Creative Inquiry

ACCIAC Summer Research Scholars – Deadline: April 25, 2014

Atlantic Coast Conference Inter-institutional Academic Collaborative (ACCIAC) Summer Research Scholars program will support one (non-Clemson) undergraduate student from another ACC institution for summer research at Clemson. Each Scholar will receive $5,000 to cover summer living expenses and a stipend. Each summer each ACC school will receive $5000 to support an undergraduate student researcher from another ACC university. Ideally, the visiting student-researcher will become part of a group that includes other visiting researchers (e.g. REU participants).

Click here to apply

9th Annual Focus on Creative Inquiry Poster Forum

Come be amazed by the nearly 150 students posters that will be on display Thursday, April 3, 2014 from 10 am – 4 pm in the Hendrix Center at the 9th Annual Focus on Creative Inquiry Poster Forum.

Presentations will include models, demonstrations and fascinating conversation with other brilliant undergraduate researchers. This is an excellent opportunity for building collaboration, joining another project and mining ideas for further research. See the CI website for details.

If you have any questions contact Tullen Burns at 656-2411 or

Nominations for the Bradley Award for Creative Inquiry Mentoring due by April 11

The Phil and Mary Bradley Award is given each year to a Creative Inquiry mentor to recognize outstanding teaching of Creative Inquiry undergraduate student teams at Clemson University. The award is presented at the last university faculty meeting in spring semester, and consists of a plaque and cash award.

Students nominate their mentors by submitting their name on the Bradley nomination form. Nominations must be submitted by April 11, 2014.

ACCIAC Fellowships in Creativity and Innovation – Deadline: April 18, 2014

This fellowship program supports undergraduate student-driven research projects at the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) campuses. Fellows are sponsored by the Clemson University Office of Undergraduate Studies and the Atlantic Coast Conference Inter-institutional Academic Collaborative (ACCIAC). Each Fellow receives an award of up to $4,000 to conduct innovative research. Examples of project outcomes could include publication, artistic work, presentation or a proof-of-concept proposal. Fellows receive additional funding to present their project results at the 2014 ACC Undergraduate Research Conference. The Fellowship research period is April through August 2014. Eligible Applicants must graduate no sooner than Spring 2015.

ACCIAC Fellowships in Creativity and Innovation Online Form

Finding Flavor and Fighting Sickness in Food

Coffee and cancer aren’t often mentioned in the same sentence, but in Dr. Feng Chen’s laboratory, both are topics of much debate. On Dr. Chen’s Creative Inquiry team, students from the Department of Food, Nutrition, and Packaging Science get lab experience in a variety of food-related subjects, from analyzing the flavor of coffee to evaluating the clinical potential of certain fruit extracts. Students probe questions like, “When and why does coffee go bad?” and “Why are blueberries considered so healthy?”

Nutraceuticals, the development of a food towards medical purposes such as disease prevention, is just one of the many fields investigated by this Creative Inquiry group. The team originally started researching a set of compounds found in cottonseed oil called polyphenols. Through extraction and analysis, these polyphenols were discovered to contain a plethora of medical applications. These compounds are anti- almost anything you can imagine: antioxidant, anticancer, antiparasitic, and the list goes on. Although many of their properties are still being analyzed, these polyphenolic chemicals show good potential for future drugs.

With success using cotton, the Southern cash crop, the group started to wonder if other harvested goods held similar health-promoting properties. The team turned to blueberries and Southern-grown muscadine grapes. They were shown to have similar, but distinct polyphenols from cottonseed oil.

In these natural delectables, the students are investigating a particular subset of polyphenols called anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are part of what gives plants their red, blue, and purple colors. These chemicals are proving to be just as promising as the polyphenols found in cottonseed oil – research shows that they can fight conditions like diabetes.

