May 2016 Newsletter: College of Science Students Share Research

Biological sciences majors Bianca Opara, left, and Dania Abid share their findings at the College of Science Student Research Day.

Biological sciences majors Bianca Opara, left, and Dania Abid share their findings at the College of Science Student Research Day.

On May 6 at the 12th Annual College of Science Student Research Day more than 60 undergraduate and graduate students presented work from a variety of disciplines.

Bianca Opara, ’18 Biological Sciences, and Dania Abid, ’17 Biological Sciences, both worked in Professor Shelley Cargill’s hands-on physiology lab. Abid wants to pursue a medical degree, while Opara is interested in combining research and medicine. At the recent event, they presented the process they are using to discover the effects of a high-fat diet on follicle count ratios in mice.

Opara, who is part of the Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) Program, said she was first approached by program director Karen Singmaster when she was a sophomore. While Opara was at first hesitant to join the program due to timing, she decided to take Singmaster’s advice to apply when she heard from other students involved in RISE.

“I am so excited they let me in,” she said. “It helped me figure out that I like hands-on procedures.”

Carlos Rojas, ’16 Geology, with a minor in Business, used connections near his hometown of Hollister to gain access to private property for geochemistry research on the Quien Sabe volcanics of west Central California. His faculty advisor Ellen Metzger and other student researchers had completed an analysis of areas north and south of the spot he studied.

Rojas, a Marine Corps veteran, said he has loved rocks since he was a kid and was interested in learning how the landscape was created.

“It was really exciting, exploring the area and finding new results,” he said. “It is a beautiful area.”

Organic Chemistry Professor Roy Okuda has helped to organize the Student Research Day each year since its inception. He said it originally started because he realized many students were attending off-site meetings to present their posters but the work wasn’t being shared on campus. Its location in the breezeway of Duncan Hall allows lower division students to mingle with upper division and graduate students between classes.

“It gets so busy and so noisy with everyone talking,” Okuda said. “We learn a lot. Sometimes we don’t realize everything that is going on in the college.”

The College of Science event is one of many on campus that highlights the benefits to both students and faculty members of working together on research, scholarship and creative activity, a high-impact practice that is highlighted inSJSU’s Four Pillars of Student Success student engagement pillar.

From Tuscan Mountains to Moss Landing Marine Lab

Dr. Ivano Aiello’s interest in marine sedimentology started for him not on the shores of his native Italy, but in the mountains and hills of Tuscany. As an undergraduate student at the University of Florence, he learned that the soil in the mountains and hills was once part of the ocean floor.

Aiello, a professor of geological oceanography with the College of Science Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, will share his research on microfossil-rich marine sediments and the information it provides about past climate conditions as part of the Spring 2016 University Scholars Series on March 23, from noon to 1 p.m., in MLK 225/229.

“I want to share that same fascination I had and still have about the fact that many of the mountain chains that surround us are ancient, uplifted seafloors often made up of tiny fossils of critters, mainly marine plankton, that existed in now extinct oceans,” he said, noting that the occurrence of plankton can help in understanding past and future climate.

Aiello completed a master’s in geology, then enrolled in a doctorate program at the University of Bologna, when the opportunity arose for him to travel to California to work with a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Aiello decided to stay in California to complete his doctorate at UCSC and to conduct post doctorate research. He was invited to serve as a shipboard marine sedimentologist with an expedition of the International Ocean Discovery Program in 2011.

“This experience was yet another turning point in my career that extended my research to the field of oceanography, prompted me to obtain grants and write papers that eventually allowed me to obtain a position as a faculty (member) at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories at SJSU,” he said.

Aiello received the SJSU Early Career Investigator Award in 2011 and said he has applied for external funding to purchase much of the equipment his students use in his classes. He has received grants from the National Science Foundation, the American Chemical Society, the CSU’s Council on Ocean Affairs Science and Technology, and on-campus RSCA funds.

He will be continuing his research as a shipboard sedimentologist on the Western Pacific Warm Pool International Ocean Discovery Program Expedition 363 next fall on a journey that will take scientists from Singapore to Guam. He is researching the possibility of teaching some courses remotely using telepresence.

“The purpose is to reconstruct the evolution of the Western Pacific Warm Pool since the Miocene (era) and the implications for our understanding for the evolution of El Nino, terrestrial and marine climate, and monsoons in the Pacific are obvious,” he said. “The results and discoveries that will be produced by this expedition can be very important for the climate community and society.”

The University Scholars Series is co-sponsored by the Office of the Provost, the University Library and the Spartan Bookstore.

Read more about the University Scholars Series online.

Grants: Green Ninja Project receives $1.1 million from NSF

A grant will fund the Green Ninja Film Academy.

A grant will fund the Green Ninja Film Academy.

An interdisciplinary research team from San Jose State has been awarded $1.1 million from the National Science Foundation to design and implement the “Green Ninja Film Academy (GENIE),” an intervention that leverages well-established research on motivation to encourage student interest and engagement in the STEM-related field of climate change.

The project is aimed at scientifically-underserved middle school students who will be guided through a structured storytelling and filmmaking experience that builds competencies in science, engineering design, media technology and communications. During the three-year project, 60 teachers and at least 2,000 students will directly participate in the GENIE project, with additional participation from parents, friends, and teachers who attend the Green Ninja Film Festival. GENIE is also designed around helping teachers prepare to implement the Common Core and Next Generation Science standards using climate change as a context.

The project builds on the established Green Ninja Project, an SJSU initiative that develops media to inspire student interest in science and the environment. The principal investigators of the NSF grant are SJSU professors Eugene Cordero (Meteorology and Climate Science), David Chai (Animation/Illustration), Ellen Metzger (Geology and Science Ed), Grinell Smith (Elementary Education) and Elizabeth Walsh (Meteorology and Climate Science and Science Education).  More information about the project can be found at