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Week 3 Written Abstracts

This year, all First-Year Monroe Scholars wrote an abstract describing their research project.

An abstract is a short, paragraph-long description of a research project, providing information about the research questions/objectives; the context for the work; research methods; and major findings.

Abstracts are often included on the first page of published papers or book chapters. They are usually the first thing people read when they encounter a research paper - and sometimes the only thing they read! An abstract is also often required if you apply for research grants, or to give a talk or poster at a conference. Although it can be challenging, writing a succinct and engaging abstract is a critical skill for all researchers.

Earth Day Features: Presentations with themes of conservation, sustainability, and the environment
Annabel Chase '24: Progress as a Perspective: The Sustainability of Leading Businesses in Animal Nutrition (Environmental Studies)

In animal nutrition, where all aspects of the natural world coexist, the welfare of the animals, the consumers, and the environment form the multi-dimensional, ecological challenge of adequately feeding the growing global population. The specifics of these goals, however, remain unknown to the public eye, regardless of the intensifying pressure put on larger corporations by environmentalists and the increasingly environmentally-conscious public. I examined the details on the sustainability of Cargill and Tyson's animal nutrition businesses and assessed the similarities in their approaches to the growing movement of environmentalism. To obtain data, I collected personal statements and perspectives from seven employees within each business' animal nutrition department, with six coming from Cargill and one working at Tyson. Each interview consisted of similar questions, focusing on background, experience with the company and sustainability, essential aspects of each employee's job, and their biggest challenge regarding environmental focuses. Across interviews, the study emphasized Cargill's holistic approach to sustainability, with the employees incorporating environmentally friendly practices into every aspect of their job, with Tyson's more statistics-based approach, featuring set goals for quantifiable energy targets. Efficiency was uniformly prioritized for both companies, following the belief that the expanding population can be fed through animal products with more efficient technology and company communication. Finally, bigger sized companies can handle more money and likely act more sustainably than less mobile, local companies. My hypothesis was nullified, as the corporations viewed sustainability oppositely, in the context of a perspective, for Cargill, and a quantitative goal, for Tyson.

Faculty advisor: Professor Kurt Williamson
Laura Kirk '24: Ecoart: Exploring Public Art, Environmental Consciousness, And Community Engagement In Virginia

Despite heightened legislative and regulatory efforts, established methods of environmental preservation have done little to stem the rapid global tide of ecological devastation. Arguably, this failure is tied to the inability of legislation and regulation to transform environmental consciousness at the individual level. This study examines how ecoart, a form of public art created with environmental motivations, can mobilize individuals and communities at the grassroots level. An array of existing literature has examined the profound implications of ecoart, detailing how this tool can radically alter the way individuals view their relationship to the environment. This change influences pro-environmental behaviors, accumulating at the aggregate level and resulting in more sustainable progress and community-wide engagement. This study aims to build upon existing academic knowledge by exploring examples of ecoart in the state of Virginia. Nine case studies were examined through oral in-depth interviews with eleven Virginia ecoartists. Participants were asked a series of questions aimed at discerning their methods, motivations, and outcomes. This data was synthesized in nine narrative accounts for each ecoart project, displaying how the artists employed the tools of ecoart to achieve environmental goals within their communities. These case studies resoundingly confirm the benefits of ecoart, illustrating how community art projects circumvent traditional forms of environmental preservation in order to more effectively engage individual environmental consciousness and promote meaningful, widespread change. This project, including the literature review and artist interviews, can be accessed at

Advisor: Elizabeth Miller

Sarah Larimer '24: Fast Versus Sustainable Fashion and Solutions to Sustainability in the Clothing Industry (Economics)

Since the rise of the fast fashion movement in the late 20th century, there has been a continuous push to create a more sustainable industry. Fast fashion has incredibly costly repercussions for the environment, for the economy, and for living conditions across the world. I studied why efforts at sustainability in the clothing industry have not been as successful as one would hope, and also took a deep dive into less common places in the clothing industry where sustainability could be applied. I compared statements of sustainability that were published by different brands ranging from 100% sustainable to household names. I also evaluated my own closet for patterns. I found that there is a big disconnect between the mission statements of big brand names and actual sustainable practices at the factory level. I found that fast fashion isn't the only source hampering sustainability in the clothing industry. Things like prom dress culture, t-shirt giveaways, and thrifting all had more detrimental effects than they would seem. This was a surprising result compared to my original hypothesis. Although it still remains true that fast fashion brands account for a lot of damage to the earth, the economy, and worker livelihood, other factors play a huge part; dresses that are never re-worn and t-shirts that are used as a promotion can have an equally large impact on our earth as fast fashion.

