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SMU students share their research at SMU Research Day 2018

SMU Research Day 2018 featured posters and abstracts from 160 student entrants who have participated this academic year in faculty-led research, pursued student-led projects, or collaborated on team projects with graduate students and faculty scientists.

SMU strongly encourages undergraduate students to pursue research projects as an important component of their academic careers, while mentored or working alongside SMU graduate students and faculty.

Students attack challenging real-world problems, from understanding the world’s newest particle, the Higgs Boson, or preparing mosasaur fossil bones discovered in Angola, to hunting for new chemical compounds that can fight cancer using SMU’s high performance ManeFrame supercomputer.

A highlight for student researchers is SMU Research Day, organized and sponsored by the Office of Research and Graduate Studies and which was held this year on March 28-29 in the Hughes-Trigg Student Center.

The event gives students the opportunity to foster communication between students in different disciplines, present their work in a professional setting, and share the outstanding research conducted at SMU.

Find out the winners of the poster session from the SMU Office of Graduate Studies.

Culture, Society & Family Learning & Education Researcher news SMU In The News

The Chronicle of Higher Education: Is Protesting a Privilege?

The results could suggest that a certain type of environment allows a student more freedom to protest, Baker says. “Certain people have the time and resources to be able to protest in certain ways.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education covered the research of SMU education policy expert Dominique Baker, an assistant professor in the Department of Education Policy and Leadership of Simmons School of Education and Human Development.

Baker’s research published recently in The Journal of Higher Education. She and her co-author on the study, “Beyond the Incident: Institutional Predictors of Student Collective Action,” reported that racial or gender diversity alone doesn’t make a college campus feel inclusive. Students are more likely to initiate social justice campaigns at large, selective, public universities.

Some universities are more likely than others to experience student activism like the “I, Too, Am Harvard” campaign in 2014, the study found.

The Chronicle article by journalist Liam Adams, “Is Protesting a Privilege,” published Dec. 6, 2017.

Read the full story.


By Liam Adams
The Chronicle of Higher Education

Campus protests advocating for diversity occur more frequently at elite colleges, a study suggests.

Since her days as a Ph.D. student at Vanderbilt University, Dominique J. Baker says, she had wondered, “Why do certain universities have protests and others don’t?”

That curiosity led Ms. Baker and a colleague to study differences in protests among higher-education institutions.

Their recent report, published in The Journal of Higher Education, is titled “Beyond the Incident: Institutional Predictors of Student Collective Action.”

The more selective a college and the fewer of its students receiving Pell Grants, they found, the more likely those colleges are experiencing protests against racial microaggressions.

It’s not a new notion that protests occur more commonly at elite institutions. A previous study, by the Brookings Institution, found that more-affluent colleges are likelier venues for protests against controversial speakers, although the report was criticized for being incomplete.

The study by Ms. Baker, an assistant professor of education policy and leadership at Southern Methodist University,and Richard S.L. Blissett, an assistant professor in the department of quantitative methods and education policy at Seton Hall University, focused on the “I, Too, Am” movement, which started at Harvard University to protest microaggressions against students of color.

Racial microaggressions usually involve unequal treatment of people of color, or racial slurs or jokes, notes the report. Some students at Harvard were so fed up with microaggressions on the campus that they started a photography project in which students of color held signs containing offensive statements that had been made to them.

Read the full story.

Culture, Society & Family Feature Learning & Education Researcher news Videos

Student-led protests seeking inclusive campuses are more likely to occur at selective universities

A new study found that racial or gender diversity alone doesn’t make a college campus feel inclusive. Students are more likely to initiate social justice campaigns at large, selective, public universities.

Some universities are more likely than others to experience student activism like the “I, Too, Am Harvard” campaign in 2014, a new study finds.

That student-led campaign at Harvard publicized the hurtful experiences routinely faced on campus by students from marginalized populations, meaning gender and ethnic minorities.

A new study led by a researcher from Southern Methodist University, Dallas, found that students are more likely to initiate social justice campaigns like the one at Harvard at large, selective, public universities where there are fewer students receiving financial aid.

The study is one of the first to take an empirical look at the institutional characteristics of universities in an effort to understand the current spike in student-led activism.

“Interestingly, our quantitative analysis found that numerical student diversity — in terms of gender and race — was not sufficient to make students feel they attend school on an inclusive campus,” said Dominique Baker, lead author on the research and assistant professor of higher education at SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development.

