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Open Access Publications from the University of California


Welcome to the UC Merced Undergraduate Research Journal, an open access publication of research conducted by undergraduates at the University of California, Merced. 

In October and March, SUBMIT HERE.

UC Merced Undergraduate Research Journal

Issue cover


School Readiness Programs: Migrating Towards Success

The goal of the current project was to examine how effective migrant school readiness programs are in supporting a student’s cognitive growth. School readiness programs within the Santa Barbara County were analyzed for three consecutive years (2014, 2015, and 2016) to measure academic performance across these years. A child’s cognitive growth (i.e., school readiness) was measured using pre and post test scores taken at the beginning and end of each program. Results revealed that migrant students continue to perform below average across the years. However, multiple assessment scores show a statistical significant increase in performance, suggesting that academic improvement is possible. Results point to future implementation of migrant programs that can better accommodate for the needs of children.

The Anatomy of Deception: A Literature Review of the Neurobiological Basis, Underlying Cognitive Processes, and Motivations that Facilitate Lying

Deception is a cognitive-demanding process that entails more than one executive function and is thus associated with an increase in neural activity in specific regions of the brain. The purpose of this review of literature is to highlight the neural networks that facilitate deception, in addition to identifying the motives and conditions that increase one’s likelihood to deceive.

This research aims to discuss the neuropsychological evidence of brain structures that subserve human deceptive behavior, especially with an emphasis on the role of the prefrontal cortex and its executive functions. This research is of importance to the field of psychology, as it offers insight into the nature of deception by considering the neural processes involved in different aspects of deception, such as the preparation to lie, intention, and context that is eliciting the need or likelihood to resort to deception. This review of literature will further advance neuroimaging research, because it contributes to the ongoing discussion regarding neuroimaging techniques as a valid instrument for deception detection in the fields of forensic psychology and psychiatry.

A Look At The Merced Voter Turnout and Political Activity

Low voter turnout and political participation are certainly a cause for alarm for many as ideas of accurate representation of a given community becomes blurred. This paper sets off to define the potential causes for the low turnout, first by singling out the city of Merced and its demographics, and then by offering a potential aid to remedy this problem.

Firearm Violence in Relation to State Legislation: Does stricter legislation result in lower rates of gun violence?

Every year, tens of thousands of U.S. civilians are affected by firearm violence yet gun control is still heavily debated. The relationship between gun ownership and violence is hotly disputed and highly politicized; much of this stems from the fact that the research is inconclusive on the direction and strength of this relationship. The research that has been done struggles to find clear evidence because the task of identifying precisely the nature of gun policies is a difficult one. This study seeks to help clarify the problem by examining correlations between legislation and gun violence. Found literature supports the finding that gun laws have significant, but varying, relationships with firearm incident rates. A policy change between 2013-2015, allows concealed carrying of long guns,and requires permits to purchase handguns. These were found to be positively correlated with an increase in gun violence. Allowing individuals to openly carry handguns and requiring permits to purchase long guns were correlated with decreases in gun violence. Future research is encouraged to examine the effects of gun control policies via time series analysis, and more closely investigate the relationship between laws and violence to ensure that legislation is effective.

Promoting Environmental Sustainability Through Art

With the increasing prevalence of environmental degradation, promoting environmental sustainability is imperative in order to ensure natural resources are utilized in a responsible manner that indefinitely preserves renewability. While the University of California Merced has made notable efforts to contribute to promoting such sustainability, the aesthetic of its campus lacks prominent features of nature allowing its community to connect with the natural environment. This proposal introduces an innovative and practical program as a solution for this, in which environmental sustainability would be promoted through student-led art projects displayed throughout campus. By receiving funding from various campus-related organizations, this cost effective and inclusive program would grant $1,000 to a designated student committee each year to create sustainability-oriented artwork. As the results of existing research demonstrates art’s potential to provoke powerful reactions, the student-led art produced by this program could compel influential reactions from the UC Merced community that reminds and encourages them to pursue sustainable lifestyles. Going further, this project would have several other significant benefits by providing artistic and administrative opportunities for students, raising awareness to environmental and social justice issues, increasing the quality of the campus’ appearance, and more. Additionally, this could all be achieved while maintaining the preservation of the university’s existing structure and its ability to blend in with its surrounding environment through strategic placement of these artworks.

Antiviral Drugs Targeting Host Proteins an Efficient Strategy

Viruses have the ability to spread rapidly because the proteins and enzymes from the host cell help in the development of viruses. Although there are many vaccines that can prevent some viruses from infecting the body, the antiviral drugs today have not been effective in combating viruses from the start of spreading. This is due to the fact that the processes inside a virus are still being studied. However, host proteins proved to be valuable factors responsible for viral replication and spreading. It was found that certain functions such as capsid formation of the virus utilized a biochemical pathway that involved host proteins and some proteins of the host cell were evolutionarily conserved. When the important host proteins were altered, or removed the viruses weren’t able to replicate as effectively. It was concluded that targeting the host proteins had a significant effect in viral replication. This approach can stop viral replication from the start, create less viral resistance, and help find new antiviral drugs that work for many different types of viruses.  This review will analyze five research articles about protein interactions in viruses and how monitoring the proteins and biochemical pathways can lead to the discovery of druggable targets during development. The purpose of this review is to explore how targeting the factors that enable viruses to spread can allow the discovery of new antiviral drugs.

