Mellon Forums

What is a Mellon Forum?

Mellon Senior Forums at Branford College seek to foster in our Seniors the sense of belonging to the community of scholars. Organized in the form of dinner meetings to which both Seniors and their advisers are invited, they provide some of our most talented students the opportunity to present the results of their independent research projects. The Forums also offer the possibility of especially close interaction between the Head of the College, the Dean, and Branford Seniors in comfortable and intimate surroundings. Branford holds a number of Senior Forums in the Spring semester. After dinner is served, two students deliver research papers, usually fifteen minutes in length, to an audience of fellow Seniors. Attempts are made to cover a wide range of topics in various branches of the Humanities, the Social Sciences, and the Natural Sciences. Each paper is immediately followed by a lively and intense question and answer period which permits the Senior to clarify (and perhaps modify) his/her critical stance.

Branford’s Mellon Forum coordinators are HOC De La Cruz, Dean Insley, and resident fellow Steve Blum. Each senior participating in the Forums are matched with one of our Graduate Affiliates who mentor them. An info session is held in the Fall semester for those seniors interested in participating.

What is the Mellon Forum schedule for Spring 2021?

Tuesday, March 30th: Arielle Soldatenko; Grace Haviland
Tuesday, April 6th: Tag Quijano; Anna Smist
Tuesday, April 13th: David Edimo; Annie Gao; Kathy Min
Tuesday, April 20th: Lauren Harris; Michael Lee
Tuesday, April 27th: Akhil Rajan; Dana Joseph; Athena Flint
Tuesday, May 4th: Wes Day; Alvin Winston

about the presentations:

Arielle Soldatenko
“Innate Immune Regulation of Red Blood Cell Alloimmunization”

Patients who require long-term blood transfusions, often those with hematological and bone marrow disorders, are at increased risk of developing antibodies against transfused blood, called alloimmunization. While blood typing is used to minimize the risk of negative transfusion reactions, other proteins on the surface of red blood cells cannot be matched for. This talk will discuss work done to elucidate the biological pathways that regulate alloimmunization.

Grace Haviland
“The Historical Criminalization of Sex Work and Its Modern Implications for Criminal Justice: A Comparative Analysis of Regulatory Systems Within the United States”

Grace’s project combines a historical analysis of the sex work industry with a data-based comparison of three U.S. cities: New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle, each of which takes a unique approach to regulation of the industry. Grace uses original data from an online survey of sex workers, as well as arrest data from the three cities, to analyze the effects of different legislative approaches on safety within the industry. 

Tag Quijano
“Racial Disparity in Chicago Overdose Deaths: Causes, Community Attitudes, and Solutions”

Drug Overdose is the leading cause of death for those under 50 in the United States. Black communities have disproportionately high overdose rates, but are not receiving funding or interventions to meet their level of need. In this thesis, through conversations with community leaders and service providers, I show the scope of this crisis in Chicago, the barriers and community attitudes, and how these findings show opportunity for solutions.

Anna Smist
“Lynn Riggs’ Oklahoma: Reimagining Native and Queer Identity in Oklahoma! and The Cherokee Night

This thesis focuses on writings by the Cherokee playwright Lynn Riggs, specifically two of his plays set in Oklahoma: one of which served as the inspiration for the famous musical Oklahoma! by Rodgers and Hammerstein. With an interest in Oklahoma place-making and place-based literatures, this project seeks to understand Oklahoman identity at the time of initial statehood and long after as well as consider Riggs’ often overlooked legacy in creating a specific “Oklahoman” identity.

David Edimo
“Demand Response with Variable Advanced Notice: Evidence of Production Flexibility and Adaptation”

How well can electricity customers react when utilities require them to rapidly decrease their power usage? Using data from Vermont, this paper studies the relationship between a firm’s ability to shed its electrical load and the amount of advance notice the firm is given to do so. These insights can improve the design of ‘demand response’ programs that increase grid reliability, an especially urgent objective in the wake of the Texas energy crisis.

Annie Gao
“Domain Transfer between Multiple Modalities of Cell Data via Manifold Learning”

We seek to integrate information from data on spatial transcriptomics, single-cell RNA sequencing, and ATAC sequencing in order to infer projections of data samples into another domain, while preserving local neighborhood properties across the mappings. We frame this as a domain transfer problem and approach the alignment with a manifold-aligning generative adversarial network, and we present various heuristics for the method’s success.

Kathy Min
“Oral Histories of the Post-1965 Lives of Asian Americans in Idaho”

Kathy Min (B.A. History) will discuss her research regarding a collection of 19 oral history interviews she conducted with Asian Americans across Idaho. The interviews- spanning a wide range of ethnicities, sexualities, genders, and ages- shine a light on a diverse population that has often been ignored by historians of Idaho and Asian America. 

Lauren Harris
“Female Attrition From STEM Occupations”

Although the gender gap in STEM is widely recognized, controversy still remains as to its size and its causes. In this project, I estimate the rate of excess exits among women in different scientific subfields and identify key reasons for excess female attrition from STEM. I also analyze trends in the attrition rate prior to beginning graduate study.

Michael Lee
“Autocratic and Democratic Policy Responses to Aging Societies in Asia”

Given that aging societies pose many fiscal and political challenges, countries are faced with the urgent task of increasing fertility rates, meanwhile supporting aging populations. This paper aims to analyze how autocracies and democracies in Asia differ in their policy responses to aging societies. 

Akhil Rajan
“The Democratic Dangers of Safe Seats”

Though a wide literature on gerrymandering explores its partisan consequences, considerably less scholarly attention has been devoted to the non-partisan consequences of safe seat redistricting. In this presentation, Akhil will argue some of the most important impacts of redistricting on democracy transcend party, and diminish the quality of both descriptive and substantive representation for nearly all Americans.

Dana Joseph
“Understanding Caridac Hypertrophy Through Eccentric Contractions of Heart Tissues”

This project seeks to computationally and physically study the mechanisms underlying cardiac hypertrophy, a condition in which heart tissue grows excessively. When stretching engineered heart tissues during various phases of the cardiac cycle, dramatic differences in force production are observed, which leads to changes in cellular proliferation. Understanding the biomechanics of this phenomenon can lead to the development of therapies for diseases associated with this behavior. 

Athena Flint
“Applications of Artifical Intelligence to Catalyst Design”

In an attempt to solve core challenges of experimental catalyst development, artifical intelligence is being used to find relationships between structural parameters of a catalyst and its electronic properties. This presentation will discuss why this approach is helpful as well as how accurately machine learning models are able to make predictions about the properties of catalysts.

Wes Day
“A Study on Parameters Impacting Binding Efficiency of Nanoparticle Targeting Using Novel Monobody Linker Technology”

A study published in 2017 by the Saltzman lab showed that it is possible to target graft endothelial cells (ECs) with nanoparticles  (NPs) during ex-vivo perfusion of transplant-declined human kidneys. This was accomplished by conjugating anti-human CD31 antibodies (Ab) to the surface of poly(lactic acid)-poly(ethylene glycol) (PLA-PEG) NPs using the most commonly utilized method: EDC-NHC activation chemistry. However, results revealed limited NP-to-EC binding efficiency. Recent results from an ongoing project in the Saltzman and Tietjen labs have shown that using an engineered protein called a monobody (Mb) as an intermediate linker between Ab and NPs significantly improves NP binding efficiency. For his senior capstone project, Wes builds on this existing research and investigate the impact of two conjugation parameters on the binding efficiency of the Ab-Mb-NPs to human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC) in static culture.