The following 20 undergraduate research projects have been funded for 22 students and involving 16 faculty mentors as a part of the SOAR program since its inception in 2014.

Abstracts for successful proposal follow:

Select + to review abstracts for each awardee’s project. 

Tarah Cleveland, with Dr. Iqbal, on Investigating a new approach to web visitor engagement measurement

Abstract: In the United States, Internet advertising revenues totaled nearly $42.8 billion in 2013 which is a 17% increase from the year 2012 (IAB Internet Advertising Revenue Report 2014). As revenues from Internet advertising continue to grow, advertisers seek popular web pages for placing ads in an effort to maximize profits. An important measure of how well a website is doing or how attractive they are to advertisers is how engaged the web visitors are with that website. For example, Philly.com (home of two Philadelphia newspapers, Inquirer and Daily News) uses an “engagement index” which takes into consideration seven categories to measure web visitor engagement. These categories include duration index (visitors who spent at least five minutes on the site), click index (visitors who viewed at least six pages), recency index (rate at which visitors return to the site over a period of time), loyalty index (registered visitors or a minimum of three visits per week), brand index (website URL referral or visiting from a bookmark), interaction index (visitors that interact with the site’s comment pages or forums), and participation index (activity on the site by posting, sharing, and uploading contents) (Beckett, 2010). Now, our preliminary study has revealed that there are some fundamental problems with current measurements for web visitor engagement. For example, session duration which tracks visit time on a web page does not take into consideration the physical away time of the web visitor from the computer or when a visitor switches to a different tab or application. Therefore, while advertisers commonly rely on a visitor’s time spent looking at the website, traditional web analytics tools have some limitations to measure this accurately (Peterson and Carrabis 2008).

In order to address the need for an efficient web engagement tool, in this project we propose to investigate a method for accurately measuring session duration and web visitor engagement. Initial focus of this investigation will be on gathering and analyzing requirements to improve the measurement of “engagement index”. As a proof of concept, we shall attempt to build a tool or add a feature to the existing web analytics tools such as piwik.org. The long-term objective of this research initiative is to give guidance to the online advertisers on their selection of pages based on the actual degree of engagement of the web visitors with other similar webpages. 

Logan Olesen, with Dr. Kilgore, on The use of sand fraction lithology analysis to differentiate sediment layers at an archeological sight in Grand Portage, Minnesota

Abstract: Grand Portage National Monument is a 710 acre unit of the National Park Service located in Grand Portage, Minnesota. The park is located on the reservation of the Grand Portage Band of Ojibwe, who have occupied this area for centuries. Grand Portage was an active fur trade post from the mid-1700’s to the early 1800’s (Birk, 1984; Birk, 2005). The Grand Portage area is rich in archeological sites, with many known sites located throughout the park. The site that is of interest for this project is located along the shore of Lake Superior.

This location is rapidly eroding into the lake, due to wave erosion, so a massive excavation took place in 2014 to retrieve artifacts. The excavation revealed two distinct sandy sediment layers, both of which contained artifacts. The apparent stark difference between the two layers has sparked arguments between researchers working in the area because some believe that the upper layer is fill dirt, rather than a natural deposit. However, the abundance of artifacts within this upper layer means that, if the sediment is fill dirt, it was obtained from another archaeological site.

The goal of this project is to investigate the lithological characteristics of both of the sandy layers at the shoreline site to determine whether or not they are related. Using a sand fraction analysis technique (Hallberg, 1978), we will identify the lithology of the sand grains from samples obtained from the upper and lower sand layers. We will statistically compare the results for each of the layers, to determine if they are similar. If the layers have comparable characteristics, we can infer that they have similar depositional histories, and that the upper layer is natural. If the results show that the sands are different, we will know that the units are not related, and researchers can investigate further in the future to determine the depositional history.

