Sigma Xi Chooses Two UF Grad Students
To Receive Prestigious Grants
|Sara Jill Rotter (left)
and Sarah Davidson Newell were selected by Sigma Xi out
of 1,300 applicants for funding.
Xi, the scientific research society, has selected two University
of Florida graduate students to receive funding under its
highly competitive Grant In Aid of Research program.
Psychology doctoral student Sara Jill Rotter and geology master’s
student Sarah Davidson Newell were among only 300 out of 1,300
applicants to receive funding through the program.
Rotter intends to use her $800 grant toward her research at
UF’s Cognition & Aging Laboratory. The laboratory
conducts research on a wide range of topics in memory, language
“In general, we are interested in exploring the typical
changes that occur with aging, disproving the myths of aging
and finding practical solutions to common age-related memory
problems,” Rotter says.
Rotter says studies have shown that effortful recollection,
like what you ate last night, declines with age, while unconscious
recollection, like how to play golf, does not necessarily
decline with age.
“I hope to integrate my findings into the rest of the
literature about older adults’ cognitive functioning
so that we can better advise our older community on what will
happen as they age,” Rotter says.
Rotter also hopes her research can provide insights into how
older people can maintain cognitive function well into their
Rotter’s experiments compare how young adults (18-26
older adults (60-80 years) perform on four tasks.
The first task asks subjects whether a string of letters make
up a real word or not. The task tests whether older adults
can recognize spelling when they aren’t thinking about
In the second task, participants listen to a word and write
a short sentence using that word. This can show if older adults
can produce a spelling if they aren’t thinking of it.
For the third task, subjects are shown a word on a computer
screen and asked whether it is spelled correctly.
In the last task, participants have to spell words they hear
on a computer. Rotter hopes this will also replicate past
results that show older adults have difficulty with spelling
Rotter, an undergraduate psychology major and mathematics
minor at UF, says it was an undergraduate cognitive psychology
class that attracted her to the work she is doing now.
“The more I read about it and the more older adults
I met, the more I knew that this was where I wanted to be,”
Rotter expects to earn her degree in 2007, and hopes to find
a faculty position at a large liberal arts college where she
can conduct research, teach and interact with students.
Newell was awarded the maximum grant of $1,000 for her research
on historic changes in vegetation.
Working with geology Professor David Hodell, Newell is studying
core samples from the bed of Lake Sacnab in Guatemala to determine
how vegetation in the region has changed over the last 3,000
Millennia of seeds and other organic material that blew onto
the lake and settled to the bottom are visible in thousands
of layers of sediment in the core samples. Researchers can
date the samples by their relative location, like tree rings,
and by measuring their carbon isotopes.
Through these samples, Newell is constructing a more precise
record of changes in vegetation in the region.
Newell says a greater understanding of the rate and process
of reforestation following the collapse of the ancient Maya
civilization may provide valuable information for future forest
management in Guatemala and other tropical regions.
Also, findings about the timing and process of deforestation
may help archaeologists better understand the agricultural
practices of the Maya.
“I’ve always been interested in the human influences
on environmental change, and so when Dr. Hodell suggested
a project like this one, I was eager to become a part of it,”
says Newell, who earned her bachelor’s degree in geology
at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y.
Newell expects to finish this project in August and will begin
pursuing a doctorate in the fall, also in geochemistry.
“I hope to work at a smaller liberal arts college where
I can both teach and continue my research,” Newell says.
by Christine Marinelli