“Our study found that more selective institutions, larger institutions, and institutions with fewer students receiving the Federal Pell Grant had greater odds of students adopting social justice campaigns to heighten awareness of their plight,” Baker said.

The federal government awards Pell grants to undergraduate students who need financial assistance for college.

Eradicating student protests isn’t the goal of the new research study, Baker said. Universities are seeing one of the largest jumps in student activism since the 1960s, so the goal is to provide data-based empirical research to help universities improve the campus environment for minority students.

“We are more concerned with what leads to protest and collective action — and which environments are conducive to it,” Baker said. “This research project helps us understand the kinds of contexts in which students may feel compelled and able to act. That may help us think about the ways in which we can best support our students and create more inclusive spaces.”

Co-author of the study is Richard Blissett, an assistant professor in Seton Hall University’s department of education. The researchers reported their findings in The Journal of Higher Education in the article “Beyond the Incident: Institutional Predictors of Student Collective Action.

Students across the country are fighting for inclusion and justice
The issue is a growing one. Recently, more than 70 U.S. universities have faced questions about how to address student protest demands regarding a variety of social injustices, such as police brutality, racism, and gender disparity, among others, the authors say.

At least 40 U.S. universities have had some sort of “I, Too, Am” campaign.

Studies from decades past that looked at student activism found that social movements and student protests during the 1960s and 1970s took place at more cosmopolitan and prestigious universities on both coasts, as well as some major public universities in between and some progressive liberal arts colleges.

With their new study, Baker and Blissett wanted to see if that holds true now. They looked at whether certain types of U.S. institutions were more likely to see student activism than others.

Numerical diversity is not enough for students to feel a campus is inclusive
The “I, Too, Am Harvard” movement began as a student play and evolved into a photo campaign. For the play and photos, 63 Harvard students held up dry-erase boards on which they wrote examples of racist things that had been said to them, as well as things they would like to say to their peers in response. The photos were published on Tumblr, then went viral on the social news website BuzzFeed. Ultimately that sparked many similarly named movements on other U.S. campuses.

For their study, Baker and Blissett analyzed 1,845 institutions, including those with publicized “I, Too, Am” campaigns. They linked the information with five-years of institution-level data from the U.S. Department of Education on all four-year public and not-for-profit universities.

The researchers also collected various measures of student diversity at each university, including gender and undergraduate racial identity, as well as Pell Grant recipients to capture low-income backgrounds.

They investigated whether the current state of diversity, or recent changes to it, could predict where an “I, Too, Am” campaign would appear. They found no consistent evidence that racial diversity was predictive of a campaign, suggesting diversity alone may not be enough to address student dissatisfaction, the authors said.

“Colleges focusing solely on the number of marginalized students may miss other characteristics of the institutions that could be associated with student mobilization or discontent,” Baker said.

Institutions without campaigns may also have inclusion issues
The researchers found that the 40 institutions with social movements were generally more selective in their admission policies, more socially prestigious, and primarily in the Mideast.

This prompted the researchers to pose the question, “What social resources are required for people to be able to protest in the first place?” Baker said. “This could explain why some institutions have campaigns and some do not. We are continuing in our work to investigate some of these types of questions.”

The results have important implications, said co-author Blissett, suggesting that student expressions of dissatisfaction with institutional racism may not be, as some theories describe, “idiosyncratic overflows of emotion,” but instead a function of the institutional environment.

“We are adding to a growing base of literature that suggests that thinking beyond diversity as reflected in enrollment numbers may be important for institutions that want to ensure that their minority students can thrive, and feel safe and at home on campus,” he said.

That said, just because an institution hasn’t had a student-led campaign does not necessarily mean that the institution doesn’t have social justice problems related to gender and race.

The research findings can help campus leadership see student protests as a key source of political information. The findings suggest that the higher education community can seek ways to create supportive spaces that make campuses feel more inclusive so students are less likely to feel compelled to protest the environment, Baker said.

“We’re not saying that the presence of racial and ethnic minorities or women is not important,” she said. “Our main conclusion from this research is that a focus on forms of diversity and inclusion beyond only enrollment numbers may also be important. Institutions may want to think more holistically about the challenges that these students are facing on their campuses.” — Margaret Allen

Health & Medicine Researcher news SMU In The News Videos

GAINcast Episode 89: How Speed Happens (with Peter Weyand)

“People recognize the power of science, in terms of testing and numbers. But unless you’re involved in it it’s hard to appreciate the creativity that is also part of the process.” — Peter Weyand

The founder of modern sports performance training, Vern Gambetta, interviewed SMU locomotion researcher Peter Weyand about human speed and performance for his GAINcast show.

