Grad Student Research Showcase Draws Crowds to Newcomb

March 27, 2008 — The University of Virginia's Newcomb Hall Ballroom buzzed with the sound of ebullient researchers explaining their work.

The eighth annual Robert J. Huskey Graduate Research Exhibition, held March 19, featured poster sessions in the ballroom and oral paper presentations in separate rooms within Newcomb.

"It looks really sharp this year," said William Bradley McConnell, one of the organizers. "The judges seem to be happy, and we want to pass on recommendations of what works to next year's organizers."

More than 100 graduate students presented their research in what McConnell said was a well-organized but fairly flexible undertaking. "We had four people drop out last night and then one guy who added himself," McConnell said.

"The range is unbelievable," said David Hondula, one of the organizers. "Some (of the presentations) are technical and seem to me to be in another language."

Some graduate researchers said that the exhibit helps sharpen their focus. "This gives me the chance and the incentive to analyze and explain my work," said Nicole Lindner, a social psychology graduate student who researches attitudes about age, whose poster presentation earned a third-place prize in the social and behavioral science category.

"I'm trying to figure out how age identity works," she said. "Aging is continuous, in a way that ethnicity and gender are not."

Calvin Schermerhorn, who is researching slavery migrations in the Chesapeake Bay region from 1790 to 1860, said the exhibit gave him an opportunity to present material to his colleagues and to see what they do.

"I don't usually get to see work from other departments," he said. "I see a lot of focused work here. And I enjoy the questions they ask of my work."

Schermerhorn used the 200th anniversary of the United States' ban on the importation of slaves to examine the shifting demographics of the slave trade in the Chesapeake Bay region.

"From 1790 to 1860, 1.1 million slaves were moved across state lines," he said. "That's a huge forced migration."

This movement of slaves inevitably broke up families, he said.

"This shows what slavery was like. The people would have a creeping feeling whenever the slave merchant came around that they were going to lose a family member," said Schermerhorn, who grew up in southern Maryland "in the shadow of the old, imagined past" of happy, contented slaves and benevolent owners. He said research into slavery such as his is important to the contemporary discussions of race relations.

Schermerhorn's poster presentation earned him first place among arts and humanities posters.

Professors moved through the crowd and many presenters took turns examining their colleagues' work and helping their presentations. "We've also had a high undergraduate turnout," McConnell said.

Accompanying the murmur of researchers was piano music. Grant Willard, a fourth-year biology major from Martinsville played pieces he made up on the spot, traditional tunes and "oldies," such as "God Only Knows" from the Beach Boys.

"I've only gotten a few requests," said Willard, who said he was alternating with another piano player for the event.

While the posters filled the ballroom, researchers offered their insights to small gatherings of peers and judges during individual presentations given in nearby rooms.

The following is a list of prize winners:

Arts and humanities paper presentations

First-place winners: Karen Guth, religious studies, "Locating the social gospel legacy: Walter Rauschenbusch, Martin Luther King Jr., Reinhold Niebuhr and the ethics of Christian ethics"; Eric Stoykovich, history department, "Domestic animals and the internal improvement of early United States, 1789 to 1876."

Second-place winners: Daniel Kollig, German department, "Bringing Nietzche back into the arts: The self-destructing body in the works of Matthew Barney"; Allison Robbins, music, "Dancing with Fred and Ginger: Nostalgia and race in the 1930s RKO musicals"; Hallie Smith, English, "Robert Lowell's American imitations: The ethics of poetry translation in the 20th Century."

Third-place winners: Paul Fyfe, English, "The accident(s) of Victorian literature"; Gerrit Roessler, German, "Sounds of the downfall: Music and narrative agency in Oliver Hirschbiegel's 'Der Untergang.'"

Biological and biomedical sciences paper presentations

First-place winners: Anna Maria Copeland, microbiology, "Herpes simplex virus replication: Roles of viral proteins and nucleoporins in capsid-nucleus attachment"; Alex Garcia, biology, "Developmental regulation of microRNA processing in xenopus laevis"; Katie Hulse, microbiology, "Targeting Fel d 1 to FcgammaRI: Single Cell Analysis reveals a novel variation of the Th2 response in cat-allergic subjects."

Second-place winners: Nicholas Douris, biology, "Loss of nocturnin, a circadian deadenylase, confers resistance to hepatic steatosis and diet-induced obesity"; Roshan James, biomedical engineering, "Treatment with GDF5 induces teninogenic differentiation of adipose derived stromal cells seeded on electrospun PLAGA scaffolds"; Tami Ranson, biology, "Earthworms, as ecosystem engineers, influence the behavior and survival of a common salamander."

Third-place winners: Elisa Ferrante, biomedical engineering, "Dual targeted molecular imaging for atherosclerotic plaque detection"; Justyna Pielecka-Fortuna, neuroscience, "Kisspeptin acts directly and transsynaptically to increase GnRH neuron activity and its effects are modulated by estradiol"; Heidi Walsh, neuroscience, "Rhythmic occupancy of the LHbeta and FSHbeta promoters by transcription factors after GnRH stimulation."

Physical science and mathematics paper presentations

First-place winners: Joleen Miller, astronomy, "Red giant rapid rotators: Mild-mannered stars or secret planet eaters?"; Gail Zasowski, astronomy, "Our dusty galaxy: Mapping the dust structure of the Milky Way."

Second-place winners: Meredith Ferdie, environmental sciences, "Disturbance and recovery of seagrass communities in East Africa"; Yize Li, physics, "A new phase and the resulting new phase diagram for two-dimensional superconductors."

Third-place winners: Peter Dolph, physics, "On the production and optimization of hyperpolarized noble gas"; Guoqing Zhang, chemistry, "Emission color tuning for a light-emitting polymer."

Social and behavioral sciences paper presentations

First-place winners: Ryne Estabrook, psychology, "Reliability of intra-individual variability"; Janet Palmer, psychology, "The effects of arousal on short- and long-term development of neutral and emotional false memories."

Second-place winners: Olivia Lima, psychology, "Moderating the impact of children's attentional capacity on word learning from storybooks"; Colin Smith, psychology, "Listen to your heart: Body focus and attitude reports."

Third-place winners: Jonathan Bakdash, psychology, "Comparing decision making and control for learning a virtual environment: Backseat drivers learn where they are going"; Maria-Cecilia Venzon, nursing, "Using theater to facilitate discussion on community health issues: Domestic violence."