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STEM HALL

2014 SUMMER RESEARCH PROJECTS An in-depth look at Grove City College student and faculty scholarly work.


A MESSAGE FROM THE DEAN Student-faculty research in the Hopeman School of Science, Engineering, and Mathematics is an important extension of the learning that occurs in the classroom. More than 100 students work with faculty on directed research projects each semester and approximately 30 students work with faculty on more intensive research projects during the summer. These projects give students unparalleled opportunities to explore complex problems and further their critical thinking skills under the close mentorship of the faculty. Many of these projects lead to student presentations at national conferences and publications jointly authored with the faculty. In addition, many of the students who participate in research will pursue graduate education or attend a health professions school. I am pleased to share a few examples of the diverse research projects undertaken by our students with the guidance of our faculty.

Dr. Stacy G. Birmingham Dean of the Albert A. Hopeman, Jr. School of Science, Engineering and Mathematics; and Professor of Engineering

Summer research projects are not be possible without funding to enable students to carry out their projects, whether they will be published in papers, presentations or in preparation for graduate school. Below are two supporting groups helping students expand their knowledge. The Swezey Scientific Instrumentation and Research Fund, made possible through alumni donations, provides support for student/faculty research in the Hopeman School. Since its inception in 2007, this Fund has been used to further a wide range of projects: to purchase equipment to support student/faculty research, to provide stipends for students and to support conference travel. The Albert A. Hopeman Jr. School of Science, Engineering, and Mathematics also participated in the Undergraduate Research Program sponsored by the II-VI Foundation. Through a competitive grant process, this Foundation supported selected student-faculty research activities in engineering and the physical sciences. Grove City College is one of a few institutions selected by the Foundation to participate in this program.


BIOLOGY Dr. Devin Stauff ’05 began researching the way bacteria read and react to environmental signals as a graduate student at Vanderbilt University. Now an assistant professor of biology at the College, Stauff brought the research with him for his own students to benefit. Stauff teamed up with his graduate mentor at Vanderbilt on the work, which is part of an interinstitutional collaboration. Most of the research takes place at the College, but the group traveled to Vanderbilt for one summer to work on the project in the lab. Working in a microbiology lab, students study how bacteria sense their environment. Most of their work centers on two bacterial pathogens: the anthrax pathogen Bacillus anthracis (the students work with a strain that cannot cause disease in humans) and the insect pathogen Bacillus thuringiensis, which is often used as natural insecticide. The group is interested in how the pathogens detect signals in the environment and how these signals change the behavior of cells. The lab specifically studies signaling by two-component systems (TCS), which consist of a sensor and a regulator that communicate with each other. Much of their work centers on how different TCS sense signals and work without getting “confused” – that is, without cross-talking with each other. One interesting aspect of both species the students work on is that they encode a number of similar TCS that respond to completely different signals. Stauff’s students are typically sophomore, junior or senior biology or biochemistry majors when they begin work in the lab. They seek out this hands-on research experience either because they plan on going to graduate school or just enjoy learning through the lab experience. “I have been blessed to have a solid group of incredible research students,” Stauff said. Students who worked on the project include Andrew Caffro ’13,

Dr. Devin Stauff and his students in the laboratory.

who went on to become a Fulbright Scholar, Chris Gibbs ’14 Grove City College Senior Man of the Year and Sportsman of the Year, and Sam Ivan ’15, who won the College’s 2014 Swezey-Janicki Research Competition for his work. Four students have also been included on a peer-reviewed publication. Since the inception of the project, the research was recently published as “Two-Component System Cross-Regulation Integrates Bacillus anthracis Response to Heme and Cell Envelope Stress” in the journal PLoS Pathogens. “The nice, and sometimes frustrating, aspect of the research we do, is when you are studying a living organism with complex systems and thousands of genes, is that you almost never run out of questions to address,” Stauff said.

For more information about Grove City College’s Department of Biology, visit www.gcc.edu/biol.