Maxwell Kollar, with Dr. van Gjissel, on Creating a Bacterial Mercury Sensor using Synthetic Biology

Abstract: The purpose of this research is to create a bacterium that will detect mercury. This will be accomplished through the process of synthetic biology. Synthetic biology is “to make biology in to an engineering discipline” (Malley, Powell, Davies, & Calvert,2007). Biology is the study of life but not the process of trying to mimic or manipulate it. However, synthetic biology is a combination of ~traditional ~biology and engineering. It is a bold new science that holds endless possibilities (Osbourn, Paul, Rosser, & Lindsey,2012). For this research project, the DNA sequence will be modified by inserting a plasmid in a bacteria that will release a blue pigment when mercury is present.  By attempting to do this both traditional biology and engineering principles will be used. The results of the project will be used in several labs for several courses at VCSU. Along with creating a learning opportunity for others it will allow me to gain skills I will use greatly in my future.  

Eric Schauer, with Dr. Ketterling, on Engineering an Autonomous Ecosystem for Use in Science Classrooms

Abstract: This Project is focusing on engineering a complete autonomous ecosystem that can be integrated into a curriculum for a high school classroom. A complete ecosystem will include terrestrial plants, aquatic plants, carnivores and herbivores. Once the system is in place it can be used for many different types of experiments and inquiries for classes including Biology, Ichthyology, Botany, Genetics and Ecology.  

Monika Browne, with Professor Dina Petherbridge, on Entransed: The making of a transnational woman

Abstract: Immigrants are often portrayed and defined in mass media as people who move to the United States for a specific gain: escape from danger to gain peace, escape from poverty to gain stability, the receiving of a Green Card, pursuit of the American Dream. Gains or benefits which polarize the American public oscillate between the scrutiny against an immigrant and the generosity towards a newcomer. By writing a performance piece about my own experience in the United States, I would like to explore a different kind of alien: the transnational woman. An ambiguous type of immigrant emerging from the complex influx of foreigners into the American society, the transnational woman is an immigrant who cannot be fully described within the confines of traditional immigration vocabulary because she does not enter the American society in order to gain something. A transnational woman leaves home in order to follow her employment, her family, or her partner. In that sense, her entry into another culture is the result of a free choice, an exciting opportunity, sense of adventure, or a sense of duty. A one-woman show where the protagonist examines her journey from one culture into another, and reevaluates, in the process, her perception of being a woman, will be the result of research into my family history and the deeper understanding of womanhood during the past 10 years of my life in the United States. 

Kaylee Johnson and Cassy Gilbertson, with Professor Karri Dieken, on 3D Printing K-12 Project Curriculum

Objective: The purpose of this project is to educate, create, innovate and collaborate the use of art and technology with the Makerbot 3D printer. The development of interdisciplinary curriculum within Math and Art are exceedingly vital measure of a learner’s critical thinking process. The focus of this project is to generate specific and beneficial understanding in learners via new lessons and hands on activities. These activities will include problem solving, cognitive process, communication, aesthetic engagement, collaboration, elements of design, and technology literacy. Combined curriculum lesson plans will be distributed to the appropriate grade levels and parallel with the ND State Education Standards.

Goals: Our ambition is to educate K-12 students on the importance of intergrading Arts into the STEM program to create STEAM. In addition to, the collaboration of art and technology, we also aim for the students to achieve the ability to link a connection between various areas of study throughout their educational experiences. We will create lessons/curriculum for grade 3, 7 and 12 connecting Technology, Math and Art through the use of ND State Education Standards, Makerbot, basic Math skills, and drawing sketches. We will develop the curriculum, educate our selves on the programs and equipment, then teach the programs to various school groups with CSA.  

Niklas Ernst, with Dr. Luis da Vinha, on: The Unfinished Presidencies Why Incumbent Presidents Lose Their Re-Election Campaigns

Abstract: Throughout the history of the United States, 20 presidents won two consecutive terms in the White House, while only 10 lost their second presidential election. While the likelihood for an incumbent president to be re-elected is not as high as in the House or Senate races, data demonstrates that incumbent presidents are usually likely to win their bid for a second  term (Phillips, 2012). Political Science has demonstrated that incumbent presidents have several advantages which they can use in order to gain re-election – i.e., party nomination, recognition, access to campaign funding and government resources, campaign machines. The “incumbent advantage” has been thoroughly studied and tis theoretical assumptions are well developed.

