More than 40 research posters were presented at the 13th annual University Research Council’s Research and Creative Activities Fair Oct. 4 at New Mexico State University.
With topics ranging from urban entomology and beet armyworms to a study of the mysteries of the universe, NMSU students, faculty and staff shared updates on their research efforts in an afternoon of academic discussion, interaction and contemplation.
“The Research and Creative Activity Fair is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the vast diversity in research projects constantly underway at New Mexico State University,” said Vimal Chaitanya, vice president for research. “Our university truly is a place where the quest for discovery is an ongoing process. I am very proud of our research and creative endeavors, and I thank all who participated for taking the time to share their progress with others.”
Projects looked at the preparation of autism spectrum specialists, analyzed methods to “Identify Native American Student Cultural Sources of Strength that Reinforce Persistence in Higher Education” and examined “Spacecraft Guidance, Navigation and Controls.” Others explored topics like liquid algae extraction, tribal wisdom for business ethics, a transcriptomic approach to identifying an orphan’s home and lab personal protective equipment.
The URC Fair is held in conjunction with the Alliance for Minority Participation conference, which allows students from all over the state of New Mexico to learn about research taking place at NMSU. It also provides an opportunity for faculty members to see other research or creative scholarly activity taking place on campus, which opens the door for potential collaboration between research projects.
The following posters were selected to receive prizes by URC judges Muhammed Dawood, associate professor in the Klipsch School of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Shanna Ivey, associate professor in the Department of Animal and Range Sciences; Mary O’Connell, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences; and Steve Stochaj, Distinguished Professor in the Klipsch School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
Tied for First Place:
“Infection Dynamics of Sylvatic Dengue Virus in a Reservoir Host Species” by K. Hanley, T. Kautz, M. Brown, S. Whitehead, S. Weaver, N. Vasiakis, and P. Marx
“Striving to be Tobacco Free” by S. Wilson, C. Kratzke, C. Spurny, M. Wilson and C. Luna
“Minimum Lab PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)” by K. Doolittle and D. Schoep
“Beet Armyworm, Spodoptera exigua, and Cotton Bollworm, Heliocoverpa zea, Development on Glandless Cotton” by J. Pierce, P. Monk, A. Garnett, O.J. Idowu, R.P. Flynn and C. Vasquez
Born and raised in Buffalo, N.Y., Tomaka previously worked at UTEP for 18 years. He will lead the development and operational phase of the Southwest Survey Research Center at NMSU.
“The facility has been in development over the last couple of years,” he said. “We’re moving into the operational phase. The purpose of the center is to assist researchers and be a resource for the university and the community.”
The center, which is housed inside the Health and Social Services Annex, will provide services such as questionnaire design, sampling, data collection and statistical analysis for telephone, mail and Internet services, as well as interviewing and Spanish/English translation.
“What we noticed is that – not just within the university, but in the state of New Mexico – agencies are going to research companies that are out of state, even to the East Coast, to get surveys done,” Tomaka said. “We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be terrific if we could complete that work right here at NMSU as part of our land-grant mission to serve not just students, but the entire state of New Mexico?’”
Most of the surveys are expected to address health-related issues, but the services the center provides will not be limited to the health community. Tomaka said he anticipates SSRC will be a hub for an array of clients, including researchers in political science, business and marketing.
“Any area where you need the input, advice and what people in the community are thinking and what they believe, is an area for survey research,” he said, adding that SSRC is expected to open later this semester and will be staffed by students. The center also has an academic mission.
“Part of the mission is to work with students to cultivate their skills, and provide them with opportunities to learn about survey research.
“This is meant to be a comprehensive center. We can do all kinds of surveys and focus groups. We are here to assist researchers with all aspects of the design of surveys.”
Tomaka’s other responsibilities will include teaching graduate-level courses, as well as assisting faculty and students with all phases of research. His goal is to boost the research profile of the entire college, and help community agencies.
“We have a history of excellent teaching and some research funding at NMSU,” he said. “Helping faculty become more productive in the research side of their job is something I hope to accomplish.”
As an associate professor at UTEP, Tomaka taught courses in research methodology, applied statistics and health behavior. He cited working with students as one of the highlights of his tenure at the school, especially students earning master’s and doctoral degrees.
“Many of those students were the first in their families to go to graduate school, so that was particularly rewarding,” he said.
