1/04/2021 Kim O'Brien

No Lab, No Problem: Students Share Remote Research Solutions

Despite the pandemic's disruption, 40 Franklin & Marshall students completed fall research projects. This research – conducted through independent study, scholarships, or funded programs – spanned nearly every subject the College has to offer. Undeterred, an additional 40 students completed summer research despite the abrupt shift to remote learning in late spring.

Across departments, faculty and staff devloped ways to help students overcome the isolation of remote research. A series of ZOOM sessions organized by Assistant Professor of Physics Ryan Trainor gave Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Hackman Scholars the opportunity to discuss special topics and present their research.

Below, three Hackman Scholars share how they made it work against the odds. 

  • Next semester, sophomore Shaamyl Anwar will team up with Assistant Professor of Computer Science Justin Brody and professors from Temple University for a text-to-DNA encoding project. Anwar is a Ware House adviser and member of the International Student Advisory Board and Ware House parliament. Next semester, sophomore Shaamyl Anwar will team up with Assistant Professor of Computer Science Justin Brody and professors from Temple University for a text-to-DNA encoding project. Anwar is a Ware House adviser and member of the International Student Advisory Board and Ware House parliament.
“At the end of the day, when you have a place to live and food to eat, you can make everything else work."
Next semester, sophomore Shaamyl Anwar will team up with Assistant Professor of Computer Science Justin Brody and professors from Temple University for a text-to-DNA encoding project. Anwar is a Ware House adviser and member of the International Student Advisory Board and Ware House parliament.
Shaamyl Anwar ’23

Shaamyl Anwar ’23

Majors: Computer Science, Mathematics

Topic: Dynamic Information Flow Tracking Through Byte-code Instrumentation

Hometown: Lahore, Pakistan

Research location: New York City (friend’s apartment)

Before tackling complex computer science theory, F&M sophomore Shaamyl Anwar had to solve a bigger dilemma: Where could he crash for the summer?

The native of Lahore, Pakistan, stayed at a friend’s New York City apartment to ensure he could return to campus in the event of further COVID-19 travel restrictions.

“At the end of the day, when you have a place to live and food to eat, you can make everything else work,” Anwar said. 

Alongside Ed Novak, assistant professor of computer science, Anwar developed software that automatically implements dynamic information flow tracking in Android apps at the assembly code level. When completed, this software will help enhance the security of mobile devices.

“The advantage of instrumenting assembly code is that it is readily available by reverse engineering Android apps using open-source tools like Apktool,” Anwar said.

Anwar and Novak used software like Github, Slack, Zoom, and the Google Workspace to work collaboratively.

“Our specific area of research is somewhat lucky. Computer science and software development is apt for remote work in a way that many other fields are not,” Novak said.

“I learned a great deal about programming practical software and authoring research publications under the guidance of an extremely knowledgeable mentor,” Anwar said. “On top of that, implementing cutting-edge cybersecurity was tremendously enjoyable and insightful.”

  • Junior Daniel Robillard is the investigative reporter for The College Reporter, a campus tour guide, and member of Phi Sigma Pi National Honor Fraternity. Junior Daniel Robillard is the investigative reporter for The College Reporter, a campus tour guide, and member of Phi Sigma Pi National Honor Fraternity.
“I took over my parents’ basement and basically made it my research office, talking to my professor every week over Zoom."
Junior Daniel Robillard is the investigative reporter for The College Reporter, a campus tour guide, and member of Phi Sigma Pi National Honor Fraternity.
Daniel Robillard ’22

Daniel Robillard ’22

Majors: Government, Public Policy 

Research: Tracking the COVID-19 Policy Response

Hometown: Norwalk, Connecticut 

Research location: Parents’ basement

F&M junior Daniel Robillard planned to spend his summer tracking the 2020 election in Pennsylvania. However, the project morphed into something much bigger.

“The COVID-19 pandemic changed the entire focus of my research,” Robillard said.

“When Congress passed the CARES Act this spring in an effort to combat the economic impacts of the pandemic, I knew that this was what I wanted to study,” he said.

Robillard’s deep dive into the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act examined where the money in stimulus packages went, who it reached, and how it was distributed. 

“I took over my parents’ basement and basically made it my research office, talking to my professor every week over Zoom,” said Robillard, who reported to Biko Koenig, assistant professor of government and public policy. 

“The hardest part about being remote was not being able to walk into Shadek-Fackenthal Library. However, the library’s online resources allowed me to still have access to whatever I needed during my research,” Robillard said.

Keeping up with the pandemic policy’s many moving parts “and endless unknowns” had its frustrations, but the challenge of real-time research made it all the more exciting to conduct. 

“It was very rewarding studying something that was directly impacting the lives of everyone around me, including my own,” Robillard said. 

  • Senior Parinaz Dastoor is a Quantitative and Science Center tutor and a member of the Dance Company and International Student Advisory Board. Senior Parinaz Dastoor is a Quantitative and Science Center tutor and a member of the Dance Company and International Student Advisory Board.
“Being completely remote gave me the time and the opportunity to really delve into the literature and knowledge behind Down syndrome."
Senior Parinaz Dastoor is a Quantitative and Science Center tutor and a member of the Dance Company and International Student Advisory Board.
Parinaz Dastoor ’21

Parinaz Dastoor ’21

Major: Biology

Research: Modeling Alterations in the Immune System in Down Syndrome 

Hometown: Mumbai, India 

Research Location: Franklin & Marshall campus

A lab lockdown didn’t deter F&M senior Parinaz Dastoor from tackling meaningful research.

“Being completely remote gave me the time and the opportunity to really delve into the literature and knowledge behind Down syndrome, which really solidified the foundations of the disorder for me,” Dastoor said.

Dastoor contributed to Professor of Biology Clara Moore’s ongoing research on immune function in mouse models for Down syndrome, a genetic disorder caused by an extra copy of chromosome 21.

“We hope to identify a time point early on in the developmental pathway to address the altered immune system and gene dosage imbalance. This understanding could allow for immune system interventions helpful for humans with Down syndrome,” Dastoor said. 

Due to the campus lab closure over the summer, Dastoor had to complete the analysis portion of her research online – to a surprising benefit. 

“At first, analyzing data did not seem like a critical task as compared to being in the lab space would have been, but as time passed, I realized how effectively past data can provide insight into the possible future directions of research,” Dastoor said. 

Once fall classes resumed, she was able to return to the lab to study characteristics of the mouse colony with a refreshed perspective.

“I am extremely appreciative of being given this opportunity as it really helped me understand the ‘why' behind the research that our lab focuses on,” Dastoor said. 

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