Do the Types of Food You Eat Influence Your Happiness?

One’s daily individual diet can have substantial effects on alleviating negative emotions. Researchers have established that certain types of foods help produce positive emotions in individuals, whereas others can produce negative emotions. Foods that primarily consist of fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates, proteins, and good sources of fat have been associated with producing positive emotions that are lasting in individuals. Additionally, foods high in fat and carbohydrates, or highly processed foods, though they may help dissipate negative emotions in the short term, research has suggested that they do not promote happiness in the long term and can even be detrimental to one’s happiness. A survey study was conducted on students from the University of California, Merced to assess whether certain types of foods produce positive emotions among students. Results suggested that foods high in carbohydrates and fats helped students attenuate negative emotions such as stress, and these types of foods tended to be the first choice when students experienced negative emotions. Students primarily chose processed foods to rid themselves of negative emotions and promote happiness, whereas healthier choices were not a popular choice.

TAVI: A Safe Alternative for Aortic Stenosis?

Aortic valve stenosis is a heart condition where the aortic valve narrows leading to a decrease in blood flow which can make the heart work harder to pump blood. As of today, there are two methods to treating this condition, TAVI and SAVR. Transcatheter Aortic Valve Implantation (TAVI) is a method used to replace the aortic valve located in the heart through the blood vessels. This method is a less invasive method as opposed to Surgical Aortic Valve Replacement (SAVR) which is the traditional method that requires open heart surgery. There is still doubts as to whether TAVI is considered to be a more successful technique as compared to the traditional technique. Based on a large amount of evidence, the debate of TAVI versus SAVR will be further explored to establish which method is more beneficial. This review will analyze the numerous studies conducted on the different risks and complication that can occur with TAVI as well as its health benefits in contrast to SAVR.

Siblings of the Mentally Disabled

The objective is to determine the effects that are found in the siblings of intellectually disabled children. Previous studies, have concluded that there are certain effects that intellectually disabled children have on their siblings. The effects that are considered in the paper are stress; anxiety levels, internalizing and externalizing behaviors; how they deal with problems, and lastly self-perception; whether they are mentally stable and confident. Negative effects are going to be the focus of the study, however, there are certain positive effects that are exposed. Levels of warmth and affection are higher when a child has a sibling with a disability. There were various forms of instruments used through the different articles: Personal Information Questionnaire , the Rosenberg Self- Esteem Scale and the Trait Anxiety Scales; Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-4th Edition, the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales, the Sibling Relationship Questionnaire, the Social Skills Rating System-Secondary Level, and the Achenbach Child Behavior Checklist; Semantic Differentials. An interview was also conducted on a single person, who proved the hypothesis of all the articles.

Bristlecone, Limber Pine Geology, and Soil Substrates

Bristlecone Pines are among the oldest living trees in the world, and the climate condition under which they thrive is nothing short of extreme in the alpine zone. The experiment takes place in Inyo National Forest, where a hundred Bristlecone and Limber Pines were assessed. The trees were chosen based on a randomized selection that allowed us to analyze trees going upslope. We identified the rock type under the tree canopy, and analyzed the soil by taking the pH using a pH meter. By analyzing the rock and soil under the canopy of Bristlecone and Limber Pines we found that the soil conditions weren’t consistent with the favorable conditions under which the trees grow in. Climate change may play a role in the neutral shift in soil pH due to the increase in the rate of erosion of the rock type which is most prevalent among the pines, dolomite.

Improving Campus Sustainability and Quality of Life

This proposal report examines two issues, namely UC Merced’s effort to achieve its net zero energy 2020 Triple Zero Commitment and the lack of shade on campus. The paper works to solve these issues through the construction of a shaded walkway that is roofed with solar panels. The goal of this report is to make it clear why solving these issues is vital and to show how a shaded walkway can work to resolve the lack of shade on campus and help achieve UC Merced’s net zero energy of 2020 Triple Zero Commitment.

The Birth of Artificial Intelligence and its Baby Steps

We are living in the era of technology; it is hard not to see it in our everyday lives. Ray Kurzweil and Michio Kaku, prominent figures in the field of artificial intelligence, affirm that the role it will play in the present and future will be a positive one. Developments and innovations such as autonomous cars, advanced prosthetic limbs, predator drones, etc. aim to assist humans in adequate situations. Artificial intelligence is often depicted as antagonistic, however, the testimonies of individuals and organizations such as LAWS, allege otherwise.

