Past Awards - 2016

Below are abstracts of KU BEARS grant awards from 2016. Click on the titles to read each abstract.

  • Funds of Knowledge in Latino Households: A Survey of Latina Mothers in Northeastern Pennsylvania

    Dr. Tabetha Bernstein-Danis 
    College of Education | Special Education
    Kate Serrill 
    Major: Special Education 

    Our research project focused on developing an understanding of funds of knowledge in Latino households - those literacy, numeracy and other academic skills embedded in everyday life activities. These funds of knowledge can serve as a basis for creating more effective connections between home and school. We collected data through the use of surveys and revised our surveys based on initial findings and planned our next steps, including focus group interviews. We developed a protocol for our focus group interviews and prepared for developing an amendment to the IRB. Another dimension to this research included collaboration with the Social Work department as the fields of Social Work and Education intersect in myriad ways, and our research project is of interest and relevance to both fields. Through this collaboration undergraduate students preparing to be practitioners in each field had the opportunity to collaborate and share perspectives on the research. We will present our findings at the California Association for Bilingual Education 2017 conference and are preparing an article on student-faculty research to be submitted this spring to the state-level peer-reviewed journal The Pennsylvania Teacher Educator.

  • Characterization of the In Vitro Antifungal Activity of Four Novel Plant Defensins

    Dr. Kaoutar El Mounadi 
    College of Liberal Arts & Sciences | Biological Sciences
    Michael Toolan
    Major: Biological Sciences

    Fungal pathogens impose major constraints globally on agricultural production and food safety. There is therefore an urgent need for the development of a new class of safe and effective antifungal agents in agriculture. The researcher and undergraduate student research identified novel plant defensins: RcDef, MdDef1, MdDef2 and TcDef1 from castor oil plant, apple and cocoa plant respectively. The student tested these defensins for their ability to kill some of the most devastating plant fungal pathogens including Fusarium graminearum, Fusarium verticilloides, and Alternaria solani. Quantitative data showed that all screened defensins, except MdDef1, have high antifungal activity against most of the fungi tested. RcDef had the highest antifungal activity which indicates that its mode of antifungal action is different. Data generated during this project constitute a first step towards the characterization of the mechanisms by which these plant defensins kill fungi. The goal is to use these peptides to design strategies that ensure durable and robust resistance in plants against fungal pathogens. The grant offered a great opportunity for a student to work on this project and learn techniques in microbiology, fungal biology, and plant pathology, including valuable insight into the processes, interactions, and adaptations of both plants and fungi that are vital to the understanding of ecosystems.

  • Asseba un Sabina: A Pennsylvania Dutch Dialect Radio Play Series From the 1940s and 1950s

    Dr. Gregory Hanson 
    College of Liberal Arts & Sciences | Modern Language Studies
    Sara Wingert
    Major: Modern Language Studies

    In the 1940s and 1950s the radio station WSAN in Allentown broadcast a popular weekly radio play, entitled Asseba un Sabina, written and performed in the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect. These episodes depict the lives and adventures of a Dutch-speaking farm couple, Asseba and Sabina, and their friends. The plays detail, often in a humorous manner, the rural life of many speakers of Pennsylvania Dutch during the mid-20th century. The transcripts of these radio plays are housed in the archives of Muhlenberg College. The researcher and the undergraduate student will transcribe and translate episodes into English and publish volumes.

  • Inter-Rater Reliability on Assessing Environmental Characteristics of Street Drug Activity Using Google Street View

    Dr. Ko-Hsin Hsu 
    College of Liberal Arts & Sciences | Criminal Justice
    Richard Ward
    Major: Computer Science & Information Technology
    Stacie Ford
    Major: Criminal Justice

    The purpose of this project was to examine forty-two physical variables around drug activity hot spots in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. This project aims to collect observational data in crime-ridden neighborhoods, using Google Street View (GSV). Previous studies have shown that GSV can be a suitable alternative to audit neighborhood environments instead of in-person observation; however, the application of GSV in crime research is rarely addressed. To ensure the reliability of the data observed, two undergraduate students with excellent academic standing from the Department of Criminal Justice were hired and trained to code variables on GSV images into numerical or dichotomous data, using Microsoft Excel, and their observations were compared for the inter-rater reliability check. The data obtained from this project are currently being used to develop a research paper examining street drug markets. The students were expected to maintain a high degree of attention to detail while completing the rigorous coding process independently and promptly. By the completion of this project, the students demonstrated a sense of responsibility of their performance, good time-management skills, and obtained hands-on experience and skills in academic research.

  • Development of a Biochemical Assay to Study the Function of the Enzyme CCH (cytochrome c heme lyase)

    Dr. Matthew Junker
    College of Liberal Arts & Sciences | Physical Sciences
    Tom Nguyen
    Major: Biochemistry & Mathematics

    This project investigated the biochemical mechanism for the assembly of the metabolic protein cytochrome c. Cytochrome c is required for respiration in many organisms, including humans. It functions in electron transfer reactions that enable cells to convert the energy from food into chemical energy stored in ATP. Cytochrome c function requires a bound heme molecule that is attached to cytochrome c by the enzyme cytochrome c heme lyase (CCHL). Defects in CCHL cause serious disease in humans. Little is known about the chemical mechanism of CCHL function, mostly due to the lack of an in vitro (cell-free) assay based on purified proteins. To develop such an assay, yeast CCHL and cytochrome c were expressed as recombinant proteins in E. coli and subsequently purified. When expressed in the same cells, CCHL successfully inserted heme into cytochrome c as evidenced by the cells turning a red color and by the proteins released from the cells exhibiting absorbance peaks for mature cytochrome c. This demonstrated that the E. coli produced-CCHL was functional. CCHL and cytochrome c were then expressed and purified separately before they were mixed in the presence of heme to test for CCHL function outside of cells. Unexpectedly, absorbance spectra detected spontaneous incorporation of heme to cytochrome c even in the absence of CCHL. However, this incorporation was not covalent, producing b-type cyt c and not c-type cyt c as generated enzymatically by CCHL. While CCHL gave only slight if any enhancement to this heme attachment, the signals from the assay were very strong and readily detectable. The assay conditions are now being optimized to boost the CCHL contribution to heme attachment.

