Missouri State University
CNAS NewsWatch
An online publication for the alumni and friends of the College of Natural and Applied Sciences

The capacity to improve daily life

Two students working with a robot

“Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!” This famous quote may echo in the minds of some when the term “robot” is brought into a conversation. Though we don’t have fully autonomous, human-like robots just yet, they are being used for a number of jobs and functions already.

“Robots have been a significant part of our lives for quite some time,” said Anthony Clark, assistant professor of computer science at Missouri State University. “A large part of automated manufacturing and fabrication is completed with robots, and we are starting to see these industrial-style devices work their way into more applications, such as brewing coffee and preparing food. They are also used quite heavily in scientific exploration.”

Robots in centimeters

Clark’s research focuses on small—think centimeters—autonomous robots. He studies how the adaptability and robustness of robotic devices can be improved. To conduct this research, Clark uses different methods:

  • Evolutionary optimization – A population of robots compete against each other and the better robots are preferentially chosen to create the next generation.
  • Bioinspiration – Researchers take design ideas from living animals. For example, the flexibility of a fish’s caudal fin, or the adhesive properties of a gecko’s appendages.
  • Adaptive control theory – This includes a large amount of rigorously proven methods and practices for dealing with varying environmental conditions.
  • Soft robotics – Traditional rigid components and actuators are incorporated with flexible materials to improve the performance and safety of designs.

‘Robots have the capacity to improve lives’

Though a majority of robots are used in manufacturing, they can also be used in environments that are too hazardous for humans, such as locating victims during disaster recovery or assisting humans in dangerous occupations such as mining and firefighting.

Robots have also started being used in the field of health care.

“Two applications that we’ll see soon are in assistance and surgery,” said Clark. “Robotic devices are being developed to act as medical assistants where they can help check patient vitals and deliver medication at set times. This has the chance to bring down medical costs for people who cannot easily afford in-home caretakers.

“Robots are also being developed to aid in surgery and other in-hospital scenarios. The precision of robotic devices has the potential to reduce the risks of some surgical procedures.”

Robotics at Missouri State

As the field of robotics grows, so does the interest at Missouri State. Clark is currently working on an autonomous mobile robot that can adaptively adjust its traction, and some faculty members are using robots as tools in their work.

“We are in the early stages of creating a student robotics team, and several students have begun working on their own robot-based projects,” said Clark. “To address these interests, MSU’s library is establishing a robotics space where students can come check-out mobile robots and learn to program them.”

For more information, contact Clark at 417-836-5438.

Posted in CNAS, Computer Science | Leave a comment

Students, faculty attend microbiology conference

From left to right: Jared Smothers, John ‘Wes’ Short, Hazar Abusalamah, Abbi Mabary, Chelsea Campbell, Angie Rodriguez, Sara Woodman, Mariel Delgado Cruz

Numerous CNAS faculty and students attended the annual joint meeting of the Missouri and Missouri Valley Branches of the American Society for Microbiology held March 17-18 on the Missouri State campus.

Dr. Paul Schweiger and Dr. Chris Lupfer were the organizing committee hosts for the meeting, and biology faculty emeritus Dr. Jack Steiert is the current society president.

The following awards were won by Missouri State biology students:

  • Marshal Blank won second place in the graduate general and environmental microbiology short talk category. His faculty adviser is Dr. Paul Schweiger.
  • Angeline Rodriguez won second place in the undergraduate short talk category. Her faculty adviser is Dr. Chris Lupfer.

Several students also presented at the conference:

  • Hazar Abysalamah
  • Marshal Blank
  • Chelsea Campbell
  • Mariel Delgado Cruz
  • Samantha Fredrickson
  • Abbigale Mabary
  • Pelin Makaraci
  • Angeline Rodriguez
  • John Short
  • Sara Woodman
  • Jared Smothers

Several additional students also attended the conference:

  • John Paul
  • Michael Pilkenton
  • Meagan Rippee
  • Ashley Prince
  • Justin Valdez

Several faculty also attended the conference:

  • Kyoungtae Kim
  • Christopher Lupfer
  • Paul Schweiger
  • Jack Steiert
Posted in Biology, CNAS | Leave a comment

Student presents at KME convention

Math problems on a white boardMathematics student Hayley Hutson had the chance to present at the biennial National Convention of Kappa Mu Epsilon (KME), the National Mathematics Honor Society. The convention was held April 6-8 in Springfield.

