Research

Star students show their work on SMU Research Day, Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015

Stock photo of lab workersSMU graduate students, and select undergraduates, from a wide variety of disciplines will share their work as part of the University’s 2015 Research Day. All SMU faculty, staff members and students are invited to visit the Hughes-Trigg Student Center Ballrooms from 2-5 p.m Wednesday, Feb. 25, to meet the student researchers and discuss their results.

Awards will be presented at the event’s end, and refreshments will be served throughout.

> See a list of participating student researchers and their projects from SMU News
Visit SMU Graduate Studies online

Calendar Highlights: Feb. 18, 2015

Emanuel Cleaver II

Emanuel Cleaver II visits Perkins Chapel as a guest preacher on Thursday,, Feb. 19th.

The Cultural Realities of Cancer: Visiting SMU under the Department of Anthropology, Dr. Deborah O. Erwin, Director of the Office of Cancer Health Disparities Research at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, will explore “The Cultural Realities of Cancer” and how individuals are impacted by this diagnosis. This free event will take place in the McCord Auditorium on Wednesday, Feb. 18 at 5 p.m. For more information, email Pamela Hogan.

Emanuel Cleaver II: Sponsored by the Perkins School of Theology Black Seminarians Association, U.S. Representative and United Methodist clergyman Emanuel Cleaver II will visit the Perkins Chapel as a guest preacher on Thursday, Feb. 19, at 11:30 a.m., during the regular worship service. Celebrating Black History Month, the theme for this worship service is “We’ve Come This Far by Faith and We Won’t Stop Now!” For more information about the chapel service and Rev. Cleaver’s visit, email Ailey Pope, the chair of the Black Seminarians Association at Perkins.  

Godbey Lecture Series: In honor of the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, the Godbey Lecture Series presents “Perspectives on Magna Carta” featuring three SMU professors as they illuminate the history and contribution of the document. The SMU professors include; Jeremy Q. Adams, Professor of History, Joshua Tate, Associate Professor of Law, and Ada-Maria Kuskowski, Assistant Professor of History. The event will take place on Thursday, Feb. 19, 5:30 p.m. in the Gene and Jerry Jones Great Hall, Meadows Museum. While the lecture is free and open to the public, guests are asked to please register online. For more information, visit the Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute webpage or email Elizabeth Fieldling. 

Meadows Virtuosi Players: SMU Meadows School of the Arts presents “Meadows Virtuosi Players” on Saturday, Feb. 21, at 6:30 p.m., in the Caruth Auditorium. Formed in 2012, the Meadows Virtuosi Players concert series features select Meadows student musicians performing side-by-side with their faculty colleagues. This Saturday, directors Andrés Diaz and Matt Albert will be joined by Meadows voice faculty member Camille King. For more information, call 214.768.2787.

Doris Kearns Goodwin

Doris Kearns Goodwin

Tate Lecture Series: SMU’s Willis M. Tate Distinguished Lecture Series presents Doris Kearns Goodwin, on Tuesday, Feb. 24. Goodwin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, best-selling author and presidential historian. While The Anita and Truman Arnold Lecture is already sold out, SMU students, faculty and staff are welcome to participate in the Turner Construction/Wells Fargo Student Forum at 4:30 p.m. in the Hughes-Trigg Student Center Ballroom. 

Research Day 2015: On Wednesday, Feb. 25, SMU graduate and undergraduate students are invited and encouraged to present results of ongoing and completed SMU-based research. Guests are welcomed to meet over 160 students engaged in research, and discover opportunities for future collaboration and entrepreneurship. The event will take place in the Hughes-Trigg Student Center, Promenade Ballroom, from 2-5 p.m. For additional information, view the 2015 Research Day Catalog or email Sarah Sage. 

No means no: SMU study shows that teen girls report less sexual victimization after virtual-reality assertiveness training

Stock photo of two people holding handsTeen girls were less likely to report being sexually victimized after learning to assertively resist unwanted sexual overtures and practicing resistance in a realistic virtual environment, according to a new SMU-led study.

The effects persisted over a three-month period following the training, says clinical psychologist Lorelei Simpson Rowe, lead author on the pilot study and an associate professor of psychology in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.

The research also found that those girls who had previously experienced dating violence reported lower levels of psychological aggression and psychological distress after completing the program, relative to girls in a comparison group.