The GAINcast name is an acronym for the internationally recognized Gambetta’s self-made sports performance education, outreach and training efforts, Gambetta Athletic Improvement Network.

Gambetta’s 60-minute interview with Weyand posted Nov. 2, 2017, “Gaincast Episode 89: How Speed Happens (with Peter Weyand).”

In it, Weyand touches on the experiences early in his career as a high school and college athlete playing basketball and running track that sparked his pursuit of a research and academic career in sports science and human performance.

As a high school coach, Weyand’s early interest intensified, leading him to pursue advanced degrees and a scientific career exploring the mechanics of human locomotion and speed, including at the University of Georgia and then at Harvard’s Concord Field Station.

During that time, Weyand worked with early pioneers in the biomechanics and human performance field, including renowned researcher Dick Taylor. At the field station in particular, Weyand credits Taylor with mentoring young researchers in aggressively and fearlessly digging into basic science questions surrounding mammalian locomotion.

“It was wide open, anything goes. It wasn’t these reductionist questions …. It was anything under the sun you could cook up. And there was an insistence on good scientific questions, and a real integrative perspective on all of it. Those were my formative scientific experiences. People recognize the power of science, in terms of testing and numbers. But unless you’re involved in it it’s hard to appreciate the creativity that is also part of the process. There’s an art of doing science and Dick was a master of that. And everybody that came through that field station under his training, which is really a who’s who in our field in many respects, learned that art from him.”

Weyand is an expert on human locomotion and the mechanics of running. Research from his SMU Locomotor Performance Laboratory in SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development has produced ground-breaking scientific findings about the science of human speed.

The lab focuses on the mechanical basis of human performance and includes physicist and engineer Laurence Ryan, an expert in force and motion analysis.

The Weyand lab’s most recent research found that the world’s fastest sprinter, Usain Bolt, has an asymmetrical running gait, contrary to the common notions about coaching and training for speed. Bolt’s asymmetry was discovered using the lab’s two-mass model tool, which the researchers have described in the Journal of Experimental Biology, “A general relationship links gait mechanics and running ground reaction forces.” The model can assess the crucial early portion of foot-ground contact — the impact-phase force and time relationships — from motion data only.

Weyand is Glenn Simmons Professor of Applied Physiology and professor of biomechanics in the Department of Applied Physiology & Wellness.

Listen to the podcast.


By Martin Bingisser

There are some basic questions out there that are difficult to answer, such as what limits human running speed. As technology advances, scientists can better study and start to answer this and other simple questions like what makes one athlete faster than another.

Dr. Peter Weyand has spent decades researching locomotion on both animals and humans. His work with elite sprinters has brought some interesting conclusions and is driving the field forward. On this episode of the GAINcast he joins us to discuss his research and its practical implications.

Listen to the podcast.

Culture, Society & Family Feature Health & Medicine Student researchers

Study: New simple method determines rate at which we burn calories walking uphill, downhill, and on level ground

New method uses three variables of speed, load carried and slope to improve on the accuracy of existing standards for predicting how much energy people require for walking — a method beneficial to many, including military strategists to model mission success

When military strategists plan a mission, one of many factors is the toll it takes on the Army’s foot soldiers.

A long march and heavy load drains energy. So military strategists are often concerned with the calories a soldier will burn, and the effect of metabolic stress on their overall physiological status, including body temperature, fuel needs and fatigue.

Now scientists at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, have discovered a new more accurate way to predict how much energy a soldier uses walking.

The method was developed with funding from the U.S. military. It significantly improves on two existing standards currently in use, and relies on just three readily available variables.

An accurate quantitative assessment tool is important because the rate at which people burn calories while walking can vary tenfold depending on how fast they walk, if they carry a load, and whether the walk is uphill, downhill or level.

“Our new method improves on the accuracy of the two leading standards that have been in use for nearly 50 years,” said exercise physiologist Lindsay W. Ludlow, an SMU post-doctoral fellow and lead author on the study. “Our model is fairly simple and improves predictions.”

The research is part of a larger load carriage initiative undertaken by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command. The average load carried by light infantry foot soldiers in Afghanistan in April and May 2003 was 132 pounds, according to a U.S. Army Borden Institute report.

“Soldiers carry heavy loads, so quantitative information on the consequences of load is critical for many reasons, from planning a route to evaluating the likelihood of mission success,” said SMU biomechanist and physiologist Peter Weyand, @Dr_Weyand.

