BYU Research

They are six professors at BYU, all working in different fields, all devoted to their teaching.

They have also all recently, along with dozens of other BYU faculty members, received considerable local, national or international attention for their research.Alan L. Wilkins, BYU academic vice president, said the quality of BYU research is well known in academic circles and is becoming more apparent to the general public.

"In addition, there are some research programs at BYU that go hand-in-hand with the needs of the growing Church," said Brother Wilkins.

He added that faculty members who are active in scholarly work bring an added dimension into the classroom, maintain their own credibility within their disciplines and add to the university's reputation.

"At BYU, we encourage professors to be involved with scholarship appropriate to their own fields," he said. ". . . Most importantly, we urge professors to involve students in their research or creative activities and we have an outstanding record of accomplishment by students who are thus involved."

Following are brief summaries of six research projects conducted recently at BYU:


BYU researchers have artificially activated the fat-burning process, normally associated with exercise, in motionless laboratory rats.

Will Winder, professor of zoology, presented his finding during a prestigious biology conference this spring.

"We have learned how the muscle

burns fatT naturally," he said.

In conducting their experiment, the BYU professor and his team, introduced a chemical called ALCAR to the leg muscles of anesthetized rats to activates an enzyme called AMPK. They found that the enzyme, usually activated by muscles contractions during exercise, is the key in the fat-burning process - the rats burned fat and converted glucose to energy without moving a muscle.

Brother Winder, who published his findings in the December issue of the American Journal of Physiology: Endocrinology and Metabolism, noted that if a drug can be developed that activates muscle AMPK and is cost-effective and safe for human consumption, it could possible be used to treat obesity and diabetes.

However, he emphasized that his research has never been tried on humans.

"We don't think it is the magic pill," he said, noting that it would take $500 of the chemical ALCAR to burn the equivalent amount of fat that is lost during one hour of exercise.

"We have to emphasize that exercise is by far the best way to activate the fat-burning process," he said.


A BYU study shows that babies in newborn intensive care units show significant improvements when exposed to simple music medicine.

Rosalie Pratt, a BYU music professor, has been working to examine the influence of music on human behavior since the early 1990s.

The most recent discovery - the result of research by master's degree candidate Jacquelyn Colmen that was supervised by Sister Pratt - found when babies are exposed to the strains of a lullaby they leave the hospital sooner.

In the study, babies in a newborn intensive care unit had lower heart rates, increased oxygen saturation and reduced stress behavior as they listened to the music. The lullaby babies - who were closely matched to a control group of babies with similar gestational age, weight and test scores - showed consistently higher caloric intake and weight gain than their counterparts. Most importantly, babies who were exposed to a music medicine regimen for at least four days left the hospital an average of three days earlier than babies in the control group.

"Mothers tell their daughters to sing lullabies. Why? Because they work," noted the music professor. "Now we need to encourage fathers to sing too."

At the recent Music Medicine Symposium in Melbourne, Australia, she presented this research as part of her keynote address on music and infant well-being. The research was also published in the International Journal of Arts Medicine.

While this study involves hospitalized babies, the BYU professor believes that parents should expose their children to music as soon as possible - singing to them even before they are born.

Sister Pratt, who plans to retire from BYU next year, hopes that someone will carry on her research. "Families have to relearn the art of singing to each other and playing together, without the aid of batteries and machines," she said.


A team of engineers at BYU and a Provo-based company, Bipolar Technologies, have invented a tiny battery the size of a piece of dust.

The microbattery, as thin as a strand of human hair, may someday be used in pumps that regulate insulin flow in diabetics, in digital credit cards or by the military - anywhere a small lightweight, rechargeable, power source may be needed.

While small batteries are not new, this recent microbattery is unprecedented in its size and its hundred-fold increase in power and energy density over existing thin film batteries.

Linton Salmon, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, and John Harb, associate professor of chemical engineering, worked with BYU graduate Rodney LaFollette, president of Bipolar Technologies, to invent the microbattery and have received considerable attention for their work.

He presented the results of his team's research this past June at one of his industry's premier forums, the Solid-State and Actuator Workshop, held in Hilton Head, S.C., and has received hundreds of inquiries regarding their work.

The microbatteries are built using sophisticated equipment in a clean room environment using processes similar to those employed to build computer chips.

