Gemstone Honors Program

Class of 2007 Teams

ASSIST: Appropriate Sustainable Solutions Integrating Simple Technologies

Widespread arsenic contamination of drinking water is a problem of much concern throughout the developing world, especially in the small and densely populated country of Bangladesh. Over the past four years, we have researched the source of arsenic contamination in Bangladesh, as well as the long-term health consequences of arsenic poisoning. We have also studied several different methods of arsenic removal and identified the failures and successes of technologies that have previously been implemented throughout the region. Our main objective was to build upon existing technologies to develop an effective, low-cost and culturally acceptable water filter appropriate for Bangladesh and other developing nations affected by arsenic contamination. Our filter uses granular ferric hydroxide (GFH) as the primary media to rid water of arsenic. The GFH is used in an adsorption process, where it binds to the arsenic, leaving behind safe drinking water. From our research, we also discovered the benefits of including sand and activated carbon media in our filter to improve the color, smell and taste of the filtered water. We have implemented this basic method of arsenic removal into a simple, unique and low-cost design. We have also tested the water filter to ensure its safety and effectiveness. Our test results show that our filter has indeed been successful in taking water with dangerous levels of arsenic (300 parts per billion) and cleaning it so that it contains only negligible and safe amounts of arsenic (below 30 parts per billion).


Team Blood aimed to discover and understand the blood donation tendencies of college students through an analysis of University of Maryland students. Our research was divided into two related areas. The first area of the research was the development of a survey that asked students about their blood donation tendencies and why they do or do not donate blood. We distributed the survey to over two thousand students and analyzed the survey responses to identify the prevalent reasons students do or do not donate blood and also to determine the level of knowledge that students possessed regarding the blood donation process and the general need for donated blood. In addition, we used the survey to determine if providing incentives would increase the likelihood of students to donate. The second part of our research involved an advertising questionnaire that was distributed at several blood drives on campus in order to determine the reason(s) an individual arrived at his/her decision to donate blood. We hoped that results from the questionnaire could be used to identify effective recruitment techniques to encourage students to donate blood. We focused on a single recruiting method prior to each of the experimental drives to determine if it had a quantifiable impact on participation. The two parts of our research project were combined in a thesis to answer the questions of why University of Maryland students do or do not donate blood, and what methods are most effective at encouraging larger student participation at campus-wide blood drives.


Team BurniNATION focuses on improving the fire safety of on-campus housing by determining how fire safety is affected when students bring additional items into their rooms. We first conducted a survey to determine common articles that are found in campus housing at the University of Maryland. Using this data, we conducted full-scale fire tests of two mock dormitory rooms. The results of these tests were used to calibrate simulation software known as Fire Dynamic Simulator (FDS). With the calibrated software, we conducted numerous fire simulations which evaluated the effects that these items have on the tenability conditions within the environment. The last phase of our research was the implementation of these results into a neural network that we trained to converge to our results. The end result was a “scale” that showed the relative impact that each of these items had on the danger of the fire. Through our research, we have shown that this method is a feasible process for determining the impact of various objects on a fire scenario.

GAMER: Games and Media Entertainment Research

Currently, there are many educational video games on the market. However, some children may see them as boring and avoid playing them even if these games may teach children valuable skills. In order to meet this need for entertaining and educational video games, we created a food web simulation that taught fourth grade students about the ecology of the Chesapeake Bay. Our game simulates the aquatic environment of the bay and allows students to explore the interactions between various indigenous fish species. The feedback obtained from both local fourth grade teachers and their students after they played the game was overwhelmingly positive. Students found the game fun and exciting, and teachers believed that this game would be an excellent teaching supplement to their unit on the Chesapeake Bay. Teachers also believed that students would definitely play this game on their own time at home as well. Due to limitations in time and manpower, we were able to test this game on two elementary schools. However, since the Chesapeake Bay is a central topic for most Maryland school districts, we believe that more local elementary schools could benefit from using our game as a teaching supplement. Hopefully future research projects could extend the scope of our results and also study the impact of our game on fourth grade student performance in science.