“The military uses a variety of approaches to model, predict and monitor foot-soldier status and performance, including having soldiers outfitted with wearable devices,” Weyand said. “There is a critical need with modern foot soldiers to understand performance from the perspective of how big a load they are carrying.”

Weyand is senior author on the research and directs the Locomotor Performance Laboratory in the SMU Simmons School of Education, where subjects for the study were tested.

The researchers call their new method the “Minimum Mechanics Model” to reflect that it requires only three basic and readily available inputs to deliver broad accurate predictions. They report their findings in “Walking economy is predictably determined by speed, grade and gravitational load” in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

The necessary variables are the walker’s speed, the grade or slope of the walking surface, and the total weight of the body plus any load the walker is carrying.

“That’s all it takes to accurately predict how much energy a walker burns,” Ludlow said.

While the measurement is a critical one for foot soldiers, it’s also useful for hikers, backpackers, mall-walkers and others who are calorie conscious and may rely on wearable electronic gadgets to track the calories they burn, she said.

Muscle and gait mechanics tightly coupled across speed, grade, load
Existing standards now in use rely on the same three variables, but differently, and with less accuracy and breadth.

The new theory is a departure from the prevailing view that the mechanics of walking are too complex to be both simple and accurate.

“Ultimately, we found that three remarkably simple mechanical variables can provide predictive accuracy across a broad range of conditions,” Ludlow said. “The accuracy achieved provides strong indirect evidence that the muscular activity determining calorie-burn rates during walking is tightly coupled to the speed, surface inclination and total weight terms in our model.”

By using two different sets of research subjects, the researchers independently evaluated their model’s ability to accurately predict the amount of energy burned.

“If muscle and gait mechanics were not tightly coupled across speed, grade and load, the level of predictive accuracy we achieved is unlikely,” Weyand said.

First generalized equation developed directly from a single, large database
The two existing equations that have been the working standards for nearly 50 years were necessarily based on just a few subjects and a limited number of data points.

One standard from the American College of Sports Medicine tested only speed and uphill grades, with its first formulation being based on data from only three individuals.

The other standard, commonly referred to as the Pandolf equation is used more frequently by the military and relies heavily on data from six soldiers combined with earlier experimental results.

In contrast, the generalized equation from SMU was derived from what is believed to be the largest database available for human walking metabolism.

The SMU study tested 32 adult subjects individually under 90 different speed-grade and load conditions on treadmills at the SMU Locomotor Performance Laboratory, @LocomotorLabSMU.

“The leading standardized equations included only level and uphill inclinations,” Weyand said. “We felt it was important to also provide downhill capabilities since soldiers in the field will encounter negative inclines as frequently as positive ones.”

Subjects fast prior to measuring their resting metabolic rates
Another key element of the SMU lab’s Minimum Mechanics Model is the quantitative treatment of resting metabolic rate.

“To obtain true resting metabolic rate, we had subjects fast for 8 to 12 hours prior to measuring their resting metabolic rates in the early morning,” Ludlow said. “Once at the lab, they laid down for an hour while the researchers measured their resting metabolic rate.”

In separate test sessions, the subjects walked on the treadmill for dozens of trials lasting five minutes each, wearing a mouthpiece and nose clip. In the last two minutes of each trial, the researchers measured steady-state rates of oxygen uptake to determine the rate at which each subject was burning energy.

Adults in one group of 20 subjects were each measured walking without a load at speeds of 0.4 meters per second, 0.7 meters per second, 1 meter per second, 1.3 meters per second and 1.6 meters per second on six different gradients: downhill grades of minus six degrees and minus three degrees; level ground; and uphill at inclines of three degrees, six degrees and nine degrees.

Adults in a second group of 20 were each tested at speeds of 0.6 meters per second, 1 meter per second and 1.4 meters per second on the same six gradients, but they carried loads that were 18 percent of body weight, and 31 percent of body weight.

Walking metabolic rates increased in proportion to increased load
As expected, walking metabolic rates increased in direct proportion to the increase in load, and largely in accordance with support force requirements across both speed and grade, said Weyand and Ludlow.

Weyand is Glenn Simmons Professor of Applied Physiology and professor of biomechanics in the Department of Applied Physiology and Wellness in SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development. He also is lead scientist for the biomechanics and modeling portion of the Sub-2-Hour marathon project, an international research consortium based in the United Kingdom. — Margaret Allen, SMU