Following countless hours of clinical study, working in labs, building circuitboards, peering into microscopes, studying invasive species, reconditioning batteries, analyzing medical data and other intensive research, Brookdale’s eight NASA STEM Fellows officially presented the results of their year-long research projects to the college community on April 11.
Addressing a capacity crowd of classmates, advisors and faculty gathered in the Student Life Center, the fellows detailed the goals, procedures and results for each of their research projects, which ranged in scope from the self-assembly of molecules and the impacts of invasive species to emerging surgical procedures and the science of musical effects.
“I am very proud of the work they have accomplished,” said assistant biology professor and fellowship program coordinator Gitanjali Kundu. “From the human body to Mars to hybrid cars, there was something for everyone to take from today’s program. This is going to be a big feather in the students’ caps as they all move on to new, interesting places to pursue their careers.”
The program began with a presentation titled “Tabula rasa” by chemical engineering major Michael LaMura, who spent the year researching methods of binding microparticles using strands of DNA.
LaMura said his method and findings, which also involved creating crystal structures from microparticles, could have potential implications on digital devices and materials like plexiglass, which could benefit from improved tensile strength and flexibility. LaMura, who worked with Rutgers University professor Dr. Shahab Shojaeizadeh on his project, is also an inaugural member of Brookdale’s chapter of the National Society of Leadership and Success.
Biology major Christine Little gave a presentation titled “Investigating density dependence survival of spotted wing Drosophila,” which detailed her work studying an invasive species of butterfly known to pester area farmers. Little, who will continue her studies with Rutgers professor Dr. Anne Nielsen this summer, found that butterfly population density did not have a significant impact on the number of new eggs, even if food supplies remained constant.
The research, she said, may be of particular interest to local growers, who worried that dropping fruit on the ground may lead to an uptick in invasive butterflies.
“Overall, the amount of offspring is not significantly changing as the population density is increased,” she said. ‘Which you would expect, believing that more adults equals more eggs equals more new adults. But really, it’s not increasing at all. Which is pretty interesting.”
Physics and astronomy major Joseph Guth gave a presentation titled “Analysis of Martian concrete driven by mineral composition,” which sought to identify materials that could be mixed with Martial soil to create a reliable source of concrete on the Red Planet.
Guth, also a member of Brookdale’s chapter of Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), worked with Brookdale faculty Sarbmeet Kanwal and Lisa Hailey to replicate Martian soil with materials readily found on Earth. He then used various concentrations of water and sulphur to create molds of “Martian concrete” which were tested for strength, durability, and other properties. His research, he said, could have implications on future efforts to establish and sustain human life on Mars.
“The project was very interesting,” said Guth, who will be transferring to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, following graduation this May. “I wanted to do something with space, but this project I ended up branching out into something much different – into engineering and the like… It was great to get the application of it all, to see where these skills are going to be of use. Seeing the real-world application gives you an entirely different view of what you’re studying, and why.”
Brookdale biology major and honor student Grace Groh gave a presentation titled “Have bio-absorbable inference screws revolutionized anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction surgery?”, which sought to determine if bio-absorbable screws are more effective than metal screws in surgically repairing a torn ACL. A former athlete who suffered a career-ending ACL injury, Groh said she was spurred on by statistics showing that young female athletes – and young women in general – are statistically more likely to incur ACL injuries than young men.
Working with Dr. Jason Nitche – the surgeon who performed Groh’s ACL reconstruction following her own injury – and Brookdale mathematics professor Susan Monroe, Groh gathered and analyzed reams on data on patient recovery times, re-injury rates and other statistics. In the end, she said, she found no significant difference between metal and bio-absorbable screws.
Mechanical engineering major Anthony Mauro gave a presentation titled “The forgotten hybrid,” which detailed his attempt to restore a 14-year-old hybrid car to its original gas mileage specifications. Mauro, a past graduate of Brookdale’s Automotive Technology program, purchased a first-generation Honda Civic Hybrid with 220,000 miles and lots of wear and tear, which was averaging about 30 miles per gallon.
After performing some general maintenance, Mauro built a custom battery charger and a discharging system to recondition the vehicle’s aging battery. He also built a custom controller to more effectively govern the car’s usage of gas or battery power.
In the end, he said, he was able to restore the and improve it’s gas mileage by more than 20 miles per gallon, all for a total cost of about $2,000. Mauro, who worked with Auto Tech professor Paul Tucker on the project, will transfer to NJIT this fall to pursue his new passion for engineering.
Electrical engineering and physics major Joe Bongiorno gave a presentation titled “Coloring sound,” regarding his efforts to study and reconstruct digital music effects using custom-built analog circuit boards.
The vice president of Brookdale’s Engineering Student Association, Bongiorno was able to combine his lifelong passion for music with his burgeoning career in engineering to build effects like Reverb, Overdrive, Chorus and Octave Divides from scratch. He also demonstrated the effects with live performances on bass guitar throughout the presentation. Bongiorno, who worked with engineering and technology instructor Jonathan Owens on his research, plans to transfer to NJIT in the fall.
Health science and biology major Sameerah Wahab gave a presentation titled “Investigation of invasive fungi on Monmouth vineyards,” which studied the impacts of pestilential fungi on local crops of wine grapes. Wahab, an honor student, current PTK president and a 2016 New Century Scholar, worked with Monmouth University professor Dr. Pedram Daneshgar to study environmental conditions, local crops and various types of fungi that could be contributing to decreased grape yields.
In the end, she said, Wahab and her mentor discovered that a mix of “black rot” and “powdery mildew” were to blame. Prior to the conclusion of her research, Wahab also began working on potential cures by experimenting on the fungi with various dilutions of coconut oil. She hopes to continue the work following graduation this May.
To conclude the program, environmental science major Andrea Sissick gave a presentation titled “The effect of climate change on the spiny dogfish population.” Working with Rutgers scientists Dr. Grace Saba and Dr. Josh Kohut, Sissick studied three local species of fish which have recently migrated as a result of changing ocean temperatures.
Performing a variety of lab studies on spiny dogfish – commonly referred to as “mud sharks” – Sissick and her team collected thousands of data points to determine the optimal temperature range for the fish to reside in. She also assisted in translating the raw data into quantifiable findings, which will be used to further the ongoing research study and help create maps that project migration patterns and future temperature changes.
Each of the NASA STEM Fellows received a $5,000 fellowship for participating in the program, which was sponsored by grants from NASA and the New Jersey Space Grant Consortium (NJSGC). The fellows also provided free peer tutoring to fellow students this year in Brookdale’s STEM Lounge, located in the MAS building.
The fellows were the third and final cohort of Brookdale NASA STEM Fellows, following two groups of students selected in the spring and fall of 2016.
To learn more about Brookdale’s STEM programs, click here.