IMPACT: Integrating MEMS in the Pursuit of Advancing Classroom Technology

In collaboration with Dr. Elisabeth Smela of the Mechanical Engineering Department and with the guidance of faculty mentor Karen Thornton, we created an educational kit that demonstrated MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) concepts in a macroscopic environment. MEMS are tiny devices with dimensions on the scale of a micrometer (one millionth of a meter) that are used in airbag accelerometers, biochips that detect chemical and biological agents, microsystems for high-throughput drug screening, and other novel applications. MEMS are fabricated through micromachining processes at a microscopic level, requiring the use of expensive clean rooms that eliminate dust and particulate that could disrupt the process. Currently, the hands-on study of MEMS is inaccessible to a large body of engineering students who attend schools without the multi-million dollar facilities necessary for fabrication. Our original educational kits facilitate the study of MEMS in regular classrooms at institutions that would not otherwise have the funding to support such experimentation. Our team first analyzed the market through a survey of professors in the field. We developed a product and then conducted a successful pilot program, through which team members incorporated feedback to improve the kit and lab manual. Finally, we wrote a business plan and thesis, established the company, Impact Education, LLC, and plan to take our product to market in late summer 2007.

PEACE: Peace Education Aimed at Children Everywhere

Team PEACE sought to answer the question: did our peace education curriculum supplements effectively impact students’ knowledge, attitudes, and actions concerning peace? We created a program of fourteen curriculum supplements covering a broad range of topics that were then taught to fifth graders at Springhill Lake Elementary School over a period of seven weeks. To evaluate the effectiveness of our program, we used quantitative data from the pre-test and post-test, drew on qualitative data from students’ journals and in-class assignments, analyzed our teaching experiences, and utilized information gathered from interviews with the classroom teachers. We found that the program successfully enhanced students’ knowledge of peace history and, to a lesser extent, affected students’ attitudes regarding peace and violence. Due to the short duration of our program, we could not discern changes in the students’ actions. We believe we have largely achieved our goals. However, in order for a peace education program to fully achieve these goals, it would need to be incorporated into the existing school curriculum as a permanent piece of elementary education, rather than taught for merely fourteen hours over seven weeks.

PHARMIT: Publicizing Herbal Adverse Reactions to Medications for an Improved Tomorrow

Our goal as team PHARMIT was to answer the research question: how can we help consumers make informed, safe decisions about herbal supplement usage? We approached this question from both social education and laboratory research angles. In the first approach, we used case study methodology to develop, implement, and evaluate a health promotion program concerning possible adverse interactions between herbal supplements and prescription medications and the necessity for patient-doctor communication about herbal supplement use. By independently examining the effect of a promotional poster at various doctors’ offices and health clinics, we found that there exists a lack of knowledge regarding herbal supplement safety and general neglect among patients in communicating their herbal supplement use to physicians. In addition, people are taking herbal supplements with prescription medications, unknowingly putting themselves at a possible risk. In the second approach, we carried out laboratory research on over-the-counter ginseng products in order to contribute to the scientific knowledge base about herbal supplement risks. We first quantified the herb’s active compounds, ginsenosides, in various over-the-counter ginseng products through compound extraction and computerized analysis. We found that the products contained varying ranges of ginsenosides, not always agreeing with product labels that reported ginsenoside content. We also examined possible supplement contamination by fungal metabolites known as aflatoxins, some of which are carcinogenic compounds. We found possible traces of these toxins in our specimens, but suggest further testing for clearer results. Our research will contribute to the scientific and societal knowledge base concerning herbal supplement use and safety.

Team TerpTV

Through research and action, we worked to improve the quality and quantity of student-run television programming at the University of Maryland. We first chronicled both national and local history of student-run television. Case studies of student-run television stations at other institutions provide strong evidence of the feasibility of improving UMD television. Survey results show that students here are largely unaware of the campus’s current television offerings, and students are interested in getting involved with television production. By creating a club of students interested in television, the first models for new programming have been produced and presented to administrators at the university. In addition, we propose that the university administration fully support campus television both through priority and funding.


