Looking For Answers
The 15th Annual PURA Ceremony
See What They Found Out
To recognize the recipients of the 2007 Provost's Undergraduate Research Awards,
will be held on Thursday, April 17, in Homewood's Glass
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
Kristina Johnson, 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.
[A listing of PURA recipients is available online
Johnson will present the students' certificates, and
PURA recipients Gregory Koenig and
Heather Woodworth will perform. Koenig will play two short
classical guitar sonatas, and Woodworth, a
clarinetist, will perform a duet with pianist Daniel
A reception will follow at approximately 5:15 p.m.
The entire Johns Hopkins community is invited.
PURA grants in hand, 45 undergrads follow unknown
Whether curiosity ever killed a cat is uncertain, but
it surely played a role in this year's
Provost's Undergraduate Research Awards projects.
A natural curiosity and investigative spirit led a
Peabody guitar student to China to observe a
master of the instrument, a public
health studies major to
study barriers to HIV treatment in Russia
and a history major to ask how his generation understands
and defines diversity.
On Thursday, April 17, Kristina Johnson, university
provost and senior vice president for
academic affairs, will host the 15th annual PURA awards
ceremony, which will honor the 45 projects
carried out by students in summer and fall 2007.
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
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 2008 ceremony will be held in the Glass Pavilion
at Homewood. The entire Johns 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 Johnson will begin
at 4:30 p.m. and will include musical performances by two
recipients, Gregory Koenig and Heather
Woodworth. A reception follows at approximately 5:15
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
Classical guitar, from A to Zhi
Greg Koenig (with adviser Julian
Gray) traveled to China to study the
teaching philosophy, technique and repertoire of renowned
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS
In fall 2006, Gregory Koenig befriended two
guitar students who hailed from
the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, China's
premier musical institution. Koenig, a guitar
performance major, marveled at the duo's ability and
musical maturity and wanted to know from what
well this talent sprang.
"They just played so well. They were an inspiration. I
was just curious to know how they got so
good," Koenig said.
He found out that the pair, Meng Su and Yameng Wang,
had both studied with Chen Zhi, the
renowned classical guitar instructor at the Central
Conservatory and the founder of China's first
classical guitar school. Chen, now in his 70s, has trained
legions of accomplished performers, and
several of his proteges have gone on to win major
Through Su and Wang, Koenig had an inroad to meet this
living legend, and he did not want to let
the opportunity pass.
For his PURA project, Koenig flew to China this past
summer to spend two weeks observing Chen
in the classroom. Su and Wang accompanied him, in part to
serve as translators for the Walton, N.Y.,
Koenig set out to study Chen's teaching philosophy,
methods, technique and choice of
repertoire. He was allowed to sit in on classroom
instruction, recitals and one-on-one lessons, some of
them four hours long. Most of the students Koenig observed
ranged in age from 9 to 15.
Koenig said that while he had learned guitar by
playing Beatles and Jimi Hendrix tunes, many of
Chen's young students were already expertly picking out
those of Bach and Agustin Barrios, the
virtuosic guitarist and innovative composer from
"They were playing a repertoire at the junior and
senior student level. I was just amazed at the
refined level that they could play, and so young," said
Koenig, who was advised on his PURA project by
Peabody's Julian Gray. "I recall one moment during a
session [when] I was just sitting in a chair rocking
back and forth in awe of the future and where these
students were headed."
Koenig said that Chinese youth who show promise are
often hand-selected at an early age and
put into a formal, classical guitar-only track. In Chen's
case, this track links middle school, high school
and conservatory. He said that while the individual
instruction is not dissimilar from Western
methods, it's more technical. Chen, for example, always
uses a metronome, making his students play at
an increasingly quicker tempo. He also stresses
memorization and uses games, competition and
In addition to observing, Koenig received some
personal instruction from Chen and, in his free
time, was able get in some sightseeing, including a trip to
the Great Wall.
"I got out of this more than I ever could have hoped
for," he said.