Because Dr. Chen’s lab contains all the complex equipment needed to extract chemicals, his Creative Inquiry team has been able to step into new territories – the flavors of various foods. Currently, the team is investigating two of America’s favorite goodies: chocolate and coffee. Instead of using the standard method of taste testing and subjective judgment, the students are approaching these guilty pleasures in a different manner: a purely analytical one. They are using flavor chemistry, or the chemical analysis of foods for natural and artificial flavor development and enhancement, to change how we think about these refreshments. Students looked at how the chemical composition of coffee changes from 30 to 60 minutes after brewing to determine what causes coffee to go bad, giving it that universally disdained burnt taste.

Dr. Chen boasts that his lab has some of the best opportunities at Clemson University to practice proper lab technique. “Results are good, but we really encourage students to learn critical thinking but also to gain an independent capability for research and to discover how to write scientific papers.” Students are able to work with state-of-the-art instruments, such as a high-performance liquid chromatography machine and a UV-visible spectrophotometer, something that a normal undergraduate would never have the opportunity to interact with. No matter what subject the members are researching, they always take away valuable research experience.

The Solution is All in Your Head

The story of robotics hasn’t always been a happy one, with countless tales of robots causing an end to humankind However, Dr. Delphine Dean and Dr. David Kwartowitz have put a new spin on the classic tale. Their Creative Inquiry project in the bioengineering department focuses on helping people by using neural signals to control machines.

It all started as a student-led project, dubbed MindBot, that was an attempt to show the public just how far neural technology had progressed and what could be done using cost-effective equipment. But for these bioengineering students the project also provided an outlet for their creative juices to flow. Dr. Dean mentioned, “What makes this project really fun to work on as an advisor is that the whole process was extremely student driven; all the ideas originated from the students, which is why I think the project was so original and ‘out of the box.'” The team drew up a concept design that used cranial electromyograms (EMGs) to direct a two-wheel robot to move forward, backward or to rotate.

The Mindbot was a great success! The team received a grant and is now working on the second phase of the project: to develop a device that’s wirelessly controlled?through a neural headset?to navigate a maze while overcoming physical obstacles.

The project’s potential is vast and far reaching. Joe Connolly, a senior student on the team, explained, “Through this experience, I was allowed to show my project to kids ranging from elementary school to college. CI served as a conduit to allow me to share my passion my the younger generation.” This type of technology could someday be used in anything from helping mobilize quadriplegics to mind-controlled video games to effortless driving.

Team members not only get the satisfaction of knowing that their product may someday be used to help society, but they experience hands-on engineering in the fields of electrical and mechanical design, computer programming and system architecture. They also get a taste of how signal/image processing and psychological feedback work. Connolly commented, “With the help of my fantastic mentors, I had the freedom to work with a diverse team and explore an idea. I applied the concepts I learned through my college experience in a way that interested me the most.”

New team members aren’t expected to know the difference between a PIC and an ARM or how to handle segmentation faults, but if they’re a devoted student ready to learn more in a teamcentric environment, they are perfect for the team. Connolly summed it all up perfectly when he said, “The most rewarding thing I took away from the Creative Inquiry was showing other people the “cool” side of engineering – the side they may not realize exists.

A Fruitful Discovery: Why We Age

In recent years, fruits like the acai berry and pomegranate (coined ‘superfruits’) have been wildly heralded for their numerous health benefits. But what role do such fruits actually play in increasing the human lifespan? Groundbreaking research is being conducted by biological sciences professor Dr. Yuqing Dong, microbiology and molecular medicine professor Dr. Min Cao, and their Creative Inquiry team. They are helping determine whether various natural extracts affect the body’s aging and how they do so. In the process, the group has come upon some startling evidence that points to a link between stress resistance and lifespan.

The team first began its studies on a fruit regarded by many as one of the healthiest, the cranberry. This berry is known to protect the body from oxidative stress; that is, the generation of compounds created through our metabolism that are hazardous to our DNA and protein molecules. Could cranberry extract also have anti-aging implications? The team investigates how this and other high potential natural extracts could have life extending effects. Along with the cranberry, the Creative Inquiry team is looking at noni, a Hawaiian fruit that contains even more antioxidants than cranberries, and royal bee jelly, a substance fabled for its anti-aging effects.

