Student and Faculty Research Collaboration

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) majors are an active community of learners on our campus.

Seen a student in a Royals blue STEM sweatshirt lately? Ask what he or she is working on – you’ll be surprised by the meaningful and high-tech research STEM students are completing side-by-side with professors who are experts in their fields. EMU undergrads work several semesters on projects, and even present findings at national conferences as well as at Suter Science Seminars on campus.

This kind of study – undergraduates paired with full-PhD level professors doing long-term original research – is typical at EMU and key to the success many graduates enjoy in graduate and medical school study.

STEM Research

Biology research

Impact of Soil Additives and Organic Horticulture Practices
EMU research - biology - Organic Horticulture research Students are currently collaborating with professors Roman Miller and Steve Cessna in research projects involving organic blueberry horticulture. Students are assessing the impact of specific soil additives and organic horticulture practices on blueberry bush vigor and physiology, as well as the quantity and quality of blueberry fruit production. Students learn techniques such as measuring photosynthesis and soil respiration, assessing macro- and micronutrient content in soil and in plant leaves, and quantifying the concentration of anthocyanins (antioxidants) and other components in blueberry fruit. Measurements involve high performance liquid chromatography and fluorescence spectroscopy. Learn more

Measuring Pesticides in Market Vegetables
Junior Nels Akerson is working with Dr. Doug Graber Neufeld to develop and test a novel combination of techniques for measuring pesticides in market vegetables. This method will allow a relatively simple assessment of general pesticide levels that would be appropriate for a rapid screening vegetables in situations (such as developing countries) where resources are more limited. This project is testing the method by comparing pesticide levels from the local farmer’s market with those purchased from large supermarkets.

Effects of Heavy Metal Toxins on Neurotransmitter Receptors
Students working Dr. Greta Ann Herin’s lab are looking at the effects of heavy metal toxins on neurotransmitter receptors. For example, we have found that lead can inhibit a glutamate receptor that is important in learning and memory. This may be a part of the explanation of why children exposed to high levels of lead have learning difficulties. Our research involves the use of a technique called two-electrode voltage clamp, which allows us to measure the activity of neurotransmitter receptors in real time, and is relatively simple for students to learn.

Invasive and Natine Vines in the Shenandoah Valley
Student Blake Rogers is researching invasive and native vines in local forests Park Woods and Todd State Forest. Invasive vines like Japanese honeysuckle and English ivy may be out-competing native vines like Virginia creeper and American grape because of their evergreen lifestyle and their insensitivity to local competitors like black walnut. Blake is surveying local vine growth and performing greenhouse experiments to measure the walnut sensitivity of several different vines.

Red Light Environments and Plant Growth
Plants grown in red light form taller shoots and smaller roots than plant in natural sunlight. Some market gardeners use this idea to promote greater yield by covering their crops with red netting or covering the soil with red plastic. Student Kurtis Blosser is performing greenhouse and garden plot experiments to determine the impact of red light on the growth of spring greens arugula and mustard. He is also measuring root water uptake in plants grown in red, blue, green, and white light environments with our infrared gas analyzer.

Analyzing Projectile Motion with Air Resistance
Joe Hochstetler, senior major in mathematics and minor in physics, worked with physics professor Leah Shao Boyer on analyzing projectile motion with air resistance in the general physics lab. He presented his findings at 13th Annual Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference of Undergraduate Scholarship and 7th Shenandoah Undergraduate Mathematics and Statistics Conference.

Robotics Enrichment Activities
Lego Mindstorms NXT robots are used in computer science and engineering classes, and in fall 2011 students, Sam Kauffman, Eric Brodersen, and Joo-Ah Lee worked independently to create demonstrations that included a robot that can travel independently, travel a maze by sensing walls, and an alligator robot that snaps if petted.

Learning with On-line Games
Eric Brodersen worked with professors Dee Weikle and Charles Cooley in fall 2011 to determine what is required to transform an online computer game into a learning tool, and how to build an online game that will incorporate data from a variety of class levels (K-12). Current work includes porting the game “Age of Computers” to a local machine and adding new questions to this existing framework.

Responsible Citizenship in a Technological Democracy
Computer science major Aaron Springer is working with professors Dr. Weikle (mathematics and computer science) and Dr. Jeanne Horst (psychology) to collect data on students on cross-cultural and their use of social media. Goals are to answer the question, “What does an informed citizen need to know in today’s increasingly complex world?” as it applies to governmental policy and technology. Dr. Weikle focuses her research efforts on the use of social media, how it affects individuals and how it can be improved.

Expectation and Value in the Science Classroom
Dr. Dee Weikle is collecting data in her CS110 Introduction to Computer Science classroom on how students retain information and perform based on their expectations and values as defined by research being done in psychology at JMU. Dr. Jeanne Horst and Dr. Weikle are working together to analyze this in the computer science classroom.

Tara Kishbaugh’s research interests are in chemical education and water quality studies. She is also involved in a collaborative project with Dr. Roman Miller and Dr. Stephen Cessna to systematically examine what soil amendments and cultivar types result in optimal soil and plant health and quality of blueberries.

Blueberry Foliar Analysis
The sub-project in Dr. Tara Kishbaugh’s lab looks at the relationship between the level of micronutrients in the soil (tests done off-site) and plants (in our lab). Students collect leaves from specific cultivars during August, which have been raised with different soil amendments, and analyze them during September-December for micronutrients, such as Iron, Zinc, Manganese, Copper, Calcium and Magnesium using Atomic Absorbance Spectroscopy. A plan for quality control is implemented to check for method contaminations and other interferences. The instrument requires regular cleaning and maintenance, which the students are trained to complete.

Stream Health Assessment
Dr. Tara Kishbaugh, whose research focuses on chemical education and water quality studies, spearheaded a long-term evaluation and plan for nearby Blacks Run, a stream that runs through Harrisonburg, with its headwaters at EMU. The Blacks Run is considered to be impaired by the VA Department of Environmental Quality due to over-sedimentation and elevated levels of bacteria. In collaboration with other volunteers in the area, students regularly analyze the health of the stream using a variety of physical, chemical and biological indicators such as temperature, flow, nutrient levels (nitrates, phosphates, and others) and e coli.

Surface & Ground Water Testing Near Proposed Hydrofracking Site
Students are collaborating with Dr. Tara Kishbaugh and Dr. Doug Graber Neufeld to gather baseline water quality data from a local watershed that has been proposed as a hydrofracking site. Students are working with a local organization, and with residents in the watershed, to measure barium, strontium, and conductivity in both well and stream water. This baseline data will help assess water quality impacts of hydrofracking should drilling proceed in this area. Learn more

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Learn more about long-term faculty-student research collaborations.