FURSCA Feature: Alex Yaw, '14

Alex Yaw, '13, with Prof. Tammy Jechura
Alex Yaw, '14, with Dr. Tammy Jechura

Your Major:

Psychology, with minors in Cell and Molecular Biology and Chemistry.

Your Adviser:

Tammy Jechura

Briefly explain your FURSCA project.

I am studying circadian rhythms and muscle performance. Specifically I am looking at sleep, nutriton, and handgrip strength and fatigue times with the goal to examine the interactions of these variables in college athletes.

Essentially I monitor participants for three full days, and test them on their handgrip strength and fatigue time each day. Participants wear an armband continuously throughout the testing period that takes different physiological measurements, including information about the amount of physical activity and sleep. Participants also wear a headband to sleep that collects more in-depth data about their sleeping patterns. I also have the participants take subjective measurements of the sleep each day and an overall measure of nutriton.

What have you learned so far in doing your research?

I am learning quite a bit about research in general. am not only learning how to create, design, and put a research project into action, but I am learning critical thinking skills. I am gaining experience in working with participants and using statistical measures to analyze data.

Why did you pick this particular project?

This project is really a combination of my interests and those of my adviser. Tammy has done quite a bit of research in circadian rhythms, with sleep in particular, and I am interested in aspects of athletic and physical performance. This project is a mixture of both of our interests as well as incorporating aspects of some of the classes I have taken. For example, the handgrip dynameter, the tool I use to measure handgrip strength and fatigue time, was introduced to me in my General Physiology biology class, and I was able to use the same tool in my RDA II class for my experiment.

How will this FURSCA project help you after Albion?

The opportunity to do this project has been invaluable. Being able to design and carry out my own research project has really helped me to realize that I want to continue doing research after I graduate from Albion. This helped me no only learn more about circadian rhythms and performance, but helped me discover that I love doing research. It will also be extremely beneficial to have research experience when I am applying to graduate schools.

What's next for your project?

In the upcoming year I plan to continue this research. I will use the results from this research as a starting point for a senior thesis in psychology and I will hopefully present at the Elkin Isaac Symposium and other conferences.

Looking back, how has the project worked out?

This project has been amazing. We have hit some unexpected roadblocks, like having was that the company that makes the headband monitor went out of business, which was especially frustrating because the headband would give us the most detailed data about sleep habits. The company offered online data collection and analysis; however once the company was gone, they removed the database that gives the data. Luckily after a few weeks, Tammy found a way to gather some information from the device itself.

The actual collection is much more tedious, but the information is really valuable. I love doing literature searches, and it has been really wonderful exploring a topic that no one else has really studied. People have looked at the affects of jet lag on athletic performance, but other than that, not much information on sleep cycles and athletes are available, and no one, as least as far as I have seen, has connected athletic performance, sleep, and nutrition. I am really excited to explore these topics further, and, hopefully, find something no one else has.