Friday, February 1, 2019

URSP Student Sarah Richart Compares Sylvia’s Unabridged Journals to the Abridged Version Edited by Ted Hughes

I fell in love with Zelda Fitzgerald after reading her biography when I was sixteen. However, every time I mentioned her to people, they only spoke about her mental illness and partying, and ignore her witty writing. Sylvia Plath, my favorite poet, is constantly linked with her suicide, and her iconic poetry and prose is left by the wayside. These women were so much more than their mental illness and I couldn’t figure out why that rose to the top of the conversation over their achievements. `After reading a lot on the two women, it seemed in both cases, their husbands, Scott Fitzgerald and Ted Hughes, had control in the narrative of their lives. 

My research started off vague, just exploring the two different marriages through letters, diaries, and the fiction and poetry both couples produced. After discussing the information and patterns with my mentor, he suggested the theme of plagiarism, not only as stealing work but misrepresenting personality. After finding this focus, I was able to sharpen my lens. A huge part of my research was comparing Sylvia’s unabridged journals, and the abridged version, edited by Ted. When reading about Fitzgerald, most analysis surrounded Scott’s direct seizure of Zelda’s work and his characterization of her in his prose. 

This semester, OSCAR gave me the opportunity to learn more about two of my role models and educate others about them. How Zelda and Sylvia’s respective husbands plagiarized their work and lives has had an impact on how we talk about them. I discovered a passion for revealing the “behind the scenes” of female narrative. This project started out as literary and historical analysis, but by the end, I realize it also has roots in education. If I were to extend this research, I would want to focus on teaching female narratives in secondary education, especially focusing on how the male narrative has often dominated. Coinciding with #MeToo movement, we must empower women to use their voice, but not forget those silenced in the past. 

Thursday, January 31, 2019

URSP Megan Storkan Aims to Analyze the Link Between Women’s Historical Preservation Efforts in the 1960’s and the Resurgence of the "Lost Cause" Narrative

Some people are lucky enough to grow up thinking they know exactly what they want to do for the rest of their life. Throughout high school I thought I was one of those people, however, I could not have been more wrong. When I first came to George Mason I believed I would get a degree in Political Science and eventually go to law school to become a human rights attorney. It only took a month of government classes for me to promptly switch my major. After interning at a local museum in my hometown of Scandia, Minnesota I discovered a new passion and talent; museum
work. Since then I have been running full force towards a degree in Public History. In May I will be graduating, and in a last-minute effort to check off everything on my “Mason Bucket List” I decided to apply for a USRP grant through OSCAR last April. I knew from the minute I had heard about OSCAR that I wanted to participate somehow, however, as a history major I felt as though my field of study could not possibly produce research valuable enough to be funded. And then I came across my current research topic.

Currently there is a large scholarly conversation within the public history field surrounding the topic of the Civil War’s “Lost Cause” narrative and its effect on today’s society, almost 150 years after General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Rather than remembering the Civil War as a war between brothers, many southerners, especially women, portrayed the Confederate cause as a heroic one despite their overall defeat. This “Lost Cause” narrative was developed immediately after the Civil War, however, its acceptance regained popularity during the 1960’s. Women began to utilize the field of history as a way to enter the workforce and academia, especially through the domestication of historical preservation and the creation of historical house museums, specifically Confederate houses. My research aims to analyze how the efforts of these women in the latter half of the 20th century affected the progression and continuation of the South's "Lost Cause" narrative after the Civil War.

However, unlike much of the current publications on this topic, my research argues that while many women who began to preserve these Confederate houses and convert them into museums did so with the knowledge of what many of these people stood for, many of these women were descendants of the men who they were honoring, thus saving these houses as a way to preserve a family legacy, not a confederate one. These museums were founded by descendants of those who the memorial is in honor of, so the museums look at these Confederate officials through a family lens and not a critical one, thus making it seem synonymous with the “Lost Cause” narrative. Through oral histories, personal documents, and archival research, my research examines two Civil War era museums in Northern Virginia and the women who helped found them; The Arlington House, also known as the Robert E. Lee Memorial in Arlington, Virginia and Eleanor Lee Templeman, and The Stonewall Jackson House in Lexington, Virginia and Julia Jackson Christian Preston. 

Over the past semester I have not only learned a lot about my topic, but also a lot about myself. I have begun to realize how passionate I am about historical research, especially research in regard to historical preservation. While I still may not know exactly what I want to do with the rest of my life I do know this, I want to devote my life to telling the untold stories of people like Eleanor Lee Templeman and Julia Jackson Christian Preston. Before she passed away in 1991, Templeman wrote a manuscript entitled “Meanwhile, I was Busy”in which she documented all of the things she accomplished during her life. I think this perfectly encapsulates what this semester has felt like to me; busy, but so worth every second.

