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2001 ISSUE

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Originally published in the Winter 2001 Virginia Tech Research Magazine.

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Students showcase outstanding research

Graduate students, partners in the research enterprise, show off their work each spring. Here is some of the winning work seen at the 16th Annual Research Symposium organized by the Graduate Student Assembly. “Bridging Research Boundaries” was the theme in 2001.

NATURAL AND BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES

Vitamin B6 and Breast Cancer

Brandy Cowing of Niceville, Fla., a major in human nutrition, foods, and exercise, “Vitamin B6 Decreases Proliferation and DNA Synthesis of Human Breast Cancer Cells In Vitro.” Cowing explains in her abstract, “The growth of many breast cancers is stimulated by the action of the hormone estrogen. Vitamin B6 is well documented in its role as a modulator of steroid hormones. The objective of the study was to examine the effects of B6 on proliferation and estrogen-dependent gene expression in breast cancer cells.” The pyridoxal (PL) compound of B6 was used in the study. The abstracts concludes, “Results indicate that PL significantly impairs growth of breast cancer cells and may be exerting its effects via steroid-independent mechanisms.”

PHYSICAL SCIENCES AND ENGINEERING

Reducing Truck Crashes

Richard Hanowski of Saskatoon, Sask., Canada, a Ph.D. student in industrial and systems engineering and a research associate with the Virginia Tech Transportation Research Institute, “Reducing Crashes in Local/Short-Haul Trucking.” The study was done with 42 drivers whose trucks were instrumented with a variety of data collection systems. The focus was analyses of critical incidents — crashes and near-crashes. The goal was to determine the safety issues in trucking and the extent to which fatigue is an issue. Hanowski reports that “Three particularly interesting findings were: 1) younger, inexperienced drivers were more likely to be involved in critical incidents (i.e., near-crashes), cause incidents, and be fatigued prior to incidents, 2) driver fatigue and inattention were found prior to involvement in incidents where the driver was judged to be at fault, and 3) drivers who demonstrated signs of fatigue, and were involved in at-fault incidents, had less sleep and poorer quality sleep as compared to drivers who did not show signs of fatigue.” He says that, “Based on the results of this study, guidelines are proposed aimed at reducing the involvement of local/short-haul drivers in at-fault critical incidents.” Hanowski also won the category two years ago with a field experiment to investigate the benefits of an in-vehicle information system.

SOCIAL SCIENCES AND HUMANITIES

Hostility and Blood Pressure

John B. Williamson of Jacksonville, Fla., a psychology major, “Cerebral Asymmetry in the Dual-Task Performances of High-Hostile Males.” The study looked at the influence of hostility level on the cerebral regulation of cardiovascular system functioning. He studied responses during a nonverbal fluency test (word association) and found high-hostile males had higher systolic blood pressure, displayed more interference of the sympathetic nervous system, and committed significantly more errors.

AGRICULTURE AND ANIMAL SCIENCES

ATP Provides Energy for Cellular Processes

Christiane Massicotte of Repentigny, Canada, a major in biomedical sciences and pathology, “Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) Concentration in Hen Sciatic Nerves Affected with Organophosphorus Ester-Induced Delayed Neuropathy (OPIDN).” ATP supplies energy for many biochemical cellular processes and is critical for nerve fiber functions. Massicotte and colleagues D.S. Barber, B.S. Jortner, and Marion Ehrich, faculty members in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, evaluated concentrations of the molecule in hen peripheral nerves following exposure to an organophosphate that causes delayed degeneration of the nervous system. Their results suggest that variations in sciatic nerve ATP concentrations are early events in the development of OPIDN.

VIRTUAL CATEGORY

Virtual Space as a Design Tool

Jun Xu of Shanghai, the People’s Republic of China, a Ph.D. student in environmental design and planning, “Navigation/Way-Finding: A Comparative of the Real Versus Simulated World.” Two groups of students navigated through a defined space. The goal is to use virtual space to design real space. The study was done to define the relationships and areas of needed research. Xu and Holly Cline of Radford, Va., a doctoral student in near environments with an interiors design concentration, began the research as a computer science class project.

WATER RESOURCES RESEARCH CENTER AWARD

Denitrification in Streams

Lara Martin of Warrenton, Va., a master’s student in biology, “Denitrification in Sediments of Headwater Streams.” The research investigated the role of nitrate reducing bacteria and seasonal variations in resource availability as determinants of denitrification in sediments of two headwater streams in the southern Appalachian Mountains. Martin explains, “Denitrification is a biological mechanism by which nitrate is permanently lost from an ecosystem. In the southern Appalachian Mountains, denitrification may be part of nature’s response against the effects of excess nitrate deposition from atmospheric pollution observed in higher elevation streams.” The research was done in collaboration with P.J. Mulholland, A.V. Palumbo, and J. Zhou of Oak Ridge National Laboratory environmental sciences division and Jack Webster, faculty member in biology. The research was reported in the April 6, 2001 issue of Science.

UNDERGRADUATE CATEGORY

Fish Oil and the Immune System

Elizabeth Cowardin of Woodbridge, Va., a student in animal and poultry science, “Effects of Fish Oil or n-6 Fatty Acid Supplements on Immune Responses in Orphaned, Milk-Fed Lambs.” Although diets rich in n-3 and n-6 fatty acids have long been believed to alter immune function, Cowardin found that neither n-3 nor n-6 supplementation produced results to justify its use to improve the immune status of the lambs. She did her research in collaboration with fellow students Alyssa Fenton of Fairfax, Va., and Meghan Wulster-Radcliffe of Radford, Va., and faculty members Joseph Herbein of dairy science and Gregory S. Lewis of animal and poultry science.