Graduate Poster Session Celebrates Students’ Research

The event is a highlight of the annual Graduate Student Appreciation Week. 

On April 11, 57 graduate students shared their work with about 200 members of the community at Dartmouth’s annual Graduate Poster Session. The research spanned topics from the magnetic properties of neutron stars to how our facial expressions influence other people’s opinions of us.

“I love seeing the quality and breadth of the research our students do, and the energy in the room is amazing,” says F. Jon Kull ’88, dean of the School of Graduate and Advanced Studies. “It is also a great time to acknowledge the great work the faculty do as mentors to graduate students and the impressive amount of service our students do for the local and global community.”

Five graduate students received awards for their work this year. Here’s a summary of their research in their own words:

McKinley Brumback
(Photo by Lars Blackmore)

McKinley Brumback, Physics and Astronomy

Hometown: Baltimore, Md.

Poster Title: Using NuSTAR to Probe X-ray Pulsars with Warped Disks and Flares

Research: “I am interested in the behavior of matter in the most extreme conditions found in the universe: the environments of neutron stars. Neutron stars are created in supernova explosions and have gravitational and magnetic fields trillions of times that of Earth’s. When neutron stars form in a binary with a stellar companion, that companion can transfer gas to the neutron star. This gas falls onto the neutron star along its magnetic field lines in a poorly understood process called magnetic accretion. I am using X-ray observations to map the structure of the inner accretion disk and search for new cyclotron line sources, which can further our understanding of the magnetic properties of these unique objects.” 

Why Dartmouth: “I was drawn to Dartmouth by the opportunities for observational astronomy. Upon visiting, the faculty and students immediately made me feel welcome. Since joining the physics and astronomy department, I have been able to travel to Arizona to observe at Kitt Peak National Observatory, present my research at conferences around the country, and interact with the Upper Valley through outreach. Dartmouth provides the perfect mix of excellent research opportunities and close-knit town charm, and I'm very happy to be part of this community.” 

Jim Hyun Cheong
(Photo by Lars Blackmore)

Jin Hyung Cheong, Psychological and Brain Sciences

Hometown: Seoul, Korea

Poster Title: Inferring Social Impressions From Facial Expressions

Research: “It is extremely difficult to untangle emotions from our judgments and decision-making processes. We immediately form simple and complex impressions of new people we meet, such as how much we like or trust them based on their looks, the way they speak, and their interactions with others. My research focuses on using computational tools to gain insight into how social impressions are formed and their relationship with our emotional reactions. We study this by recording participants’ facial expressions, physiological responses, and neural activity while they form impressions of characters from a television drama. By leveraging individual emotional responses and differences in emotional experiences across participants, we predict how the participants think of different characters at the end of each episode. Using similar techniques, we are also investigating how complex emotions such as regret, guilt, and shame influence individual and interpersonal judgments that can suggest new ways to improve individual and group decision making processes.”

Why Dartmouth: “I was drawn to Dartmouth by the vibrant academic and social atmosphere of the psychological and brain sciences department, which has one of the leading programs in the field of social and affective neuroscience. I am grateful to be in an intellectually stimulating environment where I learn something new every day from discussions with both faculty and other graduate students. I was also excited to work with Dr. Luke Chang, who combines computational, behavioral, and neuroimaging techniques to improve our understanding of both economic and social decision-making processes. Dartmouth is also a collaborative scientific community from which we have also benefited in building new research tools with Thayer School of Engineering and the computer sciences department.”

Christina Gilligan
(Photo by Lars Blackmore)

Christina Gilligan, Physics and Astronomy

Hometown: Woodbridge, Va.

Poster Title: Multiple Populations in Globular Clusters in the Large Magellanic Cloud

Research: “My research with Brian Chaboyer looks at globular clusters, which are groups of stars that are gravitationally bound to each other. They are the building blocks of galaxies. It used to be thought that the stars within a globular cluster were all formed at the same time and with the same chemical composition. However, nearly all Milky Way globular clusters that have been examined have evidence for multiple stellar populations. The stars within them for some reason have different ages or chemical composition, or something else entirely. For my research, we are looking at globular clusters in the Large Magellanic Cloud, which is a small galaxy orbiting the Milky Way, examining them for evidence for multiple populations. If multiple populations in globular clusters occur both in the Milky Way and the Large Magellanic Cloud, then the creation mechanism for them must be inherent to both galaxies.”

Why Dartmouth: “The physics and astronomy department here has a strong culture of cooperation and camaraderie. Graduate students here help each other to succeed and are not trying to compete with each other. This made it a really good fit for the type of experience I was looking for. Being so close to so many amazing natural settings doesn’t hurt, either.”

Mavra Nasir
(Photo by Lars Blackmore)

Mavra Nasir, Quantitative Biological Sciences

Hometown: Lahore, Pakistan

Poster Title: Diagnosing Lung Infections Using Breath in Cystic Fibrosis individuals

Research: “At the Hill lab, we are interested in developing noninvasive diagnostics that lead to better clinical outcomes for patients. My research is focused on individuals with cystic fibrosis. Using advanced mass-spectrometry and machine learning techniques, we are testing our hypothesis that human breath consists of volatile biomarkers that can be used to fingerprint pathogens. We are also interested in how these biomarkers are produced, and we are working with the Hogan lab to gain a mechanistic understanding of the underlying biochemical pathways. And last but not least, we are also actively trying to understand—mostly by engaging with clinicians—how a breath test can be accommodated in a clinical setting.”

Why Dartmouth: “I came here because of the quantitative biological sciences department. The program offers inter-disciplinary training in population and basic sciences. As a graduate student, it is extremely helpful to be in a program that brings researchers from areas as diverse as epidemiology, bioinformatics, biostatistics, computer science, and engineering under the same umbrella. In addition, the lung biology core has been a great resource, especially with the weekly seminars. I have also had the opportunity to take classes relevant to my area of research in the MCB program, and both the administration and faculty have been very supportive of the cross-talk.”

Xiaotian Dennis Wu
(Photo by Lars Blackmore)

Xiaotian (Dennis) Wu, Thayer School of Engineering

Hometown: East Greenwich, R.I.

Poster Title: Laryngoscopy System for Intra-operative Imaging During Trans-oral Surgery

Research: “I design surgical tools and develop image-based guidance systems to aid surgeons during an operation. In Professor Halter’s lab, we explore a plethora of medical devices to assist clinicians and improve patient outcomes. In this particular work, we designed, 3D-printed, and built a CT/MR-compatible laryngoscopy system with Dr. Paydarfar, an ENT surgeon at DHMC. Our scope and system has been used on a number of patients to obtain beautiful, artifact-free CT images. This gives the surgeon the ability to get the most updated view of the patient’s anatomy during the operation. Our study also allows us to understand the tissue deformation that occurs during surgery. We hope that we can use this information to generate predictive tissue deformation models to reduce the need for expensive intra-operative imaging in the future.”

Why Dartmouth: “I fell in love with Hanover in the fall of 2010 and have loved it here ever since. It is just such a nice feeling to walk out of a high-tech engineering or medical facility and be embraced by nature. Beyond its natural beauty, Dartmouth also has tremendous resources. Having a world-class surgical facility (the Center for Surgical Innovation) right next door is a huge benefit to my research. It is wonderful to meet and collaborate with people from all over the world here at Dartmouth as well. The community makes me feel at home, and I feel extremely supported by my mentors, professors, employees, and friends here.”