Abstract Preview: 15th Annual Mountain Lion Research Day

The 15th Annual Mountain Lion Research Day (MLRD) will be this coming Friday, Dec. 8 from 12-4 p.m. in the Gallogly Events Center. This year, there are 99 registered presentations, making this event one of the largest MLRDs to date.

MLRD is a research and creative work poster showcase for students, faculty and staff. Awards for the Top Undergraduate and Graduate Student Scholars will be awarded, as will the Outstanding Research Mentor and Million Dollar Club Member inductions.

The community is welcome to stop by anytime and see the posters, talk to the authors and learn more about the high-caliber research and creative works on the UCCS campus. Light refreshments will be served.

Check out a sneak peek of some of the abstracts below.

Entering the Chat: Roles for Technical Communicators in AI Prompt Engineering
Haley Apricio | Undergraduate, Department of Technical Communication and Information Design
This research evaluates how technical and professional communication (TPC) professionals are positioned to take a leading role in the field of text-based and large language model (LLM) AI prompt engineering based on their skill set and background with audience analysis, appropriate communication of technical material, and ethical considerations–all of which are relevant to the emerging field. Prompt engineering–the creation and refinement of instructional input given to generative AI models–is a critical part of utilizing AI to maximum impact in many industries. Creating the right prompt for an AI and understanding how the model will respond to it improves the efficiency and abilities of AI. TPC’s skill sets and code of conduct uniquely position its practitioners to not only assist in AI prompt development but also educate audiences on the capabilities, uses, and implications of AI. TPC is also well-suited to guide the use of AI tools across disciplines, establishing best practices and ethical standards, and ensuring the responsible use of AI. This paper synthesizes theory and practice to address how TPC professionals can inform audiences about technical concepts, apply the iterative process to prompting, and manage potential ethical concerns from new advancements in prompt engineering and large language models.

Managing Pain in Postoperative Patients: Non-opioid with Opioid vs. Opioid Monotherapy
Abigail Barhydt | Undergraduate, Department of Nursing
The opioid epidemic continues to worsen in the United States; this epidemic has also negatively impacted the state of Colorado. According to The Colorado Behavioral Health Administration (n.d.), 543 opioid overdose deaths were documented in Colorado in 2018. The Iowa Model of Evidence-Based Practice served as a framework for the project. The purpose of our EBP project is to critically appraise and synthesize the evidence for postoperative pain management interventions and make a decision about best practice. A clinical question was then developed to guide the EBP project: in postoperative patients, what is the effect of non-opioid interventions in conjunction with opioids in comparison to opioid monotherapy on pain management during hospitalization? The result of our literature search from CHINAL, PubMed, and Trip, includes 14 peer reviewed journal articles from 2013-2023. Of these articles, there are three systematic reviews, one meta-analysis, one scoping review, and nine randomized controlled trials. The preliminary analysis supports the use of non-opioid interventions in conjunction with opioids. A complete evaluation of the quality, strength, and consistency of the evidence as well as a comparison to current practice is needed to make a determination about best practice.

Determinants of Physical Activity Self-Efficacy among those with Spinal Cord Injury: A Photo-Elicitation Study
Velette Britt | Graduate Student, Department of Health Sciences
Physical activity (PA) in those with a spinal cord injury (SCI) is exceptionally low. Previous literature has outlined consistent barriers to PA participation, and despite growing knowledge, little change in participation rates has been observed. Self-regulation and PA self-efficacy (PASE) have been identified as moderately correlated with PA behavior, however, little is understood about how pre-SCI experiences of PASE affect post-SCI PASE. A photo-elicitation study was conducted to understand how pre-SCI PASE affects post-SCI PASE. The interview focused on the meanings of the photographs taken by participants, their insight into influences on their confidence to be PA, and their pre- vs. post- SCI self-efficacy sources. Deductive thematic analysis using Self-Efficacy Theory and Social Cognitive Theory was conducted to interpret participants’ sources and barriers to PASE and how pre-injury SCI self-efficacy impacts post-injury self-efficacy. Twelve persons with SCI participated. Main themes influencing confidence were found to be accessibility/environmental barriers, social support, body judgments/functions, outcome expectations of PA, mastery/vicarious experiences, and self-regulation strategies. Pre-SCI mastery experiences related to post-SCI mastery experiences when the participant was optimally challenged. Vicarious experiences and verbal persuasion related to greater PASE when accompanied with an experience of mastery. Somatic experiences increased PASE when accompanied with positive outcome expectations of PA. This study adds nuance to how pre-SCI PASE experiences affect post-SCI PASE for those with SCI by describing specific barriers and facilitators to PASE. Understanding these sources and detractors of PASE will enable future programs in promoting PA in those who acquire a SCI later in life.

