Science and math majors win prize money for research presentations at undergraduate conference

Written by: 
Emmalee Smith

BYUH science and math students showcased research projects from discovering new species of coral, the stigma of marriage counseling in Polynesian culture, and the probability of different dice rolls based on their shape at the 2018 Undergraduate Research Conference.


Timeri Lee Chip Sao, a math freshman from Tahiti, said, “The projects are cool because you can take something that not everyone is interested in like math, which has so many cool things.” She said the projects were interesting because they had real life comparisons.


Kenneth Lee and Sione Fuluvaka, both mathematics seniors from Hong Kong and Laie, respectively, won in their category for their project that shows the probability of different dice rolls based on their shape. Fuluvaka said, “We wanted to create a theory on whether dice is fair or unfair.” Lee and Fuluvaka explained they made a dice-rolling machine called Don that takes away the bias or differences that occur when humans roll the di over and over.


Don’s process takes 14 seconds every cycle of rolling the dice. A phone is programmed to take a picture of the dice once it has been rolled, then the picture is programed to go through a gray scale, to a binary image, a black and white picture, then to an image analysis to figure out the location and which side the dice landed on. A graph is then made that charts the amount of times it got a base side to the thickness of the dice. The data shows a slope that explains the less thick the di, the higher probability of rolling a base.


Nicole Lee Chip Sao, a senior psychology major from Big Island, won the best project in the psychology program. Her research highlighted the stigma Polynesian couples have about going to marriage counseling.


She said she discovered there hasn’t been much research done on the Polynesians and the Pacific. Her research included three Polynesian couples who were born and raised in Polynesia for at least 10 years and were married at least six months.


Her research explained some of the reasons behind the lack of marriage counseling and also showed the lack of research done on Polynesians, as well as culturally relevant sources which she said she hopes will change. She said she hoped her research will help people understand the obstacles and fears Polynesians go through as well as benefit the couples in Hawaii and other places in Polynesia.


Ashlin Cooper from Nevada and Allison Taylor from Arizona, both senior biology majors, won the best project in the biology program with their project on endemic hard coral species on Oahu.


Cooper and Taylor explained the hard corals are very important because of their reef building structures. The soft corals don’t have external skeleton and have a soft structure. They’re often overlooked because of their size and lack of reef building structure.


Their experiment was on sarcothelia edmondsoni, a soft coral endemic to Hawaii. They found that the longer corals stay in an aquarium, the color changes as well as the size. They didn’t get the DNA back yet, but the difference in appearance was able to be categorized into three different species based on their different defining characteristics.


Michael Lopez, a senior biochemistry major from Utah, won the best project in his program as well as the best oral presentation session runner up through his work on Piper betel. Piper betel, also known as betel vine or betel leaf, is a vine related to kava that is located and used in Asia.


Lopez explained the people use it for cultural and traditional purpose to treat arthritis and dental problems. It is also used in modern research for its many medicinal properties including anti-inflammatory, anti-cavity, anticancer, and for gastrointestinal health.


His project was to figure out if chewing the leaf would help in dental health. He did it by testing it on different oral bacteria by Minimum Inhibitory Concentration/Minimum Bactericidal Concentration. MIC means the minimum concentration of piper betel that would inhibit or prevent the bacteria from appearing. But if put in a plate after the test, the bacteria would start to grow again. The MBC measures what concentration of the leaf would completely kill the bacteria. He tested the leaf using a dye that gets reduced by the bacteria and changes its color so one can see how much bacteria it has in it.


It does get rid of certain bacteria and could be used for dental health in the future, Lopez discovered. A lady in the audience agreed with him and shared how her parents chewed it and it helped their teeth and gave them good breath, but it seemed to have destroyed their gums. Although, “It gives you a buzz,” she added.


Jadon Neuendorf, a senior exercise science major from California, won the best project in his program for his research on the effect of reducing sugars on low density lipoproteins in young adults.


His research showed that sugar intake is associated with low density lipoprotein levels and high density lipoprotein levels, which are responsible for cholesterol levels. The HDL intake of cholesterol is necessary, but for LDL that’s not the case. The higher the LDL level, the higher the cholesterol level and the higher the chance of cardiovascular disease, which is a leading cause of death in the United States.


He did this by testing 49 people, 26 of which were supposed to eliminate high sugary foods for three weeks and compare their lipid level afterwards to their original lipid level and control the group’s lipid level, who didn’t change their diet for three weeks. Although he did not find a difference in high density lipoprotein levels, he found a difference in very low density lipoprotein that makes up LDL. This shows that reducing sugar can lower your lipids and cholesterol level by some amount.


Sable Neuendorf, a senior exercise science major from Colorado, won the best overall poster with her project on the effects on triglyceride levels when reducing sugar intake.


Neuendorf’s experiment showed that reducing the amount of sugar will reduce the amount of triglyceride, which in turn should lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. Out of the 26 students who didn’t eat too much sugary food had lower triglyceride levels than the 23 students who ate the normal amount of sugar as well as their original level before the experiment.


As for the best overall oral presentation, Katie Niedereer, a senior from Pennsylvania, Natalie Prestwich, a freshman from Colorado, and Zoie Conder, a freshman from Georgia, all won it for their analysis of the stomach content of stocky hawkfish.


They spearfished 157 hawkfish from the North Shore and 12 from the Big Island. They then dissected the fish’s stomach contents and sorted through the various food in its stomach. From the data they found, the stocky hawkfish’s diet consists of mostly crab, but as it gets older the more fish they eat.

Date Published: 
Saturday, April 14, 2018
Last Edited: 
Saturday, April 14, 2018