Drexel Introduces Repository of Virtual Reality Content to Enhance Online Education
Utilizing new technology applications, the University is working with 3Dream Studios to create rich and immersive learning experiences for online students.
Drexel Introduces Repository of Virtual Reality Content to Enhance Online Education
New digital enhancements will take online education to new and far more expansive heights at Drexel University. VRtifacts+, a first of its kind repository created by Drexel University Online, will empower faculty and instructional designers to seamlessly incorporate 250,000 augmented, virtual, and mixed reality learning objects across a wealth of disciplines into the University's online coursework. Students will be able to access and explore the virtual objects on any device, from smartphones and laptops to VR glasses and trackpads.
The repository will be available to faculty through Drexel's Blackboard interface and includes 3-D objects and 360-degree panoramas in addition to virtual and mixed reality images. Instructors can search for terms like "heart diagram" and download the images they want to use in their courses.
"Given the repository's size and scope, we will have the capacity to develop and pilot ever more powerful approaches for delivering Drexel's state-of-the-art curriculum within its Blackboard Learn platform," said Stephanie Sutcliff, director of Learning Technology.
Drexel knows how difficult it is for busy faculty to keep up with constantly evolving digital technologies. The University has spent over two years researching "pockets of innovation" in technology-enhanced education worldwide, which has produced more than 100 case studies. In conducting this research, University leaders began brainstorming ideas around further capitalizing on its findings and came up with the VRtifacts+ repository.
Students are becoming quite adept at using a wide range of digital tools to connect, collaborate, and construct knowledge on their own – which is why they have come to expect the same flexibility and sophistication in their academic settings. Knowing how other institutions are effectively using "reality" technologies, the team began to see where Drexel might expand upon that success by creating an easily searchable repository of robust AVR learning objects.
To accomplish this goal, Drexel joined forces with 3Dream Studios and mapped out a multi-year development project. In addition to the repository, this project will eventually leverage such other technologies as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and blockchain to fully enhance the virtual learning experience at Drexel. This innovative initiative will add tremendous value to the academic investment for online students of all ages, abilities, and learning preferences, an aspiration shared by faculty members as well.
"Drexel has long been a leader in innovation and technology in the online arena working to deliver high-quality educational content," said Karyn Holt, PhD, former director of Online Quality at the College of Nursing and Health Professions. "VRtifacts+ will push our virtual walls even further, offering expanded experiential opportunities for learning. Humans learn through experiences. From that perspective, it is truly a strategic investment in our University's future, as online and blended education continues to build."
A Partnership with Purpose
In partnership with the School District of Philadelphia, Drexel's School of Education is working to find new ways to prepare educators for the challenges of special education classrooms.
A Partnership with Purpose
The development of special education leaders able to assess and address the needs of students within complex urban environments is a challenge faced by schools and districts across the country. Recognizing this, Drexel University and the School District of Philadelphia (SDP) continue to partner in exploring new and effective methods to increase the number of leaders equipped to help guide special education students within the district to positive and successful outcomes.
Leveraging their respective resources and expertise, Drexel's School of Education and the SDP created the Philadelphia Special Education Leaders of Tomorrow (PSELT) project, a hybrid approach to professional development that builds on the success of Drexel's Urban Special Education Leaders of Tomorrow (USELT) program — a doctoral program at Drexel for special education leaders from Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Officially launched in January of 2018, this 18-month project provided a cohort of 25 aspiring SDP educators with the training and professional development needed to grow as specialists equipped to meet the needs of students with disabilities within the district.
Selected from an initial pool of more than 80 applicants, this cohort was composed of SDP classroom teachers, speech and language therapists, hearing therapists, school psychologists, and special education liaisons that have direct interaction with student populations requiring specialized services. Led by faculty and instructors at Drexel, project participants undertook an intensive curriculum consisting of online courses, internships, and monthly evening sessions, along with over 750 hours of practical application work. Subject specializations included leadership and program development, assessment and instructional leadership, special education law and compliance, and collaboration with stakeholders. The end result was the successful development of a cohort of SDP educators versed in the best practices of special education, ready to lead the district to future success.
Although the project's long-term intended outcomes are expected to be realized over the next one to three years, it has already yielded dramatic results: 24 of the 25 participants successfully completed the program and have earned Special Education Leadership certificates, along with Collaborative Special Education Law and Process certificates. Even more so, six participants have already been promoted to leadership roles within the district, bolstered by knowledge of best practices and applications gained through the PSELT curriculum.
"The School of Education at Drexel is a natural fit for this endeavor," said Janet Sloand, EdD, Drexel associate clinical professor and Special Education and Applied Behavior Analysis program director. "The USELT program demonstrates that Drexel University has the expertise and the infrastructure to prepare special education leaders for complex urban environments."
Through impactful programs such as PSELT and USELT, the partnership between Drexel and the Philadelphia
School District continues to produce dramatic results for district educators and their students. Together, they are building the instructional knowledge and practicum needed to ensure that the needs of all Philadelphia students are met and that each child is positioned to succeed.
Teaching Engineers How to Build Peace
Successful engineers have a unique set of skills. How could those skills prove valuable when attempting to evaluate or avert global crises?
Teaching Engineers How to Build Peace
When it comes to answering tough questions like "How do we supply electricity to a village without exacerbating tensions with their neighbors?" or "How can installing a water system in a disputed territory lead to greater cooperation?" or "Why is a pipeline being built there?," PeaceTech Lab and Drexel University think engineers could play an important role at the government agencies, companies, and relief organizations responsible for these decisions. The University and PeaceTech Lab, a nonprofit organization headquartered at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C., have created a master's degree for engineers who want to contribute to the prevention of crises around the world.
The degree, called "Peace Engineering," is a two-year master of science and a one-year online certificate with the goal of preparing engineers to work with relief organizations and corporations that operate in conflict zones.
"This is a program for engineers who want to have a direct impact on people's lives," said Joseph Hughes, PhD, a professor in Drexel's College of Engineering and director of the Peace Engineering program. "By learning about the underlying causes of conflict and approaching these issues from an engineer's perspective, ‘peace engineers' are better equipped to plot out viable solutions that can help solve these complex problems without creating more of them."
Why Do Engineers Make Good Peace Builders?
According to Hughes, engineers are particularly well equipped to address issues of complexity because their education trains them to break a problem into its parts, or systems, and resolve it by calculating the outcome that would result by adjusting the systems in different ways.
Peace builders from PeaceTech Lab are working with Drexel to teach engineering students about conflict management.
Drexel University and PeaceTech Lab view this approach as complementary to the peacebuilding field. "Conflict is a symptom of complex human dynamics — today's conflicts require a different kind of strategy and a different kind of specialized knowledge," explained PeaceTech Lab President and CEO Sheldon Himelfarb. This demand for specialized knowledge is why the partnership with Drexel came to fruition.
Drexel University and PeaceTech Lab's partnership began with a pair of introductory courses for engineering undergraduates interested in peacebuilding and a co-op program through which Drexel students supported PeaceTech Lab's efforts to bring technology into conflict resolution on projects ranging from Central America to right here in Philadelphia. The master's program builds on the success of these opportunities.
Building a Peace Engineer
PeaceTech Lab recognizes that society has reached a point where technology is tied to many of the systems that comprise conflict — and, as such, it is part of the solution. Partnering with engineers who already understand the way to address a problem and have the means to calculate the impact of using technology to affect the systems brings efficiency, new ideas, and solutions to the fore.
"The peacebuilding field can benefit from the skills that engineers possess," said Althea Middleton-Detzner, director of PeaceTech Lab's Peacebuilding Engineers Program. "Complex problems that involve human and conflict dynamics require cross-disciplinary expertise to resolve. We need engineers who understand these complex conflict and post-conflict environments, and who can speak to non-engineers. Likewise, we need social scientists who can understand engineering thinking and the value it brings to the peacebuilding field."
Middleton-Detzner, who helped build the Peace Engineering curriculum, developed courses that introduce engineers to skills like active listening, negotiation and mediation, cross-cultural communication, and conflict analysis in order to prepare them to work and communicate with anyone from diplomats and CEOs to relief workers and community leaders.
Peace engineers use their technological expertise to help develop sustainable solutions to resolve conflict.
The master's track also includes courses on theories of conflict management, risk assessment, systems analysis, and community-based design, which are intended to reorient the way engineers approach a problem. For engineers working on international projects in areas where there is a crisis, it can be stressful to learn these approaches on the job.
"You get thrown into this situation, but the context is so different that the textbook learning might not be applicable," said Hughes, who experienced engineering in a conflict zone firsthand when he worked in Angola in 2003, following its civil war. "I realized that I could do everything right from an engineering perspective but still mess so many things up for these people — it became paralyzing. That's why we need leaders in the field who can understand all the destabilizing forces that come into play."
To prepare engineers for leadership under these conditions, instructors from PeaceTech Lab and more than 20 faculty members from across the University will teach courses that present a combination of case studies, classroom and online lectures, and simulation exercises. In addition, part of the program includes an experiential education opportunity at PeaceTech Lab or other international organizations, where students gain experience in the peacebuilding field before they graduate.
Where Do Peace Engineers Work?
Bernard Amadei, PhD, a visiting professor from the University of Colorado and founder of Engineers Without Borders in the U.S., has seen engineering education evolve over the last few decades to include more opportunities for students to learn in humanitarian outreach settings. Amadei, who helped create the Peace Engineering master's, sees it as the next step toward officially recognizing the experiences of engineering students and acknowledging the demand for their unique skill set in the workforce.
"There's a real demand for young engineers with these experiences of working with other groups of people from around the world. I've seen that demand grow since the start of Engineers Without Borders — companies are scooping them right up," Amadei said. "It makes sense, if you think about how many companies are global today. There is a real value to being able to hire someone who has already been trained to work with diverse groups of people to deal with complex issues."
Hughes suggests that, in addition to supporting efforts like those of PeaceTech Lab and non-governmental relief organizations, Peace Engineering graduates would be in demand for positions at international companies working in conflict areas as well as the financial institutions backing projects there. Having engineers on the ground to assess and address the situation removes a great deal of uncertainty and allows these companies to better understand the risk of starting a project in a conflict zone.
"There is a lot of money not being invested in these places because there is so much uncertainty. Engineers can help assess and manage the risk if they have this training in conflict resolution," Hughes said. "We need more people who can understand if these decisions are going to help solve a problem — or cause an even bigger one."
Psyche and the City
Can a massive initiative to provide mental illness literacy training to 100,000 Philadelphia workers and residents teach our communities to be kinder?
Psyche and the City
On a recent day on the job, one of Hakim Pitts's coworkers became concerned about a man who seemed a little disturbed.
The man "wasn't doing so well," the coworker told Pitts, who is an outreach and enrollment specialist for a walk-in health clinic inside a North Philadelphia ShopRite. "He may need someone to talk to."
The man wasn't a patient — he was standing around outside the building — but Pitts walked outside to speak to him anyway. The man was a veteran, it turned out. He told Pitts he didn't feel well and when Pitts pressed him, he admitted to feeling suicidal.
Pitts then asked the man a crucial question: "Do you have a suicide plan?"
Not everyone would be so direct. But Pitts had been coached to ask that question through the city's "Mental Health First Aid" training program, part of an ambitious citywide initiative to educate citizens and city workers about the signs and symptoms of mental illness and provide them with tools to help those in need get treatment.
The program was adopted by the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services in partnership with Drexel University's School of Public Health, which is in the midst of an evaluation study of its effectiveness. Philadelphia's goal is to train 10,000 individuals — ranging from ordinary citizens to public health workers to law enforcement officers and school police — within the first two years.