In addition to the report he submits to his adviser,
Koenig plans to write a 10-page diary of his
stay in China and hopes to get an article published about
his experience with the guitar master.
— Greg Rienzi
Film looks into race and gender at
Adam Lovett (with sponsor Melanie
Shell-Weiss) conceived a documentary to
serve as a 'time capsule' of how today's students
understand and define
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS
Adam Lovett started out in spring 2007
intending to make a documentary film that would
explore how his fellow students viewed race and gender
within the university community.
Along the way, however, his project grew to include
Baltimore City high school students, who
are now joining with Johns Hopkins students under the
auspices of a new
Africana Studies course to
investigate and explore how diversity can actually fuel and
motivate social change.
The film, Honest Voices, is the culmination of
Lovett's research project, which was funded by
his Provost's Undergraduate Research Award. A preview of
the film will be available for public viewing
on the Web in May.
"My goal for this film is that it will serve as a
'time capsule' of JHU students in 2007 and 2008,
to show how this generation of students understands and
defines diversity, and to speak to
contemporary debates about diversity and social identities
in the United States from a college
student's perspective — a point of view which has
been too long neglected, in my opinion," said Lovett, a
history major, who worked on the project with Eric
Lovett is no stranger to filmmaking. In 2006, he made
a documentary with Wexler and another
student about Levi Watkins as part of the African-Americans
at Johns Hopkins Institutions Project.
Watkins was the first black chief resident in cardiac
surgery at The Johns Hopkins Hospital and is
now a professor and associate dean of the School of
When Lovett set about planning his PURA-funded film,
he and his partner were equipped with a
meticulous plan that included interviewing JHU students
over four weeks at five campus locations, in
order to get what Lovett terms "the most objective
selection of students."
In addition, Lovett planned to ask students the same
questions, from what attracted them to
JHU, to what preconceptions they might have had, before
enrolling, in regard to diversity to how
those ideas changed once they arrived on campus and became
part of the undergraduate community.
As Lovett conducted preliminary interviews, however,
something surprising happened: The
Johns Hopkins students wanted to talk about their own
issues of identity within the larger context of
Baltimore City. That led Lovett and Wexler to conceive of
the notion of bringing city high school
students into the mix.
"We decided that it would be wonderful if high school
students from different backgrounds
would meet weekly with JHU students to discuss issues of
race and identity, as well as Baltimore
community issues," said Lovett, who, with the help of
Wexler and a committee of Johns Hopkins
students, recruited 10 students from local high schools to
become part of the effort.
In late January, those students and JHU undergrads
came together for the first time to learn
and work in a new Africana Studies course — From
Civil Rights to Multiculturalism: Student Movements
for Social Change — that will guide them in exploring
diversity as an impetus for social change and
growth. As part of their participation in the class, the
high school and college students are working
together to make their own documentaries exploring
Baltimore community issues.
Each week, Lovett and Wexler have been filming the two
groups of students as they interact,
develop relationships and work on their film projects. The
pair hopes to capture how students from
different backgrounds can join together for a common
purpose and make a positive impact on each
Lovett's faculty mentor, Melanie Shell-Weiss, a
visiting professor in the Krieger School's
Department of History and an associate research scholar in
Africana Studies, believes Lovett's film
will make significant contributions to our understanding of
how a younger generation of Americans
defines itself along the lines of gender and race, and how
Johns Hopkins students see themselves as a
"Young Americans do not necessarily understand these
ideas or use the same terms to describe
them as we did even a decade ago," Shell-Weiss said. "Yet
it is these younger voices that are rarely
heard. Adam's film will give us the chance to hear them in
their own words. I think Adam's work
teaches us a great deal about the meaning of community and
showcases what is possible when young
people with a vision, creativity and commitment take the
initiative to make a positive difference in the
world around them."
Lovett said he is grateful to have been given the
opportunity to undertake this project.
