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OSCAR Student Studies Our Nearest Star, Dreams of Space Exploration Monday, December 8,2014

OSCAR Student Studies Our Nearest Star, Dreams of Space Exploration

The George Mason University senior is interning at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and is studying space weather. She’s looking for “coronal mass ejections,” which are eruptions from the sun that hurtle toward the Earth at 300 to 3,000 kilometers per second.

These gigantic bubbles released by the sun are the source behind the gorgeous aurora borealis but also create havoc with our communications-dependent society.

“When your GPS doesn’t work, it could be because of a coronal mass ejection or CME,” says Zink, a physics major with dual minors in astronomy and Russian. “These eruptions can literally knock out civilization as we know it. That’s why I’m studying them.”

Zink analyzed more than 60 real coronal mass ejections—not computer simulations—and presents her findings this month at the fall meeting of the national American Geophysical Union. Studying space weather trends can help people on the ground prepare, says Rebekah Evans, Zink’s mentor at the NASA Solar Physics Lab. Zink’s study, Evans says, is the largest to date.

The New York City native earned a coveted scholarship from Mason’s University Scholars program, which pays the full cost of tuition for four years. Zink also is part of the “Students as Scholars” initiative through Mason’s Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities, and Research (OSCAR) and is an OSCAR fellow. She began her research with funding from Mason’s Undergraduate Research Scholars Program.

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Grave Concerns: Dr. Usher's Research Unearths More than Bones Monday, December 1,2014

Grave Concerns: Dr. Usher's Research Unearths More than Bones

Usher was a college freshman when she took part in her first dig at a prehistoric Monacan burial ground. While the experienced archaeologists rescued bones, pottery and other remains from the eroding mound, she was relegated to the edges of the site. But when someone unearthed teeth and wondered aloud what kind they were, Usher, who’d worked as a dental assistant in high school, chimed in. “Oh, that’s a lower second molar,” she said. She was promptly moved to the center of the mound.

It’s the “intentional signaling” of the dead that Usher says gives cemeteries an added layer of intrigue, even more than regular archaeological sites.

“You at first think how they’re laid out, where they’re positioned and what things were placed with them reflect who that person was,” she says. “But in fact, those things are what the people who buried them wanted this person to look like in the ground. So you get these interesting contradictions.”

As a graduate student, Usher studied health patterns of people buried in a medieval gravesite in Denmark, and she continues to work with her OSCAR students on some of that data today. Marion Chaloux, BA Anthropology ’13, studied leg and arm bones of children buried at the site to determine how tall they would have been if they’d grown to adults. She found, however, that the children were actually shorter than normal, and would have been shorter as adults had they lived, because they were sick and not growing properly. Chaloux won an award at the CHSS undergraduate symposium with her research last year.

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