Past Awards - 2017

Below are abstracts of KU BEARS grant awards from 2017. Click on the titles to read each abstract.

  • Determining the Characteristics of Nanoparticles on Thin Film Surfaces

    Dr. Darren Achey
    College of Liberal Arts & Sciences | Physical Sciences
    Jenna Kanyak
    Major: Secondary Education - Chemistry

    Molecular reaction kinetics at nanomaterial-liquid interfaces are of great interest at both a fundamental level and in applications such as solar fuel devices. Systematic studies that provide the basis for how such reactions are altered, enhanced, or hindered at interfaces can be achieved by ensemble averaging within nanoparticle thin films. In this study, azobenzene derivatives are anchored to ZrO2 nanoparticle thin films and the thermal, intramolecular isomerization from cis to trans isomer is monitored via UV-Vis spectroscopy. Results are compared to the same molecule in fluid solution and efforts have been made to mimic the chemical changes to the azobenzene derivative as a carboxylic acid undergoes an acyl substitution reaction upon surface attachment by deprotonating the carboxylic acid in fluid solution. In this way, differences in reaction kinetics that are solely a result of surface attachment can be isolated from other chemical factors within the molecule. Preliminary results indicate that deprotonation of the azobenzene derivative in fluid solution leads to smaller rate constants compared to the protonated form. Furthermore, attachment to the nanoparticle thin film increases the rate of the reaction, indicating that the interfacially anchored azobenzene experiences reaction dynamic modifications that can be separated from chemical changes that occur due to surface attachment.

  • The Changing Curbside in New York: Impacts for Freight Access and Non-Motorized Passenger Transportation

    Dr. Moira Conway
    College of Liberal Arts & Sciences | Geography
    Zachary Young
    Major: Geography

    In many cities throughout the U.S., gentrification has brought new residential development in areas recently dominated by industrial uses such as manufacturing and warehousing. Many areas actively seek to retain these industrial activities among the growing residential population due to their employment opportunities. However, these new mixed use areas present a challenge for transportation planning: how can urban streets provide a safe, livable environment for pedestrians and bicyclists while maintaining adequate freight access required to support industrial land uses? 

    Through mapping and spatial analysis of demographic, employment, network, and transportation activity data from a case study area in Brooklyn, New York, this project aims to characterize the changing conditions for multi-modal transportation in a mixed residential-industrial area and to identify conflicts between different street user types. This project seeks to identify specific conflict areas in terms of both land use and infrastructure, and to provide recommendations for improving street design and regulation to balance these incompatible uses.

  • Examining Topological Features of the Quantum Hall Effect with Trapped Ultracold Atoms

    Dr. Kunal Das
    College of Liberal Arts & Sciences | Physical Sciences
    Jacob Christ
    Major: Physics

    Jacob Christ worked on the topological features of the Quantum Hall Effect, focusing specifically on the fractal energy spectrum associated with it, known as the Hofstadter Butterfly due to its evocative repeating pattern. The spectrum, although well known for four decades in theory, has been challenging to implement and create in experiments. Jacob has worked with Prof. Kunal Das to find an easier and more effective way to do so in a novel system of ultracold atoms near absolute zero trapped in ring-shaped modulated lattices formed of lasers and magnetic fields. This research has not only proposed a new way for implementation, but also has found the optimal parameters needed to create the delicate fractal pattern in the laboratory. There was also successful demonstration in simulations that an important associated theorem holds true even in the continuum, which predicts that the associated quantum eigenstates would undergo localization in certain parameter ranges. The research continued well beyond the summer, as Jacobs's interest and commitment to the project led to him to work to finalize and consolidate the results that he had helped generate. He is also participating in writing up the results for a paper soon to be submitted to one of the premier peer-reviewed journals of physics. Jacob's experience doing this research has motivated him to pursue a career in physics research as he plans to apply to enroll in a Ph.D. program in physics when he graduates.

