Undergraduate Research Day at the Capitol
Margaret Louise Lilly (URDC 2010)
Faculty Mentor: Donna Hart
Asthma in St. Louis
The American Lung Association reports that asthma costs our nation $19.2 billion a year in direct healthcare costs and lost productivity. In 2009 the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America has declared St. Louis the "Asthma Capital" of the US. In St. Louis City the rate of emergency room visits is three times that of the state as a whole, while in St. Louis County the rate is 150% above state average. Further, in many metropolitan area schools 25% of the student population is diagnosed with asthma. I approach this topic from the theoretical perspective of interpretive/critical medical anthropology which examines the cultural framework to explain the experience of sickness. My research is based on (1) participant observation in the St. Louis Children's Hospital mobile asthma clinic at an elementary school in Normandy, Missouri; (2) informal interviews with 6 health professionals and 6 in-depth ethnographic interviews of people in families with asthma; and (3) survey questionnaires distributed to students at UM-St. Louis. This project seeks to determine how different groups - asthmatics, their families, healthcare providers, and community educators - experience asthma in one of the most challenging places in the US in which to live with this disease. My study puts a human face on a problem that is often reduced to politics, statistical demographics, and pharmaceutical advertisements, and adds to the dialogue concerning better health within the St. Louis metropolitan community.
Laura Ann McCarty (URDC 2010)
Faculty Mentor: Donna Hart
Temporal and Geographic Variation in Neanderthal Morphology
Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) are an extinct relative of modern humans with a fossil record dating between 130,000-28,000 years ago over a vast geographic area of Eurasia. Due to diverse environmental pressures, flexibility through biological adaptations has been the key to human evolution. Research examining whether the same plasticity existed in the Neanderthal species over time and space is a productive approach to fill in gaps not easily solved by fossil evidence. My research examines whether morphological (for example, skull and facial shape) variation existed within the Neanderthal species. If variation between different time periods and different geographic locations was present, it may indicate adaptations based on environmental pressures. Spreading and sliding calipers were used to collect 22 craniometrics (i.e., skull measurements) on approximately 24 Neanderthal fossil casts at the American Museum of Natural History in New York during November 2009. Twelve indices that provide ratios of width to length for different areas of the skull were calculated, and ANOVA statistical tests were applied to determine if variance in morphology exists. Based on recent DNA analyses of Neanderthal remains that identified three distinct geographic groups, I hypothesize that morphological variation among Neanderthals in the American Museum's collection will be evident and support the DNA findings. Unraveling the mystery of Neanderthal evolution is one of the biggest priorities in the field of paleoanthropology (the study of the human fossil record) and will promote a greater understanding of our own evolutionary history.
Whitney Villmer (URDC 2010)
Faculty Mentor: Donna Hart
Obsidian as a Socio-Economic Indicator in West Mexican Archaeology
The presence of obsidian at Mesoamerican sites is a potential indicator of wealth and social stratification, and signals access to trade networks connecting ancient Mexican cultures. Archaeological fieldwork at Chacalilla, Nayarit, Mexico (a Postclassic period, 900-1350 A.D., center associated with Mesoamerica's Aztatlán trade network tradition), recovered an abundance of imported obsidian artifacts and evidence of prismatic tool production. Prior chemical analysis of obsidian from surface collections at Chacalilla identified three distinct source locations, each associated with a visually distinct color of obsidian. I participated in a summer 2009 field session at Chacalilla where obsidian recovered from excavations was analyzed. I recorded count, weight, color, and provenance of obsidian artifacts, and these data were imported into ArcGIS, a software program that maps spatial distributions. Densities of the three obsidian types from different excavated features, such as houses of commoners versus the elite, were compared to assess which social groups were involved in production and exchange of this valued commodity. Statistical testing found that densities of obsidian differed significantly between elite and non-elite features, indicating that some social groups had greater access to certain obsidian sources (i.e., colors) than others. By identifying who was involved in obsidian trade and production, this research helps clarify Chacalilla's socioeconomic organization and furthers our understanding of interregional contacts that contributed to the spread of the Aztatlán tradition.
Sarah McClure, Sherry Saunders, and Emily Ludwig (URDC 2009)
Faculty Mentor: Margaret Sherraden, Ph.D.
