Event Date: March 9, 2018
[Speaker: Kevin O'Neill] Next up from the Department of Transnational Studies, I will welcome Ann Marie Butler to the stage. She's from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Future career plans include teaching and research position. This chair is actually here for me so I will sit here for the duration of the presentations. Once again from the transnational studies department please welcome Ann Marie Butler. And ready, set, pitch!
[Speaker: Ann Marie Butler] Here is the drawing that I analyzed in my dissertation on contemporary visual art. Most of you have already experienced seeing a work of art and feeling something in response to it. Sometimes artwork is obvious in meaning and then you understand why you respond to that. But sometimes art, like this drawing, is subtle and then maybe you don't understand why it evokes emotion. Art doesn't need to hit us over the head with meaning in order to affect us. Today I'm going to show you how that works.
In my dissertation I look at works of art from the North African country Tunisia. The art I study uses subtle commentary to critique Tunisian society. Its critique can help change social norms by affecting its viewers indirectly. But it doesn't have to be only about Tunisia. It can affect you too.
Let's take this drawing. It's hard to categorize exactly what we're seeing. It's like some nonsensical combination of animal, machine and human. You might ask yourself: What are its parts? Which way is up? How does this creature work and move? Whatever you can imagine is a possibility and all of you are right. Because it could belong to many categories at once, or to none at all.
In order to understand our world we are accustomed to grouping things according to shared characteristics. But after a while it's hard to realize that those categories don't exist naturally. What if we grouped animals as those that are ugly, friendly or those in zoos, instead of by genus and species? Imagining different ways of organizing allows us to see that the categories we know, are merely tools. They are not absolute. They are a product of our social consensus.
My dissertation studies works of art that disrupt social conventions, such as: what is animal and what is machine? When we begin to imagine new possibilities for this image, we might be more receptive to other new ways of knowing and doing. And we don't have to ascribe to these different methods to admit that they exist. We can see that the divide between animal and human, for example, is not the only way to understand life.
More self-awareness that categories are flexible, leads to social change. Think of gay marriage. That's an example of social change brought about by shifts in understanding. It's okay that we can't always put feelings into words when we look at art. All we have to do is feel. And get ready for change.
[Speaker: Kevin O'Neill] Brilliant. Thank you. Well done Ann Marie.
PhD Program: Transnational Studies
Advisor: Jonathan Katz
Biography: Anne Marie Butler is a PhD candidate in the Department of Transnational Studies. She aspires to challenge the landscape of contemporary art by prioritizing art and artists who are persistently overlooked by galleries, dealers and museums. Butler's dissertation focuses on contemporary visual art from Tunisia that uses sub-text to indirectly address Tunisian politics. Among her professional affiliations are the National Women's Studies Association, Middle East Studies Association and the American Institute for Maghrib Studies. In addition to her research activities, Butler enjoys cycling and Scrabble. Her future plans include obtaining a teaching and research position.
[Speaker: Kevin O'Neill] I will ask Alok to join me on stage. He is of Indian descent. His department is civil, structural and environmental engineering. Among his passions, in his future he hopes, is research in earthquake engineering. Presentation title is “Building Safer Nuclear Power Plants.” We welcome you Alok Deshpande. Excuse me—Deshpande—is that the best pronunciation Alok? Thank you very much. Again, building safer nuclear power plants. Ready, set and pitch!
[Speaker: Alok Deshpande] Imagine an earthquake striking a nuclear power plant. How safe do we want that structure to be? Probably much safer than any other structure, because as we have seen at Chernobyl and Fukushima, the impacts of a failure in a nuclear facility can be felt for generations.
Nuclear power plants, like other thermal power plants, generate a lot of heat and this heat is carried to the power turbines using steam pipes. Earthquake shaking has the potential to rupture these steam pipes. If this were to happen, then the high pressure, high temperature steam contained within would, spew within the airtight containment structure. Think of a pressure cooker. How would this affect its structural safety? Also remember that earthquakes are usually followed by aftershocks which can be just as intense as the mean shaking.
As part of my doctoral research in structural engineering, I am studying the effects of these elevated temperatures on the behavior of the structure, specifically on its strength and stiffness, and its ability to resist future aftershocks. Since it's not practical to test the structure though, we structural engineers usually build and test its components in the lab.
