Collingwood Undergraduate Research Internships
Thanks to the generosity of one of our alumni, we are able to offer four Collingwood undergraduate students paid research internship placements within academic departments of Durham Univeristy over the summer vacation. These interns have the opportunity to gain first-hand experience of engaging with a senior academic, often as a member of a team involved in cutting edge research projects.
Read more about their internships below (our 2015 interns are currently completing their placements, and we'll add their reports in due course):
2014 Research Interns
Europe in a value-based global order: application for a Horizon2020
Last summer I interned at Durham Law School and worked with two Senior Lecturers in Law, Dr Aoife O’Donoghue and Dr Gleider Hernandez. Under their supervision, I conducted essential research for the joint Durham-Utrecht University Horizons 2020 Grant application. In its general form, the application focuses on the European Union and its values, policies and areas of development to critically analyse the current approach of the European Union to achieve the frustratingly difficult and vague concept of ‘global justice.’ It represents an inter-disciplinary exercise, combining legal academics with philosophers, political scientists and geographers. This combination offers a unique learning experience where issues of global governance and value promotion are analysed with different perspectives and from different disciplinary backgrounds. The eight weeks of research culminated in a conference with all participating academics of the grant. I participated in the discussions on the method and content of the grant application, as well as sharing the research I had done as a springboard for future discussions. This was an incredible opportunity, which not only gave me a better grasp of EU law and international politics, but also special insight into academic research.
Government & International Affairs
Project title: Body politics: institutional responses to abduction
After returning from a year abroad, I joined a research project in its preliminary stages. The project will examine the institutional response to hostage taking in three democratic states. The research will focus upon governmental response to hostage taking and whether this affects which nationalities are targeted, as well as the particular phenomenon of ‘kidnap for ransom’. The outcome and impact of such research is clear, as not only can it inform existing policy on dealing with such issues, but findings and intelligence can also inform new and more appropriate strategies for dealing with hostage taking. Terrorism and security are of growing prominence in both academia and the world today. My primary responsibility was to gather a database of existing literature from a source of multi-disciplinary journals and newspapers, in order to determine important patterns and gaps in the research. This also involved time at the National Archives in Kew, which was an incredible opportunity that I would not have otherwise experienced.
Biological & Biomedical Sciences
Project title: Quality control of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) proteins
Last summer I worked in a laboratory supervised by my academic advisor, Dr Adam Benham, on the quality control of MHC class II molecules and how they influence health and disease. MHC molecules are central to the adaptive immune system and it is for this reason that we do not get ill from the same pathogen after the first encounter. Throughout the project I learned new techniques that are essential for biomedical research, including mammalian tissue culture, DNA work, transfection, immunofluorescence (IF) microscopy, SDS-PAGE, western blotting and biochemical/protein assays.
We generated new data to assist in the publication of papers and grant applications. The skills and experience I have gained from working alongside a world-class research team will be invaluable to my Biomedical Science degree and in the future as a Doctor.
Project title: Knowing fear by feeling fear
During the summer of 2014, I had the wonderful opportunity to work with Dr Luna Centifanti in Durham University’s Department of Psychology, examining antisocial and delinquent youth populations. The project looked specifically at youths that demonstrated high callous and unemotional (CU) traits, characterised by a lack of empathy, lack of remorse, an overall deficit in emotion and severe antisocial behaviours. Research suggests that people with CU traits have difficulties recognising fear in others. This may underlie their antisocial and often violent behaviour. If one does not recognise fear, one may be less inclined to avoid behaving in a dominating or violent way.
Initially I gained experience in data coding and analysis, in particularly how to write syntax, which is the code used to run an analysis on data and create graphs and charts. I then worked on a project that examined a sample of girls in school in the UK and Cyprus. The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between callous and unemotional traits and puberty in adolescent girls. More young males have high callous-unemotional traits and engage in delinquent behaviours than females, so existing research has had a predominantly male-bias. However, by adolescence, females and males look very similar in terms of delinquent behaviours, which may implies that females with an inclination towards delinquency may delay their problematic behaviours until adolescence. Our project found that girls with delayed puberty have more callous-unemotional traits and we then researched possible causal factors including both biological factors, such as higher foetal and circulating testosterone levels, and environmental factors, such as abuse and neglect.
