The St. Ambrose University 7th Annual Undergraduate Summer Research Institute is off to a Great Start!

On Monday, Jun 12, 2017, we kicked off the 2017 St. Ambrose University Undergraduate Summer Research Institute with orientation and get-to-know you activities. We have some exciting research being done this year.

Here are this year’s projects:

Dr. Susa Stonedahl: Environmental Engineering/Hydrology: Unsteady Flow of Water Through Sediments: Her group will investigate how fluctuating water levels affect the flow of water through sediments. The students will build an apparatus that allows us to vary the flow through a Tóthian system. This could simulate variations due to rainfall, tides, or other natural phenomenon that create variations in flow. They will work with Arduino’s and relatively inexpensive sensors to simulate the flow and monitor our system. They will also model the system in MATLAB coupled with MODFLOW.  They may try to get the model working independently of MODFLOW to improve the computational speed. We will use dyed water and time-lapse images to record the locations of the dye fronts over time. These will be compared with NetLogo simulations of the dye fronts.
Students working with Dr. Stonedahl include:

Dr. Jodi Prosise: Biomedical Engineering: Upper Limb Prosthetics: Several highly complex upper limb prosthetics have been developed that function much like our own arm and hand and can even be controlled utilizing electrical signals from intact nerves and muscles. However, these prosthetics are highly complex, utilizing intricate electronics and computing sources, and are cost-prohibitive both in initial investment and maintenance. There is a need for a simplified functional upper limb prosthetic that is affordable and, therefore, accessible to the underprivileged. The long-term goal of this project is to develop a simple, affordable upper limb prosthetic that functions similar to our own hand and arm. In order to better understand how humans control their hand movements, in this first phase, students will be studying neural recordings from electro-encephalograms (EEG) of humans reaching to and grasping a set of objects designed to create a large range of joint angles and comparing it to data previously collected in monkeys. The goal is to then create a simplified control algorithm for a electro-mechanical prosthetic that will function much like a normal hand.

Students working with Dr. Prosise include:

Dr. Katie Trujillo: Psychology: The Impact of Therapy Dogs on Stress : This is a continuation of last year’s project. The main purpose of the current study is to determine whether therapy dogs can reduce the stress levels of family members of surgical or cardiac patients (they share a waiting room at Genesis East) while they are waiting for him/her to be done with their surgery or procedure. If it does, then the therapy dogs could be scheduled to visit waiting rooms in addition to patient rooms.
Secondary purposes include determining if physiological measures of stress are useful in this context. Physiological measures—in this case pulse rate—can indicate the level of a person’s anxiety. The advantage of using pulse rate over self-report measures is that it is quick and easy. However pulse rate can be influenced by factors other than anxiety including the individual’s current level of activity and caffeine consumption. Therefore it’s possible that well-established self-report measures may be more reliable than pulse rate. Self-report measures take longer to complete, so it is useful to explore the value of both types of measures. A final purpose is to determine if general attitudes towards pets play a role in determining how effective therapy dogs are in reducing stress. If attitudes towards pets do play a role in determining how effective therapy dogs are in reducing stress, then some people may benefit more from therapy dog visits than others.
The hypothesis is that immediate family members of patients who are waiting for their loved ones to be done with surgery or a cardiac procedure will experience lowered stress levels as a result of interacting with a therapy dog.

Dr. Joe Hebert: Political Science: Political Philosophy and the Transformation of the Polis This project will consider the role of the Greek polis—the concept and the thing—in shaping the conditions of human life; as well as the transformation of the polis in response to both experience and philosophical critique. Through a study of Pierre Manent’s Metamorphoses of the City, we will consider the ancient polis in light of its relation to poetry and philosophy; the development of the city in Roman empire, law, and philosophy; the effects of Christianity and modern philosophy on the advent of the modern state; and key developments in the resulting modern nation-state system. Students will work with Dr. Hebert on a critical analysis of Manent’s claims and analysis of relevant individual research questions utilizing relevant primary and secondary sources.

Students working with Dr. Hebert include:

Presentation Day!

On Friday, July 22, the students involved in the summer research institute presented the results of their research. In all cases, the students reported they had made progress toward understanding the phenomenon they were studying. They also concluded that more research was needed to make more definite conclusions. Although it is exciting when huge break-throughs are made, most scientific research is a series of small steps toward understanding. And most science involves missteps and mistakes before big (or little) discoveries are made. As a faculty mentor, it is rewarding to see undergraduate students immersed in real research, and we are all proud of what our students accomplished! Signing off until next year.

