Sustainability Research Honored at Denman Forum

April 05, 2019

By Olivia Smith

Each year, Ohio State undergraduate students gain precious research experience by participating in the Richard J. and Martha D. Denman Undergraduate Research Forum. This event showcases research, scholarship, and creativity by students at The Ohio State University. The Forum celebrates students’ research discovery, innovation and passions.  

The Sustainability Institute recognized the opportunity to provide awards to excellent undergraduate research in the area of sustainability, as it encompasses many diverse disciplines and student interests.

For the 2019 competition, the Sustainability Institute received 55 abstracts from the Denman Undergraduate Research Forum, which included key themes related to sustainability and resilience.  From there, the Sustainability Institute narrowed the competitors down to nine projects.  On the day of the Denman Forum, nine finalists were judged by Gina Hnytka, Sustainability Institute director of education and learning programs, and two faculty members: Jordan Clark, civil, environmental and geodetic engineering and food, agricultural and biological engineering, and Santina Contreras, city and regional planning.

The judges then scored the finalists using a specific sustainability research rubric, and the SI awards were presented to the top three scoring projects. The rubric focused on how the student’s project connected to sustainability, the interdisciplinary connections in their research, and how well they could translate their research and findings to varied audiences. 

The three projects are:

Andrea Wertz, biology major:  Feeding Can Enhance Coral Recovery from Natural Bleaching

Research Abstract: Coral reefs worldwide are experiencing increased bleaching and mortality due to dual stressors of increasing sea surface temperature and ocean acidification (OA) caused by climate change. Coral bleaching occurs when corals are exposed to temperatures of 1-2°C above summertime normal for as little as ten days. This causes the relationship between coral and the algae that reside within their cells (endosymbiotic algae) to break down, the endosymbiotic algae is expelled from the coral tissue, and the animal loses its color appearing bleached.

Jonathan Bell, geologic science major:  A Study of Groundwater and Fluoride in Central Tanzania

Research Abstract: Elevated fluoride concentrations in drinking water cause serious bone and growth defects in children and threatens citizen’s health in rural Tanzania. Growing populations in the semi-arid areas of central Tanzania, especially in the Singida region, rely heavily on groundwater as their source of drinking water, yet the distribution of groundwater and fluoride concentrations are not well understood.

Kelly Peterson, forestry, fisheries, and wildlife major and Kevin Conroy, zoology major – joint project:  Documenting the Prevalence of Internal Parasites in Bombus Species throughout Ohio

Research Abstract: Many species of microbes can be found in the digestive tracts of bees. Parasitic microbes, such as the microsporidian Nosema, have been hypothesized to be one of the major drivers of population decline in bumble bees (Bombus spp.) and honey bees (Apis mellifera) globally. Decline in bee populations threatens the pollination of a many plant species, including crops like apples and pumpkins. Bees in areas that are predominantly agricultural are thought to be more susceptible to weakened immune systems caused by pesticides. Bees with weakened immune systems are thought to be more susceptible to Nosema.

Congratulations to our Sustainability Institute award winners from this year’s Denman Undergraduate Research Forum. 

Olivia Smith is a student communications assistant at the Sustainability Institute at Ohio State.


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