Research Tracks

A publication of the Office of the Vice Provost for Research at Baylor University

September 14, 2017
by Baylor OVPR

Baylor physicist receives DARPA Young Faculty Award

Dr. Howard Lee received the 2017 DARPA Young Faculty Award at a ceremony this month in Washington.

The Office of the Vice Provost for Research congratulates Dr. Howard Lee, who was recently named a 2017 recipient of the DARPA Young Faculty Award (YFA).  Lee, an assistant professor of physics in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences, was one of just 28 researchers included in the YFA class of 2017.

The YFA program is intended to identify outstanding early-career faculty at U.S. academic institutions and support their research in defined topic areas related to DARPA’s defense-focused mission.  Lee was one of two recipients working in the topic area, “Designing Structured Materials for Improved Parametric Processes.”

December 3, 2015
by Baylor OVPR

Baylor philosopher explores legal issues surrounding religion in new book

beckwithIn a pluralistic society, there is a constant balancing act between the rights of individuals and the need for social order.  These balances are perhaps never quite as tenuous as when they involve a conflict between an individual’s religious faith and a law that would seem to prevent the believer from acting in accordance with the requirements of his or her faith.

Dr. Francis J. Beckwith, a professor of philosophy and church-state studies in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences, explores these conflicts in his new book, “Taking Rites Seriously: Law, Politics, and the Reasonableness of Faith,” published this year by Cambridge University Press. In the book, Beckwith examines cultural issues over which religious and nonreligious people may disagree including the rationality of religious belief, religiously motivated legislation, human dignity in bioethics, abortion and embryonic stem cell research, reproductive rights, evolution and marriage.

The problems often stem from a misunderstanding regarding the true nature of religious practices.  The misunderstanding, Beckwith says, often spring from a failure of non-religious individuals to understand the perspective of the believer.

“I believe religion involves obedience, not just belief,” he says. “Observers who aren’t familiar with the tenets of a religion may argue that religious belief is irrational and therefore adherents are not deserving of special protection for their practices. To those who believe, however, religious practices aren’t something they choose to do but something they are obligated to do.”

“Taking Rites Seriously” is available on Amazon.

November 9, 2015
by Baylor OVPR

Baylor researcher receives grant to study movement of contaminants through the Gulf of Mexico

When a major pollution spill occurs in the Gulf of Mexico, disaster response officials have to make quick decisions about the allocation of resources to prevent damage to coastal areas. Numerical modeling techniques can make predictions about the spread and eventual destination of contaminants, but current models aren’t as accurate as they could be, limiting the effectiveness of disaster prevention and recovery efforts.

Dr. Joe Kuehl, assistant professor of mechanical engineering in Baylor’s School of Engineering and Computer Science, is part of a research team that was recently awarded a $285,000 grant from the Texas General Land Office for oceanographic research aimed at improving these models to predict how contaminants spread through the Gulf of Mexico during a spill.

An oil slick spreads in the Gulf of Mexico during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill.  Dr. Joe Kuehl is part of a team of researchers working to improve current models for predicting the flow of contaminants from similar events. NASA image.

An oil slick spreads in the Gulf of Mexico during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill. Dr. Joe Kuehl is part of a team of researchers working to improve current models for predicting the flow of contaminants from similar events. NASA image.

The topography of the ocean floor creates a barrier between coastal waters and the open ocean at the shelf break – the point near the shore at which the ocean floor changes from low-slope coastal terrain to the higher-slope that marks the beginning of the open ocean.

While the shelf break largely prevents water from the open ocean from mixing with coastal waters, Kuehl says, the barrier is not completely impenetrable. Underwater currents, circulation patterns and weather phenomena can create pathways that allow water to move across the shelf-break barrier. When these pathways exist, water from the open ocean can flow into coastal areas, potentially bringing pollutants with it.

While mathematical models exist to predict how and where these pathways will form, Kuehl says they are limited by the data on which they are based.

“The standard models are most useful only at shallower depths because we don’t have observational data from the bottom boundary layer – the deepest layer along the ocean floor,” he explains. “So when we apply these standard models to pollutants in the bottom boundary layer, we have to make some assumptions.”