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The “Selfie” Effect: Social Media Feedback on Stress, Physiology, Mood, and Memoryselfie woman


In today’s society, it is not hard to run into someone that has some sort of social media account. Whether it is Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, more and more people are caving into the social phenomenon. With all of the interactions that are happening among users, our research group wondered how this positive and negative feedback that is appearing on a phone or computer screen might be affecting a person’s overall well being. We decided to test our hypothesis stating that “people who receive negative social media feedback will exhibit higher anxiety levels, display poor self-esteem, have impaired memory, increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and cortisol levels” in a very unique way.

The population of our study consisted of 24 participants from the St. Ambrose community ranging from ages 19-63. We chose to use the popular social media site “Instagram” as our platform to induce stress on our participants. Participants were asked to send a selfie of themselves to our email account that they really liked and thought best represent their personality. When they came into the lab, the research assistant would take the participant’s heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels through a saliva sample. Next, there would be a 30 minute delay. During this delay, participants were to complete a personality inventory and read two articles related to selfies. Before the research assistant would leave the room, they would inform the participant that they would be posting their selfie that they submitted to our private Instagram account. We told them that 40 undergraduate St. Ambrose University students would be looking at their photo and “liking” or not liking their photo. In reality, our research team would randomly assign the participant to the high-like group or the low-like group. The high-like group would get 38 likes photo-shopped under their photo and the low-like group would get 2 likes photo-shopped under theirs. No one was actually looking at the photo, and we were personally manipulating the likes. After the 30 minute delay, the assistant would return to the room and visually show the participant their selfie feedback (i.e. the number of likes). We then asked the participant to write a reflection on why they think they received the number of likes that they did. The participant’s heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels were taken a second time. We finished by giving them self-esteem, anxiety, and memory tests to complete.

Though this topic is often overlooked, it is important for people to realize that social media can play a role in a person’s overall well being. Our study is unique in that it is the first experiment (to our knowledge) to manipulate a social media platform such as Instagram. We are looking forward to sharing our results on Friday!

Student Researchers: Alexandra Brown, Ann Froeschle, Bayley Keys, Abigail Landrum

Faculty Mentors: Dr. Shyam Seetharaman, Dr. Jennifer Whitmer

Dioxane and the chemistry group

You can only imagine the hundreds of thousands of chemicals that we are exposed to in everyday life. You might be surprised to find out that not all of the chemicals found in your shampoos, cosmetics or even water bottles are listed on the bottle. This is because there are impurities from the byproducts of certain goods that can be found in small amounts. One of these impurities is a compound called 1,4 dioxane. Dioxane is a suspected carcinogen with many other short and long term effects from exposure. The goal of our experiment is to develop a method of measuring 1,4 dioxane that does not take as long as using the GC/MS. We will compare the quantitative abilities of cyclic voltammetry to GC/MS.

chem pic 1

The GC/MS takes about thirty minutes to run a single sample. As you can see this is why we would like to find a method that takes less time. So far, we have established a method and an Rf value for using the GC/MS. The method includes an internal standard, a surrogate standard and a sample. The internal standard is composed of deuterated tetrahydrofuran (THF) and it is used to standardize our injections and obtain the Rf value. The Rf value is obtained from a linear trend line of known concentrations and areas and used as our “ruler” as you could say to predict the concentrations of the samples once we know the areas of the peaks from the chromatogram. The surrogate standard is made from 1,4 dioxane-d8 and will soon be used to quantify the % return that we obtain from solid phase extraction. After we find the percent return we could like to start running samples from consumer products.


When using cyclic voltammetry a voltage can be applied to a solution causing the compound with in the solution to undergo a redox reaction.  If a voltage is applied to 1,4 dioxane the electrons will separate from the compound and enter the circuit causing an increase in current.  If the concentration of dioxane increases, the more available species there are to lose electrons.  Therefore, as the concentration of the species increases the current will increase as well.  Trends correlating concentration in relation to the measured current can then be applied to unknown concentrations.  Using this technique, a practical methodology should be able to be developed to accurately measure concentration of dioxane within the environment and consumer products.  Our team is currently experimenting on a variety of methods to optimize the analysis of 1,4 dioxane using cyclic voltammetry.


Have you met my therapist?

Hope and Dog therapy team - 1

The Dog Therapy Research Team poses with Hope the Therapy Dog.

