Back

Latest In

Research

Jeremy Johnson
AcademicsPeopleResearch

Butler Professor Receives NSF Grant to Study Class of Enzymes Linked with Cancer Growth

BY Rachel Stern

PUBLISHED ON Aug 14 2018

INDIANAPOLIS – It happened by accident.

Jeremy Johnson, Butler University Associate Professor of Chemistry, was looking at images of acyl protein thioesterases, or APTs. Because proteins are smaller than the wavelength of light, they cannot be seen by eye, or even with a microscope. So, proteins are crystalized, and then static images are taken, revealing what they look like at one point in time.

But, when Johnson looked at the APT images closely, he saw something he had never seen before, and something, he says, that is quite rare – the protein in multiple states.

“Our image showed the APT in open and closed states or active and inactive,” Johnson says. “Normally, we think of proteins as static, or as staying in one position, and only recently have we started to appreciate the idea of natural movements of proteins.”

With an $250,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, Johnson will be researching why we should appreciate that very idea. Seeing the image of the APT in a dynamic state enabled Johnson to hypothesize a whole new set of ideas about what this protein could potentially impact – cancer progression, neural deterioration, and immune functions, he says.

“Once we had this image and saw it was dynamic, we were able to start to hypothesize how this protein could be important within a cell,” he says. “All of a sudden new possibilities emerged that we knew we wanted to research more. Once we knew the structure, new alleys for research questions opened.”

APTs are a class of enzymes that are linked with cancer growth, neural degeneration, and bacterial infections. But, this photo revealed they are also dynamic – something that was not previously known.

Now, Johnson says, he is set to dive into what this dynamic function actually means, and how it could impact those important links. Some questions his lab will focus on include looking at how the dynamic nature of this protein could impact APTs as a future drug target, and how it might relate to cancer and immune functions.

After seeing the image, Johnson says his team will start to look into how that movement is related to the regulation of the protein and how that can impact the biological functions of APTs.

“You always hope there is relation to the big picture,” Johnson says. “We are going to be looking at the dynamic movement and if that movement is essential to biological function. You hope that movement is related to the big picture things that we know this protein is already involved in.”

Also, as part of the NSF grant, research occurring in Johnson’s lab will be integrated into undergraduate classroom laboratories, giving a wide range of students the chance to participate in the research. There will also be a new molecular biophysics laboratory added to the biochemistry major at Butler.

All of this, Johnson says, because of an accident.

 

Media contact:
Rachel Stern
rstern@butler.edu
914-815-5656

Jeremy Johnson
AcademicsPeopleResearch

Butler Professor Receives NSF Grant to Study Class of Enzymes Linked with Cancer Growth

Butler Chemistry Professor Jeremy Johnson discovered something in his research that no one had seen before.

Aug 14 2018 Read more
AcademicsResearch

Bracket Busting in the Classroom

BY Marc Allan MFA ’18

PUBLISHED ON Mar 27 2019

If you believe the data, there will be no Cinderella winner of this year's NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments.

Those are the findings of the students in Professor of Pharmacy Practice Chad Knoderer's Bracket Busting class, which focuses on how to use data analytics to make decisions. Knoderer, a Pediatric Pharmacist by training, has been teaching at Butler since 2008—typically in the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. But after using some sports-related statistics in his Pharmacy Statistics class and seeing the students' positive reaction to it, he created the Bracket Busting course for Butler's Core Curriculum.

Before the class considered college hoops, they turned to the pros. Early in the semester, the students looked at five years of NBA data to determine where the best places are to shoot from and what kind of shot a player should take (is a catch-and-shoot jumper better than a dribble-drive, pull-up jumper?).

The students were able to see trends over time and better understand why so many NBA teams rely on the three-point shot, as well as shots close to the hoop, from a value standpoint.

Just before spring break, the class turned their attention to March Madness. Knoderer had everyone  predict the top four seeds in each region of the men's bracket. But he gave them data only—no team names attached.

"They just had numbers associated with a team ID," he says. "So Team 956 could have been Duke. It could have been Gonzaga. They didn't necessarily know. They just knew performance data from the season. They knew the type of conference the team came from, but not the actual conference. They had to rank the team just as the selection committee would do."

When the students had ranked teams 1-16, he released the names of each school to go along with the data. Students then could adjust their brackets, if they chose to do so.

In the men’s tournament, most of Knoderer's students chose either Duke University or the University of North Carolina to win it all. (Knoderer picked Gonzaga, though he didn't make his choice strictly through analytics.)

In the women's tournament, the data pointed the students to Notre Dame or the University of Connecticut to cut down the net. (Knoderer picked Baylor, "but not too many were with me," he says.)

"They enjoyed the activity," he says. "A few of them said it was a lot more challenging than they thought—even when they knew which team was which."

After the NCAA unveiled the 2019 bracket, Knoderer assigned his students to predict the outcomes of the first-round games based on data alone. There, the students picked some upsets—"There's been some lean toward St. Mary's over Villanova, and Murray State-Marquette was a game of interest," he says—and learned the difference between choosing with their head versus their heart.

Jaret Rightley, a junior from New Palestine, Indiana, says the class, which combines his passions for statistics and sports, has been a great experience.

“It has changed the way I think about and watch sports, and it has been awesome to see the direct impact that the data actually plays in sports such as basketball and the NCAA tournament,” he says. “I look forward to going to this class each and every day, and I’m excited to see how this class evolves and the role analytics will continue to play in sports moving forward.”

Knoderer says he's also enjoying Bracket Busting, especially because he has an opportunity to teach students he doesn't normally interact with. Most of the students are from outside the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.

And he plans to teach the course again this summer—this time using baseball.

AcademicsResearch

Bracket Busting in the Classroom

If you believe the data, there will be no Cinderella winner of this year's NCAA basketball tournaments.

Mar 27 2019 Read more
Brain
AcademicsResearch

Outsmarting the Test: Concussions & ImPACT

BY Rachel Stern

PUBLISHED ON Jul 31 2018

INDIANAPOLIS – Before the start of most seasons, chances are high that athletes have gone through a computerized exam called ImPACT, or Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing. It is a process that has become almost synonymous with preseason conditioning tests and two-a-days.

The ImPACT Test, one of the most widely used of several similar concussion management tools, is a computer-based test that measures shape recall, reaction time, attention, working memory, and other mental abilities. Individuals are given the test to establish a baseline score at the start of a season, then those who suffer a head injury are tested again before being allowed to return to play.

But, baseline results may not be as accurate as ImPACT claims.

According to new research from Butler University Director of Undergraduate Health Science Programs, Dr. Amy Peak, and former Butler health science student Courtney Raab, individuals are outsmarting the test. Previous studies, including one cited by ImPACT’s “Administration and Interpretation Manual,” say 89 percent of ‘sandbaggers,’ or individuals purposefully doing poorly on the test, are flagged. But, according to Peak and Raab’s research, only half are caught.

“If baseline scores aren’t accurate, that could likely lead to individuals returning to play before they are healed, or individuals returning to normal activity prior to their brain being ready,” Peak says. “This is a very dangerous situation because it is clear that individuals who have had one concussion are at greater risk of having subsequent concussions.”

So why cheat the system?

Many athletes don’t want to miss playing time. In fact, a study found in 2017 that nearly a third of athletes didn’t give their best effort on computerized neurocognitive tests, such as ImPACT.

The ImPACT Test is key when it comes to making return to play decisions. Though not the only determining factor, comparing test scores is routinely something trainers or doctors do to see if the individual can return to action or regular activities.

“Athletes get smart about how to take this test and they admit to wanting to return to action as soon as possible,” Peak says. “Some athletes ignore the risks, and just want to play, so if this test can be cheated, they will do it.”

Their research shows that those who attempted to sandbag were successful, as long as they didn’t try to do too poorly on the test.

There were 77 volunteers who participated in the study, 40 of whom were told to sandbag the test and 37 of whom were told to try their best. Of the 37 volunteers in the control group, none were flagged for invalid results. But of the 40 sandbaggers, 20 successfully tricked the test.

The key to not getting flagged by the test was to get questions wrong, but not too many questions.

“The group that scored much lower than our control got flagged, but the group that did bad, but not too bad were not caught,” Peak says. “Our research revealed that you can get away with doing poorly, sneak through with a low score, if your score isn’t outrageously low.”

Instead of the 89 percent rate of catching sandbaggers that previous research suggests, Peak and Raab’s research revealed just a 50 percent rate. However, Peak says, the takeaway is not to scrap the entire ImPACT Test. Peak says their research points to the fact that key aspects of the widely used test should be reevaluated.

The ImPACT Test’s five built-in invalidity indicators, which are designed to flag results which suggest underperformance, are not working well, she says. Peak and Raab’s research found that only two of those indicators detected more than 15 percent of test takers who tried to trick the test.

“There are some invalidity indicators that are really ineffective. Our research showed us that these indicators are not sensitive enough,” Peak says. “There are many things to consider. Are the indicators even right? Maybe the cutoffs should be higher? These are all important questions. But one thing we do know is that a much greater percentage of individuals can purposefully underperform without detection and we need to delve deeper into how to improve the test.”

 

Brain
AcademicsResearch

Outsmarting the Test: Concussions & ImPACT

 Butler University researchers show individuals outsmart popular concussion test 50% of time.

Jul 31 2018 Read more
Donkey, Blue, Elephant
AcademicsPeopleResearchStudent Life

(Bull)Dog Days on the Campaign Trail

BY Sarah Bahr

PUBLISHED ON Oct 31 2018

What awaited Butler University sophomore Jon Gray-Smith inside the small, ramshackle house on a Saturday in Grant County in northeast Indiana this summer was less than inviting.

Maybe I should just skip this one, the Indiana Republican Party field intern mused before walking up the front porch steps.

But Gray-Smith knocked on the door, took a step back (no one wants to be accosted by a stranger, he says), and was greeted by. . .

A nearly nude older white man. Toting a shotgun. And wearing only a pair of white underpants.

While that’s his horror story, Gray-Smith says it’s not out of the ordinary for canvassers to work in less-than-ideal conditions.

Jon and Luke Messer
Jon Gray-Smith with Luke Messer

“People don’t always have a lot of clothes on when they answer the door,” he says. “And, in my experience, a ‘Beware of Dog’ sign is typically correct.”

The life of a political intern is hardly glamorous.They get chased by dogs. Confronted by half-dressed old men packing heat. Screamed at like they’re the second coming of Cruella de Vil. And most of the time, they do it for free.

But Butler students also intern with political campaigns in increasingly large numbers. At a time when the political stakes are at an all-time high, Butler students are dotting the state, serving in a variety of  roles with political parties. From answering phones, to crafting press releases, to knocking on doors, Butler students say it is not just the skills garnered in their political science classes that have helped, but also the skills from their journalism, business, and history classes, for example, that have prepared them for when they are thrown into the real-world political fire. Or even faced with a semi-clothed man at the door.

 

“A Dream Come True”

Knocking on 527 doors for 12 hours in Indiana’s blistering July heat isn’t most people’s idea of a good time.

But Gray-Smith, the Vice President of the Butler University College Republicans, says each interaction motivates him to seek out the next one.

“I’m talking to voters who sometimes have never talked to someone about an election in their whole life,” he says.

Gray-Smith says people are often surprised by his age.

“I had a lot of people tell me, ‘It’s so good to see a young person out here doing this,’” he says. ‘That keeps me going.’”

And, unlike at many political events, he enjoyed bipartisan support.

“I had so many people offer me bottles of water, Gatorade, Powerade, anything to help me stay cool,” he says. “They told me ‘Please keep doing this; there are lots of voters out there.’”

He won a $30 Visa gift card for contacting the most voters from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM — an average of 48 per hour, with an hour for lunch.

But his margin of victory?

Just 13 people.

Passion fuels political interns from both major parties, who perform thankless tasks such as calling voters, knocking on strangers’ doors, editing video, and uploading press releases to campaign websites — most of the time for free.

Gray-Smith contacted just under 7,000 voters this summer soliciting support for Republican congressional candidates such as U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks, and Mike Braun. From mid-February to May during his internship with U.S. Rep. Luke Messer’s U.S. Senate campaign, he called 17,000 voters.

Cecil with Susan Brooks
James Cecil with Susan Brooks

Door-knocking and phonebanking are hardly sexy selling points for students seeking political internships, but Butler Assistant Professor of Political Science Greg Shufeldt says Butler has “countless” students volunteering and interning for campaigns and political parties this semester.

Junior Rachel Spodek has been a field intern for Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly’s re-election campaign since May.

“I’m running phone banks and trying to get as many voters registered as possible,” she says.

Senior James Cecil, who is named after President James Madison, landed a congressional internship on the Hill this summer in Washington, D.C., with Indiana congresswoman Susan Brooks.

The president of the Butler University College Republicans researched bills, attended hearings, answered phone calls, and gave tours of the U.S. Capitol building. She’d previously completed an internship with the Indiana GOP and is currently interning with the Mike Braun campaign for U.S. Senate.

“I’m a huge history buff, so being able to walk the halls of the Capitol was a dream come true,” she says.

 

Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunities

While most of their days are spent canvassing counties and calling constituents, some interns do enjoy the occasional once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Earlier this month, Cecil snapped a photo with George W. Bush, whom she got to meet at a fundraiser for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike Braun.

“He’s one of the funniest guys I’ve ever listened to,” she says.

Gray-Smith was left speechless after he had the chance to meet Vice President Mike Pence as part of his Indiana GOP internship last summer.

“I was able to meet the second most powerful person in America,” he says. “I could’ve never imagined that would happen when I came to Butler.”

 

A Butler Assist

A common thread runs through Cecil, Gray-Smith, and Spodek’s experiences — Butler’s Political Science department helped them land their first internship.

“I always knew I wanted to pursue politics, but I was more laid back my freshman and sophomore years,” Cecil says. “Then [Shufeldt] urged me to get involved in the Todd Young Senate campaign during the 2016 election cycle, which sparked my interest and led to my internship with the Republican Party.”

Shufeldt emphasizes campaign internships because they lead to future political internships and career opportunities.

“Interning on a campaign is a great opportunity to open professional doors,” he says. “It  is one of the most impactful ways we, as citizens, can shape the direction of our government.”

Shufeldt regularly invites Democratic and Republican Party and campaign representatives to speak to his students.

“Studying politics in a major metropolitan area and a state capital is a huge advantage for our students,” Shufeldt says. “I encourage them to take advantage of this as much as possible.”

And Gray-Smith says Butler’s Political Science students are well prepared when opportunities arise.

“The two journalism classes I took forced me to reach out to people and made me more comfortable interviewing strangers,” he says. “They really opened my eyes that I can’t turn to my friends for help every time.”

“The U.S. Politics class I took helped inform my basic knowledge of voting,” Spodek says.

Cecil says being a conservative among more liberal classmates has made her more comfortable defending her beliefs.

“I’m an outspoken conservative in a liberal environment,” she says. “But my beliefs are challenged, not changed.”

 

A Political Future

Cecil wants to pursue a career in political fundraising. Gray-Smith wants to one day run for state or national office. Spodek wants to go into public policy and is looking at law school.

They know that, whatever path they end up pursuing, their internships will have helped them get there.

“The connections I’ve made will propel me to the career I want,” Cecil says. “I definitely look forward to getting up in the morning and doing something I’m really passionate about.”

But, in the meantime, all three stress that one vote can turn the tide.

“This election is going to be really tight, not just for Donnelly, but for a lot of candidates,” Spodek says. “I know every bit of effort I put in will make a difference.”

Donkey, Blue, Elephant
AcademicsPeopleResearchStudent Life

(Bull)Dog Days on the Campaign Trail

Butler students also intern with political campaigns in increasingly large numbers.

Oct 31 2018 Read more
Butler 2019
Butler BeyondCampusResearch

The Year That Was: Top Stories from Butler in 2019

BY Rachel Stern

PUBLISHED ON Dec 18 2019

We opened a brand new building and announced plans for our largest investment ever in another one. We faced some of society’s greatest challenges head on by announcing a new strategic direction and largest ever comprehensive fundraising campaign. Our favorite bulldog announced his retirement, and plans for an esports and gaming space were unveiled.

In 2019, the Butler University community brought excitement and innovation to campus and the world around them. They conducted groundbreaking research on the effects of vaping, social media, how hearing loss affects overall development, and more—all in an effort to make a difference in society. Here’s a look back at some of the top stories of the year.

 

Social media, it turns out, makes us feel better about ourselves

Butler Associate Professor of Entertainment Media and Journalism Lee Farquhar found that most of us prefer to use social media to look at and compare ourselves to certain types of individuals: those who make us feel better about ourselves. That, Farquhar found, can lead to an increase in happiness and life satisfaction.

Read more here.