  • Assessment of Mid-Atlantic Atmosphere Instability, 2003-2012

    Dr. Michael Davis
    College of Liberal Arts & Sciences | Geography
    Tianna Andrews
    Major: Environmental Science / Geography

    Atmospheric instability is an indication of how unstable the atmosphere is at a given time. Depending on certain conditions, such as moisture content and temperature, the instability of the atmosphere can change potentially altering convection rates. Generally, an unstable atmosphere often indicates more variability in the weather (such as storms and other types of severe weather). Variables that affect the instability of the atmosphere include air temperature, specific humidity, and convective available potential energy (CAPE), which indicates the maximum energy available from an ascending air parcel. Cloud top pressure can be used to assess changes in the height of the deep convective anvils. These atmospheric variables were gathered from the Earth Systems Research Lab (ESRL), which is a part of the National Center of Atmospheric Research (NCAR) on a monthly period. The climate data was then partitioned into seasonal data and the summer (June-July-August) seasons from 2003 to 2012 for the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States were analyzed. By plotting this data in the IDL computer programming code, assessment into the trends of these atmospheric variables can cultivate a greater understanding of changes in atmospheric stability from 2003 to 2012.

  • Antifungal Properties of Essential Oils Against Common Fungal Pathogens

    Dr. Kaoutar El Mounadi
    College of Liberal Arts & Sciences | Biological Sciences
    Eric Coberly
    Major: Biological Sciences

    Fungal pathogens are a serious threat to agriculture worldwide. Their effects range from causing mild symptoms to disasters in which large areas of cultivated crops are wiped out. Furthermore, fungal pathogens produce toxic secondary metabolites called mycotoxins that can induce mutagenic, immunosuppressive neurotoxic and carcinogenic effects in both humans and domestic animals. Despite the continued release of cultivars resistant to fungal pathogens and chemical fungicides, fungal pathogens remain difficult to control. Thus safe and effective antifungal agents are urgently needed in agriculture. Thirteen essential oils, castor oil, fenugreek oil, clove oil, peppermint oil, cinnamon oil, eucalyptus oil, fennel oil, thyme oil, clary sage oil and marjoram oil, for their ability to control the growth of the plant fungal pathogens Botrytis cinerea and Fusarium graminearum. Data show that all the tested oils displayed high antifungal activity against both pathogens. These data are very significant because they show that at least, in vitro, the essential oils can be used as biofungicides. The next step would be to see if the oils are able to prevent fungal infections in planta. The KU BEARS grant has offered a great opportunity for the student to learn techniques in microbiology, fungal biology, and plant pathology. As Eric Coberly is considering going to graduate school or working towards a career in laboratory research, this project has provided him with a better understanding of the research process and an opportunity to develop his critical thinking and oral and written communication skills.

  • Environmental Sensing with Wireless Sensor Networks

    Dr. Lisa Frye
    College of Liberal Arts & Sciences | Computer Science & Information Technology
    Nina Schnyder
    Major: Computer Science

    This research project utilized Wireless Sensor Networks to perform environmental sensing in a small geographic region. Initial research was conducted to study past projects utilizing Wireless Sensor Networks, including deployment and data collection strategies, as well as lessons learned. The Wireless Sensor Network (WSN) for this research consisted of two sensors that collected data about the environment. Specifically, humidity, temperature, wind speed, and barometric pressure data were collected. The configuration and operation of each piece of hardware was acquired. The WSN was initially deployed indoors, to learn the capabilities and performance of the sensors and base station (the weather station which collected the data from the sensors). The WSN was then moved outdoors and data were collected for several weeks. Properties of the hardware were analyzed, such as the optimal distance from the base station to the sensors, and the frequency of data collection by the base station. This research was the initial step to a larger research project, which will be to examine changes in avian populations as well as the number of different species that could reside in the local Kutztown region. As temperature and moisture can affect food supply, suitable habitat, and comfort levels, understanding how the climate affects bird species are integral to this study. The ultimate goal will be to assess what bird species frequent this area and how the populations change over time as a result of an ever-changing climate.

