My current research takes advantage of the empathic, approach-oriented facets of compassion to investigate the broader concept of prosociality. My SURF project explores the neural basis of prosocial emotion by examining individual differences in dispositional traits in context of both central (with functional brain imaging) and peripheral (with measurements of vagus nerve activity) nervous system response to compassion inducing stimuli. The ultimate goal of my research is to identify both the dispositional traits that influence compassion, and the physiological factors that support prosocial behavior, and study how impaired compassion can affect healthy social interaction.
This summer I will be exploring the origins of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender community spaces in the Bay Area. I am exploring primary sources such as newsletters and organizational records as well as doing oral history interviews with people closely involved in these centers. My study will span from the early 1950s, when many of the first homophile organizations opened offices in San Francisco, to the early 1980s, when local groups opened community centers throughout the Bay Area. Through this research, I hope to better understand the community wide effects of having a public space, besides the numerous gay bars. I also hope to show the importance of community centers to increasing awareness and acceptance of alternative sexual identities
Biofuels have received much attention lately as the need for a renewable and carbon-neutral source of energy becomes increasingly important. We have assembled a biosynthetic pathway in Escherichia coli that produces butanol, a second generation biofuel, in six overall steps. However, there is a significant bottleneck at crotonyl-CoA reductase (Ccr) in the pathway that limits butanol production, which may be attributed to the observation that Ccr suffers from low solubility. The overall goal of my project is to carry out directed evolution of Ccr and generate a library of mutants that can be screened for increased solubility and assayed for improved activity. In the future, the mutants generated in this work will help us to understand fundamental issues related to pathway flux as well as increase production of butanol in engineered E. coli.
Friedrich Nietzsche wrote that his was a nihilistic age, one in which the question why, in relation to issues of morality, ethics, and meaning, finds no answer. Using Nietzsche as well as Martin Heideggers writings as points of departure, I will consider the following questions, among others: In what sense might our age be understood as nihilistic? How did this come to be? What can or should be done to cope with this situation? In so doing, I will bear two considerations in mind: First, what it would mean to conceive of a mode of existence in which individuals no longer think in terms of values; and second, what the consequences of conceiving of nihilism as something problematicas a problem to be solvedmight be.
This summer, I will be in Mumbai, India, researching the effects of behavior change approaches to public health issues. As a member of Haath Mein Sehat (HMS), a water and sanitation-based student organization, I will be an active participant in the creation of an intervention intended to increase rates of handwashing amongst children in slum communities. My research will focus on assessing the consequences of HMS focus on behavior change, and how this approach is perceived by the communities in which HMS works. Through this analysis, I intend to address the following broader question: What it useful and promising about behavior change-based approaches to public health, and what is limiting and problematic about them?
International tourism provides tourists with a physical space that allows them to encounter new experiences, exotic places, and unfamiliar cultures. For the most part, these experiences abroad stimulate inter-cultural contact, which results in the formation of an ethnic relation between strangers. My research aims to identify the different affinities, misunderstandings, and stereotypes that can characterize this relationship in the tourist setting of San Jose, Costa Rica. I will study two groups: tourists from the United States who come to San Jose for short-term vacations and tour-guides from Costa Rica who partake in the commodification of culture that comes along with most, if not all, tourist endeavors. Through participant observation and in-depth interviews, I will explore how the commercialization of native culture and the differences in class and race affect and determine the kind of relationship that develops between these two globalized actors.
In an era of globalization where food travels through tortuous production chains before arriving at its destination, too little attention has been given to government regulation. The question driving my research is how do small-scale California farmers involved in rearing animals respond to different forms of government regulation? Given that questions broad scope, I will bifurcate it along two lines: one related to production and one related to political mobilization. On the production side, I am interested in understanding how small-scale farmers adjust production based on various regulations. The political question centers on whether small-scale farmers can solve the collective action problem and mobilize when watershed legislation appears in the legislature.
I am working in a field of public finance that aims to develop a model indicating the optimal level of redistributive taxation in a given community. Assuming that public preference to redistribute income is determined by some combination of self-interest and civic altruism, the model must take into account the community’s various social, behavioral, and economic attributes. Using surveys, I will be gathering data on the effects of social factors, such as group cohesion, and behavioral factors, such as aversion to risk, on the tax policy decisions of kibbutzim – a network of approximately 300 membership-based socialist communities in Israel. The recent shift of a number of these communities away from high levels of income redistribution provides an excellent opportunity to gain insights regarding the factors governing tax policies in cities and states around the world.
All musical compositions borrow some material. It is not always easy for the law to draw the line between theft and inspiration. Recent changes in copyright law point to new systems of valuation of musical elements, both cultural and legal. This summer Ill be tracing these changes through a musical and legal analysis of music written for television and commercials, focusing on compositions which seek to copy elements of other, original works. Ill spend one month in Washington, D.C. using archives at the Library of Congress, and will also conduct a series of interviews with composers, producers, and musicians. My project will culminate in a Senior Honors Thesis for the Interdisciplinary Field Studies major.
One of the most surprising conclusions to emerge from whole genome sequencing projects in the last decade is that all animals have roughly the same number of genes. Initially, this seems contradictory to the idea that higher organisms have more genes to account for higher levels of complexity. However, one potential explanation is alternative pre-mRNA splicing, through which different exon combinations are incorporated into mature transcripts, thereby increasing the number of proteins encoded by a limited number of genes. Although there have been extensive studies in vitro concerning the biochemical basis of what determines these combinations, in vivo studies have been much rarer. For my project, I will examine which RNA binding proteins (RBPs) regulate the alternative splicing of a particular gene, Fibroblast Growth Factor Receptor 2 (FGFR2). More specifically, I will examine the effects of different RBPs, whether as enhancers or silencers, on splicing in Xenopus laevis frog embryos. […]