 

Hearing loss is linked to cognitive ability in babies

According to new research from Butler Assistant Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders Tonya Bergeson-Dana, hearing loss is connected to the larger cognitive system and can have a cascading effect on cognitive development.

Read more here.

 

Providing clinical expertise to the insurance industry

A team of about 25 Butler community members created a tool for the Department of Insurance in an effort to specify, from a medical perspective, what medications insurance companies should cover for 17 diseases that are health priorities in Indiana.

Read more here.

 

History made during Commencement

During Butler’s 163rd Spring Commencement, nearly 1,050 graduates received their diplomas—the largest graduating class in Butler’s history.

Read more here.

 

Board approves sciences upgrade

The Butler Board of Trustees approved a $100 million renovation and expansion—the largest investment ever by the Trustees in Butler’s future—for a new sciences complex. The project includes new high-tech classrooms designed to promote learning by doing, labs that mimic those at top research companies, and work spaces meant to encourage cross-disciplinary collaboration.

Read more here.

 

New building for the Lacy School of Business opens

After nearly two years of construction, the new 110,000-square-foot building for Butler’s Andre B. Lacy School of Business (LSB) officially opened in August.

Read more here.

 

Butler ranked No. 1 again

For the second consecutive year, Butler was named the No. 1 Regional University in the Midwest, according to the 2020 U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges Rankings. Butler also ranked as the No. 1 Most Innovative School for the fifth straight year.

Read more here.

 

New strategic direction

Butler unveiled a new strategic direction and its largest ever comprehensive fundraising campaign. Butler Beyond: The Campaign for Butler University seeks to raise $250 million by May 2022 to deliver transformative change to the University, the region, and the world.

Read more here.

 

Esports and Gaming Lounge set to open on campus

A new space dedicated to esports and gaming will open on Butler’s campus in Atherton Union. But that space is just the beginning. A 7,500-square-foot, multi-use space in the Butler Parking Garage is slated to open fall 2020, and it will feature 50 gaming PCs, an area of gaming consoles, and room for technology-infused corporate trainings and events or youth STEM and esports camps.

Read more here.

 

Butler Blue III set to retire

After eight years, Butler Blue III will retire at the end of the 2019-2020 academic year. The American Kennel Club-registered English bulldog is hanging up his mascot duties because of his older age (for bulldogs), long tenure on the job, and desire to start the next chapter of his life.

Read more here.

 

Study shows JUUL not being used as intended

A survey of nearly 1,000 college students from a Butler professor and undergrad reveals that, while vaping was originally promoted as a safer alternative for existing smokers, most young vape users are actually brand new to nicotine.

Read more here.

Butler 2019
Butler BeyondCampusResearch

The Year That Was: Top Stories from Butler in 2019

In 2019, the Butler community brought excitement and innovation to campus and the world around them.

Dec 18 2019 Read more
Research Lab Participants

Exploring the Unanswered

Rachel Stern

from Spring 2019

 

 

In the depths of Gallahue Hall, 14 Butler University undergrads work to make the vaccines for a leading cause of infant mortality worldwide actually effective. But first, with the Backstreet Boys harmonizing about wanting it that way in the background, they need some really good ice.

The students are studying strains of RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, for which there is no vaccine. There certainly are people looking for one, Assistant Professor of Biology Chris Stobart, also known as ‘Doc’ in this lab, explains. Lots of people. Major research universities and pharmaceutical companies alike are working to bring the first RSV vaccine to market. For them, Stobart says, the keys are to make sure their vaccine candidate is safe and effective. But these researchers are overlooking a major issue. Enter— Butler University.

RSV breaks down even at refrigeration temperature. That matters because the vaccines needed for infants require a live virus. Those chasing an RSV vaccine, Stobart explains, are so caught up with being first, they aren’t so focused on making sure it will actually last once it leaves the factory.

“Everyone has their eyes on the prize—the vaccine,” Stobart says. “But the key question that underlies how vaccines work is being ignored. They have to be stable, safe, and immunogenic. You need all three things to make a vaccine work. Without the answers coming from our lab, you only have two elements.”

So, here we are, back to the ice, back to the basement in Gallahue, and back to the Backstreet Boys. The thing everyone is overlooking is this whole temperature thing.

And Stobart would know. He was one of the overlookers. ‘Doc’ used to be in the business of finding vaccines. That’s how he realized such an important question was being ignored. As a postdoctoral research fellow at Emory University, he was on the hunt for an RSV vaccine. While doing that research, he realized that no one was worrying about whether or not that vaccine would actually last more than a day. So, he started going against the grain and decided to use a different strain of RSV for his vaccine. He got lucky, he says, and the strain he chose ended up being more stable than the strain that everyone else is using. His vaccine, which should enter clinical trials next year, would last longer than the vaccines being developed by most other research labs.

Now, he and his army of Butler undergrads are digging deeper into the very questions Stobart stumbled upon: What makes some RSV strains more resistant than others, and what strain of RSV would make it least susceptible to temperature variations?

This is the work of the Stobart Lab. But it is hardly just a place where major scientific questions are being answered. MCAT prep happens here. Trivia nights happen here. Ideas for other research projects happen here—five experiments are taking place right now. And, on occasion, naps take place here, thanks to a new couch on loan from a student’s family. First-year students through seniors mill in and out of the lab in the basement of Gallahue Hall on any given day or night. Just ask Jenna Nosek ’20, who storms in on a recent Tuesday afternoon.

“I have spent 19 hours in here the past few days: don’t test me, Sean [a fellow lab mate],” she jokes, and with that, she is out, the two lab mates laughing, as she makes her way out the door.

“I have told her to back off on the hours,” Stobart says. “But she is the expert in the lab right now on HPMV, another human respiratory virus we are researching. On her own, she brought this virus to Butler to study. She is essentially teaching us all, myself included, how this virus works and behaves.”

But at its core, this is research at Butler. Undergrads and faculty members teaming up to come up with, and then explore, the unanswered, overlooked questions that are vital to their field of study, but go ignored at larger, more research-focused institutions—where there is constant pressure to publish on hot topics, but not necessarily on the more nuanced, just as vital, questions.

“The primary goal of our research at Butler is to provide an environment for our undergrads to understand what science is, how it’s performed, and how it’s used in our world. We use science and research as a teaching tool,” Stobart says. “But the second goal, which is no less important, is to provide answers to the scientific community that still move the community forward. They don’t have to all be big answers, but they have to be answers nonetheless.”


 

Student working in the labFor Kate Morris, it’s really simple. Higher education boils down to two things: teaching, and the production of new knowledge. The way to produce new knowledge, according to Morris, Butler’s Provost since 2012, is through research. And not just the traditional type of research that most people envision when they hear the word. It goes beyond beakers, test tubes, and chemicals. Research might be in a lab, of course, but it also takes the form of writing, literary analysis, anything that produces new information.

“The way I think about it is if we aren’t doing research, we aren’t doing our jobs as teachers,” Morris says. “Research is the production of new information that will be taught in tomorrow’s classrooms. We are always looking for faculty who are active scholars, furthering their disciplines, and who are furthering their disciplines while also teaching their undergrad students how to do that.”

But what makes Butler unique, she says, is the way it tackles each of these goals. At larger institutions, faculty tend to prioritize knowledge production, and teaching lags behind. Research is done with grad students, and it’s not a form of teaching, but rather a way to get recognition in major journals and move up within the institution and, subsequently, the field. Undergrads rarely get the opportunity to put their stamp on the project, she says.

At smaller institutions, Morris says, undergrads act like grad students. They have the chance to develop their own projects. But it’s much more than just a small school versus large school thing. Butler is unique in its offerings, she says.

While Stobart’s lab might be one of the largest on campus, it’s hardly the only research cooking.

Tara Lineweaver, Professor of Psychology, started a project in 2014 that looks at music’s impact on dementia patients. Since its inception, 156 students across all disciplines have been involved.

Assistant Professor of Entertainment Media and Journalism Ryan Rogers started a Sports Media Research Group in fall 2018, along with Associate Professor of Entertainment Media and Journalism Lee Farquhar.

The point, Rogers says, was to look deeper into different facets of sports media. The group published a paper on the impact of sponsors on esports, and recently presented their findings in Las Vegas at the annual Broadcast Education Association convention.

And sometimes the researchers extend beyond the Butler campus. Butler senior Political Science and Criminology major Julio Trujillo ’19 is working on a research project with Political Science Professor Siobhan McEvoy-Levy and three high school students from the Butler-Tarkington community. The crew got together as part of Butler’s Desmond Tutu Peace Lab, which McEvoy-Levy directs, and the Lab’s dedication to undergrad research and dialogue. They’re studying perceptions of career barriers according to minority youth.

Then there’s the telescope. Since 2008, Professor of Physics and Astronomy Brian Murphy has teamed up with Professor of Physics and Astronomy Xianming Han to produce 65 journal publications. And 29 of those have student co-authors. Topics of study range from the short- and long-term behavior of astronomical phenomena, to the rotation periods of asteroids, to the pulsating variables of stars, to the eclipsing variables of stars. All of the scholarship was made possible by a gift in 2008 from Frank Levinson ’75 which enabled Butler to join the Southeastern Association for Research in Astronomy. Since then, Murphy says, research involvement in astronomy has ballooned.

“In today’s world, coursework may give you the knowledge you need for a career, but coursework alone will only get you so far,” Murphy says. “Research gives those intangibles. It can be described as flying by the seat of your pants, not knowing what is around the next corner. And for that matter, trying to figure out how to get around the next corner. The problem-solving skills learned from doing original research can be transferred to any field.”

Look no further than Murphy’s former student, Katie Hannigan ’08. The former Theatre major got involved at the Holcomb Observatory on some projects and, Murphy says, gleaned different skills, like speaking in front of crowds, and presenting complex information, like research.

Hannigan is now a standup comedian, and recently performed on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. (Read Hannigan’s story on Page 6.)


 

Stobart supervises students in the labMarisa Miller ’19 understands firsthand why research matters.

She has no memory of the details—she was just three months old—but her mom reminds her often. It started as a cough in the middle of the night. But, quickly escalated, and soon she was struggling to breathe.

Miller ended up in a hospital for a week, diagnosed with RSV. She was quarantined to a tent within the hospital for three days. After those first few days, her parents were allowed to hold her, but they had to put on the same gear a surgeon wears. They were terrified, Miller says, that she wouldn’t make it to her first birthday.

“When I was growing up, it was just something that happened to me that I knew was very bad. But I don’t think I understood how bad it is, and how many people it impacts,” Miller says.

Now, she does. Her Butler roommate is Darby DeFord, one of the students in the Stobart Lab working on the RSV research, and a co-lead author on the paper the group has submitted to the Journal of General Virology.

RSV is the leading cause of hospitalization for children under age 1 in the United States. As Miller explains, it presents itself like the flu, or other common colds, but can be deadly for the elderly or the young. In the United States, RSV leads to more than 2 million outpatient visits, and about 60,000 hospitalizations every year for children under age 5, according to the CDC.

That explains the race for a vaccine. But it doesn’t explain the problems inherent in that race, Stobart says.

As teams all over the world work to be the first to bring a vaccine to market, he explains, to solve a very real clinical need, most are using the same strain of RSV in these vaccine preparations. There are 1,000s of different strains of RSV circulating in nature, and each strain differs subtly. But the focus is just on creating a vaccine, not on all the different strains, how they behave, what makes them different, and which might make the best vaccine candidate, he says.

Enter the Stobart Lab.

They are the first group to thoroughly focus their research on how different strains behave, Stobart says. The group of 10 undergrads who will all be co-authors on the journal paper found that the warmer it gets, the more quickly RSV breaks down. But, they also found that certain strains are more resilient to temperature than others. And the strain that is being used in many vaccine candidates currently is not the best candidate.

The popular strain, A2, used in many vaccine candidates, has a half-life of 17 hours. So after 17 hours, half the virus will be ineffective. The Butler students found that a different strain, A2-line19F, is much more resilient to temperature, and has a half-life of 135 hours.

“We’re talking about something that’s much more effective. And what it suggests is there may be promise for finding an even better platform to use.” Stobart says.


 

Student working in the labRusty Jones cannot decide where to begin. There are so many different options.

Jones is the Faculty Director of the Center for High Achievement and Scholarly Engagement (CHASE) at Butler. His office oversees many of the different options for undergrads to get involved in research at Butler. And Jones cannot decide where to begin.

There’s the Undergraduate Research Conference (URC). It’s one of the largest and longest running undergraduate research conferences in the country, and Butler has played host for 31 years. Faculty serve as moderators, but it’s undergrad-focused, as well as interdisciplinary. Students from across the country flock to Indianapolis to present, Jones says.

Then there’s the Butler Summer Institute.

Students get a $4,500 stipend to work on a research project for nine weeks during the summer. The projects are guided by a faculty member, but the ideas are student-driven. It’s a competitive process, as a committee of faculty members select up to 30 participants from all the student applicants.

New this year, Jones explains, is the CHASE Scholars program. It is, essentially, the Butler Summer Institute, but the research occurs during the academic year. The program funds four participants across campus.

It’s nearly impossible to say how many students participate in research at Butler, Jones says, because not all do it through one of these programs. There are plenty of students who get involved in a more informal manner with one of their professors. But, he says, it’s safe to say the majority of students across all disciplines participate at some point during their college experience.

“The biggest thing about our programs is everyone has a faculty member working closely with them, as students dive into topics they are passionate about,” Jones says. “The strength of Butler comes from the opportunities students get to forge one-on-one working relationships with faculty, and that faculty are willing to take this on because they know how valuable it is to the educational experience.”


 

Coming into Butler as a first-year student, Darby DeFord ’19 had no idea what research even was. Now, as a senior, she is the first co-author on the RSV paper.

The senior Biology and Chemistry major has worked in the Stobart Lab since she was a sophomore. Since then, she has presented on the team’s findings at several conferences, including the Butler URC, and in Maryland at the American Society for Virology Annual Meeting.

Next year, she will work in a lab at Washington University in St. Louis studying RSV. Looking at stability. And after that? She plans to pursue her MD/PhD.

“Dr. Stobart connected me with the person I will be working for at Wash U. I was starting to look for jobs and I texted him for some help, and by the next day he’d sent my name to a bunch of his contacts. Within a few days, I was connected with Wash U,” DeFord says. “That’s Dr. Stobart. He’s so much more than just a professor. He’s a mentor, he’s someone who’s willing to help us with anything we need.”

Juniors Sean Callahan and Ben Nick have the MCAT in five weeks. On a recent Tuesday afternoon, as they run an experiment under the watchful eye of ‘Doc,’ they ask him for help with the reading comprehension section. Callahan is not too keen on that section.

The lab consists of a mix of seniors, juniors, sophomores, and first-year students. Some want to go to med school, some want to be dentists, some optometrists, some PhD tracks. But there is one common thread: most had no plans of getting involved in research before coming to Butler.

“I always thought I wanted to be a doctor,” explains Jenna Nosek, a junior Biology and Classical Studies major with a Chemistry minor. “Everyone comes to college with the same jobs in mind. But then, research opened my eyes to all the different opportunities available to me, and all the different things you can learn about. I realized you can study the most random things and that can be your life’s work. It can be your job to study something that you are really interested in, that is really impactful, and you can enjoy it more than a job. Research has been eye-opening.”

Nosek first met Stobart when she had him as a professor in her first semester genetics course. He told her to interview for his lab. So she went home for fall break, thought about it, and talked it over with some cousins.

They told her she would never get into a research lab. She was just an undergrad. Those spots were reserved for grad students, they told her.

Nosek interviewed anyway.

She was shocked when she got in, she says. Now she is an author on two papers, is regularly in the lab at 3:00 AM, has presented the findings at conferences in Maryland and Minnesota, and worked in a research lab last summer at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. She was just accepted to a biomedical summer research program at Harvard University.

Oh, and she no longer wants to be a doctor.

“I realized you can be a professor and do research,” Nosek says. “There are so many different things you can study that aren’t explained to you until you get to school, get into the lab, and see these things firsthand, and that’s exactly what happened to me. Now I realize I can do what I enjoy every single day as a profession.”

Which sounds eerily similar to what got everyone in this basement in the first place. You know, the place with the ice, and, yes, those Backstreet Boys.

You see, ‘Doc’ was all set to be a, well, doctor. He was on the pre-med path, but then decided he wanted to teach and research. That is why he left his RSV vaccine candidate, and instead decided to answer those unanswered, overlooked questions he realized were being ignored. So now he is surrounded by undergrads who call him ‘Doc,’ and ask him mid-experiment what is more filling, McDonalds or Taco Bell.