This year’s therapy dog research team just started collecting data with the help of some furry, four-legged therapists. “Therapy Dogs” are usually someone’s pet, and their owner recognized the characteristics in their pet that make a good therapy dog. These characteristics include being drawn to people, enjoying petting, listening to their owners, and being calm. Many hospitals now have formal therapy dog programs, and therapy dog teams regularly visit patients. Dogs, and other animals, can have a calming effect on people, and this can be especially beneficial in environments known to cause stress. But rather than focus on a dog’s ability to calm patients, this year’s research aims to discover the impact of a therapy dog visit on the family members of patients having surgery or a cardiac procedure. Waiting to hear news from the doctor about a loved one can be stressful, and therapy dogs don’t always visit waiting rooms. Our study is designed to examine whether therapy dogs can reduce stress in the family members of patients who are having surgery. So far Hope, the therapy dog pictured above, along with Harley, Suki-Sue, and Polar (and their owner-handlers) have done a great job partnering with Payton, Jada, Hope (the human), and Philip at Genesis East. Hopefully we will have data from 15-20 participants by the end of the institute. The biggest advantage of doing research on therapy dogs, is being able to get a dose of dog therapy at the beginning and end of each trip to the hospital!

Permeameters and quantifying data

The hydrology group is composed of two students, Nicole (Exercise Science) and Caleb (Computer Science), and Dr. Stonedahl.  Each student has a different focus, looking at two components of the project.  To read about our daily exploits, please visit: Our group’s blog.


Caleb and Nicole in the hydrology lab

Nicole is focusing on constructing a cost effective, less heavy PVC pipe permeameter than the one built in the Spring of 2016. A permeameter is an apparatus used to measure hydraulic conductivity of a porous material as fluid flows through it.  Hydraulic conductivity is directly proportional to how fast water flows through sand, which is important for modeling water flow under rivers and streams.   She plans to compare and evaluate each of the permeameters: 4” PVC pipe (built Spring of 2016), 2” PVC pipe (constructed this summer), falling head permeameter (used most often in the field), and Humboldt permeameter (accepted permeameter).

We have begun taking data from the 2” PVC pipe permeameter, but have run into various problems that had made our data for the day incomplete.  Our procedure requires the 2” PVC pipe permeameter to sit overnight with the sand and water in it to ensure the sand settles. Also, before every data collection our protocol requires a constant head of water for an hour which is created by an overflow of water. After that hour we collect approximately 45 mL of water from the head and record the time it takes. We take five readings from each head level. The 2” PVC pipe permeameter has three different head levels. After the first head level data points have been collected, we then open the next head level and wait another hour until we proceed. We continue this process until we have collected five readings from each of the three head levels. Once we have completed the readings for the day we empty the permeameter and clean out the sand. Then we make sure all of the head levels are close so that we can fill the permeameter with water. After the permeameter is filled with water we are able to add sand to the apparatus. Having a clear PVC pipe in the 2” permeameter allows us to better monitor the sand level. Once it is filled, we let it sit overnight.

Nicole has also been working on collecting data from another method called a falling head permeameter. This method is usually performed in the field.  However, we are performing the falling head permeameter test in a 9”x24” glass vase filled with 77 pounds of wet sand. A clear tube with a ruler attached to it is placed inside of the sand at a depth of approximately 17 inches below the water level. Like the 2” PVC pipe permeameter, the falling head must sit overnight to let the sand settle. When we are ready to collect data we add water to the top of the vase to replace the water that has evaporated overnight. Then we fill the clear tube with water above the 31 inch mark. We start our stop watch when the water level reaches the 30” mark and stop our stopwatch when the water level reaches 27”. Using the time it takes the water to fall, along with other measured system characteristics collected from the apparatus we are able to calculate the hydraulic conductivity of the sand.


Falling-head permeameter

For the first two weeks of this summer, Caleb has been working on a program to help quantify parts of the data from last summer’s hydrology research. The program will take specified frames from the Physical and Simulated runs of last year’s data, and compare them in each cell to determine whether or not specified areas are matching.

Currently the program is comparing four windows of pixels each centered on the midpoint of the center of the grid cell and each corner.


The points being compared in each cell

We tried using RGB data, but have now switched to having the program use the hue, saturation, and luminosity values of the pixels in each window, and compare them to the initial images to determine if they are now considered to be blue. If they are blue, the corresponding bit in its bitmap will be changed from a 1 to a 0 to indicate the change, and then the Physical and Simulated bitmaps can be XOR’d together to show which bits are matching and which are not. This final map can be used to compare the Physical and Simulated runs to determine how close the two are matching.


This Year’s Participants