences
Date: October 19, 2018
Time: 3:00 p.m.
Location:  Engineering Building, Room 103

Read Andrew Hedrick's Abstract Here

Knowledge of the amount of water stored in the mountain snowpack is crucial for flood prevention, drought mitigation, and energy production in the Western United States. In modeling terms, the most important component of the hydrologic water balance is the precipitation input to the system. Determining where and how much precipitation falls in mountain catchments, however, is the most difficult problem with regards to closing the water balance. The work presented in this dissertation details the modeling portion of the NASA Airborne Snow Observatory (ASO) using the iSnobal physically based snow model. This combination of remote sensing and modeling at 50 m resolution provides the most accurate quasi-operational estimates of snow distribution ever produced over a mountain basin. The first chapter will describe the methods used for periodically inserting the ASO-derived snow depths into iSnobal over a consecutive four-year period (2013–2016) in the Tuolumne RiverBasin in California’s Sierra Nevada. The second chapter provides a background for how the forcing data for our modeling approach was derived in near-real time and addresses the problem of reproducibility in the hydrologic sciences. The final chapter examines the water balance over the Tuolumne Basin using ASO-derived snow depth updates to iSnobal in three very dissimilar water years (2015–2017). For validation of the modeled water balance residual we use two independent satellite-derived estimates of annual evapotranspiration in the basin. The combined results of these studies will help usher in a shift toward more wide-spread use of physics-based models for operational predictions of water storage and runoff.

Tina Polishchuk

Title: Leadership in College and Career Readiness Efforts
Program: Doctor of Education in Curriculum and Instruction
Advisor: Dr. Kathleen Budge, Curriculum, Instruction and Foundational Studies
Committee: Dr. Arturo Rodriguez, Literacy, Language, and Culture, Dr. Carl F. Siebert, Curriculum, Instruction and Foundational Studies, and Dr. Patrick Charlton, Curriculum, Instruction and Foundational Studies
Date: October 22, 2018
Time: 10:00 a.m.
Location:  Education Building, Room 523

This dissertation examines the intersection of educational leadership and college and career readiness initiatives in a school setting. Because school principals are responsible for setting a vision and direction in a school, college and career readiness initiatives have potential to overlap significantly with the administrator’s efforts and the direction of the school. Research and data indicate these efforts might rely on the active support of the school administrator if they are to succeed. School leaders are the architects of strategic vision that informs the activities happening in their buildings. What they care about is what staff focuses on; the active support of leadership around a program is a critical element of success. As I analyze the points of overlap and embeddedness between leadership and college and career readiness initiatives in a school setting, themes emerge that lead to the inquiry of the following questions:

* How, if at all, does the relationship between the principal and the college and career advisor influence a school’s college and career readiness program?

* How do administrators perceive their role as relevant to the work that is conducted by the college and career advisor?

* What do school administrators perceive to be the role of a college and career readiness program in a school, and how, if at all, does this perception influence the work done by college and career advisors?

Given the significant local, and national focus on post-secondary attainment this research project has the potential to uncover new understandings around the drivers that contribute to students pursuing education and training beyond high school. Understanding the role that school leadership plays in affecting college and career readiness implementation in a high school setting is critical if we are to see success in these programs. The relational forces that influence the educational system cannot be overrated, and in the context of college and career readiness, they are yet to be studied. This dissertation attempts to do just that.

Savannah Irving

Title: Optimizing the Synthesis of Self-Immolative Poly(hexyl isocyanate)
Program: Master of Science in Chemistry
Advisor: Dr. Scott T. Phillips, Materials Science and Engineering
Committee: Dr. Adam Colson, Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Dr. Jeunghoon Lee, Materials Science and Engineering
Date: October 23, 2018
Time: 9:00 a.m.
Location: Multipurpose Classroom Building, Room 108

Roshan Shrestha

Title: Strong Mutation-Based Test Generation of XACML Policies
Program: Master of Science in Computer Science
Advisor: Dr. Dianxiang Xu, Computer Science
Committee: Dr. Edoardo Serra, Computer Science, Dr. Yantian Hou, Computer Science
Date: October 24, 2018
Time: 11:30 a.m.
Location: City Center Plaza, Room 260

Read Roshan Shrestha's Abstract Here

There exist various testing methods for XACML policies which vary in their overall fault detection ability and none of them can detect all the (killable) injected faults except for the simple policies. Further, it is unclear that what is essential for the fault detection of XACML policies. To address these issues, we formalized the fault detection conditions in the well-studied fault model of XACML policies so that it becomes clear what is essential for the fault detection. We formalized fault detection conditions in the form of reachability, necessity and propagation constraint. We, then, exploit these constraints to generate a mutation-based test suite with the goal to achieve perfect mutation score. Additionally, we have empirically evaluated the cost-effectiveness of various coverage-based testing methods (Rule coverage, Decision coverage, Non-error decision coverage, MC/DC, and Non-error MC/DC) against the near optimal test suite from strong mutation-based test generation (SMT). Rule coverage has good cost-effectiveness such that it achieved better MKPT scores than SMT in many of the policies; however, it has poor fault detection capability. Decision coverage is nearly as cost-effective as SMT in most of the policies and it achieves better mutation score than rule coverage but could not achieve good mutation score in many of the policies. MC/DC has slightly less MKPT scores than SMT; nonetheless, among coverage-based testing methods, MC/DC tests have the highest mutation score and hence could reveal most of the faults. MC/DC even achieved a perfect mutation score for some policies; however, it still could not maintain good mutation score in all the policies.