Towards the end of the internship I was lucky enough to lead the work preparing a paper for publication. With the excellent support of Dr Centifanti and other lab members, I analysed the data and did extensive research to make sense of the findings for publishing. My work on this report has improved my research, data analysis, and report-writing skills, which will certainly benefit my academic progression. It also provided me with an invaluable opportunity to have my work published as an undergraduate, which will undoubtedly aid me in pursuing a career in research.
During the final week of my internship I was trained by Dr Centifanti and other lab members to use eye-tracking technology. During this year, I have tested a population of participants, tracking where they look when watching CCTV of an elderly man getting mugged by a masked perpetrator. This has provided me with more paid experience as a member of a research team, and again, I may be acknowledged for my support or be credited as an author for the report. I am currently deciding whether to pursue a career in counselling or research, and this internship provided me with valuable experience, no matter which path I choose.
2013 Research Interns
Project Title: Multi wavelength study of galactic supernova remnants and prospects for CTA
The Large Hadron Collider, at CERN near Geneva, is the largest and most expensive science experiment ever built. After upgrade work is completed in 2015, the collider will be able to create collisions with energies of 13TeV, promising to promising to provide glimpses of the Higgs Boson and super-symmetric particles. However, particles with greater energies do exist outside of particle colliders, and they routinely bombard the Earth’s atmosphere. It is theorised that these are accelerated in the shockwave following the deaths of massive stars, although the theories for this mechanism are still under development. When such particles reach the Earth, they can collide with 50 times the energy of the collisions in the Large Hadron Collider.
Unlike the LHC, these charged particles are impossible to trace to their origin due to the magnetic field of the Milky Way. This makes using them to conduct meaningful astronomical research problematic. Thankfully, during the process of acceleration, high-energy gamma-rays are simultaneously produced. These are a form of light, approximately 10,000,000,000,000 times more energetic than that visible with the human eye, which are not affected by the galaxy’s magnetic field.
During my internship, I will analyse observations of such radiation from the FERMI space telescope. I will then perform simulations of how the remnants of dead stars (such as the supernova remnant RXJ1713.7-3946) will look with the Cherenkov Telescope Array, a next-generation gamma-ray observatory. This proposed project (consisting of around 100 telescopes) will observe the shower of light produced when a high-energy gamma ray enters the Earth’s atmosphere, and would have roughly twice the angular resolution of the current generation of ground-based telescopes [3, 4]. The University of Durham has been closely involved in the development of this particular technique for observing gamma-rays since the 1970s.
Whilst performing this research, I will develop my skills in data analysis, utilising a specialist suite of programs provided by NASA. I will also have the chance to improve my Python programming and abilities with Linux whilst using a high performance computing facility provided by the Physics Department. Ultimately, this project will give me an unparalled opportunity to aid in current astrophysical research and will be an invaluable preparation for the research projects that I will conduct in the later years of my degree.
1.The first LHC protons run ends with new milestone. 2012 17/12/2012 23/6/2013]; Available from: http://press.web.cern.ch/press-releases/2012/12/first-lhc-protons-run-ends-new-milestone
2.Nerlich, S. Astronomy Without A Telescope. 2011 23/6/2013]; Available from: http://www.universetoday.com/86490/astronomy-without-a-telescope-oh-my-god-particles/.
3.Benbow, W. The Status and Performance of H.E.S.S.
4.Acero, F., et al., Gamma-ray signatures of cosmic ray acceleration, propagation, and confinement in the era of CTA. Astroparticle Physics, 2013. 43(0): p. 276-286.
5.Hillas, A.M., Evolution of ground-based gamma-ray astronomy from the early days to the Cherenkov Telescope Arrays. Astroparticle Physics, 2013. 43(0): p. 19-43.
Engineering and Computer Science
Project Title: Vision Processing Algorithms with Raspberry Pi Robots.
This research project within the Computer Science Department involves creating and implementing algorithms for an autonomous Raspberry Pi robot so that using a video camera feed, it can determine its location.
Autonomous robots need to safely and reliably interact with their environment, particularly those which interact with humans. A vision system is a feature that a robot can use to acquire information about its environment from digital camera or video camera feeds, so it can model its environment and better perform its designated task. However, artificial vision processing systems are both complex and very computer intensive. Smaller, simpler and much lower cost robots, such as ones powered by a Raspberry Pi computer, are becoming very readily available and also need good vision capabilities. However due to their more limited computing power, we need to develop more efficient mathematical algorithms which can process image data in a useful way, enabling such robots to better interact with their environment. The aim of the project is to develop some forms of vision processing algorithms which can be efficiently used in Raspberry Pi based systems. This will enable us to use lower cost robots in a more effective way.