Longer term, the city's goal is to train 100,000 — making Philadelphia's the largest rollout of the program in the United States.
Pitts eventually determined that the man needed an intervention, so he phoned the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services and a "mobile emergency team" quickly arrived. The team, which has the authority to make an involuntary commitment if necessary, offered the man help and resources and saw him on his way.
Before the man left, Pitts gave him his phone number. "If you're feeling bad like that again," Pitts told him, "you can come back here and talk to me."
Reflecting on his training, Pitts recalls it opened his eyes to how common mental health challenges are, especially in the African-American community he grew up in. The knowledge was "inspiring," he says.
"Growing up, I often thought I was alone," he says. "Mental health isn't something that's discussed."
Fear and Loathing
Most people would hesitate to approach a troubled stranger, much less ask probing personal questions.
Though mental illness touches almost everybody — roughly one in five Americans suffers a form of it at some point in their lives — the subject often percolates to public attention only when it's too late, in the aftermath of a tragic shooting or a high-profile suicide.
Reducing the stigma surrounding the subject is one of the biggest challenges in the health care field, says Arthur Evans, who previously led the city's Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services and administers the Mental Health First Aid program.
Many people view the mentally ill as dangerous, hard to talk to, or as being responsible for their condition. Stigma deters people experiencing a mental health crisis from seeking treatment, and two- thirds suffer in silence, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
In recent years, a growing number of public agencies have turned to Mental Health First Aid and programs like it to educate their employees and the public about mental health issues.
"In [wealthy] communities, you can really focus on the aspects of the condition specific to a person's
illness. But in Philadelphia, you not only have to deal with that but you often also have to think about basic needs: Does the person have a place to stay? Do they have the
basics that they need for living?"
— Arthur Evans
As the name suggests, the idea at the heart of the Mental Health First Aid training program is to train people to respond to someone experiencing a mental health problem or a crisis — an individual contemplating suicide or a friend in the throes of depression — with immediate assistance, just as they would a choking or burn victim.
"If someone has a heart attack, there are 10 people there to provide CPR," says Evans. "If someone starts to exhibit psychiatric signs, people typically go the other way."
First developed in 2000 in Australia, the Mental Health First Aid program was brought to the United States in 2008 by the National Council for Committee Behavioral Health, and it has since been implemented around the country.
No U.S. city has committed to it as thoroughly as Philadelphia. Since the city's kickoff in 2012, Philadelphia has overseen between 25 and 30 trainings per month — nearly one a day — and trained roughly 5,000 people, already half the city's stated goal.
More than 200 people have undergone a weeklong program to become instructors, who in turn train more "First Aiders." Among the first to take the course were Philadelphia School District security officers. All new recruits to the Philadelphia police and fire departments are getting the training this year as well. Instructors are also fanning out to organizational hubs such as the Red Cross, the Philadelphia Department of Human Services, hospitals, universities, and others.
The trainings, Evans says, "show people, 'OK: Here are the illnesses, here are the symptoms, here are the treatment options, here are the self-help groups' … so that when people start to show signs, there are other people in their communities who know how to respond."
But despite the program's wide adoption around the country, minimal data has been collected to measure its impact.
How are participants applying what they learned at work, at home, in their neighborhoods and congregations? To
what extent is it likely to translate into action and better public health?
That's where Drexel's Nancy Epstein
Does It Work?
As principal investigator of the evaluation study, Drexel School of Public Health Professor Nancy Epstein is looking at the impact of the program on people's behavior and attitudes with the goal of determining whether it results in the kind of prevention and early intervention that allow individuals to get help before their problems escalate into addiction, self-harm, or violence. Epstein and her team have begun conducting online surveys of First Aiders both three and six months after they've undergone the training, in addition to telephone interviews.
"There's a lot to learn," says Epstein. "Philadelphia is doing something that's happening already in many places across
the country, at the state level, at the national level, even internationally. In any publicly funded program, it's really important to have an evaluation, to know what's happening."
The study is unfinished and still too much in its beginning stages to draw broad conclusions, says Epstein. However, early results indicate that the program has — at least as reported by those who've taken it — made a difference, sometimes a profound one, among its participants.
After surveying more than 300 First Aiders, Epstein says that what she's found so far "is really striking."
"Without fail, every person I've interviewed said [the training] was making a difference
in their lives — that they had gained valuable skills that they were using," she says.
A high percentage of the people responding to the surveys so far (which have an impressive 27 percent response rate) reported using what they'd learned in the time since the training. At three months following the training, more than 67 percent say they've used Mental Health First Aid very often. At six months, 34 percent reported using it six or more times.
Significantly, the Drexel team has also documented a 30 percent decline in attitudes of stigma.
Trainees have self-reported experiencing less feeling of stigma around mental illness, as reflected in their own answers to
questions like whether they would sit next to someone who was showing signs of mental illness on a bus, or whether they would be afraid of someone exhibiting such
Others indicate increased confidence in encounters with people showing signs of mental distress.
The study is a big deal, says Evans.
"You've got members of Congress pushing [Mental Health First Aid], the President pushing the idea, and states
that have embraced it … but there's not a lot of outcome research," he says. "Do we have evidence that people who've taken the course have
actually intervened, or gotten people into services?"
"Those answers are going to be really important to us, the city and really important to the field," he
Meet the Principal Investigator, Nancy Epstein
With its emphasis on engaging marginalized communities and building community awareness and compassion around mental health
issues, Mental Health First Aid poses a unique opportunity for Drexel Associate Professor Nancy Epstein, who has a decades-long history in health advocacy and public
Epstein received a master of public health degree from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in 1980, and soon after
became a grassroots community organizer helping tobacco farmers in North Carolina grow vegetables instead of tobacco and sell them at farmer's markets and directly to
She went on to work in public policy, and was subsequently appointed by Texas' Governor and Lt. Governor to oversee
the implementation of a public health care program for the indigent. She went on to Washington, D.C., where she was a consultant to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and its
grantees around the country before coming to Philadelphia 14 years ago to pursue what might seem like a very different path: rabbinical school, which she attended while
teaching classes for Drexel's School of Public Health. Eight years ago, Epstein was ordained a rabbi. She's been a member of Drexel's faculty for 14
The Story of No. 9349298
Developing a great idea is only the first step. Sometimes, pushing that idea forward is even more challenging.
The Story of No. 9349298
It can take an inventor years to receive an official U.S. patent, usually represented by a seven-digit number. But the full story behind most patents is much longer, and the process can be daunting. Thomas R. Kline School of Law Professor Karl Okamoto learned this the hard way when, on a lark, he filed a patent application for an online learning system inspired by Drexel's "learn by doing" co-op model of education. Through modern technology, Okamoto's system is changing how students and employees learn, and this is the story of how it came to be.
Professor Okamoto didn't want to be a talking head. Not when it came to his business law course, a fundamental introductory course for law students. The traditional lecture-style class wasn't working — Okamoto's students were proving time and time again that they were not retaining the material, like how to draft contracts or how to explain liability to clients. If only they could learn by doing, Okamoto thought.
That spark of an idea happened in 2010. Now, Okamoto's insight is the foundation of a young edtech company with a patented online learning system and a growing client roster that includes Comcast Corp., Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Domino's Pizza, and others.
A team of determined alumni helped make it happen.
The interactive system, called Practice, allows students or employees to record short videos of themselves performing an assigned skill live. Their performance is then evaluated by peers and coaches to help them improve.
One of the earliest members of Okamoto's team to buy in to the concept was Emily Foote '10, a former law student of Okamoto's who experienced this model of interactive learning firsthand in Okamoto's class.
"Instead of simply listening to a lecture, I actually experienced the skills," she says. "As a result, my engagement level was high, my competency grew, and my confidence grew. Overall, it was an incredibly powerful learning experience."
"When you're being recorded, you have to put so much more into it than you would if you were just a passive recipient in a lecture hall," says Okamoto. "We were getting a lot more effort out of students than if we were just calling on them in class."
Okamoto received more than $1 million in National Science Foundation funding to develop the system. To commercialize it, he and Foote launched the startup Practice XYZ, which has offices in Philadelphia and San Francisco.
They began drafting a patent application in 2013 but hit a roadblock in 2014 when a Supreme Court ruling suddenly made it much harder to secure patents related to online learning.
Their applications were rejected twice, says Steve Rocci (BS electrical engineering '77), a senior partner at Philadelphia-based BakerHostetler and Kline School advisory board member, who led a team of Drexel Co-op students in working on the patent application. The team included alumna Laura Gordon '14, who drafted the original application.
Still, the team pressed on.
In 2016, Viantinna Campana Bordas '16 stepped in and made compelling arguments that prompted the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to reconsider and grant the patent, Rocci explains — proof that Practice was on to something special.
"The standards by which you had to convince the Patent Office of the novelty and innovativeness of your code was very high," Okamoto says.
"It's not just software where you're uploading videos and getting feedback," says Foote. "There's a teaching methodology behind it. The patent is a validation that the methodology is powerful. It confirms what the company has always been about: helping our clients deliver powerful learning experiences."
Drexel and Chemical Heritage Foundation Mix Artifacts with Mobile Gaming to Create History of Alchemy Experience
What if mobile gaming could be used as a teaching tool to make learning an enjoyable and interactive experience?
Drexel and Chemical Heritage Foundation Mix Artifacts with Mobile Gaming to Create History of Alchemy Experience
The Chemical Heritage Foundation wants to set the record straight about alchemy. The medieval practice, often perceived as a dark art or pseudoscience, actually
helped form the process of scientific experimentation and influenced our modern understanding of chemistry and medicine. On its quest to shed light on alchemy, the Foundation,
with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, has enlisted help from Gossamer Games, a game design startup in Drexel
University's Entrepreneurial Game Studio, and Frank Lee, PhD, director of the EGS, to
create a mobile gaming experience about the "golden age of alchemy" using books, art and artifacts from CHF Museum's alchemy
"Recent decades have seen a revolution in how scholars understand alchemy," said Erin McLeary, museum director at theChemical Heritage Foundation. "Alchemy in the early modern period was not a fool's quest for riches and
eternal life: it provided economic opportunity, invited curiosity, and examined relationships between humankind and the natural world. Alchemy shaped ideas about experimental
scientific practices and paved the way for modern chemistry. We are thrilled by this opportunity to use our painting and manuscript collections to bring this dynamic and
exciting history of alchemical practice to a wider audience."
Funded by a $100,000 NEH grant, game developers at Gossamer Games and the Entrepreneurial Game Studio will produce a mobile game, for iOS and Android devices,
intended to help visitors engage with its alchemy collection.
Gossamer Games is an independent game design studio founded by students from Drexel's Entrepreneurial Game Studio and supported by its Baiada Institute for
Entrepreneurship. Gossamer is known for its work with aesthetic-driven games that encourage players to explore, rather than compete. Its first release,
"Sole," in which players uncover the history of an ancient civilization by painting the world with light, was a finalist for the International Mobile Gaming Awards
and has been showcased at the Smithsonian American Art Museum Arcade and the Boston Festival of Indie Games.
Through this project, Gossamer Games will design exploration-driven puzzles that invite players to investigate and experiment inside digital translations of the rich
environments portrayed in the museum's collection of paintings.
