Undergraduate Research Takes Center Stage

Posted: December 19, 2013 at 5:00 am, Last Updated: January 2, 2014 at 7:12 am

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By Preston Williams and Sudha Kamath

student presenting research

Medical technology major Sweta Sedhai presents her research at the OSCAR undergraduate student oral presentations at the Fairfax campus. Photo by Alexis Glenn

George Mason University’s Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities, and Research (OSCAR) shone a spotlight on about 50 students during two days of presentations last week at the Johnson Center.

The 2013 Undergraduate Research Scholars Program featured 15-minute oral and visual presentations on subjects ranging from neuroscience to enterprise accounting.

Chessy Dintruff was inspired to find out more about the effects of a stroke on a stroke survivor’s family; her own father suffered a stroke in 2003 at the age of 38.

Dintruff’s study found limited resources for the caregivers of stroke survivors. “I want other people to benefit from this research,” says the George Mason senior. “I want them to know they’re not alone and what they’re going to feel is normal.”

The community health major also volunteers as an emergency medical technician. Through the connections she made at a local hospital while conducting her research, she hopes to land a job upon graduation and eventually earn a master’s degree to become a physician assistant.

Melissa Joe is a sophomore majoring in global affairs. She probed college students’ perceptions of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act and immigration reform.

Joe reviewed public opinion polls but found limited research on the subject. So she created her own survey and distributed it to some 200 students. She hopes to analyze results by the end of January.

Student Marcus Daum presents his research at the OSCAR undergraduate student oral presentations at the Fairfax campus. Photo by Alexis Glenn

Physics major Marcus Daum presents his research at the OSCAR undergraduate student oral presentations. Photo by Alexis Glenn

Five bioengineering majors gave presentations, among them projects involving prosthetics and Alzheimer’s disease.

Senior Katie McDonald’s “Noise Reduction During Ultrasound Image Collection for Transradial Prosthetic Control” strived to improve the sensing strategy of prosthetics. With the help of amputees, McDonald will continue her project next semester.

“The prosthetics that they have right now, the actual devices, are incredible,” she says. “But the mechanics have exceeded the sensing strategy, so we’re not able to use them to their full potential yet.”

Before working on her OSCAR project, senior Susheela Meyyappan had not done much research. Now, she wants to do more. Her “Effects of Beta Amyloid on Neuronal Networks in Cell Culture” involved testing a drug used to treat Alzheimer’s disease.

“It was very satisfying to actually be doing something like a real-world application, applying what I’ve learned in my classes,” Meyyappan says. “It’s been a really eye-opening experience.”

Sophomore Daniel Jacobson, a computer science major, tackled cyber security with his “Real-Time Unexplained Network Behavior Detection,” which identifies questionable, and possibly damaging, online actions through a process of elimination. Senior Alexander Englander’s project, “Hardening Mission-Critical Computational Assets Through Vulnerability Analysis,” also dealt with cyber attacks.

“It’s something that a lot of people seem to care about,” Jacobson says. “There’s a lot of ongoing research in part because there’s an arms race between people who are attacking and people who are defending.”

For his “Gamification of HIV Education” project, senior Edward Martin began work on designing a video game that teaches students at various grade levels the basics of HIV infection to counter the “naïve assumptions” that many students have about the virus.

Junior Kelsey Ryan, using the Eastern Shore of Maryland as a model, tried to determine the best way for citizens to vacate an area threatened by hurricane with her “Traffic Network Vulnerability and Evacuation Strategy Study Supported by a Calibrated Flooding Model” project.

A “system optimal” model of evacuation, with staggered departures on pre-determined routes, best minimized congestion, she found. Ryan, a civil and infrastructure engineering major, got interested in the project in part because of a personal commute last summer that involved car, bus and Metro travel.

Junior bioengineering major Laith Alhussein, who presented “Differences in State Dependent Motor Coordination Between the Dominant and Non-Dominant Limbs,” spoke for many when he recounted his OSCAR experience.

“Presenting what you do is kind of that moment where you take everything in and you realize how far you’ve come,” Alhussein says. “And how far you’ve got to go.”

Follow Students as Scholars as they keep track of their projects on studentsasscholarsgmu.blogspot.com; more information also is available on oscar.gmu.edu.

Write to Preston Williams at pwilli20@gmu.edu

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