student research

Simmons School researchers receive $2.5 million NSF grant to develop math-skills assessment system

Lindsey Perry and Leanne Ketterlin Geller

Lindsey Perry and Leanne Ketterlin Geller

SMU researchers have received a $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to target the ongoing struggle of U.S. elementary and high school students with math.

The new four-year grant, to the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development, is led by SMU K-12 math education experts Leanne Ketterlin Geller and Lindsey Perry. They will conduct research and develop an assessment system comprised of two universal screening tools to measure mathematical reasoning skills for grades K–2.

When it comes to the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math, research shows that U.S. students continue at a disadvantage all the way through high school and entering college. The NSF grant provides “an opportunity to develop an assessment system that can help teachers support students at the earliest, and arguably one of the most critical, phases of a child’s mathematical development,” said Ketterlin Geller, a professor in the Simmons School and principal investigator for the grant developing the “Measures of Mathematical Reasoning Skills” system.

Teachers and schools will use the assessment system to screen students and determine who is at risk for difficulty in early mathematics, including students with disabilities. The measures also will help provide important information about the intensity of support needed for a given student.

Few assessments are currently available to measure the critical math concepts taught during those early school years, Ketterlin Geller says. “Providing teachers with data to understand how a child processes these concepts can have a long-term impact on students’ success not only in advanced math like algebra, but also success in STEM fields, such as chemistry, biology, geology and engineering.”

— Written by Margaret Allen

> Read the full story from the SMU Research blog

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

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

Students put best work forward during 2012 Research Day Feb. 10

Graduate students present their research during SMU's 2011 Research DayMore than 80 SMU graduate students (and a select number of undergraduates) from a wide variety of disciplines will present their best work today as part of the University’s 2012 Research Day. All SMU faculty, staff members and students are encouraged to visit the Hughes-Trigg Student Center Ballrooms from 2-4:30 p.m Friday, Feb. 10, to meet the student researchers and discuss their results.

> Learn more about this year’s projects from SMU News
> Visit SMU Graduate Studies online

Research Spotlight: West Virginia a hotbed of geothermal energy

wv-image-03-press-release.jpgNew research produced by SMU’s Geothermal Laboratory, funded by a grant from Google.org, suggests that the temperature of the Earth beneath the state of West Virginia is significantly higher than previously estimated and capable of supporting commercial baseload geothermal energy production.

Geothermal energy is the use of the Earth’s heat to produce heat and electricity. “Geothermal is an extremely reliable form of energy, and it generates power 24/7, which makes it a baseload source like coal or nuclear,” said David Blackwell, Hamilton Professor of Geophysics in the Huffington Department of Earth Sciences and Director of the SMU Geothermal Laboratory.

The SMU Geothermal Laboratory has increased its estimate of West Virginia’s geothermal generation potential to 18,890 megawatts, assuming a conservative 2 percent thermal recovery rate. The new estimate represents a 75 percent increase over estimates in MIT’s 2006 “The Future of Geothermal Energy” report and exceeds the state’s total current generating capacity, primarily coal based, of 16,350 megawatts.

The West Virginia discovery is the result of new detailed mapping and interpretation of temperature data derived from oil, gas, and thermal gradient wells – part of an ongoing project to update the Geothermal Map of North America that Blackwell produced with colleague Maria Richards in 2004. Temperatures below the earth almost always increase with depth, but the rate of increase (the thermal gradient) varies due to factors such as the thermal properties of the rock formations.

“By adding 1,455 new thermal data points from oil, gas, and water wells to our geologic model of West Virginia, we’ve discovered significantly more heat than previously thought,” Blackwell said. “The existing oil and gas fields in West Virginia provide a geological guide that could help reduce uncertainties associated with geothermal exploration and also present an opportunity for co-producing geothermal electricity from hot waste fluids generated by existing oil and gas wells.”

The team’s work may also shed light on other similar geothermal resources. “We now know that two zones of Appalachian age structures are hot – West Virginia and a large zone covering the intersection of Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana known as the Ouachita Mountain region,” said Blackwell. “Right now we don’t have the data to fill in the area in between,” Blackwell continued, “but it’s possible we could see similar results over an even larger area.”

Blackwell thinks the finding opens exciting possibilities for the region. “The proximity of West Virginia’s large geothermal resource to east coast population centers has the potential to enhance U.S. energy security, reduce CO2 emissions, and develop high paying clean energy jobs in West Virginia,” he said.

SMU’s Geothermal Laboratory conducted this research through funding provided by Google.org’s RE<C initiative, which is dedicated to using the power of information and innovation to advance breakthrough technologies in clean energy.

Written by Kimberly Cobb

> Read more from the SMU Research blog

Research Spotlight: Immigrants and American identity in North Texas

Who belongs in America?