His own background, he explained, is in social and health psychology. He has studied brief interventions for motivating individuals to make lifestyle changes – research he said he will continue.
His interests include stress and coping, with an emphasis in stress reactions and health outcomes, interventions to reduce use of alcohol by college students and communities, and weight management practices, such as assessing the different ways people try to manage their weight.
Before his tenure at UTEP, Tomaka spent almost two years teaching at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand.
“It was gorgeous, a sheer beauty of mountains, coasts and wildlife, but it was a long way from home. We were roughly 17 hours ahead of local time. I remember watching the Super Bowl early Monday afternoon local time in New Zealand,” he said, laughing.
Tomaka’s wife, Rebecca Palacios, is also an NMSU professor in CHSS. The couple has two daughters; one studying economics, the other a graduate student in speech language pathology in El Paso.
“We are excited to have Joe with us, and anticipate that his leadership of the survey research center and in the area of research will be a great benefit to our faculty, the college and the community,” said Donna Wagner, CHSS associate dean for academics.
“It’s been a smooth transition,” Tomaka said of his professional move to NMSU. “It’s been challenging and exciting. This position was a real opportunity to move from being a faculty member to part of the administration. It’s a lot of additional responsibilities. I hope to help others build their skills and capabilities.
“I am enjoying the culture and atmosphere of the campus,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to launching the Southwest Survey Research Center.”
To learn more about the Southwest Survey Research Center, contact Tomaka at [email protected].
New Mexico is known for its chile. The spicy vegetable is part of the state’s history, tradition and culture. There is even a state question – “Red or Green?”
As the chile industry strives to improve the chile pods for uniformity of size and shape, mechanical harvest and destemming, and food processing, there is a danger of the unique landrace chile varieties being lost.
New Mexico State University is conducting trials of 15 landrace varieties to establish a consumer guide that will categorize and describe the various traits of these chiles.
“Landrace chile varieties, including Chimayo, are a uniquely original New Mexico specialty crop,” said Stephanie Walker, NMSU Cooperative Extension Service vegetable specialist whose research studies many aspects of chile. “These varieties have been developed through many generations of selection by farming families in northern New Mexico and are recognized by consumers for their excellent quality.”
Landrace is a term used to describe heritage vegetable or fruit varieties from a specific geographical area. In New Mexico, families or communities have selected a variety of the chile that has distinct characteristic for their area.
“While these varieties are genetically distinct from commercial chile cultivars, there is evidence that cross-pollination has occurred between the landrace-types and commercial cultivars, potentially threatening the distinction of these varieties,” Walker said.
Graduate student Chuck Havlik, under the direction of Walker, is gathering data that will aid in categorizing and describing the different chile landraces. The chile landraces in the trial included Chimayo, Alcalde, Casados Native, Cochiti Pueblo, Escondida, Isleta Pueblo, Jarales, Jemez Pueblo, Puerta de Luna, San Felipe Pueblo, Santo Domingo Pueblo, Velarde and Zia Pueblo.
“Individuals and farming families have created excellent landrace chile varieties through many generations of selection and seed saving,” Havlik said. “As a preliminary step to protecting the uniformity of the different landrace chile varieties, collecting information documenting the unique attributes of each is critical.”
This information will be compiled in an Extension publication that will be available for use by growers in publicizing and selling their chile products. The replicated trials measured key quality components of the varieties that are providing a baseline description of each.
The flow of gas in outer space may hold the key to understanding how galaxies form and evolve, and why the Milky Way looks the way it does today. Astronomers at New Mexico State University will take the helm of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope in October for an international study into the evolution of galaxies.
“We will be using the observational data and comparing them to high powered cosmological simulations in which galaxies are modeled with very high resolution,” said Chris Churchill, associate professor of astronomy in the College of Arts and Sciences and principal investigator for the project. “Our goals are to measure the detailed properties of the gas surrounding 50 different galaxies in order to determine how the gas flows around galaxies.”
Churchill’s group was recently awarded 110 90-minute observational orbits on Hubble from NASA and the Space Telescope Science Institute for the study that will include $350,000 in research funding. The project, “A Breakaway from Incremental Science: Full Characterization of the Circumgalactic Medium and Testing Galaxy Evolution Theory,” is in collaboration with scientists in Australia, India, Spain and the Netherlands.
“We will use the instrument on Hubble called the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, which records the spectrum in ultraviolet light,” Churchill said. “Ultraviolet light cannot penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere and this is why we need to use a telescope in space.”
