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Fall 2012


The Research Newsletter of Montclair State University INSIDE: n


Racial Disparities in Cancer Prevention | 2 Sustaining Economies with Biofuels | 3


Studying the Jellyfish Invasion | 3


Keeping Soldiers Safe | 4


Fighting Human Trafficking Online | 5


Spotlight: News in Brief | 6


Cleaning up Groundwater | 7

n n

Ending Epidemics

Making a Good Argument | 7 Getting the Truth from Child Witnesses | 8

The global eradication of infectious diseases through vaccination and quarantine programs is an increasingly pressing contemporary public health objective. Mathematical Sciences professors Lora Billings and Eric Forgoston are pursuing that goal with the help of a Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation grant from the Directorate for Engineering at the National Science Foundation. The two professors recently received the three-year grant to support their exploration of the dynamics of stochastic (random) disease spread in metapopulations. “We’re looking to determine the conditions for the outbreak, spread and extinction of an infectious disease in randomly connected population networks,” says Billings.

Mars Mission

The team will develop new mathematical models that will ultimately help

Earth and Environmental Studies

scientists predict the outbreak of a disease, control its spread and develop

Professor Stefanie Brachfeld, along

effective strategies to eradicate it.

with researchers at Harvard and the Universities of Hawaii and

The professors have two goals: “First, we want to study and understand the

Minnesota, is studying the life and

spontaneous extinction of a disease in local populations,” explains Forgoston.

death of Mars’ magnetic field with

“Second, we want to design controls that can facilitate extinction.”

the assistance of a grant from NASA. Montclair State students are assisting in this multidisciplinary research with The team is creating synthetic

one doctoral student and one master’s student assigned for the duration

rocks, magnetizing them and then

of the grant. In addition, the team has applied for more funding to support

subjecting them to high pressure

two undergraduate students each summer. “Some students will work on

to simulate meteorite impact

the mathematical analysis of disease models. Others will confirm their

events to see how impacts affect

work numerical results,” Forgoston says. “Student work will certainly

magnetization. “My colleagues and

contribute to the goal of describing how a disease can fade out in a network

I use spacecraft data and rover data

of populations.”

to determine the chemical recipe for the rocks,” Brachfeld explains. “We

The group’s research has the potential to save lives the world over. Says Forgoston, “We want to optimize vaccine usage to eradicate disease in

continued on page 3

a given population.”


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thinking | Fall 2012

Racial Disparities in Cancer Prevention Breast and cervical cancer are

non-Hispanic black and Hispanic

adjusted cervical cancer mortality

among the most prevalent cancers

women have higher age- and stage-

rates, compared to non-Hispanic

for women in the United States.

white women.”

Breast cancer accounts for 30 percent of all cancers and 26 percent

According to Silvera, these

of cancer deaths, while cervical cancer

disparities are explained, in part,

is the 13th leading cause of cancer

by unequal access to cancer

for women. Although both cancers

screening across socioeconomic

can be detected early through

and racial groups, but there is also

screenings, disparities exist among

a need to know more about how

racial and ethnic groups when it

socioeconomic and demographic

comes to taking advantage of such

differences affect cancer prevention

prevention tools.

behaviors as well as the perception of access to cancer screening.

Stephanie Silvera, associate professor in the Department of Health and Nutrition Sciences, is exploring the socioeconomic, demographic and behavioral factors that create this situation with the help of a $500,000 career development award from the National Cancer Institute. “Non-Hispanic black women tend to have lower rates of breast cancer

“New Jersey has one of the highest cancer rates in the nation so it’s important to have a better understanding of these disparities.”

die from it,” notes Silvera. “Also,

understand why some groups are at higher risk for the same disease outcomes, particularly when genetics can’t fully explain those differences. “New Jersey has one of the highest cancer rates in the nation so it’s important to have a better understanding of these disparities,”

compared to non-Hispanic white women, but they are more likely to

Researchers hope to better

– Stephanie Silvera

says Silvera.