Student Debt: Consequences and Policy Solutions
This research documents the rising cost of higher education and the increase in student debt, with a special focus on Missouri students. Research involved studying and compiling information from reputable organizations such as Missouri Department of Higher Education Loan Authority, The College Board, and The Project on Student Debt. Over the past two decades, the cost of an undergraduate college degree has increased rapidly, while financial aid for college has diminished. Since 1994, tuition and fees at public and private universities have grown at nearly three times the rate of inflation, and the cost of textbooks has increased at four times the rate of inflation. The proportion of students and their parents who seek private loans (in addition to federal aid loans) for higher education, including undergraduate, graduate, and parent loans, has grown to 20% of total education loan dollars. As a result, the consequences for students are increasingly dire. Students are graduating with unmanageable debt in higher than ever numbers. Debt becomes "unmanageable" when student loans and other forms of debt take up a significant portion of annual personal income. College graduates in 2007 carried 6% more student loan debt than the class of 2006, while starting salaries rose only 3% percent in the same period. Students who enter lower paying public service jobs face even greater serious debt burdens. In 2006, 37% of public college social work graduates entered the field with unmanageable debt. Research recommendations include possible directions for increasing access to and affordability of higher education.
Daniel Pierce (URDC 2009)
Faculty Mentors: Dr. Donna Hart; Dr. Michael Ohnersorgen
Decorative Segregation: Ceramic Concentrations in Pre-Columbian Chacalilla, Mexico
One aspect of archaeological research is the categorizing of people and their goods within a civilization. Using spatial analysis tools, my project looks at the concept of understanding which decorative styles are more abundant at each of the collection units at the site of an ancient city called Chacalilla, which is located in the present-day state of Nayarit, Mexico. Using data collected in earlier field seasons, I used the mapping analysis tool, ArcMap 9.2 software, to locate collection units of abnormally high concentrations of certain decorative styles of ceramics found in classic Chacalilla (900-1350 C.E). The collection units are specific areas within the site where high densities of artifacts were found. A database consisting of ware types and decorative elements (including color, temper, and design) was used and joined to layers within the maps created to pinpoint locations of unusual ceramic abundance. Other databases on collection unit size, density, and mound data were joined with the maps and ceramic types to indicate the telltale signs of decorative segregation. Basic descriptive statistical comparisons by percentages were made between individual units as well as between individual unit and the site as a whole. This analysis shows little difference between the units or their variance from the average of the site in general. The spatial analysis results, however, confirmed that decorative segregation may have occurred, though not in significant quantities. Four units were anomalous based on the criteria of pottery types and locations in respect to the Chacalilla ceremonial complex. The segregations of decorative types may indicate several things including production areas, trade patterns, and/ or specific activities. The implications of these findings infer that no specific style regulations nor trade areas existed in Classic Chacalilla. ___________________________________________________________________
Kirk Barnett (URDC 2009)
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Robert Marquis
Amur Honeysuckle Affects Rodent Foraging Activity in a Midwestern Forest
During the process of foraging for seeds, rodents balance seed quantity and quality versus the risk of predation. The density and architectural complexity of vegetation may mitigate this risk by restricting the visibility of the predators of those rodents. Often invasive plant species alter vegetative cover and modify a rodent's sense of predation risk. Thus invasive plants have the potential to change a rodent's foraging behavior. Lonicera maackii, also known as Amur honeysuckle, is an aggressive and highly invasive plant that is the dominant shrub in many U.S. forested areas; in some cases the invasion changes the natural patchy understory into a massive and very dense, nearly continuous vegetation. In this study I tested the hypothesis that the invasive plant L. maackii affects the activity of Peromyscus leucopus (the white-footed mouse) by providing cover from predators and food (in the form of seed-containing fruit). L. maackii cover and fruit availability were manipulated in a factorial design. I then examined how this affected rodents' activity through the use of track plates. I predicted that rodents would be the most active in control plots in which L. maackii cover and fruit availability were left intact, and that both cover and fruit would contribute equally to rodent activity. The results indicate that removal of L. maackii cover reduced rodent activity by 28%, while fruit availability had no significant effect on activity. This result agrees with the prediction that this invasive species alters rodent activity by providing cover, but not by providing food. However, the experiment may have underestimated the impact of fruit and seed availability on activity. During the year of study, natural fruit production was low because of a late season frost that killed many flowers of L. maackii, thus limiting fruit production the following fall.