However, despite these advantages, some incumbent presidents are unable to guarantee electoral victories. In the post-war years Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush did not win their re-election bid despite having access to all the advantages every other incumbent president had.  The individual electoral processes have been studied by several presidential scholars and political commentators. Nevertheless, the explanation of these anomalies has yet to process a theoretical framework which allows us to develop a sound understanding of the conditions under which the incumbent advantage is inadequate.

In this research project I will analyze what factors that contributed to falsifying the incumbent advantage in the cases of Presidents Ford, Cart, and Bush. More precisely, I will analyze the factors and dynamics at work in each of these candidacies in order to try to identify a discernible pattern which may subvert the advantages characteristic of incumbents. The development of a theoretical framework explaining the different dynamics involving presidential re-elections will allow us to generalize about the relationships between variables and, to the extend possible, construct a general proposition about the success or failure of the incumbency advantage. 

Justin Tangen, with Dr. Andre Delorme, on: Using Side Scanning Sonar to Detect Mussel Beds in North Dakota Rivers

Abstract: Freshwater mussels (also known as clams) are classified by some as keystone species due to their disproportional large impact on the ecosystems structure and function (Geist, 2010). Freshwater mussel populations over the past 75 years have dropped to record lows due to changes in the nature patterns of the river (Williams, 1993). Since mussels are sedentary feeders and remain in the same location for many years, small changes in their environment can have devastating effects. This project will utilize side scanning sonar to map river beds and use the images produced to possibly detect mussel beds in three area rivers. To gather the data for the research we will be taking a small boat down the center of the river equipped with side scanning sonar and GPS; images and positions are recorded onto the sonar. Compared to traditional means of locating freshwater mussels, side scanning sonar is not only more efficient but can be used in areas that are too dangerous to be done by traditional means. The three local waterways that will be sampled are Baldhill Creek, the Sheyenne River, and the Red River. The rational for choosing these locations is they have been have been sampled in past years and have data established. Since we know where the highest density of mussels are, we hope to use side scanning sonar to set up base line imagery for possible mussel beds. Using GIS techniques we will map the bottoms of these three rivers. With that baseline image we will compare it to incoming and/or saved imagery for similarities potentially finding new mussel beds and populations. In this proposal we are asking for funding primarily for data analysis I will do next fall using data we collect this summer.

Tanner Hovland, with Dr. Hilde van Gijssel, on: Are the Multigenerational Effects of Chlorophenoxy Herbicides on Development and Growth of Drosophila melanogaster Inherited Through the Male or Female Germ Line

Abstract: The purpose of this research project is to determine which germ line in Drosophila melanogaster is effected by chlorophenoxy herbicides. This will be accomplished by exposing Drosophila to two different chlorophenoxy herbicides, 2,4–D and MCPA. They will be exposed by contaminating their food with different concentrations of chlorophenoxy herbicides for at least 4 generations. At each generation, exposed males and females will then be mated with unexposed males and females. Effects of exposure will be determined by examining the offspring by counting the number of offspring produced and determining the rate of mutations using the SMART test.

DaveMarth Nagbe, with Dr. Samuel Keasler, on: Analyzing mercury biosensors using computational modeling techniques

Abstract: It’s no secret that mercury is extremely harmful for humans and wildlife. The U.S Geological Survey states that, “Mercury is a highly toxic element that is found both naturally and as an introduced contaminant in the environment. Research has shown that mercury can be a threat to the health of people and wildlife in many environments that are not obviously polluted.”1 To look into solutions for discovering the presence of mercury, we propose to apply computational modeling techniques to characterize the bacterial biosensor for mercury that is currently under development at VCSU. In particular, this research will provide an improved understanding of the specificity of the mercury sensitive promoter. Simulations will be performed to measure the binding strength of mercury and other ions to the sensor in order to relate the binding strength of the ions to the way they interact with the sensor. Having an understanding of why this sensor is only activated by the presence of mercury could lead to the creation of similar devices modified for the detection of other specified ions.