“When I left Emory, I knew I wanted to pursue a career that involved both teaching and research,” Stobart says. “I always intended to be pre-med, but then I decided teaching was important to me. Butler fits the mold of a school I wanted because it has a research system that is amenable to undergrad research. I can’t do the stuff that is high-end, detailed research, because undergrads come in and don’t have the skills yet. They are new. They don’t have the science background yet. But I knew I wanted a system that would involve simple experimental assays, but still would have the impact and make meaningful contributions to the scientific community while teaching important lessons. I think we are doing that here.”

Research Lab Participants
AcademicsResearch

Exploring the Unanswered

In the depths of Gallahue Hall, 14 Butler University undergrads work to make the vaccines for a leading cause of infant mortality worldwide actually effective.

by Rachel Stern

from Spring 2019

Read more
JUUL research
ResearchUnleashed

New Study: Students Report Harmful Effects from Vaping, Don’t Use JUUL to Quit Smoking

BY Katie Grieze

PUBLISHED ON Oct 07 2019

When e-cigarettes first hit the market, manufacturers sold them as a cleaner, safer alternative to combustible cigarettes. They targeted current smokers, touting vape as a good way to quit.

“But that is clearly not how they are being used,” says Amy Peak, Butler University’s Director of Undergraduate Health Science Programs. Her recent research about the harmful effects of vaping included a survey of nearly 1,000 college students.

research results Peak recently completed this large-scale study in collaboration with Sarah Knight, a senior Health Science major, and they presented their findings at the 2019 Indiana Life Sciences Summit on September 26.

They discovered that, while vaping was originally promoted as a safer alternative for existing smokers, most young vape users are brand new to nicotine. And it probably isn’t any safer, either, with most users experiencing a variety of harmful effects.

In data gathered throughout the past year, Peak found that almost 60 percent of college students had used a JUUL—the most popular e-cigarette in the United States. Of the students who vaped, 90 percent had never smoked a traditional cigarette. Only 3 percent of respondents said they used JUUL in an effort to quit smoking.

“Vaping is clearly an entry-level thing,” Peak explains. “It is not something that the college population is using as a smoking cessation product.”

And for pretty much everyone who vapes, even occasionally, there are consequences.

The most common adverse reaction found in Peak’s study was coughing, a symptom reported in about a third of all users. Other common harmful effects included nose or throat irritation (20 percent of users), headaches (18 percent), shortness of breath (16 percent), and difficulty sleeping (6 percent). For most of these effects, Peak found that the more often someone vaped, the more likely they were to experience these side effects.

Nicotine withdrawal was also common, affecting 72 percent of heavy users, 54 percent of moderate users, and 8 percent of occasional users. Reported withdrawal symptoms included cravings, headaches, mood changes, and the inability to think clearly. Peak explains that the form of nicotine used in JUUL pods provides a faster, harder hit than combustible cigarettes, which makes vaping more addictive per use than smoking.

“There is no doubt that this is an addictive substance,” she says. “It is something that people are going to have substantial trouble coming off of if they are using it regularly.”research results

The study also found that almost all college students who vaped had done so in a social setting, sharing e-cigarettes with others, which could contribute to the spread of infectious disease. Of the respondents who used vaping products, 95 percent had put a JUUL in their mouths immediately after it was in someone else’s mouth. Peak says this could spread any form of bacteria or virus that is transmitted via saliva, including some forms of herpes, mononucleosis, influenza, norovirus, or strep throat—just to name a few. This risk of spreading infectious disease is not typically seen with combustible cigarettes.

“That, in and of itself, I think is a public health hazard no one is talking about,” Peak says.

Going forward, Peak plans to partner with Butler Biological Sciences Lecturer Mike Trombley to look deeper into that infectious disease potential.

Before collaborating with Peak on this research, student Sarah Knight had noticed many of her college-aged peers starting to use JUUL without knowing much about it. She wanted to help fill gaps in existing research about the risks of vaping, and she enjoyed the chance to be part of something that has such an immediate impact on public health.

“There is a misconception that vaping is a safer alternative to combustible cigarettes,” Peak says. “My hope is that, as this data comes out, we have mounting evidence that changes this idea.”

She explains that most people assume that just because you don’t see smoke or smell tar when using JUUL, it must be safer than a combustible cigarette. This has created an environment where vaping is a lot more socially acceptable than smoking.

“But this is just a different delivery device for an incredibly addictive substance—and a substance that is mixed with flavorings and colorings that have no business being inhaled,” Peak says.

Those candy-like flavors—now facing a potential ban—have made JUUL especially appealing to young people. And as new lung illnesses have brought vaping products under more nationwide scrutiny in recent weeks, Peak hopes this study will join the conversation in a way that helps teens and college students understand that adding an “e” doesn’t make cigarettes any safer.

 

Media Contact:
Katie Grieze
News Content Manager
kgrieze@butler.edu
260-307-3403 (cell)

 

Innovations in Teaching and Learning

One of the distinguishing features of a Butler education has always been the meaningful and enduring relationships between our faculty and students. Gifts to this pillar during Butler Beyond will accelerate our commitment to investing in faculty excellence by adding endowed positions, supporting faculty scholarship and research, renovating and expanding state-of-the-art teaching facilities, and more. Learn more, make a gift, and read other stories like this one at beyond.butler.edu.

JUUL research
ResearchUnleashed

New Study: Students Report Harmful Effects from Vaping, Don’t Use JUUL to Quit Smoking

Professor Amy Peak and student Sarah Knight surveyed nearly 1,000 college students about experiences with JUUL use.

Oct 07 2019 Read more
AcademicsCampusResearch

Scholarship Supports Student's Research of Refugees in Germany

BY Marc Allan MFA `18

PUBLISHED ON Apr 03 2019

On a Butler University Honors Program and Modern Languages, Literatures, and Cultures-sponsored “Bulldogs to Berlin” spring break trip in 2018, Addy McKown ’21 became fascinated by how the Germans had taken in 2 million Syrian and Turkish refugees, and how those refugees have integrated and assimilated.

“I saw neighborhoods that were devoted to thousands of people from Turkey and Syria and how the city swallows them up and lets German culture wash over them,” she says. “Yet their native cultures are still prevalent in their neighborhoods with their markets, with their restaurants and cafés, and how they garden. They let them adjust to their new life while retaining the fondness and heritage of their old life.”

Her observation became the impetus for her honors thesis, A Cross-Cultural Comparison of the Assimilation of Twenty-First Century Refugees in Modern Cultures. It also earned her the annual Bruce and Lucy Gerstein Holocaust Education Travel Fund, an endowed fund established by Indianapolis dermatologist and friend of the University Dr. David Gerstein. The Fund, named for Gerstein’s parents, supports travel and research related to the Holocaust.

For her thesis, McKown is comparing how Germany and the United States are handling the current refugee crisis, and how the Holocaust left residual effects on Germany’s foreign policy and relief aid efforts.

McKown, a double major in Critical Communications and Media Studies and Human Communication and Organizational Leadership, is spending the spring 2019 semester at Humboldt University in Germany. She’s also traveled on weekends to Vienna, Prague, and Dresden to see how they're taking in refugees.

In Berlin, she’s visited Tempelhof Airport, where some refugees have been housed in hangars, and she’s planning to go back to talk to people living there.

McKown, who’s from New Castle, Indiana, says she chose Butler after visiting campus and meeting representatives of the study abroad and honors programs, and her future faculty advisor, Associate Professor of Communications Allison Harthcock.

“I immediately fell in love with the possibilities,” she says. “I love to travel. I was fortunate to have parents who exposed me to that from a young age. So hearing about all the study abroad opportunities was great. I came here and you feel like a family, but a family that's going to push you and not let you settle for mediocre. That was really important to me.”

Jason Lantzer, Assistant Director of the University Honors Program, describes McKown as “a wonderful student and a terrific representation of our Honors Program.” He’s taught her in a couple of classes and was one of the professors who led the first trip she took to Germany.

“The Gerstein Fund not only helped her achieve her goal of going back, but is helping to lay the groundwork for her planned honors thesis,” Lantzer says. “Having just returned from the second time of Bulldogs to Berlin, it was great to get to see Addy while we were in the city and see just how much she has grown in the year since she first arrived.”

McKown says she’s unsure of her plans after graduation—she might apply for a Fulbright Award, go to graduate school, or find a job. She’s interested in working within outreach programs, a liaison between the public and the organization.

“I want to be on the people side of things, whether that's organizing training, doing research sessions in groups to find out how to better market products or word our statements,” she says.

In the meantime, she plans to keep her options open and explore the world. She thinks others should do the same.

“It's OK to explore something that hasn't been explored yet,” she says. “To witness this refugee crisis firsthand, to see what such a crisis is doing to the world, you can get involved and step in in some sort of way, whether that just ends up educating yourself or if you come over here and start a thesis, if you join the Peace Corps. Whatever it is, I think it's just important to open your eyes up and see the world and see what you can do with it.”

 

AcademicsCampusResearch

Scholarship Supports Student's Research of Refugees in Germany

Addy McKown '21 has been awarded a scholarship from the Bruce and Lucy Gerstein Holocaust Education Travel Fund.

Apr 03 2019 Read more
Emily Nettesheim at the Capitol Building
AcademicsResearchUnleashed

Why We Dance: Butler Student Researcher Refutes Her Generation’s Reputation

BY Marc D. Allan MFA ’18

PUBLISHED ON May 10 2019

Emily Nettesheim '19 has heard her generation called lazy, entitled, and selfish. Her research—which she presented in Washington, DC, in late April to an audience that included both of Indiana's Senators—suggests that those labels are misguided.

Since sophomore year, Nettesheim has been examining why so many students participate in Dance Marathon, the annual fundraiser benefiting Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, a non-profit organization that raises funds and awareness for more than 170 pediatric hospitals across North America. This year at Butler University alone, more than 500 participants raised over $365,000.

"Especially in light of how millennials have been portrayed negatively in the media, I knew the passion, drive, and sacrifice I was seeing in Dance Marathon was counter-cultural and special," says Nettesheim, a Health Sciences and Spanish double major from Lafayette, Indiana.

In a survey of Butler, Ball State, and IUPUI students, she found that an overwhelming majority participated in Dance Marathon because they were acting on their values—and because participants have the opportunity to meet families affected by the hospital, and visit the hospitals for tours to see first-hand where the money is going.

"Millennials tend to be motivated if they can see the impact of the cause," she says.

More than 85 percent also said they benefited from participating by developing maturity and specific skills, such as communication and empathy, that they can use later in life, according to Nettesheim’s research.

 

*

Nettesheim's story starts not with Dance Marathon—her high school didn't participate—but with her interest in Indianapolis-based Riley Hospital for Children, the beneficiary of Indiana Dance Marathon events. When her parents' friends asked what she wanted to do when she grew up, she said she wanted to be in the medical field and work with kids.

In 2015, when she arrived on campus, she heard about Dance Marathon almost immediately at an event about campus organizations.

"It sounded like a great opportunity to get my foot in the door somewhere I wanted to work," she says.

She joined the Riley Relations Committee as a first-year student—the committee works directly with Riley families—and fell in love with the people, and what Dance Marathon stood for. Sophomore and junior years, she served as the director of Riley Relations, and senior year became president.

In fall of her sophomore year, she started thinking about a subject for her honors thesis. She met with Pharmacy Professor Chad Knoderer.Knoderer had never taught Nettesheim, but after talking to her and hearing about her interest in Dance Marathon, he suggested that it could be her focus.

"As I researched more," Nettesheim says, "I realized that nonprofits across the country are experiencing issues trying to recruit donors and volunteers, and that the Dance Marathon movement is the No. 14 fastest growing peer-to-peer campaign in the nation. It became really evident that something different and unique is happening. So I wanted to see if I could figure out why—or at least quantify it a little bit."

She and Knoderer worked together on how to design the thesis, roll it out, and make it realistic to be completed. With help from Butler's Center for High Achievement and Scholarly Engagement (CHASE), everything came into focus.

Normally, the final step in the work Nettesheim was doing would be to write and turn in her honors thesis. And she did that—a 35-page paper.

But she wanted to do more. So early this year, she submitted an abstract to present at Posters on the Hill, the Council on Undergraduate Research's annual undergraduate poster session on Capitol Hill.  Members of Congress and their staff gather at the presentations to learn about the importance of undergraduate research through talking directly with the student researchers themselves.

The selection process is extremely competitive, but Nettesheim beat the odds—becoming the first Butler student in memory to be invited to participate.

"I can’t say definitively that she’s the first," says Rusty Jones, the CHASE Faculty Director, "but she’s certainly the first that I know of. What’s especially great about the Posters on the Hill event is that they are highlighting the importance of undergraduate research to our lawmakers in DC."

 

*

Part of Nettesheim's goal was to detail her findings, but she was also in Washington to share the value of undergraduate research with members of the Senate and Congress, and their staffs.

Nettesheim's father worked at Purdue University, and being around research there got her interested in it from a young age. She chose Butler precisely because she wanted the opportunity to do her own projects.

"It's so cool that even at a small university, there have been so many opportunities for me to get involved in research," she says.

In addition to delving into students' motivations to participate in Dance Marathon, Nettesheim also has worked in the Neurobiology Lab at Butler with Associate Professor of Biology Jennifer Kowalski. She's studying microscopic roundworms known as C. elegans, which have nervous systems similar to humans.

"It’s exciting to share the impact of research in my life and be the face behind the cause of research," Nettesheim says. "I've had much more of an opportunity to get involved and have my research be my own here than I would have had the opportunity to do elsewhere."

And that, says Knoderer, is the takeaway: Butler encourages and supports undergraduate research.

"If you've got an idea, go for it," he says. "The sky's the limit. I knew what Dance Marathon was from working at Riley Hospital for a number of years, so I knew the organization and what it was, but I didn't necessarily know how to approach her question. But there are enough people to help support a student and see their project through."

Emily Nettesheim at the Capitol Building
AcademicsResearchUnleashed

Why We Dance: Butler Student Researcher Refutes Her Generation’s Reputation

Millennials tend to be motivated if they can see the impact of the cause.

May 10 2019 Read more
DNA research
AcademicsResearchUnleashed

Professor’s DNA Research Could Help Cure Genetic Diseases

BY Katie Grieze

PUBLISHED ON Sep 10 2019

Many life-threatening diseases come from slight variations in our genetic codes. A problem with the BRCA1 gene makes a person more prone to certain cancers, for example, and mutations of the hemoglobin-Beta gene can lead to sickle cell anemia.

Not everyone with genetic mutations will develop the associated conditions, but just having a variation can change a person’s life—they’ll need to get tests, take pills, go through surgeries, and constantly worry that doing all of these things still won’t be enough.

So, what if we could fix the problem at its root?

Using a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for more than $711,000, that’s what Butler University Pharmaceutical Sciences Professor Alex Erkine is trying to work toward. The project falls into NSF’s fairly new Rules of Life category, which aims to promote discoveries related to fundamental questions about how living things work.

Erkine says genes can have a wide range of functionality levels. Scientists already understand that the level of functionality depends both on certain aspects of the gene itself, as well as on the quality of the proteins that bind with the gene. These proteins work as activators, helping determine the gene’s level of functionality by dimming it up or down—imagine a light dimmer controlling the brightness in a room.

The problem is, biochemists have never completely understood how that gene-regulating dimmer works. If we don’t know how it works, we don’t know how to control or replicate it, and we can’t effectively edit a person’s DNA. Erkine’s project combines biochemistry with informatics, or machine learning, to try and change that.

In the physical lab, researchers will transfer strands of unique DNA sequences into cells. Then they’ll rate each cell based on how functional the DNA sequence is. In the past, similar tests have only been able to analyze a few DNA samples at a time, but using bioinformatics and machine learning will allow Erkine and his collaborators to compare more than 10,000 cells at once.

The ability to work with such a large group of DNA sequences is game-changing, Erkine says, because researchers can find patterns that never would have shown up when only comparing a few samples. Using bioinformatics tools makes this possible.

While scientists have been trying to understand the gene activator mechanism for decades, Erkine says both the DNA sequences and the ways they interact are highly variable and almost random—but not completely. Patterns do emerge within large enough data sets, which is why massive amounts of data are key. Erkine says computer-based tools are necessary in trying to understand these near-chaotic processes because finding those patterns will help us predict how genetic structures might interact after the activators are edited.

By identifying common features between strands with similar functionality scores, the informatics tools should help answer the question of what makes one gene functional and another gene cause disease.

The finished project is expected to shed some light on how genes are regulated and exactly how specific parts of a gene would need to be altered to prevent certain diseases. Scientists already know which part of the gene needs to be changed—as they can recognize mutations in DNA—and they now have the power to make those specific changes with the recent discovery of the CRISPR-Cas9 DNA editing system. But Erkine’s project is trying to answer the question of how to change sequences in ways that achieve the desired outcome of curing disease. So, we can already recognize and remove a genetic mutation, but what DNA sequences can we use to effectively replace it?