Nuclear power plants are built almost entirely of concrete walls. So I built concrete wall specimens and subjected them to a wide variety of combined thermal and structural conditions, just as expected in a thermal accident. I saw in these tests that there was a significant reduction in stiffness. But the good news is that there was no reduction in strength, even at temperatures 50 percent higher than those expected in such accidents. I'm using these observations now, to write recommendations that can be used by designers to assess safety of existing plants after such an accident, and also design safer, newer plants.
Since the behavior of the structure is defined by the behavior of its materials, I am also studying the behavior of concrete itself, when subjected to high temperatures. This will allow me to better understand the behavior of the concrete walls that I tested. Through the course of this study and by understanding the mechanisms of damage in concrete, I have developed a new steel and polymer fiber reinforced concrete material. This material performs significantly better than conventional concrete, both at normal, as well as high temperatures. Such a robust material has applications in other structures too. Structures like buildings, bridges and tunnels, which can otherwise see catastrophic damage due to fire events.
In summary, it's vital to ensure the safety of nuclear power plants. And understanding the effects of elevated temperatures, both on concrete and concrete structures, including the development of newer, more robust materials, are important steps in this direction. And so we can all have a safer nuclear future. Thank you.
[Speaker: Kevin O'Neill] Thank you Alok. I did a live shot for Channel 2 at the shake table, right—isn't that the shake table what it's called here? Right? The earthquake testing facility right? And I actually did a live shot, I believe, at a facility that used that table—Taylor Devices, in North Tonawanda. They've have used your facility and yeah—and again similarly with my live shots then not that anybody cares but [audience laughs] I said so what are we—what are we—what is this big giant ten-foot thing here? Well this is a damper, a viscous damper used to absorb the potentially destructive energy that an earthquake, or any sort of seismic—hold on—so it's the shock absorber for a building? Yes. OK, that's what I'm gonna say it is. [Audience laughs.] It's a shock absorber for a building. It's just a 10-foot version, instead of the little ones you put in your car.
PhD Program: Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering
Advisor: Andrew Whittaker, Ravi Ranade
Biography: Alok Deshpande hails from India and is a PhD student in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering. He is studying the effects that high temperatures have on concrete walls in nuclear power plants. Deshpande is motivated to determine how to design safer nuclear power plants by understanding the effects of elevated temperatures on the behavior of concrete. His hobbies include reading, traveling and cooking. His future plans include conducting research in the area of earthquake engineering.
[Speaker: Kevin O'Neill] I'm gonna ask Joshua to join me up on stage. Joshua is from New York State, his department is epidemiology and environmental health. His future career plans, a physician scientist. We'll wish him the best of luck with that. The presentation title is “Bacteria and Blood Pressure, Exploring the Link Between the Oral Microbiome and Hypertension.” Joshua Gordon, welcome, and ready, set, pitch!
[Speaker: Joshua Gordon] I used to be somewhat of a germophobe and I felt the need to compulsively wash my hands basically anytime I touch something that I didn't know is sterile. I still feel that way sometimes, but I'm working on it because now I know that many of the bacteria that live on my skin are actually helping me. These bacteria are called our microbiome. Each of us has somewhere around ten trillion bacterial cells that live in or on our bodies. This is on par with the number of actual human cells in our bodies, meaning that about half of the cells that make us who we are, are actually bacterial cells.
Traditionally, we've thought of bacteria in the context of single organisms that cause a specific disease. So, for example, Vibrio cholera and the disease cholera. But we're learning that for more complex diseases, the overall community of bacteria can play an important role.
My dissertation research is on the connection between the oral microbiome and hypertension. This is important because hypertension is one of the leading preventable causes of heart attack and stroke. While it seems like an unlikely connection, we actually have bacteria in our mouths that can lower our blood pressure. When we eat certain foods like beets and leafy greens, these bacteria allow us to produce a molecule called nitric oxide, which actually, relaxes our blood pressure, lowering our - relaxes our blood vessels, temporarily lowering our blood pressure. Withogermut these bacteria we wouldn't see that immediate blood pressure lowering effect. But what we don't know is whether or not these bacteria can actually prevent hypertension from developing in the long-term.
In epidemiology, we study disease in population. We usually conduct large studies, where we measure exposure to various risk factors and outcome of disease. For my research, we've collected oral plaque samples from hundreds of study participants. We analyzed the samples to determine the composition of the microbial communities that exist in the plaque. Then we determine whether or not the donors develop hypertension and analyze the data to determine if there's a connection.
