Research Roundup

Posted: October 24, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Dave Andrews

A number of Mason professors have recently initiated research on social, scientific and environmental issues. The following highlights some projects under way.

Enhancing Law Enforcement

Cynthia Lum, assistant professor of administration of justice, received the 2007 Du Bois Fellowship from the National Institute of Justice. Lum will analyze the impact of race on police discretion and decision making.

In her research titled “The Impact of Racial and Ethnic Composition on Police Decision Making Pathways in African, Asian, Hispanic and Immigrant Communities,” Lum will study more than 606,000 police decisions collected in the Seattle, Wash., area.

Each case will analyze four decision points where police and citizens interact:

  • The initial call for service to the dispatcher

  • The modified call after the initial police response

  • Documentation of a written report to that call

  • Any further arrest

The study will look at the impact of ethnic composition in small geographic places or blocks and examine communities that are often under-researched in criminology. Approximately 30,000 community blocks will be examined.

By devising a “place-based theory,” Lum hopes to help police officers better serve the communities in which they serve.

Tracing the Causes of Alzheimer’s

Dmitri Klimov, assistant professor in the Department of Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, was awarded a research grant from the National Institute of Aging at the National Institutes of Health. The three-year, $500,000 award is the first of its kind for bioinformatics.

Klimov will use the award to examine certain Alzheimer’s-causing molecules in the brain by using computer simulations. The project, “Pathways of Alzheimer’s Amyloid Assembly Studied by Computer Simulations,” will focus on abeta peptides, small molecules in brain tissues.

“As the life expectancy for older Americans grows, so does the urgency to find a cure for this disease,” Klimov says. “If we know more about the aggregation of these molecules, we can assist in the design of new drugs and present suggestions on how to modify current drugs to combat this disease.”

The grant includes almost $100,000 for purchasing high-end computing equipment.

Tracking Political Influence of Dispersed Peoples

Peter Mandaville, associate professor of public and international affairs and director of the Center for Global Studies, and Terrence Lyons, associate professor at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution and co-director of the Center, recently realized they had a common interest in global migration, particularly the rising importance of diaspora communities.

This past summer, the MacArthur Foundation agreed to their proposal of a two-year Global Migration and Transnational Politics project. Mandaville and Lyons will be the directors of the project which will investigate how political dynamics around the globe have been transformed by new patterns of human mobility.

They are currently assembling a group of professors and scholars from around the world who study dispersed ethnic populations and can contribute to the research.

Over the next two years the project will sponsor a series of research workshops, working papers and conferences. The end result will be a published book organized around shared questions and accomplished research.

An additional goal is to establish a working group within the Center for Global Studies at Mason to organize a space for faculty and graduate students to meet and exchange ideas on the topics of diaspora and global migration.

“We hope this project will help deepen our understanding of new forms of transnational politics and introduce a new research agenda to encourage further work in the area,” Mandaville says.

Petitioning for Whale and Dolphin Conservation

The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society recently released an extensive report highlighting the growing dangers to whales and dolphins in the seas surrounding the United Kingdom. Chris Parsons, assistant professor of environmental science and policy, is the senior author of the report “The Conservation of British Cetaceans.”

The report states that various human activities are having an adverse effect on cetaceans — whales, dolphins and porpoises — of the United Kingdom.

It is the first report of its kind that brings together all current threats facing the United Kingdom, and calls on the United Kingdom government to commit to the protection of whales and dolphins and focus on possible remedies.

Parsons says there are laws, treaties and conservation plans that could provide strong protection for whales and dolphins in the United Kingdom, but many factors prevent this from happening, such as a lack of funding, a lack of political or governmental will, vague terminology in legislation, logistical difficulties with enforcement and pressure from special interests.

“My hope is that certain members of Parliament choose to address the issue and force a change,” Parsons says. “Certainly, research indicates that pro-whale conservation action by a politician would be popular amongst the British electorate. At the least, it provides a blueprint or wish list for whale conservation groups and advocates in the UK.”

Parsons’ report will be published as a double issue of the International Journal of Wildlife Law and Policy sometime next year.

Improving Early Childhood Education

Robert Pasnak, professor of psychology, along with Julie Kidd, assistant professor and coordinator of the Early Childhood Education program in Mason’s Graduate School of Education, received a $685,000 grant from the Institute of Education Sciences, a division of the U.S. Department of Education.

Pasnak and Kidd will implement a program in six Head Start centers in Alexandria, Va., to improve preschoolers’ readiness for kindergarten. The two-year program will be administered in a game-playing format to three-year-olds. Pasnak previously designed a similar program for kindergarten students that proved effective in improving the children’s understanding of numbers, letters and words.

The preschoolers’ progress will be evaluated when they reach kindergarten to assess the effect of the program.

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