“I got to give a presentation on the research I did this summer with Dr. Rebaza and Savannah Bates—from Jacksonville University—on stability analysis of a model of Zika virus,” said Hutson. “Presenting was nerve-wrecking. It was the largest crowd I’ve ever presented to, and public speaking is not my forte, but I think it went well.”

There were several workshops at the convention, ranging from R programming to origami to mathematical art.

Posted in CNAS, Mathematics | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Professor, students publish paper on adaptive integration in flowers

Flowers in front of the PSUWhen planning a corporate event, each individual job is important and works together to make the event a success. If the venue for the event suddenly changes, every individual–the DJ, the caterer, the florist—have to adapt in order to make the event happen despite the change.

The same is true in nature—this is called adaptive integration.

Adaptive integration

“Flowers on the same plant can vary greatly in size,” said Dr. John Heywood, professor of biology. “If several flower parts interact to promote pollen removal and deposition by a pollinator, those parts must vary in a coordinated fashion across flowers in order to consistently promote successful pollination, a pattern that is referred to as adaptive integration.”

In flowers, this process has previously been difficult to demonstrate. Heywood’s team was able to demonstrate adaptive integration of flower parts in a Missouri prairie plant called Ruella humilis, or the common wild petunia, by including appropriate controls for background levels of correlation.

“Our study was also novel in that we were able to obtain separate estimates of integration in response to genetic and environmental sources of variation in flower size,” said Heywood. “This was important because adaptive integration should be apparent in the face of both genetic and environmental variation, whereas this is not necessarily the case for background correlations.”

The team, composed of Heywood and six undergraduate students, found strong evidence for genetic and environmental integration of flower parts that interact to promote the removal and deposition of pollen. Surprisingly, for other pairs of flower parts the patterns of genetic and environmental correlations were largely discordant, suggesting a lack of adaptive integration.

They published the study in “Annals of Botany.”

Involving students

This study was part of a larger project directed at understanding the consequences of a recent loss of pollination services in the Missouri population of this species.

“Obtaining separate estimates of genetic and environmental correlations between traits requires a large population of plants generated by an explicit breeding design, followed by precise measurements of multiple traits on several flowers per plant,” said Heywood.

Heywood emphasized the importance of student undergraduate research.

“There is nothing quite like learning something about the natural world that nobody before you has known,” said Heywood. “That kind of experience is often what inspires a student to pursue graduate studies with the goal of becoming a practicing scientist.”

Getting published

Heywood and six undergraduate biology students recently published a paper on their research project titled “Genetic and environmental integration of the hawkmoth pollination syndrome in Ruellia humilis (Acanthaceae)” in “Annals of Botany.”

The students who contributed to the article and project were:

  • Joseph Michalski
  • Braden McCann
  • Amber Russo
  • Kara Andres
  • Allison Hall
  • Tessa Middleton

“Data were collected over three years by a team of dedicated student researchers, without whom a project of this magnitude would not have been possible,” said Heywood.

Posted in Biology, CNAS | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Biology alum featured in community paper

Fresh water musselsAndy Roberts, who received both his BS and MS from Missouri State, was recently featured in the Columbia Missourian for his work with mussels.

Roberts has been surveying area mussel populations in order to justify their placement on endangered species lists. Placement on these lists helps ensure that mussel populations are protected and makes it easier for researchers to qualify for financial assistance.

Roberts became interested in mussels when he became Dr. Chris Barnhart’s teaching and research assistant at Missouri State.

Read the article online.

Posted in Biology, CNAS | Leave a comment

Student receives NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

Shannon Dulz
Dulz presenting research at the 229th American Astronomical Society meeting in January 2017.

Senior undergraduate student Shannon Dulz was recently awarded a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation. These competitive fellowships fund graduate student research and recipients represent a wide range of disciplines.

Dulz’s research centers on exoplanet systems and their properties.

“Exoplanets or extrasolar planets are planets not in our solar system,” said Dulz, a Kirkwood, Missouri native. “By gathering information on the types of systems in the universe we can build our understanding on how these systems formed and what they are like. Ultimately that helps us to understand how our own solar system formed, too.”

In order to receive the funding, Dulz had to write a “Personal, Relevant Background and Future Goals Statement” as well as a “Graduate Research Plan Statement.”

A double major in physics and mathematics, Dulz will graduate in May 2017. She will be joining the Physics Ph.D. program at the University of Notre Dame in the fall.

Posted in CNAS, Physics Astronomy and Materials Science | Leave a comment

Dozens of students to present at Undergraduate Research Day

Students talking about a research posterFrom human-powered bicycle generators to salamander territorial behavior, this year’s CNAS Undergraduate Research Day is guaranteed to be a fascinating experience.

