Student work takes center stage at 2014 Research Day Feb. 26

graduate student research

Student work takes center stage at 2014 Research Day Feb. 26

Research Day at SMUSMU graduate students, and select undergraduates, from a wide variety of disciplines will share their work as part of the University’s 2014 Research Day. All SMU faculty, staff members and students are invited to visit the Hughes-Trigg Student Center Ballrooms from 2-4:30 p.m Wednesday, Feb. 26, to meet the student researchers and discuss their results.

Awards will be presented from 4:30-5 p.m., and refreshments will be served throughout the event.

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

February 20, 2014|Calendar Highlights, News|

Research: To spank or not to spank? SMU studies show research can change minds about corporal punishment

Some parents who spank their children believe it’s an effective form of discipline. But decades of studies have found that spanking is linked to short- and long-term child behavior problems.

Is there any way to get parents to change their minds and stop spanking? Child psychologist George Holden, a professor in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, wanted to see if parents’ positive views toward spanking could be reversed if they were made aware of the research.

Holden and three colleagues in the Department of Psychology used a simple, fast, inexpensive method to briefly expose subjects to short research summaries that detailed spanking’s negative impact. With Professor Alan Brown, Assistant Professor Austin Baldwin and graduate student Kathryn Croft Caderao, he carried out two studies: one with non-parents and one with parents. They found that attitudes were significantly altered.

“Parents spank with good intentions – they believe it will promote good behavior, and they don’t intend to harm the child. But research increasingly indicates that spanking is actually a harmful practice,” said Holden, lead author on the study. “These studies demonstrate that a brief exposure to research findings can reduce positive corporal punishment attitudes in parents and non-parents.”

The findings, “Research findings can change attitudes about corporal punishment,” have been published in the international journal Child Abuse & Neglect. The researchers believe the study is the first of its kind to find that brief exposure to spanking research can alter people’s views toward spanking. Previous studies in the field have relied on more intensive, time-consuming and costly methods to attempt to change attitudes toward spanking.

Research has found that parents who spank believe spanking can make children behave or respect them. That belief drives parental behavior, more so than their level of anger, the seriousness of the child’s misbehavior or the parent’s perceived intent of the child’s misbehavior.

In the first SMU study, the subjects were 118 non-parent college students divided into two groups: one that actively processed web-based information about spanking research; and one that passively read web summaries.

The summary consisted of several sentences describing the link between spanking and short- and long-term child behavior problems, including aggressive and delinquent acts, poor quality of parent-child relationships and an increased risk of child physical abuse.

The majority of the participants in the study, 74.6 percent, thought less favorably of spanking after reading the summary. Unexpectedly, the researchers said, attitude change was significant for both active and passive participants.

A second study replicated the first study, but with 263 parent participants, predominantly white mothers. The researchers suspected parents might be more resistant to change their attitudes. Parents already have established disciplinary practices, are more invested in their current practices and have sought advice from trusted individuals.

But the results indicated otherwise. After reading brief research statements on the web, 46.7 percent of the parents changed their attitudes and expressed less approval of spanking.

“If we can educate people about this issue of corporal punishment, these studies show that we can in a very quick way begin changing attitudes,” said Holden.

Written by Margaret Allen

> Read the full story at the SMU Research blog

February 4, 2014|Research|

SMU scientists celebrate Nobel Prize for Higgs discovery

Particle collision from the ATLAS ExperimentSMU’s experimental physics group played a pivotal role in discovering the Higgs boson — the particle that proves the theory for which two scientists have received the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences today awarded the Nobel Prize to theorists Peter W. Higgs and François Englert to recognize their work developing the theory of what is now known as the Higgs field, which gives elementary particles mass. U.S. scientists played a significant role in advancing the theory and in discovering the particle that proves the existence of the Higgs field, the Higgs boson.

The Nobel citation recognizes Higgs and Englert “for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.”

“A scientist may test out a thousand different ideas over the course of a career. If you’re fortunate, you get to experiment with one that works,” says SMU physicist Ryszard Stroynowski, a principal investigator in the search for the Higgs boson. As the leader of an SMU Department of Physics team working on the experiment, Stroynowski served as U.S. coordinator for the ATLAS Experiment’s Liquid Argon Calorimeter, which measures energy from the particles created by proton collisions.

The University’s experimental physics group has been involved since 1994 and is a major contributor to the research, the heart of which is the Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator on the border with Switzerland and France.

Preliminary discovery results were announced July 4, 2012 at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, near Geneva, Switzerland, and at the International Conference of High Energy Physics in Melbourne, Australia.

• Several contributors from SMU have made their mark on the project at various stages, including current Department of Physics faculty members Ryszard Stroynowski, Jingbo Ye, Robert Kehoe and Stephen Sekula. Faculty members Pavel Nadolsky and Fred Olness performed theoretical calculations used in various aspects of data analysis.

• University postdoctoral fellows on the ATLAS Experiment have included Julia Hoffmann, David Joffe, Ana Firan, Haleh Hadavand, Peter Renkel, Aidan Randle-Conde, Daniel Goldin and Sami Kama.

