Gemstone Honors Program

Class of 2004 Teams

Campus Styrofoam

We studied polystyrene (brand name: Styrofoam) usage at the campus dining halls because of the visible waste it creates and the public perception of its harmfulness to the environment. We analyzed alternatives to polystyrene based upon their student friendliness, environmental friendliness, cost effectiveness, and fulfillment of sanitation requirements. We concluded that the best solution would be to reduce polystyrene use instead of replacing it with another material. We conducted pilot studies offering reusable plastic baskets to diners at the “late night” hours of 8 p.m. to 12 a.m. During these studies, an average of 84 baskets were used with 11 lost per night of the study at North Campus (15 nights), and an average of 125 were used with 5 lost per night at South Campus (9 nights), saving a total of 2,377 polystyrene containers from being used and wasted. Currently, South Campus has adopted the program. We are attempting to revise and re-launch the program at North Campus.

ChemSense

Gas sensor networks are becoming increasingly important in the wake of growing terrorist threats around the world. These devices can play a key role in quickly and accurately detecting chemical terrorist attacks in public areas. Our goal was to assess the feasibility of these networks and to accurately model potential gas release scenarios in order to determine a real life system's performance. We performed extensive testing on a scale test model of a major DC Metro station using a network of photoelectric smoke sensors that were connected to a computer network for data acquisition. Mathematical analysis of the data enabled us to determine how accurate and successful a gas sensor network would be in such a public area. We concluded that these networks, theoretically, have much usefulness for detecting chemical attacks, but in practice they are very difficult to construct, configure, and calibrate.

GEMS: Generating Eager Minded Students

In the current context of the “No Child Left Behind” Act, schools nationwide are facing an increased level of accountability for their students’ academic performance. Our research focused on exploring methods of improving the academic enthusiasm of adolescent middle school students and relating academic enthusiasm to actual school performance. After studying existing literature on academic motivation and middle school education, our team designed and implemented a 4-month participant-based study at a local Title I middle school with a sample of 8th graders. During this period, we established and directed an after-school program for students, in which we used an interactive discussion and contemporary issues-based approach as a way to introduce students to various academic areas not necessarily covered in class. By focusing on the relevance of the various topics to students’ own lives and the world around them, we hoped to instill in the students an appreciation and enthusiasm for learning. We also assessed whether students’ attitudes toward learning were related to their academic performance. Both quantitative survey data and open-ended qualitative student reports suggest that students’ attitudes toward learning improved over the course of the 4-month period, and their academic enthusiasm increased. The relationship between academic enthusiasm and academic performance is still unclear at this point. Nevertheless, we stress the importance of implementing more interactive discussions and activities in middle school classrooms, many of which are facing increasing pressure to design their curricula around standardized tests.

Gemstone Urban Revitalization Team

The Gemstone Urban Revitalization Team has spent the last two and a half years researching the theory and history of urban revitalization and working with community groups in Baltimore to develop a plan for neighborhood renewal. Our two partner communities are McElderry Park and Patterson Park. Both are located near Patterson Park, a large recreational space in central Baltimore. Our initial research focused on the history of urban revitalization around the United States, focusing on industrial centers east of the Mississippi, since we planned to work in Baltimore, a decaying former industrial powerhouse located on the east coast. After we had completed our city studies, we focused on methods of revitalization for our partner neighborhoods through interaction with their neighborhood organizations. We strengthened our links to the neighborhood by holding events soliciting resident opinions and concerns about the neighborhoods and through small improvement projects. The team has several deliverables at the end of our three years. We have constructed a computer model of the community, using original computer code and data collected by the City of Baltimore. This is a powerful planning tool for community leaders and for us. We have also developed a plan to revitalize Library Square, a green space between our partner neighborhoods, and to make it more accessible to the community.

genEducation

The genEducation team is exploring methods for improving understanding of genetic engineering concepts and eliminating misconceptions about the technology and its applications. The project aims to equip the public with the base of knowledge required to analyze a proposed genetic engineering solution and to come to an unbiased conclusion about the usage of the technology. The genEducation team has developed a low-cost plant transformation lab kit geared towards a high school audience in an effort to achieve this goal. Students will perform an Agrobacterium-mediated transformation of Arabidopsis thaliana that yields plants resistant to FinaleĀ® herbicide. In addition, an accompanying lab manual has been developed. It is designed to be engaging to the average high school student and combines a presentation of the basic scientific principles with an interdisciplinary look at the surrounding controversial issues. Testing for the project was completed over three one-week sessions with JumpStart, a program for high school students interested in biotechnology. The students performed an abbreviated version of the lab that included all the crucial components, but skipped the wait for periods of plant growth. JumpStart testing found that students were interested in the lab itself and that the transformation protocol could serve as an integral educational tool.

Innovations

As our name implies, our team’s focus was on innovation: why it occurs, how it occurs, and how it can be structured to maximize results. We chose to learn about the innovation process through not only research in the field of innovation, but also hands-on activity. Initially we considered several innovation “case studies” aiming to improve common appliances and technologies and subsequently narrowed them down using strict innovation criteria adopted from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the central research and development organization for the U.S. Department of Defense. The two case studies we chose to pursue were: 1) Developing a breakthrough approach to clothes-drying technology, and 2) Creating an intuitive user interface for handheld computers. Our innovation experience was very structured, as each of the two case-study subgroups approached its project using a different established innovation method. We imposed upon ourselves innumerable internal deadlines and goals and developed several iterations of each innovation product. To ensure that the work we did was substantive, we continually critiqued and justified our projects by holding them up to DARPA standards for innovation and addressing tough questions about the worth of our pursuits. Through our projects we have experienced two innovation methods firsthand, conducted extensive research on alternate methods and completed a thorough comparison, and produced some interesting technology to boot.

Acknowledgements

Innovations has benefited from the help of many wonderful people. We would first like to acknowledge our former team members, in particular Jesse Lorentson, who made valuable contributions to our research and helped make Gemstone a wonderful experience. We are also indebted to our Mentor, Dr. Stuart Milner, who worked hard to inspire us and keep us on track throughout our project. Thanks are due to the entire Gemstone Staff and to our librarian, Neal Kaske, for being willing and helpful resources throughout our four years in the Program. We appreciate the time that all our thesis discussants and Ben Bederson, HCIL Director, put into giving us input on our work. We appreciate the cooperation of the users who participated in our studies, as they provided us with important feedback. Last but not least, we thank our families and friends who have been so supportive throughout the entire process.

MedCare

We have explored how such non-health factors as knowledge of community resources, food security, and satisfaction with community affect the physical and mental wellbeing of limited resource populations in rural and urban areas. We focused on the Bread for the City Clinic in Washington, DC, as our urban population, and, for our rural population, collaborated with a University of Maryland Family Studies professor on her longitudinal study of family well-being in three rural areas of Maryland. We modified the survey that was conducted in rural areas for our urban population. With the assistance of our Bread for the City contact, we started interviewing their medical clinic patients, especially mothers with small children for the sake of an accurate comparison with the rural data. We also formed focus groups with the staff of the clinic to gather their input on our topic. We used SPSS, the statistical analysis software package, to find correlation between key factors. We researched current health policy, the differences in coverage between Maryland and DC, demographic data, medical issues and other factors that affect health, and specific obstacles faced by limited-resource populations in accessing and receiving healthcare in rural and urban areas.