Fall 2013 Dissertation Fellowship Award Recipients

Texas A&M University’s Office of Graduate and Professional Studies recently awarded 10 dissertation fellowships as part of their Dissertation Fellowship Program. Developed in fall 2011 by the Associate Provost for Graduate and Professional Studies, Dr. Karen Butler-Purry, the Dissertation Fellowship supports doctoral students in the late stages of degree program completion; namely final research topic analysis and dissertation writing. Eligible applicants included U.S. citizens, permanent residents and international doctoral students.

The following students (listed with their associated colleges) received the Fall 2013 Dissertation Fellowships:

John Blong, College of Liberal Arts

John Blong’s dissertation research takes place in the central Alaska Range; it examines the human use of mountainous upland landscapes from earliest colonization to less than 1,000 years ago. The primary focus of his research is explaining the timing, environmental context and nature of human colonization of the uplands, and exploring how the environment and use of upland landscapes changed throughout prehistory. Understanding how humans colonized upland landscapes of the central Alaska Range can add to our interpretations of the human settlement of Beringia, and can provide insight into long-term environmental change and its effect on human technology.  In addition, John’s study can help develop our understanding of the changing hunter-gatherer adaptions across subarctic and artic landscapes. This could ultimately add to our understanding of human response to climate change, especially now that small-scale, subsistence-based societies in northern environments must adapt to modern global warming.

Souhib Harb, College of Engineering

Souhib Harb’s research focuses on power electronics, a renewable energy resource that plays a key role in the generation and efficient consumption of energy. The recent trend in power electronics involves integrating the electronics into the source, photovoltaic (PV) or the load (light). For PV and outdoor lighting applications, this imposes a harsh, wide-range operating environment on the power electronics. Thus, the reliability of power electronics converters becomes a very crucial issue. Power electronics used in such environments, require reliability indices such as lifetime which match with the source or load. This eliminates the reoccurring cost of power electronics replacement. Relatively high efficiencies have been reported in literature, and standards have been developed to measure it. However, the reliability aspect has not received the same level of scrutiny. Souhib’s research investigated two main aspects: (1) a new methodology to evaluate the integrated power electronics that has more involved tasks and (2) new topology and control schemes for the single-phase DC/AC and AC/DC converters, which will improve the reliability. Her dissertation research has shown that film capacitor can be used and can lead to the improvement of overall reliability and lifetime.

Christopher Labosier, College of Geosciences

Christopher Labosier’s research explores how temporal and spatial climatic variability can influence wildfire activity in the southeastern United States. Previous research suggests that ecosystems with intermediate moisture conditions are most prone to burning. While this generalization provides useful information, a more thorough and in-depth examination is required, particularly in the Southeast United States. Christopher’s research hypothesizes that the Southeast is more prone to wildfires than climates on either end of the climatic moisture spectrum due to its intermediate climate in terms of moisture. Furthermore, Christopher hypothesizes that precipitation variability may play a role in the wildfires. His research quantifies the relationship between contemporary wildfire occurrences and precipitation variability, mean precipitation and precipitation minus potential evapotranspiration (P-PET). Christopher’s research also seeks to identify air mass and synoptic characteristics and patterns that influence conditions conducive to burning or to extreme fire danger. Identifying such features, along with relationships with moisture gradients will help increase knowledge of Southeast wildfire climatology.

Yue Liu, College of Engineering

Christopher Labosier’s research explores how temporal and spatial climatic variability can influence wildfire activity in the southeastern United States. Previous research suggests that ecosystems with intermediate moisture conditions are most prone to burning. While this generalization provides useful information, a more thorough and in-depth examination is required, particularly in the Southeast United States. Christopher’s research hypothesizes that the Southeast is more prone to wildfires than climates on either end of the climatic moisture spectrum due to its intermediate climate in terms of moisture. Furthermore, Christopher hypothesizes that precipitation variability may play a role in the wildfires. His research quantifies the relationship between contemporary wildfire occurrences and precipitation variability, mean precipitation and precipitation minus potential evapotranspiration (P-PET). Christopher’s research also seeks to identify air mass and synoptic characteristics and patterns that influence conditions conducive to burning or to extreme fire danger. Identifying such features, along with relationships with moisture gradients will help increase knowledge of Southeast wildfire climatology.

Hyosang Moon, College of Engineering

Hyosang Moon’s dissertation research seeks to define the governing rules of human arm reaching using a computational model that contains and approximates key strategies on (1) hand path formation, (2) movement speed control, and (3) arm postural configuration. A previous study found that stroke patients seek a way to recover original control strategies through therapeutic reaching tasks against their physical impairments. From this finding, Hyosang believes that the joint constraint condition in experiments could allow researchers to tap into fundamental principles of reaching by comparing the results with a healthy arm condition. Hyosang plans to utilize a novel control structure of prosthetic arms to test his hypothesis. The structure consists of two primary modules – a human motion intention detector and a computational model. The human motion intention detector is made up of an eye-tracker and mobile motion capture system; it will capture the user’s motion intent. The computational model estimates the residual limb motion profile for the given task condition and allows the prosthetic controller to generate the proper motions for the robotic DOFs.

