Inside USD

Student Research Knows No Creative Boundaries

Friday, April 24, 2009

img_4017The fourth annual Creative Collaborations event displayed the talent of University of San Diego students at their best on Tuesday afternoon.

Creative Collaborations is “a testimony to the quality of work that our students are doing,” Provost Julie Sullivan said.

The aisles of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice conference rooms were crowded with a record 130-plus poster boards detailing research produced by students — with the mentoring help of faculty — from several College of Arts and Sciences disciplines as well as undergraduate business and engineering. Students were on hand to discuss their research projects during the two-hour presentation.

“This is an example of what an undergraduate education is all about,” said Mary Boyd, dean of College of Arts and Sciences.

Projects touched on visual arts, physics, chemistry, politics, cultural diversity, corporate responsibility in business, sustainability and even the effects of cell phone usage.

Here’s a closer look at a few of the projects:

• Benjamin Huebner, a senior biochemistry major, worked with faculty adviser Debbie Tahmassebi on a project examining “Characterization of Structural and Electronic Properties of a Ruthenium (II)-Tris-Bipyridine Coordination Complex.”

Huebner’s project goal was examine the stereochemistry of a ruthenium metal bipyridine-L-alanine ligand complex. Huebner said previous biochemistry students had run somewhat similar experiments, but he altered his research to not only gain new knowledge but also self-confidence in performing his own specific testing.

“I did (this project) because I had seen friends who had done it before, and you really learn a lot more about certain techniques. Before I did this, I couldn’t run these by myself,” he said. Huebner, who will graduate in May and will attend medical school in Nebraska this fall, said the research project was very helpful. “It makes you think more for yourself when you’re working with broader applications.”

Huebner thanked Tahmassebi for her help along the way, too, something the latter is happy to be part of. Tahmassebi is in her second year as chair of the Creative Collaborations Committee.

“I am a strong believer in active learning,” Tahmassebi said. “In my field, that means getting into the lab and learning how real science and the generation of new knowledge is performed. I really enjoy working with students as they experience the challenges and rewards of this experience and often find a great passion for their work.”

• From experimenting with science to the science of thinking, Nicholas Kowalczyk, a senior philosophy major, opted to meld two opposite ideologies together. In “An Examination of Free Will, Karma and the Problem of Evil,” Kowalczyk looked at Eastern and Western philosophies and their different answers to the problem of evil, and tried to find some common ground.

“I took a Western topic like free will, which is the most commonly accepted answer to the problem of evil and then I took the Eastern version, karma, and I tried to create my paper to somehow bring these elements together,” he said. “There probably will never be an answer, but my hope was that you present different and maybe some new answers that can help the future with this kind of process.”

• Electrical engineering students Kelty Lanham, Michael Sass and Hanner Hart presented their project on “S-Band Radio Frequency Energy Harvesting: An Integrated Solution for Low-Powered Embedded Systems.”

“Essentially what we’re doing is taking radio waves and converting (them) into power,” Lanham said. “It’s like the radio in your car takes radio waves to make sounds; we’re taking radio waves and making power out of it.”

The students’ project has the support of Scientific Application International Corp., a Fortune 500 company, that, among other projects, makes components used on unmanned military aircraft.

“They’re interested in this technology to increase the flight time that these drones can stay in the air,” Lanham said.

• While one goal of new technology is to improve existing conditions, Amanda Lefevre, a senior psychology major, spent her time examining the effects of a revolutionary technological device that is already commonplace: the cellular phone.

Lefevre took a closer look at cell phones and their effect on USD students. Her project, “The Benefits and Problems of Cell Phone Use Amongst College Students,” surveyed students in introduction to psychology classes for her sampling data.

The survey consisted of 65 questions — including some of the same questions asked differently to see if a person would answer the same or not — and the data brought back a few interesting observations. Twenty percent said they used their cell phones to talk, while 80 percent use it for texting. More than 70 percent said they couldn’t live without their cell phone, and 92.6 percent admit they would sooner return home to retrieve their forgotten cell phone than a forgotten wallet. One other tidbit: 40 percent said they find others who use cell phones in public places irritating.

Lefevre said the study, which had the help of faculty adviser Veronica Galvan, was a fun project. She participated in USD’s Summer Undergraduate Research Experience program. “It was so helpful to me because I was able to do a lot of background work on my research. It was like having a summer job,” she said.

She credited Galvan for instilling confidence. “I was her first research assistant. We created this (project) together, but she valued my input, let me take the initiative, and it helped me develop more as a researcher.”

Creative Collaborations itself has developed into a popular event. It has grown so much that Sullivan announced the 2010 event is slated to take place in the new Student Life Pavilion conference rooms.

“We need more room dedicated to it,” Sullivan said.

— Ryan T. Blystone

For more information on Creative Collaborations, click here.

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