Extramedullary Hematopoiesis Niche in the Spleen

Hematopoiesis is a process in which the Hematopoietic stem cells (HSC’s) differentiate to give rise to all lineages of blood cells. In normal adults, HSC’s reside in the bone marrow (BM) and their cell niche (microenvironment) in the BM is well-studied in the literature. However, when the BM microenvironment is stressed or diseased, Hematopoiesis takes place in other hematopoietic organs. One of the primary hemic organs is the spleen, yet the mechanisms and microenvironments of the spleen that regulate hematopoiesis and HSC’s are not well investigated. By synthesizing articles from the literature, and comparing the spleen hematopoiesis niche to the bone marrow niche, this review will shed light on some of the factors and aspects that mediate hematopoiesis in the spleen microenvironments. It is important to understand how hematopoiesis operates in the spleen as it will provide insights into understanding hematological diseases and some prospective treatments.

Are We Pests? Microbial Genocide: The Effects of Abundant Use on the Environment

This research reviews a copious amount of agricultural studies in which the effects (pros & cons) of pesticide use on the environment are measured. A pesticide is any substance used to kill, repel, or control certain forms of plant or animal life that are considered to be pests. Pesticides affect the environment in numerous ways such as: contamination of soil, water, and vegetation. In addition, pesticides are toxic to many organisms including fish, birds, beneficial insects, and even humans. This paper focuses on the microbial mechanisms of pesticides and connects those biochemical properties (mechanisms) to deregulation of function within organisms, and how that, in turn, affects the environment overall. After reviewing a variety of studies, this paper suggests that pesticide application should be greatly reduced, and, instead, applied in concert with alternative, eco-friendly pesticides such as beneficial insects, biological methods, and transgenic crops to allow the environment to maintain a biogeochemical balance, and microbes to work efficiently.

Literature Review: Is the Emotional Expression of Contempt Recognized Universally or Culturally?

The universal facial expression of contempt is often described as one lip corner raised and tightened. This literature reviews whether or not this expression is recognized universally. After examining theories and methods, low agreement of this expression recognized as contempt was found across cultures. Evidence so far is not sufficient enough to support the unilateral lip corner as an universal expression for contempt. The expression and recognition of contempt is highly dependent on culture and context.

Greek Life or Death

Chun “Michael” Deng, a nineteen-year-old freshman at Baruch College in New York, pledged to the Pi Delta Psi fraternity in hopes of forming lifelong friendships among his fellow brothers. Like most college students who decide to join a fraternity or sorority, they are bright, eager, and excited to become a part of a community built on trust and unity. But Michael Deng suffered from a harsher reality. On a cold, December night, Michael Deng—one of the many other victims of hazing—was blindfolded and forced to trek through an icy field while bearing the weight of a backpack filled with thirty pounds of sand (Reuters). Without his sight, Michael was immediately made vulnerable as he aimlessly trudged across the frozen ground, bearing the crushing weight of the backpack added to his shoulders. Then without warning, he was plowed to the ground by an overwhelming impact, his body and the extra thirty pounds slamming against the dirt. Still blind and now fear-stricken, Michael did not understand what was going on until he was tackled again—and again. Attacked and beaten incessantly by his “brothers”, Michael was then tackled from a 15-20 foot running start, causing him to forcibly collapse to the ground, knocking him unconscious (Reuters). One hour passed before Michael was taken to the hospital. By the time medical assistance reached him, he was already brain dead (Reuters).

Undoing Dominance Depicting the Intersections of Race, Gender, and Sexuality in James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room

My paper attempts to critically analyze James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room and depict the correlations of race, gender and sexuality within the novel. I found it interesting that James Baldwin, a gay African American writer, whose writings focused and critiqued the African American experience, writes his second novel with mostly white characters. James Baldwin depicts David (the main character) as masculine, even though he engages with same sex desires. Many novels often times depict characters like David to be feminine just because they are attracted to men, but Giovanni’s Room does not do that. Although some have argued that the novel is an African American novel that discusses racial issues, they fail to recognize the bisexual nature of the novel and label it as a gay novel. In doing this, the characters are restricted to a binary that is limited to 2 sexualities, heterosexuality and homosexuality. My paper explores the ties of sexuality, race, and gender performance and how David uses his bisexuality to create a dual identity that allows him to access masculinity and ascertain his whiteness through heteronormative behavior.

A Natural Solution to the Crisis of Pathogens

Bacteriophage therapy, a process in which viruses are used to kill bacteria, is an alternative method to antibiotic treatment. Viruses infect specific strains of pathogenic bacterial cells and are a safer option than antibiotics for the body’s natural defense system. As a result of the large increase in drug-resistant bacteria, society is approaching a pre-antibiotics era. Bacteriophages are a potential solution to this problem because of their applications in medicine and in agriculture, which could be applied to the human population. The purpose of this paper is to provide the history, use, and future applications of phage therapy to prove that it is a rational solution to the growing problem of drug-resistant bacteria.