Sleep Hygiene Moderates the Relation Between Self-Compassion and Sleep Self-Efficacy in Trauma Survivors
Gemma Brom | Graduate Student, Psychology
Sleep self-efficacy (SSE), one’s confidence in their ability to engage in sleep behaviors to bring about healthy sleep, can be related to various facets of sleep and sleep-related behavior such as sleep quality and bedtime procrastination (BP), the volitional delay of going to bed at one’s intended bedtime. High SSE can be positively associated with higher self-compassion (SC) sleep satisfaction, duration, and efficiency, whereas low SSE positively predicts BP (Liao et al., 2021; Przepiórka et al., 2019). SC has also been shown to improve sleep quality (Neff, 2003). Research examining the relation among self-compassion, SSE, and other sleep-related variables in trauma-exposed individuals is limited. Given benefits of SSE on sleep, it would be clinically useful to understand whether sleep hygiene behaviors affect how strongly SC and SSE are related. We hypothesized that sleep hygiene would moderate the relationship between SC and SSE, such that the relation between SC self-compassion and SSE would be strongest in those who practice better sleep hygiene. In this study, 235 college students completed an online survey assessing trauma exposure, SC, sleep hygiene, and SSE. As predicted, sleep hygiene moderated the relationship between SC and SSE (R2 = .28, p <.005). Correlational analysis also demonstrated that SSE and sleep quality were correlated (r = -.58, p < .001). Results suggest that focusing on sleep hygiene could potentially help those practicing SC to have greater SSE, and perhaps, better sleep quality. Future studies should examine whether optimizing self-compassion and sleep hygiene bring about better sleep.

Stepwise Building Block Os(II) Complexes for Potential use in Photodynamic Therapy
Alissa Ervin | Undergraduate, Department of Chemistry/Biochemistry
Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is an area of research that aims to incorporate photosensitizing agents into cancer treatment to provide a less invasive treatment and improve patients’ quality of life. Similar to past research with ruthenium complexes, osmium metal-ligand complexes have shown promising opportunity in PDT. The proximal and distal [Os(dpop’)(3,6-dppn)(Cl)]+ isomers were synthesized, separated, purified, and characterized in order to develop a preparative method for future complexes capable of binding Pt(Cl)2 for potential use in PDT. The complexes were purified through column chromatography using a Sephadex LH-20 column. Characterization of the complexes through 1H, 13C NMR and COSY and HSQC NMR, and HRMS verified the successful syntheses of proximal and distal [Os(dpop’)(3,6-dppn)(Cl)]+ isomers. Quantitative UV-Vis spectra showed that the metal-to-ligand charge transfer transitions in both isomers are compatible with the wavelength of light necessary to penetrate the skin.

A Tripartite Approach for Efficient Human Round Trip Missions to Mars and Ceres
Jon Garbrick | Undergraduate, Department of Engineering and Applied Science
NASA’s Artemis program looks to return to the moon and establish more presence on the moon to use as an aid for future Mars missions. NASA’s Dawn mission, which successfully orbited the asteroid Vesta in 2011 and later visited the dwarf planet Ceres in 2015, utilized Mars for a gravity assist, revealing natural resources on Ceres which can potentially be used to aid. With advancements in interplanetary mission design, human travel to Mars and Ceres is now feasible within the next decade. This research outlines a low delta V round-trip human mission trajectory to Earth, Mars, and Ceres, using carefully selected low-energy routes and three key strategies to further decrease the required energy. These strategies include aerocapture and aerobraking at Mars and a gravity assist at Mars for the journey to Ceres. The mission concludes with a direct reentry to Earth. These strategies are all aimed at minimizing delta V without extending the time of flight of the mission. Additionally, the research includes optimal launch dates and times and explores the potential for using the resources found on both Mars and Ceres. Ultimately the mission design will reduce mission risk and enhance mission success over a 4.25 to 4.5-year mission duration. This technology is enabling for long-term human survival on other planets allowing for innovative research and resource sharing.

Imaging cells and tissues with spinning disk confocal microscopy
Joey Hamilton | Undergraduate, Department of Chemistry/Biochemistry
There are numerous phenomena that occur in biological systems that are not visible to the naked human eye, which catalyzed the invention of the first microscopes in the 16th century. This was the genesis of many significant advances in scientific research, including the creation of spinning disk confocal microscopy in 1968 by Hadravsky and Petráň. Spinning disk confocal microscopy (SDCM) describes the use of a Petráň disk with an array of pinholes set in an Archimedean Spiral which allows the incoming laser to move through the disk to excite the sample. As the laser illuminates the spinning disk, the resulting beam is split into hundreds of beamlets which scan the entire sample to aid in producing a clear image. The fluorescence emission from the sample is then imaged back through the spinning disk, preventing any out of focus light from reaching the camera. In lab the SDCM technique is used to capture high resolution images of cells and tissues. The SDCM technique has applications in biomedical research to further understand cell structure/ function using cells or tissues tagged with fluorescent proteins that are able to emit light when excited with a laser.