CHEMISTRY Dr. Charles Kriley, professor of chemistry at Grove City College, and his students have been working for the last five years on the effects of hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – on the water supply in Butler County, Pa. The goal of the research project is to explore the possibility of ground water contamination as a direct result of Marcellus Shale drilling. Grove City College sits in the heart of the Marcellus Shale, which holds a reservoir of natural gas said to be large enough to power the United States for decades. It’s brought a wealth of opportunity and controversy to the region. Within the last decade, drilling in the Marcellus Shale has become a flashpoint for residents. Natural gas is seen as a cleaner source of energy compared to coal and the influx of jobs and money has brought Dr. Charles Kriley

undeniable economic gains. Yet, there is opposition over concerns about pollution and ground water contamination that may be linked to

unconventional shale gas drilling. To extract shale gas, a well is drilled down vertically approximately 3,000 meters into the rock, then turned horizontally for up to three miles. The well walls are encased in cement and a highly pressurized mixture of water, sand and chemicals is injected into the well to crack the shale and release the natural gas trapped inside. The mixture is known colloquially as frack water and its impact it on ground water worries many. Kriley and his students use scholarly articles and databases such as FracFocus to determine the composition of frack water. Based on that composition, specific organic molecules are targeted for testing. Through the use of ion chromatography, gas chromatography headspace sampling, atomic absorption spectroscopy and various wet chemistry techniques, water samples obtained from various sites around Butler County are analyzed for the presence of these targeted organic molecules. Students will continue to study the effects of hydraulic fracturing as more drilling takes place. Dr. Kriley is also working with Dr. Timothy Homan, professor of chemistry, Dr. Durwood Ray, retired professor of biology and student researchers on the organic synthesis of anti-tumor cancer drugs the and effect of these compounds on normal and cancerous mouse cell lines developed by Ray and his students. Jamie Alburger ’13, a chemistry major, who worked with Kriley on a previous project, initiated the research. Cropped portion of image from United States Geological Survey report showing extent of Marcellus Formation shale (in gray shading).

For more information about Grove City College’s Department of Chemistry, visit www.gcc.edu/chem.


COMPUTER SCIENCE In this day and age, almost everyone has a cell phone and it’s almost impossible to find someone who doesn’t use it to play games, be it Candy Crush or solitaire. We play them to bide our time when we’re waiting on line or to beat a high score. Dr. William Birmingham, professor of computer science and electrical engineering at Grove City College, and his students have been researching ways to help developers deliver even better games. Mobile gaming is one of the most important and growing segments of the software industry. It drives hardware and software innovation in the smartphone market. Mobile gaming also presents an excellent research opportunity for artificial intelligence (AI), particularly in the areas of distributed artificial intelligence (DAI.) DAI systems are composed of “agents,” and self-contained systems with the ability to consider possible courses of action and choose the best one. Each agent runs on its own computer and communicates with other agents using a network. Since agents must coordinate or compete, they must be able Dr. William Birmingham

to communicate. One of the critical problems in DAI systems is coordinating actions among multiple agents under the conditions of

incomplete world models and limited communication bandwidth. Agents have to communicate across real networks like the Internet or cell phone networks that experience latency, (or the time it takes a message to travel from one computer to another). Latency causes many problems, particularly in computer games and other high-performance computing applications. Birmingham and his students are working on coordination algorithms for DAI agents that are naturally robust against network latency. “One of the unique features of this research is that it combines fundamental research into DAI algorithms with practical application in mobile gaming,” Birmingham said. “Thus, the research has potential benefits to the research community and game developers.” The project started in 2011 with three students supported by a II-VI Foundation Grant. The research, which has now involved more than 15 students, is ongoing and will continue for several years.

The model of a system that manages distributed agents to support computer gaming.

For more information about Grove City College’s Department of Computer Science, visit www.gcc.edu/csci.


ELECTRICAL ENGINEERING Today’s medical research today to restore and improve the quality for health of people all around the world is advancing at rapid pace. Unfortunately, treatment comes at a cost to patients that some cannot afford. Dr. Lawrence Walker, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Grove City College, worked with students this summer on an open source hearing aid project in an effort to lower the cost for patients world-wide. Katie Birmingham ’16 and Kenton McFaul ’16 conducted the research. Birmingham is a mechanical engineering major focused on pursuing a graduate degree in biomedical engineering, while McFaul is an electrical engineering major interested in mastering a rapid Dr. Lawrence Walker

prototyping system for developing digital circuits.