"We couldn't be more excited to be partnering with the Chemical Heritage Foundation to prototype a first-person puzzle adventure game set in the 'Golden Age' of
alchemy. The game will invite players to step into the world of mid-17th century London and play as a budding alchemist on a mission to unlock the secrets of early
chemistry and metallurgy," said Thomas Sharpe, founder of Gossamer Games. "The history of alchemy is deeply rooted in a blend of mystery and drama that lends
itself perfectly to games. We're thrilled to start exploring designs inspired by this beautiful collection of art that captures the excitement and wonder of scientific
Drexel's Entrepreneurial Game Studio is often at the center of new, immersive and interactive game-play experiences around the city. Under the guidance of
founder Frank Lee, an associate professor in Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, the EGS has brought arcade games to Philadelphia skyscrapers, transformed a library into
augmented reality theater and could one day help us fend off an alien invasion.
"EGS brings deep knowledge of innovative game practice, fluency with navigating academic circles, and experience curating engaging digital games for the
public," Lee said. "The CHF–Gossamer–EGS partnership unites multiple sets of humanistic and digital expertise to create a game that is historically
grounded, visually compelling, and informed by contemporary research on innovative gameplay."
The Drexel Collection's New Exhibit Highlights Art at the Nanoscale
Beauty is all around us. This engaging exhibit showcases breathtaking imagery resulting from a unique combination of design, science, and research.
The Drexel Collection's New Exhibit Highlights Art at the Nanoscale
Scientists typically view materials under an electron microscope to understand how they work at very small scales — like, say, at the atomic level or at the nanoscale, with one nanometer equaling one billionth of a meter. But seen through the microscope lens, these materials can look quite artistic, even if that's not the reason why they were being viewed in the first place.
These microscopic images are often colorized (electron microscopes show them in gray-scale) and edited with photo editing software to emphasize the unique features captured in ways the human eye could never make out. Plus, the scientists colorize their images — not for their research, but to show the beauty within their research to a different, wider audience.
This field of scientific art — or artistic science — is known at Drexel as NanoArtography, a stylized portmanteau that combines "nano" with "art" and "photography." The name was coined by a Drexel University student, and the competition itself was created at Drexel. The University is known as a giant in the nanomaterial research field as the birthplace of the MXene, a two-dimensional (2D) material that could lead to advances in everything from kidney transplants to functional fabrics to energy storage. But as much as Drexel is known for its materials research, it is also known for promoting the art of nanomaterials, having hosted a prestigious international NanoArtography photo contest since 2016.
Some of those award-winning images have been put on public display in exhibits from The Drexel Collection, the University's flagship collection of art. NanoArtography, displayed in the Rincliffe Gallery, demonstrated how closely science and art are intertwined, especially at an institution like Drexel.
"I want this show to make people aware that we have such strengths in nanomaterials at Drexel, and that engineering is not just about solving equations," said Babak Anasori, PhD '14, a former research assistant professor in the College of Engineering who created and runs the A.J. Drexel Nanomaterials Institute NanoArtography Competition. "Some people might not know that much about engineering, and materials science, in particular. With this show, we can have students with different backgrounds interested in our research and I hope they will be more eager to learn about our field."
Anasori was a materials science and engineering doctoral candidate in Drexel's Department of Materials Science and Engineering when an electron microscope image he created of a titanium-based MXene was recognized and awarded in the scientific field (it won the People's Choice award in the National Science Foundation's International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge) as well as in the mainstream media, appearing in National Geographic and on MSNBC. Inspired by how his art and science was received, he started Drexel's annual NanoArtography contest, which is run through the A.J. Drexel Nanomaterials Institute and is open to students and researchers from across the country and around the world.
"Such competitions exist in the scientific community that promote presenting science as art," said Anasori. "But usually the art is only shared in scientific fields, and the judges are scientists. The NanoArtography competition is shared online and can be accessed by anyone. And I created a panel of judges of both scientists and artists, so there's real art and scientific expertise being used to choose the winners. Plus, the public can choose a ‘people's choice' winner by voting on their favorite picture."
Every year of the competition has garnered over 100 submissions, and researchers from over 20 different countries, from Mexico to India to Germany to Australia, submitted images of their research last year to illustrate what they are studying — and showcase its beauty. The students and researchers were judged on submissions that were visually intriguing and stunning, and also told a story about the research being conducted.
"This is really exciting for me because when I started the NanoArtography competition, I was excited about having this international competition that everyone can participate in," said Anasori. "I didn't envision displaying the pieces in an art gallery only within three years of starting the competition. I'm thankful to The Drexel Collection for putting this show together."
Anasori and Lynn Clouser, director of The Drexel Collection, worked together to choose images that would both broaden the public's understanding of the world at the atomic level and connect various art movements and features in the scientific images. NanoArtography shows how everything from pop art to Impressionism to iconography can be linked to the atomic images. At a time when art is being created by algorithms and artificial intelligence (as described in a recent New York Times article), NanoArtography calls into question what art truly is and how it can be created and defined.
"The Drexel Collection was founded in 1891 with the intention of being a teaching tool for the then-Drexel Institute of Art, Science and Industry to show students examples of good design in craftsmanship," said Clouser. "Today, the Collection regularly offers so many different opportunities to partner with departments across campus and I love that with this show, instead of students learning about good design from the Collection, the Collection — and hopefully the rest of the Drexel community — is learning about new materials from the College of Engineering."
Marking Wetlands Day with an Engineered Approach
How often do you consider the implications and effects of water runoff in urban areas? This holiday not only encourages you to do so more often, it asks you to consider how we can manage it more effectively.
Marking Wetlands Day with an Engineered Approach
World Wetlands Day, which takes place each February 2 with a smattering of events across the country, is unlikely to reach the
level of hoopla registered by Earth Day. Or most other celebrations, for that matter. But here at the College of Engineering, wetlands are celebrated in their own right
through the work of engineers who monitor urban green infrastructure and the ability of restored, enhanced, or newly engineered wetlands to manage rainfall
Dr. Bita Alizadehtazi, a post-doc and research scientist in the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental
Engineering (CAEE), studies the ecohydrology of engineered urban green spaces like wetlands. By coincidence, her country of origin happened to launch the first World
Wetlands Day in the city of Ramsar on the Caspian Sea. It marks the adoption of the UNESCO Convention on Wetlands, known as the Ramsar Convention, on Feb. 2,
1971 by an intergovernmental environmental treaty.
Alizadehtazi received her AS from the Iran University of Medical Sciences and her BS from Shahid Beheshti University, both
in environmental health. She received her MS in environmental engineering from Drexel's College of Engineering, and her doctorate in environmental engineering in 2018
under the mentorship of Dr. Franco Montalto, an associate professor in CAEE. Alizadehtazi received Drexel University's Graduate College Teaching Excellence Award in
2016. That year, there were over 500 eligible nominees from disciplines all across campus.
World Wetlands Day calls attention to the vital importance of wetland ecosystems as allies against climate change. They
act as natural carbon sinks, absorb the impact of coastal storm surges, and even delay the onset of droughts. Yet one third of all wetlands have been lost over the last 45
years, with a rate of disappearance three times faster than the world's great forests, according to the Ramsar Convention website. UNESCO lists more than 95 Ramsar
Sites of International Importance, from Venice and its lagoons to the Delta du Saloum in Senegal to the Florida Everglades.
"Wetlands are periodically flooded landscapes with soils and vegetation specially adapted to those
conditions," said Alizadehtazi. "They provide habitat for a variety species of insects, animals, birds, and fish, but also filter the water, and can safely fill
up with water during intense precipitation or high tides, key characteristics that help them to reduce flooding and improve water quality when they are integrated into
"In urban landscapes, roofs, roads, and other impervious surfaces have many negative impacts on local, regional, and
global energy and water balances. It is very costly to remedy these problems with engineered infrastructure systems. So, there is a growing interest in wetlands and other
so-called nature-based approaches to make the urban landscape function better. Green infrastructure applies specifically to the green spaces that are designed to reduce
runoff and flooding," she said. "Wetlands, along with rain gardens, bioretention facilities, green roofs, and different kinds of porous pavements, help to hold
rainwater in the landscape. This in turn reduces the number of problems you could get at the bottom of the hill and near the coasts."
With other researchers in CAEE's Sustainable Water Resource Engineering Lab, Alizadehtazi has been conducting
post-construction monitoring in two different engineered wetlands in New York—one in the Bronx and one in Queens. She uses the field monitoring data to better
understand how these two different systems function under a variety of rainfall events. Alizadehtazi is specifically interested in how wetland performance varies with
different tributary areas, in different storms, and under different subsurface conditions.
The Bronx wetland is a lined system, installed on poor quality soils in a small sliver of land between a warehouse and the
Bronx River. Prior to the wetland's construction, runoff generated from the warehouse parking lot was discharged directly to the Bronx River. Now, the lined wetland
receives runoff from the parking lot, where it is stored, filtered, and either slowly released to the river or evaporated. The Queens system is an unlined system. It is
installed adjacent to Meadow Lake in an area with an extremely high water table, where it also receives parking lot runoff. The research question at this site is how the
parking lot runoff can be infiltrated into the highly saturated local soils.
"In urban settings a larger fraction of pre-development natural systems has been destroyed, in comparison to rural
or suburban regions," said Alizadehtazi. "In these highly urbanized landscapes, each wetland is potentially very valuable. But we need to better understand the
optimal ways of siting, designing, and operating them if we are to get the most benefit. That's why monitoring different types of green infrastructure over long
periods of time in different landscape settings is so important.
"You cannot just reproduce the same design over and over. Depending on where you are working, you may have different
physical conditions, but also different needs and priorities – you might have contaminated or saturated soils at one location, or sand and nearby basements at another.
We need to customize the wetland designs to these kinds of conditions, but only after we've studied what works and what doesn't," said
"From my work thus far, I think that these kinds of nature-based approaches to managing urban water are doing
their job quite well," she added. "And that's what we're aiming for."
Of Hippocratic Oaths and Antidotes
The opioid epidemic in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, along with other areas across the U.S., is growing worse each day. The Drexel Naloxone Outreach Project (NOP) is allowing students to make a positive impact at the ground level.
Of Hippocratic Oaths and Antidotes
In the quiet rear seating area of Sherry's family restaurant in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, a Drexel College of Medicine student is prone on the tile floor, wedged between a pair of marbled green four-tops, unconscious.
Or pretending to be, rather. He's playing the role of a drug user who has overdosed on opioids. Close by, a small group of
his classmates show a waitress techniques to safely revive him.
As Sean Welch '20 lies on his back, Kathleen Nelson '20 positions his arms just so, extending one over his head and tucking
the other under his cheek, so she can roll him onto his side and eliminate the risk that he will vomit and choke. Moments later, Camille Singh '20 uses a dummy to show
Yolanda, the waitress, how to tilt its head back and administer short, five-second rescue breaths, while Kristina Thompsen '20 shows her how to administer naloxone, a nasal
spray that reverses the effects of opioids and opens a window to survival.
The lesson pauses briefly as the Market-Frankford elevated train rumbles over Kensington Avenue on its way to the Tioga stop
a block north. Then another second-year student, Chris Fong '20, describes the nodding off and the arrhythmic breathing patterns that suggest an overdose. He tells Yolanda
about the rigidity in the body that indicates the synthetic opioid fentanyl, not heroin, as the culprit. He advises her to tell emergency responders she's calling about an
unresponsive individual, not someone going through an overdose. If you tell the dispatcher it's an overdose, help may come slower, he warns.