Jamie Kuechler (URDC 2008)
Fandemonium: An Analysis of Saint Louis' Greatest Obsession
Previous research on sports and spectators shows that an important component of the baseball experience is crowd behavior. The reactions spectators have to each other are major factors contributing to the excitement and arousal that result from sports spectatorship. While studies on crowd behavior show there are factors that make attendance at games distinctly different from the experience of televised sports viewing at home, my study found that fans perform the same behaviors at stadiums and in other public settings (such as bars or restaurants) when they are watching a sports game. My study specifically examined the attitudes and behaviors of baseball fans in the St. Louis area. It used interviews and questionnaires to better understand the behavioral patterns of fans at a stadium, at a bar/restaurant, and at home while watching a baseball game. I also used participant observation to collect data while watching games at Busch Stadium and at a St. Louis sports bar/restaurant. The behaviors I observed to be appropriate in both settings were nearly identical, and analysis of the questionnaire data also shows this to be true. Results of my research showed that a bar or restaurant is frequently used as a substitute for the stadium, thus allowing fans to act out in the same way in each setting. However, the behaviors that are found to be appropriate in those locations differ from the behaviors of everyday life, suggesting that participating in the baseball experience gives fans an opportunity to act in extreme ways. This analysis contributes to our understanding of fans and their emotional release at sports games.
Patrick Bergin (URDC 2008)
Exploring Peruvian Music through the Eyes and Ears of Gabriela Frank
Composers across the centuries have written music inspired by indigenous cultures, historical figures, and ideals. Gabriela Lena Frank is composing music that clearly and consistently reflects such inspiration. This study explores the effects of these influences on her music through the analysis of her string quartet "Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout," an exploration of traditional Peruvian culture and music. The analysis has been compounded with research about Jose Maria Arguedas, a twentieth century Peruvian writer who championed the ideal of "mestizaje," the coexistence of cultures without the suppression of one another. The synthesis of this research demonstrates not only that Frank is inspired by these factors but that understanding them is essential for one to fully appreciate her innovative, ethnomusicological compositions. This study is the beginning of a series of essays that will explore the catalog of this young composer and hopefully assist in bringing her compositions to a more mainstream audience.
Angela Toole (URDC 2008)
Media Influence on Changing Perceptions of Masculine Behavior
Since the second wave of feminism in the 1970s, the American concept of femininity has adapted to encompass behaviors not traditionally perceived as "female." At the same time our cultural concepts of masculinity have also been changing. I hypothesized that media (films, television, and popular music) have provided a platform that reflects a change in male gender role. Using a survey questionnaire, data were gathered on concepts of masculinity and media influence from 113 undergraduate students (60 female, 53 male) enrolled at the University of Missouri - St. Louis . Specifically, I questioned: 1) whether the dominant American concept of masculinity has changed over the past 30 years to include increased emotional expression and decreased emphasis on physical strength, and 2) how media portrays and informs these changes. A majority of both my male and female respondents recognized a change in American masculinity and agreed with my definition of modern masculinity. A majority of male respondents also identified with this latter definition. Traditional female responsibilities and behaviors, such as childcare, were also overwhelmingly identified as both masculine and feminine traits. However, my results showed little association between changing perceptions of masculinity and performers who reflect a more modern male ideal through their body types, professional roles, and personality traits. Respondents favored traditional masculine personas in their selection of performers, indicating a reverence for old models of accepted male behavior. Previous studies have shown that the media continue to depict violence as a key component of masculinity, perhaps contributing to the perpetuation of outdated conceptions of gender and appropriate behavior for men and women.
Joy Valenta, Joint Project with Dr. Lisa Schechter (URDC 2007)
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Lisa Schechter, Biology
Delivery of bacterial proteins into plant cells by the Type III secretion system of Pseudomonas syringae.
Pseudomonas syringae is a bacterium that causes disease in many vegetable and grain crops. When environmental conditions are favorable for infection the disease may cause spotting of fruit and leaves, as well as leaf loss, resulting in reduced yield and marketability. The methods currently available to treat Pseudomonas syringae and other similar bacterial infections are not effective and pollute the environment.