Dallas Petersen, with Dr. Curt Hill, on: The Internet of Pi

Abstract: The term Internet of Things (IoT) has become a buzzword in recent headlines. According to Daniel Burrus, founder and CEO of Burrus Research, “The Internet of Things revolves around increased machine-to-machine communication…they say it’s going to make everything in our lives from streetlights to seaports ‘smart.’” (Wired). This allows creating smart technology that make autonomous decisions and accomplish tasks that simplify people’s day-to- day activities. In this project, I would like to research new ways to enter into the realm of home automation with a personal Internet of Things. I will use a Raspberry Pi, which is a “small, barebones computer developed by The Raspberry Pi Foundation” (ExtremeTech) to create my own version of home automation, an example of an IoT. I will specifically experiment with creating a time management system using Amazon Dash buttons. The first button press would log my start time, and the second would log my finish times. If this research goes well, I will attempt to transmit the data over the Internet to a Google Docs spreadsheet to add even more functionality to the system. I intend to use this system for both homework and TA work, in both of which hours must be accurately tracked. As a second sub-project, I will use another Amazon Dash button to experiment with connecting my system with existing devices. For this part of the project, I will create a task that upon pressing the Dash button, a customized text message with the weather report will be sent to my phone.

Andrei Pilipetskii, with Dr. Nicholaus Meyers, on: Creating a Virtual Ensemble for Online Learners

Abstract: Music is reshaping the landscape of online collegiate education. While most degree programs in virtual education center on testable book work, music has an element of education and performance that require in person interaction. This creates a new challenge for teachers and students to overcome. Upon close examination of the history of recorded sound, its use in performance, the legal standards of industry, and the recent rise of virtual ensembles, a new medium for performance can be created; one that conventionally requires musicians to be in the same space and time.

This research project aims to mimic current virtual ensembles that are being performed on YouTube daily; examples include Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir (Whitacre) and Steve Park’s Horn Quartet (Park). The idea is to use a small group of VCSU music students to create a virtual ensemble that will perform three pieces that have diverse technical challenges: following a conductor, improvisation, and an original composition. Through the preparation of these pieces and its subsequent programmed performance, conclusions about their use in the classroom and their academic integrity can be discussed.

Baylee Swenson and Jordan Bushaw with Professor Susan Pfeifer, on: The Effects of Motion Sickness in Virtual Reality Environments

Abstract: Motion sickness is caused by conflicting stimulus sent to the brain from various senses (Boggs, 2001). In the world of virtual reality this can be an issue, especially within environments that require the user to move at a rapid pace. In addition to this, studies have found that men and women handle motion sickness differently. In a recent study done by Thomas Stoffregen, women were found to be four times as likely to experience motion sickness within virtual reality environments as men (Schumaker, 2015). In this study, Stoffregen found that this is likely due to the different distribution of body mass and the different ways that each gender carry themselves when in motion (Schumaker, 2015). For example, if a user were to lean into a turn in a racing game they would destabilize themselves, causing motion sickness.

In order to address the issue of motion sickness within virtual reality environments, this project will create a method to further investigate the problem. This will be done by a series of tests done using a virtual reality headset on a group of subjects. We will first create two levels for a virtual environment. The first level will have cartoon graphics, while the second level will have realistic graphics. Using the motion sickness test, we will primarily document the differences in motion sickness between men and women by having the subject play in both levels. We will also notice the differences between motion sickness in realistic environments as opposed to cartoon environments in order to see if the different graphics make a noticeable difference in the final symptoms as charted on the motion sickness test.

Alexis Getzlaff with Dr. Casey Williams, on: The Pickled Fish Project

Abstract: The advance of technology has greatly influenced how students learn, helping them explore areas around the globe in their own classroom. However, many students are losing their sense of connection with the natural world around them. Outside of the classroom, many of today’s youth live in the technological universe, and hardly ever venture outdoors to play (Nelson 2008). To help maintain this connection, the Pickled Fish Project is interested in combining hands-on learning with native fish species from North Dakota. I hope to help spark curiosity and passion for the natural world and produce better scientists. I also hope to improve social interactions both in and outside the classroom. The Pickled Fish Project has already been implemented at events, such as the Winter Show and STEMtastic at the Jamestown Middle School, and has shown success and potential. The timing will take place in the fall of 2016 and then continue into the spring of 2017. It will involve making lesson plans and kits that teachers will then be able to implement in their classroom. Travel to different conferences, classrooms, and events will also be scheduled throughout the project.

