Local activists, outside influences and impacts In 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency held a public hearing in St. Louis to gather feedback on proposed changes to the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for lead. At this hearing, the administrator acknowledged the influence that activities in the small Missouri town of Herculaneum had on this significant change to national environmental policy about lead. Dr. Jill Birren, professor of education, examined two perspectives of resident activist groups involved in Herculaneum’s lead controversy in her research paper “Public Understanding of Local Lead Contamination,” which appeared in the September 2013 issue of Public Understanding of Science. Birren used storyline analysis and ethnographic data collection to track the evolving, divisive views of the resident activist groups — one contingent concerned about the health impacts of lead contamination and another focused on the economic and social implications of lead regulation on the community. Birren noted that their views were influenced by outside voices, such as representatives of the regulatory agency and environmental activists. Her research served not only to bookmark a community’s knowledge of lead contamination, but it also ultimately captured how that knowledge is framed by the sources that surround it. Birren approaches science education with a “deep interest in justice” and says there are two things she found “irresistible” about the Herculaneum research: “the opportunity to consider, first, how citizens come to know science to defend the health and well-being of their families and, second, the processes through which such community efforts influence wide-ranging management.” ANN CHRISTENSON
Virtually eas ing pre-clin ic stress in children with asd Parents preparing their child for a medical exam or procedure face a difficult verbal task. What if talking only increases the anxiety, as often occurs with children with autism spectrum disorder? Dr. Norah Johnson, assistant professor of nursing, has devoted her research to mitigating the stress in children with ASD. Johnson has published four iPad apps that use Social Stories™ — resources developed by Carol Gray, director of Michigan’s Gray Center for Social Learning and Understanding — to better prepare children with ASD for what they will experience in a medical setting. The stories present a situation and offer cues for responding appropriately. “The pictures help foreshadow what will happen,” says Johnson. The iPad’s visual and multimedia capabilities are particularly helpful for facilitating the social story format, says Johnson, who worked with Marquette’s Department of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science to adapt the stories for the iPad. Touch-enabled tablets are seen as promising communication tools for children with ASD. Johnson’s recent research involves a flashcard app that parents can customize to suit their child. Following that lead, the nursing professor is also part of a larger pilot study — led by Marquette biomedical engineering professor Dr. Robert Scheidt — quantifying differences between children with high-functioning autism and children with normally functioning brains. The study is expected to help develop therapies to reduce challenging behaviors in children with ASD. ANN CHRISTENSON
research in brief
Marquette University Research and Scholarship is out. Read about this year's featured researchers.