The project involved the development of affordable custom digital hearing aids with the ultimate goal of dropping the cost globally. To accomplish this, students investigated viable means of profiling the ear canal, produced a 3-D printed ear mold and developed highly configurable sound processing devices. The findings of the research served as proof of concept and a feasibility study for the development of the hearing aid system. This system encompassed not just hearing aids themselves, but also the software used to profile the ear canal, administer hearing tests and program the device. After the students were able to evaluate the various strategies for reducing the cost of the hearing aid, they also created stations for testing audio processing algorithms. The findings were passed along to a senior design project team of the electrical and computer engineering department where the team will be responsible for constructing a system that will become a viable candidate for medical certification, investor promotion and field testing.

Model circuit components arranged within the 3D-printed hearing aid shell.

For more information about Grove City College’s Department of Electrical Engineering, visit www.gcc.edu/elee.


MATHEMATICS Dr. Michael Jackson, professor of mathematics at Grove City College, has been conducting mathematical research with his students for numerous summers in an effort to better prepare them for their post undergraduate endeavors. The project this past June, which was supported by the Swezey Scientific Instrumentation and Research Fund, was titled “Rectified Cross Polytopes and 4-D Regular Non-spherical Polytopes.” Jackson worked with Johanna Suffern ’15 and Ryan Brown ’16 who are majoring in mathematics. For both students, it was their first experience working with mathematical research. The project involves polytopes, which are the generalization of polygons and polyhedral to any dimension. Polytope numbers are a sequence of whole numbers created from a given polytope based on its structure. A fairly recent pair of research papers lay out the groundwork for finding polytope numbers in higher dimensions. In the first paper, the polytope number sequences are found for each of the regular polytopes in each dimension. The papers outline how the regular polytope number sequences can be decomposed into linear combinations of simplex number sequences with binomial coefficients and Eulerian numbers as coefficients. The second paper extends the decomposition into simplex number sequences to all polytope number sequences. Dr. Michael Jackson

Jackson acknowledged the research is purely theoretical, but it’s benefit to students is proven.

“Many of our students do not know what research in mathematics involves. They do not always get the opportunity to experience hands-on research in their mathematics classes, so this is one of the few places where the students can get to experience practical research in mathematics. Research is a large part of graduate school, in particular in Ph.D. programs, so this helps the students to get an understanding of graduate school,” Jackson said. This project, though completed, is part of a much larger work. Each summer for the last five years, Jackson has worked with a group of students on polytope number sequences. And each year they have built on results from previous years.

Mathematics research opportunities for students prepare them for graduate school and career aspirations.

For more information about Grove City College’s Department of Mathematics, visit www.gcc.edu/math.


MECHANICAL ENGINEERING Whether you’re heading to Breen Student Union from lower campus, trying to catch a matinee at the Guthrie Theatre or going to the IM fields for some Frisbee, a bicycle is one of the most popular modes of transportation that Grove City College students choose. Dr. Mark Archibald, professor of mechanical engineering, along with Cameron Daugherty ’15 and Gretchen Follstaedt ’15, both mechanical engineering majors, spent 10 weeks over the summer of 2013 working on a project involving the ever-so-popular bicycle. The project was titled “Light Alternative Vehicle Frame Fatigue Failure Prediction and Prevention” and was funded by the II-VI Foundation. Archibald and the students investigated the fatigue strength of steel frames used for bicycles and other light alternative vehicles. The goals of the study were to: establish capability to test in accordance with American Society for Testing Materials standards; develop protocols for vertical fatigue testing of recumbent bicycle frames; and develop an improved, low cost method for fatigue prediction. The group accomplished all three goals. A testing apparatus was brought to full functionality to test upright and recumbent bicycle frames subject to cyclical loads. Dr. Mark Archibald

The research data led to an improved understanding of fatigue failures and validation of a finite element analysis model for early-stage

predicting compliance with established fatigue testing standards. The results were presented to the 2013 American Society for Engineering Education North-Central Regional conference. Daugherty has continued to work on an extension of the original study as an independent study project in the 2014-15 school year.