Mackenzie Bruce with Dr. Hilde van Gijssel, on: Does the herbicide 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid induce epigenetic changes in G12-Chinese Hamster Ovary cells?

Abstract: In 2000, Schreinemachers published a paper showing an increased risk for certain types of cancers such as reticulum cell sarcoma, prostate, and pancreatic cancers in areas with high usage of the herbicide 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D). However, she did not suggest a mechanism of action. Based on data from traditional mutagenesis and carcinogenesis experiments, 2,4-D is not considered mutagenic or weakly mutagenic and its carcinogenic potential is unclear. The purpose of this research project is to elucidate the mechanism by which the herbicide 2,4-D is involved in carcinogenesis. We hypothesize that epigenetic changes may be responsible. Klein et al developed a method to study epigenetic changes due to chemical exposure. It uses Chinese hamster ovary cells as a model. Chinese hamster ovary cells will be exposed to 2,4-D and the growth rate and mutation rate will be determined. Subsequently polymerase chain reaction (PCR) will be used to determine the specific epigenetic changes in the cells.

Miles Libak with Dr. Anthony Dutton, on: Unintended and Intended Consequences: U.S. Government Policy towards Native Americans

Abstract: The United States Government has failed to respect their agreements made with the Native Americans of North Dakota in the last 165 years since the signing of the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1851 that first provided protected reservations for the Sioux, Cheyenne, Assiniboine, Mandan, Arikara, and Shoshone Nations (NPS, 1965). Just 17 years later, the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868 was signed, which diminished their protected reservations down to about 50% of their former size. In 1887 the Dawes Act was signed, which negatively impacted protected reservations and the basic social safety net of communal living that was to be imperative in the continued success of Native American Nations. In 1947, the U.S. Government, while facing protest by the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nations, started construction on the Garrison Dam that would eventually flood 94% of their farmable land (Lawson, 1982). These injustices towards Native Americans in North Dakota, and elsewhere, leads me to some basic questions that I would like to explore: What events led up to the signing of the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1851, are the recent protests and debates over the Dakota Access Pipeline in some way a byproduct of the injustices that have faced Native American Nations in North Dakota, how has the notion of a reservation changed over time in the minds of Native Americans, and what does the notion of a reservation mean to Native Americans in a 21st century world?

Madeline Bennett with Dr. Luis da Vinha, on: (Re)Drawing Borders of Peace and War: A Political Geography of State Partition

Abstract: War and conflict are a constant reality of human history. Traditionally conflicts would be terminated when one of the warring parties would defeat its adversary or adversaries. However, the 21st century has witnessed the increasing use of conflict resolution strategies to try to manage contemporary warfare, particularly intrastate conflicts. Several strategies have received significant emphasis such as power-sharing schemes, third-party intervention, mediation and negotiations, and reconciliation (Ramsbotham, Miall, and Woodhouse, 2011). When all other options have been exhausted, a solution of last-resort has been to promote the territorial partition of states – i.e., the transforming a single state into two or more states (Waterman, 1996). Partition – sponsored by the international community – has been employed in multiple situations in recent history in order to separate the belligerent factions and try to secure a peaceful settlement to the dispute – e.g., partitions of India (1947), Palestine (1947), Korea (1954), Vietnam (1954), Pakistan (1971), Cyprus (1974), Yugoslavia (1990s), Serbia (2008). With the exceptions of Ethiopia (creation of Eritrea in 1993) and Sudan (creation of South Sudan in 2011) partition has not been an option for addressing the conflicts which have scoured the continent for over half a century. This fact solicits perplexity taking into consideration the number of intrastate conflicts that have ravaged African countries and contributed to millions of deaths. This is particularly relevant considering the fact that the borders of Africa are still predominantly the arbitrary borders established by the colonial powers (Fisher, 2012). Accordingly, the current research proposal seeks answer the question of why the international community has hesitated to endorse partition as a conflict resolution strategy in Africa? The research project will analyze what factors have led the international community to sponsor territorial re-arrangements in numerous other regions, yet be silent regarding Africa, and consequently try to establish a framework for understanding under what conditions is partition entertained by the international community.

