Gemstone Honors Program

Class of 2005 Teams

Anonymous Communication

We are exploring the technical and societal aspects of anonymous communication. The technical aspect involves implementation and feasibility studies of anonymity over the Internet. We have studied many existing anonymity protocols as well as created an anonymous chat application. The societal aspect involves a study of the ethics of anonymity and public opinions. We distributed a survey to gather the thoughts of the University of Maryland community. From our research, we can make interesting observations regarding anonymous communication.

DRUGS: Drug Reform Under Gemstone Study

The Drug Reform Under Gemstone Study was formed in response to what appears to be an ineffective and inefficient national drug policy. To better handle such a broad topic, our team chose to narrow its focus to marijuana. This has proven to be an ideal topic, as the controversy surrounding marijuana has opened up many avenues for study. Our research question was eventually refined to “What initiatives can be taken to inform the American voting public about marijuana so they make more knowledgeable decisions regarding marijuana legislation?” In our review of past research, we have studied: the economics of marijuana, its impact on the judicial system, efforts at rehabilitation, the medical aspects, the policies of other countries, the social ramifications of marijuana, and the current efforts by different groups to educate the public. We went on to research the University of Maryland population’s attitudes and knowledge regarding marijuana and advertising methods to most effectively reach them. Our end result has been an original survey of the University of Maryland population, a professionally produced radio public service announcement, a website devoted to marijuana information, and our research documented in our thesis.

FAST: First Responders Alerting and Safety Team

The goal of the First Responders Alerting and Safety Team is to provide new technology for first responders which would help to ensure their safety in the field. Our project has developed into two branches: one addressing police safety and the other addressing firefighter safety. For the police component, we have created a device which is attached to a police sidearm. It is able to detect when the gun has been fired and then send a signal to the police dispatch which would provide them with the officer’s location by using GPS technology. This would ideally allow for backup to be immediately and accurately dispatched as well as record an account of when, where, and in which direction shots were fired to more precisely recreate the scene if needed. For the firefighter component, we have attached a camera to a firefighter helmet which feeds an image into both an eyepiece attached to the helmet and to a central monitoring location by using wireless technology. Our hope is that this could one day be modified with infra-red technology which would enable the firefighter to see heat readings of a room and also, more importantly, a person who may be otherwise invisible because of the smoke. We are very proud of these developments and hopeful that they will one day be used to help officers and firefighters more safely conduct their very important jobs.

Genetic Programming

Collective behavior is an important but poorly understood part of both human society and animal populations. Recent work developing methods to model evolution and natural selection via computer simulations suggests that computer models could provide insights into some aspects of collective behavior. Accordingly, our goal in this project was to create artificial worlds inhabited by agents (individuals) and to study conditions under which simple collective behaviors evolved during simulated reproduction and natural selection. We focused on collective movement (like bird flocks, fish schools, wolf packs, zebra herds, etc.), and specifically on predator and prey models because there have been many past mathematical models and studies that relate to these populations. In our model of evolving prey, we found that individuals with limited visual abilities would evolve to move collectively to increase their odds of avoiding capture by predators. In another model of evolving predators, we found that they would evolve to hunt collectively if the environment consisted of relatively few, scattered, and mobile food sources. We also became interested in issues involving the evolutionary process itself, and investigated how assumptions about the details of the crossover operator used in genetic algorithms influenced the amount of "junk DNA" accumulated by agents during evolution. Our work not only establishes that evolution of agents in artificial worlds can lead to collective movements in specific contexts, but also demonstrates the potential value of this use of technology to better understand animal and even human behaviors.

ICEY-T: Investigating Citizenship Education in Youth

Our team’s research studied the effects of service-learning programs on the citizenship of middle school aged youth. We feel that this topic is relevant to life today, as recent research documents citizenship is in decline in the United States. Moreover, the global community is considering the characteristics of citizenship every day, with international issues such as terrorism and natural disasters. We performed a literature review, which suggested that service-learning was a common mechanism used to teach citizenship skills. Moreover, the review proposed that participation, gender, reflection, and frequency of participation are variables associated with service-learning that affect citizenship attitudes and participation. During our primary research, we worked in conjunction with the Jane Goodall Institute’s National Roots and Shoots Program and Police Athletic League to gather data for our hypotheses analyses. Our study resulted in support of the hypotheses that gender and frequency of participation in service-learning programs has an effect on youth citizenship attitudes and frequency of participation in service-learning programs has an effect on youth citizenship participation.