  • Assessing Terrestrial Vertebrate Biodiversity and Population Density at North Park (Berks County, PA)

    Dr. Alexander Hernandez
    College of Liberal Arts & Sciences | Biological Sciences
    Jenna Ruoss
    Major: Environmental Science / Biology

    This project assesses the biodiversity of vertebrate animals visiting Sacony Creek at North Park (Borough of Kutztown, Berks County, PA). Trail cameras, animal tracks, fecal pellet counts and direct observations were used to document the diversity of terrestrial vertebrate animals (mammals and birds) visiting Sacony Creek, as well as estimate the density of each species. Cameras revealed 6 mammal and 1 bird species visited the creek, including white tail deer, raccoon, opossum, gray squirrel, groundhog, domestic cat, and wild turkey. A presence index based on the number of photographs of each species captured suggested that white tailed deer were the most common. The tracks identified and counted were for deer and raccoons only, and the density estimated from these data suggest numbers are higher than what has been reported in other areas of Pennsylvania and the country. Fecal pellets did not provide enough data to estimate reliable densities of species, or the diversity of parasites with potential links to the creek. Bird surveys showed a lower number of species than previous census data collected by KU faculty and students. Overall, the results of this summer demonstrate the usefulness of a variety of methods in assessing the biodiversity in riparian zones surrounding a local wetland.

  • Mechanism for Caspase Inhibition in Apoptosis by Inhibitor of Apoptosis Proteins (IAPs)

    Dr. Matthew Junker
    College of Liberal Arts & Sciences | Physical Sciences
    Mackenzie Storm
    Major: Biochemistry

    This project investigated the biochemistry of apoptosis (programmed cell death). Apoptosis is a process in all animals that safely removes unneeded or potentially harmful cells. Apoptosis dysfunction can lead to cancer and some neurodegenerative diseases. Apoptosis requires caspase enzymes. These enzymes are kept inhibited ("turned off") in living cells by inhibitor of apoptosis proteins called IAPs. Each IAP contains multiple domains. To determine the role of each domain in regulating caspases, we tested different fragments from the Drosophila IAP DIAP1 for inhibiting a Drosophila caspase. All of the proteins and fragments were expressed in and purified from E. coli and tested in an in vitro caspase activity assay. DIAP1 contains two BIR (baculovirus IAP repeat) domains separated by an intervening linker. The linker is known to directly bind and block the caspase active site but the roles of the BIR domains are less clear. It was found in the caspase activity assay that attaching either BIR domain enhanced caspase inhibition by the linker while the BIRs themselves showed no inhibition. However, one of the BIRs interfered with caspase inhibition by a BIR‐linker fragment. This BIR may function in DIAP1 by binding outside the caspase active site to enhance linker binding. The other BIR did not show such interference suggesting it has a different role in caspase inhibition which is under continued investigation. Understanding the roles of the different IAP domains could reveal new ways to target IAPs and caspases for treating diseases where apoptosis dysfunction occurs.

  • Understanding and Reducing Student Departure in the Social Work Program: Empirical Assessment of Student Retention

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

    Two sophomore social work students have collected primary data by conducting a retrospective survey among KU social work students enrolled between 2015 and 2017 to investigate the relationships among social integration, scholastic conscientiousness, perceived discrimination, and student retention. Student retention data on the social work program suggests that the overall enrollment decreased 20% in the fall 2016 from the previous fall. In addition, about 90% of freshmen minority students in the social work program left during or after their sophomore year in the last 5 years. Through the KU BEARS summer project, the two students conducted extensive library research on student retention, and collected survey data. The research findings will be used to help KU faculty, social work educators, and administrators to develop and create effective interventions and approaches in the promotion of student success, and to understand potential protective and risk factors for attrition.

  • Documenting Socioeconomic Variability in an Early-19th Century Milling Village in Northeastern Pennsylvania

    Dr. Khori Newlander
    College of Liberal Arts & Sciences | Anthropology & Sociology 
    Carly Plesic
    Major: Anthropology & History
    Danielle Cannon
    Major: Anthropology

    Over the last 200 years, the United States was transformed from a mostly rural and agricultural society to a largely urban and industrial society. Historical studies of this period of dramatic socioeconomic transformation commonly focus on the lives of famous people. This project, in contrast, seeks to tell the stories of the "invisible" men and women who lived and worked at Stoddartsville, a 19th-century milling village built along the upper Lehigh River. In particular, we seek to understand: (1) the role of socioeconomic status and ethnicity in structuring work and life at Stoddartsville, and (2) the connections established between Stoddartsville and the surrounding area as the villagers participated in the burgeoning regional economy. To this end, the Kutztown University Archaeology Field School has conducted excavation during the last three summers in the general store, workers' cottages, and Stoddart mansion. During the 2017 field season specifically, Carly Plesic and Danielle Cannon led field crews in excavating different rooms of the Stoddart mansion. Ongoing comparison of artifacts obtained from the mansion and the workers' cottages will shed light on the socioeconomic and ethnic variability that characterized Stoddartsville as it developed into a short-lived center of industry and trade in northeast Pennsylvania.

