About The Gazette Search Back Issues Contact Us    
The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University March 5, 2007 | Vol. 36 No. 24
Asking Questions, Big and Small

PURA grants in hand, 45 undergrads search for answers here and abroad

The greatest of breakthroughs often begin with a simple question. How about that fellow who asked, "What happens when I rub these two sticks together?"

Even a relatively small step forward in human knowledge can be traced back to someone who stops to ponder the world around him.

Do males and females respond differently to pain? Can we improve the potency of an existing DNA vaccine to treat cervical cancer patients? How does Bangladesh fight domestic terrorism? Really now, can film do justice to opera?

This year's recipients of Provost's Undergraduate Research Awards asked these questions and others as they explored the research world.

On Thursday, March 8, Steven Knapp, university provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, will host the 14th annual PURA awards ceremony, which will honor the 45 projects carried out by students in the summer and fall of 2006.

Since 1993, about 40 students each year have received PURA grants of up to $3,000 to conduct original research, some results of which have been published in professional journals. The awards, funded through a donation from the Hodson Trust, are an important part of the university's mission and its commitment to research opportunities for undergraduates.

The awards are open to students in each of the university's four schools with full-time undergraduates: the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, the Whiting School of Engineering, the Peabody Conservatory and the School of Nursing.

The 2007 ceremony will be held in the Glass Pavilion at Homewood. The entire Hopkins community is invited to the event, which begins at 3 p.m. with an informal poster session allowing students to display and talk about their projects. A recognition ceremony hosted by Knapp will begin at 4:30 p.m. and will include a presentation by PURA recipient Kevin Clark of Peabody. A reception follows at approximately 5:15 p.m.

Whether students found the answers they were looking for or uncovered another research road to travel, the path to discovery was dotted with valuable learning lessons. A sampling of the winners follows.


A literary tour of Europe, literally

Back from his "grand tour," Patrick Kennedy strolls with adviser Jean McGarry past Rodin's 'Thinker' at the BMA.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

Patrick Kennedy's PURA grant furnished his first trip abroad, where he staged a one-scholar revival of the European "grand tour" popular with newly minted college graduates in the 19th century.

Traveling through cities like London, Venice, Florence and Paris, Kennedy focused on experiencing firsthand the classical West that captivated "the most potent literary minds in generations past," while also exploring his own American upbringing and livelihood in contrast to life in 21st-century Europe.

Under the guidance of his PURA adviser, novelist Jean McGarry, and another close adviser, poet and critic John Irwin, both of the Writing Seminars, Kennedy immersed himself in his host cities' culture and customs. He simultaneously studied expatriation testimonies by American writers like Gertrude Stein, E.E. Cummings, Henry Miller, Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, reading their accounts while traveling through the places they wrote about.

"When I applied for the PURA, I envisioned myself writing autobiographical fiction, a format that very strongly mirrored their writing," Kennedy said. "On a stylistic level, I find that I have learned much from well-traveled poets like T.S. Eliot and Hart Crane. Both Americans used abundant allusions and 'ventriloquized' speakers. But both Eliot and Crane were very intimate writers, who gave intellectual thrust to their most meaningful, even painful personal experiences."

Kennedy, a junior who is triple majoring in Writing Seminars, English and History of Art, is distilling all he absorbed during last summer's sojourn into several works of personalized fiction, taking the project beyond a simple historical re-creation or literary criticism. McGarry calls Kennedy "a spectacular student."

"Using himself as a test case, he absorbed what he could and has written his own first-person testament on the grand tour as an intensive and highly personal cultural and intellectual education," McGarry said. "He finds that contemporary fiction has ignored this interesting subject, and he wants to jump-start a reinvestment in art and culture as the substance of stories and novels."

Kennedy's first trip abroad had its share of Hollywood moments: During his travels, he randomly bumped into both McGarry and Irwin, who were in Europe attending conferences. A journal he'd been keeping was lost somewhere in Brussels. A taxi strike led to an epic, sleepless search for lodging in Florence — but also gave him a breathtaking city view he would otherwise have missed. Then Kennedy was robbed by some Paris street toughs, who employed an elaborate ruse to distract him and somehow drain his bank account while he was using an ATM.