iPEG: Innovations in Personal Energy Generation

Our team was formed to investigate situations where energy is being produced but not utilized. Through extensive research and exploration, we chose to focus on ways to capture the heat produced by the human body. We are employing thermoelectric generators because of their relatively small size and their ability to transform relatively small temperature differences into usable electrical power. Through calculation and experimentation, we have been able to demonstrate the potential for thermoelectric devices as being applied to the human body and are proposing several possible applications for this technology to power small personal devices.

MESH: Multicultural Education through Social History

The Multicultural Education through Social History (MESH) team investigated the effects of a multicultural education curriculum supplement on the content knowledge and racial attitudes of children. The curriculum supplement consisted of twelve lesson plans for social studies classes. The material in the lesson plans complemented the Prince George’s County Public Schools curriculum and utilized several different teaching techniques. Reviews of current literature enabled the team to determine that nine to ten year-olds would be the preferred subjects for our study. Thus, the subjects included fifty-six fourth grade students from Cora Rice Elementary School in Landover, MD. The team utilized a pre-post-post test design in which students were administered two assessments: the Multi-Response Racial Attitudes Assessment (MRA) and a True/False Knowledge Test. Both the MRA and Knowledge Test were administered prior to administering the lessons, immediately following the six-week intervention with the curriculum supplement, and again three weeks after the first post-test. Results indicated an overall reduction in both positive and negative biases as measured by the MRA. There was no significant correlation between knowledge gained and racial biases. Secondary findings included the use of significantly more good words by females, and significantly higher positive aggregate biases toward the racial groups of Hispanic and Caucasian. The team recommends further studies be focused on a more effective instrument to measure knowledge, along with studies exploring secondary findings.

Remediation through Biotechnology

Remediation of heavy metals is often a prohibitively expensive endeavor, but novel, inexpensive methods such as using plants to extract pollutants from the soil show great promise. Thlaspi caerulescens is a plant species capable of absorbing very high concentrations of zinc and cadmium. Unfortunately, it is too small to be mechanically harvested, which prevents its use as a cost effective remediating agent. We developed a multi-part research design to engineer Thlaspi in order to increase its biomass. The three methods are induced polyploidy through colchicine treatments, Agrobacterium-mediated insertion of hormone-production genes, and basic treatments of natural plant growth hormones. Success at any of these stages would represent a major step towards viability for phytoremediation of heavy metal contamination with Thlaspi caerulescens. We are in the process of analyzing our biomass data to determine if there are statistically significant size differences between our control and experimental groups.

SAFE: Sexual Awareness From Education

The United States has the highest teenage pregnancy rate of any industrialized nations, yet the quality of sex education, and in particular contraceptive education, in the public schools has been declining due to an increase in abstinence-only sex education curricula. The purpose of the SAFE study is to investigate the sexual behavior, contraceptive knowledge, and contraceptive use of first-semester college freshmen at the University of Maryland. To explore these areas, SAFE administered a survey to over 400 first year students during the Fall 2003 semester. The survey addressed various issues, including the sexual history and contraceptive use of each student. In addition, a quiz-style series of questions was included to assess the contraceptive knowledge of each student. The analysis of the data yielded several significant findings. Our data reveals that only roughly one third of all respondents indicated that they always use protection during vaginal intercourse, leaving about two thirds of students unprotected at some point. Additionally, University of Maryland freshmen are significantly less knowledgeable about newer forms of contraception as opposed to more traditional forms (such as the barrier method). These findings, along with the remainder of our results, clearly show the need for more extensive sexual education at both the high school and college level.

Smart Roads

SmartRoads is researching transportation and traffic issues. Our team's mission has been harnessing emerging technology to improve the safety and efficiency of the transportation infrastructure. Specifically, our research focused on the development of remotely controlled dynamic pavement markers in the immediate context of complex intersections and crosswalks and with highway applications in mind for the future. We have conceived of a technique for constructing electrophoretic displays which exhibit the retroreflective qualities necessary for highway implementation. Members of our team have been working with engineering clean-rooms, chemistry labs, and an electronics lab in order to produce a prototype of the retroreflective electrophoretic display material which is the core of the invention. We are currently taking steps to file a patent application covering our research.

