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Exploring society’s challenges

April 01, 2016

Denman Forum gives undergrads a chance to dig into some of our world’s grand challenges

In his first year as a Denman Undergraduate Research Forum presenter this week, Kenneth Elbernd felt less overwhelmed than he was when he attended as a spectator.

“It’s less intimidating when you’re actually presenting,” said Elbernd, a senior finance major. “Last year I was walking around, and seeing the energy and effort so many students had put into this work was almost overwhelming.”

The Denman can be that way. With nearly 600 presenters sharing their research on two floors of the Recreation and Physical Activities Center, the sheer volume of knowledge can be staggering. Still, for more than 20 years the Denman has been a flashpoint of opportunity for students who have the chance to share their research and be judged by faculty, alumni and fellow students.

Here is a look at four projects that Ohio State students presented during the 2016 Denman.

Daniel Moussa

College: Medicine, biomedical science major
Project: Methylene blue improves outcomes after traumatic brain injury

Just one hour into the Denman, Daniel Moussa had already heard from representatives from Pfizer and Battelle who were interested in his work.

“That’s pretty exciting, but we feel this drug is very, very promising. We hope in the years coming we can implement this in clinical trials.”

Moussa’s project examined how the drug methylene blue could help as a treatment option for those with traumatic brain injuries. Ohio State Wexner Medical Center trauma surgeon Daniel Eiferman already was using methylene blue in some of his surgeries, so he suggested Moussa take a look at how it could help those dealing with traumatic brain injuries.

The results were encouraging. Moussa discovered that mice administered blue methylene showed improved outcomes after a day, week and a month. He believes the treatment could be used as an integral tool in future traumatic brain injury treatment strategies.

Meera Nagarajan

College: Education and Human Ecology, human nutrition major
Examining the nutrition status and its implications on health conditions and food security of food pantry clients

A volunteer opportunity with Neighborhood Services, Inc., turned into much, much more for Meera Nagarajan. After volunteering with the organization that provides food for many in need in the campus community, she decided to return and apply her research skills to the challenge of food security.

“That was a great experience for me, but it made me wonder more about the lives of the people who were using the services that NSI provides. I thought if we have a better understanding of the lives of these people, we may be able to better address their situations on a more individual level.”

Nagarajan interviewed 78 food pantry clients to learn more about their health conditions, food security status and fruit and vegetable consumption. She found that those interviewed cited transportation and cost as the main barriers to healthful eating, not knowledge or education.

Amber Hamilton

College: Arts and Sciences, sociology major
Project: Race, state violence and media framing

In watching the aftermath of racial strife in Ferguson, Missouri, Amber Hamilton was struck by the way the news media covered the death of African American teenager Michael Brown.

“Ferguson is what motivated me to get started and I got going on this about a month after it happened. These deaths are rarely labeled what they are, which is killings and murders. Generally they are referred to in more abstract terms that divorce the actions of those who have committed the act.”

To conduct her research, Hamilton examined the way the murders of 17 African American men by state agents were covered in 178 New York Times and Wall Street Journal stories written over the course of the past 60 years. Among the findings: In only seven cases were the individuals who had perished referred to as victims, and most often the acts were referred to as killings, not murders, which Hamilton sees as significant.

“While we use those terms interchangeably, they mean different things,” she said. “Murder relates to crime and legality and implicates another person. Killing is more abstract and takes the onus off any individual.”

Kenneth Elsbernd

College: Fisher College of Business, finance major
Vulnerability of the national electric grid to the influences of renewable power generation

Like many Americans, Kenneth Elsbernd has heard the call for America to turn its focus from using fossil fuels to more renewable forms of energy. This raised a question in the mind of the Ohio State senior — if this happens, what is the result for those who operate the country’s electric grid?

“I wanted to see what will happen to the utility sector if large portions of the public do transition to more renewable fuels. Will there be a decrease in profit, or will there be no effect?”

Through his study, Elsbernd learned that both fossil fuel and renewable energy sources are being used on an increasing basis by Americans, with renewable sources being very slightly ahead. With that said, he also learned that only 10 percent of total energy comes from renewable sources. To that end, he determined that utility sector profitability will not likely change drastically in the near future.