Optimal Planning of Hybrid Fuel Cell-Battery System for Microgrid Applications
Sabir Ali Kalhoro | Graduate Student, Electrical Engineering
Developing hybrid fuel cell-battery storage for electric power grid applications brings multifaceted benefits. Firstly, it offers enhanced flexibility and reliability to the grid by combining the strengths of both technologies. Fuel cells provide consistent, long-duration power generation, ideal for maintaining a stable baseline supply. Meanwhile, batteries excel in rapid response and short-duration energy needs, swiftly meeting peak demands or balancing intermittent renewable sources. This hybrid approach optimizes the use of renewable energy by storing excess power from sources like solar or wind in batteries while utilizing fuel cells as a backup during high-demand periods or when renewables are insufficient. Moreover, it contributes to grid stability, reducing reliance on fossil fuels, cutting emissions, and fostering a more sustainable energy ecosystem. The synergy between fuel cells and batteries presents a promising pathway towards a more efficient, resilient, and eco-friendly grid infrastructure. To this end, this research work proposes a novel model for optimal sizing and energy management of hybrid Fuel cell-lithium battery system for microgrid applications considering a trade-off between low cost and high efficiency of the lithium battery and the high energy density, and lifetime of fuel cell. Furthermore, the proposed approach considers the investment and operating costs of the hybrid system, the State-of-the Health (SOH) and dynamic efficiency of fuel cell, as well as battery degradation cost. Simulation results have demonstrated the effectiveness of the proposed approach. This research serves toward advancing renewable energy integration by optimizing storage capacities and providing adaptable, reliable power sources, thus enhancing grid stability.

Environmental Determinants of Parasitoid Abundance
Heron Lenz | Graduate Student, Department of Biology
Aphids form colonies on stems, roots, and leaves that feed on, and inhibit the growth of, the host plant. Parasitoid wasps parasitize the aphids, which may limit aphid colony growth. Due to the role of aphids in managing plant health, most research conducted on aphid-parasitoid interactions has taken place in agricultural settings, and little is known about the biotic and abiotic factors that drive parasitoid wasp abundance. Insects were sampled from vegetation at 20 sites along an elevation gradient near Crested Butte, CO in 2017,2018,2019,2020 and 2023. In fall 2023, we sorted these insects by taxonomic order and counted individuals in the families Aphelinidae and Aphidiinae. We found site-to-site variation in the abundance of parasitic wasps and fit a model to determine the drivers of that variation. Parasitoid abundance was greatest in sites with fewer aphids, which may suggest top-down effects limiting aphid colony establishment.

Determining the impact of Perfluorinated Compounds on microbial species diversity
Halie Martin | Undergraduate, Department of Health Science
Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs) are chemicals characterized by multiple extremely strong carbon-fluorine bonds that convey lipophobic and hydrophobic properties to industrial products. PFCs are used in a wide range of products from fire extinguishers and waterproof clothing to food wrappers and non-stick pans. Due to its prevalence within many industries, PFCs have extensively accumulated within the environment. Currently, there is no efficient way to clean PFCs from soil and water sources after sites are contaminated. This poses a health risk to the human population surrounding contaminated areas, as PFCs can bioaccumulate in the body and can cause adverse health effects. In fact, increased cancer rates have been well documented in PFC contaminated regions. In Colorado Springs, the release of fire retardants into the Fountain Creek Watershed has caused documented PFC contamination requiring the urgent development of remediation strategies. Thus, there is a critical need for remediating acute PFC contamination from our local environment. Unfortunately, current methods for PFC removal are expensive and energetically costly. However, microbes (bacteria or fungi) found in PFC contaminated environments hypothetically would have developed biochemical pathways that metabolize PFCs into nontoxic byproducts. To identify microbes that potentially could bioremediate PFCs, we are comparing the bacterial and fungal communities of collected soil samples from areas with presumed clean and known PFCs contamination. By examining the microbiome diversity, we may identify a particular microbial genus that thrives in PFC contaminated areas that could be used for bioremediation. We present our characterization of microbial community diversity in PFC contaminated soil.