"The flexibility of the PURA allowed me to conduct
academic research in my own way, through
the making of a documentary film," he said. "I urge my
fellow classmates, especially those who are
aspiring filmmakers, to take advantage of this award.
— Lisa De Nike
Raising awareness of intimate partner
Ada Otter (with sponsor Jackie
Campbell) delved into data about intimate
partner violence during pregnancy among women who are
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS
Like a growing number of nursing students at
Johns Hopkins, Ada Otter is working on a second
bachelor's degree. Her first was in environmental science,
from the University of California, Santa
Barbara, and after spending four years as a research
scientist at the National Oceanographic and
Atmospheric Administration, Otter decided that she wanted
to focus her career and research talents
on people and health care issues.
As an undergraduate in the school's Research Honors
Program, Otter was paired with Jackie
Campbell, a professor in Community Public Health Nursing,
as a mentor. "We get involved in the
research our mentors are working on," said Otter,
explaining how she got started on, and grew
passionate about, the topic of intimate partner violence.
When the opportunity for additional research through
the university's PURA program came to
her attention, Otter applied for a grant to further study
"It's something I feel like I can't not be involved
with," Otter said. "It's of utmost concern to
health care providers, but there's still very much a stigma
associated with any kind of abuse."
Otter's PURA research was specifically to "investigate
the presence and characteristics of
intimate partner violence during pregnancy among women who
are first-time mothers, and its
relationship to unintended pregnancy."
"This research," Campbell said, "is extremely
important because we have relatively little
information about the specific characteristics of abuse
during pregnancy among women who are first-
time mothers. This kind of nursing research can help us
shape appropriate nursing interventions for
abuse in prenatal care and in nurse home visitation
Otter is performing secondary analysis on data from a
Portland, Ore., study (for which Campbell
serves as co-principal investigator), in which visiting
nurses collected data for 250 at-risk pregnant
women. Her research involves running statistical tests on a
number of factors, including history of
past abuse, whether the pregnancy was planned and overlap
between the two; depression screening
scores; and other related issues. The study is funded by
the Centers for Disease Control and
Estimates range widely, Otter said, but it's believed
that 5 percent to 8 percent of pregnant
women experience intimate partner violence during
pregnancy. "That's where the big message in this
research is," Otter said, "to get the word out and raise
awareness," even among health care providers
and nurses. Because of their direct contact with patients
throughout the entire process, Otter
acknowledges that nurses can play a key role. "There's a
level of trust with patients, so that we're
great people to be advocates" for those suffering abuse,
As with many health issues, there's still plenty of
research that needs to be done in this area,
and Otter's mentor believes her student is up to the task,
saying that she's exactly the kind of
student who should continue to doctoral study. And, indeed,
she will. Otter has just been accepted to
the University of Washington's Doctor of Nursing Practice
program and, as a family nurse
practitioner, plans to pursue issues related to women's
health and sexuality.
— Diana Schulin
Barriers to HIV/AIDS treatment in
Why don't Russian HIV/AIDS
patients comply with their prescribed
therapeutic regimens? Darya Kizub (with sponsor Chris
Beyrer) went to
Russia to find out.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS
Darya Kizub is playing an important role in
assessing how best to deliver anti-retroviral therapy
and medications to people with HIV/AIDS in Russia.
Kizub's research focused on what factors cause Russian
HIV/AIDS patients to fail to comply
with their prescribed therapeutic regimens.
public health studies major who was born in Kiev and
moved with her parents to the United
States in 1998, Kizub recognized that HIV was at an
epidemic level in Eastern Europe, affecting at
least 940,000 people, or more than 1 percent of the
population. (Contrast that to the United States,
where .3 percent of people are infected with HIV.) Most of
these cases — 70 percent to 85 percent —
are injection drug users.