Team Testudio’s goal was to create an online digital community for amateur musicians and music lovers here at the University of Maryland. We envisioned a website where students could upload their original music, download original music created and performed by their peers, and share ideas and information about music with each other. We created that website at the domain name The website was tailored to fit the needs of the community of students we hoped to foster and grow. In addition, we marketed the website to the student body to attract the members of our community. The Testudio website has been active and hosting student music since the spring of 2006. Our research methodology was rooted mainly in surveys. Throughout the course of the project, we surveyed our community’s target group, university students, both to learn what features and services would best serve our community’s needs and to gauge the successes and failures of our community after its implementation. We used paper surveys, online surveys, and focus groups at multiple stages of the project to gather this information. Our thesis aims to both justify the purpose of our work and evaluate our success. We measured our progress towards our goal quantitatively and qualitatively. In order to gauge the relative success of the project and of the community, we relied on survey data, individual responses, and raw statistics from the website.

TRACK: Team Research on the Academic Classification of Kids

Tracking, or ability grouping, is the separation of students into different classrooms based on ability. Tracking has long been used in education, but remains controversial. The rationale for tracking is that separating students allows teachers to address the needs of students with varying learning abilities. However, opponents of tracking believe tracking has negative effects on the psychological well-being of students in low-ability tracks. This study examined how 7th-grade students’ self-esteem, self-concept, and social comparisons were affected by math track placement and gender. Based on 170 surveyed and 15 students interviewed, we initially found that while academic tracks do not influence students’ general self-esteem, they do affect academic self-concepts. Higher-track students had significantly higher ability self-concepts in math, English, and school. However, when we controlled for grades, we found that tracking had no effect on students’ self-esteem and self-concepts. Our research also found that students stated they most frequently compared to other students performing similarly to them in the same track, rather than across tracks, when they wanted to obtain information about their abilities. Boys compared themselves to students doing better than themselves more than girls. However, there were no gender differences in self-esteem or self-concepts related to whether boys and girls compared themselves to others within their track or in different tracks. These results are discussed in the context of previous literature that examined tracking’s effects on students’ self-esteem and self-concepts. Our research indicated that future research should more specifically study the effect of tracking on students’ self-concept.

TRIGGER: Testing the Reliability of the Identification of Guns through Gemstone Experimental Research

Our team researched the validity of current ballistic imaging techniques. The state of Maryland created a database that contains images from cartridges fired from all new handguns bought in the state. This database is based on the supposition that the markings produced on cartridges when they are fired from a gun do not change over successive firings. However, some evidence suggests that this assumption is incorrect; there may be a "break-in period" before the markings made on the cartridges become stable and consistent. In order to test the possible existence of a break-in period, we collaborated with the University of Maryland police to fire and collect cartridges from ten new handguns. We imaged the cartridges and analyzed them using MATLAB software to determine the possible existence of a break-in period. While our data showed that there were statistically significant differences between the reference cartridge casing and subsequent cartridges, our results were inconclusive due to inconsistencies found in the rotational component of the comparison program. These results displayed a general trend that markings on the cartridge cases of later cartridge cases had lower correlation scores than those of the reference cartridges, but still produced higher correlation scores than between two random cartridge cases of separate guns.

Urban Revitalization: Bettering a Neighborhood

Urban Revitalization: Bettering a Neighborhood sought to gain a comprehensive understanding of the physical, social, and economic effects of urban revitalization. Using Columbia Heights, a District of Columbia neighborhood as a case study, we conducted an in-depth analysis of the rapid revitalization efforts through several approaches:

  1. statistical modeling of the effect of the metro station
  2. development of a photo archive and visual preference survey that chronicles the physical changes
  3. Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping as a tool to spatially locate changes and draw patterns, and
  4. interview sessions with residents and community leaders to understand their attitudes toward certain key changes as well as their general feelings about the recent developments.

These methods provided qualitative and quantitative insight into the changes, and were used to form a holistic understanding of the effects of the urban revitalization efforts on the neighborhood. Our research findings will be presented to the Columbia Heights community, and we hope to generalize our findings to aid in future revitalization efforts.