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Discover Showcase Caps Successful Science Week

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The College of Science wrapped up Science Week 2021, its annual weeklong celebration of science, with a live virtual showcase of excellence in student research, Discover 2021, on April 23.

Discover, formerly ACES (Annual Celebration of Excellence by Students), is a symposium featuring research presentations by the College’s undergraduate and graduate students. This year’s all-virtual format allowed guests to view the entries of all 77 participants during the week. Faculty and guest judges had the difficult task of narrowing the poster entries down to 10 finalists – six graduate and four undergraduate – prior to the live showcase.

Each of the finalists gave a live online presentation of their research, with a panel of judges then making final votes which awarded first, second, and third place and honorable mention in each division.

Award recipients include:

Graduate Student Division
First Place ($400 prize): Jiwon Oh, earth and environmental sciences. Project title: “Changes in maternal serum concentrations of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances from pregnancy to two years postpartum.” Faculty mentor: Hyeong-Moo Shin

Second Place ($300 prize): Zachary Chairez, mathematics. Project title: “A Multi-view Extension of the Unbalanced Procrustes Problem with an Eigenvalue Based Approach.” Faculty mentor: Li Wang

Third Place ($200 prize): Philip Peper, psychology. Project title: “Differential Prospective Memory Benefit of Reminders Depending on Cognitive Load.” Faculty mentor: Hunter Ball

Honorable mention ($100 prize):
Durna Alakbarova, psychology. Project title: “Metacognitive Insights into Learning Improvements Across Study Blocks.” Faculty mentor: Hunter Ball

Noura Alkhaldi, physics. Project title: “Electronic and Optical Properties of Copper-Cysteamine Structures by First Principles Calculations/” Faculty mentor: Muhammad Huda

Alexander Kaplitz, chemistry. Project title: “Online Extraction of Environmental Pollutants from Microplastics using SFE-SFC-MS.” Faculty mentor: Kevin Schug

Undergraduate Student Division
First Place ($400 prize): Mary Asmaty, biology. Project title: “Effects of bioinoculants in the microbial community of the soybean rhizosphere under drought conditions.” Faculty mentor: Woo-Suk Chang

Second Place ($300 prize): Eileen Lavin, psychology. Project title: “Motor profiles of children enrolled in a virtual motor skill intervention program.” Faculty mentor: Priscila Tamplain

Third Place ($200 prize): Kayla Robb; mathematics. Project title: “The Effect of Hausdorff Dimension on the Security of Fractal-Based Image Encryption.” Faculty mentor: Theresa Jorgensen

Honorable mention ($100 prize): Clifton Noel, physics. Project title: “Investigation of ion feedback in and lifetime testing of a large area Micro Channel Plate Photomultiplier Tube (MCP-PMT).” Faculty mentor: Andrew Brandt

“I was very impressed with the high quality of the research as well as the presentations in all of these posters,” College of Science Dean Morteza Khaledi said. “This symposium is a great showcase not only of the cutting-edge research that is conducted in the College but also the quality and maturity of the students who did the work, as well as the quality of the mentorship they received from our faculty. To all of our student authors and researchers, congratulations for a job well-done, and keep up the good work; you have made us proud.”

Guest judges for the live final showcase included UTA Distinguished alumnus Michael Ray, who earned B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in mathematics from UTA and is chair of the COS Advisory Council; alumnus Wayne Hoskins, who earned B.S. and M.S. degrees in geology from UTA and is a former member of the COS Advisory Council; Khaledi; and Minerva Cordero, senior associate dean for research and graduate studies.

“We would also like to thank the faculty mentors for the time they devote to their students in their research endeavors,” Cordero said. “It is a time-consuming process, but it’s absolutely fulfilling and as a faculty member myself, I greatly enjoy working with my students. When they give a presentation it’s just a wonderful feeling to see how much they’re growing and how much they’re benefitting from this experience. To all the students who participated, thank you so much. You’re doing great work and you have distinguished yourselves as true scientists.”

Discover event sponsors included Fresnel Technologies, Inc., Restek, Shimadzu Corp., and Thermo Fisher Scientific.

All the projects can be viewed at

Science Week events
The Discover showcase was the highlight of a full week of seminars and demonstrations. The theme of Science Week 2021 was climate change and its impact on the planet. Guest speakers included:

- Steven Weinberg, theoretical physicist, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics (1979), and Josey Regental Chair in Science at the University of Texas at Austin, presented a talk titled “Expecting the Unexpected.”

- Drew Harvell, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Cornell University, was guest speaker of the College’s Distinguished Women in Science Speaker Series. She delivered a talk titled “Ocean Outbreak: Pandemics in the Ocean are Heating up with Climate Change” and discussed her book Sea of Glass and her career as a woman in science.

- Sean L. Jones, assistant director and head of the National Science Foundation Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate, presented a talk titled “The Crucible That Forges Activist Scholars,” which focused on activist scholars and his career experiences in the academic, private and public sectors –  including serving in the White House.

- John Nielsen-Gammon, state climatologist, director of the Texas Center for Climate Studies and Regents professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University, delivered a talk titled “Climate Change and Texas’ Extreme Weather,” which focused on local implications of global change, particularly as they relate to geosciences and meteorology.

- Simon Levin, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University and director of the Center for BioComplexity in the Princeton Environmental Institute, gave a talk titled “Public Goods: From Biofilms to Societies.”

- Emanuela Giofriddo, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Toledo, presented a talk titled “Talking About Microextraction - New Solutions for Environmental Biomonitoring.”

Other events included a roundtable discussion on undergraduate student research; daily science experiment demonstrations by UTA Science Ambassadors; a UTA Planetarium Earth Day interactive livestream show; and a virtual Tap Talks: Science Distilled presentation by Grace Hanna, a professional speech-language pathologist.