Student Research

What is the universe made of?

One of the hallmarks of a Campbell education is experiential learning. Our students learn by doing. That includes conducting original research and performing original compositions.

Some of our students’ best works in these areas from the past year were on display at the recent 5th Annual Wiggins Memorial Library Academic Symposium. More than 130 undergraduate and graduate students from across the university presented their research findings and creative activities throughout the day-long event.

Among the presenters were seniors Christian Barber and Sam Eddy, both chemistry majors and math minors. They used radio astronomy to analyze the chemical composition of celestial bodies. Through their study, they learned not only about the composition of the universe, they said, they “also gained a lot of experience conducting research” — a pathway to deeper learning. 

Student scholarship will again take center stage at Campbell April 10-11 when the university hosts the 7th Big South Undergraduate Research Symposium, or BigSURS. Nearly 200 students from the Big South Conference’s 11 schools will be on campus to present their research findings in poster and oral presentations. Students’ original works in art and design will also be on display as part of the Intercollegiate Juried Art Exhibition.

To coincide with BigSURS, we take a look at nine research questions Campbell students explored this year and presented on at the Academic Symposium:

What is the universe made of?

Students: Christian Barber, senior in chemistry (major) and math (minor), and Sam Eddy, senior in chemistry (major) and math (minor)

Our research: Using radio astronomy we analyzed the chemical composition of celestial bodies, both in the local system and outside of it. We utilized large radio telescopes at various locations we controlled via the internet. We also experimented with constructing and operating our own radio telescope.

Why this research: We both share a love for astronomy, and we wanted to tackle a research topic that has never been explored at Campbell before.

What we learned: We learned a great deal about the composition of the universe and how the field of radio astronomy is studied. We gained a lot of experience conducting research and overall had a great time. We would love an enthusiastic underclassman to pick up and continue the project after we graduate in May.

Why do the deaths of “Romeo & Juliet” still matter?

Student: Jacob Berger, junior in English

My research: The question I wanted to answer was this: “Why are the central characters children in ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ and what is the significance of their deaths?” My argument is that Shakespeare attempts to change his society’s treatment of children by having his audience pity the children of the play while recognizing the parents’ maltreatment. My purpose is to show how children, such as Romeo and Juliet, during early modern England are mistreated, and that the typical child abuse at this time leads to the children’s tragedy.

Why this research: Romeo and Juliet are Shakespeare’s only protagonists who are children, and this distinction fascinates me. More interestingly, Shakespeare’s only play with the central characters as children is not one of his comedies, but is one of his most famous tragedies.

What I learned: Shakespeare may have written “Romeo and Juliet” to depict child abuse during early modern England, but his work is timeless. The play does not merely portray the behavior towards children during Shakespeare’s time; it also depicts how people of generation or culture may devalue and mistreat children. Therefore, by reading Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” anyone can witness how children are neglected and apply this knowledge to their own society, which hopefully shall improve the treatment towards youth.

What’s the ideal size for particles in drug delivery systems?

Student: Vidhi Manubhai Desai, graduate student in pharmaceutical sciences

My research: Optimize the particle size of drug-loaded bovine serum albumin (protein) nanoparticles in the range of 50-150 nm and to check their stability with respect to time, temperature, pH, and ionic strength.

Why this research: Nanoparticle is the novel drug delivery system, and to formulate nanoparticles in the lab was very challenging.

What I learned: Different drug concentration and bovine serum albumin gave different particle size and this affected stability, as well. Also, nanoparticles can be used as a novel method for drug delivery system mainly in cancers. If my research has positive results, it can be carried on forward by using anti-cancer drug.

What do you do if you’re diagnosed with “the silent killer”?

Students: David Gregory, Jessica Jones, and Kyle Romero – all second-year medical students

Our research: In our first year of medical school, we used cadavers to supplement our learning in our anatomy class. Our patient was an 84-year-old male with chronic hypertension and renal failure. Upon dissection, the kidneys didn’t look grossly different compared to other cadavers; so we wanted to see the effects of longstanding and untreated chronic high blood pressure on the kidneys at a cellular level.

Why this research: Hypertension is a condition that affects one-third of the US. population. It is the No. 1 risk factor for stroke, heart attack, and renal disease; and is often referred to as “the silent killer” because there are no overt symptoms and people are unaware of the deleterious effects it is having on the body.

What we learned: The importance and benefit of managing asymptomatic hypertension. Cardiovascular disease is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in the U.S., so it is important for us as future physicians to not only diagnose and treat but also educate the population about this condition. We also learned that two of the most important things one can do if they are diagnosed with hypertension is maintain a proper diet and exercise. Many times blood pressure can be lowered, if not cured, by diet and exercise. As future osteopathic physicians, this fits with our goal of treating body, mind, and spirit.

Who is more accurate at detecting contempt and disgust: men or women?