Luckily the majority of his PURA funds were safe in a separate account back home, and his parents wired him some cash — he even managed to stay on budget. But all told, Kennedy is a strong advocate for the American student's need for foreign travel.

"Study abroad has to be something that is spontaneous and synthesized on a very individual level," Kennedy said. "Seeing in person for the first time the great works of art I had previously only read about was amazing."

Kennedy's first trip abroad won't be his last: He hopes to head overseas again this summer, perhaps with his Woodrow Wilson fellowship funds, to study the impact of expatriate Russian modernism on painting and sculpture in Western Europe during the 1920s.
— Amy Lunday


Working on a vaccine to fight cervical cancer

Under the guidance of T-C Wu at the School of Medicine, Chih-Ping Mao is part of a team working on a vaccine to treat cervical cancer.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

Though he's not quite 20 years old, Chih-Ping Mao is well on his way to becoming a highly respected scientist.

While still a high school student in Austin, Texas, he spent two years getting lab experience at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Last year, as a freshman at Johns Hopkins, while many of his classmates were still getting comfortable on campus, Mao and a friend were contacting faculty members, looking for someone to sponsor their idea of using a bacterial compound to fight cancer.

Although that project did not pan out, Mao found a sympathetic ear in T-C Wu, a professor in the departments of Pathology, Oncology, Gynecology and Obstetrics, and Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at the School of Medicine. Wu offered Mao a place in his lab training program last summer and sponsored him in a research project last fall.

In that project, supported by his Provost's Undergraduate Research Award, Mao set out to improve the potency of a DNA vaccine that Wu's team is developing to treat cervical cancer patients.

While proceeding with the project, Mao produced three lead-author research articles for medical science journals. Two have already been published, and a third is in press. He has also contributed to data that will appear in an upcoming research study by Wu's team.

"It's pretty cool," Mao said. "I'm having a lot of fun in this lab."

In a letter of support last spring for Mao's PURA application, Wu wrote, "Chih-Ping is one of the most creative and energetic young scientists whom I have had the pleasure of mentoring. He has an extraordinary passion for research and discovery, and his scientific abilities are truly impressive."

Wu's team is using a device called a "gene gun" to fire gold particles coated with DNA into dendritic cells, key players of the immune system, which reside in the skin. This activates the dendritic cells to teach the body's killer cells to attack the cervical cancer cells. Although current vaccines are aimed at preventing cervical cancers, Wu's medication is designed to combat the disease in women already diagnosed with cervical cancer or its precursor lesions.

In this process, however, some helpful cancer-killing immune cells can be destroyed during activation. Mao's goal was to use a technique called RNA interference to reduce the loss of helpful killer cells. "We're trying to prevent the killer T cells, the cancer fighters, from dying," he said. "It's a strategy to enhance the potency of Dr. Wu's vaccine."

In his experiments, Mao said, this technique led to two-to-three times more tumor-fighting cells. Further experiments, including tumor treatment experiments in animals, are needed, but Mao is optimistic about his initial results.

As a freshman, he was a biomedical engineering major, but Mao recently switched his major to biology. He was pleased to get a chance to work with Wu's team so early in his academic career. "I think this is a very rare opportunity," Mao said. "I feel lucky and very honored to work in such a great lab. Hopkins has wonderful faculty members doing very exciting things."
— Phil Sneiderman


Lights, camera, opera

Can an opera successfully be made into a movie? Kevin Clark found out by filming his own original 20-minute production.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

The list of operas successfully made into films could probably fit on a postage stamp, according to Kevin Clark. OK, maybe a Post-it note, depending on who you talk to.

Clark, a double-degree major in composition at Peabody and philosophy in the School of Arts and Sciences, said that he's not alone in this harsh assessment, and theories abound as to why the two artistic media don't mix.