“Mars Mission” continued from page 1

are searching for an explanation for

Brachfeld says, because the

why the Mars magnetized regions

planet no longer has a magnetic

are so much stronger than their

field. “Our results indicate

counterparts on Earth, and what

that Mars’ former magnetic

that means in terms of the intensity

field reversed just as Earth’s

of the ancient field.”

field does, but the Martian magnetic field has since shut

The Mars Global Surveyor (MGS)

off,” says Brachfeld. Mars’ magnetic field? What was its

mission found that, similar to Earth’s crust, much of the southern

Without its magnetic field, Earth’s

shape? When and why did the field

hemisphere of Mars, a region called

atmosphere could be eroded away

shut off? Will Earth’s field eventually

the Southern Cratered Highlands, has

by solar wind and radiation, as is the

shut off as well? “The satellite data is

regions that are magnetized.

case on Mars.

fascinating,” she says. “The MGS data indicate that the magnetic signal in

The presence of magnetized regions

The researchers are asking the

the Mars Southern Cratered Highlands

of crust on Mars surprised scientists,

following questions: How strong was

dwarfs magnetized regions on Earth.” | 3

Sustaining Economies with Biofuels

Studying the Jellyfish Invasion

Along with colleagues from Texas

co-project director of a consortium

A&M, Virginia Tech and Tuskegee

led by the University of Florida—

University, Assistant Professor

one of three consortia funded by

In the last couple of years,

Pankaj Lal recently began work

a $6.25-million grant from the U.S.

millions of jellyfish have invaded

on a three-year project funded by

Department of Energy—he will

New Jersey’s Barnegat Bay,

the U.S. Department of Agriculture

identify sustainability indicators for

leading biology professors Paul

that assesses the socioeconomic

advanced biofuel production from

Bologna and Jack Gaynor to

impacts of forest biomass-based

sorghum and switch grass in the

study their potential impact to

biofuel development in the rural

United States.

aquatic food webs.

develop policies for enhancing rural

“I’ll be focusing on sustainability,

Funded by the New Jersey

economies in the thirteen southern

marketing and policy aspects

Department of Environmental

states known as “the wood basket

of advanced biofuel production,”

Protection, the researchers

of the world.”

explains Lal. “I’ll estimate net

will study the effects that the

South. Their findings will help to

jellyfish—technically known as sea nettles—are having on the bay’s ecosystem. One effect is clear: The sea nettles are now a major nuisance to humans in this heavily populated area of the Jersey Shore. “They’ve become a real problem,” says Bologna, director of Aquatic

“When completed, the project will provide a working model for advanced biofuel production and supply with environmental and economic benefits.” –Pankaj Lal “My hope is that counties identified

greenhouse gas emissions and

as persistently poor which are

assess the economic viability

adjacent to forest lands would

of biofuel production under

benefit from the development

different scenarios.”

of a woody bioenergy industry,” says Lal, who teaches in the

The Center will benefit both the

Department of Earth and

United States and India, in part,

Environmental Studies. Doctoral

by helping meet the long-range

student Bernabas T. Wolde will help

energy security goals of both

Lal collect and analyze data, as well

countries by increasing production

as prepare journal manuscripts.

levels of second-generation and blended biofuels. “When

Lal is also involved in the new

completed, the project will provide

Joint Clean Energy Research and

a working model for advanced

Development Center, a U.S.-India

biofuel production and supply

initiative committed to advancing

with environmental and economic

clean energy technologies. As

benefits,” Lal says.

and Coastal Sciences for the Department of Biology and Molecular Biology. “The sea nettles are literally chasing beachgoers out of the water.” continued on page 4


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thinking | Fall 2012

Keeping Soldiers Safe with Memory “We are looking at how novel physiological markers might predict performance on various cognitive tasks—like remembering place names and locations.” – Ruth Propper published in the February 2012 issue

side of the brain’s verbal labeling

of Brain and Cognition that focus on

superiority and retrieve that

how unilateral gaze (looking in one

memory,” Propper explains.

direction) increases geographical memory of the 50 United States.