I can envision a future of personalized medicine, where we use data from our microbiome to determine disease risk and hopefully allow for better prevention of disease. For example, a patient could go to his or her doctor, and just by giving a saliva sample would allow for a personalized, individualized treatment based on their microbial fingerprint. In the case of hypertension, this would let us determine who's at risk and hopefully allow for better treatment for that person. This research is a step towards that future. Thank you.
[Kevin O'Neill] Thank you, a great job Joshua. Big microbiome fan, I am. I have a philosophy. I don't get sick a lot, and I think I—I'm probably not gonna explain it properly, but I grew up drinking Lake Erie tap water. [Audience laughs.] I think you know what I'm going. I think the early exposure to that bacteria really increased my—I don't get sick now, you know. [Audience laughs.] I think that should be something, maybe we could do that, just give Lake Erie tap water to children all over the world. [Audience laughs.] I think I may have just cured something, we're gonna work on that. And again, my mom—my mom who insists on giving clean, bottled, spring water to the grandkids. All the grandkids get bottled spring water. And I think to myself isn't this the same lady that let me drink from a hose for my entire childhood? [Audience laughs.] Oh, well.
PhD Program: Epidemiology and Environmental Health
Advisor: Jean Wactawski-Wende
Biography: Joshua Gordon is a PhD student in the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health. His research explores the association between oral health and high blood pressure. Gordon's ambition is to develop more effective ways to treat hypertension which contribute to heart disease and stroke. He is a member of the American Medical Student Association and the American Physician Scientist Association. Gordon's hobbies are rock climbing, hiking and playing guitar. After graduation, Gordon plans to work as a physician scientist.
[Speaker: Kevin O'Neill] I'm gonna ask our next contestant to join us on stage. Is it pronounced line? [Lynne Klasko-Foster off-screen] It is pronounced line, thank you for getting it correct. [Kevin O'Neill] Sure. [Lynne, off-screen] I'm sorry, it's not, its Lynne. [Kevin O'Neill] It's Lin. [Audience laughs.] Yeah. I thought—I'll be honest with you, what I'm trying to do, just to make it fair, I'm gonna do a terrible job with the American names as well today. [Audience laughs.] Lynne's presentation title—well I'll do that at the end—she plans to work in academia as a research professor. She has lived in many areas, the Rochester area, Colorado, Oregon, Florida twice, Hawaii, Chicago area, in there and now Buffalo. Her department is community health and health behavior. Her presentation title is “Understanding How People Think About Their Personal Risk for Sexually Transmitted Infections.” We welcome Lynne Klasko-Foster to the stage. And ready, set and pitch!
[Speaker: Lynne Klasko-Foster] Today I'm going to talk about sex. An activity that many, if not most of us engage in, as an expression of love or intimate connection, or simply because it's fun. I'm pregnant with my second child so it's clear I've done it at least twice. [Audience laughs.]
While we can all agree that sex has many benefits, it's not without risk, including sexually transmitted infections, which I'll refer to today as STIs. Fortunately, advances in medicine have created a safer environment for healthy sexual activity. Now there's a vaccine for both men and women to prevent cancer-causing HPV, and a daily pill to prevent HIV transmission. And in general if people think they're at risk for a disease they're more likely to get a vaccine or take a pill to reduce their risk.
The problem is people underestimate their own risk—and what I mean by this, is that individuals have a tendency to believe that others are more likely to get a disease than they are, and may not choose a prevention strategy. The CDC recently conducted a study where they interviewed people about their HIV risk before getting tested 80 percent of men and 100 percent of women who tested positive for HIV, reported prior to testing that they had no chance or low chance, of getting HIV. Think about that for a second. These are individuals that for one reason or another were motivated to go get testing for peace of mind and yet they did not believe that they could get HIV.
My research aims to better understand how people think about their own risk for STIs, so that we can intervene before someone gets a chronic disease like cancer or AIDS, that is really going to impact their life or result in early death. Perceived risk is complex, it involves both believing that you are vulnerable to getting a disease and also feeling worried or anxious that you may get a disease. I will be interviewing people across the risk spectrum for both HIV and HPV, to find out what risk perceptions mean to them. Why do they feel more or less at risk for getting an STI? Do beliefs drive behavior or are emotions a greater influence? Finally, I will be evaluating social factors that help tell the story connecting risk perceptions to prevention behavior. Is it just too stigmatizing to take a pill for HIV? Or, if my friends get the HPV vaccine, does that make it more normal and easy for me to get it?