Pseudomonas syringae infects plants by secreting toxic proteins directly into plant cells via a syringe-like injector known as a type III secretion system (T3SS). The aim of this project is to further understand T3SS function and how Pseudomonas syringae identifies toxic proteins for secretion. Previous studies have indicated that the first 50 amino acids of the toxic proteins are important for secretion. Dr. Schechter theorized that serine may play a role in recognition by the T3SS due to its abundance in the first 50 amino acids of toxic proteins. We tested this theory by replacing several serines with other amino acids in one secreted protein called AvrPto. The ability of Pseudomonas syringae to deliver the normal and mutant versions of AvrPto was then compared. The replacement of serine had no affect on secretion of AvrPto, and thus further investigation is necessary to determine how AvrPto and other toxic proteins are recognized for secretion by the T3SS. If we can determine how Pseudomonas syringae secretes toxins, we may be able to develop methods to block secretion by this and other pathogenic bacteria, leading to better methods to control plant diseases.
Elizabeth Rudloff-Wolk (URDC 2007)
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Donna Hart, Anthropology
Determining Right versus Left Handedness in Skeletal Remains
Victorian Christian tradition upheld a conviction that by being right handed an individual attained closer association with God, while use of the left hand denoted association with the Devil. Often parents and teachers forced a naturally left-handed child to use his/her right hand. To assess the incidence of right versus left handedness in adults from a Victorian population, I examined the skeletal remains from the Second Catholic Cemetery collection (1830-1880). There are several anatomical features to assess when determining handedness: length of the upper limb bones (ulnae, radii, and humeri), the ridging and angulation of the bones of the shoulder girdle, width of the lower end of the humeri, arthritic development in the elbow, and comparison of muscle attachment sites between left and right arms. Of the approximately 96 burials in the cemetery collection, only 37 were measurable adult skeletal remains. Because of commingled burials and post mortem disturbance at the cemetery site, only 18 allowed comparison of right and left upper limbs. Results showed that 12 individuals were right handed, 4 were left handed, and 2 were indeterminate. According to Coren (1992), in an article published in Neuro Science, today approximately 9 out of 10 people worldwide are right handed. While Victorian culture may have emphasized use of the right hand, my study population exhibits an unusually high percentage of left-handed individuals.
Robert B. Dixon (URDC 2007)
Faculty Mentor: Dr. David Kimball, Political Science
Predicting the 2006 U.S. House of Representatives Election
Every two years, the political power structure of the United States changes with each election cycle. Because the stakes are so high, there is great interest in predicting the outcome of an election. With varying degrees of accuracy, many political observers have made election forecast models using different predictor variables. The purpose of this study was to increase the accuracy of different election forecast models by combining them into one prediction and to see which of the variables were the best indicators of the outcome of the 2006 U.S. Congressional elections. In order to do this, we examined many variables representing different areas of the political spectrum such as historical patterns of both parties' control of government, public opinion polls, candidate quality, the economy, open and competitive seats, and campaign spending. After an analysis of 60 election prediction models using data from 1946 to 2004 and the Bayesian system for weighting models, we predicted that the Republican Party would lose 28 seats in the 2006 elections for the House of Representatives. The final election outcome was 30 seats lost by the Republicans. By averaging many forecast models, we produced a more accurate prediction than by relying on only one model. We found that the differences between the two parties in House retirements, levels of public support, and candidate quality and the public's reaction against the ruling party were the strongest predictors of the election's outcome. Further, we found that the president's approval rating was very important because it influenced these other predictors.