“The virtual simulations allowed girls to practice being assertive in a realistic environment. The intent of the program is for the learning opportunity to increase the likelihood that they will use the skills in real life,” said Simpson Rowe, who also serves as graduate program co-director in the Department of Psychology. “Research has shown that skills are more likely to generalize if they are practiced in a realistic environment, so we used virtual reality to increase the realism.”

The training program, called “My Voice, My Choice,” emphasizes that victims do not invite sexual violence and that they have the right to stand up for themselves because violent or coercive behavior is never OK.

“It is very promising that learning resistance skills and practicing them in virtual simulations of coercive interactions could reduce the risk for later sexual victimization,” said Simpson Rowe.

She cautioned, however, that the research is preliminary and based on a small sample: 42 in the “My Voice, My Choice” condition and 36 in a control condition. Future research is needed to establish the benefits of the program across different age groups and populations, for example, college versus high school students.

The study’s strengths included its randomized controlled design and a high participant retention rate among the 78 teen girls in the study.

The virtual-reality simulation component of “My Voice, My Choice” utilizes a software program developed by study co-authors Ernest N. Jouriles and Renee McDonald in conjunction with the game design program in The Guildhall at SMU. Jouriles and McDonald are clinical psychologists in the SMU Psychology Department. Jouriles is professor and chair. McDonald is a professor and associate dean of research and academic affairs in Dedman College.

“One advantage the virtual simulations offer is the ability to actually observe whether, and how, the girls are using the skills in coercive situations that feel very real,” McDonald said. “This provides girls with opportunities for immediate feedback and accelerated learning, and for facilitators to easily spot areas in need of further strengthening. The value of this advantage can’t be overstated.”

One question that remains for future research is whether the practice in virtual simulations was the operative factor that reduced sexual victimization, Simpson Rowe said.

“We need to determine if practice in a virtual setting is the key factor in making the intervention effective, or if other factors, such as being encouraged to stand up for themselves, led to the outcomes,” she said.

The researchers reported their findings, “Reducing Sexual Victimization among Adolescent Girls: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Trial of My Voice, My Choice,” in the journal Behavior Therapy. The article has been published online in advance of print.

Written by Margaret Allen

> Read the full story from the SMU Research blog

Faculty in the News: January 2015

Ben Voth

Ben Both, Director of Debate & Associate Professor of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs

Andrea Meltzer, Psychology, Dedman School of Humanities and Sciences, was featured on the Science Codex for her self-image research. Meltzer conducted three independent studies, resulting in the conclusion that woman’s body image is strongly linked to their perception of what they believe men prefer. The Science Codex article appeared on Jan. 13, 2015.

Ben Voth, director of debate and associate professor, Corporate Communications and Public Affairs, Meadows School of the Arts, published a KERA article entitled “What ‘The Great Debater’ James Farmer Can Teach Us Today,” in which he explored the role of Texas native James Farmer Jr. and his contribution to the American civil rights movement. The article was published on Jan. 12, 2015.

Jonathan Norton, Pony Express(ions) Stay Play Editor, Meadows School of the Arts, was listed as No. 20 in a recent Dallas Observer article exploring “100 Dallas Creatives.” The article appeared on Jan. 9, 2015.

Heather DeShon, Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, was featured in a NBC National News video exploring if earthquakes are becoming a new trend in Texas. The video aired on Jan. 8, 2015.

Heather DeShon

Heather DeShon, Geophysics Associate Professor, Dedman College of Humanities & Sciences

Brian Stump, Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, was featured in a National Geographic article examining the causes of the recent North Texas earthquakes. The article was published on Jan. 7, 2015.

Bernard Weinstein, Maguire Energy Institute, Cox School of Business, provided commentary on a National Journal article discussing low gas prices and a possible federal gas tax hike. The article was published on Jan. 5, 2015.

Chuck Dannis, Real Estate, Risk Management and Business Law, Cox School of Business, was published in D Magazine‘s article “Disrupting Estate Coverage in Dallas” in an exclusive section entitled “The Future of Real Estate (the Good  and the Bad).”

 

Maguire Energy Institute celebrates 40th anniversary

Cary M. Maguire

Cary M. Maguire

The Maguire Energy Institute in SMU’s Cox School of Business joined with the Institute’s founders to mark its 40th anniversary in late November, in a private celebration at the Cox School.

The event also honored the Institute’s namesake, SMU Trustee Emeritus and long-time Texas oilman Cary M. Maguire.