  • Social Justice Pedagogy for K-12 Educators

    Dr. Amy Pfeiler-Wunder
    College of Visual & Performing Arts | Art Education & Crafts 
    David Lescallette
    Major: Art Education & Crafts
    Melanie Weidner
    Major: Art Education & Crafts

    We, as educators come to art education settings with our own collections of lived experiences and sets of cultural assumptions, and so do our learners. Through the KU BEARS grant, Art Education students, David Lescallette and Melanie Weidner, worked with Dr. Amy Pfeiler-Wunder in preparation for her book on social justice pedagogy. The research for this book will empower educators to reflect upon intersections of their own identities and cultural assumptions, seek to learn about their learners' identities that are often (re)constructed and performed, and critically engage with the multi-layered educational landscapes that are informed by time, place, and context within the metanarrative of social, political and historical contexts of what it means to "educate" an individual. With this in mind, the book inspires sites of possibility for deep and meaningful learning by featuring stories of educators and learners in a range of educational settings both inter/nationally. Employing both theory and practice, the goal of this research is to help educators cultivate a responsive curriculum that empowers learners to see themselves as integral agents of change in a society where learners may feel "othered," "disadvantaged" or "unheard." Melanie and David conducted an extensive literature review to establish the philosophical and theoretical underpinnings for the book, researched visual artists focused on social justice and completed the IRB training. The highlight of their research project culminated in a scholarly presentation at the Pennsylvania Art Educators Conference in Pittsburgh, PA.

  • Kutztown University: The Game!

    Thiep Pham
    College of Liberal Arts & Sciences | Computer Science & Information Technology 
    Braden Luancing
    Major: Computer Science

    For prospective students, understanding what a school has to offer, how it appears and how it works are important things to know. Incoming freshman may also feel intimidated by the unknown and they may wish for a way to further prepare for their college experience. Technology can provide the understanding that these students need anywhere and in a format that can be enjoyable and engaging. Kutztown University: The Game! aims to provide the video gaming generation a virtual walk-through of Kutztown University and an introduction to the college experience through the lens of a video game. Prospective students and incoming freshman will have an opportunity to virtually explore the campus and manage their time to attend classes. By virtually engaging in "a day in the life" of a student, players will learn the layout and beauty of the campus and understand the challenges of a KU student in a format that appeals to the technology-focused generation.

  • Performance Characteristics of Photo-voltaic Cells Exposed to Thermal Shock

    Dr. Paul V. Quinn Sr.
    College of Liberal Arts & Sciences | Physical Sciences
    Malik Thomas
    Major: Physics

    The use of solar cells has continued to increase at a nearly exponential rate since their early incorporation into the space program. The overall worldwide capacity of photo-voltaic systems reached just under 230 gigawatts in 2015. While solar energy is a promising form of green technology on earth useful for reducing the consumption of fossil fuels, the extraction of solar energy from photo-voltaic cells in space-based applications is a near necessity. Both terrestrial and space based applications will subject solar cells to large temperature variations. On earth, only a small portion of the electromagnetic energy from the sun, mostly in the visible spectrum, is used in the generation of electricity while the remainder is absorbed as heat. In space based applications, the lack of an atmosphere subjects the solar cells to extreme thermal variations on a regular basis.

    In this study, we investigate the performance characteristic of mono-crystalline silicon photo-voltaic cells subjected to high and low temperature thermal shock as compared to baseline measurements of the unaltered cells. When designing solar energy systems, this information will help to predict the performance of solar cells over the lifetime of the cell, rather than relying solely on performance characteristics of the pristine cell. This project can be broken down into fundamental tasks or mini-projects that are necessary for the completion of the overarching goal. One such mini-project was the design of an apparatus to thermally shock the solar cells along with an experimental process conducted on each on the cells. This required the use of engineering and design skills to create a system and a process that shocks the cells without damaging them.