To fill in those gaps in knowledge, Kuehl will deploy newly developed current meters to gather data on the way ocean water circulates in the bottom boundary layers over time. That data will become a part of high-resolution simulations created by Kuehl’s collaborator on the project, Dr. William Anderson of the University of Texas at Dallas.

Ultimately, Kuehl and Anderson hope their research will contribute to better understanding of the way contaminants can flow through the Gulf of Mexico, helping government and business leaders carry out risk assessment and economic planning along the Texas coast.

July 29, 2015
by Baylor OVPR

YIDP grant contributes to Baylor participation in $4.9 million research project

This spring, Baylor University and partners from Texas A&M University’s School of Public Health, New Mexico State University, the Mariposa Community Health Center in Arizona, and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service received a five-year, $4.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The grant will support research aimed at improving the health of families living in colonias — unregulated neighborhoods in former agricultural areas — along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Baylor component of the research is led by Dr. Renée Umstattd-Meyer, an associate professor of health, human performance and recreation in the Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences.  Umstattd-Meyer, who also directs the Robbins College’s master’s of public health program, will lead research, education and extension activities related to the role of physical activity and screen time (sedentary time spent using a screen device like television, computers or video games) on childhood obesity.

Prior to submission of the USDA grant, Umstattd-Meyer gathered preliminary data with funding from a Young Investigator Development Program (YIDP) grant from the Office of the Vice Provost for Research.

“The YIDP funding provided by Baylor greatly strengthened our proposal application,” she said. “In addition to supporting the collection of much needed pilot data regarding physical activity among families in south Texas border communities, the YIDP supported continued collaborations between myself and my colleague Dr. Sharkey at Texas A&M University and strengthened essential relationships between Baylor and our South Texas team.”

Ultimately, Umstattd-Meyer and her research colleagues hope to develop family-based interventions that will improve the health of immigrant communities in South Texas as well as other locations throughout the country.

Click here to read more about the research in a press release from Baylor University.

March 2, 2015
by Baylor OVPR
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Baylor scholar’s new book sheds light on Muslim-Christian relations

Defending Christian FaityChristianity and Islam, the world’s two largest religions, have been engaged throughout history and interconnected for thousands of years. The relationship between the two faiths has historically been marked by conflict, but despite differences, there have also been many successful attempts at peace, mutual understanding and harmony. Dr. Abjar Bahkou in Baylor’s department of modern language and cultures highlights these examples in his book, Defending Christian Faith: The Fifth Part of the Christian Apology of Gerasimus.

“Muslim-Christian relations have been subject to startling waves of events in history,” Bahkou said. “We can learn a lot and get ample food for thought and reflection when we look back at the past and examine the way Muslims and Christians lived and looked at each other. This book is a testimony of such interaction.”

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February 20, 2015
by Baylor OVPR

OVPR, URSA seek nominations for third annual URSA Awards in Excellence and Service

The Office of the Vice Provost for Research and the Undergraduate Research & Scholarly Achievement Steering Committee are currently accepting nominations for the 2015 URSA Awards in Excellence and Service.  The awards recognize Baylor faculty members, staff members and students whose hard work has made positive contributions to the university’s undergraduate research programs.

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February 9, 2015
by Baylor OVPR

Baylor professor receives NIH grant to study connection between early-life seizures and autism


Dr. Joaquin Lugo, who recently received a grant from the NIH for his research project, “Signaling mechanisms underlying epilepsy and autism comorbidity.”

Dr. Joaquin Lugo, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience in Baylor’s College of Arts and Sciences, recently received a grant from the National Institutes of Health for research aimed at understanding the link between early-life seizures and autism-like behavioral problems later in life.  The three-year, $415,500 grant was awarded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, one of the 27 institutes and centers that make up the NIH.

Children who suffer from epilepsy can carry a range of behavioral and mental problems into adolescence and adulthood, including changes in learning and memory, social difficulties and autism, Lugo says, but the mechanisms underlying these comorbidities is not fully understood.

To shed light on the relationship between these disorders, Lugo and his team will study the effect of seizures at different stages of development on later behavior in mice. They will also examine changes that seizures may cause in the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) signaling pathway – a neurological pathway involved in communication between neurons in the brain.