EFE: “La inmigracion es una amenaza para los ciudadanos de Farmers Branch”

Immigration has sparked a raging national debate about that question – including in the Dallas suburb of Farmers Branch, Texas, the first U.S. city to adopt an ordinance requiring renters to prove they are legal residents.

Contrary to what many believe, however, race isn’t the only driving reason that many white, middle-class people feel threatened by immigrants, according to a new analysis by Caroline Brettell, University Distinguished Professor in Anthropology, and Faith Nibbs a doctoral candidate in anthropology in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.

White, middle-class people also perceive immigrants who are settling in their suburban communities as a threat to their class status and to their very identity as Americans, say the researchers. With cultures and traditions different from white suburbanites, they are viewed as an assault on long-standing symbols of American nationality – including middle-class values and tastes, and the perception that Americans are patriotic and law-abiding, they add.

“For many whites, American identity is wrapped up with being suburban and middle class, and when they see immigrants changing their communities and potentially threatening their class status, they react with anti-immigrant legislation,” Brettell says.

brettell.jpg
Caroline Brettell
nibbs_cropped.jpg
Faith Nibbs

The anthropologists base their conclusion on a close analysis of Farmers Branch, a suburb of almost 28,000 people that made news in 2006 as the first U.S. city to adopt an ordinance requiring that apartment managers document tenants as legal residents. The researchers looked at newspaper articles and blogs, conducted a lengthy interview with a key City Council member, carried out background historical research and analyzed U.S. Census data.

The research has been accepted for publication in the journal International Migration in an article titled “Immigrant Suburban Settlement and the ‘Threat’ to Middle Class Status and Identity: The Case of Farmers Branch, Texas.”

New immigrants to the United States are settling in major gateway cities like Dallas and making their homes directly in middle-class suburbs, say Brettell and Nibbs. These suburbs – once called the “bourgeois utopia” where middle-class values triumph – are populated by white people who decades before fled the central cities to escape poor housing, deteriorating schools, and racial and ethnic diversity, the researchers say.

But when immigrants and white suburbs mix, the result can be explosive, as in the case of Farmers Branch. Whites view their hometown changing. And the changes feel very foreign to them – new religious institutions, ethnic strip-shopping malls, signs in languages other than English, and bilingual programs for education, health care and law-enforcement programs.

The historic roots of Farmers Branch lie in a land grant designed to draw “free and white” inhabitants to the area in the 1850s, say the researchers. Farmers Branch grew to 17,500 by 1970, and at that time there were 320 Hispanic surnames in the city. By 2000, however, the Hispanic population had grown to more than one-third of the total. By 2008, Hispanics were the largest demographic group, with 46.7 percent of the population.

Brettell and Nibbs say that white suburbanites have also invoked the “Rule of Law” in Farmers Branch and elsewhere.

“As the formulation of laws and their enforcement are disproportionately unavailable to ethnic minorities, and completely inaccessible to undocumented immigrants, the principle of Rule of Law has become a convenient weapon for the Farmers Branch middle class in their fight for status and the status quo,” say Brettell and Nibbs in the article. “Add to this a bit of the legacy of Texas frontier mentality and patriotism and you have a line drawn in the sand by those who stand for the Rule of Law as something absolutely fundamental to American identity and hence perceive illegal immigrants as a threat to that identity.”

In that way, the “Rule of Law” is a tool to exclude unauthorized immigrants and attempt to legislate a certain quality of life, such as English-only communication, as well as proof of citizenship to rent a dwelling, apply for food stamps or get school financial aid, say the researchers.

“Everyone is looking at race but not at class in the study of immigrants, and particularly in anti-immigrant backlash,” Brettell says. “We add to this literature the analysis of ‘Rule of Law’ as a newly rhetorical device that excludes illegal immigrants. Our article offers a new way of looking at this issue.”

Written by Margaret Allen

> Read more from the SMU Research blog

Research Spotlight: Site-trampling study gives a new look at old digs

Metin Eren's site-trampling research - water buffalo in Jurreru Valley, IndiaArchaeologists who interpret Stone Age culture from discoveries of ancient tools and artifacts may need to reanalyze some of their conclusions.

That’s the finding suggested by a new study that for the first time looked at the impact of water buffalo and goats trampling artifacts into mud.

In seeking to understand how much artifacts can be disturbed, the new study documented how animal trampling in a water-saturated area can result in an alarming amount of disturbance, says archaeologist Metin Eren, an SMU graduate student and one of eight researchers on the study.

In a startling finding, the animals’ hooves pushed artifacts as much as 21 centimeters into the ground – a variation that could equate to a difference of thousands of years for a scientist interpreting a site, said Eren.