This isn't entirely new to Yolanda, a petite ball of energy despite being up since 3 a.m. on this blustery fall morning
filling patrons' coffee mugs. She's seen overdoses in the bathroom of the diner, and on her own street, where neighbors live with addiction. She's seen the way people burst
into anger upon being brought back, shocked out of their vegetative state, so she takes careful note as Fong demonstrates a delicate way to wake someone by applying pressure
to their cuticle. When the training concludes, the students leave behind a couple doses of Narcan, the branded version of naloxone, and Singh gives Yolanda extra to take
This is Drexel's Naloxone Outreach Program (NOP) in operation. Since it
began in spring 2017, students have conducted these informal community training sessions in over a dozen local businesses, distributing more than 100 doses of Narcan along the
way. The students' collective effort has already saved several lives, and with no end in sight for the crisis, it will surely save more.
"What we've learned is that we can actually make a change," Singh says. "As students, maybe we don't know if we can make
change until we're doctors, but we can actually do a lot."
When the training is over, Yolanda serves up a breakfast of tamales, French toast and Spanish omelets as Singh and her
fellow Drexel Med students recall the program's origins.
Inspiration for NOP came from Prevention Point, the city's free needle exchange, and
Streetside, a clinic that Drexel operates inside it. A classmate of Singh's who was volunteering at Streetside introduced her to Prevention Point's outreach coordinator, Elvis
Rosado spins busily through Prevention Point dispensing warmth and wisdom in equal measure to the staff and volunteers
scattered throughout. The building, perched under the El like so much of life in Kensington, was once a church, and within its walls Rosado ministers to a diverse community in
Teaching people to reverse overdoses is among the simplest ways to reduce the epidemic's death count, which has risen to
more than 2,800 Philadelphians in the past three years, including 1,217 in 2017 alone, according to the Philadelphia Department of Health.
"Elvis is one man trying to Narcan-train Philadelphia," Singh says.
In her first year at Drexel Med, she saw an opportunity to help him.
Singh established NOP under the umbrella of Drexel's Health Outreach Program, which provides care to underserved
Philadelphians. Since their first rain-soaked foray into the community last March, the students have strolled up and down Kensington Avenue, handing out Narcan in shops and
bodegas, auto repair businesses, and thrift stores. The group grew from five to nine volunteer members in its second year, and now spends weeks coordinating each neighborhood
outreach, stopping anywhere they can find someone who wants to learn and help.
Along the way, they've come to see that the portrayal of Kensington, regarded by many as a hard-luck neighborhood with a
reputation as one of the country's largest open-air drug markets, rarely reflects the reality of the community.
"I had no idea what to expect the first time, because all I've seen in the media is pictures of needles," Welch says of the
first outreach event. "But it's like where I grew up. I'm sitting in a diner right now."
The students want to change the perception that Kensington is a war zone and that addicts are to blame for their own
troubles. The scientific and medical truth, Fong says, is that addiction is no different than diabetes, hypertension or any other malady. It's a disease, one that requires
close follow-up and management once diagnosed.
During breakfast, one of Yolanda's co-workers suggests that overdose victims deserve whatever fate brings them. Singh and
the students see that sentiment as part of what needs to change in the culture.
"We need to do work to destigmatize addiction," Singh says, "because I can train someone, but if they think like that
they're not really going to go out there and help."
"There is this understanding of addiction as a disorder of weakness, that people are just not mentally strong enough, or
that there's some sort of fundamental moral weakness within them," Fong says. "This person is suffering with a disease, and if it's treated properly and you have the right
support system there, people can move past it."
Welch understands this as well as anyone.
He had six wisdom teeth pulled as a high school sophomore and left the dental surgeon with a Vicodin prescription and
several refills. He started self-medicating with the prescription narcotic, numbing the physical pain he felt and the mental pain of undiagnosed depression, until soon he was
sitting in class counting the seconds until he could take more. When his mother found him unconscious the summer before his senior year, he quit cold turkey. He suffered
nearly one week of severe symptoms as his body went through withdrawal, but he managed to do something so many opioid users never can.
"Any time we simplify a person to a one-dimensional caricature, we're missing out on so much more," Welch says. "To many, I
was an addict or a junkie, but I was so much more than that."
Singh asked Welch to join NOP after seeing him talk at a panel discussion he organized on the opioid crisis. His personal
experience convinced him to help.
"I would have just been another onlooker in the epidemic, instead of taking it upon myself to fix a small part of this
enormous issue," he says.
Inside dollar dee-dee's general store, a block south of Sherry's restaurant, the team stops again, this time to train
Howard, 51, a store clerk. Howard decided to take 15 minutes out of his shift stocking inventory to get instruction in the back of the store because he'd witnessed three or
four overdoses just in the past few months.
Tucked in tight among rows of laundry detergent and greeting cards, Howard listens as the students describe the factors that
can put opioid users at increased risk of overdose. Using drugs alone is especially risky, for example, and so is purchasing them from a new source. Fong tells him to watch
out for a locked jaw — an additional complication, common in fentanyl overdoses, that can prevent rescue breaths from working.
When the training begins, Howard looks tentative, but by the end he says he feels confident he can deliver the dose of
Narcan that Singh leaves behind. She and her team promise to return soon. (The medical students check back at regular intervals with everyone they train, both to refresh their
knowledge and to collect data on any revivals that take place.)
The program's volunteers don't track the identities of the people who use the Narcan they provide, partly because the
trainings often achieve their goal indirectly. Those they teach have passed on their knowledge — and the Narcan — to other community members who have saved lives. This is
exactly how the program was designed, as a beneficent pyramid scheme built on the best of intentions.
"In reality, any success we have had with this program is due to the community members stepping up and running with the
little we are empowering them with, which is pretty incredible when you think about it," says Ann Carnevale. "We are simply providing them with the Narcan and a bit of
education, and they then turn around and act in moments of crisis to save the lives of complete strangers. It's a real privilege to partner with people who are taking this
epidemic into their own hands within their own neighborhoods."
Carnevale, now in her second year in the College of Medicine, has recently taken over leading the outreach program as Singh
and her classmates enter their third year of medical school, full of rotations that make it harder to give the program full attention.
As NOP has grown, its reach has expanded. In addition to training Kensington residents, medical students now teach other
students — 200 and counting — in health profession programs around the region, including at the University of Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
and Cooper Medical School in Camden. This spring 2018 the program did its first undergraduate training at Temple University. Carnevale says there are plans for many
NOP's members are in contact with the Philadelphia
Department of Public Health to stay current on where training is needed. The communities most at risk tend to fluctuate, and sudden changes, like this spring's eviction of
the heroin camps along Lehigh Avenue, can create community crises that make Narcan training more urgent.
The program's vision is to spread knowledge far and wide to save as many lives as possible, wherever education is needed.
The epidemic has no boundaries, and neither can the antidote.
"It's not just Kensington; it's never been just Kensington," Welch says. "It's everywhere."
There are reminders, over the course of a day, that fixing even a small part of the crisis is a challenge. A corner store
employee who asked to be trained no longer works there, Singh discovers. There's someone interested at the 7-Eleven, but he's afraid of what his boss will think if the
students approach him while he's working. Space is too tight inside a produce market and the owner doesn't want to disrupt her customers with a training.
But the program's reach is clear nonetheless. During a check-in at an exterminator where the students left Narcan on a
previous visit, the woman running the shop asks for an additional dose that she can give to her father. Her stepmother has already had multiple close calls with fentanyl, and
she doesn't want her father to worry that she'll die if an ambulance is slow in arriving the next time.
"You guys are the best!" she yells to the students as they leave.
By the end of a day on the avenue, Singh's voice has turned to a rasp, sapped by hours spent under the El, where the lack of
sun makes the day feel that much colder. She promises a return to a thrift shop where workers want training but are busy unloading a truck.
Singh displays a sureness in her conversations in Kensington, a level of comfort no matter who she's dealing with. She says
some community members express disbelief that she would take the time to train them. It's a sign of just how thoroughly the crisis has cast out its victims.
"When we come here and talk to them and train them, they're like, 'I can't believe you're speaking to me,' and that to me is
so hurtful," Singh says. "When people come into our office it's not our job to judge them, but to treat them and help them and make sure they stay alive until the next time we
That's the driving ethos of the program, a sense that everyone deserves care, and that anyone can provide it.
"At the beginning of medical school, we all took the Hippocratic Oath, and we made a promise to ourselves and each other and
our patients to do no harm," Nelson says. "I think inaction and staying silent is often a way of doing harm. This is a way of leaning into that promise we made."
Sing with Me, Sing for the Years
Learn how the power of music therapy can help patients fight back against the slow creep of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and other forms of memory degeneration.
Sing with Me, Sing for the Years
When Beatrice Harrison first came to Menorah Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing Care in Brooklyn more than a year ago,
she was depressed. The 93-year old had difficulty thinking clearly and chose to spend most days alone in her room — eating by herself and watching old television
Then she met Kendra Ray, a board-certified music therapist and New York State–licensed creative arts therapist at Menorah.
During their first session, Ray played the melody to "I Have Dreamed" on her flute, written by Beatrice's favorite artist, Frank Sinatra.
I have dreamed that your arms are lovely
And I have dreamed what a joy you'll be
I have dreamed ev'ry word you'll whisper
When you're close, close to me
"When Kendra plays music, I go into another world," says Beatrice, eyes moist. "I feel my mind calm and my body start to
move. I feel like I am 20 again, seeing Frankie with my mother at the Paramount Theater in New York City. I can still remember the miles of people lined up to see him. He
brought the house down that night."
In the months since Beatrice began music therapy, she has come alive again, the staff say. She appears happier, participates
in activities and socializes at mealtime.
Her weekly sessions have also had a profound effect on her memory. Beatrice suffers from dementia, and she often forgets her
own age; but when she hears a familiar tune, her caregivers say that it is as if a light turns on in her mind. That simple Sinatra ballad not only invoked a story about the
concert, but it offered a gateway into dozens of lost memories from her youth, including childhood piano lessons, her father's career as a singing waiter, seeing "Man of La
Mancha" on Broadway and watching Julie Andrews.
With the door to the past ajar, Ray begins to play a song from "The Sound of Music."
I go to the hills when my heart is lonely
I know I will hear what I've heard before
My heart will be blessed with the sound of music
And I'll sing once more
For Beatrice, and for so many other residents, the power of music helps them do just that — "sing" once
For the past eight years, as part of a music therapy program at Menorah, Ray has worked with patients who have dementia to
remember their pasts through music. Many of them suffer from Alzheimer's disease, a neurodegenerative condition that slowly destroys brain cells and leads to cognitive
decline, impaired judgment and difficulty with daily activities.
Ray is not only a music therapist, she's also a young researcher and influential author in the field, who uses her
experiences at Menorah to inform her studies as a doctoral student in the Creative Arts Therapies program in Drexel's College of Nursing and Health Professions. She says that
Drexel's program, which is one of only a few in the Northeast, helped her hone the research writing skills she needed to publish her music therapy observations in scientific
One of her studies, which was part of a three-year study funded by the New York State Department of Health, found that after
only two weeks of music therapy, symptoms of depression decreased 38 percent and feelings of agitation declined 16 percent in nursing home residents with dementia. Since then,
Ray and her team have developed a music-assisted care training manual that is being adopted by more than 600 nursing homes throughout New York, as well as additional
facilities across the nation and overseas in Canada, Israel, Spain and Nigeria.