One of the project’s goals is to create a computational algorithm that will predict how certain changes to the gene activator mechanism (or the dimmer) will affect the genes it is working on.

“It sounds easy—just create an algorithm,” Erkine says. “But in reality, the problem is not trivial, because we do not fully understand how activators work. Our project, first of all, addresses the question about the mechanism of activator function. Then, as a byproduct, we hope to create a machine learning model (or algorithm) that can be used with CRISPR DNA editing for medical purposes.”

Some of this analytics process will take place at Butler, with help from PharmD students Brad Broyles and Andrew Gutierrez.

Broyles, who is in his third professional year of Butler’s Doctor of Pharmacy program, says working on this research has been the most valuable part of his time at Butler. He’s excited for the chance to learn about complicated aspects of biology while sharpening his computer skills, and he hopes the results will help make the field of biochemistry more receptive to new ideas.

Researchers at Purdue University also received close to $250,000 from the NSF to collaborate with Butler on this project. Purdue will handle most of the computer-based process Erkine calls the dry lab.

Back in 2015, Erkine had the chance to spend his sabbatical in Cambridge, England, with the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology. He has continued collaborating with the institution ever since, publishing an article in 2018 that helped lay the foundation for his current project.

Erkine says our current lack of understanding about how some molecular mechanisms work has a lot to do with long-held beliefs in the field of biochemistry—beliefs about what is and what isn’t worth studying.

“In short, biochemistry is about specificity,” he explains. “It looks at specific structures interacting with other specific structures in specific ways—key-and-lock sorts of interactions. But this is simply because that’s easy to study. Everything that does not necessarily interact specifically or strongly is ignored by biochemistry. It is considered noise: noise that is nonessential, non-functional, detrimental—that essentially stands in the way of new biochemistry developments.”

Erkine wants researchers to think about things differently. The human cell is full of interactions that occur randomly, but that doesn’t make them any less important to understand. Because if his research works, he says, we’ll find a way to get to the root of diseases we’ve been trying to cure for decades.

 

Media Contact:
Katie Grieze
News Content Manager
kgrieze@butler.edu
260-307-3403

 

Innovations in Teaching and Learning

One of the distinguishing features of a Butler education has always been the meaningful and enduring relationships between our faculty and students. Gifts to this pillar during Butler Beyond will accelerate our commitment to investing in faculty excellence by adding endowed positions, supporting faculty scholarship and research, renovating and expanding state-of-the-art teaching facilities, and more. Learn more, make a gift, and read other stories like this one at beyond.butler.edu.

DNA research
AcademicsResearchUnleashed

Professor’s DNA Research Could Help Cure Genetic Diseases

Alex Erkine receives more than $711,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study gene regulation.

Sep 10 2019 Read more
AcademicsResearch

New Butler Research Shows Hearing Loss Linked to Cognitive Ability in Babies

BY Rachel Stern

PUBLISHED ON Mar 01 2019

INDIANAPOLIS—It is fairly typical for individuals with profound hearing loss to experience other cognitive issues. There could be issues with memory or paying attention, for example. But are those other problems related to a lack of experience with language, or is there something else at play?

That is the very question Butler University Assistant Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders Tonya Bergeson-Dana wanted to answer. Does hearing loss have an effect on other systems of development?

According to new research Bergeson-Dana co-authored in the journal PLOS One, the answer is yes.

“When one thinks about hearing loss, they think about hearing impairment, hearing aids, or maybe American Sign Language (ASL). No one thinks about the cascading effects on other systems as the child is developing,” she says. “What we are really seeing here is that hearing loss certainly has an effect on other systems in development, and not only that, but it starts very, very early, when the individual is an infant.”

Individuals who have hearing loss have other cognitive issues separate from their hearing impairment, she says. The assumption, though, she says, has largely been that those issues are related to a lack of experience with language.

The bigger question at play is if hearing loss is connected to the larger cognitive system, and therefore has a cascading effect on cognitive development. This is important, Bergeson-Dana says, because that would mean hearing loss has a direct effect on cognitive functions.

“What we are really looking at is whether congenital hearing loss has an effect on other systems in development,” she says. “We wanted to know how early this might start, and how impactful hearing loss is on the rest of the whole system.”

Forty-three infants, half of them hearing impaired and half of them hearing, aged seven-to-23 months, were presented with the same image over and over again. Once they acted like they were bored of the image, a new image appeared.

The purpose was to see how quickly the babies tired of the photos. Previous studies show that babies who get bored quickly have increases in cognitive functions. So, this was used as a measure to see if deafness slows cognitive development.

The rate of habituation, or how quickly a baby got bored with an image, was different between hearing babies and deaf babies. Babies with typical hearing were faster to habituate than babies with hearing loss. It took hearing impaired babies an average of eight-and-a-half trials before they got bored, compared to seven trials for hearing babies.

These findings, Bergeson-Dana says, can have major implications on how hearing loss is treated.

“We definitely should be treating hearing impairments much earlier than we do because of these clear cascading effects,” she says. “But more than that, we also need to provide children with cognitive skill interventions, in addition to just treating their hearing impairment.

“Before, we have just focused on their hearing impairment, but this study shows we have to think about the baby as a whole child, not just as a child with a hearing loss. The ear is connected to the brain.”

 

Media Contact:
Rachel Stern
Director of Strategic Communications
rstern@butler.edu
914-815-5656

AcademicsResearch

New Butler Research Shows Hearing Loss Linked to Cognitive Ability in Babies

Hearing loss is connected to the larger cognitive system, and has a cascading effect on cognitive development.

Mar 01 2019 Read more
AcademicsResearch

Butler Researcher Shows Link Between Social Media and Happiness

BY Rachel Stern

PUBLISHED ON Feb 01 2019

 

 

INDIANAPOLIS—People flock to Facebook to see the latest wedding news, vacation photos, new baby arrival, or home purchase. Most people, research indicates, head to their newsfeeds to passively watch and compare, much more often than post their own news or updates.

But, it turns out, some of us prefer to look at and compare ourselves to certain types of individuals: those who make us feel better about ourselves. And that, in turn, can lead to an increase in happiness and life satisfaction.

That’s according to new research from Lee Farquhar, Butler University Associate Professor of Entertainment Media and Journalism in the College of Communication. Humans continually observe those around them to see how they fit in, a process called social comparison theory. This innate concept holds true in the world of social media, according to Farquhar’s research. It not only holds true, but the more individuals engage in that type of behavior on Facebook—comparing themselves to others in various ways—the happier and more satisfied they were with their life.

“There is no secret that Facebook intensity has been associated with negative social consequences, such as anxiety, narcissism, and loneliness,” says Farquhar, whose own previous research has revealed those very things. “But this looked at something new. When individuals positively compared themselves to other Facebook users, they had higher levels of reported happiness. These findings nuance previous scholarship that largely indicated heavy Facebook use has a detrimental effect on one’s psychological well-being. It is not the amount of Facebook use that matters, but rather, how one feels they measure up in comparison with those around them.”

Farquhar’s research, published in the Journal of New Media & Culture, surveyed 406 college students and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk Workers. The average age was 32, and 46 percent were male.

The participants went through a series of questions about their social media use, such as time spent on Facebook, how they would feel if the social media outlet was taken away from them, and how often they look at others on Facebook, for example. They also measured life satisfaction and happiness.

The average life satisfaction and happiness scores were about a five out of seven. And, the more frequently one engaged in Facebook activities, the happier one was, Farquhar says. This, he says, can most likely be explained by downward social comparisons.

When individuals positively compared themselves to other Facebook users, they had higher levels of reported happiness and life satisfaction. So, he says, it is likely that individuals were seeking out others who made them feel better about themselves.

“For example, if the user wanted to feel better about his or her career, they might compare to an individual who is unemployed, or had a less appealing job. That same type of comparison could be done for virtually every other aspect of one’s life, like intelligence, family life, the list goes on,” he says. “It is not simply the amount of social comparing one does that matters, but the type of comparison that predicts happiness and life satisfaction.”

This targeted, downward social comparison, was the predictor of happiness and overall life satisfaction, Farquhar says. Facebook is the ideal medium for this, he says, because it allows users to select particular people or elements to hone in on for comparison, while blocking out those elements, or people, that are unwanted.

What this study didn’t account for, Farquhar explains, is the long-term impact of this behavior.

“I wouldn’t encourage people to spend more time on Facebook looking for people to look down on,” he says. “Looking for peers to look down on to make oneself feel better is not the prescription here. We believe the more time spent on there, the less satisfied with life one will eventually be, as one is bound to run into unfavorable social comparisons.”

But, he says, the findings are important for adding a more nuanced understanding to the social media behemoth. For so long the conversation has focused on doom and gloom when it comes to Facebook. While that may still be true, it is important to understand the medium in a more detailed way.

Facebook lends itself to downward social comparison, and therefore, makes the user feel better. So, he explains, for some, social media can have a positive impact, even if it is fleeting. This study also helps us understand how users interact with the medium on a more intimate level.

“We assumed the results would fall in line with the body of literature that says social media interactions make you feel worse and were surprised to see any sort of uptick,” Farquhar says. “We assumed, you go online, look at others, and feel worse. We believe downward comparison is going on and this adds another dimension to the complex conversation about Facebook.”

 

Media contact:
Rachel Stern
Director of Strategic Communications
rstern@butler.edu
914-815-5656

AcademicsResearch

Butler Researcher Shows Link Between Social Media and Happiness

  Turns out social media can make you happy.

Feb 01 2019 Read more
Hopkins is studying which aspects of music education curricula proved most helpful for preparing students to face the realities of the field.
AcademicsResearchUnleashed

Are Music Education Grads Ready for Reality?

BY Katie Grieze

PUBLISHED ON Jul 15 2019

During her last two years at a small high school in Villa Grove, Illinois, Abigail Hopkins rarely went to class.

But that was okay. Her teachers knew where she was.

Hopkins had stepped in to help when the music program at her school faced budget cuts. The general music teacher there, who had to take over band, choir, and other music classes at all levels of the K-12 school, didn’t know how to play any band instruments. Hopkins was a star in the band room and had been playing violin for years, so the teacher asked her to help out as a Teaching Assistant during the hour she was scheduled for band class each day.

One hour snowballed into five. Hopkins got caught up sautering sousaphones and meeting with music shops, and she eventually became known as the school’s unpaid band director. She had an office and everything.

“If I didn’t have to be in the classroom, I was in the band room,” she says.

Beyond repairing instruments, Hopkins sometimes conducted rehearsals for the junior high ensembles or helped coordinate concerts. She loved helping, but she worried what might happen when she graduated. Through researching for a paper in her high school English class, she learned the situation wasn’t unique.

Now a rising sophomore at Butler University, Hopkins hasn’t let it go. The Violin Performance major would love to be a full-time performer, but she says she knows she’ll probably end up teaching. She wants to be ready.

That’s why she took on a project through this year’s Butler Summer Institute (BSI), a program allowing students to stay on campus for two months in pursuit of significant research questions. Through interviews with recent graduates of music education programs at several Indiana universities, Hopkins is studying which aspects of the curricula proved most helpful for preparing students to face the realities of the field, along with which areas might have been neglected.

“My overall goal is to prolong the life of music education,” she says. “Because, sadly, it’s the first thing to be cut when there’s some sort of budget crisis.”

The project’s interviewees all have between one and five years of professional teaching experience, and they all come from undergraduate music education programs at Butler, Indiana University, Ball State University, or Indiana State University.

Hopkins hopes her findings will inform recommendations for schools to incorporate a wider variety of classes into each music concentration, better preparing graduates to take on what might be expected of them when funding gets cut.

So far, Hopkins has confirmed conversations with 10 recent graduates. Beyond questions about their college programs, she’s asking if the things they’re doing in their jobs today align with what they expected when they pursued careers in music education. She hopes she can make their feedback available for incoming students, who still have time to adapt their studies accordingly.

After completing the interviews, Hopkins and faculty mentor Dr. Becky Marsh will code the answers to find common themes. When the nine-week program ends on July 19, Hopkins will present her findings as a poster. She says the results can apply beyond Indiana, however, and she hopes to share the conclusions at music education conferences across the country.

 

Media Contact:
Katie Grieze
News Content Manager
kgrieze@butler.edu
260-307-3403 (cell)

 

Student Access and Success

At the heart of Butler Beyond is a desire to increase student access and success, putting a Butler education within reach of all who desire to pursue it. With a focus on enhancing the overall student experience that is foundational to a Butler education, gifts to this pillar will grow student scholarships, elevate student support services, expand experiential learning opportunities, and more. Learn more, make a gift, and read other stories like this one at beyond.butler.edu.

Hopkins is studying which aspects of music education curricula proved most helpful for preparing students to face the realities of the field.
AcademicsResearchUnleashed

Are Music Education Grads Ready for Reality?

Butler student interviews recent Indiana grads for Butler Summer Institute project.

Jul 15 2019 Read more
AcademicsResearch

Advancing the Field: Highlights of the 2019 Undergraduate Research Conference

BY Rachel Stern

PUBLISHED ON Apr 11 2019

Lillian Southern ‘19 was 12 when her brother, Jack, was born with mitochondrial disease. He couldn’t walk, talk, sit up, and later, lost the ability to eat on his own.

Southern quickly became interested in helping him. She was intrigued by the therapy he received. When Jack died in 2012 at the age of 4, Southern decided she wanted to spend her life helping children just like him.

And now, her first research paper might do just that. Inspired by Jack, Southern spent the last year-and-a-half exploring how hearing impairment, as well as disability, in babies impacts interactions between parents and children. The paper, Parent Interaction Between an Infant with a Cochlear Implant and Additional Disabilities: How Interaction is Affected Due to Stress and Difficulty of Communication, was one of four winners in the Competitive Paper division of the Undergraduate Research Conference.

The URC, which takes place for the 31st time April 12 at Butler University, added a Competitive Paper division two years ago to give students experience submitting papers to outside faculty reviewers—the same process, essentially, that happens when professors, for example, submit a paper to a journal in hopes of publishing their research. That panel of reviewers then picked four winning papers from 36 entries. Southern was one of the winners.

In the fall, the Communication Sciences and Disorders major and Special Education minor, will attend graduate school at Indiana University to study Speech Pathology. But in the meantime, she hopes her first research project will help advance the field.

“Research is like an exciting mystery, where you go from having these questions, to actually having an answer,” she says. “But the most powerful thing is, especially in my field, all therapy practices that help kids are based on research people have done. Without having access to questions and answers, you cannot move forward and discover new ways to help people.”

As Southern’s research progressed, the answers did not line up with what she originally thought. She hypothesized that the addition of a disability to a child with hearing impairment would have a major impact on parent-child interactions. She assumed there would be cascading effects of stress, for example. However, the results showed that the addition of a disability didn’t affect interactions as much as other environmental factors, such as education and financial resources.

Tonya Bergeson-Dana, Assistant Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Butler, worked with Southern on the project. Bergeson-Dana, who has published on this topic before, says Southern’s findings can help get these families the appropriate resources they need to develop child language.

This relevancy was what struck Tracey Quigley Holden, Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of Delaware. Quigley Holden was one of 13 faculty reviewers who looked at the 36 papers that were submitted to the URC’s competitive paper division. Four were selected as winners by the reviewers.

If she’s honest, Quigley Holden wasn’t all that excited to be asked at first. She loves research, but the process of reviewing papers is extremely time consuming. Then she jumped in and was elated.

“These students were really doing work that was innovative and pushing the envelope,” she says. “They were taking on topics that we wouldn’t have touched when I was an undergrad. There was such a range of topics, from race, to class, to politics, there was such a wide range. Students were looking at some of the topics that we are most challenged by in public discourse and society today, not just the confines of academia.”

Quigley Holden, who studies military dissent, has served as a reviewer for fellow colleagues in the world of academia. At times, she says, the process can be monotonous. But not this time.

“Our students are thinking about what they are interested in, what they want to find out about, and they are challenging things,” she says. “Their papers reflect how inquisitive and engaged they are in thinking about the world that they live in and how it works and what they need to know to help them identify larger issues and gain more knowledge. The papers I reviewed looked at questions that are of interest to the public.”

______

If you go to the URC, there’s an endless number of presentations to take in. You may want to start with the winners. Here’s a look at the top four competitive papers:

Lillian Southern, Butler University, Parent Interaction Between an Infant with a Cochlear Implant and Additional Disabilities: How Interaction is Affected Due to Stress and Difficulty of Communication, Faculty Sponsor: Tonya Bergeson-Dana

How does the stress from having a child with hearing loss, or another disability, impact the relationship between parent and child? Southern examined exactly that. She looked at pediatric hearing loss, and how that can contribute to maternal and paternal stress. Because of that stress, she wondered, what other cascading effects on parent-child interactions occur?

