Gemstone Honors Program

Class of 2003 Teams

Clean Energy for Clean Air

Fossil fuels are the most widely used sources of energy around the world, and their use is continuing to increase at a very rapid rate. With this increase in fossil fuel consumption comes an increase in air pollution. Air pollution causes damage to the environment and to human health. These damages can be translated into real costs that must be factored into the total cost of using each fuel. This research quantifies the external costs of air pollution due to fossil fuels, including global warming and damage to human health. Recent trends and future projections for energy consumption are discussed. Fossil fuel usage is expected to increase significantly, particularly as developing countries build up their energy infrastructures to compensate for rapid industrialization. Consequently, global air pollution is also expected to increase rapidly. The economic impacts of this increasing air pollution will be significant. Alternative energy sources provide clean alternatives to polluting fossil fuels. Solar thermal, solar photovoltaic, wind, biomass, hydroelectric, geothermal, and nuclear energy are presented as possible alternatives to fossil fuels. While no energy source is completely free of external costs, they are all shown to be cheaper over the long-run than fossil fuels when air pollution costs are considered. Therefore, we propose that alternative energy sources be implemented wherever possible. The particular amounts and types used will depend on the natural resources and applications specific to a region, but in most cases some combination of clean energy alternatives will prove cheaper to implement than fossil fuels.

Consumer Information Insecurity

Information Security has long been a problem facing companies and organizations managing private corporate and customer data or providing any services which rely upon a computer system. Consumer computer use has, over the past decade, blossomed into widespread use. Innovations such as the World Wide Web, email, and the underlying system of the internet combined with the low prices and high performance of home computers have placed a computer in an overwhelming percentage of consumer’s homes. Nearly all of these consumers have access to the Internet, and a large percentage of these—growing by the day—have a high-speed connection which is always on. This widespread computer use, especially when combined with a permanent Internet connection, gives rise to attacks and abuse by computer criminals. We analyze this problem by separating the outside factors and consumer’s behavior responsible for the consumer’s insecure environment. These factors can then be examined for possible changes that would benefit the consumer, removing the areas of insecurity which provide the greatest potential for negative effects. These opportunities for change may be focused on a given population dynamic—ideally focused to the general populous, as they make up the largest body if insecure users, we explore the possibilities of focusing users in a more manageable area, such as those under a certain Internet service provider or those in a certain geographical area. We identify such focused solution opportunities for the “consumer” computer users of the University of Maryland, identifying areas of change to increase Consumer Information Security at this University.

Ecodynamics: The Impacts of Corridor H on the Monongahela Region

The construction of a road through a previously underdeveloped area brings with it a wide range of social, economic, and environmental impacts. Using Corridor H in West Virginia as a case study, our team has explored many of the important benefits in terms of growth and economic development that a road can bring. We have also explored many of the detrimental environmental impacts that a road brings to an area. Rather than take the position that the environmental impacts are too great and that roads should not be built, we chose to identify a specific problem and offer constructive solutions to alleviate that problem. In our research we show that the introduction of a road into a previously underdeveloped area brings with it an increase in the amount of heavy metals (specifically Zinc and Copper) as a result of vehicle wear and subsequent road runoff. While the increased metal content is detrimental to the environment as a whole, the aquatic environment is most sensitive to the pollution and we propose constructive ways (such as the use of phytoremediation) to help reduce the road’s impact on these areas.

Fractal Music: Exploring Self-Similarity in Musical Compositions

In the late 1970s, physicists Richard Voss and John Clarke, at the University of California, suggested that the power spectrum of music displayed 1/f behavior. This, if true, would suggest that music was similar to 1/f noise, which has been found in many physical systems. Such behavior could also suggest that music obeyed scaling laws and perhaps had a fractal nature. Voss and Clarke’s results inspired several other researchers, some of who questioned their methods and produced results at variance to the 1/f finding. The net result is that the literature is inconclusive at best. We decided that we would do our own analysis of music, to add more data to the discussion. Since previous investigations, with limited computing power, used small samples focusing on classical music, we have worked to create a large sample of twentieth century popular music. Our data consist of over 1250 songs by 125 artists. Using an analysis routine implemented in Matlab, we have calculated the power spectrum of these songs, and fit portions to power law behavior. The results indicate that, in the low frequency region, music displays a 1/f a behavior, for some 1 < a < 2. We have been working to determine if that a is correlated to the genre, artist, or time period of the music.

