Harrisonburg, VA, United States
Harrisonburg, VA, United States

James Madison University is a public coeducational research university located in Harrisonburg, Virginia, United States. Founded in 1908 as the State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Harrisonburg, the institution was renamed Madison College in 1938, in honor of President James Madison, and named James Madison University in 1977. The university is situated in the Shenandoah Valley, with the campus quadrangle located on South Main Street in Harrisonburg. Wikipedia.

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Agency: NSF | Branch: Continuing grant | Program: | Phase: Nuclear & Hadron Quantum Chrom | Award Amount: 110.00K | Year: 2016

This award will support the Particle and Nuclear Physics group at James Madison University as a key contributor to state-of-the-art research in intermediate energy nuclear physics while providing an outstanding educational experience for undergraduate students. The groups research is focused on exploring the structure of the basic building blocks of matter, protons and neutrons. It is known that protons and neutrons are composed of three interacting quarks but the mechanisms that produce and govern the evolution of multi-quark systems are not fully understood. The group will address this by scattering photons from protons and neutrons to detect and analyze the resulting particles. The group is also involved in measuring fundamental properties of the muon, which can be thought of as a heavy electron. The Particle and Nuclear Physics group at James Madison University group has an established track record of strong undergraduate student involvement in research. This award will provide enhanced educational opportunities for students as well as significant outreach activities, promoting science and educating beyond the university.

The members of the group are spokespersons on two experiments approved to run at Jefferson Lab. One of these experiments was identified is currently scheduled to run in March 2017. The group is also an important contributor to the BONuS12 experiment, which was identified as a high priority Jefferson Lab experiment, and is currently scheduled as the second physics experiment to run using the CLAS12 detector in Hall B. The main activities for the duration of this proposal include commissioning detectors built by the group for Jefferson Lab, participating in data taking and analysis for various Jefferson Lab experiments, as well as installation and commissioning of the g-2 detector at Fermilab. The members of the JMU-PNP group will continue their R&D detector work for future nuclear physics experiments. This work, carried out in the groups labs at James Madison University, will augment the groups capabilities and expertise in scintillator-based detectors and associated readout electronics.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: Cellular Dynamics and Function | Award Amount: 215.09K | Year: 2016

This project will ultimately lead to an improved ability to predict how certain proteins can be modified under conditions of environmental stress. Such modifications may lead to changes in the proteins function that help organisms respond to altered conditions, including temperature change. The research is focused on a plant amylase, an enzyme that breaks down leaf starch and appears to play a role in cold stress survival. This enzyme is inhibited by a mechanism involving the reversible modification of certain amino acids that may occur during cold stress. This type of modification is poorly understood but is thought to be widespread in all organisms responding to environmental stress. The modified amino acids in the amylase have been identified and this project will characterize how these modifications affect enzyme activity and what it is that makes these amino acids sensitive to this specific modification. The research will be carried out at a predominantly undergraduate institution and involve at least 10 undergraduates, helping prepare them for graduate school, professional schools or other careers in science. The students will be involved in all aspects of the work and be able to present their results at regional and national conferences. In addition, the project will support a postdoctoral scholar as she gains experience in teaching and mentoring undergraduates in research, skills that are essential to her eventual goal of working at an undergraduate institution.

Glutathionylation of proteins at specific cysteine residues is an important post-translational modification but little is known about what makes some cysteines sensitive to glutathionylation while others are insensitive. In addition, there are no examples in plants where the physiological effects of protein glutathionylation are understood. In this project the well-studied model plant Arabidopsis thaliana will be used to investigate two members of the β-amylase (BAM) gene family, one of which, BAM3, is inhibited by glutathionylation and the other, BAM1, is not. The two objectives of the project are: 1) to characterize the glutathionylation of BAM3 and the effects of this modification on catalytic activity using site directed mutagenesis, mass spectrometry and homology modeling, and 2) to identify key factors influencing the susceptibility of cysteines to glutathionylation. A conserved Cys residue was identified that is sensitive to glutathionylation in BAM3 but is insensitive in BAM1. Sequence alignments and homology modeling of BAM3 and BAM1 sequences across plants revealed a number of residues that differ between the two BAMs, but are conserved within each type and may influence the sensitivity to glutathionylation. A combination of computational modeling and protein mutagenesis will be used to characterize the factors affecting this glutathionylation event. Results from these experiments will lead to the development of a more accurate model for predicting the sensitivity of cysteine residues to glutathionylation in other proteins, and to a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms involved in stress acclimation.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: IUSE | Award Amount: 198.84K | Year: 2016