"It is the countries where HIV preval-ence is
relatively high, as it is in Russia, that are in
greatest need of effective interventions backed by
evidence-based research," said Kizub, who worked
under faculty sponsor Chris Beyrer, director of the Center
for Public Health and Human Rights at the
Bloomberg School of Public Health. "Basically, I wanted to
do this study because there is so little data
available on factors that influence adherence to HIV/AIDS
treatment in Russia," she said. "Because
Russia is still in the process of designing and
implementing a comprehensive program for HIV/AIDS
treatment, there is a chance that these study findings, if
shown to the right people, will have an
impact on HIV/AIDS treatment services in Russia."
Kizub's project called for her to study about 1,000
people living with HIV/AIDS in the 20
regions of Russia most affected by the epidemic. In June,
she traveled to Russia, working in Moscow
with a nongovernmental organization called AIDS Infoshare
to gather her data. AIDS Infoshare has a
track record of conducting research with difficult-to-reach
populations in what Kizub calls "rights-
challenged" environments, and has more than a decade's
worth of experience in advocating for policy
reform in the HIV arena.
As in every study, things did not go exactly as
planned. For one thing, Kizub soon realized that
the focus of her plan was too broad, and narrowed it.
Instead of studying the general barriers to
implementation of HIV therapy in Russia, she decided to
focus on one aspect of the problem:
adherence to highly active anti-retroviral therapy.
"We learned a lot. In the end, we found that a history
of injection drug use does not have an
effect on adherence when adjusted for level of education.
We also learned that the effectiveness of
adherence programs in Russia could be improved by tailoring
the programs' content to the patients'
level of education and working to improve personal
motivation to receive treatment," she said. "Of
course, implementing these recommendations is not as simple
as it sounds, and a lot of thought would
need to be put into designing programs that would take the
patients' level of education into account
and would motivate them to come to AIDS centers."
Beyrer said he believes Kizub's research will
"contribute to the sparse body of scientific
literature on this region, better inform our own research
and intervention development and be utilized
as an advocacy tool for an improved national health care
— Lisa De Nike
Libraries and neighborhood poverty
Iris Chan made library branches
(here in Waverly with sponsor Erica
the focal point of her study about the nature of
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS
To learn more about the nature of Baltimore's
patchwork of neighborhoods, which range from
affluent communities to crime-ridden slums, Iris
Chan decided to start at the library. More precisely,
she chose to use the city's library system, made up of more
than two dozen branches, as the focal
point for a study about how economics, education, public
safety, transportation options and other
factors come together within the neighborhoods that
surround these branches.
"I wanted to look at the connections between poverty
and geography," Chan said of her PURA-
funded research. "It's not that either one causes the
other, but I wanted to see if there is a back-
and-forth interaction between the nature of poverty and
where it is located."
Chan, a senior public health and Writing
Seminars major, came up with the research proposal
after taking an environmental history course taught by
Erica Schoenberger. Schoenberger, a
professor in the Whiting School's Department of Geography
and Environmental Engineering, agreed to
provide guidance and to serve as Chan's faculty sponsor.
The funding enabled Chan to spend part of last summer
gathering data about 235 Baltimore
neighborhoods and assigning each to the closest branch of
Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library
system. Chan compiled figures on the employment and
educational background of each neighborhood's
residents, the percentage of homes occupied by their owner,
the number of households with their own
vehicles, the number of bus stops in the neighborhood,
homicide occurrences and library usage. She
also visited many of the branches and conducted an in-depth
case study at the Waverly branch near
Johns Hopkins' Homewood campus.
When she completed her report, what emerged was a
complex portrait of how Baltimore
libraries play an important and varied role in the
neighborhoods they serve. Some provide expanded
programs for parents of young children and for teenagers.
Some offer a relatively safe, cost-free
place where youngsters can spend time when their parents
cannot supervise them. At some branches,
Chan found, adults use library computers to search for work
or to fill out online job applications. "I
learned that possibly the most important thing a public
resource like this can do is to be flexible to
the needs of its patrons," she said.
One thing she did not find was a strong connection
between the affluence of the neighborhood
and the quality of its library.