Stephanie Mithika, Taylor University, The Curse of Nakedness: African Women’s Use of the Naked Body in Resistance Movements, Faculty Sponsor: Nicholas Kerton-Johnson

The female body typically has had many gendered, cultural, and political inscriptions ascribed to it. As a result, society, more often than not, perceives women as lacking in agency, unfit for public affairs, as well as political roles. Mithika though, explored how African women used their bodies to resist patriarchal, classist, capitalist, and oppressive systems through the act of disrobing. Why, she examined, was the sight of a naked African women’s body protesting serve as a powerful tool for social and political change? Mithika explores how women rewrite the script of vulnerability, and in this case, embody resistance, while reclaiming their bodies as political sites of agency and power.

Maggie Kieffer, Butler University, The Avengers: Hegemonic Depictions of Heroism Present in the Working World, Faculty Sponsor: Kristin Swenson

Kieffer digs into the superhero characters in the 2012 film The Avengers to evaluate how American ideals of heroism and patriotism are reflected through the superhero genre. Kieffer looks at Iron Man and Captain America, and analyzes how the film reaffirms hegemonic American heroism fulfilled by individual heroes coming together under a patriotic leader to combat threats to traditional American values.

Jillian Fox, Denison University, Broken Bodies, Evolving Systems: An Evaluation of International Prosecution of Sexual Violence After Genocide, Faculty Sponsor: Taku Suzuki

Using the Nuremburg Trials, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda as case studies, Fox explores the influence of social movements on international humanitarian laws. Essentially, why did prosecutors start to indict individuals for crimes of gender-based violence when they did? Through Fox’s research, it seems that as the world begins to understand the reality of wartime gender-based and sexual violence, coupled with efforts by feminist organizations to raise global consciousness, then humanitarian law adapts to ensure justice prevails regardless of historical precedent.

AcademicsResearch

Advancing the Field: Highlights of the 2019 Undergraduate Research Conference

Familiarize yourself with the winners of the Undergraduate Research Conference.

Apr 11 2019 Read more
AcademicsResearch

New Study by Butler Professor Shows Why Electoral Integrity Matters

BY Rachel Stern

PUBLISHED ON Oct 30 2018

INDIANAPOLIS—As the 2018 midterm elections near, there is an increasing focus on how difficult it is for some people to actually cast a vote in certain states.

For example, voters in North Dakota, Ohio, Missouri, Kansas, and New Hampshire, among others, are facing restrictive voter ID laws and purges of voter names from the rolls. In Georgia, allegations of voter suppression against black voters have reached a boiling point. According to a recent report from the Associated Press, about 53,000 voter registration applications are in limbo because information on applications doesn’t exactly match up with names on drivers licenses or Social Security cards.

These challenges to electoral integrity have an impact on citizen confidence in elections, according to new research from Butler University Assistant Professor of Political Science Greg Shufeldt. His research found that the higher a state ranks when it comes to electoral integrity, or how states run elections, the more likely individuals are to feel like their vote is being counted fairly.

Essentially, those states that ranked higher in electoral integrity had citizens who felt more confident in the democratic system, according to Shufeldt’s research.

“Citizens that live in states with lower electoral integrity are going to be less likely to have confidence in the election process and are less likely to think that their vote is counted fairly and that has consequences,” says Shufeldt, who studies political parties, political inequality, and American politics. “If you don’t think your vote is counted fairly, are you going to keep voting? Probably not.”

Shufeldt’s research, published with Patrick Flavin from Baylor University in State Politics & Policy Quarterly, looked at two different measures of electoral integrity (one led by researchers at MIT and one led by researchers at Harvard). They tested which components of each electoral integrity measurement had a relationship with voter confidence through statistical analyses.

The aspects that impacted citizens’ confidence in the electoral system the most? Personal experience. Examples include problems with the voter registration process, polling site accessibility, availability of ballots, simplicity of the voting process, voter ID laws, violent threats against voters, and simply the presence of qualified candidates on the ballot.

“Broadly, what citizens directly experience impacts their perceptions about whether or not their vote is being counted fairly the most,” Shufeldt says. “The things that a voter would experience going to the polling place are the types of things that are much more likely to have an impact on their confidence, as opposed to the things that happen in a government office that they don’t see.”

All of this matters, Shufeldt says, because if a person doesn’t feel like the process in their state is legitimate, and therefore, that their vote is going to be counted fairly, then there’s a good chance they will stay home on election day, he says.

“This impacts voter turnout,” he says. “My research showed that there is a direct correlation between having confidence in the electoral integrity of your state, and whether or not your vote is being counted fairly. In turn, where you live can determine your desire to show up and your confidence in the system. That is hugely problematic for our democratic system. Where you live is determining the experience you have at the polls.”

This isn’t all just some accident, says Shufeldt. 

States chose their election laws and, he says, states are choosing to go in very different directions in terms of how they conduct their elections. So, who controls state government matters a whole lot for the quality of democracy in one’s state, he says.

According to past research from Shufeldt, Republican-controlled states are increasingly pursuing measures that are damaging electoral integrity, whereas majority Democrat-controlled states are more likely to pursue policies that would lead to higher electoral integrity rankings.

“Because states are increasingly under one party control, some states are able to implement tougher voter ID laws, purging their voter rolls, and are adding additional restrictions or checks to the election process, while other states are choosing to go in a different direction and pursue reforms like making voter registration automatic,” he says. “If you assume that elections play a key and central role in a democratic government, states are choosing wildly different ways to conduct those elections.”

Media contact:
Rachel Stern
Director of Strategic Communications
rstern@butler.edu
914-815-5656

 

Photo by Erik (HASH) Hersman via: freeforcommercialuse.org

AcademicsResearch

New Study by Butler Professor Shows Why Electoral Integrity Matters

Professor Greg Shufeldt's study shows that electoral integrity has impact on citizen confidence in elections.

Oct 30 2018 Read more
Mother with children
AcademicsResearchUnleashed

The Precarious Position of Muslim Orphans to Be Focus of Butler Professor's Research

BY Marc Allan MFA `18

PUBLISHED ON May 01 2019

Nermeen Mouftah, Butler University Assistant Professor of Religion, was in Egypt for her first project. She was studying the ways Islamic reformers have turned to literacy to improve conditions in their countries.

But, while doing that research, she noticed that nearly every nonprofit organization not only had some kind of literacy project, but they also did work with orphans. That got her thinking about Muslim orphans, their care, and their place in Islamic society. She wondered: How does Islam shape the legal, biological, and affective negotiations involved in the care and abandonment of vulnerable children?

This year, thanks to a $12,000 grant from the University of Notre Dame’s Global Religions Research Initiative, Mouftah will do four months of fieldwork to investigate what she calls the Muslim orphan paradox: the precarious condition faced by millions of Muslim orphans that makes them at once major recipients of charity, yet ostracized for their rootlessness.

The world has approximately 140 million orphans today, but military conflicts in countries from Burma to Yemen to Syria have left Muslim children disproportionately affected, Mouftah says. As a result, many Muslim-majority countries face high numbers of child abandonment. The level of care these orphans receive is largely contingent on how people view family, childhood, and community.

Giving to orphans is seen, by in large, as a laudable form of giving in these societies, she says. However, what the care of orphans should look like is highly contested, as a consensus among Islamic legal schools is that adoption is prohibited, Mouftah explains. As a result, there is much debate about whether, and how, to raise a non-biological child in Muslim society.

So, as part of her research, Mouftah will be going to Morocco and Lebanon over the summer, and Pakistan in December. Morocco and Pakistan because they’re Muslim-majority countries that have some of the largest numbers of orphans and strong ties to the inter-country adoption market. Lebanon, on the other hand, takes in a large number of Syrian refugees.

“One of the things I'm interested in is trying to question some kind of universal idea of what the ideal way to care for orphans is,” says Mouftah, who’s finishing her first year at Butler. “I’ll be doing that by looking at multiple forms of care across different countries and institutions who have distinct views on, and methods of, orphan care.”

Mouftah will be listening in on the debate and discussions people are having first hand about the best way to do things when it comes to caring for orphans, she says. She will be observing different practices, watching who people are influenced by when it comes to orphan care, and what they are aspiring toward, as well as what the problems people run into when trying to care for orphans.

One of the major issues she’ll be looking at is the Islamic taboo against fictive kinship—taking in a child and raising that child as if he or she were one’s biological child. Some of her research is looking at how some Muslim families are using the approach of non-fictive kinship, meaning the child knows that he or she is not the biological child of the parents.

That, Mouftah says, is parallel with trends of adoption in the United States, where people have moved toward open adoptions that let the child know who their biological parent is/was.

“Many times in the Koran, it says to help the widows, and the orphans, and the vulnerable,” she says. “So they're elevated figures to care for. But because of various laws, and the stigmatization of orphans, and especially abandoned children, adoption is widely looked at with skepticism.”

Rather than adoption, one of the ways some Muslim organizations care for orphans is through sponsorships similar to the child sponsorship commercials seen on American television.

“We clearly don't have this worked out,” she says. “When you look at the historical story, we're clearly feeling our way through the dark. We don't know what to do. It's not until the Victorian age that there is the institution of the orphanage. But institutions are not the best places for children to flourish. I won't be shy to lay out some practical plans based on the research.”  

Mother with children
AcademicsResearchUnleashed

The Precarious Position of Muslim Orphans to Be Focus of Butler Professor's Research

Nermeen Mouftah, Professor of Religion, will do fieldwork to investigate the Muslim orphan paradox.

May 01 2019 Read more
AcademicsResearch

Bracketology and the Collective Brain

BY Rachel Stern

PUBLISHED ON Oct 22 2018

 

  

INDIANAPOLIS—It is believed by most that many brains are more powerful than one. So, when it is time, for example, to guess how many gumballs are in a jar, the average of the group’s guesses is probably better than most of the individual guesses.

But, there isn’t much out there that really explains why that is, says Ryan Rogers, Butler University Assistant Professor of Entertainment Media and Journalism.

Rogers looked into this concept using one of America’s favorite past times—filling out March Madness brackets. He wanted to find out what exactly makes collective intelligence effective.

“Yes, we know crowd sourcing is beneficial, but what are those traits, and tasks, that are going to make the group impactful in its decision-making process?” Rogers says. “What kind of group is most effective and what kinds of tasks lend itself to crowd sourcing?”

Individuals were divided up based on their backgrounds and expertise in college basketball. One group was made up of serious college basketball fans. The other group was made up of college basketball experts, for example, journalists, former players, coaches, or others with insights beyond just being an engaged fan.

Each group then filled out NCAA tournament brackets using collective intelligence software. The goal, Rogers says, was to see how group make-up would impact the effectiveness of collective intelligence, and therefore, the infamous activity of avoiding a busted bracket after, well, one round.

The results, published in the Journal of Creative Communications, showed that the experts and the fans performed similarly throughout the first few rounds of the tournament. However, the experts gained a real edge over the fans as the tournament progressed—as the task became more difficult. When it came to the later rounds—games that are typically more challenging and complicated to predict—the experts had more success in picking winners than the fans.

“There’s a passion and there’s an interest,” he says. “It is not just about having a buddy who knows basketball, but our study showed that it is about the group dynamic, and that specific traits impact how successful the group will be. In addition to the traits of a group, our study showed task matters, too. The more difficult the task, the more important the make-up of the group.”

The results are important, Rogers says, because they can be applied to many fields and subject matters much more complicated than guessing gumballs in a jar or filling out a bracket.

The experts separated themselves in the later rounds of the tournament—when the task was more complicated and collective wisdom, therefore, mattered more, Rogers says. This distinction is a crucial finding.

When it comes to solving a complex engineering problem, for example, he says, it would be important to think about getting a group of experts together. Rogers compares that to asking a bunch of stargazers to solve a complex astrophysics problem. Collective intelligence, he says, wouldn’t help that group.

“Their love of the subject matter won’t matter because the topic is highly complex,” he says. “They simply don’t have enough technical knowledge to leverage the wisdom of the crowd. That is what, essentially, this study teaches us. It is not just that many brains are better than one, but who the group is made up of that impacts its effectiveness.”

 

Media contact:
Rachel Stern
Director of Strategic Communications
rstern@butler.edu
914-815-5656
 

 

AcademicsResearch

Bracketology and the Collective Brain

Assistant Professor Ryan Rogers has new research that reveals when many brains are better than one. 

Oct 22 2018 Read more
AcademicsResearch

Combating Counterfeit Meds: Butler Prof Navigates the dotcom World of Prescriptions

BY Marc D. Allan MFA ’18

PUBLISHED ON Apr 17 2019

Before you buy medication from an online pharmacy, you may want to think twice.

And after listening to Butler University Associate Professor of Pharmacy Practice John Hertig, who studies the impact of counterfeit online drug distribution worldwide, rattle off the numbers, you may want to avoid medication sold on the world wide web all together.

62% of medicines purchased online are fake or substandard."At any one time, there are between 35,000 and 45,000 illegal online pharmacies operating worldwide," he says. "The issue with those illegal online pharmacies, in addition to not operating under the laws and regulations of the United States, is that about 50 percent of them sell counterfeit medications. So in addition to just being the criminals who now have your credit card data and home address, about half the time they're going to ship you counterfeit product."

Hertig is a board member of the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies (ASOP), whose mission is to protect patient safety. His research looks at why patients are going online ("No surprise, it's because of cost, but it's also because it's an ecommerce world, and people are not aware of the risks"), and whether pharmacists, nurses, and physicians adequately educate their patients about the risks.

The dangers, Hertig says, are the possibility of getting either a substandard or falsified drug. Substandard could be counterfeit, meaning it might not have any of the active ingredient in it—it could be sugar pills—or there might not be enough, or too much, of the active ingredient. Sometimes, counterfeiters might cut 100 real pills into 1,000 pills by diluting them with sugar, brick dust, antifreeze, or chalk.

Falsified drugs are real, but they haven't been labelled, stored, or handled appropriately.

Hertig says there are ways to tell if an online pharmacy is legitimate. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) owns the ".pharmacy" top-level domain, and there's no way to obtain a dot-pharmacy web address without going through the association.

"If you go to cvs.pharmacy, you're good," he says. "If you go to walgreens.pharmacy, you're good. If you go to bestdrugsever.com, even though the website might look legitimate, you need to second-guess that."

The ASOP and NABP are both heavily involved in consumer education (more information is available at BuySafeRx.pharmacy), as is Hertig in conjunction with the Indiana Coalition for Patient Safety, and a network of hospitals. They've developed toolkits and are working to determine how much doctors, nurses, and pharmacists know about online pharmacies.

This summer, Hertig will be working on a Butler Summer Institute project with Kyla Maloney '22, a Pharmacy student whose research will summarize the possible link between illegal online pharmacies and patient harm worldwide. She plans to do a comprehensive review of the available literature regarding this kind of patient harm and unearth data that can be used for patients and providers to make better-informed healthcare decisions.

Maloney says that during an introductory pharmacy class, she was exposed to the world of online pharmacies and the massive issue surrounding adulterated drugs from these sites.

"The impact these pharmacies have on the economy, health system, and patient well-being were quite intriguing to me," she says. "Pharmacists have a professional responsibility to deliver exceptional care for our patients; in many cases, the ease and convenience of online pharmaceuticals may aid in that mission ... I am hoping this literature review will allow me to help make the world of pharmacy just a bit safer for my future patients."

AcademicsResearch

Combating Counterfeit Meds: Butler Prof Navigates the dotcom World of Prescriptions

Before you buy medication from an online pharmacy, you may want to think twice.  

Apr 17 2019 Read more
NY Giants Vs. Cleveland Browns
AcademicsResearch

Research Reveals Why Long-Suffering Fans Continue to Watch

BY Rachel Stern

PUBLISHED ON Oct 29 2018

There are films like The Notebook that make viewers reach for the tissue box, but they will watch the movie again and again despite all the tears. Why do people want to put themselves through the repeated misery?  Researchers have found that there is a reason for this.

There are two different ways people are entertained when it comes to media, says Ryan Rogers, Butler University Assistant Professor of Entertainment Media and Journalism. There’s enjoyable entertainment and meaningful entertainment and tear jerkers fall under the meaningful category, he says.

“You might say The Hangover was fun and enjoyable, but The Notebook was meaningful,” he says. “You enjoyed both, but they gave you different processes of being entertained.”

So, Rogers took the idea of these different types of entertainment, and found that they could be applied to that long-suffering Buffalo Bills fan, for example. He found that the same dichotomy that exists with movies, exists with sports, too.

“Fans watch for enjoyment and for victory and cheering with friends when things are going well—that excitement and sense of craziness when their team is winning. But, I found that there are also other reasons fans watch that are more akin to meaningful experiences,” Rogers says. “Even if the Bills lose, their fans keep watching every single year because of a deeper, meaningful experience they are deriving from watching.”

