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Why Cal State Fullerton students are studying topics ranging from makeup to zombies

Pink anemone Anthopleura elegantissima defends its territory in intertidal zones from anemones it isn’t related to. (Thinkstock photo)Anthopleura elegantissima, also known as the aggregating anemone or clonal anemone, is the subject of a Cal State Fullerton study. (Thinkstock photo)Fennel might produce biochemicals that persist in the soil, discouraging the growth of competing species, shows a study by Cal State Fullerton scientists. (Photo by Kyle Gunther)Kyle Gunther looks at fennel, an invasive plant in California’s grasslands, not far from the Cal State Fullerton campus. (Photo by Melissa Hesson)Fennel growing in Rancho Santa Margarita. The plant can cover thousands of acres, pushing out native flora. (Photo by Kyle Gunther)Cal State Fullerton math students plugged various values into this equation to come up with the most cost-effective route a touring band could make through 32 cities.Erick Aguinaldo studies sexual objectification and gender socialization at Cal State Fullerton. (Photo courtesy of Erick Aguinaldo)Cal State Fullerton students used a zombie apocalypse to model the spread of a virus through a population. (Thinkstock photo)Show Caption of Expand
Erick Aguinaldo is used to being asked why he’s into makeup.
The Cal State Fullerton psychology student chuckles and explains why he researches how perceptions of attractiveness and competence vary depending on how much makeup women wear.
Raised by a single mother, with two younger sisters, Aguinaldo said he was hyper aware of how women are treated differently. He remembers guys checking out his mom when they’d be out together. As he got older, he realized he was engaging in similar behavior.
“There was always a little piece of me that was like, that’s wrong. You have little sisters at home.”
Now Aguinaldo studies sexual objectification and gender socialization, hoping to boost knowledge of how discriminatory and even violent attitudes develop so they can be nipped in the bud at an earlier age.
“If we can get there when they’re boys instead of men,” he said, it’s a lot easier to change that behavior.
Aguinaldo was one of more than 110 Cal State Fullerton students, mostly from the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, who displayed their research in a poster presentation March 22. The event at Titan Student Union was part of a week of science and math activities that included tours of labs and a symposium on stem cell research.
Common research themes included climate change, using math to solve everyday problems and competitive strategies of survival.
In some cases, the students had completed their research and, under guidance from a professor, were preparing a paper to submit to a scientific journal. In other cases, research was ongoing and they projected what they thought it would show.
Here are some of the research projects presented:
Makeup perceptions
Working with Jessie Peissig, professor of psychology, Aguinaldo is collecting photos of 30-35 faces with no makeup, light makeup and heavy makeup. He will then bring in subjects to rate the faces on attractiveness and perceived competence.
Based on existing studies in the field, he expects to find that faces with light makeup are rated significantly higher than the others. But he’s most interested in whether those findings vary between subjects who believe makeup is just a social construct and those who believe it boosts confidence.
If someone says they don’t like makeup but rates made-up faces higher, he said, it could be further evidence that makeup enhances already attractive features.
Concert tour
When you think of a band touring the country on a swing through 32 cities, who thinks about math?
Melissa Wong and Eduardo Martinez do.
The students, under Roberto Soto, assistant professor of mathematics, used math to come up with a route that would maximize resources and minimize costs for such a tour.
Based on a 2017 study for a 15-city tour by researchers at the University of Miami, the CSUF study simulates a band traveling to and performing in each of 32 cities once, and compares the cost of the tour when computed manually vs. through a mathematical equation called a “relaxed cost function.” Other factors — such as maximizing weekend dates, building in rest periods and accounting for venue availability — complicated things.
The best route configured manually covered 10,042 miles. The best one configured by the equation covered 5,522 miles. (The cost analysis didn’t account for trashed hotel rooms.)
Zombie apocalypse
Math also comes in handy when dealing with zombies, especially zombies carrying a viral disease such as rabies.
Also under the mentorship of Soto, math students Roberto Hernandez, Oscar Rocha, Nicole Nguyen and Anthony Andrade used differential equations to model the spread of a disease such as rabies, which causes neurological abnormalities closely resembling zombie behavior. They wanted to find out, if rabies were to mutate so it infected extremely rapidly, how long before the entire global population became infected.