“We’re looking at the long-term effects of seizures that occur early in life to determine whether they contribute to autism on a molecular level,” Lugo says. “We know that molecular changes to the mTOR signaling pathway in the brain are associated with both epilepsy and autism, so this research will help to determine whether the processes may be related.”

In the longer term, Lugo hopes that understanding the role of the mTOR pathway in both epilepsy and autism could eventually lead to development of new treatments.

“This project is the first of many steps in a continuum of research that will systematically identify the autistic-like behavioral changes and alterations in the mTOR signaling pathway that occur after seizures,” he says. “Ultimately, the research could provide treatments for the behavioral and molecular alterations that occur in individuals with autism and epilepsy.”

Preliminary data for the proposal was gathered with funding from the Young Investigator Development Program, an internal research grant program that provides seed funding to help recently appointed, tenure-track faculty develop competitive proposals for external funding.

Click here to learn more about the research on Lugo’s lab website.

December 3, 2014
by Baylor OVPR

Baylor research helps provide resolution to families of missing immigrants found near the border

Stevie Hope, a 2014 Baylor anthropology graduate, and Cole Lindeberg, a senior anthropology major, work to exhume an unmarked grave at a cemetery in South Texas.

Stevie Hope, a 2014 Baylor anthropology graduate, and Cole Lindeberg, a senior anthropology major, work to exhume an unmarked grave at a cemetery in South Texas.

Every year hundreds of immigrants attempt to cross over the United States’ southern border; the road is long and arduous and for many it proves to be fatal. Many of the deceased do not bare any pieces of identification, so when they are discovered, the authorities have now way to return their remains to their families; consequently, the bodies are buried in unmarked graves. These disappearances unfortunately leave many families with questions and without resolution as to whether or not their loved one died crossing. For a select group of Baylor of students, led by Associate Professor of Anthropology Dr. Lori Baker, the opportunity to meet a humanitarian need while doing research for their field of study is highly appreciated. With that need in mind, every year Baker and her students travel to locations near the border in South Texas to recover and identify the bodies of those who died crossing over, so that their remains may be returned to their families.

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November 6, 2014
by Baylor OVPR

Baylor researchers release free iPhone app to screen for pediatric eye cancer

screen568x568 (1)screen568x568Two Baylor faculty members have collaborated to create a new smartphone app that allows users to screen their children for retinoblastoma, a rare form of eye cancer, just by taking a picture.

Dr. Bryan Shaw, an assistant professor of chemistry in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences, has a personal connection to the topic: his son Noah lost his right eye to retinoblastoma.  Noah was diagnosed at three months of age, but signs of the disease showed up much sooner.  In photos taken in the first few weeks of Noah’s life, Shaw and his wife noticed that his right eye had a white glow that was very different from the red-eye effect commonly seen in photographs of children.  The white-eye effect can be a normal photography artifact, but can also indicate serious eye diseases including retinoblastoma.

Shaw teamed with Dr. Greg Hamerly, an associate professor of computer science in Baylor’s School of Engineering & Computer Science, to develop the app.  Hamerly and several of his graduate students used machine learning techniques to develop software that could distinguish between images of a normal eye and those that may show signs of disease.  The app can scan existing photos on the user’s phone to look for images that may show cause for concern, or it can be used to take new photographs for evaluation.

The app, called CRADLE (ComputeR Assisted Detector of LEukocoria), is available free for iOS devices on the Apple iTunes store. More information about Shaw’s research is available on his laboratory’s website.

September 30, 2014
by Baylor OVPR

Baylor professor’s new book documents rise of ‘do-it-yourself’ memorials


Dr. Candi Cann

Globally and cross culturally, when a member of society dies, it is customary for the community to care for, uplift, and provide support to the family grieving the loss of a loved one. Traditionally, religion has played a key role in the grieving process, but in recent years, many families and individuals are seeking alternative forms of memorializing their loved ones.

Dr. Candi Cann, assistant professor in the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core, asserts that this shift toward alternative memorialization processes has not been directly caused by a lack of faith or animosity toward religion, but rather the church’s lack of rituals and practices that adequately meet the needs of families and individuals who are grieving.

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