Finite element analysis model showing stress concentrations in a recumbent bicycle frame.

For more information about Grove City College’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, visit www.gcc.edu/mece.


PHYSICS Dr. Glenn A. Marsch, professor of physics, has teamed up with a number Grove City College students and Professor F. Peter Guengerich of the School of Medicine at Vanderbilt University for a summer research project that’s been underway since 2002. Marsch, Grove City College students and his colleague are using fluorescence spectroscopy to study a critically important enzyme – cytochrome P450 3A4 – that is used to help metabolize about half of all medications now in use. Guengerich discovered this critically important enzyme over two decades ago. “A good argument can be made that P450 3A4 is the most important, and most studied, enzyme in pharmaceutical science,” Marsch said. Dr. Glenn Marsch

It represent a class of enzymes that oxidize molecules that are

ingested but which are not needed by the body. After metabolism, these molecules are rendered more soluble in the blood and can be more easily cleared from the body. Marsch’s project entails understanding the mechanism by which cytochrome P450 binds to bioactive compounds like drugs and carcinogens. Because of the wide catalytic abilities of the cytochromes P450, these enzymes are actively investigated by the cancer and pharmaceutical research communities. “For example, elucidating how cytochromes P450 bind drugs may enable us to predict better whether or not a promising candidate molecule could be a useful drug,” Marsch said. While this is a mature field, Marsch hopes that work in the lab can contribute to the understanding of how the enzyme oxidizes drugs. Marsch has had 16 Grove City College students, freshmen to seniors, work with him on this project during his tenure. Marsch recently spent a sabbatical with Guengerich in Vanderbilt University, and will continue this research with Grove City College students.

Dr. Marsch collaborates with a group of Grove CIty College students in his office on their recent studies.

For more information about Grove City College’s Department of Physics, visit www.gcc.edu/phys.


STEM HALL FACTS & FIGURES

Construction • • • • •

Groundbreaking: May 13, 2011 Dedicated: Sept. 19, 2013 Square footage: 63,000 Four levels Steel structure with brick & cast stone façade

The Building • 12 labs • Vivarium • • • • • •

(an enclosed area for fish and animals)

18 faculty offices A dean’s suite and conference room Four lounge/office commons and study areas Terrazzo flooring throughout facility Chilled beam technology (convection HVAC) Science In Sight center lab pod design

Hopeman School

• Thirty-five percent of the 2,500 students enrolled at the College are enrolled in the Albert A. Hopeman School of Science, Engineering and Mathematics • 50 full-time faculty • Majors: • biology • chemistry • computer science • electrical engineering • mathematics • mechanical engineering • physics

By Floor Lower Level • • • •

Earle C. Gregg Lecture Hall (seating for 110) Cifra Laboratory (research) Janicki Laboratory (physical chemistry) Vivarium

First Floor

• Commons area featuring Sage Glass Technology (Sage Glass is electrically tinted glass, set to automatically change with the sun, but can be manually controlled)

• Staley Laboratory (general biology) • General Science Lab • Phillips Laboratory (advanced biology and chemistry) • McClure Laboratory (biology prep) • Babcock Conference Room • Moon Conference Room

Second Floor • • • • •

Swezey-Janicki Laboratory (advanced biology) Durfee Laboratory (general chemistry) Rulison Laboratory (organic chemistry) Chemistry Prep Lab Overlook Lounges

Third Floor

• Dean of Science, Engineering and Mathematics Office & Suite

(gift of the Goncz family and friends in memory of Joseph F. Goncz Jr.)

• Hanlon Conference Room • Computer Science Lab • Computer Science Capstone Lab


100 Campus Dr. Grove City, PA 16127 724-458-2000 www.gcc.edu

Grove City College Summer Research  

An in-depth look at Grove City College student and faculty scholarly work in the Hopeman School of Science, Engineering and Mathematics.