“Cary Maguire’s foresight in establishing this Institute has not only helped shape the energy debate and the energy industry itself, but perhaps most importantly, it has shaped the lives of thousands of students who have come through these doors and now have rewarding and productive careers in the industry,” said Bruce Bullock, director of the Maguire Energy Institute since 2007, who hosted the event.

Guided by a 30-member advisory board of energy-industry leaders, the Institute has established programs for undergraduate and graduate students, as well as the industry and the community at large. They include:

  • Student-led graduate and undergraduate energy clubs – These organizations connect students to the industry via field trips, speakers and forums.
  • Academic programs – Energy concentrations are now available to both undergraduate and graduate degree candidates.
  • Career Placement – The Cox School places graduates in all sectors of the energy business, from Credit Suisse to ExxonMobil to Pioneer Natural Resources and beyond.
  • The annual L. Frank Pitts Award for Energy and Innovation – This award has been given to leaders who have exemplified innovation and leadership in the energy field. Past recipients include Ray Hunt, Larry Nichols, Mark Papa, Scott Sheffield, and this year’s winner, David Miller. Scholarships are also awarded annually in L. Frank Pitts’ name.
  • Active and ongoing research spanning all areas of the industry – The Maguire Energy Institute’s research and thought leadership has been able to significantly impact the current national and international energy debate.

“Cary Maguire’s original vision for this Institute back in the early ’70s was to create the premier university-based energy institute in the nation right here at SMU Cox,” Bullock said. “Thanks to Cary’s advice and counsel, along with that of SMU Cox Dean Al Niemi, Dr. Bobby Lyle and our other venerable advisory board members, we have been able to achieve that goal.”

> Read the full story from SMU News

SMU-record 14 professors receive 2014-15 Sam Taylor Fellowships

UMC General Board of Higher Education and Ministry logoFourteen SMU faculty members – a University-record number – have received 2014-15 Sam Taylor Fellowships from the Sam Taylor Fellowship Fund of the Division of Higher Education, United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

The Fellowships, funded by income from a portion of Taylor’s estate, award up to $2,000 for full-time faculty members at United Methodist-related colleges and universities in Texas. Any full-time faculty member is eligible to apply for the Fellowships, which support research “advancing the intellectual, social or religious life of Texas and the nation.”

Applications are evaluated on the significance of the project, clarity of the proposal, professional development of the applicant, value of the project to the community or nation, and the project’s sensitivity to value questions confronting higher education and society.

The winning professors for this academic year, and their projects:

Edward Countryman, History, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, for research at the Canadian National Archives for his book on Joseph Brant and colonial America.

Johan Elverskog, Religious Studies, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, to work in the Getty Museum’s archives for his book on the history of Buddhist influence in art.

Kathleen Gallagher, Arts Management and Arts Entrepreneurship, Meadows School of the Arts, to conduct interviews in Puerto Rico regarding non-profit organization life cycles.

Adam Herring, Art History, Meadows School of the Arts, to include color plates in his monograph on Inca artworks.

Peter Kupfer, Music History, Meadows School of the Arts, to survey how viewers understand cultural meanings of classical music used in advertising.

Rita Linjuan Men, Communication Studies, Meadows School of the Arts, to collect survey data for analysis of transparency in organizations’ social media communications.

Rebekah Miles, Perkins School of Theology, for archival research and interviews regarding Ursula Niebuhr’s works.

Brian Molanphy, Art, Meadows School of the Arts, to support his Spring 2015 artist residency at l’Ecole de céramique de Provence in France.

Lisa Pon, Art History, Meadows School of the Arts, for inclusion of illustrations in her forthcoming book.

Christopher Roos, Anthropology, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, to support collaborative research in Tasmania.

Brett Story, Environmental and Civil Engineering, Lyle School of Engineering, for load-testing materials to study collapse resistance in buildings.

Peng Tao, Chemistry, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, for software to study protein-folding and unfolded protein response.

Jenia Turner, Dedman School of Law, to survey prosecutors and defense attorneys nationally regarding the U.S. criminal justice system.

Hye Jin Yoon, Temerlin Advertising Institute, Meadows School of the Arts, for a survey regarding efficacy of advertising appeals to individualism versus collectivism.

Research: Blue-light blues – SMU study shows how artificial lighting can interfere with health, sleep, even animal migration

A NASA image of Earth’s city lights using data from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program.