The findings suggest archaeologists should reanalyze some previous discoveries, he said. “Given that during the Lower and most of the Middle Pleistocene, hominids stayed close to water sources, we cannot help but wonder how prevalent saturated substrate trampling might be, and how it has affected the context, and resulting interpretation, of Paleolithic sites throughout the Old World,” conclude the authors in a scientific paper detailing their experiment and its findings.

“Experimental Examination of Animal Trampling Effects on Artifact Movement in Dry and Water Saturated Substrates: A Test Case from South India” has been published online by the Journal of Archaeological Science. For images, additional information and a link to the article, see www.smuresearch.com. The research was recognized as best student poster at the 2010 annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

The idea that animal trampling may reorient artifacts is not new. “Believe it or not, there have been dozens of trampling experiments in archaeology to see how artifacts may be affected by animals walking over them. These have involved human trampling and the trampling of all sorts of animals, including elephants, in dry sediments,” Eren said. “Our trampling experiments in dry sediments, for the most part, mimicked the results of previous experiments.”

But this latest study added a new variable to the mix – the trampling of artifacts embedded in ground saturated with water, Eren said.

Researchers from the United States, Britain, Australia and India were inspired to perform the unique experiment while doing archaeological survey work in the Jurreru River Valley in Southern India.

They noticed that peppering the valley floor were hardened hoof prints left from the previous monsoon season, as well as fresh prints along the stream banks. Seeing that the tracks sunk quite deeply into the ground, the researchers began to suspect that stone artifacts scattered on the edges of water bodies could be displaced significantly from their original location by animal trampling.

“Prehistoric humans often camped near water sources or in areas that receive lots of seasonal rain. When we saw those deep footprints left over from the previous monsoon season, it occurred to us that animal trampling in muddy, saturated sediments might distort artifacts in a different way than dry sediments,” Eren said. “Given the importance of artifact context in the interpretation of archaeological sites and age, it seems like an obvious thing to test for, but to our surprise it never had been.”

Eren and seven other researchers tested their theory by scattering replicated stone tools over both dry and saturated areas of the valley. They then had water buffalo and goats trample the “sites.” Once sufficient trampling occurred, the archaeologists proceeded to excavate the tools, taking careful measurements of where the tools were located and their inclination in the ground.

The researchers found that tools salted on ground saturated with water and trampled by buffalo moved up to 21 centimeters vertically, or a little more than 8 inches. Tools trampled by goats moved up to 16 centimeters vertically, or just over 6 inches.

“A vertical displacement of 21 centimeters in some cases might equal thousands of years when we try to figure out the age of an artifact,” Eren said. “This amount of disturbance is more than any previously documented experiment – and certainly more than we anticipated.”

Given that artifacts embedded in the ground at vertical angles appear to be a diagnostic marker of trampling disturbance, the researchers concluded that sites with water-saturated sediments should be identified and reanalyzed.

Written by Margaret Allen

(Above, water buffalo do their part in a site-trampling research project in India’s Jurreru River Valley. SMU graduate student Metin Eren was one of 8 researchers on the study.)

> Read more from the SMU Research blog

Research Spotlight: How children respond to family violence

Stock photo of paper dolls with broken heartsIf children feel threatened by even very low levels of violence between their parents, they may be at increased risk for developing trauma symptoms, new research suggests.

A study by psychologists at SMU found that children who witness violence between their mother and her intimate partner report fewer trauma symptoms if they don’t perceive the violence as threatening.

The research highlights the importance of assessing how threatened a child feels when his or her parents are violent toward one another, and how that sense of threat may be linked to symptoms of trauma.

“Our results indicated a relation between children’s perception of threat and their trauma symptoms in a community sample reporting relatively low levels of violence,” said Deborah Corbitt-Shindler, a doctoral candidate in the SMU Psychology Department. “The results of the study suggest that even very low levels of violence, if interpreted as threatening by children, can influence the development of trauma symptoms in children.”

The researchers presented their findings Feb. 24, 2010, at the “National Summit on Interpersonal Violence and Abuse Across the Lifespan: Forging a Shared Agenda” in Dallas. The scientific conference was sponsored by the National Partnership to End Interpersonal Violence Across the Lifespan.

Family violence experts estimate that more than half of children exposed to intimate partner violence experience trauma symptoms, such as bad dreams, nightmares and trying to forget about the fights.

In the study, mothers were asked to describe any violent arguments they’d had with their intimate partners, and they were asked about trauma symptoms they may have experienced because of the violence.

Similarly, the children in the study, age 7 to 10 years old, were asked to appraise how threatened they felt by the violence they witnessed, and about trauma symptoms they may have experienced because of the violence. The researchers defined “threat” as the extent to which children are concerned that a family member might be harmed, the stability of the family is threatened, or a parent won’t be able to care for them.

