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Research Days Highlight Student Innovation
April 02, 2012
17th annual event expanded to include diverse subject areas.
By Anna Miller and Laura Donnelly-Smith
GW senior Callie Freitag developed a mathematical model that investigated how cholera spread during the 2010 Haitian cholera epidemic, including the correlation between rainfall and instances of disease. Chemistry Ph.D. student Hilary Melroy worked in conjunction with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center on a project to validate measurements of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. And Joshua Tallis, a junior in the Elliott School of International Affairs, conducted in-country research in Oman to investigate why certain Middle Eastern monarchies didn’t collapse during the Arab Spring period.
These students were among the more than 400 GW undergraduates, graduate students and medical students who presented their research in poster format during GW’s 2012 Research Days. The two-day event began on March 28, with a day focusing on health and medical research, followed by a day focused on natural sciences, humanities, social sciences and other fields.
GW Vice President for Research Leo Chalupa said he was extremely impressed by the quality of the student projects he saw.
“There was this mixture of young researchers across the entire spectrum,” Dr. Chalupa said. “I really couldn't tell who was an undergraduate, who was a graduate student, who was a post-doc…. It was very, very impressive. There was a wide diversity of topics, just on almost anything you can imagine.”
The health and medicine-focused day, held Wednesday, was a collaborative effort between GW’s Office of the Vice President for Research, the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, the School of Nursing, the School of Public Health and Health Services and Children’s National Medical Center.
“Health and Medicine Research Day is always an exciting day,” said Jeff Akman, interim vice president for health affairs and dean of SMHS, who delivered welcoming remarks. “We are composed of scientists, clinicians and practitioners who are not afraid to ask the hard questions that lead to health and medicine discoveries. We are educators training the next generation of innovators and we are students who are hungry for unveiling the undiscovered.”
The first keynote address was delivered by Lisa Guay-Woodford, who was just two days into her appointment as director of the Clinical and Translational Science Institute at Children’s National Medical Center, a partnership with GW that provides research infrastructure, services and training in support of clinical and translational—or “bench to bedside”—research.
“Translational research knits us together as a research community,” Dr. Guay-Woodford said. “Because translational research is a team sport, and it requires people with special skills that really are encompassed across the spectrum of our enterprise.”
During her address, Dr. Guay-Woodford, a pediatric nephrologist, spoke about recent scientific advances in polycystic kidney disease and used the condition as an example of successful translational research. “We are getting close to targeted therapies that will attenuate the progression of the disease,” she said.
Translational research is also an important concept among public health professionals. Lynn Goldman, dean of SPHHS, applauded the growth of her school’s research portfolio over the past few years.
“Research is very important in and of itself,” she said. “But the work we do as scientists also makes us better educators and better practitioners of public health in the community.”
Paula Lantz, chair of the Department of Health Policy at SPHHS, delivered the second keynote address, “Improving Population Health Through Community-Based and Policy Translational Research.”
Population health research aims to extend the number of years people live in good health while shortening those years filled with disability, a concept termed “compression of morbidity,” Dr. Lantz said. Another goal is to reduce health and health care inequities.
“Research is a vehicle or mechanism that helps address problems within communities," she said. “We have to push beyond the research.”
The topic of making scientific research accessible to the community was also an important part of Thursday afternoon’s keynote speech, “Science in the 2012 Climate,” delivered by American Association for the Advancement of Science CEO and Science publisher Alan Leshner.
“Science and technology are ever more present in every issue of modern life,” he said. “You can’t think of an issue of modern life that doesn’t have a science and technology component, either as a cause or as a cure.” As a result, for citizens to prosper in modern society, they need a fundamental understanding and comfort with science and technology, he said.
“They don’t need to know the excruciating details….what they need to understand is the nature of science.”
The task of making sure the public is educated about science falls on scientists’ shoulders, Dr. Leshner said. The American public still respects scientists above all other professions except firefighters, but too many scientists think it’s not worth their while to explain their research, in simplified form, so that it can be broadly understood.
“Stop trying to persuade people and start trying to engage them,” he advised the audience members. “Move from communicating to the public to communicating with the public. It involves listening, something scientists are famously bad at. Listen to the public about their concerns and their priorities. You need a different public engagement approach if you want to solve problems and reach common ground…. The science-society relationship needs constant attention.”
Dr. Chalupa said the Research Days event was a testimony to GW’s success in increasing the prominence of its research mission.
“It kind of showed a quantum jump in our research presence, which I was very pleased with,” he said.
Prizes were awarded for first, second and third place posters in various categories, and other specific research awards were also given. A complete list of award winners for both days can be foundonline.