Cal State Long Beach (CSULB) biology major Amberle McKee captured top honors at the 27th annual California State University (CSU) Student Research Competition, which took place on May 10 and 11 at Cal Poly Pomona.
The system’s statewide research contest showcases the significant research done by undergraduate and graduate students. Each campus is allowed to have up to 10 entries in the 10 categories at the competition, and this year there were more than 200 students competing.
McKee, a senior, earned first place in the undergraduate division of the biological and agricultural sciences category with her research presentation on “Substrate Attributes Determine Gait in a Terrestrial Gastropod,” which looks at the movement in terrestrial snails.
Two other CSULB students also came away with awards. Senior dance major Tamara McCarty placed second in the creative arts and design category with her project on “Gendered Performance in the Western Dance Tradition.” Additionally, Matthew Gonzalez, a senior majoring in comparative world literature, earned a second-place finish in the humanities and letters category with his research on “The Reader as Detective: Intertextuality in Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives.”
Each entry (oral presentation plus written summary) was judged on clarity of purpose, appropriateness of methodology, interpretation of results, value of the research or creative activity, ability of the presenter to articulate the research or creative activity, organization of the material presented, and the presenter’s ability to handle questions from the jury and general audience.
“When I heard my name being called, I thought I had imagined it. I had to look up to the screen to make sure that it was actually my name they had called,” McKee said of the awards ceremony. “This research would not have been possible without my advisor Dr. Bruno Pernet. He has been my research adviser since 2011. He introduced me to scientific research and helped me learn how to present my research to the scientific community and to the public. I owe many thanks to Dr. Pernet.”
With McKee’s research on the movement in terrestrial snails, most studies suggest that snails usually move using adhesive locomotion, in which their foot never leaves the surface and they leave a continuous trail of mucus behind them. However, her study found something different.
“When we looked around Long Beach at sidewalks and brick walls, we saw dashed mucus trails,” McKee explained. “These were a result of a different form of movement called ‘loping,’ where the snail lifts its head off the surface, stretches it forward, and replaces it on the surface, creating an arch under its foot. The snail then crawls over this arch. Several of these arches can be seen under a snail’s foot at once, resulting in the snail only touching the surface at certain points.”
McKee said she wanted to determine why snails sometimes loped and sometimes adhesive crawled.
“We found that snails may lope to save expensive mucus when the snail is crawling on an absorbent surface,” she noted. “This may be important for people making snail robots. If a snail robot is to be effective in a real-world setting, it needs to carry mucus with it. If that snail robot knows how to lope on absorbent surfaces, it can go farther on the same tank of mucus.”
Other CSULB students representing the university at the competition included Elizabeth Garfinkle (biological and agricultural sciences category); Neda Jahedmotlagh (business, economics and public administration); Shahab Taherian (engineering and computer science); Tory Wall (health, nutrition and clinical sciences); Eric Muckley (physical and mathematical sciences); and Jed Sam Pizarro Guevara (social and behavioral sciences). Sarah Grefe was selected to compete in the physical and mathematical sciences category, but was unable to attend the event.