Student: Cameron Howell, senior in pre-physician assistant biology, and Rebecca Hughes, senior in psychology

Our research: We studied the accuracy of microexpression detection in undergraduate students of different majors. Microexpressions are facial expressions that last for less than 1/2 second, and are usually unnoticed. These expressions are linked with deception. Our research questions: Do males and females differ in the accuracy of microexpression detection, and how do males and females differ in the identification of emotions?

Why this research: We were interested in studying the accuracy of microexpression detection in undergraduate college students, as most studies focus on older adults. We were introduced to the concept of microexpressions through the television show “Lie to Me,” which is based on the research of Paul Ekman, the leading researcher on microexpressions.

What we learned: Women are more accurate at detecting contempt and disgust than men, and that an individual’s personality can influence the way he or she perceives the world. During this project, we were not only able to increase our appreciation of the complexity of human emotion and the impact these emotions have on our daily lives, we were also encouraged to pursue this idea further.

How safe are our trains?

Student: Charles Robert, junior in homeland security

My research: The research I conducted was related to the cyber vulnerabilities of the railway system in the U.S. I focused on an incident that happened while I was employed by Norfolk Southern Corp. in which an 11-year-old boy was able to gain access to the dispatching system and caused the system to shut down, bringing Norfolk Southern to a complete stop for almost two days. If a child could get into the system and cause problems, what damage could an experienced hacker or terrorist cause?

Why this research: I chose this topic mainly because of my experience working in the field and my knowledge of the lack of security measures within the rail industry. Prior to coming to Campbell, I worked in management for Norfolk Southern Railroad as a trainmaster. Prior to that I served in the U.S. Army for 24 years.

What I learned: The task of making rail traffic safe from potential safety threats and terrorists is a monumental one and it will take cooperation of both the government and private sector. I don’t want people panicking. Transportation of goods by rail is very effective and for the most part safe. Also, travel by rail is a relaxing and enjoyable way to see the country. I just want people to be aware that security measures need a lot of improvement.

Should we reconsider the most common interpretation of Jeremiah 30-31?

Student: Kenny Vandergriff, third-year divinity student

My research: An apocalyptic reading of Jeremiah 30-31, which is also quoted in Hebrews 8. I am arguing that Jeremiah 30-31, and particularly the idea of a new covenant, was part of a larger apocalyptic eschatology in the two chapters. If the message of the new covenant should be read through the lens of Jewish Apocalypticism, then it changes the way in which the passage in Jeremiah and its quotation in Hebrews has been interpreted for the past several decades.

Why this research: I chose this topic because in the larger article the section on an apocalyptic interpretation of Jeremiah 30-31 was brief. I wanted to see if an apocalyptic interpretation of Jeremiah 30-31 could stand on its own outside of the larger argument of its apocalyptic usage in the book of Hebrews.

What I learned: The research on this particular paper was interesting. I believe that Jeremiah 30-31 can and should be interpreted through the lens of Jewish Apocalypticism and that this should give us pause in trying to place Jewish Apocalypticism’s origins as 2nd or 1st century BCE. In other words, if Jeremiah 30-31 is a form of Jewish Apocalypticism in its original context, then it means that a Jewish apocalyptic worldview may have been more prevalent than scholars have suggested.

What plants inhabit our fairways?

Student: Stacie Williams, sophomore in biology (major) and environmental science (minor)

My research: My project was a survey of what vascular plants inhabited the closed fairways of the Keith Hills Golf Course. Dr. Chris Havran (associate professor of biology) and I collected plants from the closed fairways, dried them in herbarium presses, identified them, and cataloged them into the Campbell University Herbarium. We were interested in seeing what plants were growing at those fairways, because the fairways have the potential to be home to many native plants.

Why this research: Dr. Havran came to me with the idea for the research project because he was aware that I am interested in conservation biology. I was really excited about his idea because I was fascinated with how the earth was taking back the golf course, which is a primarily artificial environment.

What I learned: A lot about plant identification and making herbarium specimens. I also gained a lot of valuable experience working in the field, and I learned about what kinds of plants are native to this area. The most common family of plants we collected was the Sunflower family.

How can pharmacists better serve the elderly?

Student: Amber Yopp, third-year pharmacy student

My presentation: I highlighted my experience as a certified Medicare counselor with the Seniors’ Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP), which provides free unbiased counseling to seniors to help them select a plan that fits their needs. I demonstrated a typical counseling session using plan finder tool and showed areas where a pharmacy student can have the greatest impact. I also wanted to show the difficulty seniors face in selecting a Medicare Part D plan and how SHIIP is a great resource.

Why this presentation: I have always had a soft spot for seniors, and I have a passion for geriatric pharmacy. They are a vulnerable population that sometimes needs extra time and patience. I think it is important for other pharmacy students and the general public to know the difficulties seniors face when selecting a Medicare Part D plan every year and where they can send them for help.

What I learned: During open enrollment last year SHIIP served over 800 seniors and saved them more than $800,000. Since their office depends on volunteers, they had to turn people away for counseling appointments and refer them to the 1-800 Medicare number for counseling services. That demonstrates the need for these services, but it is still an underutilized resource.