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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University April 14, 2008 | Vol. 37 No. 30
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The 15th Annual PURA Ceremony


See What They Found Out

To recognize the recipients of the 2007 Provost's Undergraduate Research Awards, an event will be held on Thursday, April 17, 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 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 here.]

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 Butman.

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 trails

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 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 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 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.


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 classical guitarist Chen Zhi.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

In fall 2006, Gregory Koenig befriended two fellow Peabody 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 international competitions.

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., native.

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 Paraguay.

"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 rewards.

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 JHU

Adam Lovett (with sponsor Melanie Shell-Weiss) conceived a documentary to serve as a 'time capsule' of how today's students understand and define diversity.
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 Wexler.

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 Medicine.

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 other's lives.

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 community.

"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 violence

Ada Otter (with sponsor Jackie Campbell) delved into data about intimate partner violence during pregnancy among women who are first-time mothers.
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 the topic.

"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 programs."

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 Prevention.

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, she said.

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 Russia

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.

A 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 response."
— Lisa De Nike


Libraries and neighborhood poverty

Iris Chan made library branches (here in Waverly with sponsor Erica Schoenberger) the focal point of her study about the nature of Baltimore's neighborhoods.
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 special."

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 vessels

Shahed Alam (with adviser Arvind Pathak, left) produced 'stellar' images of brain structures that will allow researchers to better study networks of blood vessels.
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 tumors.

Alam has been working with a School of Medicine team that is using MRI microscopy data to 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 own."

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 sponsor.

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 civil engineering, 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 structural engineering.

"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 structural engineering.

"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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