Rogers surveyed 277 people, half male and half female, with an average age of 39. His findings, which were published in Media Watch Journal, revealed that even when a fan’s team isn’t winning, even when there is absolutely no hope, those fans continue to tune in because they are gaining meaningful experiences.

Yes, when a team is winning, fans experience enjoyment. But watching teams with no hope might still provide a deeper, more meaningful form of entertainment for people, says Rogers.

“This explains why Browns fans, for example, are Browns fans when intuition tells us otherwise,” Rogers says. “Even when there is no hope, even when a team is eliminated mathematically from contention, fans keep watching and we found that is because they are deriving other, more meaningful appreciation from it.”

Rogers says his research revealed that watching a team struggle is meaningful because of who one is watching with. Often times individuals watch with family, or grew up watching with parents, and so when they watch now, they are reminded of those times, he says.

There’s also that sense of suffering and struggling as a group. Camaraderie is built around a collective struggle, says Rogers. Also, struggling through something can be enlightening and can provide insights that the thrill of victory does not, says Rogers.

“We know why fun and funny movies entertain us, but sad movies also captivate us because of the deeper emotions they tug at and the deeper introspection and deeper feelings they cause us to have,” Rogers says. “The same thing can be said for sports fans, and particularly for fans of struggling teams. People enjoy watching sports because it gives them a feeling of positive emotions and decreased negative emotions. This perfectly explains why people watch teams that absolutely stink.”

So, take solace Browns fans, and remember there is reason why you turn on your television every Sunday.

Media contact:
Rachel Stern
Director of Strategic Communications
rstern@butler.edu
914-815-5656

NY Giants Vs. Cleveland Browns
AcademicsResearch

Research Reveals Why Long-Suffering Fans Continue to Watch

The same reasons people enjoy tear jerkers can be applied to watching sports says Butler Professor Ryan Rogers.

Oct 29 2018 Read more
Sorensons
ResearchUnleashed

Algorithmic Number Theory Research Runs in the Family at Butler

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Dec 13 2019

It’s daughter-like-father when it comes to algorithmic number theory at Butler University.

Long before algorithms organized that cat video content you crave on your social media feeds, mathematicians and computer scientists created and utilized algorithms for faster and more precise calculations. The Department of Computer Science studies these algorithms to improve on existing methodology or to create new ways to compute.

Butler Computer Science Professor Jonathan Sorenson and his daughter, senior Brianna Sorenson, decided to take on Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdos and American mathematician John Selfridge’s 1974 algorithmic function for calculating prime factors of binomial coefficients. The research explored the possibilities of the 45-year-old problem. Father and daughter sought to expand the possible solutions and the speed in solving the problem, which hadn’t been challenged since 1999. With decades of computing breakthroughs at their disposal, the Sorensons got to work in the summer of 2018. 

“Algorithmic means you have problems in the area of number theory and you want to solve them using computer algorithms. The object of study is those computer algorithms,” Jonathan Sorenson says.

The Sorensons’ paper, An Algorithm and Estimates for the Erdos-Selfridge Function, will be submitted this winter to the 2020 Algorithmic Number Theory Symposium (ANTS), which is set for June 30 to July 4 in Auckland, New Zealand. 

Established by Cornell University as an intersection of mathematics and computer science fields, ANTS is the place where researchers explore the possibilities of challenging number theoretic problems like the Erdos and Selfridge problem the Sorensons studied, which identifies g (k) as the least integer bigger than k + 1 such that the binomial coefficient C(g(k), k) has no prime divisors larger than k.

Previous researchers computed the first 200 values of the Erdos-Selfridge function. In collaboration with Mathematics and Actuarial Science Professor Jonathan Webster, the Sorensons coded an original algorithm for faster computation for the problem. The work was successful as 157 more known binomial coefficients were discovered. That was almost twice as many numbers that mathematicians and computer scientists previously found.

“The 356th is 31 digits long,” Jon Sorenson says, “and it is the smallest such example larger than 357.”

The work was moved to the Big Dawg cluster supercomputer, which did the heavy lifting with the code written by the Butler team. The supercomputer took 12 days to find integer No. 355 but No. 356 was discovered four days later. Big Dawg had been working since Nov. 11 to find integer No. 357 and it finally discovered g(357)=2808033466727432757706599807359 almost a month later.

Binomial coefficients can break calculators when they reach as high as the Butler team took them to explore Erdos and Selfridge’s function. Jon Sorenson explains the process:

“If you have 10 different hats in your closet, then the binomial coefficient C(10,3) is the number of ways of selecting 3 hats from your closet. This is 120. There are 10 choices for the first hat, then 9 for the second, then 8 for the third, so 10*9*8.  But order doesn't matter, so we have to divide by the number of ways of rearranging 3 things, which is 3!=6. We get 10*9*8/6=120.”

A Computer Science and Mathematics major, Brianna Sorenson’s talent at solving problems with binomial coefficients led to the Erdos-Selfridge function research idea before the 2018 ANTS, which her father co-chaired. Only 19 years old at the time, she noted the function had been untouched since 1999. Why not explore it after 20 years of technological advancement and mathematical discovery?

The younger Sorenson spoke on the Erdos-Selfridge Function work at The Ohio State University Young Mathematicians Conference in August. The event was competitive to get into but Sorenson impressed with her algorithmic number theory work. The experience has been key as the senior prepares her graduate school applications, and being “alphabetically superior,” the younger Sorenson will be listed first.

“I can say ‘Look at this paper I’m in,’” Brianna Sorenson says with a laugh. “I think it’s really helpful to get this kind of experience. I’m wanting to get a PhD in computer science and that involves doing research and writing a thesis. This research was sort of a preview to it.”

Webster also collaborated with senior David Purdum, a Computer Science, Mathematics, and Statistics major, on a research paper, which will be submitted for ANTS 2020. Algorithms for the Multiplication Table Problem explores new ways to solve classic multiplication tables. By helping produce these papers, Purdum and Brianna Sorenson received experience that no coursework could provide. The process of publishing in the field of algorithmic number theory takes years, from selecting the problem to the final peer review of the paper. 

“This is intense and original thinking,” Webster says. “Each of these projects from start to finish take more than two years. With these multi-year projects, it’s difficult to see them through.”

By identifying the problems early in their Butler careers, Purdum and Brianna Sorrenson can count on submitting their high-level research as highlights to their final year as undergrads two years later. 

And for Jon Sorenson, he can count working with his daughter on high-level algorithmic number theory as a career highlight.

“You don’t often get to publish a paper with your kid,” the professor says. “It’s a dream come true.”

 

Media Contact:
Tim Brouk
Senior News Content Manager
tbrouk@butler.edu
765-977-3931 (cell)

 

Student Access and Success

At the heart of Butler Beyond is a desire to increase student access and success, putting a Butler education within reach of all who desire to pursue it. With a focus on enhancing the overall student experience that is foundational to a Butler education, gifts to this pillar will grow student scholarships, elevate student support services, expand experiential learning opportunities, and more. Learn more, make a gift, and read other stories like this one at beyond.butler.edu.

Sorensons
ResearchUnleashed

Algorithmic Number Theory Research Runs in the Family at Butler

Professor Jon Sorenson and daughter, senior Brianna Sorenson, tackle high math for international conference

Dec 13 2019 Read more
Ashley Altman in United Arab Emirates
ResearchUnleashed

Butler’s first Gilman Scholars embark for international study

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Jan 24 2020

Two Butler University students traveled a combined 15,000-plus miles to conduct research abroad, thanks to the U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarships. 

International Studies major Ashley Altman and Biology junior Dakotah Harris are the first Butler recipients of the nationally competitive scholarship, which enables students of limited financial means to study or intern abroad while gaining skills related to national security and economic prosperity. The program was established in 2000.

Dakotah Harris
Dakotah Harris

Altman left for Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on January 16. She is studying political science at the American University of Sharjah.

Harris is stationed in the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa, where he’ll gain experience in public health. He will learn outside the classroom via one-on-one mentorships through April 4. Harris will also work with a volunteer group from the Human Sciences Research Council. Their mission will be to educate nearby populations about HIV while diagnosing and treating those with the disease.

“There’s a lot of very dangerous myths around HIV,” Harris says. “I’ll be working on getting information to the townships that don’t necessarily have all the resources they may need.”

Receiving $4,500 from the Gilman Scholarship, Altman’s trip is part of the International Student Exchange Programs. His time in South Africa will help pave a career path in epidemiology and the prevention of infectious diseases.

Harris says the opportunity will get him in on the “ground level” for his future work in public health.

“I’m excited for this life-changing experience. I’m ready to serve the people,” says Harris, who will leverage two years of research experience in Assistant Professor of Psychology Jennifer Berry’s lab for his work abroad.

“Dakotah's drive and dedication to research will help him further investigate vaccines. Specifically from my lab, Dakotah has learned several skills and techniques—like animal handling—that will be useful for him in his future research endeavors,” says Berry, adding that Harris has become a student leader in her lab. “I think this trip will give Dakotah a chance to help a lot of people, and that's what he's all about.”

About 40 percent of Butler students take advantage of study abroad opportunities. For Harris and Atlman, The Gilman Scholarship has made that easier.

“To me, receiving a Gilman means that the students are motivated personally and academically to jump any hurdle in order to study abroad,” says Jill McKinney, Director of Global Engagement at Butler. “Not only are the students likely going abroad for the first time, but they’re also going to locations that have significant cultural and linguistic differences.”

McKinney expects Altman and Harris to benefit from their experience by improving language and communication skills, gaining intercultural agility, and making contacts from around the world.

“Study abroad is a great talking point in job interviews,” McKinney says. “In fact, we’ve anecdotally heard from our former students that they are asked more about their study abroad experiences than anything else they list on their resumes.

“For many Gilman Scholarship recipients, this scholarship is the reason they can make study abroad happen.”

 

Student Access and Success

At the heart of Butler Beyond is a desire to increase student access and success, putting a Butler education within reach of all who desire to pursue it. With a focus on enhancing the overall student experience that is foundational to a Butler education, gifts to this pillar will grow student scholarships, elevate student support services, expand experiential learning opportunities, and more. Learn more, make a gift, and read other stories like this one at beyond.butler.edu.

 

Media contact:

Tim Brouk

Senior News Content Manager

tbrouk@butler.edu

765-977-3931 (cell)

Ashley Altman in United Arab Emirates
ResearchUnleashed

Butler’s first Gilman Scholars embark for international study

The awards will allow the students to complete research in South Africa and the United Arab Emirates

Jan 24 2020 Read more
AcademicsResearch

Undergraduate Research Conference Goes Beyond Butler

BY Rachel Stern

PUBLISHED ON Apr 10 2019

Dacia Charlesworth remembers her first research presentation well. And the memories aren’t great.

She was peppered with aggressive questions, and it was more competitive than cordial. So when Charlesworth, Butler University’s Director of Undergraduate Research and Prestigious Scholarships, took the reins of the Undergraduate Research Conference four years ago, she was determined to make it as welcoming as possible—both for savvy researchers and those just starting out.

“We want to ensure the URC is a stepping stone for students when it comes to introducing them to the academic world of research, but we also want to make sure it is credible,” she says. “Both of these goals are integral to our mission as a University when it comes to research in addition to this conference. We want to make sure we provide a place for all students with varying levels of interest in research, while also producing legitimate work.”

The URC will kick off for the 31st time on April 12 at Butler. There will be 473 total presentations representing 27 academic disciplines. For the first time, the conference had two international submissions—one from Saudi Arabia and one from Canada—and representatives from 23 states will flock to Indianapolis to present their research.

But more than the numbers, Charlesworth says, it all goes back to the mission. When she took over the URC she was surprised to learn that it was open submission, meaning everything that is submitted is accepted. She wanted to enhance the conference’s credibility.

So, the competitive paper division was added two years ago in an effort to mimic the process of sending a journal article out for review. Students submit their papers, and a panel of faculty members review the work, then select the top four papers.

“But I also remembered my first research experience, and how terrifying it was,” she says. “I wanted to make sure we were simultaneously creating a place at the URC for support for an inexperienced researcher who is in the beginning stages of the research process, but has yet to fully develop that project.”

To compliment the poster presentations, oral presentations, and competitive paper division, research roundtables were also added. The roundtables serve as an opportunity for students to present ideas they have for research projects, and then a panel will give them feedback.

This year, Assistant Professor of Political Science Greg Shufeldt will have 13 students present at the URC. Four of them will be at the research roundtable presenting proposals for potential projects.

“This gives them a unique opportunity to test some of their ideas and thoughts prior to jumping into the research,” he says. “They are early in their research careers, so to get some direction and helpful feedback is crucial.”

Shufeldt, who says the URC is one of his favorite days of the year, right up there with graduation, gives extra credit to students who are not presenting but who go to URC presentations to watch. He, like many professors, cancels classes, too.

Attending the URC as a spectator, Shufeldt says, can spark a student’s interest in research. Presenting in front of others also reinforces the importance of being able to explain one’s work. Discovering something critical is important, he says, but if no one knows about it, or if it’s importance is hard to convey, what is the point?

“If no one reads the research I do, what was the purpose of it all?” Shufeldt says. “This event is so critical because it is not just students doing work to get a good grade. It is all about that next step—building knowledge, contributing to the understanding of the world, presenting new problems and new ways to think about the world, and developing professionally.”

AcademicsResearch

Undergraduate Research Conference Goes Beyond Butler

473 total presentations will represent 27 academic disciplines.

Apr 10 2019 Read more
Prof. Andrew Stoehr displays cabbage white butterflies.
ResearchUnleashed

Researcher Finds Environmental Clues on Butterfly Wings

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Oct 09 2019

The wings of a butterfly can give clues to the changes happening in their environments and, in turn, ours. At Butler University, Associate Professor of Biology Andrew Stoehr is using those clues to figure out if these wings can serve as early indicators to climate change. The wing patterns could serve as a warning flag for the overall health of the environment.

By measuring changes in the colors and patterns on the wings of the invasive cabbage white butterfly, Stoehr and his students are able to see how changes in temperature affect the butterflies’ health.

Prof. Andrew Stoehr analyzes butterfly wings.
Prof. Andrew Stoehr analyzes a photo of cabbage white butterfly wings in his lab.

The work measures the invasive butterfly’s phenotypic plasticity, which is when environmental factors influence how an organism looks or behaves. Changes in the butterflies’ wing coloration and patterns over time reveal how they are responding to temperature changes that took place while they were still caterpillars. The darker the wings, the colder the temperatures, Stoehr says, and the simple white wings with small flecks of black make the cabbage white butterfly an ideal test subject. Even just a short period of temperature change during development can have a noticeable effect on wing patterns: Just 48 hours of abnormally cool or warm weather, if it occurs at the right time for a caterpillar, can affect the wing pattern of the eventual adult.

Stoehr is an ongoing collaborator in the Pieris Project, a global effort to understand the spread of the cabbage white butterfly and, potentially, its reactions to increasing temperatures. Citizen scientists from as far as Russia, New Zealand, and Korea have shipped the butterflies to scientists involved in this project.

Much to the chagrin of farmers and gardeners of leafy greens, the caterpillars of cabbage white butterflies feast on kale, bok choy, and cabbage. But their prevalence is better for researchers than it is for farmers, and Stoehr has studied butterflies from as close as The CUE Farm on Butler’s campus to as far away as Australia.

“They’re widespread and easy to study,” Stoehr says. “The butterfly’s life is very dependent on temperature. Temperature affects what they look like, and temperature affects what they’re able to do as butterflies, essentially controlling their own temperatures. Can they warm up enough to fly? They’re good ecological models for understanding the role of temperature and changing temperature in basic animal biology.”

With 90-degree heat in October, these little butterflies and their white wings are early subjects for animal behavior in unseasonal heat. If the wing development of these fluttering insects doesn’t match the weather outside, resulting in unregulated body heat, how would other animals react?

An ideal subject

The cabbage white butterfly is not only well-traveled—it can also be found around your garden as early as March and as late as November. The insect’s lifespan is short—probably no more than a week or two as a butterfly. Throughout the summer, each generation of butterflies has lighter wings as the weather gets hotter. 

“The population’s wings will change over the course of the year,” Stoehr says. “It takes many days for their wings to develop so they are trying to predict the weather weeks in advance. During those caterpillar stages, they’re receiving information about the temperature.”

These predictions give the butterflies an easier three-week life. As ectotherms, they rely on sunlight and temperatures to function. As a caterpillar and chrysalis, the insect is monitoring the weather so it can develop the most comfortable pair of wings, which are designed to soak in the preferred amount of heat.

Stoehr seeks anomalies in wing patterns — the amount of tiny black wing scales on the white wing background — to reveal unusual weather in a region. What’s a caterpillar to do if it's 85 degrees one day but then plummets to 55 degrees a few days later?