Angela Woike (URDC 2007)
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Donna Hart, Anthropology
A Photographic Study of Diversity in University City, Missouri
The community of University City is believed to be one of the most culturally diverse areas within the St. Louis metropolitan region. As a resident of University City, I questioned whether this distinction was consistent with the perceptions of the people who actually live in the community. The 2000 census showed that 49.3% of the residents of University City were classified as white, 45.4% as African American, 0.2% as American Indian or Native Alaskan, 2.8% as Asian, 1.6% as Hispanic, and 0.6% as other. In order to assess perceptions of cultural diversity, I constructed a survey questionnaire and interviewed a random sampling of 50 area residents. I first compared respondents' self-identified ethnicities to the census breakdown, and then looked at how people perceived the percentage level of their own ethnicity. Other information gathered from the questionnaire included issues such as city government promotion of diversity, the perceived benefits of diversity, and the level of interactions between members of different ethnic groups. The study concluded with a mutual agreement amongst surveyed residents that University City is a diverse area. Many residents found diversity to be promoted within the city by residents and their daily interactions rather than government. They found diversity to be a benefit to multiple aspects within the community. This study also includes photographs that illustrate the self-segregation of ethnicities in University City.
Nicole Lubanowski (URDC 2006)
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Alexei V. Demchenko, Chemistry & Biochemistry
Development of new chemistry tools to study immunology of bacterial pathogens in infants
Streptococcus pneumonias infections are the most frequent causes of invasive diseases such as pneumonia and meningitis resulting in approximately 1.2 million annual deaths of small children. A carbohydrate vaccination is commonly used against the bacterial invasion. There are 90 known types differing by carbohydrate types on the Pneumococcal bacteria surface, among which type 6A is the most important cause of infections. However, no current multi-component vaccines contain carbohydrate of type 6A due to its low availability from nature and by synthetic methods. The ultimate goal of this research is development of a synthetic pneumococcal vaccine, specific to the type 6A.
The scope of this project is to develop an efficient and scalable synthesis of the type 6A-specific molecule containing four carbohydrate subunits. To date the following steps have been performed: A. Efficient procedures have been developed and successfully applied to the synthesis of the four individual building blocks; B. Convergent strategy for the binding of the building blocks has been discovered and applied to the synthesis of the target carbohydrate sequence; C. Effective purification and characterization techniques have been developed and applied throughout the procedure.
It is to be expected that the methods and strategies developed will significantly facilitate further steps toward the vaccine development including preparation of a range of compounds structurally related to type 6A, study of their structural properties, binding to a protein carrier, and determination of the immunological properties of synthetic conjugates.
Lana Marie Kerker (URDC 2006)
Mentor's Department: Dr. Donna Hart, Anthropology & Pierre Laclede Honors College
Training as a primatologist in a field school experience: A study of mantled howler monkeys in Nicaragua
La Suerte Biological Field Station, located on Ometepe Island, Nicaragua, offers undergraduate courses in field research techniques. I attended a primate research session during June-July 2004 which enhanced my understanding of primate behavior and ecology and provided an essential foundation for future graduate and professional level field studies. Two weeks of field exercises preceded work on an independent research project. The project I designed was a comparison of prehensile tail use between different age groups of mantled howler monkeys. I based my research on theories of functional morphology that explain the evolution of anatomical features. All primates, including humans, have physical adaptations used for balance and locomotion in their specific environmental niches. Prehensile tails are a unique feature of Neotropical monkeys since the tail is able to grasp tree limbs, providing additional balance and support in an arboreal habitat. Listing five common prehensile tail postures, I hypothesized that juveniles would use all five of the postures more frequently than adults who would exhibit a lesser repertoire of positions. Field methodology selected was focal animal sampling to record behavior, tail position, canopy level, and tree limb size. Results showed a statistically significant difference in tail use between juvenile and adult monkeys which supported my hypothesis and can be correlated with changes in activity levels as a howler monkey ages.
Dale Downs (URDC 2006)
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Bruce Wilking, Physics & Astronomy and Astronomy
Formation of brown dwarfs: A bridge between planets and stars
Infrared observations were made in the core of a star-forming cloud of gas and dust in the constellation of Ophiuchus. At a distance of 500 light years, this is one of the closest star-forming regions to the Sun. Infrared imaging allows lower temperature objects, more distant bodies, and objects obscured by dust to be seen. Infrared imaging made it possible to see into the Ophiuchus cloud. One goal of this research was to identify young brown dwarfs, or very low mass objects that are between planets and stars, and to determine how common they are in regions where stars form. Brown dwarfs are often referred to as Tailed stars' because they do not contain a critical level of mass or temperature required for nuclear reactions that fuel normal stars. Another goal for this project was to complete Hubble Space Telescope infrared imagery missing in the region due to a camera malfunction.
