Volume 18, No. 1 - Spring 2009
UNT - University of North Texas - Discover the Power of Ideas

Science, Scholarship &
the Arts at the University of North Texas

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Student Researchers

PJ Blanco

Play therapy

PJ Blanco

PJ Blanco, a doctoral student in the counseling program and assistant director of clinical services at UNT's Child and Family Resource Clinic, is investigating the impact of play therapy on children's academic achievement, self-concept and relationship with teachers.

He and colleagues at the clinic conducted an eight-week research study of first-graders who were identified as at-risk by the Denton Independent School District based on factors such as failure on a grade-level academic achievement measure, lack of English language proficiency or homelessness. Play therapy gives the children an opportunity to express emotions symbolically, make connections between abstract and concrete thoughts, learn coping skills and build self-esteem. It can help a child develop responsibility, decision-making skills and self control.

The researchers are comparing results from a group who received play therapy and a control group who did not receive play therapy until after the study concluded. The research was supervised by Dee Ray, associate professor of counseling and center director.

Korok Chatterjee

Data encryption

Korok Chatterjee

Korok Chatterjee attended UNT's Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science, the nation's first accelerated residential program for talented teens who take university courses to complete their first two years of college while earning high school diplomas. His research with Murali Varanasi, chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering, earned him recognition as a semifinalist in the 2008 Intel Science Talent Search, the premier program recognizing high school student research in science, math and engineering. He also received honorable mention status in the 2008 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship competition.

Chatterjee worked to develop a cryptosystem to protect the privacy of electronic information. The system, which uses a joint error-correction and encryption method, reduces computational costs, increases the speed of data transmission and lowers the possibility of a message being corrupted by a third party. The research can be especially useful in areas of communication in which a high volume of data is being transferred, including the Internet, phones, and government and corporate networks.

Chatterjee graduated from TAMS last year and is finishing his undergraduate degree at the University of California at Berkeley.

Wen Chyan

Engineering polymers

Wen Chyan

Wen Chyan, a second-year TAMS student, won the 2008 Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology, the country's premier high school competition for math, science and technology research.

As the national winner, he received a $100,000 scholarship for his work to engineer a silver-releasing polymer coating that could help prevent bacterial infections during hospital stays. Nosocomial infections affect more than 2 million hospital patients annually and kill about 100,000. Chyan created a polymer with imbedded silver ions that prevents and kills bacteria. The adhesive polymer can be used on catheters, breathing tubes and other medical devices that have contact with patients.

Chyan, whose father, Oliver Chyan, is a UNT professor of chemistry, was mentored by Richard Timmons, a professor of chemistry at the University of Texas at Arlington. Chyan plans to major in chemistry or chemical engineering after graduating from TAMS in May.

Ken Hackenberg

Biodegradable thermoplastics

Ken Hackenberg

Ken Hackenberg was one of the youngest presenters last year at the POLYCHAR 16-World Forum on Advanced Materials in Lucknow, India. At the conference for distinguished international scientists, the 17-year-old TAMS student presented work he conducted in UNT's Laboratory of Advanced Polymers and Optimized Materials with Witold Brostow, Regents Professor of materials science and engineering.

Hackenberg's research focused on polylactides, biodegradable thermoplastics derived from lactic acid. Because polylactides are nontoxic and biologically compatible with the human body, they can be used in biomedical applications such as sutures, stents and drug delivery devices. The work involved modifying the polymers by incorporating organic and inorganic polymeric materials into organic and inorganic networks, resulting in composite materials that may one day be used in medical implants.

Hackenberg, who graduated from TAMS last year, is completing his undergraduate education at Cornell University. In April, he will present his latest research at POLYCHAR 17 in Rouen, France.

Vinita Hajeri

Oxygen deprivation

Vinita Hajeri

Vinita Hajeri is conducting research to understand how oxygen deprivation influences and regulates cell cycle progression in the embryos of Caenorhabditis elegans, or soil-nematodes. The organisms survive oxygen deprivation by entering into suspended animation, during which embryonic development and cell cycle progression temporarily stop.

Hajeri also studies genes known to be important for the survival of embryos deprived of oxygen and has conducted screens to identify other genes required for oxygen-deprivation survival. Because cellular oxygen deprivation plays a significant role in tumor cell progression, her work can help in research on human conditions such as cancer, heart attack, drowning, blood loss and stroke.

Hajeri, who works in the laboratory of Pamela Padilla, associate professor of biological sciences, received her Ph.D. in molecular biology in December 2008. Her research was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health. Padilla also earned a 2008 National Science Foundation CAREER Award, one of the NSF's most prestigious awards, for research in this area.