"Music therapy is a bridge for communication that would otherwise have been lost in people with dementia," says Ray, a
longtime musician who aspired to be a nurse as a child. "Hearing that familiar song activates an area of muscle memory in the brain and helps them find the words they are
"I Can See Clearly Now The Rain Is Gone"
Philosophers dating back to Aristotle and Plato have believed that music promotes healing. References to music therapy can
be found in medicine as early as 1789, and the profession formally organized after World War II, when musicians started visiting veterans' hospitals. Physicians noticed that
patients were comforted when they heard familiar songs and hired musicians to play in the wards. Today, there are more than 6,000 credentialed music therapists
Since the birth of the music therapy profession in the 1940s, research has continually affirmed its profound physiological
and psychological benefits. Studies have shown song has the power to calm the heart rate in premature infants, coordinate movements in individuals with Parkinson's disease,
decrease anxiety and pain in cancer patients, and regulate breathing in individuals with lung disease.
"Through music therapy, we are able to do things where routine pharmacological agents or conventional medical regimens may
prove limited," says Joanne Loewy, director of the Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine at New York City–based Mount Sinai Health System, who teaches music and
medicine to Drexel graduate students.
Studies show that music activates large areas of the brain. In fact, when brain activity is examined in real time using a
functional magnetic resonance imaging scan, areas related to movement, planning, attention and memory immediately light up when music is played. These functions are some of
the first faculties to be affected by dementia.
"There is evidence of a music memory in the brain's neural pathways that is robust and can be preserved or reactivated when
other mechanisms in the brain are lost," says Loewy. "When people are plugged into music, they are turned on and tuned in — it is the difference between a battery, which might
be temporary and run out (a usual thought), and being plugged into a constant current of electricity, fueled by melody, rhythm and contextual circumstances, which include the
place and time affiliates where the music's imprint was first made."
Remarkably, this response is seen in every stage of dementia, says Ray. Patients with mild cases can improve cognitive
skills such as memory, language and attention; while those with moderate symptoms become more engaged and participative, which greatly improves their quality of
"With the power of music, residents retain their dignity because they remember who they are and where they have been in the
past," explains Ray. "This helps ground the patient in the present when they are confused. From this, we see a decrease in the symptoms of dementia, including agitation,
feelings of sadness, hallucinations and wandering."
That was certainly the case with Donald Miller, 74, a jazz musician who once traveled the world. His health deteriorated
after he lost the love of his life to cancer. When he came to Menorah, Donald was lost, depressed, heartbroken and in great physical pain.
"Through music therapy, we see him starting to come back," says his sister, Fran Miller. "Donald wants to be involved, he
wants to be alive and he is engaged again."
But perhaps the most extraordinary effects occur in the later stages of dementia.
"Even when language has deteriorated to the point that a person has lost the ability to speak, miraculously the music memory
stays in tact," explains Ayelet Dassa, director of Creative Arts Therapies and Research at the Ramat-Gan Alzheimer's Research and Treatment Center in Israel who co-wrote a
book chapter about music therapy with Ray (it was recently published in Update on Dementia). "These individuals are able to communicate through music when words fail.
Songs help them relive past experience. It is magical to witness the entire world come alive again in their brain."
"They Can't Take That Away From Me"
That magic is apparent in Abe M., a 78-year-old resident at Menorah. When Ray first walks into his room, Abe appears
lackluster under the stark white bed sheet. His breathing is deep and haggard.
Ray takes out her guitar and begins to strum the strings.
"Do you know this song?" she asks.
"Yes," he responds as the corner of his lips perk up.
Abe's wide eyes fixate on Ray, his chest begins to rise and fall calmly, and his hands move slightly yet rhythmically to the
Many nights I'd sit by my window
Waiting for someone to sing me his song
So many dreams I kept deep inside me
Alone in the dark, but now you've come along
"You light up my life," he sings, filling in the last line of the chorus. When the music stops, Abe's body animates as if
were a wind-up toy waiting to turn on and he claps loudly in appreciation.
"Kendra lights up my life when she comes here," he says. "I just love music."
Two years ago, when Abe first came into nursing care, he was disoriented and would scream constantly for help. After three
months of music therapy, he became calmer and was easier to bathe and dress.
"I have come a long way, baby," he says in jest — a part of his humorous personality that reappears when he is with Ray.
"Back then, I could not even move my hands. Now, look at me move."
Part of Ray's technique is to create a playlist for each resident's tastes and personality. A self-proclaimed romantic,
Abe's favorites are love songs, so Ray uses songs like "The Power of Love" to help him connect with his emotions. She also selects uplifting songs when the individual's mood
is sad or anxious. Using flute, guitar, maracas and drums, Ray creates an uplifting, calming ambiance.
"To achieve good outcomes in people with dementia, we need to do more than just play their preferred song," explains Ray.
"We want them to associate a song with an emotion or situation that they are dealing with. When I first sang to Abe, all he would do was cry. Over time, we developed a
therapeutic relationship and a safe space where he could process those feelings. Music became his release."
By using word associations within song lyrics, Ray has also been able to help Abe tap into past experiences. Over time, as
they have developed a rapport, Abe has delved further into these memories including trips to Scandinavia, working as a construction plumber and his close relationship with his
"Lean On Me When You Are Not Strong"
Over the years, Ray has helped more than 100 residents through the power of song. But a few years ago, she wanted to do
more. She knew the statistics were daunting. There are more than 5 million people living with Alzheimer's disease and dementia in the United States and only 6,000 music
therapists nationwide. Furthermore, nearly 50 percent of all residents in nursing homes suffer from symptoms of dementia.
"Unfortunately, very few of these music therapists work in nursing homes where their work can improve the lives of residents
with dementia," explains Ray. "To reach more residents, we needed to train nursing assistants to use music. Nursing assistants spend the most time with residents and when they
integrate music into their care, it can significantly reduce symptoms of agitation and depression."
To help educate nurses and other caregivers, Ray and her colleagues used funding from the state of New York to develop a
curriculum called "Music Therapy: Keys to Dementia Care," which has been implemented in facilities throughout the United States and the world. The training manual teaches
caregivers how to use singing and background music to make people more alert and receptive to care in stressful situations such as bathing, dressing or wound care. For
example, the booklet lists songs that can create a calming atmosphere for residents, including "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" or "Beyond the Sea." It also encourages caregivers
to tailor music to the individual.
"Even when language has deteriorated to the point that a person has lost the ability to speak, miraculously the music
memory stays intact."
The protocol was used to train dozens of registered nurses and certified nursing assistants (CNA) at Menorah. Shernett
Williams, a CNA, says music-assisted care training has been particularly helpful with bathing — an activity only 10 percent of nursing home residents can perform
"When residents are agitated, we turn on the iPod and immediately we see them calm down," she explains. "Some of my
residents refuse to participate in any activities, but when there is music they listen and sing along."
Ray's work has also had an impact abroad. Melissa Mercadal-Brotons, director of the Music Therapy Program at the Escola
Superior de Música de Catalunya in Spain, has used her book to train caregivers in 13 nursing homes throughout the country.
"Kendra Ray's work has been inspirational in helping us develop a way for caregivers to use music in their daily work and
what elements to consider when selecting music to use," says Mercadal-Brotons. "Residents are more cooperative and content, which makes the caregivers' job feel more
In the future, Ray hopes to extend music-assisted care training and education to family caregivers, who are integral to the
long-term care process. By 2050, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer's disease is expected to triple, and Ray and Dassa of the Ramat-Gan Alzheimer's Research
and Treatment Center believe it is essential that families find ways to integrate music at home.
"Some Were Born To Sing The Blues"
When Ray places Donald Miller's saxophone on the bedside table, it's clear he's eager for an audience. He opens the case,
assembles the pieces and licks the bottom piece like a maestro. The nurse picks up a rain stick to play along. He insists they play "Misty" — and only "Misty" — and blows with
all his might.
I'm as helpless as a kitten up a tree
And I feel like I'm clinging to a cloud
I can't understand
I get misty, just holding your hand
Ray asks him about the song choice. "It reminds me of the old days when I was hanging out with my friends in Bermuda playing
jazz," says Donald. "That, and I like Clint Eastwood."
He gazes outside at the rain falling on the windowpane and lets out a slow, deep breath. His body reclines back in the chair
as though a weight has been lifted off his shoulders, if only for a few moments. It is obvious from his demeanor that the lyrics represent so much more. For Donald and so many
others, the world, it appears, is just a little brighter when it is filled with music.
Music Therapy: What the Research Says
Music interventions help alleviate symptoms of anxiety, pain and fatigue in cancer patients, while also boosting their
quality of life, according to a systematic review of the science of music therapy.
Led by Joke Bradt, associate professor in Drexel's College of Nursing and Health Professions, a team reviewed controlled
clinical trials that examined the impact of music therapy (a personalized music experience offered by trained music therapists) and music medicine (listening to pre-recorded
music provided by a doctor or nurse) on psychological and physical outcomes in people with cancer.
"We found that music therapy interventions specifically help improve patients' quality of life," explains Bradt. "These
are important findings as these outcomes play an important role in patients' overall well-being."
The researchers reviewed a total of 52 trials, constituting 3,731 participants with cancer. Twenty-three of the trials
were categorized as music therapy and the remaining 29 were classified as music medicine interventions.
One of the most impactful findings was that music interventions of all kinds resulted in a moderate- to-strong effect in
reducing patients' anxiety.
When it came to pain reduction, the researchers found a large treatment benefit; for fatigue, a small-to-moderate
treatment effect was found.
Small reductions in heart and respiratory rates, as well as lowered blood pressure, were also linked to music
"The results of single studies suggest that music listening may reduce the need for anesthetics and analgesics, as well as
decreased recovery time and duration of hospitalization, but more research is needed," according to Bradt and her co-authors.
Meet a Drexel Student Who Used Her Clinical Psychology Education to Combat Suffering of Syrian Refugees in
Violence and suffering has effects that are not always easy to see or, in some cases, even acknowledge. Following a drive to make a difference for trauma survivors, Mona Elgohail’s journey has taken her to the other side of the world.
Meet a Drexel Student Who Used Her Clinical Psychology Education to Combat Suffering of Syrian Refugees in
Mona Elgohail, a PhD candidate in the clinical psychology program in Drexel University's College of Arts and
Sciences, came to Drexel with the goal of alleviating human suffering. So, she decided to travel to what she saw as suffering's ground zero — a mental health
clinic in Irbid, Jordan where she worked with Syrian refugees to combat the mental health problems brought about by the violence, displacement and loss they
Elgohail spoke with DrexelNow about how her Drexel education prepared her for this experience, and why other students
should think big and realize their potential impact on global crises.
Q: Tell us about your academic career thus far, along with what originally made you interested in clinical
psychology and in Drexel?
A: During my first week at a prestigious high school, the principal called me into his office and told me to choose
between my education and my religion. "Mona, you cannot wear your religious headscarf with the school uniform," he said. I learned at a young age that the
blending of cultures can be messy. As the daughter of Muslim-Egyptian immigrants, I did not fit neatly into my predominantly Caucasian hometown in New Jersey —
especially after I began wearing hijab in 2002. After working tirelessly to get into a specialized high school, I was forced to make a difficult choice. Ultimately, I
decided to retain a cherished part of my Muslim identity — my hijab — and leave the school. But I did not give up on pursuing a rigorous education; I worked
harder. I enrolled in a public high school and — four years later — graduated as valedictorian with acceptance to Barnard College of Columbia
My steep path to higher education gave me the courage to challenge norms and move beyond predefined labels and limits.
This experience and many others compelled me to explore my unique identity — a blend of my American, Egyptian and Muslim values. I became more self-reflective and
developed the skills needed to better understand others. My multicultural journey also instilled in me a desire to address the needs of underserved populations.