To assess trauma, children were asked questions such as if they’ve had bad dreams or nightmares about their mom’s and dad’s arguments or fights; if thoughts of the arguments or fights ever just pop into their mind; if they ever try to forget all about the arguments and fights; and if they ever wish they could turn off feelings that remind them of the arguments and fights.

The researchers found that even when mothers reported an episode of intimate partner violence, their children reported fewer trauma symptoms when they didn’t view the episode as threatening. Although a mother’s emotions sometimes affect their children’s emotions, in this study the mothers’ trauma symptoms were unrelated to the children’s traumatic responses to the violence.

Corbitt-Shindler conducted the study in conjunction with her faculty advisers – Renee McDonald, associate professor, and Ernest Jouriles, professor and chair of the SMU Psychology Department. Additional co-authors of the study were SMU clinical psychology doctoral candidates Erica Rosentraub and Laura Minze; and Rachel Walker, SMU Psychology Department research assistant.

Written by Margaret Allen

> Read more at the SMU Research blog

Calendar Highlights: Feb. 16, 2010

Showing their work: SMU graduate students will present their research in engineering and the natural and social sciences – and get valuable experience working with the formats they will use as professionals – during the University’s 2010 Research Day Feb. 16 in the Hughes-Trigg Student Center Ballroom. Poster presentations take place 2-4:30 p.m., and oral presentations from 12:30-4 p.m. An award of $250 will be given to the best presentation from each department with more than three presenters in attendance. Sponsored by Dean James Quick, Office of Research and Graduate Studies. For more information, contact Phyllis Payne, 214-768-4336.

Ash Wednesday service: The 2010 Lenten season begins with SMU’s ecumenical Ash Wednesday service beginning at 12:05 p.m. Feb. 17 in Perkins Chapel. University Chaplain Stephen Rankin will deliver the day’s message, “Testing Our Treasure.” The service is open to the entire SMU community. For more information, visit the Chaplain’s Office website.

Test your metal: SMU’s Meadows Wind Ensemble kicks off its spring performance schedule with “Heavy Metal,” an evening of works written for metal instruments. The program includes music by Gunther Schuller, Augusta Read Thomas, John Cage, Johann Hummel and SMU Professor Martin Sweidel – with a possible encore featuring the music of Metallica. The show begins at 8 p.m. Feb. 19 in Caruth Auditorium, Owen Arts Center. Tickets are $7 each for SMU faculty, staff and students. Buy tickets online or contact the Meadows Ticket Office, 214-768-2787 (214-SMU-ARTS).

Clements Center 2010 Symposium poster artClements Center Public Symposium: The family histories of the American West will be the focus of the 2009-10 Annual Public Symposium presented by SMU’s Clements Center for Southwest Studies. “On the Borders of Love and Power: Families and Kinship in the Intercultural American West” is cosponsored by the Center for the Southwest at the University of New Mexico, the Institute for the Study of the American West at the Autry National Center and the Clements Center. It will take place 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Feb. 27 in McCord Auditorium, 306 Dallas Hall. Register online or contact the Clements Center for Southwest Studies, 214-768-3684.

Research Spotlight: Jurassic climate, from treeless to tropical

An ancient soil crack, or clastic dike, produced by alternating wet and dry cyclesThe Congo Basin – with its massive, lush tropical rain forest – was far different 150 million to 200 million years ago.

At that time Africa and South America were part of the single continent Gondwana. The Congo Basin was arid, with a small amount of seasonal rainfall, and few bushes or trees populated the landscape, according to a new geochemical analysis of rare ancient soils.

The geochemical analysis provides new data for the Jurassic period, when very little is known about central Africa’s paleoclimate, says Timothy Myers, a paleontology doctoral student in SMU’s Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, Dedman College.

There aren’t a whole lot of terrestrial deposits from that time period preserved in Central Africa,” Myers says. “Scientists have been looking at Africa’s paleoclimate for some time, but data from this time period is unique.”

There are several reasons for the scarcity of deposits: Ongoing armed conflict makes it difficult and challenging to retrieve them; and the thick vegetation, a humid climate and continual erosion prevent the preservation of ancient deposits, which would safeguard clues to Africa’s paleoclimate.

Myers’ research is based on a core sample drilled by a syndicate interested in the oil and mineral deposits in the Congo Basin. Myers accessed the sample – drilled from a depth of more than 2 kilometers – from the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium, where it is housed. With the permission of the museum, he analyzed pieces of the core at the SMU Huffington Department of Earth Science’s Isotope Laboratory.

“I would love to look at an outcrop in the Congo,” Myers says, “but I was happy to be able to do this.” (Above, an ancient soil crack, called a clastic dike, produced by alternate wetting and drying cycles from seasonal rainfall.)

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