The lack of appropriate instructional materials at the undergraduate level for laboratory techniques presents a significant barrier to increasing student access to and knowledge of analytical skills necessary to succeed in the geosciences and other STEM fields. This project will create and evaluate five open access online learning modules for laboratory methods and scientific inquiry skills. These materials will initially be evaluated in courses at a four-year university (JMU) and a minority-serving two-year college (NOVA). The community-based review, evaluation, contribution, and further testing of these modules in various types of classrooms will create a forum for sharing ideas among geoscience and STEM faculty who wish to incorporate analytical methods into courses using robust peer-reviewed online teaching resources. The modular format will provide flexibility for instructors to use as few or as many units as needed for a specific course or student research experience.

Five learning modules will be created that represent commonly available analytical methods as well as techniques available at both JMU and NOVA. These units will include gas and water plumbing, petrographic microscopes, thin sectioning equipment, energy-dispersive spectroscopy, scanning electron microscopy, and Raman and infrared spectroscopies. Scientific inquiry skills will be embedded into the content modules, and will include creating and testing protocols, evaluating data quality and error, and synthesizing data. To benefit the larger geosciences and STEM community, the modules will be published on an open educational resource (OER) courseware site. Module structure and content will align with active, inquiry-based learning theories, and will include video mini-lectures, individual and group quizzes and assignments, expository materials in video or animation formats, video tours of equipment and laboratories, and instructor resources. This project will improve geosciences and STEM learning by establishing effective practices for integrating open educational resources into research-based instructional units in geoscience and STEM courses involving the use of analytical equipment. The assessment plan will include formative and summative evaluations of student learning and attitudes within required and elective courses in geosciences and STEM at JMU and NOVA, as well as module reviews by geoscience community members outside of these institutions. Evaluation will focus on the effects of open educational resources and a blended learning course format upon student retention of analytical methods and instrumentation skills, student mastery of scientific inquiry skills, and student attitude and competencies towards conducting research with analytical equipment. The protocol established by this study will be used to create additional modules on other analytical techniques in the future, and will be a template the STEM community may use to develop other online learning resources.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: Molecular Biophysics | Award Amount: 291.62K | Year: 2016

Cells live in a world full of motion and physical strain, and therefore they must have mechanisms to react to these stresses. One platform cells use to sense and respond to stretch is the cytoskeleton. This meshwork of multiple different proteins gives a cell its shape, yet is constructed in a way that allows flexibility and motion. This research is focused on the role that the cytoskeletal protein obscurin plays in stretch response and recognition. Obscurin acts like a tether, connecting far-away segments of the cell to each other. Due to its shape, obscurin has the capacity to expand and contract. There are two possibilities of how obscurin could move like this. Obscurin could behave like a rope, and only resist stretch when significantly elongated, or obscurin could behave like a spring, and resist an ever-increasing amount of force as it is stretched. Obscurin also can propagate biochemical signals, and there is circumstantial evidence that this function could be activated by stretch. The PI will test both facets of obscurin function - stretch response and signaling. Together, these studies will provide insight into how cells passively and actively respond to physical stretch. This work will be conducted primarily by undergraduate students, in an effort to train the next generation of scientists. The data accrued here will be incorporated into a free education website, where others who do not have access to significant research support can also learn the technical skills of how to do this kind of research. Additionally, the PI will develop a scientific ethics curriculum for undergraduates.