Gems LD: Preventing Learning Disabilities through Early Intervention

GEMS LD first met in the spring of 2000 and promptly set a goal to solve all the problems of all aspects in the field of learning disabilities. After beginning to review the literature, it became apparent to us that a project of that scope would take more than three decades, much less three years. With this realization, we began to examine different aspects of learning disabilities and narrow our topic down. After considering learning disability policy, neurology, math disabilities, social implications, and adult disabilities, we finally reached an agreement that we would design and implement a reading intervention for kindergarteners. We then conducted an in-depth review of early intervention studies to help us design our intervention. Using a modified version of the validated kindergarten reading curriculum, Road to the Code, and a single-subject multiple-probe design, we set out to find the answer to our research question: how many instructional sessions are needed to increase the number of words read by kindergarten children? We conducted our study as a part of a larger investigation done by Dr. Kristen Ritchey and worked with four kindergarten students at an elementary school three days a week for 10 weeks, teaching our intervention lessons and collecting data.

Global Ed-Venture

Numerous research results suggest that third graders could greatly benefit from improving their critical thinking skills. However, there have been few attempts to encourage the development of these skills using a three-dimensional board game. Our study attempts to determine whether our game entitled Pack Your Bags! can contribute to a third grade curriculum. Pack Your Bags! is a world-travel game, whereby students answer questions that test their reasoning skills, while learning interesting information about each of the seven continents they visit. Besides conducting background research on the psychological aspects of learning, age groups, subjects, media, and the third grade curriculum, the team created a prototype to pilot the game for feedback. We presented at the Maryland Council of Teachers of Mathematics Conference in Baltimore, Maryland and performed first-hand research in four different elementary schools in Prince George’s County. A randomly selected group of third and fourth grade students played our game and completed a written and oral questionnaire. Their responses to our questions, combined with our observations, indicated potential learning benefits from playing our game. The responses also highlighted the flaws in our prototype and suggested ways to improve the game’s construction and potential marketability, which we have outlined in a formal business proposal to be presented to educational game companies.

Injuries in Youth Soccer

Our team has been researching injuries in youth soccer players in order to make recommendations on how to prevent these injuries. We hope to make correlations among the injuries incurred, equipment used, and the playing conditions. The project began by gathering as much background information about soccer injuries and equipment as possible. After gaining an understanding of injuries and their causes, we looked for ways to implement our knowledge. For the past year, we have been tracking the Under-10 and Under-12 boys’ and girls’ leagues of Prince William Soccer, Inc., in Prince William County, Virginia. To collect data, we developed surveys of the types of equipment the children were using and gathered information regarding the injuries that occurred during soccer games.

Juvenile Justice Corrections Reform


Our research sought to evaluate the effectiveness of Teen Courts as diversionary programs. The juvenile justice system utilizes diversionary programs as alternative means of treatment to traditional juvenile trials. Many such programs, like Teen Court, are based on the goals of Restorative Justice, which include reintegrating the offender into the community, repairing harm, and building competency and skills. Thus, our research measures were created to determine how well Teen Court meets these Restorative Justice goals. We created three surveys for Teen Court participants, and their parents or guardians, in three Maryland counties. These included a Pre-Sentence Survey, a Post-Sentence Survey, and a Parent/Guardian Survey. Survey questions asked for respondents’ and parents’ opinions on the fairness of Teen Court, respondents’ feelings about the offense they committed, respondents’ and parents’ assessment of their overall experience in Teen Court, and respondents’ attitudes toward criminality and the law in general. The surveys were administered both before and after the participants’ hearings in order to reflect any changes in attitude, presumably resulting from their Teen Court experience. After analyzing the results of all three surveys, we determined that Teen Court does meet many restorative justice goals. Nonetheless, Teen Court’s success with each individual offender is contingent upon how each Teen Court is administered, and the particular characteristics of each juvenile.

Mental Health Education and Awareness

There has been some research on the presence of stigma toward mental health consumers on college campuses, but, to our knowledge, no study has been conducted of this specific issue on the University of Maryland, College Park campus. As this is a large, multicultural campus, it is important to understand college students’ views of mental illness so that appropriate educational campaigns can be conducted to address these attitudes. Stigma and fear keep some who could benefit from mental health services from seeking help. Our study explores the prevalence and nature of stigma toward mental illness present on the UMCP campus. The study is comprised of two parts: surveys and focus groups. The surveys assessed the views and attitudes that college students on the UMCP campus have towards mental health issues while the focus groups explored more in-depth students’ attitudes toward mental illness and mental health issues. Knowledge of the type of stigma present will make it easier to promote tolerance, fight stigma, provide resources, and raise awareness about mental health and help with our end goal of reducing stigma on the UMCP campus.