An image of Earth’s city lights using data from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program. (Credit: NASA)

An SMU study funded by the National Institutes of Health is unraveling the mystery of how blue light from residential and commercial lighting, electronic devices and outdoor lights can interfere with the natural body clocks of humans, plants and animals – and the negative consequences it can bring.

Exposure to blue light is on the increase, says SMU chemist Brian Zoltowski, who leads the study, “Protein : Protein interaction networks in the circadian clock.”

At the right time of day, blue light is a good thing. It talks to our 24-hour circadian clock, telling our bodies, for example, when to wake up, eat and carry out specific metabolic functions. In plants, blue light signals them to leaf out, grow, blossom and bloom. In animals, it aids migratory patterns, sleep and wake cycles, regulation of metabolism, as well as mood and the immune system.

But too much blue light — especially at the wrong time — throws biological signaling out of whack.

“As a society, we are using more technology, and there’s increasing evidence that artificial light has had a negative consequence on our health,” said Zoltowski, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.

“Our study uses physical techniques and chemical approaches to probe an inherently biological problem,” he said. “We want to understand the chemical basis for how organisms use light as an environmental cue to regulate growth and development.”

SMU Assistant Professor of Chemistry Brian Zoltowski

SMU Assistant Professor of Chemistry Brian Zoltowski

Zoltowski’s lab was awarded $320,500 from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health to continue its research on the impact of blue light. They are studying a small flowering plant native to Europe and Asia, Arabidopsis thaliana – a popular model organism in plant biology and genetics, Zoltowski says.

Although signaling pathways differ in organisms such as Arabidopsis when compared to animals, the flower still serves an important research purpose. How the signaling networks are interconnected is similar in both animals and Arabidopsis. That allows researchers to use simpler genetic models to provide insight into how similar networks are controlled in more complicated species like humans.

In humans, the protein melanopsin absorbs blue light and sends signals to photoreceptor cells in our eyes. In plants and animals, the protein cryptochrome performs similar signaling.

Much is known already about the way blue light and other light wavelengths, such as red and UV light, trigger biological functions through proteins that interact with our circadian clock. But the exact mechanism in that chemical signaling process remains a mystery.

“Light is energy, and that energy can be absorbed by melanopsin proteins that act as a switch that basically activates everything downstream,” Zoltowski said.

Melanopsin is a little-understood photoreceptor protein with the singular job of measuring time of day. When light enters the eye, melanopsin proteins within unique cells in the retina absorb the wavelength as a photon and convert it to energy. That activates cells found only in the eye — called intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglian cells, of which there are only about 160 in our body. The cells signal the suprachiasmatic nucleus region of the brain.

“We keep a master clock in the suprachiasmatic nucleus — it controls our circadian rhythms,” he said. “But we also have other time pieces in our body; think of them as watches, and they keep getting reset by the blue light that strikes the master clock, generating chemical signals.”

The switch activates many biological functions, including metabolism, sleep, cancer development, drug addiction and mood disorders, to name a few.

“There’s a very small molecule that absorbs the light, acting like a spring, pushing out the protein and changing its shape, sending the signal. We want to understand the energy absorption by the small molecule and what that does biologically.”

The answer can lead to new ways to target diabetes, sleep disorders and cancer development, for example.

“If we understand how all these pathways work,” he said, “we can design newer, better, more efficacious drugs to help people.”

Written by Margaret Allen

> Read the full story at the SMU Research blog

Research: Learning algebra from Instagram

Stock photo of a student working a math problem on a blackboardCan students learn algebra from Instagram and video games?

SMU teaching researcher Candace Walkington thinks so. And her new study, funded by the National Academy of Education, will test the idea.

“In previous work, I found that students draw upon rich algebraic ways of reasoning when pursuing their out-of-school interests in areas like sports, social networking and video games,” says Walkington, an assistant professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning in the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development. “Making connections to these topics in algebra class can improve long-term understanding of algebraic ideas.”

The new study asks pre-algebra middle school students in the Dallas Independent School District to author their own algebra stories based on their personal interests. They will describe how linear relationships approximate what they encounter in their everyday lives, such as how they accumulate followers on Instagram or score points in a video game over time, says Walkington, whose research focus is evidence-based effective teaching. About 200 pre-algebra students in eight classrooms at DISD schools are participating in the study.