Michael Detweiler

Title: Microenvironmental Forces Regulate Notch Signaling Through Integrins
Program: Master of Science in Biology
Advisor: Dr. Allan Albig, Biological Sciences
Committee: Dr. Brad E. Morrison, Biological Sciences, and Dr. Troy Rohn, Biological Sciences
Date: October 25, 2018
Time: 2:00 p.m.
Location: Interactive Learning Center, Room 404

Read Michael Detweiler's Abstract Here

The extracellular microenvironment has a vast amount of contributing factors to affect a cell’s function and behavior. These can include cell-cell interactions, cell-substrate interactions, and extracellular physical forces. Cells can receive these signals and forces through various membrane channels and receptors that transmit the signals from the extracellular to the intracellular space. Canonical Notch signaling is induced by ligand interactions with neighboring cells, but recent evidence has revealed that Notch signaling can occur through a variety of extracellular stimuli including hyperglycemia, hypoxia, multiple growth factors, fluid shear stress, and extracellular matrix (ECM) composition. Although Notch activation through ligand interactions with adjacent cells have been well established, non-canonical Notch signaling through the microenvironment is poorly understood. Previous evidence suggests a novel activation of Notch signaling through an integrin pathway, proposing Notch as a microenvironmental sensor. Integrins are cell membrane receptors that are mainly recognized for cell-ECM attachment and induction of cellular signaling cascades but have also been shown to respond and transmit signaling through fluid shear stress and ECM stiffness. Since integrins have been shown to regulate Notch signaling and both exhibit a response to fluid shear stress, we hypothesized that Notch signaling responds to fluid shear stress through integrin activation. To test this, we compared Notch activation following exposure to fluid shear stress and following shear stress after inhibiting integrin function. Our data confirms that Notch activation is significantly upregulated from fluid shear stress compared to a static control and inhibiting integrin function attenuates this response, suggesting integrins are required for Notch’s upregulation from shear stress. Because integrins also respond and transmit signals from varying ECM stiffness and Notch has been shown to be upregulated during conditions of fibrosis, we hypothesized that Notch signaling will be regulated by varying degrees of ECM stiffness through integrin activation. To investigate this hypothesis, we cultured cells on hydrogels with multiple levels of stiffness and measured Notch signaling. Our results indicate that like shear stress, Notch signaling is influenced by ECM stiffness. Collectively our results indicate that Notch signaling is regulated through microenvironmental forces like fluid shear stress and ECM stiffness and is regulated through integrins. This furthers our understanding of the variations of Notch signaling in response to microenvironmental stimuli and the mechanisms involved. Notch has been implicated in a variety of diseases and this data improves our knowledge of Notch signaling in pathological conditions of the microenvironment including abnormal shear stress (e.g. atherosclerosis) and tissue stiffness (e.g. fibrosis).

Clayton Roehner

Title: Post-Fire Variation of Aeolian in the Northern Great Basin
Program: Master of Science in Hydrologic Sciences
Advisor: Dr. Jennifer Pierce, Geosciences
Committee: Dr. Nancy Glenn, Geosciences and Dr. Elowyn Yager, Geosciences and Dr. Frederick Pierson, Geosciences
Date: October 26, 2018
Time: 3:00 p.m.
Location: Engineering Building, Room 103