Although the research team’s goal is human application, for now Dr. Dong and his students are studying Caenorhabditis elegans or the nematode worm. The short lifespan of the nematode, only two to three weeks, makes it the ideal organism for aging studies. The worm’s genome may only be 40 percent similar to the human genome, but 60-70 percent of its genes are expressed the same as in humans, making it an applicable model for most situations. For example, even Alzheimer’s disease has been studied in the nematode worm.

Nematodes obtain the nutrients of the extracts in a way any other worm would: they simply eat them! One of the three natural extracts is incorporated into the nutrient-rich substance that the nematodes live. The worms then consume this extract-ingrained media for six days, from hatchling to young adult. The researchers record their overall lifespan and compare differences.

Break out the turkey and cranberry sauce because the results are promising. The cranberry extract increased the average worm lifespan by about 40 percent and royal jelly increased lifespan by roughly 25 percent. The noni fruit extract study remains incomplete, although it seems to have similar effects.

Perhaps the most astonishing part of the results is that the increase in longevity was correlated with an augmented ability to resist a stressor. The cranberry extract not only increased lifespan, but it increased heat shock resistance as well. The worm normally lives at 25°C, but if exposed to temperatures 35°C or more, its heat shock resistance mechanism kicks in. This protection comes from proteins that help the body adjust to the consequences of high temperatures. Normally, nematodes can only live a half-hour in such warm conditions, but after being treated with cranberry extract, the nematodes could stand the heat for nearly twice that time. Initial results suggest that the natural extracts are also involved in the protection from various stressors, such as UV radiation and extreme cold, indicating that the secret to a long life may be due to a strong defense against stressors.

In 2012, the project has expanded its horizons. Dr. Dong puts it, “Humans do not follow the same habits throughout their whole lives. Young people don’t care what they eat, but when they get older, they start consuming healthy foods. We want to see if we can replicate that in our experiment.” The team is analyzing the effect the extracts have when given to the nematodes at different points of their lives. “Does it increase their lifespan more when the extract is given to them the last week of their lives or the first week?” This new part of the study aims to identify at what point in life such extracts have the strongest effect.

Along the way, the team is discovering new things about these special extracts. Cranberry extract not only has anti-aging implications, but the Creative Inquiry team has shown that it also has anti-microbial properties. It appears to slow the growth of some pathogens, such as salmonella.
It is not clear if all ‘superfruit’ or antioxidant-rich foods augment longevity, but Dr. Yuqing Dong and his Creative Inquiry team have provided substantial evidence demonstrating that at least some increase lifespan by supporting stress resistance. Who needs one of those expensive wrinkle-fighting creams when you can drink a glass of ice-cold cranberry juice?

Matters of the Heart: They Don’t Miss a Beat

Your pulse is racing and you can feel your heartbeat resonating through your chest. The emergency room doctors hurriedly push you down the cold hallway, trying to hide the panic on their faces. When a patient is lying in the hospital with a serious heart condition, the last thing they need to worry about is the extent of the doctor’s training. Therefore, it is vital for doctors to practice their techniques before interacting with live patients. A team of bioengineering Creative Inquiry students, led by Dr. David Kwartowitz, is working to create an electrocardiogram (EKG) simulation device based on biological signals in the human body. They plan to use the device for training and evaluation purposes.

An EKG is the typical method used to collect data about electrical activity in the heart. Patients are often closely monitored during surgeries to ensure a healthy beat is maintained. However, it is necessary to have a working system that collects the data from the EKG and sends it to a computer for further analysis. This information can be used to diagnose a number of health issues, including heart attacks and heart arrhythmias – which are caused by problems in the electrical impulses that create heartbeats. These issues cause a fast, slow or irregular pulse in the patient.

Amanda Nguyen, a junior on the team, explained, “Working on the EKG Simulation and Modeling Creative Inquiry project has provided me the invaluable opportunity to gain hands-on experience with designing electrical circuits. During the process I learned a lot about the practicalities of electrical circuit design that I would not have been able to gain otherwise.”