“In Indiana, there are seasonal patterns of predictability, but they’re not perfectly predictable,” he says. “Do the caterpillars ignore the temperature change and come out mismatched?

This is important knowledge, Stoehr adds, because it tells us that weather fluctuations might be enough to cause a butterfly to emerge mismatched to the temperatures it is likely to encounter. It may be that a cold snap or warm snap is enough to make a butterfly emerge with wing patterns that are not optimally suited for its ability to use those wing patterns to regulate temperature to the conditions it will be facing, compared to what it would look like if it had not gone through that cold or warm snap.

Methodology

In Stoehr’s research, each insect is photographed before the wing markings are analyzed through software that has collected more than 10,000 data points from the total butterfly wings, which include variations in areas of the wings that change with temperature. Each area is circled and analyzed with the lab’s computer software. The project’s findings will be finalized in 2020.

Initially, the local specimens were studied separately from the samples sent from abroad. However, combining the data could give clues to how the species will endure climate change.

“Do butterflies from different parts of the world develop in the same way in response to temperature and day length variation?” Stoehr asks. “In other words, how do butterflies from northern climates — like Canada and Finland — where the days are longer but also cooler, compare to butterflies from more southern places — like Mexico — where summer days are hotter but not as long?

To add further dimension, Stoehr hopes to eventually explore the use of museum collections of preserved butterflies from decades ago. How do butterflies collected in May 2019 compared to butterflies collected in May 1969?

“Given the way temperature and day length together affect the wing patterns,” Stoehr says, “we might be able to make predictions about how the butterflies look in the future as those two factors become uncoupled from each other. In other words, the temperature is changing but day length does not.”

Out in the field

Hundreds of the butterflies have come from Stoehr’s nets. He hunts them around his Hamilton County, Indiana, home while students set out across the CUE Farm, Butler Prairie, and woods around campus. 

“The cabbage whites are pretty easy to catch, and they’re very plentiful, especially by the Prairie,” says Makenzie Kurtz, a junior Biology major who has worked in Stoehr’s lab since January. “There’s usually five or six around in one small area.”

Kurtz’s role includes catching butterflies, freezing them, and preparing them for photos before logging each insect. It’s a mix that fortifies her pursuit of a career in research.

“It’s been an overall great experience getting in the field and helping with data analysis,” says Kurtz, who plans on pursuing entomology in graduate school. “It’s interesting to see it all come together.”

Stoehr’s upcoming spring sabbatical will be spent analyzing data and writing his findings from the white cabbage butterfly work. Each wing tells a story about the state of our environment, but just how cautionary will the tales be?

“Since we know something about how their appearance affects their ability to thermoregulate,” Stoehr says, “we might be able to eventually make predictions about whether climate change will increase or decrease populations in different places. It could make them pests in more places than they are now, or it might have the opposite effect.”

 

Media Contact:
Tim Brouk
Senior News Content Manager
tbrouk@butler.edu
765-977-3931 (cell)

 

Innovations in Teaching and Learning

One of the distinguishing features of a Butler education has always been the meaningful and enduring relationships between our faculty and students. Gifts to this pillar during Butler Beyond will accelerate our commitment to investing in faculty excellence by adding endowed positions, supporting faculty scholarship and research, renovating and expanding state-of-the-art teaching facilities, and more. Learn more, make a gift, and read other stories like this one at beyond.butler.edu

Prof. Andrew Stoehr displays cabbage white butterflies.
ResearchUnleashed

Researcher Finds Environmental Clues on Butterfly Wings

Biology Professor Andrew Stoehr analyzes the phenotypic plasticity of invasive cabbage white butterflies.

Oct 09 2019 Read more
Hala Fadda in her lab
ResearchUnleashed

COPHS Researcher Leads New Treatment of Recurring C. Diff

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Dec 12 2019

Close to half-a-million people a year suffer from Clostridioides difficile, or C. diff, and more than 29,000 of them died from the bacteria, according to the Center for Disease Control. C. diff results from disruption of healthy, normal bacteria in the colon, often from antibiotics, and causes diarrhea, stomach pain, and fever. In the most severe cases, C. diff can damage the colon and be fatal.

Most cases can be treated with antibiotics. But for patients who suffer recurring cases of C. diff, the path to recovery is a bit more complex. New guidelines for this group, introduced in 2011, recommend fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT), or a procedure in which fecal matter is collected from a healthy donor and placed into the gastrointestinal tract of a patient. These transplants can help replenish the bacterial balance in the gut through colonoscopy or capsules.

Most C. diff patients are elderly and had spent time in healthcare settings under the treatment of antibiotics. While the antibiotics wipe out bad bacteria in the patient, good bacteria resilient to C. diff are also destroyed during the process. Results have been favorable in treating recurrent C. diff with FMT, but Butler University Associate Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences Hala Fadda is part of a team that has improved cure rates with oral FMT products, while significantly reducing the amount of capsules a C. diff patient must take.

hala fadda
Associate Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences Hala Fadda.

Published in Digestive Diseases and Sciences, Fadda and collaborators designed a capsule coating that dissolves in the colon instead of the stomach. This allows for site-specific delivery to the colon and was found to better restore the gut microbial diversity. These new capsules had faster and more successful cure rates compared to standard capsules that dissolve in the stomach in five minutes.

Published in Digestive Diseases and Sciences, Fadda and collaborators designed a capsule coating that dissolves in the colon instead of the stomach. This allows for site-specific delivery to the colon, which has been found to better restore the gut microbial diversity. These new capsules had faster and more successful cure rates compared to standard capsules that dissolve in the stomach in five minutes.

“The coating is essentially a high fiber starch polymer,” says Fadda, who’s gained expertise through researching how patients consume medicine. “The enzymes produced by colonic bacteria start to chomp away and digest that starch, even with C. diff patients’ lowered bacteria diversity. These enzymes, which break up the starch, are abundant in the colon.”

FMT has been adopted by many hospitals, but Fadda says access to the treatment can be improved. Her new capsules are less invasive and more affordable than a colonoscopy, and they can be shipped from specialist centers around the world.

Healthy donors only

Fadda says there is only a 2.5 percent acceptance rate for fecal donors because the criteria is so strict for FMT. Stool banks like OpenBiome in Boston, Massachusetts, don’t accept potential donors who have traveled to places with communicable diseases in the past six months. They also don’t accept donors who have suffered from digestive diseases, metabolic syndromes, and other conditions.

“You can’t have taken antibiotics in the past three months, and body mass index must be less than 30,” Fadda says. “Evidence suggests a correlation between weight and gut microbial communities.” 

As of 2018, 43,000 FMT treatments were issued by OpenBiome, Fada says. However, this number is not representative of total FMT treatments, as some hospitals prepare their own FMT products.

How C. diff spreads

The spores that cause C. diff are abundant in hospitals. They can be spread by visitors, or by healthcare professionals. After the resistant spores are transmitted to patients, they can germinate into vegetative bacterial cells in the colons of vulnerable individuals, and the bacteria produces toxins.

Fadda and her team’s breakthrough will help shorten return hospital stays for many patients suffering from recurrent C. diff. The capsule approach provides an alternative to a colonoscopy—an expensive and invasive procedure some patients might want to avoid—and it looks to be a quick and effective treatment to C. diff while restoring microbiome diversity in the gut.

“Fecal microbiota transplant has been adopted by lots of hospitals,” Fada says. “It’s common in the U.S. and Europe, but accessibility is still an issue. That’s why this capsule offers a significant advantage because it makes FMT more accessible.”

how the FMT works

Innovations in Teaching and Learning

One of the distinguishing features of a Butler education has always been the meaningful and enduring relationships between our faculty and students. Gifts to this pillar during Butler Beyond will accelerate our commitment to investing in faculty excellence by adding endowed positions, supporting faculty scholarship and research, renovating and expanding state-of-the-art teaching facilities, and more. Learn more, make a gift, and read other stories like this one at beyond.butler.edu.

 

Media Contact:
Tim Brouk
Senior News Content Manager
tbrouk@butler.edu
765-977-3931 (cell)

Hala Fadda in her lab
ResearchUnleashed

COPHS Researcher Leads New Treatment of Recurring C. Diff

Professor Hala Fadda has developed capsules that dissolve in the colon to better fight Clostridioides difficile

Dec 12 2019 Read more
AcademicsResearch

Bracket Busted? Turns Out Your Politics May Be The Reason Why

BY Rachel Stern

PUBLISHED ON Mar 27 2019

It’s March. Time to tune in to endless hours of college hoops, fill out a bracket despite having not watched a minute of college basketball all season, and fire up the live stream at the office. This is the one place void of politics. Right?

Right?

Wrong. That’s according to new research from Butler University Assistant Professor of Entertainment Media and Journalism Ryan Rogers. Turns out, according to Rogers’ research, those who lean liberal politically fill out brackets differently than those who lean conservative. And those differences, according to his study, are magnified when decisions are made in groups of like-minded individuals.

“When we broke groups up by political ideology, and had them fill out brackets together over the Internet, even though the task was something seemingly mundane, we saw how certain traits and values became more salient, and then how conformity is even more prevalent when a group thinks similarly,” Rogers says. “This then led to consensus more readily during the decision-making process.”

In his study, 118 people were divided into small groups based on self-identified political ideology—conservative or liberal. Then together, over the Internet, each group filled out an NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament bracket.

The purpose was to see how groups of political liberals compared to political conservatives when it came to predicting winners in the tournament. The study also examined how political ideology influenced collective intelligence, or the ability of a group to perform a task and make decisions.

Rogers found that the results certainly differed based on political ideology.

Conservatives tended to go with the safe pick, while liberals went with more underdogs. Conservatives picked more upsets correctly, though, as they tended to pick the safer ones, such as a nine-seed over an eight-seed, while liberals picked riskier upsets, such as a 16-seed over a one-seed. Conservatives were more effective in picking first round wins, and liberals were more effective in correctly picking winners in later rounds.

In short, conservatives were more likely to predict a lower risk team, and tended to play it safe. If an expert picked a team, it was likely the conservative would go with the expert’s pick. Liberals tended to struggle in the early rounds, going with the risky upsets, but then performed better in the later rounds, as some of their risky choices paid off later.

When next March rolls around, he says, it might be a good idea to consider your own political leanings when filling out a bracket, and how that might impact the teams you pick.

“Traits inherent to these groups provided different strengths and weaknesses in their decision making,” Rogers says. “Broadly speaking, prior research and literature shows that conservatives are likely to be more risk averse, and liberals tend to be more optimistic, and more open to emotion.”

Filling out brackets confirmed that these groups have different cognitive dimensions consistent with these ideologies, Rogers says, and when interacting within like-minded groups on the Internet, those differences are only magnified.

“Look at websites today like the Huffington Post, Breitbart, The Blaze, Slate, these sites highlight the traits and values of the groups they represent,” Rogers says. “Basically, these sites reinforce traits and values, creating a feedback loop appealing to those who conform to those respective political ideologies already.”

So, when it comes to something as simple as filling out a bracket, or as important as discussing the issues of the day or reading the news, it might be beneficial to cultivate as many different perspectives as possible, Rogers says.

“Conformity in decision making is even more prevalent when a group shares traits, and as we see with this study, that even carries over to a bracket,” he says. “A mixed group might be most effective.”

AcademicsResearch

Bracket Busted? Turns Out Your Politics May Be The Reason Why

It might be a good idea to consider your own political leanings when filling out a bracket.

Mar 27 2019 Read more
AcademicsResearch

Young Researchers Flock to Butler for Undergraduate Research Conference

BY Marc D. Allan MFA ’18

PUBLISHED ON Apr 12 2019

Women enroll at Utah Valley University (UVU) at higher rates than the national average. They also drop out at higher rates than the national average.

Since January, UVU undergraduate students Alyssa Jensen, Elizabeht Hansen, Alexis Stallings, and Wendy Covington have been exploring why. They want to know what women are experiencing on campus, and figure out what the school can do to reverse the trend.

On Friday, April 12, they came to Indianapolis from Orem, Utah, to present their preliminary findings at Butler University's 31st Undergraduate Research Conference (URC). The UVU contingent—four students and two faculty sponsors—were among the more than 100 people who came from out of state to present at the conference.

"We wanted to gain some experience as undergrad researchers to present, and Butler seemed like an ideal situation to portray our research, and express our ideas in a setting where people may not be familiar with the research that we're doing," UVU student Alyssa Jensen says.

URC participants came from as far as California and Florida, New York and Colorado. Though the majority of the presenters were from Indiana—and 356 of the 824 were Butler students—23 states were represented.

The UVU project came about when Dr. Stevie Munz, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication, and Assistant Professor of Communication Dr. Jessica Pauly received a grant from the university to study women's experiences on campus. Once they assembled the research team, they started looking for undergraduate research conferences where the students could present.

"This conference is one that's really well respected, so we said, 'Let's go. Let's present this,'" Munz says. "So that's what brought us all the way from Utah to Indiana. Actually, there aren't that many undergraduate research conferences that service all the disciplines, so it was a nice fit for us because our project does cross quite a few intersections of education, identity, religion, family life, home life. So we thought we'd be a really good fit for this conference."

Colorado College student Naomi Tsai came to the URC from Colorado Springs. Her research came from a much greater distance—the Red Sea. She studied coral reefs in the Gulf of Aqaba to determine why they are better able than coral reefs elsewhere to withstand rising temperatures.

She decided to undertake a thesis as part of her degree, and that requires presenting at a conference. She researched conferences, and found the URC.

"I feel like it's a very supportive group of people," she said after her 15-minute presentation in Gallahue Hall. "I don't think I've ever presented in a format like this, and it's really nice to be surrounded mostly by your peers and people who are interested in your research."

Dr. J.C. Blewitt, an Assistant Professor of Management in the School of Business at King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, was in the audience when one of his students, Rebecca Kinzinger, presented her research showing that millennials going to work at accounting firms want their employers to be active in promoting social entrepreneurship. That is, part of the companies' mission should be to use their professional skills to make a large-scale difference in the world.

Blewitt says it's vital for students planning to go to graduate school to get experience presenting their research at conferences.

"I think a lot of times research conferences can be terrifying," he says. "This conference is a wonderful stepping stone for students to get some exposure, and feel confident, and get some constructive but overall pretty positive feedback from other students and faculty."

Blewitt brought one student to the URC in 2018 and found it "so well run" that he brought two students this year.

"And next year," he says, "maybe three."

AcademicsResearch

Young Researchers Flock to Butler for Undergraduate Research Conference

URC participants came from as far as California and Florida, New York and Colorado.

Apr 12 2019 Read more
A woman casts her ballot
ResearchUnleashed

Republican Delegates More Likely to Disagree, New Butler Research Shows

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Nov 04 2019

Within any political party, there’s a multitude of views and approaches to campaigning. Some members want to advance specific policies, others just want to do whatever it takes to win.

Recent research co-authored by Greg Shufeldt, Butler University Assistant Professor of Political Science, found that at the 2012 conventions, Republican delegates were not only much more polarized within their party than Democratic delegates, but they were much more divided than in previous years.

While published results are from 2012, they shed important light on internal party processes that shaped the conflicts evident in the 2016 presidential primary contests.

Greg Shufeldt
Greg Shufeldt

“This was before President Trump,” Shufeldt says, “but this might inform some of the things that allowed President Trump to rise to power.” 

Shufeldt culled his data from surveys sent to every delegate that attended the Republican and Democratic conventions. The Butler researcher helped draft the questionnaires in 2012 and 2016, which the delegates filled out online.

“We’re looking at fault lines within the parties,” Shufeldt says. “Congress is more polarized than it's ever been. The parties are farther apart ideologically but also more homogenous. Delegates or party activists are what connects these polarized elites with the general public.” 

Shufeldt writes that delegates are classified as more pragmatist, or wanting the party to win elections at the expense of advancing specific policies, or classified as more purist, believing that advancing specific policies is the way for the party to win elections.

The research found not much variation between 2012 Democratic delegates, which offered more balanced pragmatic and purist tendencies. Shufeldt says the Democratic party is more used to navigating inner faction conflict because that is the nature of the Democratic party. Through group identities, they become Democrats. While Democrats internally balance these competing pragmatic and purist tendencies, Republican delegates are more divided into a clearer pragmatic wing and purist wings.

In fact, his research found that the 2012 Republican delegates were more internally divided than the infamous 1972 McGovern Democrats. Based on how delegates responded to questions about group membership, key policy areas, and attitudes toward key party groups, the study organized delegates into factions. On the Republican side, three factions were developed from the Republican delegate data—“contemporary conservatives,” “establishment Republicans,” and “Libertarians.” Among Democrats, the study identified factions of “cultural liberals,” “all-purpose liberals,” and “centrists.” 