Our data were plotted on several graphs that would give estimates of the young object's mass assuming .in age of 300,000 years. Possible brown dwarfs were selected from the completed data and plotted .Long with confirmed brown dwarfs on another set of diagrams. As a result, we have discovered over a hundred possible young brown dwarfs with masses below 0.1 times the mass of the Sun. While the majority of these are probably older stars shining through the cloud, twenty of these objects have been confirmed as true brown dwarfs through infrared spectroscopy. An additional seven objects appear to be true brown dwarfs since the amount of obscuring dust we estimate is not high enough to be an old star behind the cloud. Confirmation of these objects will help astronomers understand more clearly how clouds subdivide to form stars and how brown dwarfs form.
Tatum Ponder (URDC 2006)
Faculty Mentor: Dr. David Kimball, Political Science
The casino industry: Is it good or bad for the local economy?
This research was conducted to assess whether the casino industry provides an economic boost to the local economy by increasing the number of jobs. In particular, this study examines the impact of casinos on local private non-farm employment. It is important for an area to attract and retain businesses that provide people with jobs that pay well and provide benefits for themselves and their families.
This research project involves reviewing published studies on the economic impact of the gaming industry, as well as my own original data analysis. I examined changes in employment figures before and after new casinos opened in several American cities or counties, including some in Missouri. The comparisons include assessments of similar communities that did not open casinos. The results indicate that new casinos tend to have a bigger and more favorable impact on employment in smaller less-populated counties than in heavily populated counties.
Colleen Buckley and Sarah B. Rutherford (URDC 2006)
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Louis Gerteis, History
Old North St. Louis project
This project deals with salvaging homes through die Restoration Group of Old North St. Louis and will demonstrate methods for researching information on the history of homes. In order to save two particular homes in Old North St. Louis (1300 and 1308 Monroe Street) from being demolished, extensive research has been done at the Mercantile Library, the Missouri Historical Society, the St. Louis County Headquarters Library and the Olive Branch, Main Public Library in downtown St. Louis. Information such as fire insurance maps, census records, city directories, Civil War record books, obituary records from old newspaper articles, and websites on genealogical information provided support for salvaging the two properties through to the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group.
This project is important because it not only informed the researchers about the few homes on Monroe Street, located in Old North St. Louis, but it also provides tool kit for those who wish to find information on other homes. The Old North St. Louis Restoration Group is working to transform their neighborhood from dilapidated, condemned properties to a thriving, residential and retail center. Working together, the researchers and the Restoration Group have designed ways to improve this community. It is an approach of combining the history with future developments, a concept known as "heritage based redevelopment."
We presented our project to the public in May 2005 during a House Tour in the Old North St. Louis neighborhood. Our group provided a "how to" manual for the public to allow homeowners to research their own homes from the resources we used. Visitors and residents greatly appreciated the tool kit we made available to them.
Ann Chisholm and JaVonda Palmer (URDC 2006)
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Margaret Sherraden, School of Social Work
Problem debt and its effect on low-income families
In 2002, Missouri ranked number one in the nation for per capita bankruptcy filings. One in 73 households filed bankruptcy, which affected more children than those impacted by divorce. In 2001, African American, Hispanic and White households spent 19 to 24 percent of household income on credit card payments. Median credit card debt for households was more than $5,000, much of it "safety net" debt covering basic household expenses, including childcare, health care and insurance, education, housing, and transportation. Low-income families are particularly prone to experience "debt hardship" (defined as monthly debt payments exceeding 40 percent of household income). They cope with high expenses and low income and few assets. They, in particular, face high risk for financial ruin, decreasing their chances to move out of poverty and into the middle class.
This research examines (1) the causes of problem debt, including credit cards, predatory loans, and unsecured lines of credit, (2) the impact on families, including poor credit ratings, low or negative net worth, and bankruptcy, and (3) proposed solutions.
Data for this study were obtained from consumer research, government data, and interviews with experts on consumer and family economics. The findings demonstrate that families who have high debt and low net-worth can neither provide for themselves today nor provide opportunities for themselves or their children in the future. In order for families to overcome debt hardship, there needs to be a synthesis of preventive measures that will decrease wealth disparities. These measures include financial education, asset building, policies, and grassroots activism.