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CoSA: Intellectual ‘Rite of Spring’

An intellectual and creative ‘rite of spring’ at Ursinus,the Celebration of Student Achievement (CoSA) is a campus-wide event to learn about student research through a series of presentations.

The day-long program April 23 included topics from quantum mechanics, to superheroes in American mythology, from the bird species diversity in Hunsberger woods, to tribes and nation building in Iraqi Kurdistan.

CoSA, which takes place every April at Ursinus, is a whirl of talks, poster presentations, and performances from hundreds of students from every discipline. Student presenters share their work gaining valuable public speaking experience. The audience, which consists of students, faculty and staff, absorb the breadth of knowledge exhibited throughout the day.

“This is an opportunity for our students to share their research and creative work with the whole campus in a personal and energized environment,” says Kelly Sorensen, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion, who organized the event this year. “In addition to building the campus intellectual community, our presenters have the opportunity to take on a new role, as teachers – and that’s a great experience that will carry over to their careers.”

Emily Duffy ’15 talked about the culmination of her independent work with modernist writer Jean Rhys’s fiction. “I’ve done Summer Fellows, and recently had the opportunity to travel to the University of Tulsa’s Special Collections to work with her archival material,” says Duffy. “This semester I’ve been working on a mapping project with Rhys’s 1939 novel, “Good Morning, Midnight” set in interwar Paris.” she presented on how mapping a novel can help us understand how a character experiences urban space.”

When she first read Rhys’s novel “Voyage in the Dark” her sophomore year, Duffy says she found, “a voice she could really connect with.” Rhys articulated sentiments she had not encountered reading other writers, she says. “I think she offers an authentic feminine perspective and she doesn’t shy away from honestly treating topics of passivity, trauma, substance abuse, and economic dependence. Some people might not know that Rhys is a white, Dominican born woman who grew up in the West Indies. She spent later parts of her life in London and Paris.” 

Michael A. Giongo ’15 discussed his work as a summer fellow researcher for Physics Professor Thomas J. Carroll. “The research was investigating the interactions between ultra cold Rydberg atoms through simulations generated in the Ursinus cluster,” says Giongo.

“My primary task was to edit the program Monocle that generated these simulations, originally written by Class of 2013 graduate Alex Camps in the computing language Perl - I will detail the mathematical and computer science components that were necessary for this task.” Professor Carroll says Giongo was an outstanding summer fellow. “He modeled strongly interacting quantum mechanical systems using parallel computing techniques,” says Carroll. “Michael and his colleagues presented their research at a national meeting in Orlando.”

For Joy Oakman ’15, it was joint alignment, range of motion and an individual’s cardiovascular health. “CoSA is a great opportunity for me to present the many correlations that have been found in my research to fellow students and faculty members,” says Oakman. Her research specifically examines the relationship between foot and knee angle and heart health. “This research has made me much more confident in working with patients and fellow researchers,” says Oakman, “and a lot more comfortable with data collection and analysis of an individual’s health measures.”

Oakman has been working in the Ursinus HEART Lab to conduct research that examines cardiovascular health through blood pressure and blood vessel function, as it relates to exercise and diet.“Cardiovascular health, in relation to joint angle and mechanics, is something that podiatrists and orthopedists have to consider every day,” says Oakman. “Alignment of the lower extremities and range of motion of both the feet and knees can be related to a person’s health and fitness status.”

Some studies show that obesity is closely related to flat footedness and misalignment of the lower extremities, says Oakman. Some have shown that foot range of motion may be hindered in those individuals that are more flat-footed. These study results could reveal that misalignment, combined with excess body weight across joints, can lead to discomfort and less range of motion. Those factors could keep individuals from wanting to exercise to improve their fitness. “Our current study will measure stationary angles of the knee and ankle, as well as knee flexion range of motion, foot dorsiflexion range of motion, and foot inversion/eversion range of motion,” says Oakman. 

“Joy has done research in my lab for a year now,” says Deborah L. Feairheller, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Exercise and Sport Science in the Department of Health and Exercise Physiology and Director of HEART Laboratory.  “Since Joy has an interest in podiatry, we created her study to include the joint measurements. Running a clinical research study gives her valuable experience in both research and patient management.”

Cara Sulyok ’15 explained her research on complex mathematical methods including non-linear systems of differential equations, sensitivity analyses, Pontryagin’s Maximum Principle, computer simulations, and optimal control theory (OCT).

Her work is aimed at developing control strategies for an agroecosystem mathematical model in order to design cost-effective and environmentally-safe strategies to minimize plant damage from herbivore pests while maintaining optimal biodiversity levels. Sulyok won the Undergraduate Student Research Competition (First Place) at the “Sixth International Symposium on Biomathematics and Ecology: Education and Research.” In addition, Sulyok and her FUTURE mentee, Julia Senkevich, won the “Outstanding Poster Presentation” at the 2015 Joint Mathematics Meetings.

Results from her research with Dr. Mohammed Yahdi were published at peer-reviewed professional journals “Letters in Biomathematics” and “Proceedings of the International Symposium on Biomathematics and Ecology.”

From mathematics to measuring bacteria, biology major Michael Gasbarro ’15 shared research on man-made lagoons in Ocean City, N.J., with a focus on water quality and bacterial levels. Unlike the beaches on the ocean side of the island, the bay water is not monitored for swimming access. Regardless of whether or not lagoons are open for public swimming, people living on the lagoons will continue to swim and should know what’s in their water, he says. Gasbarro has researched the levels of bacteria, dissolved oxygen, and water temperature in nine lagoons, some of which are about 0.4 miles long and about 75 feet across, which inhibits water circulation. 

Gasbarro guesses that contamination levels will be higher in dead-end lagoons because their design inhibits water exchange. “Storm water runs off directly into the ends of these lagoons,” he says. “I hope to show people how safe their water is for swimming, and if it isn’t safe, I hope to help take action to improve water quality in the lagoons.