Today, my fierce curiosity and fervent commitment to social justice are assets that continue to guide my career as a
clinical psychologist. I came to Drexel with a strong interest in women's health psychology and the goal of alleviating suffering, especially among people from
underserved backgrounds, through practice and research. One of the main reasons I chose Drexel is to work with my advisor, Pamela Geller, PhD, who has studied women's health issues for over 25
years. Her work focuses on the psychological aspects of events surrounding pregnancy and childbirth, such as infertility, pregnancy loss and postpartum depression. Under Dr.
Geller's mentorship, my research has examined the infertility and pregnancy experiences of minority women.
Q: How and why did you start this work providing mental health services to Syrian refugees in
A: The Syrian war is by far the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. In 2016, the United Nations estimated that more than 400,000 Syrians had died because of the conflict.
More than 6.6 million people have been displaced internally and over 5.6 million have sought refuge abroad,
with over 670,000 in Jordan alone. Syria's pre-war population
was over 20 million, meaning half of Syrians have been displaced — the largest displacement of people since WWII.
It was hard for me to sit on the sidelines, simply reading about the war in the news. I wanted to alleviate some of the
suffering in whatever way I could with the skills I had. And in retrospect, in many ways, going to Jordan was therapeutic for me. Being able to contribute in a positive way
helped me cope with what was going on.
With the help and support of my advisor, Dr. Geller, I wrote a letter to the director of clinical training and chair of
our department to request approval for a yearlong independent study that would allow me to volunteer my time at a mental health clinic for Syrian refugees in Jordan. My
proposal was completely nontraditional, as graduate students in my program usually seek clinical training in the greater Philadelphia area, not another country. Not only did
our department leaders recognize the importance of the work outlined in my proposal, but they and the rest of the faculty celebrated and supported it.
Q: What was it like working with and also learning from this population and in
this area? Are there things that you realized there that you now wish more people in the U.S. knew about the conflict in Syria?
A: Working at the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS)
Foundation's mental health clinic was by far the most emotionally challenging experience that I've had. One of the first stories I heard on my first day was about
a woman whose husband, son and nephew were killed in front of her by Syrian government forces, and then her house was broken into and her mother was killed in the middle of
the night. Another account was from a woman who went out to buy yogurt for her family just before a bomb struck her home. She lost her parents and all of her siblings except
for one sister who lived elsewhere.
All of the refugees that I met had these types of stories. I don't think I met a single family there that was
completely intact, where the entire family was able to find refuge in Jordan all together. It took every ounce of strength to remain composed while hearing their stories.
The brutality is unimaginable.
I also learned that, in addition to the trauma from back home, most of the Syrians experience significant difficulties as
refugees in Jordan. It's illegal for refugees to work, and if they're caught working, they're forcefully deported back to Syria. They are not allowed to
attend public schools, and they don't have access to healthcare outside of what the UNHRC provides, which is only basic primary care to refugees in the camps.
Due to the horrific conditions within the camps, most refugees in Jordan have fled from the camps, filling the slums of
urban cores. Essentially, the Syrian crisis has created a lost generation — children can't get an education, parents can't work and many families keep
getting sicker. How are they supposed to rebuild and improve their lives under these conditions? Fortunately, it seems that conditions have somewhat improved since my yearlong study in Jordan in 2016.
Q: What were you able to help your patients in Jordan with through your work?
A: Between the horrors they experienced in Syria and the ongoing challenges of refugee life, Syrian refugees are a deeply
traumatized population with extraordinary mental health needs. The SAMS mental health clinic in Irbid, Jordan serves Syrian refugees of all ages. Some of the most common
psychological problems were depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and somatoform disorders. My role involved observing and co-facilitating group therapy for
women and children. I provided supportive psychotherapy and psychoeducation on anxiety, depression, trauma, parenting strategies and stress management strategies. My work
was supervised by Gregory Lewis, PsyD, a trauma expert with experience helping asylum seekers for over a decade and providing psychotherapeutic services to Syrian refugees
Q: Why might you encourage other students like you to seek these types of intense, real-world
A: I went to Jordan to help Syrian refugees, but what these individuals gave me was more than I could ever give them. They
taught me and inspired me through their stories, their perseverance, their gratitude and their hospitality. They helped me develop my worldview, and I'm a better
clinician and a better human because of it. It's true what they say: in helping others, you help yourself.
Unfortunately, the current rhetoric in the U.S. surrounding refugees is loaded with misinformation, fearmongering and
xenophobia. I hope students and Americans in general will at the very least educate themselves about the conflict. I also encourage people to partner with local
organizations that are helping refugee families resettle with dignity in the U.S. There are also national organizations doing great work in helping Syrian refugees, such as
the SAMS Foundation, Islamic Relief, and Zakat Foundation.
Q: How do you think you'll utilize what you experienced and learned there in your future
A: My experiences with refugees have inspired me to pursue work with trauma survivors, especially female survivors.
I'm particularly interested in the effect of previous traumatic experiences on the perinatal period, the impact of maternal lifetime trauma on child development, the
prevention of intergenerational consequences of trauma and models for early intervention. I'm currently completing a predoctoral internship at Rush University Medical
Center, where a portion of my time is spent in the Center for Women's Behavioral and
Mental Health treating distress and trauma associated with women's reproductive and sexual health concerns.
A Creative Approach to Teaching Creativity, Interdisciplinary Teamwork for Graduate Students
Learn more about some of the strategies, techniques, and methodologies used to teach Drexel graduate students how they can harness their creativity and think outside of the box.
A Creative Approach to Teaching Creativity, Interdisciplinary Teamwork for Graduate Students
This piece is part of the new DrexelNow series showcasing "A Day in the Class" for some of Drexel University's most interesting and impactful courses.
The course technically carries the "CHEM T580" title, but chemistry isn't even referenced until halfway through today's lecture.
This course is taught by a chemistry professor. It's hosted in a room with a poster featuring the chemical compound for caffeine on the wall behind the coffee machine. But there's more discussion of Michael Jordan's practice habits and having "a-ha" moments in the shower than there is about chemistry.
That's because this course is titled "Creative Interdisciplinary Team Research: Principles and Practice," and aimed at providing graduate students from all across the University with the opportunity to learn how to develop new, useful, and high-quality ideas while also working within interdisciplinary teams. Maybe "AS-I T480" — the Arts & Sciences Interdisciplinary Study title the course also carries — is a bit more accurate.
Fraser Fleming, PhD, head of the chemistry department in the College of Arts and Sciences, teaches the course. "We started the class because we realized that, actually, the core of graduate education is developing people's creativity," says Fleming. "But in graduate education, I've never heard of anybody talking about creativity directly unless it's part of their research."
Fleming started the class alongside social psychologist Paul Gondek, PhD, an adjunct teaching professor in both the College of Arts and Sciences and the LeBow College of Business — a partnership itself connected to the classes' additional aim of giving graduate students exposure to working in interdisciplinary teams.
"Exposure to people who think differently, from other disciplines, will help them when they leave because it's likely that when they finish their degrees and go off to whatever is next, they're going to find themselves on a team with people that don't share the same education they have," Gondek says.
The structure of the class promotes both creativity and teamwork. Today, the class is reviewing chapters from "Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity" by Keith Sawyer alongside Fleming's prepared lecture. He presents the quote, "Creativity is seeing what everyone else has seen and thinking what no one else has thought," once said by Hungarian physiologist Albert Szent-Györgyi, though it is regularly misattributed to Albert Einstein.
"I find this very helpful as a working definition, and I'm going to suggest that you keep this as well because it's very accessible, it's catchy, and it's easy to understand," Fleming says.
He then prompts the class to relay one creative technique that they will each implement in their life from here on out. Answers range from thinking of the future and asking questions to keeping a writing instrument in the bathroom to capture those shower ideas. Concurrently, a sign-up sheet is being passed around for students to claim a forthcoming day where they will lecture for half of the class — these presentation opportunities all building up to mid-term and final team presentations worth a combined 40 percent of their final grade.
Gondek and Fleming agree that a rubric- and peer evaluation-driven approach to the class is needed.
"Having a course on creativity and then asking that people would take a standardized exam doesn't seem like it really fits with what we try to accomplish," Fleming says.
Gondek and Fleming launched a graduate minor in creative interdisciplinary research in the College of Arts and Sciences for which this course is required. They will also introduce a second course called "Enhancing the Creativity of a Major Research Idea." The professors also plan to submit a proposal to the Innovations in Graduate Education Program at the National Science Foundation in order to gain funding to track the influence of the courses. His continued work on the proposal also earned Gondek the title of visiting research professor in the chemistry department, even though he hasn't studied chemistry since his own undergraduate days.
Though they don't yet have the metrics to prove it, Gondek and Fleming believe this graduate minor will help set these Drexel students apart from their peers when it comes to their future job search.
"Imagine that you turn up at an employer and you say, 'Hire me as a chemist or a biomedical engineer, and what differentiates me from everybody else is that I
have a graduate minor in creative interdisciplinary team research, and so I think that I bring to the table something that makes me more creative and I've experienced
what makes teams work well,'" Fleming said. "And boy, you know, Paul and I teach the course so we're believers already, but, you know, if I could do it
again, heck, I'd take that graduate minor because it sets you apart from everybody else."
Current students believe in this future benefit. John-Paul Marrazzo, a first-year graduate student studying organic chemistry, said he plans to pursue the new minor in
belief that it is a great opportunity to become more diverse in his academic pursuits. The skills he has learned in the current class have also already been beneficial to his
"I'm not just getting perspective on creativity, but I'm getting perspective on life," Marrazzo said of the course.
His in-class teammate Marie Mastrobattista, a second-year graduate student pursuing a dual degree in both interior architecture and design research, said she's sure
the techniques she's learning in the class will be applicable to future classes and her future career. She added that, although she's by no means a "science
person" herself, she's enjoyed learning how her science-focused classmates will apply these concepts to their field, which is much different from her own.
"I think that's really important as a grad student because we get so funneled into our area of study," she said of the interdisciplinary nature of the
class. "So it's definitely been interesting at a base level to meet people outside of my area of study and get to know people with different interests and
Fleming said that his hope for all students who come into contact with this suite of classes is that they help shape their approach to problem-solving, especially in
"I hope eventually this is going to also change the way that they look at the rest of their graduate experience," he said.
Lab-Grown Neurons Improve Breathing in Rats After Spinal Cord Injury
For many patients, a devastating spinal cord injury could mean a lifetime of reliance on a ventilator to breathe. Researchers from Drexel University College of Medicine and the University of Texas are working together in hopes of changing that.
Lab-Grown Neurons Improve Breathing in Rats After Spinal Cord Injury
Researchers from Drexel University College of Medicine and the University of Texas at Austin improved respiratory function in rodents with spinal cord injuries after
successfully transplanting a special class of neural cells, called V2a interneurons. Their results, published this week in the Journal of Neurotrauma, indicate that these lab-grown cells have the
potential to one day help paralyzed patients breathe without a ventilator.
"Our previous study was one of the first to show that V2a interneurons contribute to plasticity, or the ability of the spinal cord to achieve some level of
self-repair. This study capitalized on those findings by demonstrating that we can grow these cells from stem cells, that they survive in an injured spinal cord, and that they
can actually improve recovery," said Michael Lane, PhD, an assistant professor
of neurobiology and anatomy in the College of Medicine and the study's principal investigator.
Though spinal cord injury impacts a wide range of motor systems, recent evidence suggests the body is capable of spontaneous improvements, through growth of nerve fibers
and the formation of new circuits. Lane's laboratory is interested in studying — and strengthening — this natural
phenomenon, in order to treat a potentially fatal side effect of paralysis: poor respiratory health. Not only do patients with high-level injuries require mechanical
assistance to breathe, but they are also prone to lung congestion and respiratory infections.