"I think Iris' study came in with much more
interesting results than I had anticipated,"
Schoenberger said. "In a way, it's the lack of a strong
correlation between socioeconomic factors and
the quality of the neighborhood libraries that was
particularly interesting. Baltimore has this
reputation of being such a divided city, but in this one
index, it appears the city's not doing so badly."
While conducting her study, Chan had to acquire skills
in mapping and data collection. In a few
instances, she ran up against government staff members who
refused to provide crucial information
that she had hoped to utilize. But Schoenberger pointed out
that encountering real-world roadblocks
can be enlightening to students who are accustomed to
traditional textbook and classroom learning. "I
think this was a really good educational experience for
Iris," she said. "This really got her out into the
streets, and she did well."
While many undergraduate research opportunities at
Johns Hopkins involve students who join a
faculty member's existing lab project, Schoenberger noted
that the library study was initiated by
Chan. "Iris came to me with this idea and said she really
wanted to do it," the professor said. "She just
needed someone to give her some help. That was very
Although Chan plans to look for work after graduation,
her long-term goal is enroll in a graduate
school program that focuses on public policy or urban
policy studies. Her undergraduate project was
helpful preparation, she said. "I surprised myself at how
deeply I got buried in my research while I
was working on it," she said. "It didn't bore me. I'm
fascinated by going to libraries."
— Phil Sneiderman
3-D images of brain tumor blood
Shahed Alam (with adviser Arvind
Pathak, left) produced 'stellar' images of
brain structures that will allow researchers to better
study networks of
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS
With support from his PURA award, Shahed Alam
has identified and digitally modeled different
anatomical regions on highly detailed 3-D images of mouse
brains, as part of a larger research project
aimed at giving scientists a much better look at the blood
vessel networks that feed deadly brain
Alam has been working with a
School of Medicine team that is using MRI microscopy
produce high-resolution 3-D computer renderings of the
blood vessel "architecture" in a brain tumor
model. Because cancer cells are typically accompanied by
abnormal blood vessel growth, or
angiogenesis, the digital images, called virtual casts,
could help scientists understand the evolution of
angiogenesis, its effects on image contrast and the
effectiveness of anti-angiogenic treatments. The
researchers, led by Arvind Pathak, an assistant professor
of radiology and oncology in the School of
Medicine, are refining these techniques in preclinical
models of brain tumors.
Alam, a junior majoring in biomedical engineering,
learned about this research when he enrolled
in an imaging tutorial that Pathak offers to
undergraduates. After completing the tutorial, Alam asked
if he could join Pathak's lab team. "I wanted to apply what
I had learned," he said. "Dr. Pathak asked
me to create my own image quantification program. I had
never done any computer programming, so I
had to learn it basically from scratch. Moreover, Dr.
Pathak never let me use other people's solutions
to the problems I ran into. I had to come up with my
Pathak said he was pleased with the results. "Shahed
exhibited tremendous potential and
completed the project successfully," he said. "I was
particularly impressed by his persistence when
tackling challenging technical problems."
As a result, Pathak agreed to serve as Alam's PURA
The funds Alam received through this program allowed
him to remain in Baltimore last summer
to continue working in Pathak's lab on an advanced project.
Using MRI microscopy, Pathak and his
collaborators — Jianyang Zhang, an assistant
professor of radiology, and Melina Jones, a neurology
research associate — acquired detailed images of
intact mouse brains in which tumors are present.
Alam's job was to digitally isolate specific areas or
structures within the brain, such as the cerebellum
or the hippocampus, and produce highly detailed 3-D
computer models of these tissues, digital replicas
that can be viewed from a variety of angles.
This allows researchers to study the way networks of
blood vessels appear on the MRI images in
these structures, including the tumor. "One of our goals,"
Pathak said, "is to see if anti-angiogenic
therapy, which tries to block the formation of new blood
vessels that support cancer cells, can restore
the blood vessels to their normal architecture."
Pathak said that Alam learned to produce "stellar"
images of brain structures and that the
undergraduate will be listed a co-author on an upcoming
journal article related to the team's research.