"Some people think that opera is unfilmable, that it just doesn't transfer at all," Clark said.

One mistake often made, he said, is hiring theater people to take charge of the production, as they're somewhat out of their element. Case in point: You're likely to see people in a movie version of an opera with the same level of makeup they would have on stage.

"[The makeup] can look dreadful in a camera close-up," said Clark, adding that the amount of eye shadow and face treatment was intended for viewers some 100 yards away in a theater. The same logic applies to painted backdrops and exaggerated movements, Clark said, which look fine on stage, but not so much under the scrutiny of a camera lens.

Clark used his PURA grant to prove that opera could indeed work on film — if you use the right approach.

"I treated the project as a film first and an opera second," said Clark, who studied opera directing with Peabody faculty member Roger Brunyate, his PURA adviser.

For the project, Clark used his own original chamber opera, Some Ado, which is based on characters from Shakespeare's comedy Much Ado About Nothing. The opera features a four-person cast — three singers and one percussionist, who also takes part in the action. Clark said that the small cast allowed for quick pacing and a simple score.

He filmed the 20-minute opera, which premiered in May 2005 at the Theatre Project in Baltimore, over two grueling days in May in Peabody's Cohen-Davison Theater. For the set, Clark went very minimal and surreal.

"We don't talk about where they are [in the film], and that is very intentional," he said. "We only made a few changes to the theater for the production." The intention, he said, was to show that theater and film effects can be accomplished with no props or set pieces foreign to a recital hall. The only props he used were percussion mallets and music stands.

Clark edited the movie at Homewood in the Digital Media Center, where he attended workshops to learn how to use film-editing software.

The money from the PURA grant paid for the hall rental, film equipment, many spare light bulbs (for filming purposes) and food for his dedicated cast of fellow students. He said they worked 15 hours the first day of filming and an amazing 22 hours on day two, which happened to be the day before graduation for some of them.

"I had no idea these people would be so dedicated to the project," he said. "They took it like pros."

How did the film come out? It might not rival Ingmar Bergman's version of The Magic Flute — one of the rare successes of opera made into film, according to Clark — but Clark was very happy with the results.

All those who attend the PURA ceremony can see for themselves. The full film will be on display during the poster session, and Clark will show excerpts of the production during a presentation at the reception.
— Greg Rienzi


Looking for a way to reduce seizures

Jason Chiang spent last summer in the School of Medicine lab of Marek A. Mirski, who is looking for a way to reduce epileptic seizures.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

A few months ago, Jason Chiang found himself at the annual meeting of the American Neurological Association in Chicago, talking with prominent researchers about the brain seizure studies he'd participated in at Johns Hopkins. He described how he'd helped measure serotonin levels in rodents during induced seizures. The research, he told conference attendees, could lead to more effective medications for epilepsy patients who don't respond to the current array of anti-convulsive drugs.

"They asked if I was a postdoctoral fellow, a resident or some other kind of full-time researcher," Chiang recalled. "They seemed surprised to find out I was an undergraduate."

With support from his PURA, the senior biomedical engineering major gained much of this expertise last summer working in the lab of Marek A. Mirski, an associate professor in the departments of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery in the School of Medicine.

Mirski is a leading researcher in the use of deep brain stimulation to prevent seizures. This technique involves the implantation of a type of pacemaker in the brain that sends electrical current into a structure called the anterior thalamus. Mirski and his team found that this technique reduces the occurrence of seizures. They are now trying to determine why this occurs.

The work is important because more than 50 million people worldwide have epilepsy, and about 7.5 million of them suffer from seizures that don't respond to current anti-convulsive drugs.

Mirski's team discovered that higher levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter, were apparently released during electrical stimulation in that particular region of the brain. Was this the reason for the reduced seizures?

To find out, the researchers administered drugs in the anterior thalamus that mimicked the action of serotonin in rodents experiencing seizures. Chiang participated in these experiments and helped determine that serotonin produced a significant protective effect. If more serotonin can lead to fewer seizures, he said, doctors could treat epilepsy patients with existing FDA-approved drugs that increase the levels of this neurotransmitter.