• SMU has awarded eight Ph.D. and seven M.S. degrees to students who performed advanced work on ATLAS, including Ryan Rios, Rozmin Daya, Renat Ishmukhametov, Tingting Cao, Kamile Dindar, Pavel Zarzhitsky and Azzedin Kasmi.

• Significant contributions to ATLAS have also been made by SMU faculty members in the Department of Physics’ Optoelectronics Lab, including Tiankuan Liu, Annie Xiang and Datao Gong.

“The discovery of the Higgs is a great achievement, confirming an idea that will require rewriting of the textbooks,” Stroynowski says. “But there is much more to be learned from the LHC and from ATLAS data in the next few years. We look forward to continuing this work.”

> Read the full story from SMU News

October 8, 2013|News, Research|

Research: SMU students discover two new supernovae

SMU graduate student researchers have discovered two new supernovae, and their observations of these massive exploding stars will help improve the astronomical “tape measure” that scientists use to calculate the acceleration of the expansion of the universe.

A supernova discovered Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013 exploded about 450 million years ago, said Farley Ferrante, a graduate student in the Department of Physics who made the initial observation.

The exploding star is in a relatively empty portion of the sky labeled “anonymous” in the faint constellation Canes Venatici. Home to a handful of galaxies, Canes Venatici is near the constellation Ursa Major, best known for the Big Dipper.

A second supernova discovered Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012 exploded about 230 million years ago, said Ferrante, who made the initial observation. That exploding star is in one of the many galaxies of the Virgo constellation.

Both supernovae were spotted with the Robotic Optical Transient Search Experiment’s robotic telescope ROTSE3b, which is now operated by SMU graduate students. ROTSE3b is at the McDonald Observatory in the Davis Mountains of West Texas near Fort Davis.

The supernova that exploded about 450 million years ago is officially designated Supernova 2013X. It occurred when life on Earth consisted of creatures in the seas and oceans and along coastlines. Following naming conventions for supernovae, Supernova 2013X was nicknamed “Everest” by Govinda Dhungana, an SMU graduate student who participated in the discovery.

The supernova that exploded about 230 million years ago is officially designated Supernova 2012ha. The light from that explosion has been en route to Earth since the Triassic geologic period, when dinosaurs roamed the planet. “That’s fairly recent as these explosions go,” Ferrante said. Dhungana gave the nickname “Sherpa” to Supernova 2012ha.

Everest and Sherpa are two of about 200 supernovae discovered worldwide in a given year. Before telescopes, supernovae observations were rare — sometimes only several every few centuries, according to the scientists.

“Everest and Sherpa aren’t noteworthy for being the youngest, oldest, closest, furthest or biggest supernovae ever observed,” Ferrante said. “But both, like other supernovae of their kind, are important because they provide us with information for further science.”

Everest and Sherpa are Type 1a supernovae, the result of white dwarf explosions, said Robert Kehoe, physics professor and leader of the astronomy team in the Department of Physics.

The scientists explain that a white dwarf is a dying star that has burned up all its energy. It is about as massive as the Earth’s sun. Its core is about the size of the Earth. The core is dense, however, and one teaspoon of it weighs as much as Mount Everest, Kehoe said.

A white dwarf explodes if fusion restarts by tugging material from a nearby star, according to the scientists. The white dwarf grows to about one and a half times the size of the sun. Unable to support its weight, Kehoe said, collapse is rapid, fusion reignites and the white dwarf explodes. The result is a Type 1a supernova.

“We call these Type 1a supernovae standard candles,” Ferrante said. “Since Type 1a supernovae begin from this standard process, their intrinsic brightness is very similar. So they become a device by which scientists can measure cosmic distance. From Earth, we measure the light intensity of the exploded star. As star distances from Earth increase, their brilliance diminishes.”

While Sherpa is a standard Type 1a, Everest is peculiar. It exhibits the characteristics of a Type 1a called a 1991T, Ferrante said.

“Everest is the result of two white dwarfs that collide, then merge,” he said.

Like other Type 1a supernovae, Everest and Sherpa provide scientists with a tiny piece to the puzzle of one of the greatest mysteries of the universe: What is dark energy?

Every Type 1a supernova provides astronomers with indirect information about dark energy, which makes up 73 percent of the mass-energy in the universe. It’s theorized that dark energy explains the accelerating expansion of our universe at various epochs after the Big Bang.

“Every exploding star observed allows astronomers to more precisely calibrate the increasing speed at which our universe is expanding,” Ferrante said. “The older the explosion, the farther away, the closer it was to the Big Bang and the better it helps us understand dark energy.”

Written by Margaret Allen

> Read more from the SMU Research blog

March 5, 2013|Research|

Students show their work for 2013 SMU Research Day Feb. 27

Researchers in the labSMU graduate students, as well as select undergraduates, from a wide variety of disciplines will share their work today as part of the University’s 2013 Research Day. All SMU faculty, staff members and students are invited to visit the Hughes-Trigg Student Center Ballrooms from 2-4:30 p.m Wednesday, Feb. 27, to meet the student researchers and discuss their results. Refreshments will be served.

Find a list of this year’s participants at SMU News
Visit SMU Graduate Studies online

February 27, 2013|Calendar Highlights, News|
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