Hundreds of student researchers gathered Wednesday afternoon in the Michigan Union for the annual Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program Spring Research Symposium to showcase their work from over the course of the school year.

Students participated in a variety of research projects, which were overseen and assisted by graduate student and faculty mentors. Research topics ranged from the 2016 election to water collection systems, spanning the domains of psychology, sociology, engineering and biology, among others.

One project that examined the 2016 election was conducted by LSA freshman Ryan Montgomery. The study tested whether consuming more diverse media leads to increased voter knowledge and understanding of policy. It found that during the 2016 presidential race, diversity of media consumption did not indicate a broader knowledge of issues, contradicting Montgomery’s expectations. 

He said he believes such data is valuable because media consumption is so prevalent in society.

“I think this is very important because this is a norm that is fundamental to democracy – how taking in more diverse media leads to being a better citizen because you’re more knowledgeable,” Montgomery said. “I think that this election was kind of an externality because it was so polarized and so unique compared to past elections.”

He added he would like to conduct the same research on future elections to compare findings.

Several other studies looked at the influence of social media, given its increased prominence in today’s political campaigns. LSA freshman Udit Thawani examined which politicians effectively reached their audience on Twitter, based on the number of retweets.

Thawani found that Barack Obama, followed by Hillary Clinton and the Dalai Lama, received the largest number of average retweets, compared to the other politicians examined in the study. However, when adjusted for the amount of retweets per follower, the results changed.

“So from there, we did find that the President of Honduras was the most successful in getting his audience to retweet: he was the best at engaging his followers,” Thawani said. “What we would like to do after this is maybe … qualitatively understand why, or how, the President of Honduras is able to brand himself in this way so that he can be successful on Twitter and hopefully create a guideline or an archetype of how to successfully use Twitter for a politician.”

In response to low participation of African-American men in clinical research, LSA freshman Reem Khatib helped conduct a project that looked to increase involvement from this demographic.

“I found out about the barriers – there’s a lot of history of distrust and also there’s a physical barrier,” he said. “There’s a high number of cholesterol, diabetes, cardiac diseases and hypertension in elderly African American men and if you are diagnosed with those, you’re ineligible for research. I think that changing the guidelines of research would make a big impact on increasing their participation.”

Other projects were more engineering-based, including one that Engineering sophomore Will Laughner helped conduct. It examined the feasibility of rainwater harvesting in various United States cities.

“Really what we wanted to do was to determine how well rainwater harvesting could be used as a form of water conservation, so we wanted to see both how effective it could be and then how it varied in different regions across the U.S.,” Laughner said. “Really what we found was that areas with higher precipitation, such as Houston and Miami, tended to have much higher self-sufficiencies and drier areas, like Las Vegas and Phoenix, had a lot lower self-sufficiency.”

According to Laughner, self-sufficiency is based on the ratio between water consumption and water collection, and how effective rainwater harvesting can be in a given region.

“So basically looking forward, what we think this could do is allow us to kind of know which areas would be more effective to use rainwater harvesting, where we could maybe encourage it more and try and get more people to use it in those areas and maybe look towards other water conservation efforts in areas such as Las Vegas and Phoenix,” Laughner said.

Engineering freshman Jett Gonzales participated in a project that worked with TRW Automotive – a company that produces safety products – to find a hydrophobic material for airbags. Such material would allow for a non-stick airbag that can be deployed efficiently and in a timely manner.

The study tested the hydrophobicity of a material by putting a small drop of water on it and measuring the angle at which the water rested.

“A material with a water contact angle of greater than 90 degrees is considered hydrophobic. Greater than 120 degrees is even more hydrophobic,” Gonzales said. “We did a test with one coat and then a test with a double coat. The first coat gave us a water contact angle of 118 degrees so that’s pretty hydrophobic. Our second coat gave 130 degrees, so basically this confirms that this material is very hydrophobic. It’s what we’re looking for.”

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