Read Clayton Roehner's Abstract Here

Aeolian processes play a significant role in the redistribution of sediment and nutrients in sparsely vegetated sagebrush steppe ecosystems. In undisturbed conditions, wind erosion is the most effective method of soil and nutrient redistribution for semi-arid ecosystems. When fire is introduced to the landscape, decreased surface roughness and threshold friction velocities allow for the increased mobility of surface sediments and burnt organic material, mobilizing previously stable material. Once material is entrained, interactions between a dynamic atmosphere and complex topography control the spatial distribution of aeolian deposition over a landscape. Our study uses over two years of continuous passive dust trap data collected following the Soda Fire of August 2015 in the northern Great Basin. We analyze the mass flux, carbon content, grain size distribution, and geochemistry of the collected samples to trace the fingerprint of the Soda Fire through space and time. As such, the results of this study will inform research on post-fire sediment and carbon redistribution, the spatial variability of soil characteristics and landscape evolution in western rangelands. Seasonal variation in aeolian mass flux is pronounced, with the fall months generating the largest magnitudes of dust flux. Immediately following the Soda Fire, a three to five fold increase in the mass flux of both sediment and carbon occurred within and proximal to the burned area, lasting until the first growing season. Samples impacted by fire contained 88% fine silt and clay sized material while undisturbed samples averaged 94%, indicating a temporary increase in the particle size distribution within the burned area. A geochemical comparison of regional and local dust and its sources also indicates a pulse of local sediment mobility following the fire through an increase in the relative concentrations of Titanium (found in local soil) and a decrease in the relative concentrations of Barium and Strontium (found in regional soluble salts). We interpret the cessation in local mobility after revegetation to adequate surface roughness provided from spring “green up” grasses and forbes to return vertical fluxes of carbon and sediment to within pre-disturbance fluctuations. The preferential redistribution of locally derived material onto sheltered, leeward slopes and topographically low positions via aeolian processes adds a layer of complexity to the spatial variability of soil characteristics, typically explained with an aspect controlled water-energy balance within the Great Basin. While anecdotal evidence exists of the “wind-drift” phenomenon following fire, our study confirms the preferential redistribution of local material following fire. Future studies should focus on quantifying and modeling the extent, magnitude, and character of post-fire horizontal flux from exposed windward slopes to sheltered leeward hollows in the sagebrush steppe ecosystem using tracers, saltation sensors, and ground based dust traps to better understand the implications aeolian processes in semi-arid deserts.

Paul Mitchell

Title: A Novel FPGA Implementation of Hierarchical Temporal Memory Spatial Pooler
Program: Master of Science in Electrical & Computer Engineering
Advisor: Dr. Nader Rafla, Electrical and Computer Engineering
Committee: Dr. Jennifer A. Smith, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Dr. Hao Chen, Electrical and Computer Engineering
Date: October 30, 2018
Time: 1:30 p.m.
Location: Micron Engineering Center, Room 301

Read Paul Mitchell's Abstract Here

Hierarchical Temporal Memory (HTM) is a biologically inspired machine intelligence framework which aims to classify and interpret streaming unlabeled data, without supervision, and be able to detect anomalies in such data. In software HTM models, increasing the number of “columns” or processing elements to the levels required to make meaningful predictions in complex data can be prohibitive to analyzing in real time. There exists a need to improve the throughput of such systems. HTMs require large amounts of data available to be accessed randomly, and then processed independently. FPGAs provide a reconfigurable, and easily scalable platform ideal for these types of operations. One of the two main components of the HTM architecture is the “spatial pooler”. This thesis explores a novel hardware implementation of an HTM spatial pooler, with a “boosting” algorithm to increase homeostasis, and a novel classification algorithm to interpret input data in real time. This implementation shows a significant speedup in data processing, and provides a framework to scale the implementation based on the available hardware resources of the FPGA.

Beema Dahal

Title: Effect of Particle Breakage on Ballast Permanent Deformation – A Study using the Discrete Element Method
Program: Master of Science in Civil Engineering
Advisor: Dr. Debakanta Mishra, Civil Engineering
Committee: Dr. Bhaskar Chittoori, Civil Engineering, and Dr. David Potyondy, Civil Engineering
Date: November 1, 2018
Time: 1:00 p.m.
Location: Micron Engineering Center, Room 301

Read Beema Dahal's Abstract Here

The granular ballast layer in a railroad track provides functions such as distributing the load from the sleepers to the subgrade at acceptable levels of stress, dampening of dynamic loads, providing lateral resistance, and rapid drainage. Under train-induced repeated loading, ballast particles undergo breakage leading to significant changes in the shear strength and drainage properties of the granular matrix. This leads to increased maintenance costs as railroad companies strive to restore the track to operational conditions. Laboratory and full-scale testing efforts are widely used to understand the ballast layer behavior under loading. However, these approaches are not capable of presenting a detailed insight into the ballast breakage phenomenon. Researchers have used the Discrete Element Method (DEM) to understand the ballast breakage mechanism as it can effectively show the commencement and evolution of this phenomenon.

This research effort uses the Particle Flow Code (PFC3D®) as a DEM tool to investigate the mechanism of ballast breakage and its effect on permanent deformation within the ballast layer. Different factors affecting the extent of ballast breakage were studied, and inferences were drawn pertaining to the design and construction of in-service railroad tracks. Image analysis was used to model realistic polyhedral-shaped ballast particles. Single Particle Crushing Test (SPCT) was performed to measure the crushing strength of individual ballast particles, and laboratory-obtained values were used for model calibration purposes. Finally, the effect of geogrids on the ballast breakage and permanent deformation was also studied under the scope of this master’s thesis.