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Student research and scholarship celebrated

The electricity in the hallways outside Zoellner Arts Center’s Baker Hall throughout the day Thursday was almost palpable, as more than 50 of Lehigh’s finest undergraduate and graduate students displayed their competition-winning research posters.

“It has really, truly been an inspiring, exhilarating day,” Lehigh President Alice P. Gast said in her remarks that brought a close to the daylong Academic Symposium and student research exhibition held to honor her inauguration as Lehigh’s 13th president. “In the hallways, I’ve heard people say they were pumped, they were psyched, they were excited.”

The posters represented a wide variety of research, from the very technical—organic chemistry—to the artistic—set design for a theater production. Gast joined Provost Mohamed El-Aasser and hundreds of other administrators, faculty, staff, and students in checking out the posters during session breaks and chatting with the student exhibitors.

In her closing remarks, Gast praised the students who won the poster competitions within the four colleges. “They’re wonderful examples of the brilliant work going on at Lehigh,” she said.

About half of the research represented in the poster competition was conducted by undergraduate students, said Daniel Lopresti, associate professor of computer science and engineering, who coordinated the university-wide effort. The range of topics was truly impressive. Within the College of Business and Economics, research posters looked at such diverse subjects as the economy of post-Communist Hungary, recycling efforts at Lehigh, and the influence of Medicaid on the drug market. The College of Education winners ranged from social support and psychological distress among Hispanic elders, to the quality of life for students with emotional and behavioral disorders, to enhancing social connectedness in online learning.

The P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science winning entries included the economic and environmental feasibility of biofuels, new classes of quantum error correction codes, and the design and testing of micro air vehicles, among others. And the College of Arts and Sciences entries tackled such far-ranging topics as modeling the stock market, Art Spiegelman’s Maus as a valuable Holocaust resource, and imaging the crust of Tibet.

There was a compelling story behind each of the posters exhibited at Zoellner. Here are just three.

Better than a BRITA filter

A beautiful little girl in a brilliant pink dress looks out from the poster.

“She was the first person introduced to me as someone who suffers from arsenic poisoning,” said Lee Blaney, a second-year master’s student studying environmental engineering.

The girl was from West Bengal, India, where much of the drinking water is contaminated with arsenic. In some villages, the water contains 50 times the maximum contaminant level recommended by the World Health Organization. She is one of approximately 100 million people who suffer from drinking the toxic and carcinogenic water.

Although the girl had high levels of arsenic present in her hair, she displayed very few symptoms of poisoning and, since Blaney saw her, has been drinking clean water.

“She’s probably okay,” Blaney said. “But I met people who suffered a lot worse.”

Blaney met the girl when he traveled to West Bengal in November. Since 1997, Lehigh’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department and Bengal Engineering and Science University have installed more than 170 well heads, which remove arsenic and provide clean, safe drinking water.

As part of this project, Blaney ensured that the process of decontamination was sustainable and safe for future generations. He examined the regeneration process of the water-purifying media and inspected the disposal of arsenic-laden waste products.

Next year, Blaney will pursue his Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Austin. Although his role in this project may be over, he said, his work in India gave him “motivation for a life.”

Playing for three

Asher Christl ’07, held his cello in one hand as he leaned forward to talk about his research project, a musical composition for the flute, cello and piano.

“A musical idea needs to be a germ, a seed,” said the music composition and music history double major. “You plant it and it grows.”

The seed for this piece was planted last year, when Christl and two other musicians—Donia Jarrar ’08 and Soo Hooi Oh, a presidential scholar—formed a trio to perform for the LUVME concert. The trio preformed throughout the next year and into the summer.

When Christl needed to choose his Eckardt Scholar Project, he and his advisor, Paul Salerni, professor of music and director of the Lehigh University Very Modern Ensemble (LUVME), quickly decided that he should compose a piece for his trio. The composition process was not easy. Christl wrestled with his first idea for a composition, and he eventually abandoned it for one that could “grow.” He continued to hone this idea throughout the year until he was pleased with the final outcome. “What I heard in my head is what I hear in our performance,” he said.

Christl’s Trio for Flute, Cello and Piano was performed several times throughout the day and at his Eckardt Scholar dinner earlier that week. This year’s last performance of the Trio will be April 30 at the LUVME concert. Lehigh can expect to hear more of Christl’s cello next year when he completes his presidential scholarship.

“Last Cast” remembers the past

On Nov. 18, 2005, Bethlehem Steel’s smokestacks expelled the last of their smoke, and the steelmaking plant closed its doors permanently. Since the demise of the Steel, the community has struggled with the loss of its icon and with the future of the former Steel site, said Amey Senape, a master’s student earning her concentration in Public History.

Ten years later, Senape and her Public History graduate class created a multi-media event to commemorate the closing of the Steel. The event not only recognized former workers, but sought to heal contention regarding the future of the Steel site.

“We wanted to bring the community together,” Senape said.

More than 350 people from Bethlehem and Lehigh University attended the free event held in Zoellner Arts Center. They listened to actors recount heart-rending stories based on interviews and documents from former steel workers. Roland Kushner, a Lehigh Valley musician, performed original folk songs about steel work. After the event, attendees could speak with former workers or examine artwork highlighting aspects of the steel work.

Senape is currently completing her thesis while working for Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor as a Historic Resource Specialist and Manager of the Lehigh Valley Industrial Heritage Coalition. She has also co-founded Save Our Steel, a grassroots organization dedicated to preserving the Bethlehem Steel site.

An Exhibition of Student Research and Scholarship

The following is the list of all student exhibits, by college:

College of Arts and Sciences

Undergraduate

“Modeling the Stock Market under Uncertain Volatility and Returns”
Alexandra Agroskin and Eric Weaver (with Vladimir T. Dobric)

“Subcellular Immunolocalization of Monoclonal Antisperm Antibodies in Human Sperm Cells”
Raffaella De Martino (with Jennifer J. Venditti and Barry Bean)

“Art Spiegelman’s Maus as Valuable Holocaust Resource”
Ariel Fried (with Laurence J. Silberst

Posted on Friday, April 13, 2007

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