SWAMP: Sustainable Wetlands and Marsh Promotion

Over the past three years, the SWAMP (Shoreline Wetlands and Marsh Promotion) Team has been studying the use of tidal wetlands for shoreline erosion control on the Chesapeake Bay. In order to incorporate the technological and societal aspects of the Gemstone Program, our research was two-fold: to explore the effectiveness of man-made wetlands in the control of erosion and to gather information on the permitting process from the landowner’s perspective. In order to complete the technological goal of our research we visited over 80 sites along the Chesapeake Bay on which tidal wetlands were implemented. All of the wetlands were used in conjunction with some kind of structural erosion control technique such as sills or revetments. We used survey and interview techniques such as stem density counts and interview data from the landowners to determine the effectiveness of their particular design in the prevention of erosion. The data we collected allowed us to develop a set of criteria that we believe make for a successful erosion control project. To complete the second goal of our research, we sent out surveys to landowners to investigate their choices for erosion control, the permitting process, and the implementation of their project. Our research will culminate into a website designed to aid landowners in exploring erosion control options for their shoreline. The website will provide them with information about the required permitting process, the various structural and non-structural techniques available to them, and our criteria for a successful wetland.

TOWN: Tackling Obstacles Within Neighborhoods

We have studied how various community centers communicate with and understand their milieu. We evaluated four different tools with which community centers and their target communities can communicate. The tools we examined were Surveys, Interviews, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and multifactor analytic tools for organizations such as “Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats” (SWOT). For our research, we have partnered with the Bladensburg Community Center and the town of Bladensburg, Maryland – one of the Port Towns, of Prince George’s County – about five miles from the University of Maryland campus. We have used these tools in a preliminary study to determine who uses the Bladensburg Community Center, where they come from, and what they wish to see from the Center. Bladensburg residents were surveyed, community leaders and Community Center staff were interviewed, and these data were compiled with usage statistics from the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission’s (MNCPPC) SMARTLINK database. An analysis of the Community Center was also performed using SWOT technology. Based on our observations, we have made several specific recommendations to the Community Center. We call for improved, regular exit surveys within the Center, coupled with increased coordination between the MNCPPC and individual centers employing GIS to model usage patterns in more detail. We also observed that many zip codes export users to this Community Center – our recommendations may help to elucidate these patterns. We also conclude that the target community of the Bladensburg Community Center is a regional, and not a local, population.

UDI: Universal Device Interface

We hope to develop a network that connects all types of electronic devices, and allows any connected device to be run seamlessly from any of several possible interfaces. We also hope to design a suitable interface for this network with two main goals in mind. First, we want to ensure that less technically oriented users, especially those intimidated by technology and their own devices, will find the interface simple, intuitive, and non-threatening. Our second goal is to give high-end users, the more technically inclined, advanced control with the ability to time device actions, write simple or complex scripts for device actions, and provide maximum possible control, given current technological limits.

UMITE: University of Maryland Initiative for Transportation Efficiency

Our research was focused on improving the efficiency of the transportation system at the University of Maryland. We looked into available technology that could contribute to keeping students safe as they utilized the system, including implementing a GPS system on the buses. In order to benchmark the progress that the University of Maryland had achieved, we surveyed several peer institutions, asking them about their transportation system, budget, safety measures, routes, etc. Using this information, we were able to get an idea of how other schools were operating in comparable environments. After consulting with the Shuttle UM management, we learned of their perception of the current state of the system as well as future plans. We were also able to recommend improvements to them as well, some of which have been implemented into the system. One of the most important parts of our research was a survey of the student population. The survey included questions on how often they rode the buses or NITE Ride, where they lived and where they rode the buses to, wait times, and safety perception, amongst other questions. Students were also asked if they knew where to find the necessary information. After conducting the survey, we also formed focus groups to get a more personal view of the students’ opinions as well as to observe discussion of the current system between the students. We utilized all of this information to form a final recommendation to the Shuttle UM management on future safety improvements.