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

6th USRI year (2016) has begun!

This year we have four groups (all STEM) and 12 students.  Orientation started at 9 am and included a campus wide scavenger hunt!  Team names decided independently ended up being Group A and Team Bee.   Here are a couple example pictures collected during the hunt:

This year’s projects:

Dr. Joshua Stratton, Chemistry –  Students will explore chemical research questions or problems that can be addressed by instrumental techniques available to the department. You will propose a research question based on a review of the literature and design the strategies to address the problem. After establishing a robust methodology, you will collect and analyze data and present your results.

Dr. Shyam Seetharam, Psychology and Dr. Jennifer Whitmer, Sociology – What does your selfie say about you? The current experiment will focus on the relationship between social media activity (i.e. “selfies” posted to Instragram) and a variety of social, cognitive, and physiological outcomes. Participants be instructed to take a selfie on their smart phone device and upload the image to a private Instagram account that we have created.

Dr. Susa Stonedahl, Engineering and Physical Sciences – The speed and paths by which water flows through sediments under streams affects the biogeochemistry of streams. Chemical reactions take place in the sediments, which essentially clean the stream making it healthier. Students will conduct an experiment designed to investigate the flow of water through heterogeneous sediments. They will collect data, analyze the data, and simulate the system using a variety of computer programs.

Dr. Katie Trujillo, Psychology – This study is designed to test whether interaction with a therapy dog can reduce stress levels of patients’ family members. This study will be conducted in a hospital waiting room involving therapy dogs who regularly visit the hospital.



Research and Puppies: Why not put them together?

Last year, students in the SAU summer research institute did a pilot study that examined the impact therapy dogs have on stress levels of family members in hospital waiting rooms. PolarThey were able to collect data from 20 participants at Genesis East. Participants were family members of individuals having surgery or a procedure. Participants took the State Trait Anxiety Inventory and the Pet Attitude Scale, and interacted with a therapy dog. Their pulse and oxygen levels were also taken.

This year our goal was to continue on with the study and collect more data. During the past few weeks our team was able to obtain IRB approval to collect additional data at Genesis. Learning about the IRB process became a major part of our research—it is a tedious process!USRI Therapy Dog - 2

During this time we also examined different ways to measure levels of stress using iworx and pulse oximetry.DSC_0651

We also visited different places to observe and better understand the roles of therapy, service, and facility dogs! We visited QCCAN (Quad Cities Canine Assistance Network) and Arrowhead Ranch. Visiting with the dogs and handlers was a fun and informative experience!

USRI Therapy Dog - 1

We also collected normative data for the Pet Attitude Scale from SAU faculty, staff, and students. We had over 600 responses! Our results showed a positive feeling towards pets, with more positive attitudes in women and in younger people.

This data can help assist us in the therapy dog study because it gives us a norm to compare the participants in our therapy dog study to. The Pet Attitude Scale is used in the therapy dog study to examine the correlation between liking pets and the effect therapy dogs have in lowering stress levels. 440px-Service_Dog_Waiting

We hope to collect more data and continue on with this research!

Law and Liberty


From Left to Right: Joe Dillon, Dr. Joe Hebert, Alexandria Curry, Natividad Hirsch Bautista


Sir Thomas More

The Political Science Undergraduate Research Group has been having a great time working with Dr. Joseph Hebert on the topic of “Law and Liberty.” Four students—Joseph Dillon, Christopher Hollis, Alexandria Curry, and Natividad Hirsch Bautista—have been brought together by their love of political science and political philosophy. Together they are reading and analyzing works by and about Sir Thomas More, the Renaissance poet, historian, philosopher, statesman, and martyr. Primary themes include the purpose and limits of political authority, and the interrelation of law, liberty, virtue, reason, faith, and conscience.

Alexandria is a majoring in political science, and her individual project is on the importance of More’s argument for the education of women in light of his understanding of the nature of liberal education and its importance for the promotion of personal excellence and a free and just society.

Natividad is majoring in political science, international studies, and Spanish. Her research project compares the imaginary and allegorical regime described in Thomas More’s Utopia to that of Plato’s Republic, one of More’s main sourcesShe is focusing on what these works tell us about the virtues required of political leaders as well as the economic, political, and social structures most conducive to justice and human flourishing.

Joe is majoring in political science with a pre-law concentration and is pursuing an English minor. His topic is centered around the legitimacy Sir Thomas More’s trial. Through evaluation of More’s political and philosophical beliefs we can gain a deeper understanding of the significance of his resistance to the consolidation of absolute power on the part of the English monarchy. More’s own understanding of the relation of law to fundamental principles of ethics and reason and the consequent need for checks and balances in government can help us to rebut recent scholarly claims that his trial was procedurally fair by the standards of his day.

Chris is majoring in International Studies and Spanish. His research focuses on the problem that Plato’s “Euthyphro dilemma” poses to the harmony of faith and reason underlying the personal integrity More lived and died for, and the importance of Thomas Aquinas’s solution of this dilemma to understanding More’s confidence in proclaiming that his resistance to tyranny was just and that a just man can suffer pain but not harm.

Augustana and SAU Minds Meet

Earlier this week students and faculty from the Augustana undergraduate research program came to the St. Ambrose campus to meet the SAU undergraduate researchers and faculty mentors. Students prepared a two slide Power Point presentation to illustrate the projects they were completing this summer.


In round robin style research groups moved around the room, until each group had heard about every other group’s research. Project topics included robots, breast cancer, hormones in waste water, wisdom and more.


As you can see from the pictures, the students and faculty really got into their discussions, and everyone got a taste of how diverse research can be. It was a fantastic experience and we agree this will need to be repeated next year. DSC_0156 DSC_0141 DSC_0147 DSC_0166 DSC_0169 DSC_0180 DSC_0182 DSC_0185 DSC_0188 DSC_0191

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

On Tuesday July 7th, the St. Ambrose Undergraduate Research Institute attended a double header River Bandits Game. USRI 2015 River Bandit group - 1 DSC05055

Game one started at 6:00pm, with the River Bandits edging Clinton 1-0.  Students enjoyed sunshine and over-priced ballpark food.  There was much anticipation for game two.


Several students were asked to come down on to the field to compete in various events displaying their athletic prowess.  Molly Rowell and Savannah Hill went head-to-head in the bungee tug-of-war.  The two traded blows until finally Molly came out on top. DSC05100


Next up was Katlyn Nathem and Rachel Neece in the bat-spin crutch-walk race.  This game is best known for being the most ridiculous competition ever created.  The race started close, but Rachel was able to push ahead and hobble her way across the finish line to win the contest.

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The final clash of the night was a traditional event that requires both speed and precision.  Of course I’m talking about musical chairs.  Nathan Budde, Ryan Golden, and Kristen Upah walked in circles waiting for the music to stop.  Three athletes and only two chairs, something had to give.  Ryan was the first athlete eliminated.  The music resumed and Nathan and Kristen began to walk in circles again.


Suddenly the music cut out and silence filled the stadium.  A collective gasp could be heard from the crowd as Nathan planted his bum in the lone chair that remained.  The crowd went wild.  A champion had been crowned.  A big thanks to Forrest Stonedahl for providing photos.  Go Bees!