"By understanding the body's own attempt at repair, we hope to amplify that process therapeutically with cell transplantation and rehabilitation," said
Lyandysha Zholudeva, the study's lead author and a doctoral candidate in the College of Medicine. "Now we've identified one of the cell
types that contributes to the formation of new pathways that lead to plasticity."
For the past decade, there has been a growing interest in using neural precursors — cells that can develop into the various types found in the brain — to
augment plasticity and treat spinal cord injury. Neural cells work with all the other cell types of the body to produce the range of functions of the central nervous system,
including circulation, respiration and digestion.
Interneurons are particularly attractive candidates for the injured spinal cord, because they relay signals between sensory and motor neurons. However, these cells are a
diverse bunch, and it has remained unclear exactly what type of interneuron could survive and thrive in an injured spinal cord after transplantation. Lane and other
researchers pinpointed V2a interneurons as a potential contender, since they are "excitatory" (have greater action potential) and typically grow in the right
direction for repair. Previous studies have also suggested that this class of interneurons may be involved in breathing, and Lane's work has shown that this role may be
even more important after spinal cord injury.
In a study published in 2017, Lane and his colleagues found that weeks after injury, the spinal cord
recruits V2a interneurons, which become wired into the "phrenic" circuit in the spinal cord that controls the diaphragm (an essential muscle for breathing). In
their more recent study, the researchers explored whether transplanting more V2a cells into the injured spinal cord could enhance plasticity and lead to longer-lasting
Lane explained that identifying specific cell types that will repair breathing (or any other symptom), rather than transplanting a heterogeneous population,
is key to effective treatment.
"Stem cell transplantation is gaining interest both within science, and within clinical trials, but scientific evidence shows that some types of cells may actually
limit recovery. So, you have to know what will happen to the cells you are putting in the body," he said. "The transplantation field is moving into an era
where there is more interest in tailoring cell therapies."
To test their hypothesis, the Drexel team collaborated with Shelly Sakiyama-Elbert, PhD, a cellular engineer at the University of Texas, to differentiate
embryonic stem cells into V2a interneurons and combine them with neural progenitor cells from a rodent spinal cord. Once combined, the V2a cells were transplanted into 30
animals with high cervical moderate-severe injuries.
One month following transplantation, the donor cells had survived and become mature neurons in all 30 animals. Recording activity of the diaphragm muscle, the researchers
found that breathing significantly improved in the animals that had received V2a interneurons compared to the controls.
"Even this incremental difference reassures us that we have identified a cell type to really concentrate on, and that we should continue to investigate their
potential even further," Zholudeva said.
Moving forward, the researchers plan to continue to determine how to best optimize the transplant dose, growth and connectivity of V2a cells in the injured spinal cord.
Lane said the potential contribution of V2a cells to functional recovery could be enhanced with rehabilitation, neural-interfacing and activity-based therapies.
Will People Eat Relish Made from 'Waste' Ingredients? Drexel Study Finds They May Even Prefer It
American households collectively throw away an estimated 80 billion pounds of food each year. These researchers are looking for methods to repurpose this waste in appetizing ways.
Will People Eat Relish Made from 'Waste' Ingredients? Drexel Study Finds They May Even Prefer It
A new Drexel University study found strong potential for consumer acceptance of a new category of foods created from discarded ingredients.
The joint research, led by three Drexel professors, Jonathan Deutsch, PhD, professor of culinary arts and food science, Hasan Ayaz, PhD, associate research professor in the School of Biomedical Engineering, and Rajneesh Suri, PhD, professor in the LeBow College of Business — along with three graduate students, Siddharth Bhatt, Jeonggyu Lee, and Ben Fulton — sought to find out if foods made from surplus ingredients — termed value-added surplus products (VASP) — that would have been otherwise wasted can be a promising solution to food insecurity if appropriately marketed to consumers.
"There is an economic, environmental, and cultural argument for keeping food, when possible, as food and not trash," said Deutsch, who has created "upcycled" products with the Drexel Food Lab in the past. "Converting surplus foods into value-added products will feed people, create opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship, and lower the environmental impact of wasted resources."
Rescued Relish is an anything-goes condiment made from excess produce that Philabundance, a Philadelphia anti-hunger organization, can't move. The relish is modeled on a Pennsylvania Dutch chowchow recipe — a tangy mix of sweet, spicy, and sour flavors.
American households are estimated to collectively throw away 80 billion pounds of food each year. Many ingredients are also discarded during the manufacturing process and perfectly edible produce deemed "ugly" doesn't make it to grocery displays. This all seems to amount to a careless waste when more than 42 million Americans experience food insecurity.
But the big question has been this: Will consumers accept products made from ingredients that were destined for the garbage? Would a person actually eat — and pay for — a granola bar made from spent brewing grains or a relish made from vegetables unfit for the supermarket?
While the macroeconomic benefits of value-added surplus products seem clear, the trash-adjacent quality could make people reluctant to consume such products. Drexel researchers decided to decipher the consumers' decision-making process to help come up with appropriate communication for these products.
The researchers conducted a series of tests as a first attempt to understand a consumer's decision-making process with respect to this new food category, value-added surplus foods. They examined three product cues for value-added surplus products: product description, label, and benefit (to self or others).
In the first study, participants were presented with three food categories:
- Value-added surplus food
Study participants were presented four different foods using these descriptions.
Participants felt that value-added surplus products were more helpful to the environment than conventional foods, but less helpful when compared to organic foods. The results demonstrated that participants clearly identified value-added foods as a unique category with unique perception, separate from organic and conventional categories.
Next, researchers tested nine product labels to brand value-added surplus products: Upcycled, recycled, upscaled, rescaled, reprocessed, reclaimed, up-processed, resorted, and rescued. "Upcycled" was observed the most preferred label, followed by reprocessed.
For the final test, the researchers looked into whether a product's benefit for self or others factored into their feelings. It turned out that participants affirmed that consuming value-added products will generate greater benefits to others than themselves.
The positive findings of this study are of value to sustainability advocates, food marketers, and scholars. By exploring consumer acceptance of and potentially a preference for value-added surplus products, this research marks some of the first attempts to empirically examine a consumer's evaluation process for this novel food category. Most importantly, researchers have begun to evaluate how to efficiently present value-added surplus products as a novel category of food to consumers so that it may contribute some relief to the global food crisis.
"Value-added surplus foods may be perceived closer to organic foods as a category, encouraging the possibility of promoting such foods as a new category offering benefits to society."
Not only that, but selling these foods could also prove lucrative.
"Depending upon how you communicate such products, they might also be able to fetch a price premium, like those afforded to organic foods," Suri explained.
Those interested can read the study, "From food waste to value-added surplus products (VASP): Consumer acceptance of a novel food product
category," published in the Journal of Consumer Behavior. The study was co-authored by Siddharth Bhatt and Jeonggyu Lee, PhD candidates in Drexel's Lebow College of Business, Benjamin
Fulton, a graduate student in food science, Jonathan Deutsch, PhD, a professor in the Center for Food and Hospitality Management and Department of Nutrition
Science, Hasan Ayaz, PhD, associate research professor in Drexel's School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems, and Rajneesh
Suri, PhD, vice dean for Research and Strategic Partnerships and professor of Marketing at Drexel's LeBow College of Business.
'Non-Smoking' Doesn't Mean Smoke-Free — Drexel Study Finds Third-Hand Smoke Spreads Inside
Everyone knows cigarette smoke is persistent, pervasive, and dangerous. But research shows it may be even more difficult to avoid than previously thought.
'Non-Smoking' Doesn't Mean Smoke-Free — Drexel Study Finds Third-Hand Smoke Spreads Inside
Despite decades of indoor smoking bans and restrictions, new research from Drexel University suggests the toxins we've been trying to keep out are still finding
their way into the air inside. Findings by a group of environmental engineers show that third-hand smoke, the chemical residue from cigarette smoke that attaches to anything
and anyone in the vicinity of a smoke cloud, can make its way into the air and circulate through buildings where no one is smoking.
The study, which was recently published in the journal Science Advances, further clarifies our understanding of just how pervasive the toxic chemicals of cigarette
smoke can be — even in a "smoke-free" indoor environment. Its central finding — that third-hand smoke chemicals can be reemitted inside and attach
themselves to aerosol particles — means that people are likely exposed to more of these harmful chemicals than previously thought.
"While many public areas have restriction on smoking, including distance from doorways, non-smoking buildings and even full smoking bans on campus for some
universities, these smoking limitations often only serve to protect non-smoking populations from exposure to second-hand smoke," said Michael Waring, PhD, an associate professor in Drexel's College of Engineering, and a
co-author of the research. "This study shows that third-hand smoke, which we are realizing can be harmful to health as with second-hand smoke, is much more difficult to
Peter DeCarlo, PhD, an atmospheric chemist at Drexel, teamed up with Waring, whose research focuses on
indoor air quality, on this National Science Foundation-funded work that revealed the new pathway of exposure to third-hand smoke.
"Aerosol particles are ubiquitous particles suspended in the air — they come from a variety of sources and are known to be detrimental to health," DeCarlo
said. "The fact that third-hand smoke can attach to them, like it would to the clothing or furniture of a smoker, means that the potentially toxic chemicals associated
with third hand smoke are found in places we wouldn't have expected."
A Surprise Inside
Anita Avery, PhD, a doctoral student working with DeCarlo was studying the transport of particles from outdoors to indoors by monitoring these particles
inside an unoccupied, non-smoking classroom. The composition of these particles, measured by an aerosol mass spectrometer over the course of several weeks, provided a detailed
look at the chemical differences between outdoor and indoor particles in the air.
What they found was eye-opening.
"In an empty classroom, where smoking has not been allowed in some time, we found that 29 percent of the entire indoor aerosol mass contained third-hand smoke
chemical species. This was obviously quite startling and raised many questions about how that much third-hand smoke could be lingering in a non-smoking, ventilated
room," Avery said.
To investigate the cause of this surprising finding, Avery and DeCarlo simulated some third-hand smoke exposure in the lab. First, they pumped cigarette smoke into a Pyrex
container, allowing the smoke chemicals to be deposited inside. Then they pumped any residual smoke out of the container before pulling outdoor air through it to clear out any
After a day, filtered outdoor air was circulated through the container and the researchers measured the chemical composition of the aerosol particles it acquired along the
way and compared it to outdoor air that hadn't passed through the container. They found a 13 percent increase in third-hand smoke chemical species in the air that went
through the Pyrex container, which meant that, though it seemed as though the smoke had cleared, a chemical residue still existed —and found a way to attach to passing
"This means that our discovery was by no means unique to that classroom, in fact, it's likely quite a widespread phenomenon," DeCarlo said. "What
we'd actually uncovered was a new exposure route for third-hand smoke — through aerosol particles, which are ubiquitous in the indoor environment."
Hitching a Ride
Digging deeper into the mechanisms that allow third-hand smoke to latch on to aerosols, DeCarlo, Avery, and Waring began to understand how they got inside and back
into particles in the air.
Previous research on third-hand smoke chemicals has shown that as they transition out of gas form, they can settle just about anywhere. They can attach to clothing and
furniture, on skin or hair — even onto a sterile surface, such as the Pyrex container, as the Drexel researchers found. But they can concentrate in particles when the
chemicals are in gas form and they are exposed to acidic, liquid aerosols.
This means that they can be unwittingly transported into smoke-free environments — lying in wait for conditions that allow them to transition back into a gas and
attach to aerosols.