Varya Ignatchenko

Kinkade's art

Varya Ignatchenko

Varya Ignatchenko, a senior Honors College student, is pursuing a bachelor's degree in studio art with a concentration in drawing and painting, as well as a minor in English. Her thesis, "Thomas Kinkade's Landscape of Commodity: A Critical Analysis on the Status of the Artist," appeared in the 2008 Eagle Feather, the Honors College undergraduate research journal.

The purpose of Ignatchenko's research is to identify and analyze the reasons why, despite the popularity of his paintings, Kinkade is not considered a significant artist by the art world. She concludes that his work is not considered seriously because of its unchanging message and the disparity between his pre-modern romantic style and the manner in which he markets his work as a commodity. She examines the expectations of the art world's "gatekeepers" that contemporary art be innovative and provocative.

Ignatchenko, a native of Russia who was granted U.S. citizenship, worked with Jennifer Way, associate professor of art education and art history, and plans to pursue a career in portraiture.

Andrina Jackson

Understanding culture

Andrina Jackson

Andrina Jackson is a senior sociology major and a scholar in the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program, which encourages undergraduates who are the first in their families to attend college to pursue doctoral degrees.

Her research focuses on the critical experiences of young African American women and the influences their social environments have on the development of their individual identities. Through interviews with African American women ages 18-26, Jackson collected oral life histories to better understand the formation of young African American women's self-identity and their chances at upward mobility.

Her goal is to contribute to a developing body of work that seeks a more compassionate and comprehensive understanding of the role of culture and history within African American populations. Jackson works under the direction of Beverly Davenport, assistant professor of anthropology, and plans to continue her education by pursuing graduate studies in sociology.

Wilson Juarez

Braceros' oral history

Wilson Juarez

Wilson Juarez is a senior in the Honors College and a McNair scholar majoring in history and Spanish. He is working with Roberto Calderon, associate professor of history, to research and record the oral history of the Bracero program, a World War II program that brought Mexican agricultural workers to the United States as a source of cheap labor.

Juarez — who has conducted oral interviews with the few surviving Braceros, including his grandfather — says that 10 percent of the workers' earned wages was deducted for deposit into savings funds in Mexico to be available to them upon their return. But the majority never received payment from the fund. The Braceros have submitted written forms requesting that the Mexican government pay them back. Two organizations — the Grupo Corriente Migratoria and Alianza Braceroproa — agreed to start a campaign to reclaim the funds, contending that the money was transferred when the old banks consolidated into a new one.

Michelle LeBlanc

Anoxia response

Michelle LeBlanc

Michelle LeBlanc conducted research in the laboratory of Pamela Padilla, associate professor of biological sciences, studying the soil nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. Her goal was to gain a greater understanding of how genetics and physiological factors enhance the organisms' ability to survive oxygen deprivation, or anoxia.

Her research, published in the December 2008 issue of Physiological Genomics, suggests that gonad function and signaling may modulate survival. She found that hermaphrodites with fewer offspring survive long-term anoxia significantly better than others. Understanding anoxia response in C. elegans could help researchers understand anoxia response in human cells and lead to better treatment of patients suffering from cancer, stroke and heart disease.

LeBlanc, who was a McNair Scholar, earned her bachelor's degree in 2008 in biology with a minor in chemistry and has presented her research at national and international conferences. She is a doctoral student in developmental genetics at the New York University Medical School Sackler Institute of Graduate Biomedical Sciences.

Haley E. Hagg Lobland

Advanced polymers

Haley E. Hagg Lobland

Haley E. Hagg Lobland, a 2001 TAMS graduate and Goldwater Scholar, earned a doctoral degree from UNT in summer 2008 in materials science and engineering. She worked in the Laboratory of Advanced Polymers and Optimized Materials under the direction of Witold Brostow, Regents Professor of materials science and engineering, to develop a scale to measure the brittleness of materials. She presented her research at POLYCHAR 16 in Lucknow, India.

Another of Lobland's research interests is the plasma treatment of polymers and its effect on their resistance to friction and wear. The treatment, which chemically modifies the surfaces of polymers, is used in such areas as the biomaterials and textiles industries to improve biocompatibility or stain resistance.

Lobland also expanded a model Brostow derived to describe the behavior of polymer drag-reducing agents. The agents help increase the flow of fluids through pipelines, such as those used in sewage and oil transport, flood water disposal and field irrigation. She found a connection with polymer flocculants — polymers that help separate contaminants from the fluids — and demonstrated the predictability of a new model of flocculation for a series of proprietary and commercial flocculants.

Lobland will present her latest research at POLYCHAR 17 in Rouen, France, in April.

Laura Lee McCartney

Art education

Laura Lee McCartney

Laura Lee McCartney, a third-year doctoral student in art education, was one of 80 women selected from more than 800 applicants across the country to receive a 2008-09 Philanthropic Education Organization Scholar Award of $15,000 for her dissertation research.