The results aren’t pretty.
The students’ model predicts that less than 1 percent of the population in a densely populated area would remain uninfected after 30 days. In less densely populated areas, the numbers flip, with less than 1 percent infected.  In the most dire scenario, the population would have about 10 days to act promptly.
“Ultimately,” concluded the students, “we noticed that our best chances at individual survival during a zombie apocalypse would be living secluded from large cities where the probability of coming into contact with a zombie would be much higher.”
Good to know.
Enemy anemones
Life can also get pretty ugly in the intertidal zone, even without zombies.
Grad student Alexis Barrera’s poster documented “Clone Wars,” the battle among anemones in the intertidal zone. It was one of several projects examining how climate change affects the natural world.
Working with Jennifer L. Burnaford, associate professor of biological science, Barrera studied the aggregating sea anemone, Anthopleura elegantissima, which reproduces by cloning itself. Each “family” of cloned anemones keeps to itself on the rocks of intertidal zones, maintaining a no man’s land between itself and neighboring families. If an unrelated anemone encroaches on its territory, the defending anemone wields its tentacles like weapons, depositing burning chemicals on the aggressor.
“It’s actually an intense battle for these little guys that you wouldn’t think is happening in the intertidal zone every time you go out there,” Barrera said. “It’s like clone A against clone B all the time.”
Barrera wanted to see how the anemones would defend themselves as their water warmed up. She put one group in warm water and one in cool, then pushed unrelated pairs of anemones together in each.
She hypothesized that the warmer water would decrease aggressive behavior because the creatures would spend so much time healing themselves. But her preliminary results show the aggressive behavior actually increased; more anemones encroached and more anemones fought back.
The longer they’re engaging in such behavior, however, the less time they’re spending on such things as feeding,  Barrera said. That could be a problem.
Grasslands battle
Other skirmishes appear to be taking place in California’s grasslands.
Kyle Gunther and Tilly Duong investigated how fennel plants manage to so effectively displace native plants from their original habitats, often taking over thousands of acres. Such invasive species are one of the major threats to native flora such as California poppies.
It could be that the fennel just removes nutrients from the soil, Gunther explained. Or it might be leaving something behind.
The students hypothesized the second option — that fennel is allelopathic, producing a biochemical that negatively affects the growth and survival of other organisms. They devised an experiment measuring how three native plants grew in various soils, including one in which fennel had grown and been removed. Even when the soil in which the fennel had grown was amended with fertilizer, though, the native species didn’t grow well.
Gunther presented the paper last summer at a conference in Oregon, where he stayed at an Airbnb. In the backyard? A huge fennel plant.
Gunther and Duong, working with Joel Abraham, associate professor of biological science, also teamed up on a study to see whether elevated carbon dioxide — which scientists consider a cause of climate change — might increase the dominance of non-native California grasses at the expense of native grasses. Defying their hypothesis, the elevated levels did not appear to impact the competitive outcome for either native or non-native grass.
Mortality model
Gabriel Martinez uses partial differential equations to analyze data about migration and mortality. It’s a far cry from his job just a few years ago designing pages for Excelsior, a Spanish-language newspaper that like the Register is part of the Southern California News Group.
“It kind of took a turn and now I’m here,” he says of the career that took him from graphic designer to aspiring physics student to mathematician. After all, the placement exam he took when he decided to return to college put him in pre-algebra. “I had a lot of things to learn,” he said.
Martinez credits the university’s Graduate Readiness and Access in Mathematics program for helping him get where he is today.
His research with team member Freddy Nungaray, under research adviser Laura Smith, assistant professor of mathematics, attempted to estimate the mortality rate for the U.S. population for various age groups. The students took a mathematical equation commonly used to model population and incorporated the effects of migration.
They discovered that birth and death data alone are insufficient to depict the nation’s population. Immigration and emigration must be included as well. Without them, the students came up with negative values, which meant people were coming back to life, “so we knew something was wrong with the model,” Martinez said.
Either that or a zombie apocalypse.
Source: Oc Register

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