    Liquid nitrogen was used to shock the system under extremely cold temperatures and a high temperature industrial oven will be used to shock them under extremely high temperatures. For the low temperature experiments, students showed that there was a slight increase in performance of the cells after being shocked with liquid nitrogen for various amounts of time. More studies are needed to determine the exact nature of the relationship. 

    For the cells subjected to extreme heat, students were able to determine a relationship between the change in the fill fraction of the photo-voltaic cells as a function of the temperature for with a maximum heating at 275 K. The results showed that cells subjected to extreme heat showed an improvement in performance before breaking down at temperatures higher than 265 K.

  • Evaluating Metabolic Rates of Marine Zooplankton

    Dr. Wendy L. Ryan 
    College of Liberal Arts & Sciences | Biological Sciences 
    Celina Dickison 
    Major: Marine Science / Biology

    Zooplankton form the base of aquatic food webs by linking producers and higher-level consumers. However, in spite of the importance of these organisms to the energetics of aquatic communities, there have been few actual measurements of their metabolic requirements. This project had three main objectives: 1) to expand the diversity of zooplankton represented in baseline measurements of metabolic rate; 2) complete data collection on the change in O2 use by zooplankton exposed to increased hydrostatic pressure; and 3) to assess the response of shore shrimp (Palaemonetes spp) to variable salinities. We collected baseline data on the metabolic rate of more than 80 additional individual zooplankton, most representing soft-bodied organisms previously not well represented in the data set. In addition, nearly 400 new data points were added to the study of the response of zooplankton to increased hydrostatic pressure. There is a substantial amount of analysis still to be done, but the body of work represented enhances our current understanding of zooplankton physiology and should be published. The remaining objective was also met, as we were able to collect data documenting the minimal change in metabolic rate for juvenile shore shrimp, even when exposed to salinities as low as 10 ppt and as high as 45 ppt. These results were unexpected, but suggest that this group of organisms may be particularly resilient in the face of climate change.

  • Expressions and Transformations of Gender, Family, and Status in Eastern and Central Africa, 500-1800 CE

    Dr. Christine Saidi 
    College of Liberal Arts & Sciences | History 
    Kathleen O'Neill
    Major: Secondary Education - Social Studies

    This summer Dr. Saidi did field research for over seven weeks in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo as part of a National Endowment for the Humanities grant. When she returned to KU, KU BEARS student, Kathleen O'Neil, helped Dr. Saidi organize and analyze hundreds of archival documents, copies of African language dictionaries, photographs and audio tapes of interviews. While they were able to completely organize the research, they also spent time discussing why certain interviews or documents or handwritten dictionaries were important for the research. Dr. Saidi and her student were able to scan and upload to Google Docs all of Dr. Saidi's archival work to make it accessible to her other colleagues. The experience allowed Dr. Saidi to be able to begin to analyze the massive amounts of evidence she had found in Africa, but it also generated in Kathleen a new understanding of how historians gather evidence and write history.

  • Engineering Green Fluorescent Proteins with Cytochrome c Heme Binding Sites

    Dr. Carsten Sanders
    College of Liberal Arts & Sciences | Physical Sciences
    David Nunez Contreras
    Major: Biochemistry

    Cytochrome c is an ubiquitous electron carrier protein essential for various cellular processes such as energy transduction and programmed cell death (apoptosis). As a functional form, cytochrome c contains at least one heme (iron protoporphyrin IX) cofactor that is covalently and stereospecifically attached to the cysteine sulfhydryl groups of a conserved CXXCH motif within the polypeptide substrate. Multiple evolutionarily distinct biogenesis (Ccm) systems that accomplish the production of functional cytochrome c have been defined. One of these systems (Ccm system III) is confined to mitochondria of fungi, metazoans and some protozoa. In natural cellular environments, it includes one or two components with heme lyase activities towards cytochrome c protein substrates, and a heme reductase as an accessory factor. However, in a heterologous bacterial (Escherichia coli) expression host, it has been shown that the Ccm system III component cytochrome c heme lyase (CCHL) alone is sufficient to form functional cytochrome c upon coexpression. Furthermore, it has been found that an 18 amino acid residues long consensus sequence (including the CXXCH motif) within the cytochrome c polypeptide (CCCS) is required for protein substrate recognition and heme ligation by CCHL. In this work, we inserted this CCCS into a green fluorescent protein (GFP) model at five different positions (amino-terminus, carboxy-terminus, and three internal loops). We generated data suggesting that these insertions abolish the fluorescent properties of all constructed protein fusion derivatives, but that three of these five protein fusion derivatives can be covalently and stereospecifically attached with heme molecules upon coproduction CCHL.