URSP Student Mera Shabti Evaluates Wetlands as a Natural Defense Against Storm Surges

Over recent years, countless devastating hurricanes have caused severe destruction to coastal habitats. Traditional methods have proven to be costly and non-sustainable. I joined forces with other engineering students to investigate how wetlands can be constructed along shorelines as a means of natural defense against storm surges. As part of the geotechnical team, I spent the past year characterizing soil at a local wetland, and developing a methodology to conduct erosion tests in a lab that could replicate erosion patterns seen at the wetland. Now, a normal week consists of running two to three erosion tests at the George Mason John Toups Instructional Laboratory for Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering, along with respective data collection and analysis. We predict that when keeping all other factors constant, density and the presence of vegetation have the greatest potential to impact rates of erosion. Thus far, comparing results of tests with vegetation as the varied factor against tests with density as the varied factor shows significant increased reduction of erosion with the presence of vegetation. This means that tangible improvement can be achieved by construction of a wetland.

Getting involved in this research launched me on an enlightening journey where I was able to practice and nourish my out-of-the-box thinking skills. I have become part of a scholarly group of graduate researchers at GMU, allowing me to expand my knowledge of elements such as a typical publication process and to gain general experience in the industry. Since becoming part of OSCAR, I have been able to build on this experience by interacting with researchers in other disciplines, and I’ve learned more about things that can be looked past when diving into a research project of this magnitude, such as proper acknowledgements, avoiding falsification of data, and more. I am excited to continue with my research all the way through, to see how I can ultimately contribute to society by unveiling the practical applications of my studies.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

URSP Student Mahmoud Moukalled Researches Possible Applications of Self-Driven Microparticles

Throughout the semester, I have been researching possible applications of self-driven microparticles. What got me interested in this specific research is the ability of something so small to be able to have such large impact on the world around us. The research was first introduced to me when my mentor, Dr. Jeffery Moran, came to present his research at one of my classes. It was only soon after that I contacted him and eventually became an OSCAR undergraduate research assistant.

When I graduate I want to work in the field of sustainability and focus on the everyday improvement of the quality of human life.  This research provides me with the opportunity to take the essential first steps to pursuing my long-term goals. This is because many of the applications of microparticles can aid the effort of improving the quality of life for humans all over the world. A big example of these applications is wastewater decontamination which could help over a 3rd of the worlds global population. 

On a weekly basis, my mentor holds meetings named “Journal Clubs” in which one of the members of the research group is to find a scholarly article based on the current research they are doing and present it to the rest of us. This helps me understand and learn certain topics at an efficient and relaxed rate. Apart from the Journal Club meetings, weekly one-on-one meetings are conducted as well to ensure the retention of information and also to keep track of how much work each individual has done.  One thing I discovered throughout my semester of doing research is how important and connected research really is. One researcher will never fully understand or make a discovery without the help of hundreds of previous researchers making their own, separate discoveries.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

URSP Student Farbod Moghaddam Supports Research on the Development of Low Cost, Wireless, High Performance Electrochemical Sensors

My name is Farbod Moghaddam and I am senior majoring in Mechanical Engineering. I have been an Undergraduate Research Assistant at the Kang Lab for Micro/Nano Mechanics and Photonics with 2D materials since September 2017 supporting research on the development of low cost, wireless, high performance electrochemical sensors using graphene and radio frequency identification technology. During my freshman year, my research proposal to develop graphene-based supercapacitors as an alternative method of energy storage ranked top three in the inaugural Mechanical Engineering Research Proposal Competition and ever since then I have been fascinated with the wonder material that is graphene. 

My research focuses primarily on developing 3D porous graphene nanostructures with pore sizes of less than 2 nanometers in diameter (the average human hair strand is 100,000 nanometers) to better adsorb gas molecules. The novel method of graphene synthesis practiced at our lab relies on the carbonization of an organic polymer with a favorable composition through a laser process. The resulting material, commonly referred to as laser induced graphene, is transfer and catalyst free making it favorable for electronic applications since the conductivity is not comprised due to defects which typically occur during the synthesis process. Additionally, this method of synthesis allows for engineering of 3D porous structures through adjustment of laser power. There are two methods through which gas molecules interact with graphene: chemical adsorption (chemisorption) and physical adsorption (physiorption). One can think of physiorption as a net that physically entraps the gas molecules, which is why the 3D porous structure is so beneficial due to the high surface area to volume ratio it provides, whereas chemisorption is the chemical interaction causing the graphene to “grab” onto the gas molecules. Although the 3D porous graphene responds to the presence of all polar gases, selectivity towards certain gases can be induced through embedding reactive metals before the carbonization process. Therefore, this project long term goal is to provide the scientific community with a low cost, high performance gas sensing platform to build upon.

Every week, my team and I meet with our mentor to provide updates on recent experimental findings from the work done at the lab during the previous week and to discuss potential steps forward. Throughout this past semester (Fall 2018) I have conducted experiments with various concentrations of palladium functionalized 3D porous graphene and acetone (CH3) to determine general response trends. Palladium is highly reactive with hydrogen gas (H2) and through monitoring the change in resistance before and after exposure to acetone, it was determined that graphene samples with higher concentrations of palladium responded quicker to the presence of gas molecules and had a greater increase in resistance.

Upon graduation in Spring 2019, I hope to pursue my interest in nanotechnology and passion for research by pursuing a PhD in Mechanical Engineering with a particular focus on energy storage methods, heat transfer, and development of biomedical devices.