Feminism Rediscovered

The quintessential Victorian woman was dedicated to her home and husband, and focused solely on raising children. She was respectable and she was not involved in the public sphere. Although this ideology is characteristic of Western women of the Victorian Era, undergraduate researcher Holly Nelson found evidence of American women breaking these gender norms in the late 1800s.

In her senior thesis, Nelson discusses the representation of American women in the 1876 Centennial Exposition and the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. These were the first world’s fairs to be held in the United States, and they were a chance for America to demonstrate its industrial power to the world.

In the 1876 Centennial, women were not given a space to present their work with their male counterparts. Undeterred, the women— led by President of the Women’s Centennial Committee Elizabeth Duane Gillespie— organized and fundraised to create their own building, the Women’s Pavilion, that showcased inventions by women. Their actions were controversial at the time because women were not considered a part of the public sphere.

The 1876 Centennial set the precedent for American women to have their own building in the world’s fair, so in the 1893 Exposition, Sophia Hayden, the first female graduate of architecture at MIT, designed the Woman’s Building. 

Nelson argues that despite maintaining a conservative image, in these instances, women were fighting for their right to participate in society. Primary sources that include letters of internal correspondence and speeches revealed how these women wanted to help solve the social and economic problems that plagued American society. They may not have known it at the time, but these women demonstrated feminism in its earliest beginnings.  

Linguistics Research on Latino Culture

Jane the Virgin is a romantic comedy-drama telenovela that has received critical acclaim for its humor, storytelling, and, most importantly, for its multifaceted portrayal of Latino culture. The show has garnered many fans, one of them being UCSB undergraduate Victoria Melgarejo, who decided to study the show’s linguistic representations of Latinos.

Melgarejo appreciated the show’s complex representations of Latinos as opposed to typical stereotypes. She wondered what exactly about the show was different, and how these differences were represented linguistically. She found that, in the show, a character’s decision to speak Spanish was related to the character’s age and the situation that he or she was in.

Along with her interest in language representation in the media, Melgarejo is interested in language attitudes, which are personal beliefs about a language that are often similar throughout a community. Her current research focuses on English monolinguals and bilingual Latinos and how they see Spanish as a marker of cultural identity. This research has three parts: a survey, individual interviews, and focus groups.

Her findings from the survey indicate that most participants believe that Spanish is crucial in order to identify as Latino. This contradicts the responses from the interviews, where most participants said that knowing how to speak Spanish is important for communication, but not necessary to identify as Latino.

Melgarejo found correlations between community and siblings, and the likelihood of speaking Spanish. Younger siblings were less likely to speak or understand Spanish than older siblings, and a lack of other Spanish speakers in one’s community negatively affected one’s ability to speak Spanish.

Her research revealed insecurities from both monolinguals and bilinguals. Monolinguals felt insecure about not knowing any Spanish. Bilinguals worried that their Spanish was not as good as their parents, that they did not know all of the words in Spanish, and that they speak English with an accent.

Melgarejo’s next step is to conduct focus groups for bilingual and monolingual speakers to further discuss Spanish as a marker of cultural identity within the Latino community, and to have a conversation about common harmful stereotypes and linguistic discrimination.


Fighting Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria With Viruses

Bacteria. The single-celled organisms responsible for a range of diseases from food poisoning to the bubonic plague. Modern medicine, especially antibiotics, has allowed us to survive these bacterial diseases. Unfortunately, antibiotics are not working as well as they used to because bacteria are getting better at getting us sick.

The growing problem with using antibiotics, which are the first line of defense against infections, is that bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics. Due to the growing prevalence of pathogenic diseases, scientists are scrambling to come up with alternatives to diagnose and treat bacterial infections and diseases.

Undergraduate researcher, Colin Kim, is familiar with this problem, and he is working to help solve it. As a researcher under Chemistry Professor Irene Chen, Kim studies bacteriophages, viruses that infect bacteria. Although there are more bacteriophages on Earth than there are bacteria, the vast majority are uncharacterized. The Chen group aims to characterize bacteriophages so that they can be engineered to treat bacterial infections.

A typical wound contains a diverse community of microorganisms, and the Chen group hypothesizes that it contains bacteriophages. In order to figure out the different types of bacteriophages, you first need a way to collect them. Last summer, Kim helped develop a method of swabbing human skin to collect bacteriophages and determine the amount of bacteriophage present.

Kim is currently collaborating with researchers to develop a diagnostic tool to detect specific types of bacteria. Because bacteriophages have a high affinity for the types of bacteria they infect, researchers can chemically modify the bacteriophage protein coat so that the bacteriophage will fluoresce, or glow, when it binds to bacteria.

Kim uses the bacteriophage M13, which is well-studied and has a strong affinity for E. Coli. By modifying different parts of the M13 protein coat, researchers can make it have a high affinity for a different bacteria such as Methicillin-Resistant Staphlococcus aureus (MRSA), a pathogenic bacteria that is resistant to higher order antibiotics.

Studying bacteriophages may lead to new developments in how we treat bacterial infections and diseases.

The Dangers of Environmental Activism in the Philippines

Environmental violence.