Mic Check: Students Promoting the Arts in Maryland

The Arts Experience: A Student Perspective examines arts education in Maryland public middle schools; including the disciplines of visual arts, music, theater and dance. This thesis attempts to answer the research question: How do we generate value for the arts in education? Three sub-questions are considered in order to answer the main question. These questions are: What is the current value of the arts in education, What arts experiences can be valuable for students, and What are the components of successful arts programs? An extensive literature review details the current state of the arts in Maryland public schools, the specific needs of middle school students and the benefits arts education has for them, and the components of successful arts programs. The students’ perspective on what is valuable in arts programs is underrepresented in arts education research, so the research team returns to the original question, how do we generate value for the arts in education, by looking into what students want from their arts programs. Surveys were distributed to all Hyattsville Middle School students, and focus groups were conducted with 17 of these students. Students’ responses to survey and focus group questions mirror the findings of the literature review. They recognize the importance of good teachers, integrating the arts into other subjects, and community support. The research team, as undergraduates, faced many setbacks to getting into schools to do research. Future researchers could benefit from the team’s experience and by making a more comprehensive study of the students’ perspectives on arts programs.

Phoenix

Throughout the industry, teams play an increasingly prevalent role in the functioning and improvement of an organization. Therefore it should come as no surprise that teamwork is a valuable experience to gain during one’s educational career. To accommodate this growing trend, several colleges and universities offer students with opportunities to participate in team experiences in order to cultivate the research, teamwork, and leadership skills which have become progressively more essential in the workplace. The University of Maryland’s Gemstone Program is one such opportunity which provides undergraduates the chance to work as part of a multi-disciplinary team to research a topic that is both technically and socially-significant. This paper aims to determine and to discuss the factors which account for the various levels of success experienced by Gemstone teams. After conducting a survey with freshmen participants, current team members, and ex-members on their reasons for joining, staying, and/or dropping the Gemstone Program, we hope to uncover the underlying factors which contribute to team success. After comparing these results with findings from an extensive literature review on teams in both industry and academia, we hypothesize that teams are more likely to succeed if members join with the intent to bring about a social change (as opposed to joining for personal advancement). Additionally, team success may be proportional to the level of communication that exists among team members beyond the team’s environment. Finally, we hypothesize that a team which works under the guidance of a committed and knowledgeable mentor will attain higher levels of success.

Universal Playgrounds

After spending our first year researching general, broad aspects of technological advancements that relate to people with various disabilities, our team decided to focus its research on children with disabilities and their experiences on conventional playgrounds. Documents like the International Association for the Child’s Right to Play’s 1989 Declaration of the Child’s Right to Play, Article 31 of the 1989 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the 1992 Americans with Disabilities Act all focus on making play activities equal and accessible to all children, regardless of disability. In particular, the ADA states that all new playgrounds built after 1992 and all playgrounds renovated after that date must conform to strict guidelines of accessibility. So-called universal playgrounds have sprung up around the country since then, spurred by non-profit organizations and state legislation focused on making playgrounds accessible to children with disabilities; however, these still do not provide total accessibility to their users. Our team conducted research of current literature on children and play; distributed a survey to parents of and adults working with children with disabilities; interviewed physical and recreational therapists; and rated existing playgrounds for safety and accessibility to pinpoint the physical, psychological, social, and intellectual aspects of children’s play. We created an ideal blueprint for a universal playground that provides complete accessibility, beyond that which the ADA dictates, at a reasonable cost. Such a blueprint could be utilized in the College Park area, or adapted for use in any community.

User Interface

Our research focuses on improving interfaces for email systems using through the use of role management. Over the years, email has evolved from merely a communication tool, to a method of information organization. Despite the evolving uses of email in general, email interfaces have remained largely unchanged. Our group proposes to take advantage of the evolving uses of email to create an interface that alleviates some of the unforeseen issues that have arisen, such as email overload, and give the user tools to more effectively utilize email as a communication medium. To test this hypothesis, we have created a prototype email application based on results from surveys, feedback, and testing sessions with potential users.