Gas plays a critical role in the creation of galaxies, according to Churchill. They form in regions where dark matter gravitationally collapses into large dense areas of the universe called halos. Normal matter, still in the form of gas, then gravitationally falls into the halos. The gas condenses, and then forms stars, which creates galaxies similar to the Milky Way, our galaxy.
“The interesting thing now is that it’s not just about gas falling into these dark matter halos, but as stars age many of them turn into supernovae explosions, and they can actually be so violent they can blow gas back out into the media around the galaxy,” Churchill said.
Churchill said what they don’t know is how much gas goes through the process or why some stars die in the explosions. The team will address questions about outflowing gas, infalling gas and galactic fountains. They will also investigate how the gas cycle regulates the shape of the galaxy and the formation of future stars and planets.
“So we’ve come to understand that there’s now a tenuous gaseous medium around galaxies that cycles,” Churchill said. “So you have new stuff coming in, stuff cycling out, some might escape and some might rain back down. This is the process that a galaxy would then evolve.”
He believes there are clear theoretical predictions as to what they should see in the telescope data.
“We will either see what is predicted by theory, confirming our current ideas about galaxy evolution, or we won’t,” Churchill said. “In which case, our data will challenge current theories and force us to think of new theories.”
Churchill’s NMSU team includes Anatoly Klypin, professor of astronomy, and graduate students Sebastian Trujillo-Gomez, Nigel Mathes, Nikki Nielsen and Jacob Vander Vliet. Amber Medina, physics major, will also lend a hand.
Jane Charlton, professor of astronomy at Penn State, serves as co-investigator with Churchill.
Collaborating on the project with them are Glenn Kacprzak, an Australian Research Council Super Science Fellow at the Swinburne University of Technology in Australia; Michael Murphy, an assistant professor at the Swinburne University of Technology in Australia; Anand Narayanan, an assistant professor at the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology in India; Daniel Ceverino-Rodriguez, a postdoctoral student at the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, Spain; and Freeke van de Voort, a joint fellow at the Theoretical Astrophysics Center at University of California, Berkeley and the Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics in Taipei, China.
The teams will work in three main research groups, managed by Churchill and Charlton.
Churchill, Charlton, Mathes and Arayanan will retrieve the spectra from the Space Telescope Science Institute, calibrate it and then measure the gas properties recorded in the data.
“The data reveals the gas properties through absorption features in the quasar spectra,” Churchill said. “Each feature will be due to a different chemical element in the gas. After further analysis, we can obtain the chemical make-up of the gas, its density, temperature and its dynamical motions.”
Klypin, Trujillo-Gomez, Vander Vliet, Ceverino-Rodriguez and van de Voort are involved with the theoretical interpretation of the telescope data. They will be running cosmological simulations on NASA super computers.
“In these simulations of the cosmos, galaxies form and can be studied at high resolution and in great detail,” Churchill said. “The galaxies can be visualized in three dimensions. We then create synthetic telescope data of these simulated galaxies and study them to help interpret the real telescope data.”
Kacprzak, Murphy and Nielsen will study the images and spectra of the galaxies to obtain information such as star formation rates, chemical enrichment levels, dark matter mass, rotation speeds and morphologies.
“These details allow us to compare the gas properties with the galaxy properties and compare them with theoretical predictions and expectations,” Churchill said.
The Milky Way is more than 13 billion years old and recent Hubble Telescope studies have only covered nearby galaxies up to two billion years or 10 billion years and older, according to Churchill. He said this project provides a missing link in cosmic time.
“There’s this huge gap from two to 10 billion years that was not being probed at all, and with all the data coming in from those, we felt it was really important to tie together that gap in time, so we could understand the actual evolution in time,” Churchill said.
Telescope time is awarded through a highly competitive peer-review process, with a panel ranking the proposals before scrutinized by a special NASA committee.
“For this competition cycle, we succeeded in being awarded the requested telescope time to obtain data require to pursue our science goals,” Churchill said. “It is difficult to quantify the probability of success, but it is a bit like feeling you won the big-time lottery.”
Churchill’s observations will be part of the telescope’s Cycle 21, which runs from Oct. 1, 2013 through Sept. 30, 2014. He expects to receive the telescope schedule later this month, and the team will know down to the second when Hubble has their data. Once the data arrives, the scientists will begin to analyze.
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