Faculty advisor: Professor Keith Johnson
Carolina Valverde '24: Impact Of Commercial Lawn Fertilizer Application On Biodiversity Of Ground-Dwelling Arthropods

A significant number of homeowners in the United States apply fertilizer as part of their regular lawncare regimen. The effects of this on backyard ecosystems have not been extensively investigated, but it is important to understand, as disruption to these smaller ecosystems can have consequences for the greater environment. Previous studies on how fertilizer impacts arthropod biodiversity, a good indicator of ecosystem health, have found little evidence of negative impact. The aim of my project was to investigate the effects of lawn fertilizer on the biodiversity of ground-dwelling arthropods in residential lawns in order to explore altered biodiversity as a possible side-effect of fertilizer in a suburban setting. Pitfall traps were placed in yards that either received regular fertilizer application from a lawncare service or in yards that did not use fertilizer. Arthropods that fell into the traps were collected after 7 days, and the traps remained open for 3 weeks. Once collected, the species were categorized and counted in order to calculate a biodiversity score for each study site. Data indicated a significant difference in biodiversity between fertilized lawns and unfertilized lawns when data was considered across all three trials. This supported the original hypothesis that fertilizer application decreases arthropod biodiversity. However, these findings are only preliminary and limited due to uncontrolled environmental factors and due to the possibility of erroneous species classification. Further research might try to find lawns more similar in composition and soil type and use a microscope in the classification of species.

Faculty advisor: Professor Orissa Moulton

Data Science
Emilio Luz-Ricca '24: News Media During An International Crisis: What Twitter Data Says About Covid-19 (Data Science)

This project explores the presence of news media on Twitter during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic (COVID). In a period fraught with high uncertainty and with strict stay at home orders, news outlets provided reliable coverage of global events while allowing individuals to remain in the safety of their homes. While previous case studies in the emerging field of crisis informatics have followed relatively isolated events, COVID presents a comprehensive international crisis in which we can better observe the role of organizational entities, i.e., news sources. Using named entity recognition and sentiment analysis, common subtasks of natural language processing (NLP), I explore a novel data set of 39,791 tweets from ten major news sources published during the month of March 2020. Examining the results, I find that news sources tend to differ in their overall sentiment and inclusion of certain categories of named entities, sometimes substantially. While tweet polarities tend to be relatively consistent and slightly positive across news sources, extracting tweets that follow public figures reveals more volatile trends with larger ranges of polarities. I recommend several future directions for research, emphasizing the value of a more comprehensive tweet corpus as a baseline for comparison, data collection over a longer period of time and from more sources, and NLP implementations more suited to the semi-structured nature of this particular text data. This work contributes to crisis informatics by taking the first steps towards describing the role of news media during a period of international crisis.

Faculty advisor: Professor Dana Willner
Gracie Patten '24: Experimental Archaeology In Dress History: The Uniforms Of The Wwi-Era Woman’S Land Army Of America (History)

The American involvement with WWI coincided with the formation of the Woman's Land Army of America (WLAA), an organization that sought to ameliorate the farm labor shortage caused by the draft by training young women, mainly from white middle-to-upper class backgrounds, to engage in farm work while simultaneously advancing the position of these women in society. Previous work on the WLAA has examined its motivations and achievements, but never have the uniforms the women wore been thoroughly examined. This project examined the role that uniforms played in the self-conceptualization of the WLAA and how the uniforms affected women’s fashion going forward by researching and recreating a WLAA uniform. Research for this project involved manuals and publications by the WLAA, images of WLAA farm workers (“farmerettes”), and relevant newspaper articles. Examination of several extant garments as well as period sewing manuals informed the recreation of the uniform. Textual research indicated that the WLAA uniforms played a role popularizing trousers for women. At the same time, textual research also indicated that the uniforms served to distinguish farmerettes from the racialized class of farm laborers, especially in states where farm labor was performed mainly by Black, Latino, or Asian laborers. The recreation of a WLAA uniform revealed the ease of movement granted by the uniforms, further explaining the subsequent popularization of trousers among women. This research improves our understanding of the complicated relationship between race and gender in America during WWI and helps to explain later changes in women’s dress.