“We are looking at how novel

Associate Professor of Psychology

College students were tested to

physiological markers might

Ruth E. Propper is working to save

determine whether the left or right

predict performance on various

soldiers’ lives. Her research with

brain hemisphere—or a combination

cognitive tasks—like remembering

the United States Army could help

of both—retrieves language-based

place names and locations. We’re

keep soldiers safe in the field by

and location-based memories.

also looking at new ways to

improving both their memories

improve performance by altering

of place names and locations

“In practical terms, this means if

physiological activity,” she says.

in unfamiliar terrains and their

you can’t remember where you

“Unilateral gaze is one way

navigation skills in similar areas.

parked your car, our study suggests

we investigate this. Another is

you could look to the left to activate

to study unilateral muscle

Funded by a three-year U.S.

the right side of your brain’s spatial

contractions to see if they might

Department of Defense contract,

processing superiority or possibly

activate brain areas involved in

Propper’s work builds on findings

look to the right to trigger the left

memory retrieval.”

“Studying the Jellyfish Invasion” continued from page 3

There are several reasons for the sea nettle population explosion and they all stem from the changes

“The sea nettles are literally chasing beachgoers out of the water.”– Paul Bologna

occurring in and around the bay.

oxygen conditions, they can survive

eventual increase in the number

As more people build homes in the

where other organisms cannot,”

of adult sea nettles. As adults,

area, increased nitrogen is in the

says Bologna. “Basically, they are

sea nettles are top predators of

water—caused by runoff from lawn

winners by default.”

zooplankton and fish larvae, further

fertilizer and acid rain created by

depleting populations of other

increased burning fossil fuels. More

Also working in the sea nettles’

nitrogen creates algae blooms that

favor is the increase in floating

lower the oxygen levels.

docks, bulkheads and other

“Our research will involve field

aquatic species.

hard surfaces that come with

sampling to assess the distribution

Aquatic species that can’t survive

development. These hard surfaces

of zooplankton and the

in low-oxygen environments are

provide a perfect place for sea

settling of the sea nettle polyps

driven away allowing sea nettles,

nettle larvae to settle and develop

as well as assessing the diets

which are not affected by these

into polyps, a critical stage in its life

of the sea nettles through

conditions, to flourish. “Because

cycle. The polyps can bud, creating

dissection and molecular analysis,”

sea nettles are adapted to low

more of themselves, adding to the

says Bologna. | 5

Fighting Human Trafficking Online With the help of a grant from

data. “Once we have data, we will

Microsoft, Montclair State

use graduate assistants to help us

researchers hope to play a pivotal

analyze it,” he explains.

role in bringing an end to the online sex trafficking of children.

Other University students have

Montclair State School of Business

expressed interest in working

researchers Nicole Bryan, Ross

on the project. “We may find a

Malaga and Sasha Poucki will

role for students from different

study the role technology plays in

departments, including Justice

the crime, which along with other

Studies. We’re also thinking of

forms of human trafficking, has

organizing a club around this

become the world’s fastest growing

topic,” says Bryan.

criminal industry, according to the U.S. Department of Health and

Human sex trafficking ranks

Human Services.

alongside trade of illegal arms as second only to drug dealing

In June, the Microsoft Digital Crimes

in international crime, says Rane

Unit and Microsoft Research

Johnson-Stempson, the principal

awarded the grant to fund a

research director for education

yearlong study focusing on

and scholarly communications at

“Our mindset is that technology is the tool that will win this fight.” – Nicole Bryan

Microsoft Research Connection. “The Montclair State team’s research will yield valuable insights into the role technology plays in

understanding the mindset,

anyone who clicks on them to a law

child sex trafficking, and we are

vocabulary and search patterns

enforcement page.”

excited to collaborate with them.”

of “johns” who use networked technologies like the Internet, cell

The team, which includes a

phones and social media to sexually

researcher from the Center for

exploit children. Bryan, assistant

Court Innovation, brings a

professor of management; Malaga,

multidisciplinary perspective to

department chair and professor

the project. “We’re asking the

for information and operations

big questions,” says Bryan, who

management; and Poucki, a

is leading the interview process.

post-doctoral fellow and adjunct

“We want to know how this

professor, will explore how

internal community works and

johns search for and find online

exchanges information.”

victims, as well as create

Researchers hope the technologies The team hopes to recruit as many

that the perpetrators use

as 100 johns for the project.

themselves ultimately defeat them.