My goal is to better understand how different components of risk work together so that we can all keep having sex, but lets make it safer for everyone. Thank you.
[Speaker: Kevin O'Neill] Thank you Lynne. Great job and good luck. I am also expecting. My wife is four months pregnant. We're expecting in August. Our final- [audience applauds] Thank, thank you very much, matter fact I brought a clip.
PhD Program: Community Health and Health Behavior
Advisor: Marc Kiviniemi
Biography: Lynne Klasko-Foster is a PhD candidate in the Department of Community Health and Health Behavior. She also holds degrees from the University of Rochester and the University of Illinois at Chicago. The purpose of her research is to discover a better understanding of the cognitive and affective components of risk. The goal is to protect a larger segment of the population from contracting HIV or cancer-causing HPV through understanding people's perceptions of personal risk. Klasko-Foster is a member of the Society of Behavioral Medicine and American Public Health Association. She is an avid runner and loves to bake. She aspires to become a research professor.
[Speaker: Kevin O' Neill] Our final presenter is Jay. I'll welcome him to the stage, and Jay had a lot of fun filling out the questionnaire ahead of time. For hometown he says—the boondocks of Transfer, PA. Is that correct, sir? [Jay Leipheimer, off screen] Yes. [Kevin O'Neill] and he attended University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, previous to UB. His future career plans, his plan A is biomedical research, his plan B is bartender. [Audience and Kevin laugh.] Something with liquids and containers, we know. [Audience laughs.] His department is microbiology and immunology. We welcome to the stage, Jay Leipheimer. Am I saying the last name correctly, sir? [Jay affirms] Excellent. Well, to you I say, ready, set, pitch! And good luck.
[Speaker: Jay Leipheimer] I have to warn you all of a threat that surrounds us. Despite having already killed millions of people, few know its name. It's the human fungal pathogen, Cryptococcus neoformans. Well, we just call it "crypto." Now, I'm sorry to say that most of us here are already infected. In fact, it may still be in your lungs as I speak, lying dormant. Don't worry, Kevin, you're safe for right now. But if your immune system is ever severely weakened, your only option is an antifungal that takes months of treatment but has terrible side effects. However, if we ever hope to design a better drug, we need to understand how this fungus causes disease.
Now, we know that the fungus can affect our lungs and then spread to the rest of our body, and it does so used in these things called virulence factors, which are like proteins that are like microbial weapons, used to fight off our body's defenses. However, this doesn't explain everything. You see, a lot of fungi had these same weapons, yet, do not cause disease. At the Panepinto Lab, we are discovering that it's not the weapons that make crypto so deadly, but how it uses them or controls them.
You see, unlike our government this fungus has figured out how to control its weapons, [audience laughs] and it's this control or regulation that my work aims to understand. To do this, I look at crypto's messenger RNAs or mRNAs. mRNAs are genetic sequences that function a lot like instruction manuals. They tell the fungus how to assemble its proteins. Now most of the times these instructions are very easy to read they have a clear beginning and an end. This is not true for virulence factor mRNAs. In fact, a lot of these contain extra sequences that seem meaningless, at least at first glance. It is when I use an algorithm that aligns these sequences and all possible combinations, do I find it's actually hidden code dictating how that weapon is regulated.
You see in biology, a thing's structure determines its function. Here these pieces are acting like—pieces—here these sequences are acting like pieces on a Rubik’s cube, that are interacting with each other in just the right manner, forming a structure. This structure on the mRNA functions the increased production of that weapon. Now here's the kicker. This puzzle is usually left unsolved. It is only when the fungus is threatened, does it activate a set of proteins which acts to decode the sequence, revealing the structure. Using this system, crypto is able to regulate its weapons as needed. Cryptos name in Latin is 'hidden sphere of new form.'
What I hope to accomplish in my work is to further decipher the secrets that sphere holds. Hopefully doing so, we can unveil crypto's weaknesses, design a drug to target that weakness, disarm it, thus saving us all. Thank you.
[Speaker: Kevin O'Neill] Excellent job, Jay.