Specifically, the investigator will study how obscurin reacts to physical stretch using both cellular and in vitro models. Obscurin is composed of multiple stand-alone domains. Many of these individual domains have been characterized extensively. In Aim 1, the PI will characterize how these domains act in groups of two or three. Using protein NMR techniques, the cross-talk between neighboring domains will be measured. Small angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) provide a dynamic model of obscurins overall shape. These experimental approaches will be complimented through computer simulations to test how these multi-domain systems respond to stretch. Together, these experiments will detail how obscurin resists force. In Aim two, the PI will test what effect obscurin has on the whole cell when the cell is stretched. Cells with and without obscurin will be stretched, and the biochemical consequences of obscurins presence in these conditions will be analyzed. Together, these two aims will help define how obscurin behaves as a stretch resistor, and will answer the question of whether or not obscurin is a mechanosensor.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: TECTONICS | Award Amount: 36.88K | Year: 2017

Mobile devices are revolutionizing how geoscientists approach field-based research, and new technologies are being developed that are significantly different from methods used by previous generations. For example, hardware built into many smart phones and tablets allow these devices to function as digital geologic compasses. The ease of use and speed of taking digital measurements seem to represent distinct advantages over using an analog geologic compass in the field. However, preliminary investigations suggest that digital compass apps may not provide the accuracy that a professional field geologist needs. To address these concerns, this project will statistically evaluate the relative accuracy of orientation measurements using digital compasses on mobile devices as compared with analog compasses. This project will produce results that impact all geoscientists that use geologic compasses to take orientation measurements, and as such, the potential impacts across geoscience disciplines are substantial.

The project will tap into students facility with mobile devices to make them the primary collectors of field data. Students in upper-level geology courses will take orientation measurements with both analog and digital compasses, which will then be used for statistical evaluations of the relative accuracy of digital vs. analog compass measurements. The researchers will assess statistical variation in their datasets to include variation between platforms, variation within measurements by observers on different locations in the field, and variation in repeated measurements on the same surface. Statistical analyses, such as Fisher distribution and Watson-Williams analyses, and Bland-Altman tests, will be applied to the field datasets. The researchers will assess the magnitude of the discrepancy and limits of agreement between types of measure and software; the existence of any systematic trends in variation across measurements, platforms, and software; as well as evaluate the consistency of measurement across the range of collected field data. In addition to the practical aspects of the research, the project will contribute to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education by the engagement of undergraduate students in the project.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: IUSE | Award Amount: 93.63K | Year: 2016

The Geoscience Education Research (GER) Community Synthesis and Planning Project will advance the production of a synthesis of GER to date and prioritize future geoscience education research needs via community input. It responds to recent calls for action in the geoscience education research community, and builds on outcomes and needs identified in the 2012 National Research Council analysis of discipline-based education research, and on a recent NSF-funded project (#1513519 Shaping the Future of GER). The project will impact a wide cross section of the geoscience education community, including geoscience education scholars at 2-year and 4-year colleges and research universities, as well as cognitive scientists and geoscience education practitioners. Project activities will include digitization of past issues of the primary peer-reviewed GER journal, the Journal of Geoscience Education; this digitization will increase access to a valuable resource for current geoscience education researchers, as well as practitioners, education researchers in other STEM disciplines, and international scholars who are interested in geoscience education research and curriculum and instruction scholarship. In addition, the project will seek and compile input from the GER community via a broadly disseminated online survey and a summer workshop on what is most needed to support current and future geoscience education researchers. An online GER methods toolbox will also be developed to begin addressing needs of those new to GER. Collectively, these efforts will result in a synthesis of GER and a prioritization of the needs of the GER community, and will support current and future geoscience education researchers by offering forums for discussion and resources for their use. This synthesis can be used to help prioritize the next steps in GER, to improve research approaches and foster collaborations, and ultimately to improve teaching and learning in the geosciences.