The celebration of student research will begin on Friday, April 28 at 1 p.m. Students from departments across the College of Natural and Applied Sciences and the cooperative engineering program will present their abstracts and posters from 1-3 p.m.

After the student presentations, Dr. Nick Gerasimchuck, professor of chemistry, will speak to attendees before the awards ceremony. Each department will then award prizes for first ($100) and second place ($50).

Over 60 students presented during last year’s event, resulting in over $1,000 in prizes. All current CNAS students are invited to attend.

Some of the student research will include:

Human-powered bicycle generator

Electrical engineering students Jeremiah Fox, Freeman Lee and Andrew Campbell wanted to find a way to get younger generations interested in electrical engineering. To do that, they needed to design a simple system that would be easy to explain.

Enter the human-powered bicycle generator.

Similar to a power grid, the kinetic force applied to the bicycle’s pedals transfers to an induction motor, which acts as a generator. Additionally, the bicycle features metering information that allows the use to calculate the power they are producing in real time.

When territorial salamanders cheat

Salamander neighbors aren’t always the best of friends. Once territory boundaries are established, however, the “dear enemy” hypothesis states that salamanders will show reduced aggression toward one another.

But what happens when a neighbor “cheats” and crosses those territorial lines?

This is the question Kenzie Medley, a biology student, wanted to answer. Through using mirrors to simulate both cheating and cooperating neighbors, Medley’s research revealed that salamanders were significantly more aggressive toward cheating neighbors.

Identifying variables related to domestic violence

Geography, geology and planning students Tim Datema and Michael Ruether understand that domestic violence is a complex problem in today’s society. In an effort to identify potential trends in domestic violence crimes, their research sought to evaluate how different variables affect the frequency of domestic violence in Missouri.

Through combining their own data with data from 15 other studies, Datema and Ruether’s research focuses specifically on the level of urbanization, the presence of domestic violence shelters and the strength of local law enforcement.

Their research will provide a basis for future analysis of domestic violence, its causes and prevention initiatives.

For more information, contact Dr. Tamera Jahnke, dean of the College of Natural and Applied Sciences, at 417-836-5249.

Posted in Biology, CNAS, Engineering, Geography Geology and Planning | Leave a comment

Dr. Mike Reed honored for outstanding faculty research

Mike ReedAstronomy professor Dr. Mike Reed has been selected to receive the 2017 Director’s Award for Outstanding Faculty Research from the Honors College.

“I had no idea this was coming. It has really been my pleasure to work with this excellent group of students,” said Reed. “During early spring is when graduating students determine their after-graduation plans and this year has been especially rewarding in our department.”

In astronomy, all three graduating seniors have been accepted to graduate programs.

“This last year our research has been focusing on using data from the Kepler Space Telescope to do two very different things,” said Reed. “Most of my research students are doing stellar seismology where we use small light variations to see inside stars and determine their structure. Our other project is using Kepler data to search for Transit Timing Variations that can be used to look for unseen planets.”

Reed is proud of the work his undergraduate students have accomplished thus far and is honored to be receiving the award.

About the award

“The Director’s Award for Outstanding Faculty Research recognizes the exceptional research accomplishments of MSU’s Honors College Faculty. This award recognizes a faculty member’s research excellence and is meant to acknowledge those Honors College professors who serve as the best example of the ideal scholar/teacher who has not only made a significant contribution to their own field of research, but who have also helped to expand the growth and development of honors education at MSU. Director’s Award recipients have made major contributions to their own research fields and have participated in the ongoing success of Missouri State University’s Honors Program.”

Posted in CNAS, Physics Astronomy and Materials Science | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Local high school students to participate in annual Pummill Relays

Students at the Pummill RelaysEvery year Missouri State University invites local high school students to participate in the Pummill Relays, a series of math competitions held during a single day in spring. The relays let high schoolers get a look at campus and assist with the competition, which can provide valuable resume experience for aspiring math teachers and others.

Now in its 45th year, the competition will again include the Calculus with Clickers, an event where both accuracy and speed are valued. In addition, there are four other restricted individual events, four open individual events, four traditional team events, a computer-programming event, a challenging problems event and the Math Mania event.

What: 45th Pummill Relays

When: April 12

Where: Hammons Student Center, 731 Bear Blvd.

For more information about the event, parking information and results from the competition, visit the Pummill Relays webpage.

Posted in CNAS, Mathematics | Leave a comment