  • Integrating Empirical Research and Community-Based Learning in Undergraduate Social Work Education: Paths of Engagement

    Dr. Yoon Mi Kim 
    College of Liberal Arts & Sciences | Social Work
    Alexandria Blackman
    Major: Social Work

    This is a community-based research project, partnered with local community centers. A freshmen social work student has been involved in the process of conducting a survey on acculturation and educational experiences among Latino immigrants. Existing literature found that a majority of Latino students are from culturally linguistically diverse families, and that they struggle with psychological stress emerged from cultural adaptation and discrimination. The majority of Latino underachievers reported the challenges in acculturation as the major reasons for their educational underachievement. Through the summer project, a freshmen social work student conducted extensive library research on acculturation and diverse populations, and went into community settings and collected survey data with the researcher. The student attained a breadth of research skills and coded data under faculty supervision, and submitted a conference proposal on research findings.

  • Exoplanet Discovery Using the Kutztown University Observatory

    Dr. Phill Reed
    College of Liberal Arts & Sciences | Physical Sciences
    Luke Maritch
    Major: Physics / Astronomy

    Exoplanets are planets orbiting other stars outside of our solar system, and exoplanet discovery is currently in a "golden age." Space-based telescopes are discovering the first Earth-like and possibly habitable exoplanets. Ground-based projects are discovering Jupiter-like exoplanets, which are prime candidates to be the first exoplanets to have their atmospheres studied. KU is a member of a ground-based network - the Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope (KELT) exoplanet discovery project.

    KELT uses a small telescope located in Arizona to survey large sections of the sky in search of transiting exoplanets. A transiting exoplanet is a planet that periodically passes in front of its host star, from Earth's perspective, temporarily blocking some of the star's light causing it to appear to dim very slightly. While KELT's telescope has found thousands of transiting exoplanet candidates, most of its transit-like signals are due to other phenomena such as nearby eclipsing binary stars, blended light from background stars, triple star systems, or spurious data. The KELT candidates must be confirmed using larger telescopes, including KU's on-campus observatory, to eliminate the other possibilities.

    Since 2013, KU astronomers have helped discover at least five new exoplanets. In summer of 2016 they worked to eliminate false positives from KELT's database, and found very clear evidence of a planet-sized object orbiting a KELT candidate star. Further observations are underway to measure the mass of the object discovered in order to verify its planetary nature.

  • Using Organic Methods and Restricting Brood Nest Size to Improve Honey Bee Colony Health and Control Varroa Mites

    Dr. Robyn Underwood
    College of Liberal Arts & Sciences | Biological Sciences
    Austin Stoudt
    Major: Biological Sciences

    During the summer of 2016, the researcher conducted the second year of a research project on the effects of organic versus conventional beekeeping practices on honey bee health. Recent honey bee colony losses have brought attention to the various stressors bees experience. Therefore, the researcher is studying the impact of the choices that beekeepers make in terms of chemical use and pest reduction, because it is something that can easily be changed. An undergraduate student was involved in this work after a KU BEARS grant was obtained. Together, the researcher and student took 16 overwintered colonies and made them into the 28 colonies that will go into the winter of 2016-17. They managed the colonies by visiting them regularly throughout the summer, monitoring them for diseases and pests, watching their populations grow, splitting strong colonies into two smaller colonies, and collecting samples. The student experienced the seasonality of beekeeping, including extraction of honey, and the heartache of a bear visit. This experience taught the student beekeeping skills, and more importantly, the ability to handle any beekeeping situation that might come his way.

  • Two-Person Coloring Game on Graphs

    Dr. Wing Hong Tony Wong
    College of Liberal Arts & Sciences | Mathematics
    Diego Manzano-Ruiz 
    Major: Mathematics & Philosophy

    Graph theory is an important topic in mathematics, which studies the structures and properties of graphs that consist of vertices and edges. Graphs are especially useful for simulating networks, so graph theory is closely related to operations research and computer science.

    This project focuses on a game in graph coloring, a long-standing research area in graph theory. In this game, two players, Alice and Barbara, color a vertex of a given graph by alternating turns: Alice uses color A and Barbara uses color B. The only rule is: once a vertex is colored, no neighbors of that vertex may receive the same color. The first player who is unable to color a vertex loses the game.

    In this project, we determine which player has a winning strategy on certain types of graphs, such as paths, cycles, and some grids. We also prove some general assertions about all graphs. For graphs with up to 9 vertices, we find that less than 30% can be won by Alice, given that both players make their moves optimally.

    As a variation of the above game setting, we also investigate in the situation where both players use a common color C. Again, we are able to determine which player has a winning strategy on some special graphs. Furthermore, we discover that our game in this case is closely linked to other games introduced by John Conway and Richard Guy, two renowned mathematicians at Princeton University and the University of Calgary respectively.