“Our eventual goal is to develop

“Finding johns who are willing

“Our goal is to understand how

disruptive interventions,” says

to participate in the study is the

the process works among johns

Malaga. “If, for example, we

hardest part of the research,”

who exploit minors,” says Bryan.

find that search engines are used

Malaga points out. An information

“Our team’s overall mindset is

to find sites advertising sex

technology and search expert,

that technology is the tool that

workers, the search engines could

Malaga is helping to developing the

will win this fight.”

remove those sites or even redirect

interview questions and analyze

networked communities.




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Predicting Relationship Success For nearly 20 years, Constance Gager, family and child studies professor, has drawn on the National Survey of Families and Households to explore marital relationships, focusing on whether couples’ perceptions of




Center for Autism and Early Childhood Mental Health Receives $1.5 Million State Grant With one child in 49 diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in New Jersey, autism has become an epidemic. New Jersey’s First Lady Mary Pat Christie and Health and Senior Services Commissioner Mary E. O’Dowd visited campus in June to announce a five-year, $1.5-million grant for the University’s Center for Autism and Early Childhood Mental Health to establish the New Jersey Autism Center of Excellence and coordinate statewide research and treatment.

the division of household labor, sexual frequency and relationship, happiness and conflict predict the likelihood of divorce. Gager’s recent study conducted with Scott

“We’ve assembled a terrific team of faculty and staff from across the University that will take a collaborative, multidisciplinary approach to coordinating project support for the Center, the clinical research sites and

Yabiku of Arizona State University, for example, found that husbands and wives who spend more time on housework enjoy more frequent sex. “We concluded that couples who

advancing its initiatives,” says Gerard Costa, director of the Center for Autism and Early Childhood Mental Health.

work hard also play hard,” Gager says. “These couples may be tapping into an underlying trait of being highenergy go-getters.”

The Art in Science Most recently, with grant funding

Physics Professor Ashwin Vaidya

from The National Institute for Child

and Mathematics Professor Mika

Health and Human Development,

Munakata are exploring the

Gager has collaborated with Yabiku

connection between creativity

as well as Family and Child Studies

and scientific success. In a

department colleague Miriam Linver

recent study, they found that

to examine the long-term effects of

university students tend to rank

parental conflict on adult children’s

the sciences among the “least

relationship success. Their research

creative” subjects.

suggests the idea that parents should not stay together for the sake of

Their research led to building a course in creative thinking and to a grant

the children—at least when there

from the American Physics Society to fund two projects: “The Art of Making

is a lot of parental conflict. “Long-

Science,” a joint project between the College of theArts and the College of

term exposure to parental conflict is

Science and Mathematics, and “The Science of Making Art,” a collaboration

more detrimental to children’s adult

between the University and the Liberty Science Center, which will result in an

relationship outcomes than divorce,”

interactive exhibit about the relationship between the two disciplines.

Gager says. | 7

Cleaning up Groundwater Nearly half of the drinking water

other oxidants that people were

flowing from taps in the United

using quite frequently but no one

States comes from wells, so what’s

was using ferrate,” says Sarkar.

Making a Good Argument

in it is vitally important to the health of those who drink it.

Ferrate is a powerful oxidizer that

Yet groundwater supplies have

breaks down toxic compounds and

been contaminated by chemicals,

eventually becomes harmless rust.

heavy metals and other toxins,

“A site treated with ferrate, will go

primarily through the improper

from toxic to less toxic, and from

storage or disposal of industrial

less toxic to non-toxic,” says Deng.

To meet recently adopted national

chemical waste.

“After oxidation, it becomes iron rust

education standards, students

and rust is an excellent adsorbent to

need to be able to comprehend

Researchers at Montclair State have

adsorb heavy metals such as arsenic

and formulate arguments—a

received a grant from DuPont for

or mercury from the groundwater.”

concept known in teaching as

a 21/2-year study to develop a new

“argument literacy.” Researchers

groundwater remediation method.

at Montclair State, with the help of a grant from the U.S. Department

Developing new, innovative and

of Education, are developing a

environmentally sustainable,

program with Ohio State University

“green” solutions to contamination

to teach students how to properly

problems is a specialty for Dibyendu

make and understand arguments.