PhD Program: Microbiology and Immunology
Advisor: John Panepinto
Biography: Jay Leipheimer is a PhD candidate in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. He is studying how the fungal pathogen, Cryptococcus neoformans, manufactures proteins that allow it to cause disease. Leipheimer is also using this fungal pathogen as a model to study basic molecular biology. He aspires to generate new findings that will aid in novel drug design and reveal base mechanisms that make all life possible. Away from the lab, Leipheimer enjoys watching Netflix, wine and beer tasting, and financial trading. For the future his "plan A" is to work as a biomedical researcher and "plan B" is to work as a bartender.
[Speaker: Kevin O'Neill] Our first presenter, I will bring out Souransu Nandi. Well, thank you very much. [Audience applauds.] His department is mechanical and aerospace engineering. His hometown is Kolkata, India. His future career plans, he wishes to be a full-time researcher, to work on engineering problems that can have a large impact on society and his presentation deals with diabetes and the treatment of diabetes. So, if you are ready: ready, set, pitch!
[Speaker: Souransu Nandi] In the next 24 hours, 206 Americans will be diagnosed with type one diabetes. That means someone: a man, woman or child, will get sobering life-changing news every seven minutes, and these numbers are predicted to get three times as worse in the next 20 years. So it is imperative we find some solutions.
So what happens in Type 1 diabetes? The pancreas, in Type 1 diabetic patients, loses its ability to make the hormone, insulin. Left untreated, the blood glucose level dangerously rises, eventually leading to nerve damage, kidney failure and blindness. The primary method of treatment, which has actually remained the same for almost a hundred years, involves patients injecting themselves with insulin every single day. Moreover, as a patient you always have to watch what you eat, when you eat or what you do, and your day largely revolves around managing the disease, greatly restricting your quality of life. So, can we do something to resolve this?
It is only in the past decade that engineers have developed a wearable device called the artificial pancreas, to make treatment easier. The artificial pancreas continuously senses your blood glucose level, uses this information to determine the necessary insulin required and then delivers this insulin into the body from an external reservoir without the patient having to do anything on their own.
Now, my research is to develop algorithms for the computer chips on these devices, so that the artificial pancreas can closely mimic the actions of a natural pancreas. So the way these algorithms work is that at the core, I write a set of equations, which is capable of predicting what the glucose level will be at a future time instead, and based on that, I can suggest an insulin amount now. However, the biggest challenge here is to deal with uncertainties in human behavior and physiology. For example, how my body reacts to say, a pumpkin spice latte, is different from how someone else's body does. [Audience laughs.] Because our metabolism rates are different or you could have just returned from a run. Moreover, glucose concentrations also depend on how stressed we are or how much we eat, and these factors are always uncertain. So when I write my algorithms I have to use principles and probability to account for all these uncertainties.
Now, imagine a day in the future when you walk into a doctor's office and are diagnosed with Type 1. The doctor gives you a bionic device, you attach it to yourself and that's it, you forget about it. You carry on living a normal life. You drink beer, you play sports and you can even eat an unplanned doughnut. [Audience laughs] My research has convinced me that we are not far from that day. Thank you. [Audience applauds.]
[Speaker: Kevin O'Neill] Brilliant, thank you Mr. Nandi. And I mean this, even though I only have a bachelor's, I understood everything you said. [Audience laughs] [Kevin laughs] Great job.
PhD Program: Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
Advisor: Tarunraj Singh
Biography: Souransu Nandi, originally from India, is a PhD student in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. Nandi's research focuses on designing control algorithms for a biomedical device called the artificial pancreas. His goal is for the artificial pancreas to mimic the actions of a normal pancreas enabling diabetic patients to live more freely. Outside of the lab, Nandi is a fan of playing board games and binge watching television shows. Upon graduation, he aspires to work as a full-time researcher to discover solutions that will have a large, positive impact on society.
[Speaker: Kevin O'Neill] Neeti, I'll ask you to join me on stage. Her presentation title is "Person Tracking for Improved Video Surveillance." Neeti is originally from India. Her department is computer science and engineering. She went to a school in India and, of course, got a masters at UB. Future career plans—working in a university as a faculty member. We welcome Neeti Narayan to the stage and to you, I say: ready, set, pitch!