"Jason was very successful, and his work generated an abstract presentation at the prestigious annual meeting of the American Neurological Association," Mirski said.

He added that Chiang's work was incorporated into an article that has been submitted to the leading peer-reviewed epilepsy medical journal, with the undergraduate listed as a co-author.

"I'm really excited about that," Chiang said. "I was really privileged to be able to work with Dr. Mirski. These kinds of opportunities, I don't think they exist at a lot of other schools. I have friends at other universities, and they don't have this kind of access to important faculty researchers and labs."

His experience with Mirski's team led Chiang to look for new ways to measure serotonin levels. Currently, he is working on nanosensors in the lab of David Gracias, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. "These sensors could help us clarify the role of serotonin in epilepsy," Chiang said. "That could lead us to better treatments for people suffering from intractable epilepsy."

After graduating this spring, Chiang hopes to conduct epilepsy research in Germany and eventually become a physician scientist.
— Phil Sneiderman


A snapshot of wage inequities

Altair Peterson, here with adviser Melanie Shell-Weiss, used a camera and interviews to capture a snapshot of wage inequities in Charm City.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

With a PURA-funded digital camera in hand, Altair Peterson set out last summer to create a photo documentary of the women behind the labor statistics she'd picked up in courses on economics and women and gender studies — figures showing that, in general, a man's paycheck still goes much further than a woman's, even though women make up more than half the country's labor force.

"I'm a math major, and I've taken a lot of courses on economics, but I wanted to go behind the numbers to show the human side," Peterson said. Her PURA grant afforded her the opportunity go beyond her major and buy the camera and digital voice recorder to gather the stories behind the stats. "That's what I love about Hopkins-it enables us to be flexible that way."

Peterson soon zoomed her ambitious working title, Women at Work in Charm City, into a sharper focus, choosing to spotlight women who work at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions because she wanted to learn more about Hopkins life outside the Homewood campus.

The oral histories and photos, six to eight of which will be featured in her PURA presentation, cover a wide range of women in all levels of the medical professions, including a nurse, a janitor, a security guard and a senior physician, according to Peterson's PURA adviser, Melanie Shell-Weiss, a visiting assistant professor in the Department of History.

In addition to conducting one-on-one interviews, Peterson pored over historical photographs in the Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives to spot early images of women at work in the hospital, allowing her to conduct a comparative study between the historical and contemporary photos.

"This is a very exciting research initiative that promises to make significant contributions to our understanding of women's wage work," Shell-Weiss said. "By focusing on relationships among women, this work promises to go beyond simple comparisons of men's and women's work or the wage gap and provides a unique window onto racial, ethnic, class, age and national differences that shape women's experiences in the contemporary labor market."

Peterson spent one to three hours with each profilee, and used a portion of her PURA budget to buy thank-you gifts for participants, typically choosing a book Peterson thought they would like based on personal interests gleaned during the interviews.

For the first two years after commencement, Peterson is committed to the Teach America program and will be in a Washington, D.C., classroom. But creating this snapshot of Baltimore women has reinforced her desire to return to the city.

"So many people take their education and leave and never have a chance to give back the community that educated them, the community that hosted them for four years," Peterson said. "I think I could ultimately have a role in city government."
— Amy Lunday


Pain and anxiety, oh rats!

Chase Gray wants to know what makes one person more susceptible to pain than another. She uses this open field apparatus in her experiments with rats.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

Millions of people suffer from chronic pain, whether it be as a result of injury, medical condition or other. Relatively little, however, is known about what makes one person more susceptible to pain than another.

Anxiety disorders and chronic pain have long been associated, but whether anxiety is a result of the pain or renders an individual more susceptible to pain is not known. This gap in knowledge was the starting point for PURA winner Chase Gray, a student in the Bachelor of Science Program at the School of Nursing.