Faculty advisor: Professor Jerry Watkins III
Natural Sciences
Jude Bedessem '24: First Quantitative Evidence Of Reflective Darkground Imaging (Physics)

In atomic and optical physics research, it is often necessary to image and subsequently quantitatively analyze small-profile clouds of Bose Einstein Condensate. However, present methods pose serious technical challenges. We sought to modify diffractive darkground imaging techniques, a well-documented class of imaging techniques where a sample is placed inside an enveloping laser beam that is then transformed. After transformation, the sample’s shadow becomes a bright signal over a dark background. By using a reflective optical component—a mirror or an atom chip—we can reflect a proportion of this standard darkground image to generate a secondary image free of the enveloping beam, no beam transformation needed. We term this technique reflective darkground imaging. In this study, we document the images captured with this new technique—using a tungsten wire with a diameter of 12.5µm as our sample. Additionally, we measure the proportion of the signal collected via reflective darkground imaging as a function of sample-mirror separation. This latter analysis suggests agreement between our models and experimental observation of reflective darkground imaging. However, further study probing other degrees of freedom of our model is necessary to definitively demonstrate our novel technique.

Faculty advisor: Professor Seth Aubin
Ignat Miagkov '24: Using Simulation Software To Create Accurate Surface Molecular Interactions (Chemistry)

Our research group can collect quantifiable data to calculate approximate behavior of molecules between epoxy samples and other materials. In this study, we attempted to create an effective simulation to demonstrate and illustrate molecular interactions at the surface level. We used two different software packages in our research: one to display and project molecules in a three-dimensional space, and the other to simulate exact molecular interactions using parameters to simulate real-time interactions. This project is still ongoing, but some results have been achieved. Initially, we were able to create an environment in which we were able to study the behavior of a Ubiquitin protein within a box of water molecules. Using a spreadsheet layout for our results, we were able to accurately determine the locations of given atoms within the environment at any given time. The next steps in this project include creating environments of different solvents (such as acetone) and studying other molecules. The ultimate goal is to accurately model the behavior of different epoxy molecules within the presence of other materials, such as aluminum and other metals.

Faculty advisor: Professor Tyler Meldrum
Social Sciences
Sabra Ellison '24: A Literature Review Exploring The Relationship Between Physician Burnout And Empathy (Psychology)

Physician burnout is a significant and growing problem within the medical community.  More than half of surveyed physicians report at least one symptom of burnout.  Alongside depression, physician burnout--characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and a decreased sense of professional accomplishment--plays a role in physician suicide.  Current evidence-based research shows that empathy, a complex neuropsychological process, can reduce burnout among physicians and that empathy can be taught. This literature review examined 27 articles from top peer-reviewed journals and several current books to explore questions around the connection between physician burnout and empathy.  Specifically, the review investigates: If burnout reduces a physician’s level of empathy and if empathy training reduces levels of physician burnout. The review also considers the relationship between burnout and empathy among orthopedic surgeons, identifies gaps in the research, and offers directions for future research. The review finds that burnout and low levels of empathy are correlational, but casualty remains unproven. Additionally, while rates of burnout among orthopedic surgeons are higher compared to the general population, they are not significantly higher than other subspecialties.  The foundational hypothesis that empathy training can reduce signs and symptoms of physician burnout was supported by the review.  Because extant research is generally limited to cross-sectional studies, the review reveals that the field of knowledge would benefit from longitudinal studies.  With rates of physician burnout increasing rapidly due to the pandemic, additional research on this topic is greatly needed.

Faculty advisor: Professor Christy Porter
Alexander Norgle '24: How Does Service Alongside Georgian Nationals Impact American Servicemen and Veterans’ Opinion of The Republic of Georgia (Government)

The Republic of Georgia has dedicated large percentages of its military to assist in US led interventions in both Iraq and Afghanistan, in a relative sense exceeding the commitments of major US allies.  Being outside of NATO, Georgia is under no obligation to do this, and one might expect Georgia would need all its servicemen at home to defend the Republic of Georgia from an increasingly aggressive Russia.  So, it begs the question, why is Georgia helping the US in its interventions when there appears to be little to gain?  Our research investigated the extent to which military service alongside Georgian nationals impacted American veterans’ opinion of the Republic of Georgia, and their willingness to agree that the US should back Georgia against Russia.  Professor Maliniak and I embarked on the creation of a survey to determine if military service alongside Georgians could in fact impact American public opinion (and thus, policy) towards Georgia.  We worked to assemble a comprehensive survey which would control for military service, enlisted men and officers, political ideology, and foreign policy opinions to truly isolate the variable of service alongside Georgian nationals.  Disappointingly, the COVID-19 pandemic derailed planned on-the-ground research in Georgia due to travel restrictions, so Professor Maliniak was forced to postpone proceeding further with the project for the time being.  However, time will eventually permit the completion of this investigation to answer the important question of whether fighting alongside another country’s servicemen can reliably improve one’s opinion towards said country.  

Faculty advisor: Professor Daniel Maliniak