Based on results from earlier research, Walkington hypothesizes that authoring the stories will elicit students’ interest in the content to be learned by drawing on their knowledge about home and community.

Algebra is a gatekeeper to many careers and to higher-level mathematics, making it critical for students to master, Walkington says – but students struggle to understand the abstract representations.

“Students often can’t see the connection between their world and algebra,” she says. “Exploring ways to connect math to their lives, experiences and knowledge is critical for making it accessible and captivating. That’s especially true when considering students from diverse backgrounds.”

A pilot version of the study begins in spring 2015. The full study starts in fall 2015.

Walkington was awarded the grant as part of the Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship Program of the National Academy of Education. The $55,000 grant supports early career scholars working in critical areas of education research.

Written by Margaret Allen

> Read the full story at the SMU Research blog

Faculty in the News: Oct. 7-20, 2014

George Holden, SMU Professor of Psychology

George Holden, SMU professor of psychology

George Holden, Psychology, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, was featured in The Christian Science Monitor in an article examining corporal punishment. The article appeared on Oct. 20, 2014.

Bernard Weinstein, Maguire Energy Institute, Cox School of Business, published a news article regarding Canada’s recent increase in oil exports to the Star-Telegram. The article appeared Oct. 16, 2014.

Benjamin Phrampus, Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, discussed the possible relation of gas explosions and the Bermuda Triangle with LifeScience. The article appeared on Oct. 14, 2014.

Cal Jillson, Political Science, Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, provided commentary for The New York Times in an article entitled “An Ad With a Wheelchair Shakes Up the Texas Governor’s Race.” The article appeared Oct. 13, 2014.

Bruce Bullock, Director of the Maguire Energy Institute, SMU

Bruce Bullock, director of SMU’s Maguire Energy Institute

Will Power, Theatre Artist-in-Residence, Meadows School of the Arts, received 11 AUDELCO nominations for his production Fetch Clay, Make Man. As part of the New York Theatre Workshop, Power’s production tells the story of Cassius Clay as the heavyweight boxing champion forms an unlikely friendship during the days leading up to one his most anticipated fights. News of Power’s nominations were features on Backstage Pass with Lia Chang on Oct. 12, 2014.

Bruce Bullock, Maguire Energy Institute, Cox School of Business, was featured in an article in The New York Times discussing the technology of liquid gas. The article was published on Oct. 7, 2014.

Research: The speed secrets of super sprinters

The world’s fastest sprinters have unique gait features that account for their ability to achieve fast speeds, according to two new studies from SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development.

The new findings indicate that the secret to elite sprinting speeds lies in the distinct limb dynamics sprinters use to elevate ground forces upon foot-ground impact.

“Our new studies show that these elite sprinters don’t use their legs to just bounce off the ground as most other runners do,” said human biomechanics expert Ken Clark, a researcher in the SMU Locomotor Performance Laboratory and lead author on the studies. “The top sprinters have developed a wind-up and delivery mechanism to augment impact forces. Other runners do not do so.”

The new findings address a major performance question that has remained unanswered for more than a decade. Previous studies had established that faster runners attain faster speeds by hitting the ground more forcefully than other runners do in relation to their body weight. However, how faster runners are able to do this was fully unknown. That sparked considerable debate and uncertainty about the best strategies for athletes to enhance ground-force application and speed.

“Elite speed athletes have a running pattern that is distinct,” Clark said. “Our data indicate the fastest sprinters each have identified the same solution for maximizing speed, which strongly implies that when you put the physics and the biology together, there’s only one way to sprint really fast.”

The critical and distinctive gait features identified by the study’s authors occur as the lower limb approaches and impacts the ground, said study co-author and running mechanics expert Peter Weyand, director of the Locomotor Performance Lab.

“We found that the fastest athletes all do the same thing to apply the greater forces needed to attain faster speeds,” Weyand said. “They cock the knee high before driving the foot into the ground, while maintaining a stiff ankle. These actions elevate ground forces by stopping the lower leg abruptly upon impact.”

The new research indicates that the fastest runners decelerate their foot and ankle in just over two-hundredths of a second after initial contact with the ground.

The findings are reported in the Journal of Applied Physiology in the article, “Are running speeds maximized with simple-spring stance mechanics?” It appears online at Physiology.org in advance of appearing in the print journal.

Written by Margaret Allen

> Read the full story at the SMU Research blog

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