Gray, under the guidance of Gayle Page, professor and director of the Center for Nursing Research and Sponsored Projects, set out to study the development of and persistence of chronic neuropathic pain in male and female rats using the sciatic inflammatory neuritis, or SIN, model. The model allows for pain bouts to be under the direct control of an investigator.

Specifically, Gray wanted to see if pre-SIN anxiety behaviors were predictive of neuropathic pain behaviors, and if female and male rats differ in responses to anxiety and pain testing.

Gray first used two behavioral tests to measure the animals' baseline anxiety levels, placing the rats in an elevated plus maze and in an open field apparatus. Prior to testing, the animals were kept in a darkened testing area for 20 minutes.

For the tests themselves, Gray videotaped the animals for five minutes to see what behaviors they demonstrated in each setting. For example, she wanted to observe if the animals were unwilling to venture out into the middle of the open area, or if they would exhibit some confident behavior while traveling the maze, such as rearing up on their hind legs.

"I wanted to see, for example, if they were more willing to explore the open areas or stay in the enclosed areas, as a way to determine [the rats'] levels of anxiety," Gray said.

The animals next had catheters inserted to allow for injections that would cause an inflammatory response mirroring chronic pain.

A week later, the animals began a series of injections and mechanical sensitivity testing to measure paw sensitivity, which was then compared to the anxiety levels determined by the behavioral tests to determine what effect, if any, chronic pain had.

Gray said she expects that the final results from a statistician will show some anxiety-level differences based on sex.

While hers was only a pilot study, Gray said that these sorts of experiments could lead to more research in this understudied area, and ultimately better pain treatments for humans.

"I think we can do better," she said. "Perhaps we can design different pain treatments for men and women. Working with animals like this is a way of building evidence to see what potential there is for treating humans and perhaps developing more individualized pain treatment plans."

Gray, who graduates in May, said that she found the research very rewarding.

"This experience has really turned me on to the world of research and the significance of this kind of work," she said. "For me personally, conducting any level of research at Johns Hopkins is extremely satisfying."
— Greg Rienzi


Targeting a child killer in Ethiopia

Working with R. Bradley Sack at the School of Public Health, Rishi Mediratta is hoping to combat childhood deaths from diarrheal diseases in Ethiopia.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

Rishi Mediratta is playing an important role in combating childhood deaths in Ethiopia from diarrheal diseases, a leading cause of mortality in developing African nations. His original research, focusing on how best to educate Ethiopian mothers so that they can prevent — and manage — diarrheal diseases in their young children was funded by his PURA.

A public health studies major, Mediratta became interested in the terrible toll that diarrheal diseases take among the East African country's children when he witnessed the problem during his sophomore year intersession, when he volunteered at Mother Teresa's Mission in Addis Ababa and at clinics in Gondar.

"I was extremely shocked at the severity of the conditions of the children I saw there," he said. "It was not uncommon to find them experiencing diarrhea for two weeks continuously. They came to the clinic with sunken eyes, poor skin turgor and poor thirst: all signs of severe dehydration. They were malnourished, were not receiving adequate fluids, and their mothers were not taking the steps to prevent diarrhea in their children. I wanted to do something about this problem."

Mediratta decided that the best way to ascertain how a successful public health initiative might be launched was to study how mothers there handled the disease, and then compare their habits and methods to those of moms in Bangladesh, home of the International Center for Diarrheal Disease.

"I chose Bangladesh because the International Center is the 'gold standard' for treatment of diarrheal diseases in developing countries, so it can be considered a model for how diarrhea might best be managed in Ethiopia, too," he said.

Mediratta decided that a clinic in Gondar, a small rural town in northwestern Ethiopia, was the ideal setting for his study because "my research would have greater value in an area where diarrhea is a major community health problem."

With IRB approval, he carefully designed a survey that assessed several risk factors known to contribute to diarrheal disease in children, including socioeconomic level, child nutrition, maternal hand-washing hygiene and latrine and water use. The goal, he said, was to "identify those determinants that could be modified by mothers to reduce morbidity associated with diarrhea."