But as it turns out, this combination of conditions is actually pretty common indoors. The study suggests that third-hand smoke chemicals on indoor surfaces can
"repartition," or return, to the gas phase when they're exposed to chemicals such as ammonia — which is common in buildings as it's emitted when
people breathe and often found in bathrooms.
And the aqueous aerosols they need for transportation?
"In the summertime warm air with varying amounts of water content is brought into the building, mixed with recirculated air, and conditioned to cooler
temperatures," they write. "This process leads to significant uptake of water by aerosol particles. This continuous summertime presence of aerosol water allows
third-hand smoke chemicals to partition into the aerosol phase."
Indeed, the indoor environment of buildings with mechanical heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) can be the precise confluence of factors necessary to spread
these toxic chemicals.
"The HVAC system not only serves to condition the aerosols to wet or dry states, but also to move air through a building zone. HVAC systems recirculate and disperse
air throughout the multiple rooms of the zone served by the system," they write. "For this reason, a room located near a smoking area with smoke penetration or a
room occupied by a smoker can effectively expose the other occupants served by the same HVAC system to third-hand smoke, even if they do not share space directly."
The researchers note that the persistence of the chemicals in the indoor environment is also linked to the amount of surface area in a particular room or building. This is
because the third-hand smoke that isn't inhaled can deposit just about anywhere — counters, walls, furniture even embedding in carpet — and later return to
the air when conditions are right.
"While most people expect that they'll be exposed to car exhaust, or other chemicals in low concentrations when they're outside — they tend to think
that they're escaping all that when they step indoors," DeCarlo said. "Understanding that we are constantly exposed to these chemicals, even in our
workplaces, is a challenge to communicate to the general population."
And this research is only looking at ventilated spaces, such as office buildings or classrooms. Waring points out that concentrations of third-hand smoke chemicals are
likely to be much higher in a residence, hotel room or rental car where people had previously been smoking.
"The concentration of chemicals would be much higher in the home of a smoker or other places where there is less ventilation than an office or university
building," he said. "These findings could also lead to important research about third-hand smoke exposure from e-cigarettes, which many people are using indoors
and produce some of the same chemicals as tobacco smoke."
Taken alongside recent findings about the health risks of exposure to third-hand smoke, this
work brings the gravity of the situation into focus and raises important questions for future research about how we can limit our exposure.
"Third-hand smoke is not something we're currently thinking about as a society when we talk about air quality," Avery said. "It's easy to
recognize the presence of chemical pollutants if you can see or smell them, but this research reminds us of just how many chemicals we are exposed to that we probably
aren't aware of. That's why we need to keep studying these indoor spaces where people spend so much of their time, so we can build a full profile of what exactly
is in the air."
What Makes Some People Creative Thinkers and Others Analytical?
It has long-since believed that the key to understanding another person's perspective is learning "how they think." Researchers from Drexel University's Creativity Research Lab are doing just that.
What Makes Some People Creative Thinkers and Others Analytical?
Are you a more creative or analytical thinker?
Analytical thinkers are particularly good at solving clear-cut problems by methodically working through the possibilities.
Creative thinkers are more likely to have flashes of insight, or "aha moments," that can leapfrog over many steps of thinking to solve problems that are fuzzy or
A new brain-imaging study from Drexel University's Creativity
Research Lab reveals that the different "cognitive styles" of creative and analytical thinkers are due to fundamental differences in their brain activity that can be
observed even when people are not working on a problem. These findings suggest new directions for the development of neuroscience-based methods for intellectual, educational
and vocational assessment and counseling. The study was led by Brian Erickson, a post-doctoral researcher, and lab director John Kounios, PhD, a professor of psychology and director of the doctoral program in Applied Cognitive and Brain
Sciences in Drexel University's College of Arts and Sciences.
Each participant's electroencephalograms (EEGs), also known as "brainwaves," were recorded during four sessions spread over
seven weeks. These EEGs were recorded while the 42 participants were relaxing in a "resting-state" with no task to perform. At the end of the last test session, they tackled
anagram puzzles in which they had to unscramble a series of letters to make a word. For each anagram they solved, they reported whether the solution had occurred to them in a
sudden "aha moment" or by methodically rearranging the letters until they found the word.
Anagrams are a type of problem that can be solved either insightfully or analytically, making them useful for assessing a
person's cognitive style. An example would be an anagram like BELAT, which can be rearranged to make the word TABLE. Subjects can do this analytically by rearranging the
letters or it can be done in one step when the word TABLE just pops into consciousness.
Some participants — the "Insightfuls" — obtained most of their solutions from creative insights. Other participants — the
"Analysts" — obtained most of their solutions methodically. All participants solved at least a few problems by insight and analytically, so no participant was a pure
Insightful or Analyst. These labels reflect only a tendency to think in one way or the other.
The researchers then compared the resting-state EEGs of the Insightfuls and Analysts, recorded weeks earlier. The EEGs
showed marked differences between these two types of thinkers. Moreover, the EEGs could predict — weeks in advance — which test subjects were Insightfuls and which were
Analysts showed higher levels of activity in their frontal lobes. Insightfuls showed more activity in posterior brain areas,
specifically, the temporal and parietal lobes.
A large body of research has shown that the frontal lobe plays a key role in organizing thought and behavior by inhibiting
and controlling other parts of the brain. Analysts' high frontal-lobe activity is consistent with their methodical approach to solving the anagrams.
Past research also shows that when frontal-lobe activity is reduced, for example by damage or aging, thinking can become
less focused and organized. The lower frontal-lobe activity of the Insightfuls supports a theory that creative insights occur when reduced mental focus allows unconsciously
formed patterns or ideas to pop into awareness as "aha moments."
Other findings include stronger EEG alpha waves in the left temporal lobes of Insightfuls. A brain area produces alpha waves
when its activity is suppressed. The left temporal lobe is thought to contribute to focused thought by processing ideas that are closely related to each other (e.g., "chair"
and "table"). Insightfuls' suppressed left temporal-lobes suggest that they tend to rely on the right temporal lobe's specialization for processing ideas that are distantly
related (e.g., "number" and "table," as in a table of numbers). The ability to integrate distantly related ideas is a hallmark of creative thought.
Importantly, the patterns of resting-state brain activity that distinguished the Insightfuls and Analysts were consistent
over the seven-week testing period, thus showing stable differences between these two types of people. Moreover, these differences in brain activity predicted participants'
cognitive styles weeks in advance of the anagram test. Thus, the insightful and analytical cognitive styles are products of fundamental features of brain function that can be
observed even when a person is not working on a task. These differences may fluctuate from minute to minute, but on average over longer periods of time they
"This research lays the foundation for using EEG recordings to assess individuals' cognitive style for vocational
counseling, educational testing and personal development," said Kounios, who is also coauthor of The Eureka Factor: Aha
Moments, Creative Insight, and the Brain.
The study, "Resting-State Brain Oscillations Predict Trait-like Cognitive Styles," was funded by a grant from the National
Science Foundation. It was
published in the November 2018 issue of Neuropsychologia. Co-authors included Monica Truelove-Hill, Yongtaek Oh, Julia Anderson, and Fengqing (Zoe)
Without 46 Million-Year-Old Bacteria, Turtle Ants Would Need More Bite and Less Armor
The evolution of a species relies on a wide variety of internal and external factors to arrive at specific developmental points. Recent studies show that these ants have been influenced in a most unexpected way.
Without 46 Million-Year-Old Bacteria, Turtle Ants Would Need More Bite and Less Armor
You've probably heard about poop pills, the latest way for humans to get
benevolent bacteria into their guts. But it seems that a group of ants may have been the original poop pill pioneers — 46 million years ago.
A new collaborative study, published in Nature
Communications, determined that turtle ants (Cephalotes) are able to supplement their low-nitrogen diets by passing helpful bacteria from older ants to
younger ones through anal secretions. Once this is done, the now-internalized microbes (tiny bacteria) naturally produce the nitrogen necessary for turtle ants to
"Turtle ants eat a lot of food that is hard to digest and contains few essential nutrients in accessible form,"
said Jacob Russell, PhD, an associate professor in
Drexel University's College of Arts and Sciences and the paper's senior author. "The fact that they can subsist on such diets and have moved away from
aggressively competing for more optimal food resources with other ants is almost certainly a function of their investment in symbioses with gut bacteria."
Carried out by researchers at Drexel, the University of California San Diego, the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard
University, The Rockefeller University, Calvin College, and the Field Museum of Natural History, this multi-institution, international study was spearheaded by Yi Hu,
PhD, while finishing a postdoc at Drexel, and Jon Sanders, PhD, a postdoc at UC San Diego.
The study was inspired by work Russell did with Carrie Moreau, PhD, and Naomi Pierce, PhD, in Pierce's lab more than a
decade ago when they discovered that many ants with low-quality diets harbored specialized bacterial symbionts – likely to supplement their diets.
It turned out that turtle ants were a great example of this. While many ants attack other animals for their food or scavenge
the carcasses of dead animals, turtle ants rely on foraging for nectar, pollen, fungi and other resources from plant canopies. They also consume urine from mammals and bird
feces, which do contain lots of nitrogen — but in forms inaccessible to animals without the aid of microbes.
To test whether the gut bacteria significantly contributed to the ants' nutrient intake, the researchers kept some of
the turtle ants in a lab, put them on a diet of urea (the main waste in urine), and gave them antibiotics — which killed their gut bacteria. In this case, the ants
weren't able to get the nitrogen they normally did when on a diet strictly made up of urea.
Finding that turtle ants keep nitrogen producing bacteria in their guts shows how they can survive so well while eating
foods that so few other animals seem to want.
With a seemingly reduced use for offensive capabilities, in conjunction with their shifts to these lower quality diets,
turtle ants have lost many traits that other ants utilize to compete for or attack their food.
"These ants have evolved reduced mandibles — jaws — and lost the ability to sting," said Russell.
"As a result, they are not very good at preying on living invertebrate animals or scavenging dead ones. This also means they have lost features that are integral to
competing with other ant species."
In turn, the ants evolved more passive defenses, like thick armor and "a specialized caste of adults that use their
heads to plug the entrances of their hollow tree branch nests," Russell explained.
What's interesting is that the thick defensive armor these ants developed requires a good deal of nitrogen, which
again points back to the importance of turtle ants' symbiotic relationship with their gut bacteria.
"That armor may be possible due to the large contributions gut microbes make to their nitrogen budgets," Russell
Since the microbes are so important to their lives, it would seem that turtle ants have also evolved a way to protect
"These ants develop a fine-mesh filter near the start of their digestive tract, which may insulate their downstream
gut microbes from foreign invaders. This has likely helped to reinforce the integrity of these ancient bacterial communities," Russell said.
Direct information on the functions of ant-associated bacteria has been relatively limited, with leaf-cutter and carpenter
ants making up the majority of this knowledge. So knowing that turtle ants benefit to such a degree from their bacteria — especially that microbially provisioned
nitrogen may be essential to their survival — is significant.
"This work illustrates that members of complex communities can evolve together, laying the groundwork for future
research on how these organisms evolve in response to reliable partnerships," Russell said.
Mammals, like us, have a complex set of bacteria in our guts that may have also evolved with hosts for millions of years
— albeit in a much less specific fashion. Knowing now about the turtle ants and their symbiotic bacteria raises further questions about how we developed, ourselves. At
the same time, it may also provide answers.
"The turtle ant system — which is relatively simple — may prove useful in helping us to model
questions about our own partnerships with microbes and how important they are for human health," Russell concluded.