[Speaker: Neeti Narayan] On April 15, 2013, two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring several hundred others. After three days, the FBI officers released images of two suspects, which resulted in one of the most intense manhunts in history. In this case, there was a large volume of video data coming from different sources. There were security cameras, storefront cameras, also people were recording videos using their cell phones. Most of these videos covering different locations and at different time instances.
The FBI officers had to look at these videos, which took them hours and days to track and identify suspects. What if the suspects had escaped by this time? They would be on the loose and eventually hurt more people. Instead, what if we have a reliable and automated computer algorithm, it should perform surveillance operations. This would not only enable faster processing of data, but also improve the quality of surveillance.
My PhD thesis is about detecting and tracking multiple people across multiple cameras automatically and in real-time. There are many challenges. One, is the obstruction of the view of a person. I need to handle situations when a person is in a blind spot, say he's behind a tree, or only partial information about the person is available, say only the face is visible. Another challenge is the varying lighting conditions across cameras. This would mean that the skin tone of a person might appear differently in different cameras. I also have to deal with low resolution or blurred pictures and videos. I try to address all these challenges in a principled way.
Now, if you think of a video as a sequence of pictures, I extract information of people from every picture which constitutes the spatial information and information from past pictures which constitutes the time information. I'm trying to learn how a person's characteristics changes with time. I extract three types of spatial features. One, is the appearance feature—that is how person looks like. Two, is the facial biometric. Three, is the location transition information. I'm trying to learn how a person's facial features changes with time. So, we all know that it is impossible, or the probability's zero, for a person who is seen here in one second to be seen outside of the screening room the very next second—unless he's a superhero like Flash. [Audience laughs.] I calculate such probabilities to learn the likely movement pattern of people.
What is my vision with this? Provide an automated tracking system, should help track and identify suspects if a crime has already been committed, but also help eliminate crimes by detecting anomalous activities and warning security officials about it. We would have more secure schools, more secure airports and malls, thus, making the world a better and safer place. Thank you.
[Audience claps and cheers.]
[Speaker: Kevin O'Neill] Terrific job, Neeti, and important research certainly.
PhD Program: Computer Science and Engineering
Advisor: Venu Govindaraju
Biography: Neeti Narayan earned a Master's degree from UB and is currently pursuing a PhD degree in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. In her research, Narayan is working to develop systems to automatically track multiple people across multiple cameras in real time. Her work has the potential to improve the quality of surveillance and identification in cluttered scenes such as at airports and train stations. In addition to her research activities, Narayan enjoys sports especially, racquetball and badminton. Her future plans include working as a faculty member at a university.
[Speaker: Kevin O'Neill] Next up, I welcome James Sackett to the stage. He is from the exercise and nutritional sciences department. It says IMI Birmingham, Michigan, is that correct, James? [James Sackett, off screen] Yes.
[Kevin O'Neill] James is from Michigan and his future career plans include being a professor of exercise science. So, we welcome to the stage James Sackett, and for you, I say: ready, set, pitch!
[Speaker: James Sackett] Imagine this: you're scuba diving along the bottom of the ocean floor, the cold water is swirling around you, it is so dark that you need a flashlight to see. You begin to feel light-headed and dizzy, and you're on the verge of fainting. At this point, drowning may be inevitable. This life-threatening consequence of underwater diving is a result of a phenomena called carbon dioxide retention.
The Navy SEALs, the elite of the United States military, experienced this dangerous issue during almost every single underwater dive. The Navy SEALs performed some of the most important and most dangerous underwater diving missions known to mankind. Thus, their physical performance and safety is of utmost importance. However, underwater diving causes many physiological changes that may harm their health.
Carbon dioxide retention, or the build-up of carbon dioxide in blood, occurs during underwater diving. Although the underlying physiology of this phenomena remain largely unknown, it appears to be a function of the increased pressure of water on the human body. Thus, divers are at increased risk for carbon dioxide toxicity, fainting and potentially drowning while underwater.
To further understand the underlying mechanisms of this idea, our laboratory conducted investigations on humans during water immersion. Normal breathing in humans is regulated by sensors located in the carotid artery and in the brain. These sensors are response from maintaining normal blood levels of carbon dioxide during everyday life. We used complex physiological tests to investigate the idea that these sensors are affected by water immersion. To test this idea, our participants sat in a tank of warm water while we measured several components their physiology including their breathing, their heart rate and their blood pressure. We believe that the activity of these sensors will be reduced during water immersion and that this will contribute to carbon dioxide retention.