Mediratta then trained 13 health facilitators to administer the survey to mothers who sought care at their clinic. Other members of the community were selected to question approximately 500 mother-child pairs.

Analysis of the data that Mediratta collected — interviews, stool samples and medical records revealing treatment recommended by the physicians — revealed that a "large proportion" of the mothers in this community did not have even a rudimentary understanding of how best to either prevent diarrheal disease or to manage it.

"Many of them withheld food, fluids and breast milk from their children during diarrheal episodes, which is contrary to the accepted guidelines for the management of diarrhea," Mediratta said. "Mothers may have the misconception that providing fluids to their children can exacerbate the condition. However, rehydrating is the most effective treatment for children with diarrhea and should be the first treatment administered."

Mediratta hopes that his study's results will help public health workers develop a curriculum to help Ethiopian mothers understand the risks associated with diarrhea and the very simple measures they can take to prevent and manage the illness in their children.

"In a country where there is, on average, one physician per 40,000 people, it is unlikely that everyone in Ethiopia will have access to health centers," he said. "Equipping mothers with the knowledge and skills to manage the disease is a critical means through which to mitigate the potential harmful effects of diarrhea."

Mediratta's faculty mentor, R. Bradley Sack, professor of international health and medicine at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, credits his student with designing an "important" study that could have meaningful repercussions for Ethiopian child health.

"Rishi has done a remarkable job in designing and carrying out a study determining risk factors for Ethiopian children, all in a few months' time," Sack said. "The data will be important in suggesting interventions for the prevention of childhood diarrhea in this population."

Mediratta hopes to continue his involvement in that cause.

"I am strongly committed to this research because diarrheal disease can be cured," he said. "Eradicating one of the most nefarious and preventable public health crises — one that afflicts 2 million children every year worldwide — is within our reach."
— Lisa De Nike


Toddler talk

Not a 'blicket' in the bunch. Meredith Brinster uses nonsense words to determine how toddlers acquire and comprehend unfamiliar vocabulary.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

Meredith Brinster is playing an important role in understanding how toddlers learn words. Brinster's PURA research focused on how 3-year-olds best acquire and come to comprehend unfamiliar vocabulary. Specifically, she was interested in how very young children learn to attach names to objects.

She designed a study to measure which word-learning strategy was more effective: direct instruction, in which an adult "directly" points to and names an unfamiliar object, or inference, in which toddlers use reason (such as process of elimination) to mentally "fasten" an unfamiliar word to an unfamiliar object. Based on previous research, Brinster posited that the young children would learn words more quickly via inference.

According to her preliminary results, she was correct.

"We found that our hypothesis was true, and that inference is better than instruction," said Brinster, a psychology major.

Over the summer, Brinster worked with 100 children, ages 36 months to 42 months, who came to the Laboratory for Child Development on the Homewood campus. One trial tested how well children learned words through inference, and the other how well they learned through direct instruction.

During the inference trial, Brinster showed the youngsters both familiar and strange objects (for instance, a ball and a plumber's "t") and after saying a nonsense word ("blicket," for instance) asked them to either point to or grab hold of the "matching" item.

In the direct instruction trial, the child was shown an unfamiliar item and heard the nonsense word.

A short while later, Brinster would invite the children to play with typical, familiar toys in the lab's waiting area. During the relaxed play period, she would bring out the "blicket" or the "dax" that the children had seen during the trial, and ask the youngsters a question.

"For instance, I might say 'I think one of these is called 'blicket,' but I can't remember which one it is. Can you help me? Do you know which one is the 'blicket?'" Brinster said. "This way, I could ascertain how well they learned the word. Once we analyzed all of our data, it was clear that inference worked best."

Justin Halberda, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences and Brinster's mentor, called his student's results "important."