  • Performance Characteristics of Photo-voltaic Cells Exposed to Thermal Shock

    Dr. Justin L. Smoyer
    College of Liberal Arts & Sciences | Physical Sciences
    Qu-dir McKendrick
    Major: Physics

    The use of solar cells has continued to increase at a nearly exponential rate since their early incorporation into the space program. The overall worldwide capacity of photo-voltaic systems reached just under 230 gigawatts in 2015. While a promising green technology on earth to help reduce the consumption of fossil fuels, the extraction of solar energy from photo-voltaic cells in space based applications is a near necessity. Both terrestrial and space based applications subject solar cells to large temperature variations. On earth, only a small portion of the electromagnetic energy from the sun, mostly in the visible spectrum, is used in the generation of electricity while the remainder is absorbed only as heat. In space based applications, the lack of atmosphere subjects the solar cells to extreme thermal variations on a regular basis. In this study, the performance characteristic of silicon photo-voltaic cells subjected to high temperature thermal shock was characterized. The results of this study have shown that it is possible to improve the efficiency of standard silicon solar cells through thermal annealing. When designing solar energy systems, this information will help to predict the performance of solar cells over the lifetime of the cell, rather than relying solely on performance characteristics of the pristine cell and provide an avenue to increase the efficiency of already produced solar cells.

  • Factors Influencing the Timing and Location of Diamondback Terrapin Nesting Activity

    Dr. Matthew Stone
    College of Liberal Arts & Sciences | Biological Sciences
    Haley D'Agostino
    Major: Biology
    Emily Schallmo
    Major: Biology

    Diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) populations face a variety of anthropogenic threats throughout their range. Of particular concern is the potential effects of climate change on terrapin habitat quality and breeding success. The goal of this study is to investigate the effects of various environmental factors on the reproductive biology of terrapins in the mid-Atlantic region. During summer 2017, we monitored terrapin nesting activity at Wallops Island, VA. Specifically, we compared environmental data (e.g., temperature, salinity, tidal patterns, and rainfall) to breeding behaviors of terrapins (e.g., timing of nesting, location of nest, number of eggs laid) to determine which environmental variables are the most important causal factors on those behaviors. Additionally we collected basic morphometric data from approximately 200 nesting diamondback terrapins. This research provides important baseline data that will be useful in predicting the future impacts that climate change will have on terrapin populations. These are essential data for conservationists to make effective decisions for management of this species.

  • Edge-distinguishing Chromatic Number for Graphs

    Dr. Wing Hong Tony Wong
    College of Liberal Arts & Sciences | Mathematics
    Grant Fickes
    Major: Mathematics

    This project is related to vertex coloring in graph theory. In graph theory, a "simple graph," denoted as G, consists of vertices and edges, where each edge connects two distinct vertices. Graph theory is especially useful for simulating networks, so it is closely related to computer science and operations research.

    In this project, we color the vertices of G by literally assigning one color per vertex, and different vertices may or may not share the same color. Once the vertices are colored, each edge will then be labeled by the colors of the two vertices it connects. For example, if an edge connects a red vertex and a blue vertex, then this edge is labeled by {red, blue}.

    We call the coloring of G "edge-distinguishing" if all the edge labels are distinct, and the minimum number of colors that we need to create such an edge-distinguishing coloring is called the "edge-distinguishing chromatic number" (EDCN) of G. In previous literature by Al-Wahabi et al., the EDCN was found when G was a path or a cycle. In this project, we studied the EDCN for other graphs. One of our key results was to determine the EDCN for certain graphs that are made up of paths meeting at a central vertex.