The Creative Inquiry team focused on two main goals. First, they designed a system to process the EKG signals. Then, they created a human-like dummy for the simulation. The materials used in the dummy were produced to resemble the texture of human tissue, which creates a realistic environment when operating the EKG system.

This EKG simulation will be used for both teaching and training purposes. The simplistic yet realistic nature of the system allows it to be utilized in a number of settings, from elementary schools to medical training evaluations. As children are taught about the human body and EKG signals, they can visualize the process using the interactive dummy. The kids will be able to physically manipulate the simulation in a hands-on approach to understand exactly how an EKG works. They will also be able to listen to hearts that have abnormalities, like arrhythmias, to engage them in the material and help them better grasp the concept.

Professional medical trainees can utilize the simulation due to the realistic and reliable nature of the system. Doctors will be able to learn, experiment, and evaluate their work on the model. The team created an EKG unit that efficiently filters out electrical potential changes in the heart and amplifies them, which allows doctors to better understand what is taking place in the patient from a safe distance. Nguyen noted, “It has been incredibly rewarding to be able to apply the knowledge I have gained in lecture to produce a working EKG.”

Through creating an advanced electrocardiogram system, this Creative Inquiry team will impact both the educational and medical fields. This versatile project benefits a wide array of people in a variety of situations. The team is breaking down the science of simulations – one heartbeat at a time!

The Pulse of Perception: The relationship between blood pressure and emotional recognition

Lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub. The heart of a participant beats as Dr. Jim McCubbin’s students listen through a stethoscope for the faint whoosh that indicates systolic blood pressure, with an eye on the blood pressure gauge and a cuff on the subject’s arm. The undergraduates on this Creative Inquiry team are manually assessing blood pressure to study the effects of cardiovascular activity on emotional perception.

Dr. McCubbin, a professor in Clemson’s Department of Psychology, has been studying for years how the cardiovascular system relates to a person’s response to stressful or emotional stimuli. He and his colleagues have found that blood pressure is not only involved in physical health, but may also be related to a phenomenon known as “emotional dampening.” The higher your resting blood pressure, the more difficulty you may have identifying others’ emotions – from the angry squint of a coworker to the joyful smile of a loved one. His most recent publication in Psychosomatic Medicine has gone viral with the news media, and was even used as a joke in Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update.”

Recently, Dr. McCubbin’s team of eight undergraduates has extended emotional dampening research to the realm of risk perception. The rationale is this: if you cannot detect the degree of others’ emotions, you also might not detect your own degree of risk in a given situation. For example, you might be more likely to take chances, blowing your entire paycheck betting at the racetrack or spending the weekend binge drinking. So far, the students have found that blood pressure is indeed significantly related to perceived benefits of taking risks. In another study, the team is investigating whether or not emotional dampening extends to self-expression in individuals with elevated blood pressure. Participants are asked to write about an emotional topic, and their personal stories will be analyzed with linguistic software to detect any emotional differences in expression.

The Creative Inquiry team is now starting to take a clinical approach to this phenomenon, extending their work to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Even though autistic children do not necessarily have high blood pressure, they generally have a problem recognizing emotions in faces, a major impediment to their social development. The team is in the process of developing a game to help improve emotional recognition. Eventually, the team hopes to test it with autistic students at a school in South Carolina for children with social and developmental disabilities.

The team members are truly excited about the groundbreaking research. In the past, previous students have presented research all across the country, from Portland, Oregon, to San Antonio, Texas. One recent study has been submitted for presentation at the Society for Behavioral Medicine’s 2012 annual conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. Students from the team travelled there in April to present the research, alongside graduate students and medical professionals. According to Jack Graham, a junior psychology major on the team, “the future is only brighter as we continue exploring emotional dampening and piloting new projects concerning [therapies] for those with deficits in emotional recognition.”

Analyzing data and developing projects may be a challenge, but the students have avidly taken it on – without any rise in their blood pressure!