Research Competition Raises the Bar
Giant panda reproduction, the effects of antidepressants on the developing brain, punk rock and the rise of craft brewing are among more than 40 original research projects being presented on Friday, Feb. 24 as part of the CSUSM’s annual Student Research Competition. The top ten student finalists will receive a cash award and advance to the 26th annual statewide competition, held at CSU Long Beach on May 4-5.Last year, CSUSM students outperformed their sister institutions, and tied for first place with San Francisco State with the most students ranking first or second place in their division. “Research sparks exploration in a way that is different than traditional learning,” said biological sciences senior Aaron Harlan. “Research requires dialogue, investigation and the drive to discover new things. It’s more than p values and correlation studies; research is applicable and it deepens scientific understanding.”Harlan is among 46 presenters participating in this year’s Student Research Competition, a record-high for CSUSM. His research on the seasonality of giant panda reproduction could transform the way scientists understand and predict panda birth.Pandas, he explained, have a unique reproductive process in that mating occurs months before a fertilized egg is implanted. Seeking to uncover the cues when implantation occurs, Harlan examined 390 documented panda births. He then developed statistical formulas to better pinpoint the implantation of the embryo by calculating and evaluating seasonal variances, geographical location, dietary changes, mating frequency and the timing of the birth, among other factors.Harlan found that female pandas significantly alter their diets about 45-50 days before giving birth. A panda diet typically consists of 80 percent bamboo leaves. But Harlan noted that around the time of implantation, the panda switches to eating mainly culm, which is the stem of the bamboo plant. His analysis determined that there is a substantial correlation between the timing of pregnancy and the panda’s change in eating habits, a revelation that could more accurately predict the timing of birth.“It’s surreal to think that my results could catch the attention of lead zoological scientists worldwide,” added Harlan who will publish his findings along with his faculty mentor Dr. Tom Spady and renowned panda expert Dr. Don Lindburg. Other research projects being presented this year include studies on language impairment, drug addiction, infectious diseases, motorist behaviors in school zones and recovery treatments for spinal cord injured patients.For the fifth consecutive year the University has seen a strong increase in student submissions for the competition. Open to both undergraduate and graduate students, the research topics span the full range disciplines offered at the University, including fields that tend to be perceived as nontraditional areas of research, accounting for nearly 30 percent of the submissions.“Student research and creative activities take place in every academic discipline including and beyond the traditional sciences,” said Gerardo González, dean of Graduate Studies and associate vice president for Research.“Faculty and students collaborate in diverse projects ranging from lab experiments and community surveys to performances and exhibits.”Among the interdisciplinary projects being presented is an analysis by anthropology senior Steve Moog who researched femininity in the contemporary San Diego punk rock community. Moog interviewed women on how gender roles, either portrayed or perceived in their subculture, shaped their identities. Economics students Brad Waldon and Mike Stevenson will share their joint research examining the dynamics that have contributed to the steady emergence of craft brewing in the United States without contention from large domestic brewers.“The competition is not just about sharing your findings,” said Eleuterio Limas, who represented CSUSM at the statewide competition in 2011 as an undergraduate. “There’s tremendous value in hearing from researchers in other disciplines and the methodology and techniques they’re using to progress science or make new discoveries in their field.”Limas, now a graduate student in experimental psychology, will present his latest research on consumer behavior of reusable bags. He explained that while U.S. shoppers consume more than 100 billion plastic bags each year, studies have indicated that imposing a ban on plastic bag use does little to change the actual behavior. Finding out what does motivate reusable bag behavior became the focus of his research.“People tend to be motivated by what other people do,” he said, including their propensity to use reusable bags.He explained that if a grocery store created an environment where customers perceived that ‘shoppers here use reusable bags,’ it would encourage the customer to identify with that behavior and thus increase their likelihood of bringing reusable bags on their next visit. It’s not a matter of convincing people, he said, it’s about motivating them. Limas plans to use his findings to inform a future study to measure the impact of that marketing strategy.The top ten students will represent CSUSM at the statewide competition. To determine the finalists, students are evaluated in two areas, which include a five-page narrative and 15-minute oral presentation to a panel of faculty experts. Judges assess students on the articulation of their study, appropriateness of methodology, interpretation of results and the value of the research. CSUSM’s Student Research Competition is a free and open event for the community to attend. Presentation sessions will be held in classrooms on the first floor of Markstein Hall beginning at 1:30 p.m. Finalists will be announced at a reception in The Dome at 4: 30 p.m. with special remarks provided by President Karen Haynes.This year marks the 26th annual CSU Student Research Competition. In total, more than 4,200 CSU students have presented their findings since the competition was first introduced in 1987. Learn more about student research opportunities by visiting the Office of Graduate Studies and Research.