MiniMag: A Magnetometer Based on the Faraday Effect for Space Applications
Kaitlin McAllister | Undergraduate, Department of Physics
Accurate measurements of the magnetic fields of the Sun, Earth, and other planets are necessary to answer important questions in physics and better understand how these magnetic fields affect satellites and communications on Earth. Future space exploration will benefit from highly sensitive magnetometers able to measure magnetic fields over a wide range of frequencies. We present a concept of a magnetometer based on the Faraday effect that offers improvements over magnetometers currently used in space. Unlike other magnetometers, our design will be small enough to fit on a CubeSat, enabling easier and less expensive magnetic field measurements in space, and it offers better sensitivity over a larger range of frequencies. The Faraday effect is a phenomenon in which polarized light traveling through a magnetic material along the magnetization direction experiences a rotation of the polarization direction of the light. The magnetization depends on the applied magnetic field and rotates the polarization direction of the light. Our magnetometer uses infrared laser light traveling through a small sensing element of yttrium iron garnet, a magnetic material. By measuring the rotation of the light’s polarization direction, we determine the magnetic field. We discuss the design of the magnetometer and its performance, including work done to improve its sensitivity and ability to measure magnetic fields at high frequencies, and future plans to further improve the magnetometer’s sensitivity and develop a flight-ready design.

The Battlefield and Back Again
Bella Miteff | Undergraduate, Department of the Humanities
This research project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities was created to provide a platform for veterans and civilians to discuss first hand experiences related to life in and observing the military. The project is a podcast which focuses on a set of community conversations that involves veterans, active military personnel, their families, and civilians. Every episode discusses the issues facing our military and veteran communities. Each group involved in The Battlefield and Back Again has facilitators who were trained to lead discussions centered around these heavy topics. There has never been an archive of first-person experiences documented from veterans and civilians. Something like this would naturally show how the military influences people’s world views.

Transforming Food Access: A Community-Driven Approach to Evaluate and Enhance Healthy Food Access in Utuado, Puerto Rico
Laura Montañez Villafañe | Graduate Student, Department of Health Sciences
Introduction: Tackling the pressing issue of healthy food accessibility in Utuado, Puerto Rico, is paramount. The purpose of this project was to utilize the Community Readiness Model to implement an upstream approach to identifying barriers and facilitators to accessing healthy foods in the Utuado community. Methods: This project used a revised version of the Community Readiness Assessment Tool (CRAT). The CRAT assessed four dimensions of community readiness: Community Efforts, Leadership, Knowledge About the Issue, and Resources for Prevention Efforts. Twenty-three questions across the four dimensions were asked in one-on-one interviews with seven key community stakeholders. Based on stakeholder responses, the interviewer scored community readiness for each dimension. Descriptive statistics were used to examine participant demographics and community readiness status. Qualitative themes related to healthy food accessibility were also identified. Results: Quantitative data revealed that community readiness scores across dimensions ranged from “pre-planning” (Community Efforts) to “initiation” (Leadership, Community Climate, Resources) with overall community readiness identified as “preparation.” Qualitative analysis revealed multifaceted themes, including cultural considerations, community-rooted challenges, and leadership dynamics. Cultural aspects highlighted the role of family in fostering healthy practices. Community-rooted challenges were linked to the impact of infrastructure, access to food, natural disasters, and governmental leadership that hindered progress. Conclusions: This project provides insight into Utuado’s healthy food accessibility landscape. These findings may be useful in guiding the development of interventions to improve access to healthy food in Utuado by capitalizing on community strengths, such as community engagement and cultural relevance, to empower the community to act.

Work and Cognition: Unveiling the Optimal Balance for Peak Mental Performance
Caleb Moyer | Undergraduate, Department of Psychology
Work is a significant aspect of Americans’ lives, profoundly influencing their health. This study explored the impact of work on cognitive ability, utilizing data from the Add Health Wave V Public-Use dataset (N = 4,196). Participants who were included had both information for their hours worked and scores from a backward-digit span task (N = 625) which tests working memory. A correlational analysis was used and found the relationship between hours worked (M = 35.51, SD = 19.56) and working memory scores (M = 4.15, SD = 1.55) to be statistically significant, r(N = 625) = .10, p = .010, with a medium effect, r2 quadratic = .04 and with 95% CI [.02, .18]. The study revealed an inverted U-shaped correlation between work hours and working memory scores. Working memory scores increased initially, plateaued near 40 hours, and decreased with higher hours, aligning with the Yerkes-Dodson Law. This law suggests an optimal stress level for cognitive function, seen here at around 40 hours of work per week. This suggests that additional cognitive training could be performed by those who work fewer hours and efforts should be made to reduce the amount of overtime people perform in order to maximize one’s cognitive function. This research contributes valuable insights into the nuanced relationship between work hours and cognitive performance, informing strategies for optimizing mental well-being in the workforce.

Learn more about Mountain Lion Research Day here.