Despite our observation that carbon dioxide retention occurred during our studies, we also found that the activity of these sensors is not reduced during water immersion. Thus, it does not appear that these sensors contribute to carbon dioxide retention and further research is warranted. Overall, our findings are important because they provide insight into the underlying mechanisms of carbon oxygen retention. Furthermore, once we have a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms of carbon dioxide retention, we plan to conduct investigations that aim at designing interventions to prevent carbon dioxide retention. Finally, our novel findings are important because they will help improve the safety of Navy SEALs and the performance of Navy SEALs, as they go on further underwater diving missions. Thank you.
[Audience cheers and claps]
[Kevin O'Neill] Great job, James. His presentation title, by the way, for him was, Carbon Dioxide Retention: A Potential Life-Threatening Consequence of Underwater Diving. I've noticed that a lot of them don't have the title their presentation, so I will mention with the introduction the presentation title. Deep down, I knew scuba diving wasn't for me. [Audience laughs.] That's a dumb tweet.
PhD Program: Exercise and Nutrition Sciences
Advisor: Blair Johnson
Biography: James Sackett is a PhD student in the Department of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences. He is currently investigating the chemical control of breathing in humans during water immersion. The purpose is to discover the underlying mechanisms and dangerous consequences of carbon monoxide retention during underwater diving. Sackett is a member of the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Physiological Society. Outside of the lab, his interests include hockey, snowmobiling, hiking and baseball. Sackett plans to become a professor of exercise science.
[Speaker: Kevin O'Neill] Next up, I welcome Hao to the stage. Hao, I will start out with his aspirations. From here he wishes to work as a professor of a university or an expert of a think-tank or an entrepreneur. His department is urban and regional planning. He is originally from China. And he actually studied in China. And his presentation is “Unveiling the Relationship Between Urban Design and Obesity: A Shanghai Story.” Welcome Hao Zhang and we say to you, ready, set and pitch!
[Speaker: Hao Zhang] I used to think obesity was only related to genetic factors, high calorie diets or lack of exercise. Unfortunately, with enormous resources being invested in these fields, people see few improvements of obesity prevalence. My PhD thesis is about seeking a new answer to fight against obesity and I believe the answer lies in our physical surroundings, the urban environment.
Researchers have been marrying urban environment factors such as high population density, number of parks or water facilities, as well as obesity majors—such as BMI—to study the relationship between urban environment and obesity. In regards to that, developed countries have been well studied. However, this relationship has not been examined as thoroughly in developing countries. For example, conventional environment factors such as high population density, suggest many areas in Shanghai should be very friendly to walking. In other words, very walkable. Contrary to belief, obesity is common among these areas, as you can see, whether conventional environment factors are good enough to protect the impacts of urban environment on obesity in Shanghai or other cities in the developing countries.
So, in my PhD studies, one of the environment factors related to obesity is neighborhood gating. This image shows a gated neighborhood in Shanghai, with few entry points. This gated community's internal streets as isolated from city street networks. The external surrounding streets are typically very wide and people normally cross these wide streets from pedestrian bridges or underground tunnels, making walking to destinations outside of neighborhoods inconvenient. Also, many new gated communities are very large, including hundreds of acres or thousands of residents. Travelling between neighborhoods in gated communities requires walking long distances. This is very first stage of my research. The challenge is to identify a comprehensive set of environment factors related to obesity based on the experience in developing countries.
So where to from here? This summer, I'm going to Shanghai to work with urban planners, local residents and policy makers, to better understand the relationship between the urban environment and obesity. I hope my research will make people aware that obesity is not only related to your diet or exercise, but the environment where you live. Thank you.
[Kevin O'Neill] Thank you, Hao.
PhD Program: Urban and Regional Planning
Advisor: Li Yin
Biography: Hao Zhang, originally from China, is pursuing his PhD in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning. The focus of his research is on understanding the relationship between urban design and obesity in Shanghai. Zhang's goal is to mitigate the obesity epidemic in China as well as in other countries, by modifying the built environment. He is a member of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP) and the International Association for China Planning (IACP). Zhang's hobbies include painting, cooking, hiking and Tai Chi. In the future, Zhang plans to work as a university professor, think tank expert or entrepreneur.