May 10, 2017

Contact: Dean Wendt
(805) 756-1508,

Cal Poly Students Earn Five Awards at Statewide Research Competition

SAN LUIS OBISPO — Five Cal Poly students received awards — including a biology sciences undergraduate whose rattlesnake study earned first-place — at the 31st annual California State University Student Research Competition that brought nearly 250 students from 22 universities across the state to campus April 28-29.

“The accomplishments of these students attest to the excellence of our academic programs and the commitment and quality of our faculty,” said Dean Wendt, the university’s dean of research and director of the Center for Coastal Marine Sciences. “All of the students who competed deserve our praise and appreciation of their efforts.”

The competition promoted excellence in scholarly research and creative activity by recognizing outstanding student accomplishments throughout the CSU — the nation’s largest four-year public university system, with nearly 480,000 students. Thirty-nine individuals received either a first- or second-place award in 21 categories. They shared $15,000 in prizes; $500 for first-place awards and $250 for seconds.

Cal Poly and Cal State Fullerton led the competition with five awards per school. All student participants received a commemorative certificate, and the top prize winners took home a unique palm-sized trophy created for the event by Cal Polystudents, faculty and staff.

John Stepanek, 22, an undergraduate student in biological sciences, was Cal Poly’s top prize winner earning first place in the undergraduate Biological and Agricultural Sciences category for his work, “Stress-Induced Color Change in Southern Pacific Rattlesnakes.” (Faculty advisor: Emily Taylor, Biological Sciences.) This first-of-its-kind study looked at the effects of elevated corticosterone (stress hormone) on color in the rattlesnakes, which are common on the Central Coast.

“We found that snakes that were more chronically or acutely stressed had lighter light bands on their backs and had higher contrast between light and dark bands than snakes that were less stressed,” said Stepanek, of Livermore, California. “This indicates that natural environmental stressors such as drought, climate change or predation might trigger increased contrast to help rattlesnakes camouflage and avoid detection.”

Receiving the award “is a testament to the knowledge that scientists everywhere are working to discover and a further testament to what undergrads discover about themselves in the process of research,” Stepanek said.

Four Cal Poly students received second-place honors:

David Bilger, 27, an undergraduate chemistry student from Chico,California, in the undergraduate Physical and Mathematical Sciences category for his work, “Multi-Scale Assembly ofPolythiophene-Surfactant Supramolecular Complexes for Charge Transport Anisotropy.” (Faculty advisor: Shanju Zhang, Chemistry and Biochemistry)

Laura Fleischman, 28, an undergraduate student in physics from Chico, California, in the undergraduate Physical and Mathematical Sciences category for her work, “Black Holes Stuck on Black Strings: Saving Cosmic Censorship.” (Faculty advisor: Scott Fraser, Physics)

Trevor Lowe, 22, who graduated in December with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, a concentration in consumer packaging and minors in packaging and industrial technology, in the Undergraduate and Graduate Interdisciplinary category for his project, “Using Eye-Tracking and Task Analyses to Understand Human-Package Interactions.” Lowe is from Encinitas,California. (Faculty advisor: Javier de la Fuente, Industrial Technology and Packaging)

Julia Roche, 23, an undergraduate student in mechanical engineering from Chula Vista, California, in the Undergraduate Engineering and Computer Science category for her work, “Reverse Sprinkler: Solved!” (Faculty advisor: Russ Westphal, Mechanical Engineering)

The annual competition brings more than 220 students from campuses throughout the CSU system each spring to one of the universities to present the results of their original research, scholarship and creative work to panels of judges. Final competitors submitted written papers and made oral presentations. They were judged on clarity of purpose, appropriateness of methodology, interpretation of results, clear articulation of the research and their ability to field questions from the jury and audience.

Five of Cal Poly’s six colleges were represented. The 10 presenters — nine individuals and a team of four — were selected from 40 submissions and 25 presentations that were evaluated by an Academic Senate committee in February.


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