My involvement in this research project will allow me to consolidate and reinforce my knowledge in computer science and also to develop my research skills. This additional time in the department, working with experienced people will both extend my knowledge and most importantly provide me with valuable first-hand observation of how these significant research projects and assignments are conducted.
The Collingwood Undergraduate Research Internships Scheme is really a perfect environment for an undergraduate that is interested to expand both their knowledge and learning capabilities between the years of regular study at Durham.
Engineering and Computer Science
Bsc Computer Science
Project Title: Bioimage informatics approach for functional analysis of spatiotemporal dynamics and regulation of actin cytoskeleton in different membrane systems.
During my research internship, I will be supporting a microbiology research group at the University by developing image analysis software for a number of projects, initially starting with tracking pollen in plant membrane systems.
The NETWORKED (NET) proteins were recently identified as plant “missing-link" adaptors between the actin cytoskeleton and different membrane systems. The factors dictating the assembly of these cytoskeletal-membrane interfaces and their functions remain unknown. Proteins from the NET2 subclade are expressed specifically in pollen and form F-actin associated plaques at distinct zones of the pollen plasma membrane (PM).
We are investigating the spatiotemporal dynamics of pollen actin-PM interactions and testing the hypothesis that NET2 distribution and dynamics couples actin to membrane fission/fusion events at the PM. We are also assessing the relationship between NET2 and membrane integrated anchoring proteins. This project uses advanced bioimage informatics tools to facilitate the analysis of spatiotemporal trends in NET2 patch behaviour (e.g. plaque deposition patterns and turn-over times). Co-localisation studies with trafficking markers are also being performed using two dimensional distance maps. Together these analyses will reveal molecular mechanisms behind the co-ordination of cell architecture during plant sexual reproduction.
I developed a keen interest in genetics and, after explaining my intentions of pursuing a research career, was allowed to study it as my elective module. Computational Biology / Bioinformatics is still a new and vastly growing field and employers are struggling to find computer scientists with a knowledge and interest in biological systems.
Project Title: Analysing the pottery and small find assemblage for the Late Iron Age site of Bagenson Oppidum
This research internship placement is a once in a life time opportunity to get a head start in an archaeological academic and research career by collaborating on an internationally important research project.
Bagendon Oppidum is a major Late Iron Age site in Gloucestershire, which has significant potential for understanding the beginning of urbanization in pre-Roman Britain. The site has been excavated in the 1950s, 1980s and it is currently being excavated and surveyed as part of a major research project run by Durham University: 'Understanding the Birth of a Capital: Bagendon Oppidum and the Late Iron Age-Roman Transition’. As part of this project significant amounts of archaeological finds have been retrieved which require analysis to understand the chronological development and economic role of the complex. For this internship I will be learning how to analyse the small find and pottery assemblage from the site. Both of this analysis will be done though supervision from a recognized expert in this field (Dr. Tom Moore) alongside my own independent research. I will be also assisting in the analysis of the environmental samples under the supervision of Dr. Mike Church. It is the hope that this analysis of the environmental samples will be able to help in answering such questions as: what activities where taking place at the site? When the site was occupied? How the site developed and what function each feature may have had? It is intended that through developing expertise in these areas I will contribute to the final report on this project.
My analysis of the small finds, pottery and environmental soil samples will provide me with an opportunity to do both independent and collaborative research, contributing to a long-term academic research project. This will lay the foundations for graduate studies and future research, both of which are my long-term career objectives. As part of the research, I will have to visit museums to view their collections and consult specialists, both of which will contribute to my knowledge, experience as well gaining potential important connections for the future. It is intended that the results from my research will be published as part of the site monograph, which is one of the key research outputs from the entire project. This will provide me with an invaluable and incredibly rare opportunity (especially as a undergraduate student) to gain insight and experience in the publication procedures. For the last week of the internship I will be participating on the associated excavation where the artefacts came from. On the excavation not only will I be able to bring my knowledge back to the field but also I will be able to understand the contexts in which the finds came from. It may be useful for the other students on the excavation also to see how with a little initiative it is sometimes possible to find a researcher or lecturer that would love to have their help and contribute to one of the researchers projects.