Looking back on 2012, the rise of the Tea Party and support for Rep. Ron Paul, who campaigned for the Republican candidacy, were influencers to Republican delegates within the “Libertarian” faction. Shufeldt reveals that those factors were less crucial in 2016, but new groups formed four years later within both Republican and Democratic parties. 

“These studies inform our politics,” Shufeldt says. “We’re so evenly divided into red and blue states. It’s a really unique time to be talking to people that are at these conventions.”

 

Media Contact:
Tim Brouk
Senior News Content Manager
tbrouk@butler.edu
765-977-3931 (cell)

 

Innovations in Teaching and Learning

One of the distinguishing features of a Butler education has always been the meaningful and enduring relationships between our faculty and students. Gifts to this pillar during Butler Beyond will accelerate our commitment to investing in faculty excellence by adding endowed positions, supporting faculty scholarship and research, renovating and expanding state-of-the-art teaching facilities, and more. Learn more, make a gift, and read other stories like this one at beyond.butler.edu

A woman casts her ballot
ResearchUnleashed

Republican Delegates More Likely to Disagree, New Butler Research Shows

Research sheds light on what led to internal conflicts during 2016 presidential primary contests

Nov 04 2019 Read more
Tom Mould
ResearchUnleashed

Butler Professor’s Research Dispels Myths of the ‘Welfare Queen’

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Nov 04 2019

Recipients of welfare and other government aid are unfairly scrutinized and even demonized as “welfare queens,” according to Professor of Anthropology and History Tom Mould and his several years of research on public assistance.

Mould dispels numerous myths while humanizing people that rely on welfare. He and his students recorded more than 150 interviews with not only welfare recipients but politicians, grocery store clerks, aid providers, and members of the general public in North Carolina. Mould says his findings go against the grain of what most Americans think of the welfare system.

“Official government documents are clear that the food stamp fraud rate has been between half a percent and one and a half percent over the past decade, way lower than most federal programs,” Mould says. “What we have with stories of so-called ‘welfare queens’ is an incredibly unfair narrative and an incredibly negative light that is unfair. This work is trying to rectify that.”

Mould’s book Overthrowing the Queen: Telling Stories of Welfare in America focuses on the broad picture of welfare in America while weaving in riveting narratives of aid recipients and the overwhelming lengths people go through to provide for their children and to keep a roof over their heads. The title will hit shelves this summer from Indiana University Press.

Mould says the stereotype of the “welfare queen,” someone who is believed to work the welfare system to gain wealth, was mostly fabricated in the 1970s and 1980s.

“It infuriated people, but, of course, the stories, by and large, were not true,” Mould says. “There doesn’t appear to be any more fraud in the welfare system than any government system. Why are we singling out the poor to demonize?”

While all of his research was in the Tarheel State, Overthrow the Queen appeals to readers nationwide, Mould says. The book documents how recipients came to need public assistance and the current challenges they are facing.

“The stories show people putting in a lot of hard work, a lot of ingenuity, a lot of commitment to their children,” he adds. “Parents were unwilling to give up on trying to make a better life for their kids.”

 

Media Contact:
Tim Brouk
Senior News Content Manager
tbrouk@butler.edu
765-977-3931 (cell)

 

Innovations in Teaching and Learning

One of the distinguishing features of a Butler education has always been the meaningful and enduring relationships between our faculty and students. Gifts to this pillar during Butler Beyond will accelerate our commitment to investing in faculty excellence by adding endowed positions, supporting faculty scholarship and research, renovating and expanding state-of-the-art teaching facilities, and more. Learn more, make a gift, and read other stories like this one at beyond.butler.edu.

Tom Mould
ResearchUnleashed

Butler Professor’s Research Dispels Myths of the ‘Welfare Queen’

Professor of Anthropology Tom Mould’s research shows food stamp fraud rate is lower than most federal programs

Nov 04 2019 Read more
Wendy Meaden holds masks.
ResearchUnleashed

Theatre Professor Writing the Textbook on ‘Masks Inside Out’

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Dec 11 2019

Butler Theatre Professor Wendy Meaden was one of the almost 10 million viewers for the premier of reality competition show The Masked Singer. The program, which is now in its second season and was renewed for a third in 2020, pits disguised celebrities in elaborate costumes singing in front of a panel of judges and a live audience.

Being a costume designer and professor whose work has included mask design, creation, and research for more than 20 years, Meaden felt like she had to watch The Masked Singer. But she didn’t make it past the second episode. She enjoyed the show’s mask designs, which are created by artist  Marina Toybina, but Meaden was hoping for more emphasis on the masks themselves.

“I can understand the spectacle, and her designs are really good,” says Meaden, who has designed masks for Butler Theatre plays and leads the Masks class in the Department of Theatre, “but it seems to be design for design’s sake. When masks are designed, there is usually some reason or connection for the aesthetic choice.”

Meaden says creating theatrical masks banks on the audience meeting the performers halfway. It takes a lot of practice to be able to design masks that draw audiences to use their imagination and let themselves be transported into the story.

To help future mask makers understand that dynamic, Meaden is in the process of writing a textbook, Masks Inside Out. She knows there are lots of books about masks already, but she says they concentrate on individual aspects: history, cultural significance, design, and how to perform while wearing one. Meaden aims to create one book that combines it all.

Meaden wears a mask.
Theatre Professor Wendy Meaden wears one of her masks.

“There is so much to learn about masks, but there is no textbook on the market to address masks the way I want to,” Meaden says.

In collaboration with Michael Brown, a former Indianapolis artist now teaching at Columbia College Chicago, Meaden will submit the final manuscript next summer, and she expects to publish it by late 2020.

Masks in the Core Curriculum

Growing up, Meaden never wore masks for Halloween. She remembers noticing masks for the first time when she saw Adam West and Burt Ward’s wearing them in the old Batman TV show.

“I remember thinking ‘They’re not disguised at all. It’s clear who they are,’” Meaden says, laughing.

Meaden created her first masks while she worked as a costume designer for The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, which needed billy goat masks for a performance called Three’s Please. She’d never made a mask before, but it seemed like a natural next step to the costume design she’d been doing since 1986.

“As a costume designer,” Meaden says, “I’ve always been interested in presenting characters and transforming actors, and I love the process of creating costumes. Sculpting masks is an extension of that passion.”

Meaden’s masks made their Butler debut during the 2001 production of Hamlet. Made of plaster and cardboard, they portrayed the characters of the Duke of Vienna Gonzago, his wife Baptista, and their murderous nephew, Lucianus. They were then given a worn, weathered appearance of being buried in the dirt, just like poor old Yorick’s skull.

Theatre students that worked on plays with Meaden were enthusiastic to learn more about mask-making and the Masks class at Butler was established in 2003. It’s now part of the Perspectives in the Creative Arts Core Curriculum. Some Theatre majors still take the class as an elective, but many students outside of the Jordan College of Arts enroll, too.

On just the second day of class, students start by creating masks of their own. After protecting their hair with bandanas or plastic bags, they start gluing cardboard and paper over their faces.

“They sit and look in the mirror,” Meaden says. “The class is usually chatty to start, and then there’s a quiet. Everyone stops talking as they are totally focused on the mirror and putting things over their face. What’s fascinating is their sense of transformation—to understand that you can put something on that is your face, but it’s not your face. I am me but I am not me.”

How the brain reacts to masks

In the first chapter of Masks Inside Out, Meaden  explains why people are often either intrigued or repelled by someone wearing a mask. 

“How does your amygdala react?” Meaden asks. “Your brain’s initial reaction is usually fight or flight, but then your neocortex kicks in and tells you it’s a thing on a person. You’re going to be safe, you laugh, and you enjoy.”

Meaden’s research has found that masks are an extension of humans’ fascination for seeing faces—from selfies to picturing faces in inanimate objects. Faces are why we connect to other people, she says, and a mask on a human face usually brings about feelings of mystery, intrigue, or creepiness.

“Faces are how we judge our safety, how we pick potential partners, and identify family. Our aesthetics are wrapped up in how we perceive faces. And masks are a way we tell stories. They are potent ways to communicate. They are a way of connecting with nature, the spirits, ancestors, the gods, disguise, and protection. We use them in so many ways. They are universal.”

While The Masked Singer relies on glitz, glamour, and reality TV brassiness, millions of brains are reacting to the masks, no matter which celebrities are behind them.

Meaden with many masks
Meaden stands with masks she has made and collected.

 

 

Media Contact:
Tim Brouk
Senior News Content Manager
tbrouk@butler.edu
765-977-3931 (cell)

 

Innovations in Teaching and Learning

One of the distinguishing features of a Butler education has always been the meaningful and enduring relationships between our faculty and students. Gifts to this pillar during Butler Beyond will accelerate our commitment to investing in faculty excellence by adding endowed positions, supporting faculty scholarship and research, renovating and expanding state-of-the-art teaching facilities, and more. Learn more, make a gift, and read other stories like this one at beyond.butler.edu.

Wendy Meaden holds masks.
ResearchUnleashed

Theatre Professor Writing the Textbook on ‘Masks Inside Out’

From early man to ‘Masked Singers,’ Wendy Meaden analyzes masks’ history, cultural significance, and theater roles.

Dec 11 2019 Read more
Amia Foston
ResearchUnleashed

Foston Takes Reins of Butler Data for the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Dec 16 2019

When it comes to elevating Butler University’s national reputation, it’s best to follow the data. That’s according to Amia Foston, the University’s new Director of the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment (OIRA). 

Foston, who served as Butler’s Assistant Director for OIRA from 2014 to 2017, returns at a pivotal time. He and his team are tasked with making sense of thousands of data points to help inform strategic decisions in monitoring enrollment trends, funding programs, or creating new sections for popular classes.

“We want to make sure any sort of analysis this office provides has insights that are very digestible that people can run with,” Foston says. “Because our work in institutional research and assessment consistently requires us to work with colleagues across the entire campus, we can sometimes notice things and connect dots others might not.”

Foston adds that universities nationwide are relying more on internal data to guide operational, tactical, and strategic decision-making. Foston and his team will be working closely with Butler leadership for every upcoming initiative.

Through computer programs like Tableau, he wants users to see the numbers dance with more interactivity and customization. Instead of static PDFs, OIRA is working to make Butler’s traditional Fact Book information available through data visualizations and dashboards. Staff, faculty, students, and alumni who wish to access Butler’s data are busy, and Foston says users don’t have time to scan massive tables. Organizing the data in clear, concise graphics will help users be able to quickly manipulate enrollment data, for example, by gender, ethnicity, home state, and many other options. 

Foston says OIRA will soon launch an online process for submitting data requests, similar to services provided by Human Resources and Information Technology. Another step in making Butler’s data more accessible will be establishing a frequently asked questions feature of the most common data requests.

Provost Kathryn Morris says the University will only benefit from Foston’s return as he works to conduct research and distill findings into actionable insights. His analytical, project management, and leadership skills come at a pivotal time.

“OIRA plays a key role in collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data that are directly relevant to the decisions people need to make at Butler,” Morris says, “and to demonstrating our value to current and prospective students, their families, and our alumni, donors, and friends.”

 

Innovations in Teaching and Learning

One of the distinguishing features of a Butler education has always been the meaningful and enduring relationships between our faculty and students. Gifts to this pillar during Butler Beyond will accelerate our commitment to investing in faculty excellence by adding endowed positions, supporting faculty scholarship and research, renovating and expanding state-of-the-art teaching facilities, and more. Learn more, make a gift, and read other stories like this one at beyond.butler.edu.

Amia Foston
ResearchUnleashed

Foston Takes Reins of Butler Data for the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment

New OIRA Director Amia Foston’s goals: making University data digestible, available to inform program decisions

Dec 16 2019 Read more
Wallabies in burned landscape
ResearchUnleashed

Butler Biologist: Australia’s Ecology to Suffer for Years

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Jan 17 2020

“Catastrophic” was the first word Butler University Biological Sciences Professor Carmen Salsbury could attach to the ongoing Australian bushfire devastation.

More than 1 billion animals have perished, along with 29 humans in the estimated 100 blazes that have ignited since September, burning 46 million acres as of mid-January. The ecology of Australia will never be the same, at least not for a very long time, says Salsbury, who has researched forest mammals and urban wildlife for decades.

Professor Carmen Salsbury talks in her office.
Professor Carmen Salsbury says the Australian landscape will be forever changed.

“The unfortunate thing is that the catastrophe has just started. Once the fires are out, it’s not over,” Salsbury says. “There is some evidence that we may lose some species altogether to extinction because of this tragedy.”

The researcher says climate change is the biggest culprit behind the historic loss of environment. The combination of extreme heat, wind, and drought has been ramping up for years in Australia, and the conditions have allowed for continent-wide blazes.

While the plants will grow back and animals will return in time, the ecology in some areas will take many years to fully recover. Animals like the endangered glossy black cockatoo and the dunnart, a mouse-sized marsupial, are now thought to be extinct, according to Salsbury. New predators, such as feral cats, may move in to rattle the food chain as shelter and food becomes scarce for surviving prey animals. The “connectivity” of the ecology has been severed.

“Species rely on one-another in lots of different ways—for food, shelter, etc.,” Salsbury says. “You pull one of those things out, and it ripples through the ecosystem and has major impacts on other species.”

The lack of vegetation will enhance erosion and the chance of mudslides. The sediment could invade watersheds, affecting drinking water as well as aquatic life.

“Even after things start to green up,” Salsbury says, “we’re still going to see some serious impact on many of the plants and animals, all of those things at the base of a functioning ecosystem.”

The different roles of wildfires

Western parts of the United States have experienced similar wildfires. In October, 10 wildfires engulfed 113,931 acres of California forest in flames, killing three, and destroying 517 homes and other buildings.

The 2019 events and Australia are tragic byproducts of climate change, but smaller wildfires have their place in ecology, Salsbury says.

“There are a lot of plant communities that have actually evolved to be fire tolerant. In fact, there are some plants that require fire for their seeds to germinate,” she adds. “A lot of plants are meant to burn and some of them have terpene compounds in their wood to promote fire.”

The fires happen naturally from lightning strikes and manmade controlled fires, and serve to replenish small ecosystems. Controlled burns eliminate fuel that would cause larger, widespread burns.

“The point is that intermediate levels of disturbance are actually good things for biodiversity in ecosystems,” Salsbury says. “The problem is when you get really wide-scale, broad, and frequent types of disturbances. And that's what we're seeing now in our part of the world (California) but especially in Australia.”

Biology Associate Professor Andrew Stoehr and Biological Science Professor Travis Ryan will lead a March controlled burn of the Butler Prairie near campus. It will be the first burn of the three-acre natural prairie space in seven years. Weather conditions will play a factor when the burn takes place but Stoehr concurs that control burns are advantageous in rejuvenating some ecosystems.

“Ideally, it would be every spring,” Stoehr says. “One of the main effects is that it cuts down on the gradual invasion of trees. Gradually, prairies convert from grassy species and wildflowers over to wooded area. Burns also kill other kinds of invasive or undesirable species. By gleaning off all of that vegetation, it exposes the soil to more sunlight in springtime. The soil will warm up earlier, which tends to benefit the desired prairie plants more than the undesirable species. The seeds are already in the soil and will start to germinate after the clearing.”

But not every ecosystem benefits from controlled burns and many of those have been affected in Australia, like tropical forest. The fires are too widespread to cause anything but negative impact on the continent.

How to help

As of mid-January, more than $200 million has been raised to help fight the fires and to aid injured wildlife. Salsbury says donating to the causes are a positive step, but so is reducing your carbon footprint.

“These fires,” Salsbury says, “are a textbook example of what happens when you have a lot of factors that come together and make the perfect storm and the No. 1 factor, of course, that’s really compounding the problem is climate change.”

Minimizing carbon emissions and other greenhouse gasses and other practices in fighting climate change can reduce the risk of such widespread fires occurring again, Salsbury says.

“If there is anything good that can come from this, it is that it could motivate people into action,” Salsbury adds. “Unfortunately these type of events may help us direct our focus a little bit. Maybe it will highlight the desperate need. It’s past due.”

 

Community Partnerships

Through collaboration and strong partnerships, Butler Beyond will unleash the potential of our brilliant faculty and students on the complex issues facing our community. Support for this pillar will expand Butler’s reach and roots in the Indianapolis community and beyond by cultivating deeper integration with local organizations and businesses, increasing experiential learning opportunities for students, nurturing new ventures, and more. Learn more, make a gift, and read other stories like this one at beyond.butler.edu.

 

Media Contact:

Tim Brouk

Senior News Content Manager

tbrouk@butler.edu

765-977-3931 (cell)

Wallabies in burned landscape
ResearchUnleashed

Butler Biologist: Australia’s Ecology to Suffer for Years

Professor Carmen Salsbury says the loss of ‘connectivity’ will devastate ecosystems after bushfires are extinguished

Jan 17 2020 Read more