How vulnerable are teenagers in the foster-care system to online predators? What’s the best way to turn a community into a medical-tourism destination? Can nanoparticles be used in a blood test to determine viral infections to more quickly identify outbreaks?

These are among the many questions UCF students have tackled for Research Week, which kicks off Monday, April 3. The week is dedicated to sharing the work of graduate and undergraduate students. Students present their work during two showcases, and organizers present a series of workshops that look at everything from how to get started doing research at a university to how to communicate their findings.

“Our students do  amazing work,” said Elizabeth Klonoff, UCF’s vice president for Research and dean of Graduate Studies. “We want those who haven’t engaged in research to realize how important it is to their education, to our local community, and to improving the world in which we live. The ability to ask critical questions and to develop ways to answer these questions is crucial in an environment where we often hear about ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts.’ Whether a student is  studying math, English, biology or the fine arts, research is an enriching educational experience that teaches valuable skills. And the research students do, especially at the graduate level can really make an impact in the real world. These students are tomorrow’s leaders.”

Ying Chao, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in hospitality management, is looking at Taiwan and how the city turned itself into a medical-tourism destination. Medical tourism refers to the travels made to improve or maintain health, a niche market that is mature in Asia but hasn’t taken hold in Florida, Chao said. He is working with Rosen Associate Professor Po-Ju Chen who specializes in social psychology, with an emphasis on generational studies, sustainability and cross-cultural research in hospitality and tourism, to delve into the topic.

Meanwhile, Karla Badillo-Urquiola is examining the balance between providing teens in foster care access to networked technologies while also protecting them from cyber risks. Her preliminary findings suggest that teens in foster care face unique threats in the real world, such as sex trafficking or rape, which makes them more vulnerable to online risks that lead to equally tragic ends. Badillo-Urquiola found very little existing research in this area and hopes to find ways to address this problem.

She earned her undergraduate degree in psychology at UCF and decided to pursue a Ph.D. in modeling and simulation to harness the power of this new technology and apply it to psychology.

“Many of the foster parents (I interview) tell me that my research is very timely and beneficial to them and thank me for my dedication to the topic,” Badillo-Urquiola said. “At the beginning of one of my interviews, a parent burst to tears. I did not know how to react at first and had not realized the sensitivity of my topic. However, it was a reminder to me of how important my work is and the major needs of this community.”

Graduate student Tianyu Zheng is working with Associate Professor Treen Qun to develop a nanoparticle-embedded blood test for active viral infection detection. The hope is to develop a quick and accurate screening tool during epidemic or pandemic outbreaks.

Zheng, who plans to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry at UCF this summer, is looking at how gold nanoparticles can be used to measure a body’s immune response. An immune response triggers the production of antigen-specific antibodies, especially of the IgG isotypes, following an acute viral infection. Proteins and biomolecules from blood can spontaneously absorb the gold nanoparticle surface to form a protein corona. By analyzing the amount of protein, scientists can determine if there is an ongoing immune response, Zheng explained.

“This novel nanoparticle test provides a new means to detect active viral infections,” Zheng said in his abstract. “My research project pretty much is for real-world biomedical applications. I am pursuing this kind of research because diseases cause so many families to suffer and have laid a huge burden on the whole society. I would like to contribute my time and my energy to finding something out in this field that helps. I am fulfilled by what I am doing right now.”

There are more than 200 graduate-student posters being presented from noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday, April 4, in the Pegasus Ballroom.

Another 500 undergraduate students will present their work from noon to 4:30 p.m. Thursday, April 6, as part of the Showcase of Undergraduate Research Excellence. Up for grams during the showcase, $25,000 in scholarships.

All events are free and open to the public. For more information click here.