Biren Jagdish Parmar, College of Engineering

Biren Jagdish Parmar’s research pertains to using ultrasound imaging to obtain information regarding bone health. Some past clinical studies have shown that ultrasound can provide better results in fracture diagnosis. Despite this, lots of resistance exists in the diagnostic imaging community to adopt these techniques for bone imaging. The significant amount of training required to understand the physics of interactions between ultrasounds and bones may explain this resistance.  Biren’s work aims to remove some of the possible inter-operator variability by providing usable information that is less prone to errors in diagnosis. In his dissertation work, Biren hypothesized that it is possible to use ultrasound elastography to obtain information about intact and fractured bones, the severity of fractures, and to monitor bone healing. His dissertation research showed that ultrasound elastography can generate high quality images of bone abnormalities and the soft tissue surrounding a bone fracture or defect. Biren found the qualities of the ultrasound images quite comparable to those obtained using radiographic and optical methods. In the future, images obtained from ultrasound elastography could provide an insight into the health of musculoskeletal tissues and provide a better diagnosis/prognosis of bone abnormalities in real-time without the use of harmful radiation.

Madahy Romero, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences

Madahy Romero’s research focuses on mesotrione, a chemical used as a pre/post-emergence herbicide on corn. Mesotrione was developed with the aim of replacing atrazine, the most highly used herbicide in the United States. Mesotrione represents a relatively new herbicide and limited information exists concerning the best methods to extract it from the soil. An extraction step is necessary for several reasons: (1) to monitor and study older and new chemicals, (2) to investigate ways to improve their performance, and (3) to predict possible complications associated with the chemical. The main objectives of Madahy’s research are (1) to develop a method to extract mesotrione from Texas soil using ASE, (2) to use the ASE extraction method developed to evaluate the degradation of mesotrione (alone and when it is added in the presence of atrazine) and the impact this has on the diversity of the soil microbial community, and (3) to determine if the presence of atrazine has an impact on soil microbial activity (respiration). Madahy plans to use three approaches to meet these objectives.  The first approach will investigate various settings on the ASE instrument to determine the optimal conditions to extract mesotrione from the soil. The second approach will involve using alkaline traps and a titrating technique to determine changes in carbon dioxide evolved by the microbial community in the presence of atrazine. The third approach will involve using a soil microcosm established in wide-mouth mason jars.

Kelby Rose, College of Liberal Arts

Kelby Rose’s dissertation combines traditional archaeological methods and advanced digital 3D modeling technology to uncover how the Dutch designed and built Vasa, a 17th-century warship, without using written architectural plans. The results of her study will answer fundamental questions about the highly influential early-modern Dutch shipbuilding traditions and will uncover pivotal information regarding a transitional moment in the advancement of naval architecture and naval science. The analytical digital modeling techniques used in Kelby’s dissertation mark a significant methodological step forward in the field of nautical archaeology. Recovery of Vasa’s design methods will illuminate how Dutch shipwrights contributed to advancements in the fields of physics and mathematics during the Scientific Revolution. As such, the results of Kelby’s research has implications for scholars researching the history of science and technology, as well as scholars hoping to expand their knowledge of European colonial, social, economic and military history.

Sat Pal Sharma, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences

Sat Pal Sharma’s research involves using advance techniques, research in plant breeding and stress physiology to increase crop yield. Specifically, his research focuses on genotype by environment interactions (GEI) and drought tolerance in melon crop yields. Melons represent an excellent source of β-carotene and vitamin C and can help in ameliorating the vitamin A deficiency prevalent in more than 250 million children around the world. In the United States, Texas ranks among the major cantaloupe producing states. However, its average production of melons comes in very low compared to the national average. Historical production evidences and climatic suitability indicates the great potential for reviving melon productivity in Texas. In addition to his research focused on GEIs, Sat Pal has screened melon genotypes under deficit irrigation for root traits adapted to moisture stress, psychological and morphological changes associated with drought, fruit quality trait, and fruit yield.

Vanid Vahat Zad, College of Architecture

Vanid Vahat Zad’s research explores the genesis of modernity in Iran by examining the descriptions of Europe’s building environment in Persian travel accounts. While recent scholarship on modernity in non-Western societies challenges the previous Euro-centric assumptions (which depicted the global circulation of architecture as a one way transit between the center and the periphery), many Iranian critics of modernity still engage in equating modernization with Westernization. Assuming that modernity is a product of occidental rationality, they conclude that attempts to rewrite modernity in a different context are “arbitrary and unsystematic copying from Europe.” Departing from such epistemologies, Vanid argues that the route that modern architecture takes from Europe to Iran is a mental journey between the self and a pre-imagined other. Vanid plans to use a comparative study between the descriptions of space in each travelogue and the actual space the travels experienced to test his hypothesis. He hopes that his research will contribute to a larger discourse about the global history of modern thought through its critical reexamination of the Eurocentric theories and analysis of the mental route of architecture from Europe to Iran.