The sky is not the limit! Five GCU students were awarded NASA NJ Space Grants for undergraduate research for the 2022-2023 academic school year. Each student received a $2,000 stipend from NASA for space-related research projects, guided by a faculty member in their respective fields which span across the sciences, including the social sciences. Facilitated by the grant, these research projects are conducted on-site at Georgian Court University.
Casey Korman, a junior from Sayreville, NJ majoring in Exercise Science on the pre-occupational therapy track, has worked with a team to study The Effects of Blood Flow Restriction on Peak Power and Electromyography. She has conducted her research alongside four other students – Mathias Madersbacher, Joseph Liberatore, Joseph Sauchelli, and Gabriele Balkius – all under the guidance of Vincent Chen, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Exercise Science. Casey served as the student leader of the team.
Their project tested how blood-flow restriction to a muscle affects athletic training. Using an electromyogram, the students monitored how the electricity in the muscle and muscular peak power were affected by the restriction.
This information will inform the physical training of astronauts who are trying to build muscle mass and muscular power. Loss of muscle mass is a serious problem for astronauts living in low-or-no-gravity situations for extended periods of time. An example is the astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS), who experience many months of microgravity during their individual mission timeframes.
Casey started off as a Nursing major but chose Exercise Science after getting experience in the field. “I’ve always loved helping others reach their goals, and that is why I love doing research in Exercise Science. It allows me to focus on a person’s overall wellness rather than just one issue,” she said.
Another student who received a NASA NJ Space Grant is Judith Hopkins, a resident of Allenhurst, NJ who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology this past December. Her research project is titled Women’s Cost for Motherhood Expectations in the Workplace, which she is conducting under the guidance of Nicola A. Mead, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Psychology.
The project’s goal is to create an assessment that will determine the psychological preparedness of mothers who are intending to take on an extended leave from their children, including as an astronaut. Her research incorporated a content analysis of research previously conducted on this topic. Judy will be presenting the results of this project in April at the NJ Space Grant yearly Poster Session for NASA Undergraduate Student Researchers, along with the other recipients.
This is Judy’s first research project, as she originally studied dance and theater and decided to return to college to study Psychology. “This topic fascinates me, and it is vital to improving the mental health and well-being of mothers,” she said.
Another student who received a NJ NASA Space Grant is Aya Abdo, a sophomore from Seaside Heights, NJ majoring in Biology. Her research project is titled The Impact of Mental Health on Autonomic Nervous System Activity, which she has conducted under the guidance of Chinenye C. Anako, M.D., M.P.H, Lecturer and Coordinator of Anatomy and Physiology.
The project has involved heart-rate variability research through monitoring the daily habits of participants in relation to their EKG test results. From this data, Aya drew conclusions about how participants can make changes to their lifestyle in order to improve their autonomic nervous systems. This research will serve as a baseline for people in any job, including those employed at NASA, where it will be particularly useful since EKGs can be monitored remotely.
“I’ve always been interested in the nervous system, and I love doing cardio. I was very excited when I found out we were going to be conducting EKGs on students to see how their daily lives affect the inner workings of their bodies,” said Aya.
Aya was a student in Dr. Anako’s Anatomy and Physiology class when the professor presented her with the opportunity to conduct the research. Aya said, “Because GCU is a small school, I feel very connected to my professors and fellow students. Therefore, these types of opportunities are very accessible.”
Madeline Mayhew, a senior from Manahawkin, NJ in the Psychology Scholars Program, analyzed how the “bathroom ban” affects non-binary and transgender individuals and how inclusivity can minimize harm caused by the ban. Her research project is titled Inclusivity of Human Exploration, which she has conducted under the guidance of Susan E. O. Field, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology.
“NASA is interested in this research because someone is currently trying to become the first transgender astronaut. We want to know if others will accept their identity. Will there be all-gender restrooms available for this person or other transgender astronauts? This fight for human rights is very important to me,” said Madeline. Her research can be applied to future astronauts in long-term living conditions, such as space stations, rocket flights, and settlements on different planets such as Mars.
She presented her initial research results last spring at GCU’s Academic Excellence Night along with two other students, Miranda Wells and Jana Borković. They won third place, and Madeline is moving forward to present at the Association for Psychological Science (APS) 2023 annual convention in Washington, D.C. following the NASA New Jersey Space Consortium presentation. Madeline and Dr. Field are on track to have their research published in a database.
“When I found out about the grant, I was thrilled, and I texted my family right away to tell them the good news,” said Madeline. “This experience will greatly benefit me when I am applying to graduate school this May and when I apply to jobs in the future. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
A junior from Lacey Township, NJ majoring in Biochemistry, Jennifer Matthews has been conducting a project titled The Synthesis and Characterization of Fluorescent Carbon Quantum Dots under the guidance of Dr. Beth A. Schaefer, Ph.D., Professor of Physics, Sarita Nemani, Ph.D., Professor of Mathematics, and Prasad S. Lakkaraju,
Ph.D., Professor of Chemistry. Under the supervision of her research advisors, Jennifer synthesized a carbon quantum dot, a non-toxic version made with carbon instead of cadmium. These innovative quantum dots can be used in bioimaging and microscopy.
“I love gaining experience in the lab and learning about the possible applications of my project in biochemistry,” said Jennifer.
Conducting this research has helped prepare Jennifer for graduate school. She said, “I made the decision to go into research within the last year. If conducting research is something you are interested in, I recommend doing it during your undergraduate years, as it can help you decide what you want to do in the future.”
Other students were drawn to the research because of their personal connections to the topic. “As an athlete on the soccer team at GCU, I can apply what I’ve learned to the sport that I play,” said Joseph Liberatore, a junior from Brick Township, NJ.
“I would like to commend Dr. Chen, who made the research process approachable and easy to apply to real life,” said Joseph Sauchelli, a junior from Manalapan, NJ. “It is one of the main reasons I decided to become an Exercise Science major.”
“This kind of opportunity is very specific to GCU because as a smaller school, with small class sizes, faculty get to know the students and can connect interested students to research opportunities,” said Dr. Chen. “This experience sets students up for success in graduate school, their future careers, and beyond.”
You can learn more about the NASA New Jersey Space Grant Consortium here: https://njsgc.rutgers.edu/.