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USF Oktoberfest features new research


USF’s annual Oktoberfest is quite different from the typical beer-centric festival.

Hors d’oeuvres and wine in hand, faculty, students and members of the public walked around the Marshall Student Center looking at about
100 participating research projects, featuring some of the on-going research projects taking place at USF.

Some projects focused on sustainability. Some focused on urban development. Some focused on social justice.

The seventh annual Oktoberfest, sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences, featured research from all the colleges across the university. 

Charles Connor, associate dean for research and scholarship of the College of Arts and Sciences, said the event gains more participation each year. He attributes this to an increase in “much more active research” conducted by faculty and students. 

“USF is growing,” Connor said. “Our research profile’s growing, and it’s reflected in this event. It’s an awesome thing.” 

This year, he said, was the biggest ever. 

Holding an electronic tablet in front of his poster of Fort Matanzas, Joseph Evans, a graduate research associate for USF’s Alliance for Integrated Spatial Technologies (AIST), explained his research to a small group that circled around him. 

“I’ve augmented my posters,” he said. “So instead of it being a flat, featureless piece of paper on a wall, through my mobile device or anyone’s mobile device, you can interact with our data and information.”

Upon closer inspection, the screen of his tablet displayed a digitized, 3D model of the fort. 

As he turned his head to the group, Evan showed his audience that he was also wearing a unique piece of eyewear. 

Evans is one of about 8,000 people across the country who have been given exclusive access to Google Glass. He sent a proposal to Google explaining how he would benefit from the technology.

His research is rooted in archaeology, augmented reality and wearable computation, he said. He hopes to bring history and discovery to students through Google Glass.  

“It’s a different, portable, easy way to connect people and data together,” Evans said. “Be it here at a conference showing a poster, or in a classroom showing our students.”

Edgar Amador, a graduate student in applied anthropology, stood a few posters down from Evans and explained his project about food security in Tampa. 

“One of the big issues right now in America is food security,” Amador said. 

According to his research, nearly 15 percent of households are insecure or may not know where their next meal is coming from. A few years ago, the percentage was lower.

“The number went up with 2008 with the whole [economic] crash,” he explained.  

Amador said he hopes to continue the project for three years. 

“We’d look at households . . . and figure out what the reasons are for them moving up and down the food security scale,” he said. “So hopefully, we can do that, because nobody has really done that in the U.S.”

However, Amador said funding for the project hasn’t been easy however. He and his group reached out to the USDA, which “just recently funded grants that try to figure this out.”

The USDA, however, he said, is not interested in his approach. 

“The problem is that the USDA has a limited focus. Their focus is on national samples,” Amador said. “They want to only fund national samples, because they’re really worried about statistics [and] representatives.”

Amador said he and his team have taken a more ethnographic approach, by conducting their research in the Tampa Bay region. He believes this method will give more specific and useful data. 

Piero Carletti, a junior majoring in chemistry and biology, presented his research on Hsp90 inhibitors, or substances used to treat leishmaniasis, a disease carried and spread by sand flies. 

The research has been conducted through USF’s Center for Drug Discovery and Innovation (CDDI). 

“We are trying to synthesize more accurate and more effective Hsp90 inhibitors to target leishmania cells,” Carletti said. “And make a cure for leishmania donovani cells.” 

Carletti said the subject is a “hotspot,” but feels that the motivations of researchers may be misguided. 

“Many people always want to publish (in academic journals),” he said. “Well, we want to achieve something. We want to find a cure for this disease.” 

Sandra Justice, unit research administrator for the Office of Research and Scholarship in the College of Arts and Sciences, said she was energized when speaking about the discoveries USF students are making, and said she believes their influence will have a significant impact on the university. 

“These are graduate students and undergraduates involved in innovation and the strategic movement of science and scholarship in the Tampa Bay area,” she said. “These are students that will move and shape the country that we’re in, and the world that we’re in.”