Digitizing decades of past print-only articles in JGE will increase access to foundational GER studies, and expand the timeframe and number of studies for inclusion in GER literature reviews for a Journal of Geoscience Education theme issue on Synthesizing Results and Defining Future Directions of GER. The online survey is expected to reach most of GER researchers in the US, which will ensure broad community input in developing a prioritized list of needs to support current and future geoscience education researchers. The workshop at the 2016 Earth Educators Rendezvous will bring 40 geoscience education researchers together to discuss survey results and GER findings, and share ideas for future research projects and collaborations. By designing an online GER toolbox, the project will develop a resource that will begin to address a GER community need. By drawing from findings in the collections of theme issue papers, from results of the broadly disseminated survey of geoscience education researchers and practitioners, and from the 2015 and 2016 EER GER workshops, the project will be able to identify important outcomes from GER, key research gaps, and critical needs of the GER community of practice.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Continuing grant | Program: | Phase: WORKFORCE IN THE MATHEMAT SCI | Award Amount: 76.31K | Year: 2016

This award supports an REU program at James Madison University that will host eight undergraduates for eight-week terms three consecutive summers. The program supports two cohorts consisting of a group of four students together with a pair of faculty who have complementary research programs. Over the course of the summer, each group will progress from teaching/learning new topics in mathematics or statistics, to developing questions and conjectures, to proving results as part of an authentic research experience. Since faculty have distinct but related research interests, they are able to model supportive scientific collaboration for the students and discuss technical topics from different points of view. The program will produce original research that is disseminated in peer-reviewed journal articles and talks at national, regional, and local professional meetings.

Our faculty are well proportioned between mathematics, applied mathematics, and statistics. We leverage this breadth to produce REU problems that lie on the intersection of two domains of knowledge, in which both faculty members are likely to be able to make significant contributions. The intradisciplinary nature of the teams supports the student experience by putting the mentors on similar footing as the students insofar as each mentor will likely be teaching and learning something new. This interaction helps lower the barrier for student collaboration and increases intellectual risk-taking across the entire group, particularly in the initial stages of research. It also immediately creates a group with a cohesive intellectual culture for students to interact in, both academically and socially. Each group of students will complete the summer with a mathematical research presentation to faculty and peers. They will also be well prepared and strongly encouraged to present at local, regional and national meetings after the completion of the program. When projects generate original and interesting results, students will be involved in the publication process from drafting technical writing to addressing peer-reviewed referee reports. The program will recruit and select students from groups that are traditionally underrepresented in mathematics, as well as from institutions less likely to have resources available to support research activity.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: IUSE | Award Amount: 353.74K | Year: 2015

The importance of field-based learning experiences in geoscience education is well-documented. However, learning in the field is not entirely accessible for students with physical disabilities. This collaborative project will engage students with disabilities (SWD) in authentic field experiences via a peer instruction approach that pairs SWD with more physically capable students in collaborative field-based exercises. The overarching philosophy is that partnerships of students with diverse physical abilities, as well as student-instructor pairs, constitute a collective set of human senses and perspectives that can be as effective as individuals with no physical limitations. Outcomes from this work should apply to a wide variety of barriers to onsite field investigations that SWD and others may face during the course of their geoscience careers. This work is anticipated to increase the probability of retaining and graduating geoscience SWD and other collaborating students, and encourage and empower them to pursue geoscience careers, thereby broadening participation of underrepresented minorities in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines.