Internet searches of this term produce several, very different definitions: environmental disasters that cause damage to human life and property, the environmental causes of human violence against each other, and the exploitation of humans and the environment. Another definition, one that does not come up in these searches, is the violence against environmental activists by a corporation or a government. This is the subject that UCSB undergraduate, Michelle Sevilla, chose to research under the guidance of Political Science Professor Matto Mildenberger.

To collect data for her research assistantship, which focuses on environmental violence in the Philippines, Sevilla used EJAtlas, an online resource that documents social conflicts surrounding environmental issues around the world. This data set provided detailed testimonies of Filipino/a citizens that had been harmed by corporations or the government because of their activism. This resource is particularly useful because these human rights abuses are often not addressed by the government and not investigated by the police, creating a climate that justifies the violence against these activists.

Sevilla described one of the many violent situations she had to review:

This… eleven year old boy was en route to school with his dad- [who is fighting] for his environmental rights, his indigenous rights to his own land- when he was killed en route to school because he and his father were ambushed… I feel all of those situations very empathetically so it hurts… It’s a profound sadness and weird reduction of people’s complex, tragically ended lives into an Excel sheet.

It is not often that an undergraduate research project is so emotionally taxing, and Sevilla credits the honest communication with Mildenberger that reassured her and encouraged her to move forward with this topic. The next step in her project is to contact environmental organizations in the Philippines to learn more about how the organizations and activists are dealing with these conflicts.

For more information on this subject, you may contact Michelle Sevilla at: michelle.irabon.sevilla@gmail.com

The Highs and Lows of a Research Project

One of the enticing facts that drew me to UC Santa Barbara was that it was one of the top schools for research. It sounded interesting, but I didn’t have a great idea of what you actually do in research. When I imagined what a research project was like, I imagined a “grown-up” version of my fourth grade science fair project where I compared mung bean plant growth in sunlight and in shade. It wasn’t until I completed my own small research project that I learned how difficult but rewarding research actually is.

During the summer of 2016 I took EEMB 170: Biology of the Marine- Land Interface. This was the most challenging and the most fun science course of my undergraduate career so far. I experienced firsthand what it’s like to do fieldwork and conduct a research project. This class had lectures with set material that we had to learn, but in the labs I had the opportunity to be creative and learn independently by designing and conducting an independent research project. Compared to previous classes, I never felt as much responsibility for my learning than when I was working on the research project.

Soda Bottle on Clam Gun

Something as simple as a 2L soda bottle can become a cutting-edge research tool!

The final project was a research paper about some aspect of the beach food web. I wanted to study something I had no experience with, so I studied blood worm abundance and distribution. The experiment was conducted with a partner, while the analysis of the data was done individually. We would use clam gun to take a few cores at a site at different times for a few days, and count the number of blood worms found in each core, as well as the depth each blood worm was found. However, when we tried sampling the sites, we found that this project would be much harder to accomplish.

I thought that sampling would be easy because we had planned it out well, but it required a lot more problem solving. I learned that the provided tools may not be enough, so I had to make my own. When we released the cores into a dish pan, the sand would crumble instead of holding the cylinder shape of the clam gun.

The solution? Find a container the exact diameter of the clam gun. We would place the clam gun in the container, shake out the core into this container, and this would allow us to dig out the blood worms and note their location. We brainstormed different ideas, like cutting a PVC pipe, or shaping a sheet of plastic. I spent a few hours at the Home Depot trying out different cylinder-shaped items, but I couldn’t find anything that really worked. Luckily, I found that a 2-liter soda bottle is the perfect fit for a clam gun.

I asked many questions throughout this research project and I had the advice of two research professors, a graduate student, and a lab assistant to brainstorm with and answer all of my questions. I also had help from the members of the lab I intern. I thought research projects were more of a solo effort, only involving the researchers. It was a nice surprise to realize how collaborative the process really is, and the support was encouraging. I learned so much from asking questions, and this helped me the most when writing the paper.

The hardest part was figuring out how to use Excel and how to understand my data. The most interesting part was reading about other research projects that people have done on blood worms. From one of the papers, I learned that blood worms have practical use as biological indicators for environmental management. I had no prior knowledge of or experience with blood worms, but after reading through many research papers, I ended up learning more about blood worms than I needed to write my paper.

Blood Worm

A sandy beach blood worm. It gets the red color because the molecule it uses to transport oxygen, known as hemoglobin, turns red in the presence of oxygen. Sound familiar? We have hemoglobin in our red blood cells!

I’ve learned that research is about repeatable results that can be clearly interpreted, so it was interesting to see how my partner and I drew different conclusions from the same data. I thought that we could neither prove nor deny our hypothesis, while she thought that our hypothesis was correct. I thought that data was made of solid facts, so there was only one way to understand it. It seems that data doesn’t always speak for itself, and that research projects won’t always have simple answers.

I hypothesized that blood worms burrow vertically into the sand when the tidal level rose. After sampling and analyzing the data, I didn’t have a definitive answer. It only led to more questions that led to ideas for future research, which I found to be exciting. I wondered how researchers find so many topics to research about. It seems that, while the purpose of a research project is to answer a question, it often leads to more questions. There’s always more to learn, and I think that’s something to look forward to.

My experience in this class, and especially with this research project, has validated my decision to pursue a science degree. I thoroughly enjoyed the learning and the challenges I faced in this class. Finishing this research project felt like more of an accomplishment than any success in a more traditional class setting.