WSU Emeritus Society Announces Five Undergraduate Research Awards, Two Grants

PULLMAN, Wash.—The Washington State University Emeritus Society of retired faculty members has selected seven students to receive awards and grants to support their undergraduate research efforts, group spokesman Tom Brigham said.

“As retired faculty from disciplines across the university, we feel it’s important to do what we can to encourage students’ research, scholarship, and creative activities,” said Brigham. “This allows us to contribute to the continued advancement of WSU, our community, and the state.

“We are very honored to present awards to undergraduate researchers in five categories, and our new arts and humanities grant to our first two awardees.”

Grant recipients

The recipients of the inaugural Emeritus Society Undergraduate Research Grants in Arts and Humanities each receive $1,000 grants to support mentored undergraduate student research and creative exploration in the arts and humanities at any stage of project development, up to and including a final presentation. The goal of these grants is to encourage students engaged in and studying the fine and performing arts; in exploring modern and ancient languages, literatures, cultures, philosophy, and history; and in examining human culture and expression from defined perspectives in the wide range of related interdisciplinary programs at WSU.

Music performance major Anya Guadamuz’s research project is titled, “Music of the Spheres: Using Astrological Symbolism to Explain Dualities within Music” which will become the topic of her Honors College thesis. According to reviewers, she applies “ancient Hellenistic astrological techniques to modern understanding of western music” and, using quantitative observations and qualitative interpretation, seeks to show how “the philosophy of musica universalis or ‘music of the spheres’” offers tools to understand how music functions and affects humanity. Reviewers said her advisor, Sophia Tegart, noted Guadamuz’s skill in analyzing music and placing it within a social context in history. She also excels at research that draws relationships between music and people, and whose inquiry is effectively focused by the concept of dualities.

Microbiology major Emma Ledbetter researches “The Rhetoric of Communication of Scientific Information about COVID-19” with advisor Melissa Nicolas. It is also the topic of her Honors thesis. The project allows Ledbetter to tap into her journalism experience as science writer and editor-in-chief for the Daily Evergreen, on her training in science, and on her studies in English of “the language we use to construct epidemics.” Ledbetter seeks to understand how such rhetoric contributes to “alienation of people in the U.S.” and can be refined in the discourse used future pandemics. Reviewers said Nicolas praises Ledbetter’s skill as a researcher, stresses her highly sophisticated analytical ability and grasp of the fundamental rhetorical principles informing her inquiry, and emphasizes that the theme, texts, methods, and artifacts of analysis in the interdisciplinary project are “completely of her design.”

Undergraduate research awards

The Emeritus Society Excellence in Undergraduate Research Award is presented in categories spanning many disciplines to encourage students from all majors to strive for scholarly excellence. The 2021 recipients of this $500 award are listed below by award category. Read details about their research presented at the spring Showcase for Undergraduate Research and Creativities by entering their names in the search field.

Physical Sciences and Mathematics

Physics and astronomy major Chelsea Weaver researched with mentor Brian Saam the topic of “Fluxgate Magnetometer Integration in Spin Exchange Optical Pumping Experimental Setup and Electron Paramagnetic Resonance Frequency Shift Measurement.”  Weaver’s project involved developing and implementing new sensors and magnets to achieve the required stability of magnetic fields in the region where the alkali atoms are being manipulated.  The carefully prepared alkali atoms can be used to polarize the nuclei of noble gases which are useful in imaging biological systems involving gases, such as lungs.  Improving the understanding of the underlying physics in this type of imaging is extremely important to make progress in imaging technique uses. Reviewers said that Weaver is applauded for her ability to quickly learn a wide variety of experimental techniques, assembling new circuitry, and independently analyzing data.


WSU Vancouver biology major Randi Richards researches with mentor Stephanie Porter the topic of “The Evolution of Heavy Metal Tolerance Leads to UV Tolerance in Plant Microbial Symbionts.” Her project involved the study of soil Rhizobium bacteria, plant symbionts. Despite the importance of rhizobia for plant health, little is known about how they adapt to environmental variation in the soil. She tested Rhizobium strain tolerances to UV light under different soil characteristics. She examined 179 strains of Mesorhizobium from Oregon and California and found that while soil chemistry is not a strong predictor of UV tolerance, there is support for the idea that adaptation to harsh soil chemistry leads to greater UV tolerance in rhizobia, possibly to protect strains from higher UV irradiation in more extreme soil types. A better understanding of the interaction between Rhizobium-soil-UV light will lead to strategies to improve plant ecology. Reviewers said that Richards is credited with learning laboratory techniques and working independently on her project, and for her ability to confront challenges, working well with others in the laboratory, and grasping the “big picture.”

Engineering and Applied Sciences

Chemical engineering and materials science and engineering major and WSU Honors College student John Bussey, with mentor John McCloy, explores the topic of “Characterization of Mt. St. Helens Ash for Use as a Lunar Regolith Simulant.” An important issue in planning exploration of the Moon is the effect of the lunar regolith (dust), which is destructive and hazardous to humans and equipment. A key need in mitigating this hazard is finding quality analogs (simulants) in high quantities that can be used for testing lunar equipment. Bussey found that the ash that landed in Pullman and similar locations following the volcanic eruption in 1980 is a relatively high-quality, medium-fidelity simulant that is potentially promising for testing of lunar-bound products—particularly those that are mechanical.

Arts, Humanities, and Creative Activities

Music composition and music education major Jack Spencer Smith researched with mentor Gregory Yasinitsky and composed “Hero, Op. 3: A French Overture for Wind Ensemble” to inspire upcoming musicians to learn about forms of the past, to be able to understand why musicians must know about these historical forms, and to recognize that they as musicians are important in their ensemble and in the world of music.  The overture in the Baroque style of the early eighteenth century was scored for a modern wind ensemble. It demonstrated integration of historic harmonic and melodic characteristics and a command of counterpoint. The project was judged to be independent in development and creative in approach, impressively grounded in historical research, and scholarly in its presentation.

Social, Economic, and Behavioral Sciences

Neuroscience and psychology major and WSU Honors College student Olivia Willis researched with mentor Cheryl Reed the project “Inspiring Transportation Career with K-12 Curriculum Activities.” Willis investigated how to best introduce middle- and high-school students to transportation engineering so they will gain a positive view of the field as a possible career. With a sample of 116 students, the outreach activity consisted of an online survey, a pre-activity test, links to videos, an online transportation game, a post-activity test to gauge learning, and an optional short essay about the activity. To obtain a diverse sample for the experiment, students were recruited from local middle and high schools and through TRIO Upward Bound math and science programs nationwide. Early results indicate students’ knowledge of transportation engineering improved significantly between the pre- and post-activity tests with a p-value of 8.59 × 10–6.

Media contact: Tom Brigham, WSU Emeritus Society,