Investigators at James Madison University (JMU) are collaborating with colleagues at the University of Cinncinatti, Old Dominion University, and Central Connecticut State University to pilot and test innovative approaches for enabling SWD to gain meaningful exposure to field-based activities relevant to the geosciences. The project is designed to work with two cohorts of undergraduate geoscience students: one with mobility disabilities (SWD) and another without. Students (primarily sophomores) are being recruited from a national pool of undergraduate geoscience majors. Students from each cohort are paired in a variety of field experiences, and collaborate both on-site in the field and through remote connections. Field data collection and analyses occurs in real-time via web-linked tablets and other interactive mobile devices. Real-time video and audio communication, both student-student and student-faculty, are facilitated through cutting-edge wearable technologies. The field program incorporates a range of experiences that are traditionally included within an undergraduate geoscience curriculum. These include: day-long field trips that focus on a specific set of field skills, such as generating strip logs for stratigraphic analyses; measuring structural orientations using a geologic compass; and, mineralogical and petrologic analyses using a hand lens. Field experiences in the second year of the project are focused on more advanced, multi-day exercises that require student teams to synthesize geologic field data collected into maps and reports that summarize the tectonic history of a region. Assessment of project activities by an external evaluator is being used to inform continuous improvements to the project design; summative evaluation and synthesis of the impacts of the project are expected to contribute to the evidence base regarding best practices for working with SWD in field settings. Results and experiences from this project are being disseminated via presentations, peer-reviewed publications, and a capstone field trip for geoscience students, faculty, and professionals.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: IUSE | Award Amount: 92.14K | Year: 2017

The Framework for Transformative Geoscience Education Research project is a one-year effort to engage the geoscience education research community in setting ambitious goals for geoscience education research that will be achievable within ten years and will have significant impact on geoscience education teaching and learning. The objectives of the proposed project are: (1) to identify themes that span multiple geoscience education research (GER) topical areas to define the spectrum in which GER operates and has the potential to impact; (2) to articulate and prioritize grand challenges in GER for each of the themes that are of high interest to the geoscience education researcher and practitioner community; and (3) to develop strategies to address the prioritized grand challenges.

Activities of the proposed project include: (a) a survey of the GER community to determine what members see as important research questions to address in GER in the next 10 years; (b) a workshop and oral session at the 2017 Earth Educators Rendezvous (EER) for researchers to discuss and prioritize the grand challenges that emerge from the survey and to propose strategies to address the grand challenges; (c) continued online GER Toolbox development to support researchers as they address grand challenges in GER; (d) a GSA town hall and a second survey to share the workshop-proposed GER priorities and strategies with the broader community for their review and comment; and (e) a white paper about the synthesized findings of the project to share broadly the communitys proposed research agenda for GER.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: REAL | Award Amount: 449.78K | Year: 2015

This project, to be conducted by James Madison University, Georgetown University, and Northwestern University, will examine learning spatial thinking skills by high school students (who are studying geoscience), looking at educational outcomes as well as behavioral and neurological measures. There is already considerable evidence linking spatial ability and future STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) attainment. The project will focus on a high school course, the Geospatial Semester, that is designed to improve spatial thinking. The project will look for changes in patterns of brain activity as a result of the course, as well as relations among the educational, behavioral, and neurological measures. Prior research indicates that spatial training in the laboratory may reduce gender differences in performance; this project will seek to measure this effect in real world high school spatial learning, and to identify neural mechanisms that help explain how and why the gender gap closes. This project will advance the work of the EHR (Education & Human Resources) Directorate in studying the cognitive and neural basis of STEM learning.

The overall goal of the project is to develop a mechanistic theory of change for spatial STEM education at the behavioral and neural levels. To achieve this goal, the project will measure a combination of outcomes: educational (e.g., coursework), behavioral (e.g., core spatial ability on standard tests of mental rotation and embedded figure identification, use of spatial language), and neurological (e.g., neural efficiency and grey matter volume in brain regions that support spatial thinking ability, interconnectivity networks across brain regions). Students in the spatially-based Geospatial Semester will be compared to peers receiving standard (non-spatially-based) STEM education in other advanced science courses. Neurological measures will be obtained by functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging performed at pre- and post-test time points. In general, the project will address the issue of brain plasticity in a high school STEM education context. The project will use machine learning techniques to discern neurological effects of spatial learning in both hypothesis-driven and data-driven ways, and examine gender differences in the effect of spatial STEM learning on cognition and the brain. Analyses will focus on relating changes across neural, behavioral, and educational levels toward an integrated understanding of the mechanisms that make spatial STEM learning effective.

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