Regardless of occupation, everyone is plagued by the harmful effects of a stressful situation. In the armed forces, if this stress hinders your performance, lives are on the line.

Jonathan Boyd, an assistant professor of chemistry in the C. Eugene Bennett Department of Chemistry at West Virginia University, has always been interested in human responses to the local environment. Now, he has the chance to share these interests and utilize WVU’s resources to give back to those who defend our country.

Boyd recently received a grant in the amount of $482,835 to research how one’s environment affects stress levels in the body. The grant is funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, which will use the results to better prepare the armed forces for stressful scenarios.

“It is always a pleasure to do basic research that you hope will have a broad impact in the future,” said Boyd. “In this case, some of this basic research may be readily applicable to the well-being of our nation’s soldiers. I take great pride in being able to contribute to my country in this way.”

This one year project will be focused on finding a measure of entropy — a measure of the energy that is not available to do work in a thermodynamic process ⎯ through a combination of methods, including: studying the human response to stress, communication amongst the test subjects, and even capturing the subjects movements as they experience various scenarios designed to induce stress.

“Essentially what we’re looking at are the stress parameters involved with those individuals in group settings,” Boyd explained. “We want to come up with a system that will appropriately capture and monitor stress over time for an individual.”

Boyd will have help from Julie Vrana and Holly Williams, both doctoral candidates in the Department of Chemistry. Boyd also has a subcontract with Abel Rodriguez, an associate professor of applied mathematics and statistics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who will be assisting with the statistical aspects of the research.

Boyd will also be working with WVU’s Forensic Science Initiative to run groups through several exercises in the Crime Scene Houses on the Evansdale Campus.

“How do we put together the best team for serving in a particular situation and how do we improve the team’s well-being? We’re looking at long-term and short-term benefits, the team’s health and how we can help them to achieve their goals,” Boyd said.

“Our goal is to improve the overall capabilities of those individuals and groups by monitoring their stress levels,” Boyd said. “We can then give them feedback on where they stand in regards to their own interpretation of stress and how they can make improvements.”

Boyd’s research has applications not just for the military. The WVU Athletic Department may also benefit from this research. Although not directly affiliated with the grant or the research, Athletic Director Oliver Luck has been in contact with Boyd about possibly using the results to strengthen the bonds between teammates to help them focus and perform to their highest potential during a challenging game or meet.

For more information, contact Jonathan Boyd, or 304-615-9627



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