She is using feminist oral history in the form of biography, autobiography, personal narrative and story to examine the lives and teaching careers of eight early childhood fine arts educators at a Fort Worth preschool. Her goal is to better understand the issues that affect women early childhood art educators.

McCartney is mentored by Christina Bain, associate professor of art education, and previously was awarded a $22,000 Bill and Theresa Daniel Scholarship. In 2008, she was selected as one of 10 recipients of the Priddy Charitable Trust Fellowships in Arts Leadership at UNT in collaboration with the North Texas Institute for Educators on the Visual Arts.

Shaneka Morris

Classification systems

Shaneka Morris

Shaneka Morris is a master's student in library science who earned her bachelor's degree in psychology at UNT and was a member of the Honors College and McNair program. She works with Elizabeth Figa, associate professor of library and information sciences, researching the practical applications of teaching and using comics and graphic novels in the library science field.

Her future research plans include examining and evaluating the effects of culture on cataloging and classification practices in libraries. Morris will compare categories for religious and political works in the catalogs of the national libraries of Germany and the United States, investigating how a classification system can be effective across continents when cultural definitions vary from group to group.

Morris was selected to participate in the Association of Research Libraries' Initiative to Recruit a Diverse Workforce program, which provides under-represented students with financial support and the opportunity to work in world-renowned research institutions upon graduation. As a 2008-10 ARL Diversity Scholar, she will receive a $10,000 stipend.

Marsha Sowell

Human rights

Marsha Sowell

Marsha Sowell, a junior political science major in the Honors College, is researching how the process by which states appear on the international human rights agenda can be explained using a global network model. The network involves the interaction of Amnesty International with governments, citizens, human rights organizations and others to raise awareness of human rights abuses.

The position of a state on the agenda can be measured in part by the number of urgent actions — reports of human rights violations that call for immediate response — generated for that state by Amnesty International. Sowell works with James Meernik, professor of political science and interim associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and doctoral student Rosa Aloisi. She has found strong support for the hypothesis that the number of urgent actions for a state initially increases as the state's political, economic and social openness begins to increase, but the number declines as nations become more politically open, economically developed and globally connected.

Samuel Mark Thompson

Smart gels

Samuel Mark Thompson

Samuel Mark Thompson won a 2008 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship for his research on thermosensitive polymers, or smart gels. The scholarship is considered one of the country's most prestigious for students planning careers in mathematics, science and engineering. He also was named a semifinalist in the 2008 Intel Science Talent Search and a regional finalist in the 2007 Siemens Westinghouse Competition in Math, Science and Technology.

In the laboratory of Zhibing Hu, Regents Professor of physics, Thompson made new crystalline colloid microgels and studied their response properties. Smart gels, which can swell and shrink in response to temperature change and pH value, may be used in specialized drug-delivery systems or have other applications in the biomedical field.

Thompson graduated from TAMS last year and is continuing his undergraduate education at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

David Weber

Consumer debt market

David Weber

David Weber, senior finance major and a member of the Honors College, is conducting research on the structure of the consumer debt market and potential causes of disruption in that market, as well as the implications of such disruption for the broader economy.

Consumer credit, specifically the use of credit cards, plays a major role in the U.S. economy. The key variables Weber is studying are the interest rate charged by card lenders and the default rate for borrowers. He will relate those to the supply and demand for consumer credit, examining such questions as how higher interest rates would affect the demand for consumer credit, what effect interest rate caps would have on consumers and lenders, how a decrease in consumer lending would affect the economy, and if a decrease in credit card usage would be good or bad for the economy in the long run.

Weber is mentored by Don N. MacDonald, associate professor of finance.

Eri Yoshimura

Pianists' health

Eri Yoshimura

Eri Yoshimura, a doctoral student in piano performance who earned her bachelor's and master's degrees from UNT studying under Pamela Paul, conducts research to understand and prevent medical problems related to playing the piano. She works with Kris Chesky, associate professor of music and director of education and research at UNT's Texas Center for Music and Medicine.

Yoshimura and Chesky have teamed with researchers Rita Patterson and Shrawan Kumar from the UNT Health Science Center at Fort Worth for her current study, "Hand Kinematics in Piano Players." Using sensors and a high-speed motion camera, Yoshimura is measuring the posture of 30 UNT piano majors' hands and arms and the force generated when they play different intervals at different dynamic levels. The research will help identify performance-related factors associated with pain and ways to reduce and prevent it.

Two of Yoshimura's previous studies, which examined risk factors for piano-related pain among college students and piano teachers, were published in the Medical Problems of Performing Artists journal. She also has investigated the use of an ergonomically modified piano, with each key 15/16 the size of a standard key, for small-handed pianists. She has presented her research in the United States, Serbia and England.

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