For Alam, who hopes to become a physician, the
opportunity to do hands-on research in Pathak's
lab has been particularly rewarding. "It's so inspiring to
be around such advanced science and
technology. Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed," Alam said. "I
really find it to be a humbling experience to
work with these great scientists. My goal has always been
to be a doctor who is mainly involved in
patient care, but this experience has inspired me to
continue biomedical research as well."
— Phil Sneiderman
Steel floor, buckle no more
Ying Guan (with sponsor Ben
Schafer) wanted to know the best way to
support cold-formed steel structural members.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS
Ying Guan, a senior majoring in
has developed sophisticated computer
predictions to help structural engineers design sturdier
and more cost-effective cold-formed steel
floors and walls in low-rise buildings. With support from
his PURA, Guan performed tests and devised
computer models that allow a building designer to test
different materials and connections between
thin-walled steel beams and the wood panels or drywall used
to support them.
"This is research that has a nice practical value to
it," said Ben Schafer, an associate professor
of civil engineering in the Whiting School, who served as
Guan's faculty sponsor. "The goal is to
eliminate at least one way that a cold-formed steel floor
design can fail."
Cold-formed steel is a building material that has
become increasingly popular over the last
decade, particularly in low-rise structures such as office
buildings. It can be a cheaper and more
versatile alternative to hot-rolled steel, which is cast
from molten metal and rolled "hot" into a preset
shape before it is cooled. Cold-formed steel, on the other
hand, is created by bending thin sheets of
steel into a customized cross-section without heating.
Cold-formed steel beams can take the place of
traditional wooden joists beneath a floor. To keep the
cold-formed steel joists from twisting or
buckling, the plywood or other sheathing material attached
to them must support them. Determining
exactly how that support works in real floor systems has
been the focus of Guan's research.
To design such floors in the safest and most
cost-efficient way, structural engineers need to
know more about when and why the connections between the
steel beams and the sheathing materials
will give way. To find out, Schafer last year enlisted Guan
and another undergraduate to help him
perform buckling tests on such beams. The experiments,
conducted in a campus lab, yielded data that
led to new North American design specifications for
cold-formed steel structural members.
To expand on this work, Guan applied for a PURA, which
enabled him to devote time last fall to
developing a computational model that can perform similar
and more elaborate experiments digitally.
"I created a program from scratch that would let us
replicate these lab tests using numerical analyses
and computer simulations," Guan said. "We are now able to
test scenarios we haven't tested in the lab.
We can change the type of wood or drywall and the way it's
fastened to the cold-formed steel beams.
We can change the type of fasteners that we use and the
spacing between them."
Before any construction takes place, the program can
give a structural engineer a better idea of
what arrangements of materials and connections will be most
resistant to buckling while supporting a
floor that stands up to heavy furnishings and foot traffic,
the student said.
Guan's work on the lab tests and the computer program
will be incorporated into future design
standards and will be included in two scientific papers
that will be presented later this year at
international conferences on cold-formed steel structures,
Schafer said. The work also will become
part of a peer-reviewed journal article that Schafer's team
is preparing. Guan will be listed as a co-
author on three of these papers.
"That's the primary reason I came to Johns Hopkins,
because of the undergraduate research
opportunities," Guan said. Johns Hopkins' relatively small
civil engineering program has enabled him to
have greater access to his professors and more interaction
with his classmates, Guan said. He is now
applying to graduate schools to pursue a doctorate in
"As a kid, I was always mesmerized by the tall
buildings in New York and the magnificent
bridges in California," Guan said. "But I wanted to go
beyond simple sightseeing and admiration. I
wanted to understand how these structures worked."
Schafer said he enjoys getting creative undergraduates
like Guan involved in research projects
that allow them to help solve some of the mysteries of
"It's awesome to watch students who don't realize how
much they don't know yet," he said.
"They don't limit their thinking. They have a lot of fresh
ideas, and that's what I'm looking for."
— Phil Sneiderman
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