Sarkar, professor of earth and environmental studies and director

The three-year professional

of the doctoral program

development project will use

in environmental management,

participants from a suburban school district in Ohio and an urban

“A site treated with ferrate will go from toxic to less toxic and from less toxic to non-toxic.” – Yang Deng

district in New Jersey to ensure that the teaching skills will work in both settings, says Montclair’s Professor Alina Reznitskaya, who teaches educational foundations.

and fellow researchers Yang Deng,

Ferrate is also environmentally

National education standards

a professor with the Department

friendly, sustainable and fast acting.

define argument literacy as a

of Earth and Environmental

“Iron is the fourth most common

fundamental life skill “for the

Studies, and Sudipta Rakshit, a

element in the earth’s crust,” notes

literate, educated person living

post-doctoral fellow.

Deng. “It’s non-toxic so we can

in the diverse, information-rich

use it anytime, anywhere.” And

environment of the 21st century.”

Together, the three proposed a

thanks to a ten-fold reduction in

study to use ferrate(VI), a form

the price of ferrate(VI) in recent

“We plan to draw on contemporary

of iron, to treat groundwater

years, the team’s proposal is cost

theory and research that suggest

contaminated with Freon®.

effective when compared with

that the development of argument

Ferrate is used to treat drinking

traditional remediation methods.

literacy is best supported through

and wastewater but applying it to

Says Sarkar, “We’ve done

dialogic teaching—an approach

groundwater remediation is new.

preliminary studies, and we are

that capitalizes on the power of

“We knew that there were many

confident that this is going to work.”

conversation to further students’ learning,” Reznitskaya says.


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Getting the Truth from Child Witnesses Cases of child abuse often turn

The team uses an undergraduate

on the eyewitness testimony of

assistant named “Mr. Science, Germ

children. Sometimes that testimony

Detective,” who, while conducting

is unreliable—not because children

germ education activities, twice

lie but because they misremember

touches the children in innocuous

events or their memory has been

ways such as shaking hands. Prior

shaped by questioning meant to

to the session, children are told that

elicit the truth.

Mr. Science can’t touch them because he might spread germs. He uses

Montclair State University researchers

“Glo Germ,” that glows under a black

are in the middle of a three-year

light to illustrate how germs spread.

project funded by the National Science Foundation, that could

A week later, researchers ask parents

help investigators better interview

whether their children mentioned

children and understand how the use

the touching. Children who did are

of body diagrams in forensic interviews

considered “disclosers;” those who

influences children’s reports.

didn’t are “non-disclosers.”

Perhaps the most famous example

“It is possible that because disclosers

of how questioning can change

have previously reported touching

memory is the 1980s McMartin

they are more resistant to suggestion

preschool case, in which, after

in a subsequent interview.”

seven years of trials without a

Dickinson displays “Glo Germ”

conviction, the accusations of dozens

Using this paradigm, Dickinson’s

of children were determined to

is leading the Montclair State team in

team is testing how body diagrams—

be false memories created during

a collaborative study with a research

two dimensional human outline

repetitive interviews with suggestive

team at Central Michigan University.

drawings—affect children’s reports

interviewing techniques.

of touching. His previous research The study, “The Impact of Disclosure

has found that diagrams elicit more

“The information we’re gathering will

History and Interviewing Protocol

false reports of touching. Now they

influence state- and national-level

on Children’s Eyewitness Testimony,”

are studying whether using diagrams

interviewing practices as well as the

builds on his team’s past research on

at the end of the interview minimizes

content of training for professionals

the subject and uses a new paradigm

false accounts. “We are finding ways

who investigate crimes against

that allows researchers to safely

to maximize the accuracy of their

children and other vulnerable

and ethically test disclosure history

reports and minimize errors to help

groups,” says Associate Professor

with “innocuous touches” and varied

the justice system identify the guilty

of Psychology Jason Dickinson, who

interviewing techniques.

and exonerate the innocent.”

Read extended versions of research articles at Montclair State University offers the advantages of a large university—a comprehensive undergraduate curriculum with a global focus, a broad variety of graduate programs through the doctoral level, a wide array of significant research initiatives, and a diverse faculty and student body—combined with a small college’s attention to the student experience. For more information, visit

1 Normal Avenue, Montclair, NJ 07043 |

Forward Thinking - Research Newsletter - Fall 2012  

Montclair State University offers the advantages of a large university—a comprehensive undergraduatevcurriculum with a global focus, a broad...

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