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Intellect

What makes strawberries healthy? When will you die? ORCA grants help students find out

  • One BYU undergrad is zeroing in on compounds that combine to make strawberries extra good for you.
  • Another used complicated statistical analysis to predict his own age at death.
  • Both took advantage of $1,500 grants from BYU for undergraduate research.
  • Current undergrads can apply by Oct. 30 for their own shot at funding.

Josh Reber and Scott Morris landed $1,500 each from BYU last year for undergraduate research. They turned their cash into new insights into the health-promoting aspects of strawberries and the prediction of lifespans.
BYU students have until Oct. 30 to apply for some of this year's round of funding.

Last year BYU’s Office of Research and Creative Activities (ORCA) awarded 318 winners. Paired with a faculty mentor, these undergraduate students dive into projects of their own choosing and get their hands dirty in a fashion that most campuses reserve only for grad students.

Read more about Josh and Scott below, and click here for more information on applying for your own ORCA grant.

What makes strawberries so good for you? A BYU undergrad is cracking the code

Josh Reber knows people enjoy strawberries for more than their taste. He used his $1,500 in undergraduate research funding to help find out exactly what makes the berries such a healthy treat.

Reber, a senior from St. George, Utah, majoring in nutritional science, and his faculty mentor Tory Parker zeroed in on flavonoids, plant nutrients that may be beneficial to humans. They looked at why combinations of these particles work better together than separately. This involved meticulously analyzing 30-plus trays with 96 samples each. He injected each with a free radical generator and measured reactions to oxidation.

“It gave me a great appreciation for the dedication it takes to see results,” said Reber, noting the countless hours he spent painstakingly gathering data.

Reber found that while some compounds worked together, and others worked against each other, the overall effect was that combining individual compounds made for a more healthy strawberry. He thinks this information could help make nutritional supplements more effective and lead to more research on related compounds.

Reber and his fellow lab assistant, Brenner Freeman, presented their findings at the Institute of Food Technologists Convention last summer, attended by 13,000 professionals in the field. Reber graduates in April and is interviewing to attend medical school next fall.

For BYU student, statistics is a matter of life and death

Scott Morris is pretty confident he’ll die when he is 79. The BYU student used statistical modeling to predict his own life span from his ancestors’ ages at death.

“That’s 14 years after I plan on retiring — I hope I get to go out with a bang,” he said.

Morris’ work was funded by a grant from BYU’s ORCA office to support undergraduate research. His study grew out of a class project and partnership with Scott Grimshaw, a professor of statistics.

He used data from 99 of his deceased ancestors from all the way back to the 1600s, using their death dates to predict his own life span of 79 years. Morris acknowledges that, at this point, his project is primarily useful for satisfying curiosity, but it could have future applications in the medical and actuarial fields in helping practitioners make informed decisions about clients and patients.

But it took a lot more than just plugging in numbers to figure it out Morris’ morbid fate. He used three common statistical estimators to compare his models to real-life data and then figured out another predictor of his own, based on a combination of other methods.

“It was the worst predictor of them all,” he said. “I realized I could never match the elegance and complexity of these established estimators and was able to take a whole lot of pressure off myself.”

After figuring out which of the statistical models was most accurate for past data, he turned to prediction. Since working on his project as an undergrad, Morris has moved on to a master’s in statistics and plans to pursue a Ph.D.

Writer: Brooke Stevens

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