"One of the things that is particularly exciting about the work Meredith is doing is its potential to change the way we think about education and learning," he said. "While we know that active engagement is the key to rapid learning, Meredith's result suggesting that knowledge gained via a child's own inferences is sometimes more powerful and longer lasting than knowledge gained through instruction may have powerful repercussions for how we teach new material. These implications have yet to be explored, but this first result is tantalizing."
— Lisa De Nike


Bangladesh's fight against terrorism

Adnan Ahmad, a native of Bangladesh, keeps current on the country's politics and traveled there to learn more about its strategy to combat domestic terrorism.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

Adnan Ahmad has always been interested in the domestic politics of his native country, Bangladesh.

"I'm addicted to going back," said Ahmad, who moved to the United States when he was just 7. "I get sucked into the politics there."

But the senior political science major didn't think of relating his knowledge about Bangladeshi politics to world affairs — that is, not until the U.S. Patriot Act came up for renewal. Then, he began to see a connection between the ways the U.S. and Bangladeshi governments responded to Islamic terrorism.

"It's eerie how in step both countries are," he said.

Supported by a PURA, Ahmad returned to Bangladesh last summer to investigate the government's strategy to combat domestic terrorism. Through interviews with journalists, government officials and civilians, and archive research, Ahmad examined the recent rise of Islamism in Bangladesh and the government's movement toward oppressive state policies in response to security threats. He also explored the trade-off between liberty and security in the fight against terrorism.

Ahmad conducted more than 30 interviews while he was in Bangladesh, many of them lasting longer than two hours. Sometimes, he said, he felt like he was being led down a blind alley by people not answering his questions fully.

"But in the process," said Ahmad's PURA adviser, Waleed Hazbun, an assistant professor in the Political Science Department, "he learned a lot about how politics on the issue played out."

Through his interviews, Ahmad found that the government had established a rapid action battalion, which operated by executive decree without internal investigation. He compared the justifications for this action to those of the U.S. Patriot Act.

"They are circumventing procedural actions to fight terrorism," he said. "[They claim] you need to violate democracy in order to protect it in the long run, and we see the same arguments in the Patriot Act."

He learned that although the Bangladesh government had killed more than 1,000 people in the past two years, these killings were not officially recognized. Instead, the government announced that, in the process of being detained, these people were "caught in the crossfire." Yet Ahmad found little public outrage or public awareness of these killings.

"There's no political discourse that allows criticism on the public level," he said. "Broad political awareness is almost nonexistent."

This wide public acceptance of the government line made his own investigation difficult: When interviewees were willing to talk, they all gave him the same prepackaged, government-sanctioned story. Sometimes after a day of unsatisfying interviews, he'd visit his cousins and vent his frustrations about the obstacles he faced.

But Ahmad learned from these research problems, he said. He came to realize the difficulties a researcher faces while working in a foreign country, particularly when dealing with government information.

"It cured me of the naivete that all aspiring investigators have," he said.

Based on his findings, Ahmad has produced a 20-page study and contributed an editorial to a Washington Post blog.

Ahmad is a finalist for a Fulbright Fellowship to do research in Tunisia and, after graduation, he plans to continue studying international affairs. He eventually intends to earn a master's degree in international studies and to attend law school, where he will focus on academic law.
— Jessica Valdez


The 14th Annual Pura Ceremony

Check Out Their Results

To recognize the recipients of the 2006 Provost's Undergraduate Research Awards, an event will be held on Thursday, March 8, in Homewood's Glass Pavilion.

A poster session in which students will have an opportunity to display the results of their research begins at 3 p.m.

At the 4:30 p.m. recognition ceremony hosted by Steven Knapp, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, the honorees will be introduced by Theodore Poehler, vice provost for research and chair of the selection committee.

Provost Knapp will present the students' certificates, and PURA recipient Kevin Clark will show an excerpt from his project, Some Ado: An Original Opera Film."

A reception will follow at approximately 5:15 p.m.

The entire Johns Hopkins community is invited.


The Gazette | The Johns Hopkins University | Suite 540 | 901 S. Bond St. | Baltimore, MD 21231 | 443-287-9900 |