The BYU professor said this microbattery will never replace the battery in a lap-top computer because these microscopic batteries cannot provide the energy required to operate such high-power systems. It could, however, be used everywhere a low, rechargable power source is needed, such as in sensors that monitor vital signs in trauma victims.

The scientist looks forward to continuing his work with mircobatteries. "This is an area that will provide wonderful opportunities for research and the education of students for years to come," he said.

Japanese studies

Last year Scott Miller discovered the earliest known commercial recordings of Japanese voices.

The finding, lauded as a major Japanese cultural discovery, placed the associate professor of Japanese literature at BYU on the front page of Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan's largest newspapers, and on TV Asahi's News Station, Japan's version of "60 Minutes."

Before Brother Miller's discovery no one in Japan knew that the voice recordings - belonging to an influential turn-of-the-century Japanese theater troupe that inspired artists such as Picasso and Puccini - existed.

When he stumbled across the recordings while doing research at Cambridge University in England, he assumed everyone in Japan knew about them.

However, further research proved that the Japanese theater troupe never tried to market the records in Japan. He explained the recordings were made to satisfy Europeans' intense interest in things Japanese, known as Japonisme.

Japonisme had such a hold on Europeans at the turn of the century that Pablo Picasso chose the theater group's star as the subject of one of his sketches. Evidence also shows that Italian composer Giaccomo Puccini incorporated melodies from the troupe's performance while composing his famous opera "Madame Butterfly."

"It is sort of like discovering a recording of Mark Twain giving a monologue and telling his stories," said Brother Miller. "He was never recorded, but we all know about him. In Japan, everyone knows about this theater company.

This discoveryT has both cultural and artistic significance. . . .

"It is a time capsule that allows us to hear sounds from the 19th century."

Social Work

In an attempt to save troubled families and help neglected or abused children, one BYU professor is developing and evaluating a program to help families under investigation by local child welfare agencies.

Elaine Walton, an associate professor of social work, presented the results of her research July 7 in Jerusalem at an international social work conference and again in August to the advisory board for the Utah State Division of Child and Family Services.

In studying the difficult issue of child abuse and neglect, Sister Walton is investigating the impact of social workers becoming more intensively involved with abusive families, then focusing on accessing their resources, building on their strengths and addressing their basic needs.

In this way, more children can remain safely in their homes, rather than being removed and placed in foster care.

With this experimental model, social workers help families access a network of formal resources like parent training or therapy, and informal resources such as support from extended family, teachers and religious leaders.

"Although the safety of the child is always our first concern," said Sister Walton, "most of the time, the best way to help a child is to help the parents and strengthen the family."

Through experimental research, the associate professor found this highly intensive intervention paid off. Families in the experimental group accessed a wider network of formal and informal services and parents were more satisfied with the services they received. Under conventional investigative methods, 36 percent of the affected families received parent training. With Sister Walton's program, that number jumped to 47 percent and the percentage of families turning to informal resources nearly doubled.

Moreover, job satisfaction increased for caseworkers who participated in the program.

Also, Sister Walton believes follow up research will show that the extra expense incurred in spending more time with these families will be offset by fewer incidents of abuse and neglect in the future and by less money spent for foster care.


Research by a team of anthropologists, including Professor John E. Clark, indicates that around 1600 B.C. the ancient Americans were playing round ball on a customized ball court.

The recent discovery in Paso de la Amada, Mexico, of the oldest known ball court - a 3,600 year-old structure about the length of a modern football field - was the last thing anthropologists expected to find.

"It is a huge surprise because it is so early . . .," Brother Clark said. "We thought we would find something very different. We were looking for some early houses and found a ball court instead."

Previously, the earliest ball courts had been traced to 800 B.C. in central Chiapas, Mexico. The Paso de la Amada court, built about 1600 B.C. and refurbished and expanded over the next 150 years, consisted of an 80-meter long, flat playing alley and elevated bleachers.

Brother Clark - who reported the discovery in a recent issue of Nature along with Warren D. Hill and Michael Blake from the University of British Columbia - said they found the site while excavating a large mound.

The BYU professor said the discovery adds a whole new dimension to the ancient Americans' culture. "Part of the significance

of this discoveryT is that it is the first clear evidence we have that these people were socially and politically more complex then we thought."

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