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Bruning Award Winners

  • 2014 Bruning Award Winner

    The Genetic Modification Analysis of Popcorn (Zea mays) Around the World

    Jessica DeBelly, Kashmere Pearson
    Mentor: Kerry Cheesman

    Bruning Award WinnersAdvances have been made in agricultural biotechnology, and the prevalence of genetically modified food has increased substantially in the 21st century. A variety of crops are being modified to increase nutritional value and decrease damage from pests. Popcorn (Zea mays variant) is one of the top snack foods in the US, and one of the crops that has been targeted for genetic modification. The current experiment was designed to see whether or not common brands of popcorn in the US have been genetically modified (no previously published studies were found). Using modifications of standard procedures, published by Bio-Rad Inc., DNA was extracted from regular, organic, whole kernel, and pre-popped popcorn. The samples were crushed into a fine powder for DNA extraction before being amplified through PCR, run on 3% agarose gels (along with positive and negative GM controls). Results were visualized with ultraviolet light following ethidium bromide staining. Preliminary results (N = 60) show that nearly 75% of popcorn samples have been genetically modified. We compared genetic modification of popcorn companies within the United States to popcorn companies around the world. The results of this experiment allow consumers to know which brands and products of popcorn are genetically modified.

     


     

    2013 Bruning Award Winner

    Modeling the Spread of White-Nose Syndrome in Hibernating North American Bat Populations

    Sarah Bogen, Isaac Ressler
    Mentor: Paula Federico 

    North American bat populations are currently being threatened by an emergent infectious fungal disease known as white-nose syndrome (WNS) which causes mass mortality in hibernating colonies. Since it was first detected in New York in 2006, WNS has spread rapidly in the United States and Canada and killed over 5.5 million bats. Control of WNS is of major concern to both the scientific and caving communities, and the disease and mechanisms of transmission are still not well understood. We developed an individual-based model at the county level to gain insight into the spatial and temporal spread of the disease. We assume the probability of infection for each county in a given year is a function of the density of caves, the estimated cave temperature, and relative proximity to other infected counties. Model parameters were estimated by means of maximum likelihood. We compared model predictions with known infection data from 2006 until 2011. The model imitates the overall spatial and temporal patterns of the data and may be improved by decreasing the number of “false alarm” predictions in future extensions of the study. 


     

    2012 Bruning Award Winners

    Optimal Pricing Decisions for a Start-Up Company in the Car Rental Industry 

    Alexander Maze
    Mentor: M. Ali Ülkü   

    The car rental industry is worth more than $20 billion, accounting for 1.4% of the total GDP in the U.S., where car is the main mode of transportation. It is thus crucial to have a deeper look into the pricing decisions of the car-rental agencies (CRAs). This research aims to shed light on and to provide an analytical framework that can aid management of CRAs in making optimal pricing decisions while achieving the service expectations of the customers. Under the case of private information, and given the pricing scheme of the competitor, this research investigates and compares various multi-part pricing schemes, such as “fixed plus per-mileage,” to determine which one yields the maximum target profit for the sustainability of a start-up CRA. Regarding the value of transparency in service pricing to the customer, this research also studies the impact of the variability of probability distributions of mileage on the optimal prices and the resulting revenues. The determination of and the conditions under which a pricing scheme is superior to the others are attained by the theory of optimization and various operations management techniques.

    The Hopelessness of Traditional Eschatological Hope: A Broken World’s Cry for Active Hope in Suffering

    Sarah McIlvried 
    Mentors: Monica Mueller, Joy Schroeder 

    Eschatology, the study of the end of things, is often pointed to as the source of hope within the Christian faith. Such theology, which focuses on a new future without suffering, has sometimes been interpreted to ask humans to patiently endure their suffering and wait for it to pass, without providing anything substantial to help them cope. In the face of injustice this is often insufficient. Liberation Theology presents an alternative, more active, form of hope which exists in the midst of suffering and leads to change. I examine the movement of the Arpilleristas in Chile during the dictatorship of Pinochet to better understand how justice movements embrace a more active hope. By applying the beliefs of liberation theologians such as Dorothee Soelle, Jurgen Moltmann, and Vaclav Havel, I find that in a time when success seemed impossible and suffering dominated their lives, these women were able to cultivate hope through solidarity, a redefining of meaning in their lives, and action. For the sake of justice movements everywhere, such an understanding of hope is essential and must be adopted if we are to engage with this world rather than accept its injustices and suffering.