Tanner Clark with Dr. Kathryn Woehl, on: Spirituality and Religiosity in University Students

Abstract: 
It is a trend for college students to experience different identity shifts and personal development throughout their time attending university (Uecker, Regnerus, Vaaler, 2007). This study’s three foci hope to better understand changes in college students’ identities related to religiosity and spirituality. This study is broken down into three sections. The first section focuses on the definitions of religiosity and spirituality. The two very different terms are often used interchangeably (Zinnbauer et al., 1997). It is wondered if there is the potential of having a self-identity shift once the two terms are clearly defined to college students. And from this, which of the two terms college students are more likely to identify with. The second section of this study is to better understand the reasoning on why there is a decline in religious participation and expression in college students. The trend for not participating in religious activities is not a new trend—being present since at least the 1980’s (Uecker, Regnerus, & Vaaler, 2007). This decline has become so prominent that it has almost become an expectation. In the third section, a difference in identity and decline rates between students enrolled in public and private universities is investigated. Private colleges tend to have a religious stance. It is wondered if that stance would carry on throughout the students’ identification status.

Callie Smith with Dr. Kathryn Woehl, on: The Impact of Personal Experience in the Effects of an Empathy-Building Simulation

Abstract: 
Literature provides a view into the world which would otherwise pass by the general population. The novels Dracula, by Bram Stoker, The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde, and Hard Times, by Charles Dickens all show different views of social class around the end of nineteenth century England. With the rise of social criticism in the literary world, the application of such theories provides a view into the world and thoughts of society in that time period. Questions arise from a study of this literature, such as “How are separate social classes described?” “What do the texts reveal about the historical movements during that time?” “What formal qualities of the texts are potentially inscribed with the social conditions of the period?” and “How can critical theories relating to social criticism be applied?” Through this project, I plan on researching these questions and the others which will arise as I re-read the novels and apply the critical theories. The application of this research will be seen in correlating the critical approaches of social class in literature from other periods in history. The literature appeared to correspond with the social issues of those time periods, and understanding this can provide a view into the social issues of other time periods through a study of the literature produced. Based off previous research I have completed, I would hypothesis that a direct correlation between the literature and social issues will be found. I also think I will find information which warns about future social problems. Information about the prevailing ideologies about that time may also come to light through the project. However, this are simply theories until the research is complete.

Deborah Haley with Dr. J. Gregory Brister, on: The Study of Social Class in Dracula, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Hard Times

Abstract: 
Literature provides a view into the world which would otherwise pass by the general population. The novels Dracula, by Bram Stoker, The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde, and Hard Times, by Charles Dickens all show different views of social class around the end of nineteenth century England. With the rise of social criticism in the literary world, the application of such theories provides a view into the world and thoughts of society in that time period. Questions arise from a study of this literature, such as “How are separate social classes described?” “What do the texts reveal about the historical movements during that time?” “What formal qualities of the texts are potentially inscribed with the social conditions of the period?” and “How can critical theories relating to social criticism be applied?” Through this project, I plan on researching these questions and the others which will arise as I re-read the novels and apply the critical theories. The application of this research will be seen in correlating the critical approaches of social class in literature from other periods in history. The literature appeared to correspond with the social issues of those time periods, and understanding this can provide a view into the social issues of other time periods through a study of the literature produced. Based off previous research I have completed, I would hypothesis that a direct correlation between the literature and social issues will be found. I also think I will find information which warns about future social problems. Information about the prevailing ideologies about that time may also come to light through the project. However, this are simply theories until the research is complete.